Friday, July 15, 2011

The Nature of “The” Rakia, Part Seven--Chazal Did Not [at] All Think the Celestial Rakia is Opaque

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Rabbi Slifkin’s final mistake pertains to what he claims Chazal held about the opacity, or lack thereof, of the celestial-rakia. He points to the Gemora in Pesachim 94a as proof that Chazal universally held that the celestial rakia has an opaque surface (in addition to being a solid dome), such that would block the sight of anything behind it, specifically the sun in its imagined travels.[1] That this is erroneous—i.e., that not all Chazal held this, and perhaps none held this—can be plainly seen from a Midrash about Avraham Avinu with which Rashi has made us all familiar:

מדרש רבה בראשית פרשה מד

אמר רבי יהודה בשם ר' יוחנן העלה אותו למעלה מכיפת הרקיע הוא דאמר ליה הבט נא השמימה אין הבטה אלא מלמעלה למטה

Said Rebbi Yehudah in the name of Rebbi Yochonon:[2] [When Hashem wanted to impress Avraham with how numerous his descendents will be, he had him look at the stars—but not up at the stars.] He raised him above the כיפת הרקיע, the rakia’s sphere [or “dome,” and Avraham gazed down from there and saw the stars]. This is why it says “הבט נא השמימה”, “Gaze [down] at the heavens—for the term “הבט” connotes gazing from a higher vantage point towards something at a lower level.

Chazal (or at least those individuals among Chazal who promulgated this teaching) did not visualize the part of the rakia behind the stars as opaque, such that it would block our sight of anything on the other side of it (such as the stars, or the sight of the sun in its imagined course). In describing Avraham’s prophetic vision,[3] when Hashem wanted him to see the uncountable number of stars, Chazal visualized Avraham as being positioned above the dome of the rakiathe same place that the Gemora Pesachim places the sun at night—and looking downwards to see the stars. Now, to look down from the back of the rakia and see the stars—and certainly to see more stars than what are visible from earth—requires visualizing the rakia as being transparent, not opaque. Indeed, if the back of the rakia were opaque, it would be the worst place from which to see the stars!

(Furthermore, we note that Avraham is not depicted—neither literally nor even poetically—as shattering anything on his way up through the rakia, and nor is Hashem depicted as “opening the heavenly spheres” for him to pass through them. This again indicates that Chazal visualized the rakia as a non-solid substance—meaning no more solid than, say, the atmosphere; and probably, as the rishonim took it, as even less solid.)

clip_image004Secondly, Chazal understood that the moon’s light is only due to the sun’s.[4] If at night the sun is behind an opaque surface that prevents us from seeing it, how can one account for the moon’s lit surface? And of course, there is the admission made by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai that we simply do not know if the movement of the stars are indeed related to any celestial spheres. [5]

These questions would all be answered by accepting that at least some of Chazal, if not all of Chazal, did not think of the rakia as intrinsically opaque or solid. And indeed, we have seen that there are statements from Chazal indicating that at least some of them, if not all of them, thought of the rakia as non-solid and transparent. These facts certainly belie Rabbi Slifkin’s claim that Chazal had a universal mesorah that the earth is covered by a solid, opaque dome.

In the next posts, I will suggest that even according to the Gemora Pesachim that deals with the sun’s path at night, we need not say the reason the sun is unseen at night is due to any opacity of the rakia.


[1] Even if they would have held that the celestial sphere is opaque, they may have envisioned it as a some substance such as a thick cloud (dark or otherwise) that blocks out the sun—not at all necessarily a solid, impenetrable material. Regardless, all this investigation would be irrelevant if not for the assertion (unwarranted, not only in my opinion, but obviously in that of the rishonim) that since the rakia is something mentioned in the Torah, whatever Chazal said about it must have been their mesorah of what the word meant. The fact is, Rambam and many others deny that the sayings of Chazal that touch upon the celestial region’s makeup were matters of mesorah (facts transmitted by the prophets), which would render them incontrovertible.

[2] This teaching was also reported by Rebbi Yehuda bar Rebbi Seemone in the name of Rebbi Chanin (Sh’mos Rabbah 38), Rebbi Shmuel Bar R. Yitzchak (Bamidbar Rabbah 2) and Rebbi Levi (Yalku Shimoni, Breishis 18: § 76.

[3] We are consistently following the Rambam’s “rationalist” perspective, which includes the view that all this episode was a prophetic vision, and not a physical occurrence.

