Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Rav Soloveitchik's lectures III - Commensurability

Rav Meir Triebitz writes:

We have already hinted that the Rav views halacha as the central basis for a philosophy of Judaism. This theme appears over and over again in the Rav’s writings, and in particular in lecture XII where he declares:

Whether an idea is typically Jewish can best be judged by the halacha – not the Aggadah – to understand any work as the authority meant to convey and you must have lived in the same social environment and cultural forces as the author. Mankind is changeable in its cognitive adventures, and to say that I understand Aristotle means in the tradition of Aristotle, which, of course, has been subject to change. In halacha there is a masoret, a tradition as to method, but if I give an interpretation to Maimonides, it does not necessarily mean that Maimonides meant just that. If measured by halachic standards it is correct. That suffices. But as to Aggadah, there is no tradition, nor in philosophy do we have a tradition. In halacha there is a certain kabballah without any missing links, while in Aggada and certainly philosophy there are many such missing links.
It appears to me that the Rav’s remarks concerning evolution are an attempt to achieve what I would call ‘halachic commensurability’ and not, merely, ‘scientific commensurability’. While Judaism views man as the “bearer of a divine image” and therefore endowed with the capacity for transcendence, this transcendence, in the Rav’s words, “was always seen against the background of naturalness. The canvas was man’s immanence; transcendence was just projected on it as a display of colors” (Emergence of Ethical Man p. 9). The Rav is clearly speaking from the standpoint of the halachah. In contradistinction, “Christianity succeeded in isolating them and reducing the element of naturalness to a state of corruption” (ibid.). This has to be seen as a consequence of Christianity’s rejection of the halacha.


  1. I have not analyzed his statement so i cannot comment. But, evolution and the earth is as important as halacha. It is not agaadah. Chas vesholom. It is in the Chumash. All the stories have to be true. What he is discussing is the talmudic agadah.

    In fact, evolution and creation are what we call maaseh beerishit. This issue is not philoshpy. It does have a tradition. Arbah nichnesu lepardes etc.

    Sorry for disagreeing again.

  2. Even though I love the Rov, I must point out something that troubles me. You quoted some gedolim who said that evolution and the age of the earth greater than 6000 are acceptable because we have no tradition.

    I beg to differ. in the Talmud we have as I said maaseh bereishis. Some people kept up the tradition. It went midor dor. Not all tanoim and amorim studies it. Even though the authorship of the Zohar has been questioned kabalah began earlier. We have already R. Yitzchok from Ako preceded by R. Ezaryah and R. azriel. These mekubalim taught the ramban whose writings are full of sod.

    There is a tradition and in Brisk and litvasher yeshivot this discipline was ignored. The founder reb C. MiVolozyn and teh Geroh were mekubalim but did not put into the curiculum.
    R. Soloveitchik is self taught when it comes to kabalah. So, there is no question that he sees gaps.

    So, I am not sure that saying there is no tradition amounts to more than not knowing. They just do not know. I suggest they study with mekubakim and then we will see "our" view on all this.

    I am not comfortable in saying science disagrees with the Torah on creation when I have not learned the whole torah-in this case kabalah.

  3. I asked Rav Triebitz the question regarding halacha changing if the scientific explanation is refuted. He said that Rav soloveitchik's position was similar to that of Rav Dessler. The halacha was not based upon the scientific explanation given. Thus Rav Soloveitchik rejected the view of the Rambam who wanted total commensurability betweeen halacha and science.

  4. Rejecting the view of the Rambam (who wanted total commensurability between halacha and science), would seem to imply that halacha is infallible and the science must be flawed if there is a conflict.

    I believe that is a misnomer. For example, Sephardim prohibited having fish and dairy together because it was believed to be an unhealthy combination. When modern science proved that incorrect, Rav Ovadia Yosef removed the prohibition.

    Would Rav Soloveitchik have considered Rav Yosef incorrect to change the Halacha on the basis of the science?

  5. In Halacha there is a tradition as to method.

    Part of that method is based on facts that are known at the time.

    This would surely leave room for changing the Halacha on certain matters as knowledge of those matters improves.

    Perhaps the best example of this is the setting of our calendar.

    No longer do we wait for monthly observations, as was specifically required by Halacha.

    Instead, based on precise scientific calculations, calendars are printed in advance, distributed globally, and never altered.

    Naturally, Halacha takes precedence no matter what. If we have a Sanhedrin again and they declare the new month a day earlier/later than it actually should have begun (according to the calculations) then that is when the new month begins.

    I would hope that the Rav didn't feel that hard science (facts) should be disregarded when considering Halacha, but some of these posts do give that impression.

  6. I do not agree with R. Treibitiz completely. Actually, I do. It is the understanding of R. Dessler that I challenge.

    R. Dessler states that the reason given is among many. I have a friend who called it "hidden agenda".

    But, this does not mean that we do not use the reason to extrapolate. How could we go from one halacha to the next if we do not "use" the reason. We do not know others; we believe they are there.

