Friday, January 28, 2011

Response to RYGB and the HoS view

RYGB: your attempt [in the comments to the previous post] to disavow the anecdotes you brought to support your position looks disingenuous. You certainly wrote to give the impression that you support the position RAS took, given that it was brought as support for your dismissal of RNS as "flippant", There was also the story of RYBS' dismissal of the Meiri. As well, you brought R Kamelhar as evidence that Chazal didn't take the aggadita literally, when there's absolutely no reason to believe that, v. infra.

"most courteous manner possible" - repudiation? hope that he recant, like Galileo Eretico? calling him flippant where you simply call others wrong? Ad hominems are courteous? They're Internetty, sure, but I thought you were trying for something better.

Although, reading Micha's quote above, I think RNS could have expressed the same idea without being quite so, well, abrasive. "Chazal were mistaken"? Really. "Chazal ruled in accordance with the science of their time, we have no evidence that they should have known current science through ruach hakodesh, therefore, when our poskim rule in accordance with the science of our time, they are following in the footsteps of our Sages."

The sociological characterizations, stipulated. The vehemence and flippancy of your disassociation essay, led me to think that you had actually supported his earlier positions, rather than supporting him personally. Sorry not to have remembered your actual position.

I'm not dismissing Kamelhar on the basis of his obscurity, but on the basis of the irrelevance of a modern reading for understanding how Chazal thought. As RNS said, there was a different metzius then, that Chazal thought Aristotle was right on physiology. To take a post-Harvey metaphorical reading is anachronistic and does not explain anything, except to make the aggadita more palatable to us, so that we don't have to reject it as "wrong" in a Maimonidean sense.

I wrote a paper on Galileo and the Church in HS for a history class. For a year afterwards, I would not say the Shir shel yom on Fridays, Ps. 93, "the world is set firm, it does not move." Until I read a metaphorical explanation by RSRH. Now, sure, that's not necessarily what Dovid Hamelech was thinking, but it allowed me to have a true idea in mind when reading the posuk. So too here. Kamelhar allows us to accept the aggadita without having to say Chazal were wrong. But that doesn't change the fact that Chazal thought they were right. It's just not an idea based on mesorah, hence independent of physical truth.

And that's the different metzi'us - not an actual change in teva (although that too may allow us to rationalize the change in rabbinic positions), but a change in scientific worldview between their day and ours. The metzius includes their mental state, the possibility of their having knowledge through non-supernatural means. Since they didn't espouse a position that was clearly not compatible with their medicine, that of brain-death, we have no evidence that they knew what we know about brain-stem death and rejected it in the face of supernatural knowledge.

I for one have no trouble accepting that they perceived phenomena that they interpreted as bas kol, or appearances of dead people - such stories continue on to today. How can a believing Jew deny the possibility of the supernatural? But there is no evidence of their having supernatural knowledge here, only natural knowledge. Which places them soundly within normal intellectual history - they ruled in accordance with reality as they knew it to be, but we understand reality differently. Shifts in psak due to the influence of the Zohar and the Ari are the same - rabbinic perceptions of reality changed, so psak changed. Supernarual or natural changes are still changes in reality. Only God is the Knower, the knowledge and the known - for us, they are different things.

Maybe I'm being an apologist for RNS because the HoS perspective resonates with me. Ainochenami, it's a different perspective than has yet been expressed in this debate, one which might help bring some resolution to the two "sides" that may not really be so far apart.

6 comments:

Mike S. said...

Since they didn't espouse a position that was clearly not compatible with their medicine, that of brain-death, we have no evidence that they knew what we know about brain-stem death and rejected it in the face of supernatural knowledge.

It is interesting to compare that approach to that of Rav Tendler. Rav Tendler argues that the standard of death that Chazal demanded and that was in traditional use was the cessation of natural respiration in someone who was "shocheiv k'meit", and that "brain stem death" is just the translation of that into modern physiological terms.

One view would ask how Chazal would define death given a knowledge of modern medical techniques and anatomical learning. The other would take death a a metziut with which Chazal were quite familiar, and translate their definition into modern terms so that it can be consistently applied as medicine progresses.

YGB said...

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2010/11/lies-damned-lies-and-medical-science/8269/

Garnel Ironheart said...

I once asked RNS if saying flat out "Chazal were wrong" was the right thing to say? Perhaps "Chazal were speaking within the context of their time" would be better?
His response was "That answer would also be delcared 'kefirah' by his opponents" so why beat around the bush?
But I think there's a huge difference between the two answers. Scientists are only right or wrong based on the science of their time. One cannot look back 350 years ago and announce that scientists were wrong because they didn't know about the germ theory of disease. Just like scientists 350 years from now shouuldn't look back at us and laugh because we hadn't invented warp drive yet.

S. said...

Wrt language, while I agree that language is important, it's also a sideshow. For example, a stock phrase like "lulei demistafina" doesn't really mean that you're not suggesting the thing you claim you're too afraid to suggest. In addition, controversial books like the Meor Enayim are full of pious language. It's very easy to give hasagos to someone very big and then tack on a line like "but I don't understand." It's easy to sign your name with "hakatan" and so forth. That's why I believe that people who argue that it's all about tone are just avoiding the real issue of content. If Slifkin spoke in a traditional idiom they'd just call him a nachash.

Anonymous said...

Can you summarize the metaphorical explanation for PS 93?

thanbo said...

The world's moral foundation is set firm, rather than its physical foundation.