Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Rav Yonasan Eibeshutz's Rocket Ship

Summary: It is not really true that Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz described the migdal Bavel as a modern space ship, blasting off into outer space. He says something similar, and related, but there is a big difference. (It is more that the Tower of Babel was a launching pad.) In this post, I'll present what he does say. In another post, bli neder, I will contrast it with what people, who have not read him inside, attribute to him, and point out the important differences. Also, it seems that he also holds that there was at least the possibility of a local flood.

Post: What precisely was the plan of those building the migdal bavel? To cite the pasuk, in Bereishit 11:3-4:

3. And they said to one another, "Come, let us make bricks and fire them thoroughly"; so the bricks were to them for stones, and the clay was to them for mortar.ג. וַיֹּאמְרוּ אִישׁ אֶל רֵעֵהוּ הָבָה נִלְבְּנָה לְבֵנִים וְנִשְׂרְפָה לִשְׂרֵפָה וַתְּהִי לָהֶם הַלְּבֵנָה לְאָבֶן וְהַחֵמָר הָיָה לָהֶם לַחֹמֶר:
4. And they said, "Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make ourselves a name, lest we be scattered upon the face of the entire earth."ד. וַיֹּאמְרוּ הָבָה נִבְנֶה לָּנוּ עִיר וּמִגְדָּל וְרֹאשׁוֹ בַשָּׁמַיִם וְנַעֲשֶׂה לָּנוּ שֵׁם פֶּן נָפוּץ עַל פְּנֵי כָל הָאָרֶץ:


Rav Yonasan Eibeshutz writes as follows (here and here):
"And Hashem smelled the sweet smell, and Hashem said to His heart, 'I will no longer curse the land because of man.'" This that is written 'to his heart' is because it was not the Will of Hashem to reveal that he would no longer destroy the world again, in order that the fear would be on mankind so that they would not do as the abominations of the generation of the Deluge, lest, forfend, a deluge come to the world."

[Josh: I am skipping a lengthy insertion from the maatik resolving how this would work with Hashem revealing this to Noach.]

"And this was the matter of the generation of the Dispersion, that they wished to construct a tower unto the heavens. For there is to understand -- were they such fools?! For if so, they would have needed a foundation, based on the science of architecture, to be wider than the globe of the earth! Rather, they judged, based on the science of nature, that all the rains descended from the steams and the mists which arose from the earth and the element of water. And from this came to be the clouds, and from their they poured forth their water. And the water did not come from the Heavens at all. And they already estimated, based on observation, that the measure of the clouds, which was from the thick mists which arise from the earth, was not higher than five mil at most. And if so, perforce the fine mists which distribute the water do not rise higher than that. For if they did rise higher than that, then even the clouds would be higher than that from the earth. And therefore, they thought to build a tower higher than the altitude of these clouds, and if so, it would be impossible for rain to fall upon them. And the language (in pasuk 4) of וְרֹאשׁוֹ בַשָּׁמַיִם is an exaggerated expression.


However, it is known that in the sphere of the Moon there is also a place for settlement just as on the sphere of the Earth. And they already discovered the craft of flying, which is to make something like a mast {and sail) resting parallel to the width of the earth. And therefore, by virtue of the fact the the wind arises from the earth, and so too all the winds arising from the earth below. And therefore I have written that Noach did not travel..."


"in a ship to the sea in the middle of the ocean. For certainly the Deluge did not descend there. For what purpose would there be for a Deluge in the sea? And if so, he should have gotten into a ship and not in an ark. {Josh: I would guess he treats it as a box, rather than as a boat.} And if they did not know how to construct a ship, Hashem should have instructed him the construction of a ship in place of the command of the ark. And even if we believe that the Ocean surrounds the world from edge to edge, like a pipe {tzinor}, such that on one side are the three parts of the world -- Asia, Africa, and Europe -- and on the other side is the New World which is called America. And if so, how could humans have come there before the Deluge to the New World without a ship? And if you say that there were no men there, then even the Deluge didn't descend there, for it would be to no purpose. And if so, what advantage does Eretz Yisrael have that it is called Pure because the water of the Deluge did not descend there? Behold even the New World is Pure, for the waters of the Deluge did not descend there! Rather, it is in accordance with what I wrote, that in the Deluge, all the power of the Earth was reduced such that the Wind did not go out at all from the earth. And if so, it was not possible for Noach to traverse the water in a ship in the sea of the Ocean, since in the place he was at the time of the Deluge, the Wind did not move, and it is not possible to move in the water without wind. And if so, that which I have written that the wind traveled from the earth below to above, it is fitting, that the vessel made in the craft of aviation, that the wind blows on the mast {sail} and the wind lifts up the vessel up and up, and it does not return further to the ground, but rather, it return to the ground is caused by the strong and thick wind close to the earth, which weighs down on the thing and compels {/drives} it..."


