Sunday, May 02, 2010

More on Rav Kanievsky and Heliocentrism

In a recent comment to an old post, the following, which bears repeating in a main post instead of remaining in obscurity in the comment section:
In a brief conversation with Rabbi Kanievski (about 4-5 years ago) regarding his sefer shekel hakodesh, and his ptolemaic diagram of the epi-cycle of the moon. I asked him that today people say that once can use the helocentic model and one would not need any epi-cycle.

He said that he knows that but he was going with the shitas harambam
[who follows the ptolemaic model]

I then asked him. so which is correct, the sun revolves around the earth or vice versa.?

he said that when moishiach comes, he will decide that.

this seems to be in accordance with what wikijew says.

That is then further confirmation that Rav Kanievsky does not maintain that the position of Copernicus is heresy. This is good news all around.

On the other hand, it is somewhat unfortunate that, according to this position, it is not resolvable bizman hazeh whether the sun revolves around the earth of vice versa. It is similarly the case that is is unknowable whether the earth is round or flat, and it is only for Moshiach to clarify this for us?! Obviously not.

I would guess that this is not a reactionary position, such that because the kofrim maintain otherwise we must maintain the possibility of the Rambam being correct. More likely, it is a matter of lack of knowledge of secular science. Dovid, the questioner and subsequent commenter, merely pointed out that one need not resort to epicycles. But he did not point out that rather compelling evidence that day and night is a result of the earth's rotation, about the Coriolis effect, about the motion of a pendulum, about stellar parallax. Likely this would require quite an involved and lengthy conversation.

Back to the first hand, who really cares? Does correct knowledge of astronomy really make one a better yerei shamayim? Does it really impact, practically, any halacha. It does not really matter. And so long as one is willing to accept the possibility of the other, and in this way not end up falsely labeling others kofrim, there seems to be little problem with all this.

Back to the second hand, here is why we should care.

There are indeed Jews who study science, and are taught this science in elementary school or high school. And so they know that the earth goes around the sun, and some of the proofs. When they encounter gemaras, or Rambams, other rabbinic sources which indicate otherwise, they are troubled. And so for these Jews, there is something they must grapple with, theologically. And then, some may arise -- such are Rabbi Slifkin, but Rabbi Slifkin was not the one with the big chiddush, but was saying things well known beforehand -- and defend our tradition by offering explanations, and how one can still respect Chazal and the integrity of Jewish tradition despite this divergence. To Jews who know science, this is great kiruv. To Jews who were ignorant of the science, this was never a problem, and so the very legitimization of the question is an attack on tradition. (And if either the heliocentric model or the geocentric model may be right, other people will assume the attitude of: how dare one assume that this illustrates Chazal were wrong on science?) And such books, even if not-kefirah, don't belong in a Jewish home.

Can one turn to the chareidi gedolim in Eretz Yisrael in such a situation to resolve such questions? Of course not! Not if they don't know enough science in the first place to legitimize the problem. They can fall back on the idea that we simply don't know.

As a separate issue, while this particular case does not appear to affect pesak, it might reveal a general lack of scientific knowledge, in cases where scientific knowledge could and should impact halacha. And knowledge of the metzius is a critical component in pesak.

So in sum, this is both encouraging and discouraging. At the least, it was not as discouraging as first appeared.


Devorah said...

You've probably read this before, but anyway here it is again:
(from the Lubavitcher Rebbe 40 years ago)

This matter of the sun and the earth is a further case in point. To declare categorically in the name of science, that the earth revolves around the sun, and not vise versa, is, as noted above, turning the scientific clock back to the 19th century and Medieval science. It is also at variance with the theory of relativity, which has likewise been universally accepted. Science now declares—as categorically as it is permissible for contemporary science—that where two bodies in space are in relative motion, it is scientifically impossible to determine which is at rest and which in motion.

joshwaxman said...

yes. thanks. that is good for revolution, perhaps. (though i heard tell that a physicist spoke to the rebbe subsequently, and that he reversed his position. something about circular vs. non-circular motion.)

but while perhaps good for revolution, it does not address rotation of the earth. yes, you can describe the motion of the two bodies using any coordinate system. but, for example, what accounts for the Coriolis effect if the earth is standing stock still, and the universe revolves around it?

so i have heard it, but i think it is apologetics. and given that the rebbe justified it almost on a *dare*, where the fellow agreed to become religious is the rebbe could justify it, i am not 100% convinced the rebbe believed it either.


dovid said...

I told Rav kanievsky that the goyim bring evidence that the earth rotates from geostationary satellites, while the rambam says it is the stars which revolve around the earth.

he said yes the earthy rotates (seeming to accept the geostationary satellite proof.)but also the stars revolve.

I am not quick, and needed time to think this through so could not follow this up further in the limited one minute time one has with him.

Moish said...

I think the MAJOR problem here is that most people ... questioners and responders really don't understand physics. It's too bad. Most of the questions would stop being questions if you really understood what physics says and what it doesn't say. There are a number of frum physicists (I am one - and I have colleagues) who would be happy to help explain things. But it is hard to do in writing. You really need to look someone in the eye when explaining in order to make sure they understand.


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