[4]                                                                                                                                    מדרש אגדה בראשית פרק א ד"ה [טז] ויעש אלהים

וגזר עליה שלא תהא מאירה אלא מכח השמש.ס

Midrash Aggada Breishis on Breishis 1:16

Hashem decreed that the moon could only shine through the power of the sun

זהר במדבר קפא

דהא לא אנהיר סיהרא אלא מנהורא דשמשא.ס

Zohar on B’Midbar 181

For behold, the moon only shines through the shining of the sun

Also, see Philo: (91) … it is on the fifteenth day that the moon is rendered full of light, borrowing its light from the sun at the approach of evening, and restoring it to him again in the morning [if meant literally, not quite our take—ZL] so that during the night of the full moon the darkness is scarcely visible, but it is all light.

[5]                                                                                                                                                                                  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. ומילהון 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

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said, We do not know if they fly in the air, if they glide in the rakia,, or if they go on their own way; the matter is exceedingly difficult and it is impossible for humans to determine.

37 comments:

  1. "Chazal (or at least those individuals among Chazal who promulgated this teaching) did not visualize the part of the rakia behind the stars as opaque, such that it would block our sight of anything on the other side of it (such as the stars, or the sight of the sun in its imagined course)."

    Well, that is one interpretation. Another rather obvious interpretation is that since the ancients saw the stars as fixed in the dome, perhaps Chazal envisioned it as fixed through and through the depth of the rakia, such that one could look down from the other side and see the stars fixed in the same positions.

    Why was this possibility not evident, such that it is not even considered and such that you write that "That this is erroneous... can be plainly seen"? What is you basis for saying that indeed there is "part of the rakia behind the stars"?

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  2. "(Furthermore, we note that Avraham is not depicted—neither literally nor even poetically—as shattering anything on his way up through the rakia, and nor is Hashem depicted as “opening the heavenly spheres” for him to pass through them. This again indicates that Chazal visualized the rakia as a non-solid substance—meaning no more solid than, say, the atmosphere; and probably, as the rishonim took it, as even less solid.)"

    Or alternatively, that irrelevant details of a quite likely metaphorical description were not mentioned, because they are irrelevant to the point being made. Hashem could have 'beamed' him there, for all we know. Or He could have taken him via the path the Sun takes -- under the lip and around the back, such that no 'shattering' would need to take place. A diyuk like this from what is not mentioned is not very convincing.

    kt,
    josh

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  3. Secondly, Chazal understood that the moon’s light is only due to the sun’s.

    Your two proofs are Midrash Aggada and Zohar. When precisely was Midrash Aggada authored, that you can bring this as proof to Chazal's position, rather than, say, that of Rishonim?

    In terms of the Zohar, what if one holds like Rav Kook, that this was a late revelation by Rashbi to Rav Moshe de Leon; or like the Chasam Sofer, that there are a lot of medieval additions (ruba de'ruba) to the core work by Rashbi? According to these, how is this proof to Chazal's view of the rakia?

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  4. Dear Josh,

    Thank you for your comments. I was wondering if anyone was reading my previous posts, or if they were so convincing that nobody could find an argument against them. They contested the claim that it is reasonable to think that all of Chazal, according to all the rishonim, unanimously thought the mesorah takes the rakia to be a hard, opaque surface, such that it is reasonable to arrive at the extraordinary, unprecedented (and, I would add, outrageous) conclusion that it is legitimate to reject (parts of) the mesorah.

    First of all, let’s say I would retract my statement that the view that Chazal according to all rishonim unanimously thought the rakia is opaque is "erroneous," and instead simply said that the view is "not at all compelling." I think I still would have made my case.

    Or do you think that it is compelling—or even more likely—that when Chazal thought the stars were objects embedded in the rakia, they must have meant that they were holes punctured through and through? Truth to tell, the Ramban entertains the possibility that that is what the reality is. But you think all the rishonim took Chazal this way? Or that it is implicit in the words of Chazal—rather than saying Chazal thought that the stars are bodies?

    And is it my burden of proof? It is Rabbi Slifkin making the extraordinary claim of identifying the unanimous opinion of all Chazal according to all rishonim.!

    Let’s see. The sun is one of the stars “embedded” in the rakia. Does the description of its travels indicate that it is a hole through and through the rakia?

    The Jewish philosophers thought that the galgal is motionless, and the stars glide along it. How does that work with saying the stars are holes through-and-through the rakia?

    Or, to use the infamous “no reason not to say he disagreed” sevara: The Jewish philosophers thought the stars traveled along the galgal, so they thought they were (ephereal) bodies, not puncture holes. The gentiles thought they were embedded in the galgal. There is no reason to think the gentiles disagreed with the Jews about the make-up of the stars. They only disagreed about their cause of movement vis a vis the galgal. So even if the final opinion is that the gentiles’ theory seemed preferable to that of the Jews’, neither thought the stars were puncture holes.

    I hardly think it likely that Chazal thought the stars were puncture holes in the rakia.