"to descend. And therefore, the engineer assays that via the explosive powder they call polvir {gunpowder} with great force of the explosive powder placed in a tube and shoots the ball which is placed within it such that it goes up and up until it reaches that place, and the ball {bullet?} does not descend all all down, for there is not found a ball at all on the ground, even though according to the natural way it would descend in a short amount of time. And from this they judge that the ball ascended first above the thick and murky air, via the force of the polvir. And when it is above it, it {=the thick air}prevents it afterwards from descending. And if so, if it is possible to bring all the flying vessels above this thick air, it is possible to travel in the wind up and up, until the sphere of the Moon, for the wind would continually lift it up to travel, and above, the wind moves mightily. And they have already written articles on how to make such a ship as this to travel to the Moon. But the main point is that this ship must first rise above this murky air.


And this was the intent of the Generation of the Dispersion, as well. That the wished to establish their residence in the sphere of the Moon, for there they would be saved from a Deluge. And they figured out how to construct the aforementioned ship. However, how would they lift this ship above the murky air? And therefore they figured to build a tower, so tall that it was higher than that air. And from there, they would be able to utilize the aforementioned ship to travel in the air until the sphere of the Moon.

And there was another group in the generation of the Dispersion who thought of another reason to build the tower. And this is that it is known that from the heavens to the earth, all of the airspace is filled with winds. For it is not possible that from the earth to the heavens is emptiness and a vacuum, and it is not within the realm of the understanding of a scholar to understand that they are so empty  to such an extent that there is no matter there. And if so, perforce there must be winds, and the winds which are close to the earth are thicker and coarser, while the winds which are closer to the heavens are lighter and purer and better. And the entire matter of the generation of the Deluge was before the Deluge, that they offered incense to these winds {/spirits}..."

"and they attached themselves to them, and via them they performed many {wondrous} things. And the winds {/spirits} lied to them, falsely assuring them that they would not drown in the waters of the Deluge. But in the generation of the Dispersion, they already saw that they had misled them, and also judged that these winds which were close to the ground did not have power and understanding. But they thought to build a higher than high tower, and there the winds are pure and clear, and if they offered incense to them, they would perform their will, for their force was strong. And in truth, there was in the generation of the Dispersal difference groups, one group thinking this and another group thinking that, as stated in the midrash. {Josh: probably the midrash discussing three different groups and purposes to building the tower, e.g. to wage war, etc.}And therefore it states וַיְהִי כָל הָאָרֶץ שָׂפָה אֶחָת, that is that all of them agreed with one accord to build the tower. Yet, וּדְבָרִים אֲחָדִים, {separate purposes}, that this one had this reason and that one had that reason. And at any rate, we know that they were afraid of the Deluge, and therefore they said that Bilaam went as a talebearer, revealing the secret of the hidden things of Hashem to the gentiles, and also this is reckoned as a curse for them. For the gentiles fenced themselves off in many ways for they were afraid of the Deluge, but Bilaam told them that Hashem already swore that he would not bring a Deluge to the world. And because of him, they returned to their evil ways. And therefore Hashem said it at first in His heart, so as not to cause a disgrace, such that they would have fear from a Deluge."

This ends my translation of Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz's theory of the reason for the migdal Bavel. This is not quite how this theory is popularly presented. Bli neder, in another post I'll provide some analysis. In the meantime, here is a nice link discussing it.

21 comments:

Joel said...

I hadn’t heard about this RYE, but I have seen the Yalkut Reuveni who does explicitly call say that at the top of the Tower was a vessel that would fly into the sky.

joshwaxman said...

i'll try to check it out. but yalkut reuveni is a yalkut, which means that he may have taken it directly from rav yonasan eibeshitz. (i'll check the text and the dates, bli neder.)

in terms of content, your description of the Yalkut Reuveni appears to match that of Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz's theory. that is, the tower itself was not a rocket ship. it was a tower to reach a certain elevation. then, at the top of the tower they planned to launch a vessel. this vessel was not equipped with rockets, but was a mere flying machine. and the *winds* would take it up and up until it reached the moon. there, they could establish a new settlement, free of the fear of being drowned in another mabul.

kol tuv,
josh

joshwaxman said...

i can't seem to find this in Yalkut Reuveini. can you point me to it? here is a direct link to where I think it should be:

http://jnul.huji.ac.il/dl/books/djvu/1845302/index.djvu?djvuopts&thumbnails=yes&zoom=page&page=32

kol tuv,
josh

Shmerl said...

In Reb Yonoson's perception it was a space ship, not just an air ship. A craft built with aerodynamic technology (מלאכת עפיפה) doesn't necessarily use sails - rather I'll imagine wings (think of modern shuttles). When it leaves Earth influence - it can progress to the Moon, using the "wind".

Now think about what is said, and what Reb Yoynoson meant. He saw the works of Newton who mentions (in theory though) the subject of shooting the cannon ball into the space, overcoming Earth gravitation. Reb Yoynoson also probably saw the science fiction work of Cyrano de Bergerac regarding the voyage to the Moon (most probably Reb Yoynoson refers to it when he writes: "וכבר חיברו בזה חיבורים איך לעשות
ספינה כזה לילך לכדור ירחי").

Anyhow, by atmospheric influence he meant the cumulative influence of atmosphere and gravity, which a space craft needs to overcome in order to leave the planet.

