Thursday, April 26, 2012

Rav Mordechai Gifter on Isha Ki Tazria

Summary: The Ramban gives two explanations of isha ki tazria, one according to Aristotle and the other according to Galen. Are they both simultaneously true, on some plane? And does this solve all our problems of Torah seeming to contradict science?

Post: Parashat Tazria begins:

2. Speak to the children of Israel, saying: If a woman conceives and gives birth to a male, she shall be unclean for seven days; as [in] the days of her menstrual flow, she shall be unclean.ב. דַּבֵּר אֶל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר אִשָּׁה כִּי תַזְרִיעַ וְיָלְדָה זָכָר וְטָמְאָה שִׁבְעַת יָמִים כִּימֵי נִדַּת דְּוֹתָהּ תִּטְמָא:

And the Ramban discusses the famous derasha of Chazal:
ובמשמעותו אמרו (נדה לא א): ש
אשה כי תזריע, אשה מזרעת תחילה יולדת זכר. 
ואין כוונתם שיעשה הולד מזרע האשה, כי האשה אע"פ שיש לה ביצים כביצי זכר, או שלא יעשה בהן זרע כלל, או שאין הזרע ההוא נקפא ולא עושה דבר בעובר, אבל אמרם "מזרעת", על דם הרחם שיתאסף בשעת גמר ביאה באם ומתאחז בזרע הזכר, כי לדעתם הולד נוצר מדם הנקבה ומלובן האיש, ולשניהם יקראו זרע.  ש

וכך אמרו (שם):  ש 

שלושה שותפין יש בו באדם, איש מזריע בו לובן שממנו גידים ועצמות ולובן שבעין, אשה מזרעת אודם שממנו עור ובשר ודם ושער ושחור שבעין. 
ש וגם דעת הרופאים ביצירה כך היא. ש

ועל דעת פילוסופי היונים:  ש 

כל גוף העובר מדם האשה, אין בו לאיש אלא הכח הידוע בלשונם היולי שהוא נותן צורה בחומר, כי אין בין ביצת התרנגולת הבאה מן הזכר לנולדת מן המתפלשת בעפר שום הפרש, וזו תגדל אפרוח וזו לא תזרע ולא תצמיח, בהמנע ממנה החום היסודי שהוא לה היולי. 
ואם כן יהיה מלת תזריע כמו זרועיה תצמיח (ישעיה סא יא).  ש

וכן אמר אונקלוס:  ש 

ארי תעדי.
I'll only translate the beginning of it:
"And regarding its implication they wrote (Niddah 31a):
אִשָּׁה כִּי תַזְרִיעַ -- 'if a woman gives seed first, she will give birth to a male.' 
And their intent was not that the child would be made from the seed of the woman, for the woman, though she has eggs like the eggs of a male, either no seed at all is made from them, or that seed has no impact in the fetus. But what they said 'gives seed', they are referring to the blood of the womb which collects at the end of completion of intercourse in the mother, and seizes upon the seed of the male, for in their opinion, the fetus is fashioned from the blood of the female and the white material of the man, and to both of them {blood and white material} is called zera.

And so did they say (there):
There are three partners in a human being -- the man gives forth white seed, from which are fashioned sinews, bones, and the whites of the eyes, and the woman gives forth the red material, from which are fashioned the skin, flesh, blood, hair, and the black of the eye.
And so too is the position of the doctors of gestation.

And based on the position of the Greek philosophers:
The entire body of the fetus is from the blood of the woman, and the only contribution of the man is the force known in their language {Greek} as hyuli, which gives form {tzura} to the substance {chomer}, for there there is not between a chicken egg which came from {the hen after intercourse with} the male, and a chicken egg from {a hen which} was excited by the ground, yet this one will develop into a chick while this one will not have seed and will not flourish, since the primal heat called hyuli was kept from it.
And if so, the word tazria is like {Yeshaya 61:11} '[as a garden that] sprouts forth its seedlings'. And so does Onkelos say, ארי תעדי."
We see here a dispute between the Greek philosophers and Chazal. Likely Chazal in turn relied on other own non-Jewish scientists, for instance, Galen:
 For in the treatise On Seed, it was shown that most parts of the body arise from seed, with the fleshy parts alone formed from blood.
We see Ramban willing to find Scriptural support for either position, and that he is willing to consider the possibility that Chazal were wrong on this scientific matter. This is an important observation in its own right.

And we also know that both of these positions, of Chazal (and scientists) and of the Greek philosophers are not scientifically correct. (The form is determined by the DNA from both of them, and the body of the fetus is from a single fertilized egg from the woman (combined with a single sperm cell from the man), not from the blood.

Rav Mordechai Gifter, in Pirkei Torah, wrote:

"In all matters of the science of nature which Chazal said which contradict the words of the scholars of nature, such as that worms which grow from the cheese itself {Josh: via spontaneous generation}are not forbidden, while according to what is known about nature, there is no such thing that it spontaneously generates from itself (but rather it is formed via other things which come from outside, and others like this). But there are here two different approaches. For the Torah law was stated according to what the chush {senses, instinct} could recognize in this matter, and not according to the knowledge of chochma{lit. wisdom, science}, and there is no contradiction at all.

And I heard from a certain Gadol that this explains the distinction between shav and sheker. For anyone who changes from that which is known via chush is shav, while {one who changes from} that known by chochma {science, wisdom} is only sheker and not shav

And behold, the intent of the Ramban here are that the words of the gentile scholars are correct by virtue of their seeing this in the nature of the things, that according to their observation, the father gives the force of the hyuli, but according to what Chazal saw in this with the viewing of the Torah, there is in the giving from the father an aspect of the giving of the white of the sinews and bones, and from the point of the observation of science, this as well is found in the words of the holy Torah -- and there is not here a matter of contradiction between truth and falsehood. And understand this, for it touches upon quite a number of matters of faith."

An interesting idea, and one which harmonizes the two points brought up by the Ramban. Though saying that both are true across different paths (גישות) in this instance of isha ki tazria might not leave a path for the third view, namely modern science, which contradicts both of these. (And Rav Gifter would have known of modern science.) Of course, we can say that Ramban was wrong in his endorsement of Greek philosophy as one of those two paths, and let modern science take its place in the secondary path.

This approach allows Torah to diverge in all instances from what is actually true in the observable world, since it functions on a separate plane, that of "chush". And this might be taken to apply to modern practical halachic questions, rather than just hashkafic questions. For example, the anisakis worm.

I don't know that I agree with this approach, however. I don't think Chazal thought that they were operating on a different plane. They thought there was just a single reality. And that is why they consulted medical experts, occasionally conducted experiments, and so on and so forth.

What I think is happening in this particular instance is that there was a divergence in Greek medicine.

  1. Aristotle put forth the idea of chomer and tzura:  "Aristotle claimed that form (eidos, morphe] inheres in or is "immersed" in matter (hyle)" . Thus, this falls under Greek philosophy, and medicine as influenced by Greek philosophy. Aristotle writes " "It follows that what the female would contribute to the semen of the male would be material for the semen to work upon." In other words the semen clots the menstrual blood."
  2. Galen (and I think Hippocrates) put forth the idea of red and white seed forming different parts of the baby. This was adopted by Chazal. And it was also the contemporary medical belief at the time of the Ramban, presumably via Avicenna. 
Meanwhile, there was other theories which developed across time. Here is an interesting article, as it touches upon Islamic belief. 

Ramban didn't mention both for both of them to be correct. He thought either one was plausible, and (in his day) impossible to determine. So he showed how either could be worked into the pesukim. But one of them is still incorrect.

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