    Here is something else to think about. Why, according to Chazal, did Hashem raise Avraham to behind the stars so that he would count them gazing down at them, rather than simply seeing their great number from earth, below? My original suggestion: The individual stars visible from earth with the naked eye are really not that many. (I say individual to put aside the fact that the Milky Way galaxy is really a conglomerate of innumerous stars.) At most about 10,000. (Other estimates are 1,000 or 6,000, depending upon different variables.) Now, 10,000 people do not make much of a nation! If one is up in space, however, he would be able to see many, many more. Thus, in Avraham’s prophetic vision, to see an impressionable number of stars, he would have to be looking at them down from space. (And in my illustration, he’s looking at the Milky Way as well!) Tgis doesn't work if the stars are puncture holes.

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  5. Josh Waxman: Or alternatively, that irrelevant details of a quite likely metaphorical description were not mentioned, because they are irrelevant to the point being made.

    Again, the burden of proof is on the claim that our current view of astronomy indicates the rejection of part of the mesorah. You can kvetch alternative explanations, but the lack of indication against the mesorah maintains the status of the mesorah as incontrovertible as the default position.

    Besides, I think it would be quite in character for such a metaphorical Aggadta to bring into the picture the shattering of the rakia, its being opened up, or Avraham first being “נכפה’ under the rakia’s lip. The presence of such a depiction would not prove anything. (I’m biased towards the default position, remember.) The absence of such a depiction is noteworthy and perhaps conspicuous.

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  6. When precisely was Midrash Aggada authored, that you can bring this as proof to Chazal's position, rather than, say, that of Rishonim?

    You’re right that I should have done research on the authorship. But even if it is only rishonic in origin, this still demolishes the claim that all Chazal according to all Rishonim thought that the celestial rakia is (a hard solid that is) opaque. The default position is that the Rishonim did not consider themselves contradicting Chazal.

    There’s yet another citation I’ve seen that needs to be checked out, of the Midrash Rabbah, end of Parshas Noach, but I do not know what edition.

    ד"א: אחר שיצא אברהם מן המערה, היה לבו משוטט ביצירת העולם, והיה מכוין בכל מאורות שבעולם להשתהות להן, ולעבדן, ולידע איזה מהן הוא אלוה. ראה הלבנה שאורה אור מבהיק בלילה מסוף העולם ועד סופו, ופימליא שלה [הכוכבים] מרובה. אמ׳, "זה הוא אלוה!" עבדה כל הלילה. בשחרית, כיון שראה זריחת החמה בעת זריחתה, נחשכה הלבנה ותשש כוחה.

    אמ׳" אין אור הלבנה אלא מאור החמה,

    ואין העולם מתקיים אלא על מאורה של חמה!" ועבד החמה כל היום. לערבית, שקעה החמה ותשש כוחה, ויצאת הלבנה והכוכבים והמזלות. אמ׳ בודאי יש אדון ויש אלוה לאלו.

    Besides, the idea that the sun makes the moon light up, one way or another, was widespread in the Tannaitic era. Besides the citation I brought from Philo, we have the following (courtesy of a website I wouldn't normally consult--got to it by googling--so take it for what it's worth.):

    Thales (585 BC) et al. agree with the mathematicians that the monthly phases of the moon show that it travels along with the sun and is lighted by it... (Doxographi on Thales, Aet. ii. 1 ; Dox. 327) (6).

    The Doxographist elaborate further on this:
    The moon does not have its own light, but light from the sun (The Doxographists on Anaxagoras, Hipp. Phil. 8 ; Dox. 561) (260-1).

    Empedocles (490-430):
    As sunlight striking the broad circle of the moon. 154. A borrowed light, circular in form, it revolves about the earth, as if following the track of a chariot (Empedocles, translations of the fragments I) (177).

    Ptolemy (90-168):
    The Moon ...in consequence of the illumination she receives from the Sun (Ptolemy?s Tetrabiblos: Book the First: Chapter IV, The Influence of the Planetary Orbs) (13).

    Lucretius (100-50 BC):
    The moon...It may be that it shines only when the sun’s rays fall upon it. (192-193) (Lucretius, The Nature of the Universe).

    In terms of the Zohar, what if one holds like Rav Kook, that this was a late revelation by Rashbi to Rav Moshe de Leon…?

    If so, it was a revelation by Rashbi of what Chazal thought. What’s the kushya? Are you assuming this fact about the sun and moon was a secret only Rashbi knew, and furthermore did not share with his chevra? Why? (I’m not familiar with Rav Kook’s thesis, so I may be missing something here.)

    or like the Chasam Sofer, that there are a lot of medieval additions (ruba de'ruba) to the core work by Rashbi? According to these, how is this proof to Chazal's view of the rakia?

