Sunday, February 27, 2005

Miracles and the Natural Order - part 2

Another gemara which perhaps reflects this idea of Hashem in control of the derech haTeva, the natural order, can be found on Ketubot 3b - Ketubot 4a:

The Mishna on 3b states:

דף ג, ב פרק א הלכה ב משנה
בתולה כתובתה מתאים
ואלמנה מנה
בתולה אלמנה גרושה וחלוצה מן האירוסין כתובתן מאתים ויש להן טענת בתולים
הגיורת והשבויה והשפחה
שנפדו שנשתחררו ושנתגיירו פחותות מבנות שלש שנים ויום אחד
כתובתן מאתים ויש להן טענת בתולים:
A virgin's ketuba is 200 {silver dinarim}
And a widow, a maneh {= 100 silver dinarim}
A virgin who is a widow or divorcee or has undergone chalitza, from betrothal {as opposed to from full nisuin}, their ketuba is 200 {silver dinarim} and they have upon them {the possibility of their husbands making} a taanat betulim = {a complaint that they were not virgins, with the possible effect of losing out on the entire ketuba based on the fact that they may have cheated while betrothed, or at least half of it.}
The {female} convert, captive, or {Canaanite} maidservant
That was redeemed {if a captive}; that was freed {if a maidservant, such that now she has the status of a Jewish woman}; and that was converted {if a convert}, when they were less than 3 years and 1 day
Their ketuba is 200 {silver dinarim} and they have upon them a taanat betulim.
The idea behind this last law is that all these three - a woman captive, slave, or non-Jew, were in situations such that they may no longer be virgins. However, if something happened to them when they were younger than 3 years and 1 day, the scientifically grounded {in their contemporary science} assumption is that the body hadn't been developed enough and will recover, such that the hymen will grow back. {Perhaps because the hymen only stretches rather than breaks and further growth of the body compensates for this, such that it is no longer stretched?}

Because anti-Semitic sites like to take gemaras such as this one out of context and pretend that the gemara is recommending that one sleep with a girl younger than 3 years and 1 day, let me point out here that that is definitely not what is going on here. Rather, they are discussing the law that would apply had this happened to the woman.

On the next page (4a), the gemara discusses this Mishna:
פחותות מבנות שלש שנים ויום אחד
רבי יוסי בשם ר' חייה בר אשי
רבי יונה רב חייה בר אשי בשם רב
למה זו דומה לעושה גומא בבשר וחוזר ומתמלא
תני רבי חייה לעוכר את העין וחוזרת וצוללת
א"ר יוסי מתניתא אמרה כן פחותות מיכן כנותן אצבע בעין
אמר רבי אבין (תהילים נז) אקרא לאלהים עליון לאל גומר עלי
בת שלש שנים ויום אחד ונמלכין ב"ד לעוברו
הבתולין חוזרין
ואם לאו
אין הבתולין חוזרין
"Less that 3 years and 1 day"
Rabbi Yossi citing Rabbi Chiyya bar Ashi
Rabbi Yona: Rabbi Chiyya bar Ashi citing Rav
To what is this compared? To making a depression {scratch} in flesh, and it returns to normal and fills up {heals}
Rabbi Chiyya learnt {in a brayta} to darkening {muddying} the eye and it returns to normal and clears up {perhaps the reference it to getting a black eye or else a red eye as a result of a punch; Alternatively, like muddying up water in a wellspring, which shortly will reclarify.}
Rabbi Yossi said: the Mishna {in Nidda 5:4} says this: "younger than this, it is like putting a finger in the eye."
Rabbi Avin cites Tehillim 57:3
ג אֶקְרָא, לֵאלֹקִים עֶלְיוֹן; לָקֵל, גֹּמֵר עָלָי. 3 I will cry unto God Most high; unto God that accomplisheth it for me.
{The drasha seems based on the simple reading of the verse of calling out to God, and God accomplishing, but perhaps לֵאלֹהִים refers to a bet din, court of law, as it sometimes does elsewhere.}
A girl 3 years and 1 day, and bet din decides to declare the year a leap year
{by adding an extra month, and therefore she is officially less that 3 years and 1 day by 1 month}
the hymen returns
and if they do not {declare a leap year}
the hymen does not return.
Thus we see Hashem making the natural order conform to the decision of a group of rabbis , such that a decision to declare a leap year has repercussions and manifests itself in the natural order.

Now this statement is difficult for me (and probably any reader grounded in science) to understand, for isn't the natural order outside of Divine control? However, if we consider the natural order to be the laws of nature God set into motion but that God can and does manipulate the world using the natural order, then it is not surprising that God can set the world up {or else modify the natural order} so that a halachic determination has an effect in the world. The sense I get from the gemara is that this is not on the level of overt miracle but rather part of the natural order.

{Note also that the proof text refers to God, as opposed to derech haTeva, the natural order. The fact that it needs be proven from a drasha from a pasuk perhaps shows that it is a somewhat novel concept, though.}

I think the Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa would have no problem fitting this idea into his world philosphy. Nor would the Alter of Kelm, nor would the Ramban, I think, even though he was a doctor. Nor would R Shternbuch.

I think one can fit this idea even into a scientific approach that tries to understand and make use of the mechanics of the natural order, such that this belief need not be anti-scientific.

More in a later post. Comments welcome.

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