Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Important Correction regarding Rav Kaminetzky on the moon, and whether Chazal could be wrong

A week or so ago, I received the following email (hat tip upon request), pointing out a critical error in an earlier blogpost:
I am very concerned about a piece of misinformation on your blog. I do not mean to attack you; indeed I do not know if it was a malicious or innocent error. You wrote the following:  
Rav Yaakov Kaminetzsky watched the moon landing on TV, he did so to determine whether the Rambam was correct that the moon was of a different, non-substantial material. When Neil Armstrong touched foot on the moon, Rav Yaakov Kaminetzsky concluded that Chazal, including the Rambam, must have been wrong. (He likely didn't know that this was drawn from Aristotle, not Chazal in particular, and had been disproven centuries earlier based on optics.) He did not say that we must not believe our own eyes and our own seichel. In contrast, the Satmar Rebbe believed the moon landing must have been faked. (emphasis added) 
I am not contesting this theological standpoint per se, but rather that R' Yaakov ever said it. In the book Making of a Godol the story is clearly recorded that R' Yaakov concluded from the moon landing that the first three chapters of the Rambam were NOT taken from Chazal and rather must have been based on Greek philosophy which is fallible. I wondered if perhaps in R' Nosson's shiur he said it differently but I listened to it and he said it EXACTLY the same way. Thus R' Yaakov's position is the exact opposite as is stated on your blog (and others). R' Yaakov believed Rishonim could be wrong NOT Chazal (not precisely the inverse of the entire statement, but certainly the important part). Please correct this mistake which I assume was innocent.
It was my error, and was not the result of malice, but rather simple incompetence and poor reading comprehension on my part. I mis-remembered the story, or misunderstood the story when I first saw it.

Here it is at the Kabbalah UMadda blog:
R. Nosson Kaminetsky told the following story about his father, R. Yaakov Kaminetsky, and the moon landing. (It is a great lecture and well worth listening to if you haven’t already. Here is the link to Of Bans, Earthquakes and Tsunamis, ) When they were broadcasting the moon landing on TV, R. Yaakov went to a neighbor’s house to watch the moon landing. He wanted to see whether or not Rambam was correct about the moon being different from the Earth. After seeing Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldron on the moon, he concluded that the in fact Rambam was mistaken. In this instance his halakhah followed Aristotle and did not follow Chazal.

One final footnote to this story, one of my Rebbeim at Yeshiva told me another story about R. Yaakov and the moon landing. Apparently in the first version of the Emet l’Yaakov (R. Yaakov’s perush on the Chumash) he described watching the moon landing on TV. In the second edition of the sefer, there was a blank space where that description used to be. Finally in later editions there were no hints to the idea that R. Yaakov had watched the moon landing. Now my question is: which is the bigger danger - watching television, or stating that Rambam made a mistake?
To explain what I mean about poor reading comprehension, looking back to 2009, it seems that I misunderstood the statement that "In this instance his halakhah followed Aristotle and did not follow Chazal", taking it to mean that Rav Kaminetsky's halachah followed Aristotle rather than Chazal. And then I tried to show that in fact Aristotle maintained a similar position. (Meanwhile, Kabbalah UMadda meant that Rambam's halachah followed Aristotle rather than Chazal.)

My bad. I regret the error, and hope to emend the relevant blogposts to match.


Warren Burstein said...

Do you have more info about the Satmarer's belief that it was faked? Is that also from Making of a Godol, or from somewhere else?

joshwaxman said...

informally, here are two sites that mention it.



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