Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Interesting Posts and Articles #254

1. Rabbi Shmueli Boteach: Religious Incitement Over My 'Kosher Jesus' Book. As he writes,
Will Chabad be overtaken by ignorant extremists who condemn a book that they have never even seen, let alone read, and call for the excommunication of a Rabbi who has devoted his life to fighting the battles of the Jewish people? Will they call me and the book to be banned?
You can see the condemnation, based merely on the title, at Matzav.

2. At Machon Shilo, On Rambamism: A Word to the Wise. An excerpt:
However, as is frequently the case with those looking for a quick fix, Rambamists tend to oversimplify, often adopting extreme and unreasonable positions. We all recognise that regarding many issues in life, careful analysis is required before attempting to suggest a way forward. If this is true of more mundane matters, how much more so is this the case in the realm of Torah.
3. A mysterious planet-sized object spotted near Mercury.

4. At Yeranen Yaakov, Mav Mustafi: Don't worry about the eclipse.
We, the nation of Israel, trust in Hashem Yitbarach and in His Torah and we should not be concerned about all of this. However, we all need to strengthen ourselves in guarding the Torah, modesty, holiness, and the Shabbat, and with Hashem's help, we will be redeemed soon.
Of course, there are those who are concerned about lunar eclipses.
The Talmud [Sukah 29a] states that eclipses are bad signs for the world. The Talmud then elaborates on what can cause an eclipse:

An eclipse of the sun occurs for the following four reasons: For not having eulogized a chief judge (a chief judge is comparable to the sun, for he enlightens and clarifies things for the community - Maharsha); for not having helped a betrothed maiden when she called for help (to save her from ill treatment); for committing adultery and for killing two brothers on the same day.

Because of the following four reasons the moon and the stars eclipsed:

For committing forgery, for false witnesses, for raising sheep and goats in the land of Israel (that is, for letting goats and sheep pasture from other people's fields - Rashi), and for cutting down fruit-bearing trees.
Of course, we know that lunar and solar eclipses are entirely natural and predictable phenomena, and that there is no way of preventing one or causing one. You can see there for the Lubavitcher Rebbe's harmonization:
During the time of an eclipse, the stars are in a position that can have a bad influence on the people. At such a time, the four aforementioned sins are more readily transgressed! For this reason the eclipse is a bad sign for the Jews, because they are more likely to sin than at some other time. As a result, they might be punished. Hence it is not our actions that cause the eclipse, but rather the eclipse that can alter our actions, triggering a heavenly punishment.

Therefore, if Jews are doing Hashem's will, the effects of the eclipse will not concern them. Chazal even say that we should not worry about the influence of stars if we do what Hashem wants. For as long as we do not let the bad mazal alter our actions, we do not deserve any punishment.

Jews are not limited by the boundaries of nature, including the celestial bodies. We have the power to change our mazal by doing good deeds. Our mazal depends on our actions and our prayers.
But that harmonization relies in part in the belief in mazal as a real thing. If one believes astrological influences to be bunk, then this explanation does not fly.

Here are three ideas I had about this. Firstly, while the Greeks could likely predict or at the least explain lunar, based on the idea that the Sun goes behind the Earth, according to the astronomy of Chazal, in which the Sun travels behind the rakia, there would not be a computable explanation for a lunar eclipse. And then one might readily take these as an extremely bad omen, or as a change from the natural order as a result of the sins of mankind.

Therefore, I don't know that I would agree wholeheartedly with the assumption behind the Rebbe's question:
It is a wellknown fact that Torah scholars had a vast knowledge of science in general and astronomy in particular. Astronomy was very important for the Jews in order to establish the calendar and proclaim the new months. Even great non-Jewish individuals would ask the Rabbis scientific questions. Therefore, we cannot say that the Rabbis were uttering nonsense when it came to the subject of the eclipse.
Second, I agree that Chazal did believe in astrological influences. And that still, ain mazal leYisrael because our outcomes rely on our actions and prayers. As the eclipse gemara in Succah says: When the Jews do Hashem's will, they can leave all the worrying about these matters to the Gentiles. I agree somewhat with the Rebbe's explanation.

Perhaps also related to all this is Aristotle's explanation of the various causes of eclipses. Everything typically has four causes:

  • The material cause: “that out of which”, e.g., the bronze of a statue.
  • The formal cause: “the form”, “the account of what-it-is-to-be”, e.g., the shape of a statue.
  • The efficient cause: “the primary source of the change or rest”, e.g., the artisan, the art of bronze-casting the statue, the man who gives advice, the father of the child.
  • The final cause: “the end, that for the sake of which a thing is done”, e.g., health is the end of walking, losing weight, purging, drugs, and surgical tools.

There is, however, a caveat to be considered when interpreting this claim. Aristotle is not committed to the view that everything has all four causes, let alone that everything has a final/formal cause. In the Metaphysics, for example, Aristotle says that an eclipse of the moon does not have a final cause (Metaph.1044 b 12). What happens when there is no final/formal cause like in the case of an eclipse of the moon? An eclipse of the moon is deprivation of light by the interposition of the earth which is coming in between the sun and the moon. The interposition of the earth, that is, its coming in between the sun and the moon, is to be regarded as the efficient cause of the eclipse. Interestingly enough, Aristotle offers this efficient cause as the cause of the eclipse and that which has to be given in reply to the question “why?” (Metaph. 1044 b 13–15).
Chazal are stepping in and providing the final cause.

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