Monday, June 6, 2011


In the previous analysis, I noted Rabbi Slifkin’s contradicting descriptions of what he claims was a mesorah about a celestial sphere. Another issue is Rabbi Slifkin’s mode of reasoning. 

Rabbi Slifkin admits that in reference to one midrashic opinion,* it can be misleading to call “solid” a rakia that came about through “congealed water.” This is because, he explains, congealed water is not a scientifically-acknowledged phenomenon. This is in contrast to the other opinions which, Rabbi Slifkin alleges, do maintain the rakia is a scientific, hard solid.**

So, the terminology of the proto-water “congealing”  does not necessarily mean that the celestial sphere was considered literally solid and hard. 

But the fact is that the depictions of the rakia by other individuals among Chazal as “made strong” and “made into a plate” are in the very same passage! So where is the “proof” that any of Chazal they thought the rakia is “substantive” in a scientifically-acknowledged sense—meaning “firm” and “hard” in a literal, scientific, earthly, mundane, physically coarse way?! And where is the proof that other talmudic and midrashic passages comparing “the” rakia to cloth tents in tautness, or cast iron mirrors in “strength,” are speaking in the sense of solid and opaque substance?

This is especially significant in view of Rabbi Slifkin’s frequently called-upon sevara of “there is no reason to say he disagreed.” 

It was called to Rabbi Slifkin’s attention that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (Breishis Rabbah 6:8)*** disagreed with other tannaim and said we simply do not know whether the stars move by means of the galgal, as they suggested, or of they “fly in the air,” are self-propelled, or what. This is not something that people could easily determine. I.e., the matter was unknown, and certainly was not a mesorah. Bar Yochai thus welcomes the possibility that the movement of the stars is not tied to any sphere at all—opaque, solid or otherwise. I indicated that this would render purposeless the existence of an actual celestial sphere relating to stars, and that this tanna therefore questions that such an entity exists. 

Rabbi Slifkin responds that “there is no reason to say” bar Yochai disagreed with the others who spoke of a celestial sphere that is allegedly solid and opaque. 

Now, back to our passage* about the rakia having been “frosted/congealed” (held by the “Rabbanan” in the name of Rabbi Chanina, and Rabbi Pinchas, and by Rabbi Yaakov bar Abin in the name of Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachman) and/or “made strong” (as per Rav, coining “יחזק הרקיע”) or into a “plate” (as per Rabbi Yehuda b’Rabbi Shimon):


Rabbi Slifkin admits that the first opinion is manifestly not speaking about “frosting/congealing” etc., in a scientific, physical sense of hardness and firmness or substance, despite the literal meaning of the term “גלדה.” Yet, regarding this passage, Rabbi Slifkin selectively does not use the reasoning that “there is no reason to say that the others disagreed.” He does not “reason” that those in the very same passage who presented other depictions of the rakia (as being “congealed” and made “strong,” or “like a plate, as can be derived from the posuk  ‘they made thin sheets of gold’ “) were likewise speaking in such a sense.


So one wonders, what makes this logic of “there is no reason to say they disagree” legitimate only for damaging the mesorah’s integrity and rejecting it?  

However, to avoid even more confusion, we will put aside this “one view in Chazal” that the rakia is “made out of congealed water.” (More precisely, the view is that the rakia was formed from one miniscule drop of “water” that was then stretched out over the entire earth.) Assuming this is indeed just one view, we should be interested in analyzing the other view[s] as to the nature of the rakia. 

In future posts, bli nedder, I will further demonstrate that Rabbi Slifkin’s assertion that any among Chazal subscribed to the view that the rakia is a “hard” substance—or that the rakia is  a substance in any way more solid/substantive/firm than the atmosphere (Rabbi Slifkin maintaining the atmosphere is not solid/substantive/firm)—holds no water. 

I will also deal with the Gemora in Pesachim that has been brought as evidence that Chazal universally believed in an opaque celestial dome. 


* מדרש רבה ד:ב

                                                                                                                                                  "ויאמר אלהים יהי רקיע בתוך המים."


 רבנן אמרין לה בשם רבי חנינא, ור' פנחס, ורבי יעקב בר' אבין, בשם רבי שמואל בר נחמן: בשעה שאמר הקב"ה "יהי רקיע בתוך המים," גלדה טיפה האמצעית, ונעשו השמים התחתונים ושמי שמים העליונים.


רב אמר לחים היו מעשיהם ביום הראשון, ובשני קרשו. "יהי רקיע"-- יחזק הרקיע.


ר' יהודה בר' סימון אמר: יעשה מטלית לרקיע היך מה דאת אמר (שמות לט) וירקעו את פחי הזהב


The Rabanan said in the name of Rabbi Chanina, and Rabbi Pinchas and Rabbi Yaakov bar Abin said in the name of Rabbi Shmuel Bar Nachman: When Hashem said "Let there be a rakia in the midst of the waters," the middle drop frosted/congealed (גלדה), and the lower heavens and higher “heaven of heavens” were made.


