Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Did the Gra believe in Torah UMaddah?

This is an excerpt of page 53 of the book The Vilna Gaon: The Man and His Image. I am not so convinced by the dismissal of the implications of this sparse evidence, which would lead to an image of the man more in conformity with current frum expectations.

Regardless, apparently, the Gra urged others to translate scientific texts into Hebrew, and expressed his wish that more (?modern? classical?) scientific texts be available in Hebrew. (Indeed, if more scientific texts were available in Hebrew, it is quite possible that he would not have insisted, against scientists, that the earth was flat.) He also wanted historical texts (admittedly of Jewish origin) translated into Hebrew, because of the light it would shed on the intention of Chazal in the Talmud and Midrashim.

Thus, at the very least, he thought that outside historical texts could help us get to the historical truth of what Chazal meant. And he valued that. I would guess that he valued it for more than its historical value. Would he say that Chazal's intent does not matter, but what matters is how later generations misinterpreted it? I would guess not.

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