"Wind" in space is a more interesting thing. It's not clear what he meant by it, and it's open to interpretation. One guess would be, that he anticipated reaction engine, which uses propulsion of matter to drive the ship forward (thus it is a "wind" flying backward). Another guess could be that he really meant that there is some force (gravity-like) which pushes the ship to the Moon. It might be based on Plato's model.

But whatever he meant - he obviously was familiar with scientific as well as sci fi ideas of that time, and envisioned a craft capable flying in space.

-- Bahaltener.

Shmerl said...
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Shmerl said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Shmerl said...

Joel: I wrote an article on this subject with different sources. You can read it here (try using Google translate to read it in English).

In short, the fact that migdal Bovel was a flying tower is mentioned in Rashi on Chagigo (15b) and for example in Seyfer Tziyuni. See other sources there for a lot of different interesting details.

joshwaxman said...

i'm not really suggesting otherwise. wait for my second post on the matter.

but he is not saying that there is an explosive element. he clearly makes it that wind is continually moving it, not that you start it moving and that objects in motion will continue to move. i don't see how to read it as an engine. and it seems (if i read him correctly) than he disagrees with the idea of the vacuum of space.

kol tuv,
josh

joshwaxman said...

thanks. i'll check out your post.

all the best,
josh

Shmerl said...

Propulsion (reactive) engine doesn't necessarily require any explosion - water jets use propulsion for moving. In space, any kind of propulsion will move spacecraft forward.

I don't think it's obvious what Reb Yoynoson meant by the wind here. Cyrano in his book writes, that there is "attraction" which pulls objects to the Moon. This is obviously a gravity-like idea. "Wind" in space could also mean some proto-matter which fills the space, discussed by Plato and etc, who also speak about similar things in regards to the Moon. So there I wouldn't say for sure whether Reb Yoynoson thought there is vacuum in modern perception in space or not. But he himself writes, that the farther one goes from the Earth - the "thinner" (i.e. less dense) atmosphere becomes. So imagining vacuum is not far fetched.

joshwaxman said...

"Propulsion (reactive) engine doesn't necessarily require any explosion - water jets use propulsion for moving. In space, any kind of propulsion will move spacecraft forward."

right, but he doesn't mention propulsion at all. rather, he explicitly attributes the motion to the mighty blownig of the wind. to cite my own rough translation of Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz's words, "And if so, if it is possible to bring all the flying vessels above this thick air, it is possible to travel in the wind up and up, until the sphere of the Moon, for the wind would continually lift it up to travel, and above, the wind moves mightily."

So imagining vacuum is not far fetched.
Not far-fetched. But he *might* explicitly state otherwise. (unless I translated it incorrectly, which in this particular instance might well be true.) to once again cite my own rough translation, " For it is not possible that from the earth to the heavens is emptiness and a vacuum, and it is not within the realm of the understanding of a scholar to understand that they are so empty to such an extent that there is no matter there. And if so, perforce there must be winds, and the winds which are close to the earth are thicker and coarser, while the winds which are closer to the heavens are lighter and purer and better."

add to that his seeming assumption that the mighty winds would be blowing (continuously) all the way to the moon, and it would appear that he agrees that there is no vacuum...

kol tuv,
josh

Shmerl said...

Matter and energy is a tricky issue. One can say, that absolute vacuum is an illusion - there is light there, or some other energy, so it is already not empty. As I said, winds can refer to "proto matter" which has nothing to do with air. Also think about solar sail ;) It can the solar wind to move the space ship. So the idea is not really too bizarre.

Anonymous said...

Marveling science, RYE. You get tenure :)

Shmerl said...

Don't forget, Reb Yoynoson was judging from perspective of his day science, but he was obviously interested in science fiction ideas too. It might be somewhat off from the real physical model, but it's the idea that matters.

joshwaxman said...

right. i agree with this last comment of yours 100%.

kol tuv,
josh

Shmerl said...

More intriguing description of migdal Bovel is provided in Bris Menucho. It mentions, that migdal Bovel had projectile weapons, which coluld destroy anyone approaching, plus it had some structure (sheym, i.e. idol) with "wings" which could cover and protect the city from fire falling from heavens (plus it predicted future). Reminds some sci fi description of a structure with power field and rockets, controlled by central computer :)

Alex said...

Great post!
I recommend you include the words "launching pad" somewhere in the article so that people will more likely find the article by Googling on "tower of babel launching pad".

joshwaxman said...

thanks! very good idea.

SPACE said...

What about this Moon settlement? cite: "However, it is known that in the sphere of the Moon there is also a place for settlement just as on the sphere of the Earth." Does it exist now?

joshwaxman said...

I don't think we need to take everything that Rav Yonasan Eibeshitz said here to be accurate. Certainly there is much he wrote here that we know to be scientifically untrue.

However, yes, absolutely. A place for settlement means that someone can land there, such that it is solid. I don't think he realized about atmosphere and its absence on the moon.

SPACE said...

Hm, he was kabbalist, so he knew what he was writting. Why he choose not Mars, Venus, Jupiter, but Moon? His spaceship reminds from India mythology vimanas. All modern science evolved from kabbalah.

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