Rav said: The way they were made on the first day, they were in fluid form, and on the second day they congealed (קרשו).—”Let there be a rakia” means: the rakia should become strong.


Rabbi Yehuda Bar R. Simon said: [It means] A plate should be made, to be the rakia--just as you say, “they beat out thin sheets of gold.”



**Unless he doesn’t hold this, but that all Chazal agreed the rakia was not solid, but only “substantive.” His view fluctuates—see my previous post. But assuming that Rabbi Slifkin means “hard solid” when he says so, read on…



            ***בראשית רבה ו:ח

 ויתן אותם אלהים ברקיע השמים.” כיצד גלגל חמה ולבנה שוקעים ברקיע?--ר' יהודה בר אלעאי ורבנן. 

 רבנן אמרין: מאחורי הכיפה ולמטה. 

ור' יהודה בר אלעאי אמר: מאחורי הכיפה ולמעלה. 

 א"ר יוחנן: נראין דברי ר"י בר אלעאי--דהוא אמר מאחורי הכיפה ולמעלה--בימות החמה, שכל העולם כולו רותח, ומעיינות צוננין. ומלהון דרבנן--דאמרינן מאחורי הכיפה ולמטה--בימות הגשמים, שכל העולם כולו צונן ומעיינות פושרין. 

אמר רבי שמעון בן יוחאי: אין אנו יודעין אם פורחין הן באויר, ואם שפין ברקיע, ואם מהלכין הן כדרכן--הדבר קשה מאד, ואי אפשר לבריות לעמוד עליו.







  1. Your entire post is based on a mistaken understanding of what I wrote. While I said that congealed water is not a scientific concept, I certainly did not claim that it is not solid. And "congealed water" is perfectly consistent with the description of it being strong, and like a plate. I suggest that you look up some dictionary definitions of "solid."

    Also, there is not just a mere lack of reason to say that Rashbi disputed all this. The rakia is something in the Chumash, and defined by Chazal in broadly similar terms. Rashbi would not differ from them. Furthermore, he acknowledges that there is a rakia with a surface; he just is unsure if the stars are in contact with it as they move.

    But I know that it's a waste of time to argue with someone whose convictions are religious in nature.

  2. The word congealed has a scientific meaning but it also has nonscientific uses. It can mean hard. It can mean thick too.

    That last comment of yours Rabbi Slifkin is worthless and false and doesn't sound smart. He can't try to understand about congealed water? What is it a principle of faith? People have different biases and so raise points their opponents on an issue may miss. If you were really objective you would welcome people scrutinizing what you say and criticizing what you say as well, so that you can see if you missed something. Look who's talking about bias? You don't budge an inch from consensus in science even though it has no rational or scientific basis anymore than Richard Dawkins claiming both that God would be like an undetectable tea pot and at the same time claiming He is a scientific hypothesis to be investigated. The fact that some scientists are ignorant of the nature of the scientific method's limits and full outline means they are human too and can make statements on what the scientific method entails that are incoherent and/or silly. Scientific consensus is not science. If it were every time their is a consensus the opponents to an idea that achieved consensus would have to say that they are not giving a scientific opinion when expressing their opposition. It would also mean that a lack of official recognition of ones knowledge means a lack of expertise. So receiving a diploma becomes a process whereby the brain is helped to activated to some new level of expertise. So now we know what collapses the wave function of the universe...diplomas.

  3. Scientific consensus doesn't have to reflect the world as well as it does the majority opinion of scientists. The result is something that would make Galileo turn over in his grave:Those professing to uphold experimentation in science behaving like the Medieval followers of Aristotle where the measure of truth in science is conformity to authority. It sounds like the fate of many revolutions, including Aristotle's. For Rabbi Slifkin one must be an authority in some field before being able to critique and even then nonconformity to the dictates of the majority make one suspect or one's words were misinterpreted and really meant something in conformity. While it is natural to differ to authority traditionally it is where one feels that the authority must be reflecting something that in ones considered opinion we aught to be seeing in experiments or with technology at the time. We trust our doctor to be probably right or at least better than nothing but that's not enough to say we know the doctor really knows what he is talking about. As an example of legitimately relying on authority in science, while in the past claims that some star somewhere has a planet would be something a layperson would have to wonder about no matter how many scientists made the claim, ever since the Hubble Space Telescope was launched with its ability to take pictures and data in space even if one scientist made the claim it would have to be contended with at least that we have apparently some body spotted. Someone can argue otherwise as what is being relied on at bottom is not the scientist making the claim but the state of our research ability and technology. One is not relying on an authority because the authority has been granted the title, however well deserved. One is really relying on an impression that the authority is reflecting something that if one would take the time to investigate one would say and be entitled to say with a degree or no degree.

  4. Here is a photo of congealed water:

  5. Rabbi Slifkin, you need to make up your mind whether or not you think Chazal saw the rakia as an entity that is a harder and more impenetrable solid than the atmosphere.