    I think that the two sages R. Dessler and the rov meant that we must use the "axioms". We canot free ourselves.

    If you disagree then explain "how" we can learn. With this insight I would say that the Rov and R. Dessler are one.

    BTW Even R. Herzog who was a scientist paskened in OC that we may kill a louse even though the madoim disagree.

    I would say taht teh chazon ish was machmir by the tolim but I doubt if he would by the lice since they were identified. i am sure he would not say that the old ones are hiding and we have a new species.

    At any rate, I am done since I think we agree in general.

    However I do have trouble when it comes to making the Bible into mythology. Just because teh rambam said it is not kipeshuto does not give license to say anything we want.

    The Rov said G-d follwed the model of Ptolmey. What he meant was earth centered. This is justified because teh sun and moon were created on the 4th day. Frankly, if teh Almighty used the old science then why look for phases instead of days.

    Evolution is only a theory based on very little evidence. The age of teh earth is another issue. However, what is wrong with saying that the Almighty created teh world in teh middle of a differential equation. Who says we must go backwards? If man was created as a grownup he needed wrinkles. if the trees came out on teh 3rd day they needed to have rings etc.

    G-d can do anything. Who is tell Him how to make teh world?

    And, this takes us through creation. I saw a scholar write that the flood is also a myth -not kipeshuto. We will soon have Aba Mori (the person the Rashba fought with) telling us that the avos did not exist.

    I am sorry to say this. The problem has no good answer. anything that destroys the peshat and tells us not to use Rashi, Ramban etc. cannot be correct. I will not go as far as calling anything apikursis. What I would say is "mistaken". We do have traditions. Look for them.

  7. I still would like you to show me a single accepted posek who changed a halacha because of science if it could not be backed by rishonim.

    Even the rambam who wanted to reconcile it did not do so in the Yad. There are mekoros for the rambam with the jaw terefah peask. If they did they had to invoke hishtanus. And, even that is not suffiecient. Reb Moshe in the testicle sheeloh was mekil using that only after he showed that the halacha's underlying principle was procreation. Without that he still had no heter.

    The case of the louse is interesting. Most poskim rejected the pachad yitzchok and even though there are some who did they gave other reasons. BTW The Rebbie of the Pachad Yitzchok disagreed.

  8. Claude,

    You raised the question of fish and milk. The Talmud in Chulin allows "dogim shelou bekaro" (cooked in a meat pot) to be eaten with kutach-a cheese product. True, that based on old medical scientific beliefs it was prohibited they had to be medayek that it did NOT contradict teh talmud. The problem was the original issur not the heter.

    Now that we know that there is no concern many poskim are matir. Look at the darke Teshuvah. The OU is still machmir not to mix the two. They have to be "shoveh lechol nefesh" although they take a small kulah using a snif. R. O. Yosef is not alone.

  9. If you read my posts you will see that claimed from the beginning that the Rov and R. Dessler are saying the same thing. I said it explicitly.

    I heard and read so many of his lectures on actual cases that it became clear who wins - science or halacha. To quote "The Torah says "tav lematav tan du". This means that it is a built in fact that a woman wants to be married more than a man. End of discussion.
    Some Rabbi suggested "afkinu" and he said "We are now tearing up a whole mesechta". as I said. he went to berlin and came out whole. The only trouble I have is his need to change days into phases and why agree with the possibilty of evolution. I read a book on it and let me point out that there are a few theories out there. No one agrees except that religion is wrong. The fossil evedince has to many missing links to account for their ideas. If you want to have yichus from an ape it OK with me. I have better yichus in mind. I came from G-d's first pair.

    The only insight I want to share is that we have to make use of the reason. Without those axioms no one can discuss anything or extrapolate.

    I do not think that there is anything for me to write up. I think we are on the smae page. But, I still want to hear about a major posek that changed a halacha because of a scientific fact.

    So, be well.

  10. I do want to ask Rav Triebitz to define science. What I mean is let us compare our attitudes to the time of the rambam.

    The Greeks believed they had knowledge. They were scholastics. We have what is called the scientific method-observation and verification. It was what we call theory.

    Newton had a mechanistic universe which was overthrown by einstein and the Quantum physics. Even gravity is in question. The universe should be shrinking instead of expanding-things pull together. We have so many issues that we have 17 or more dimensions to explain all. in short - we know nothing. Medicine is a collection of statistical facts. It works most of the time.

    Why do we have to pay homage to disciplines that are developed by blind people touching an elephant?

    We know a lot and can do big things. But, we do not know the essense of anything. The Maharal made that point. For this we have revelation.

    The rambam had a problem. he believed with his whole being in science. But, we do not know what to believe. If he lived today - he would not have used his approach.

    Evolution is unproven. Tell me which shitah I am to follow. The age of the earth cannot really be proven if as i said the differential equations have a different t0. Prove that I am wrong.

    Let us not be in love with "science" which is only theory.


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