    You could have mentioned Rav Yaakov Emden, too. Anyway, that’s why I brought the Midrash as well. At any rate, the idea seems to be quite ubiquitous, no? But again, it’s not my burden of proof. What if this teaching was part of the core Rashbi work? It would pose a difficulty to saying the sun was blocked at night by an opaque rakia, no? Isn’t it better to have an equally acceptable explanation of the Aggadta that would not contradict that possibility—and thereby avoid coming to an outrageous conclusion?

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  7. The Midrash about Avraham clearly proves Rabbi Slifkin wrong unless he would claim somehow he was talking in general about Chazal and then the burden of proof is still on him to show there was a general view as he says. The rakia can't hide what is behind it and still show the stars below it.

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  8. The Midrash Rabbah was made in Talmudic times. There are no critical views citing later additions. Therefore that Midrash is from Chazal.

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  9. Besides the quote is too direct in style to claim it is some later interpolation. It is quoting Rabbi Yochanan who is making a clear Midrashic teaching. He was from Talmudic times. It could be in the Talmud and it would fit right in, in style. Also Rashi was a very early Rishon. It sure is a kvetch based on no evidence to hope for it being some later interpolation.

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  10. Dear YA,

    Yes, and the Rambam cites the Midrash Rabbah as Talmudic and authoritative. However, I could not find this Aggadta about the moon in Breishis Rabbah. The citation is another work, called "Midrash Aggada Breishis."

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  11. YA, Josh was asking about the Midrash about the moon, not the one about Avraham Avinu gazing down at the stars.

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  12. "I was wondering if anyone was reading my previous posts"
    Probably not. :)

    "or if they were so convincing that nobody could find an argument against them."
    In general, I resist the urge to comment here. A few times, indeed, a composed a response but then thought better of clicking 'Post Comment'. So I would not necessarily assume that shtika kehodaa. I just did not feel like arguing about the hardness, for instance. But just as there are (may be?) good objections here, there may be good objections there as well.

    The Midrash Rabbah was made in Talmudic times.
    This is beside the point, but it is worth pointing out for the sake of general knowledge. Some of midrash rabba was made in Talmudic times. But Bamidbar Rabba, for example, is a much later work. Some people even attribute it to Rav Moshe HaDarshan, Rashi's contemporary.

    Are you assuming this fact about the sun and moon was a secret only Rashbi knew, and furthermore did not share with his chevra? Why? (I’m not familiar with Rav Kook’s thesis, so I may be missing something here.)
    Rav Kook held that the ikkar was like Rav Yaakov Emden. This included that late details (such as for instance a Copernican view of the universe) reflected late authorship. Rav Kook explained this as Rav Moshe de Leon channeling Rashbi, but the physical actor / author was Rav Moshe de Leon. Presumably, then, the new details would NOT have been known to the contemporaries of Rashbi, meaning Chazal, because this is what Rav Kook is coming to answer.

    What if this teaching was part of the core Rashbi work?
    I was trying to not bring the most drastic. But fine. What if one holds, like the Chasam Sofer actually held, that the Zohar was entirely a forgery written by Rav Moshe de Leon, so that people would pay more heed to the Zohar's ideas?

    And is it my burden of proof?
    Yes, it is your burden of proof, if you want to convince me that Chazal (rather than, say, Chazal as understood or perhaps reinterpreted by Rishonim) held this. Especially when this seems to be the widespread view of Chazal's contemporaries.

    At the very least, it is your burden of proof if you choose to use expansive, unqualified statements like "Secondly, Chazal understood that the moon’s light is only due to the sun’s." It is your writing, and you are responsible for that, regardless of what Rabbi Slifkin has written or has not written.

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  13. I also don't have the time nor patience to get into a detailed discussion, but I would just point out that citing ancient Greek scientists about the sun lighting the moon might not be helpful in terms of determining the nature of the rakia. From the gemara, there is a dispute between Chazal and the gentile scientists whether the Sun goes behind the Earth at night (gentile scientists) or whether it goes behind the rakia (Chazal). The gentile scientists would not have a problem with the Sun lighting the moon; Chazal might, if the rakia is not transparent.

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  14. "Let’s see. The sun is one of the stars “embedded” in the rakia. Does the description of its travels indicate that it is a hole through and through the rakia?"

    Who says that the Sun has to be one of the stars embedded in the rakia, in the thought of Chazal?

    Here, from Wikipedia, is the Babylonian and Sumerian view:
    "The worldview which lies behind the Genesis creation story is that of the common cosmology of the ancient Near East[1] in which Earth was conceived as a flat disk with infinite water both above and below. The dome of the sky was thought to be a solid metal bowl (tin according to the Sumerians, iron for the Egyptians) separating the surrounding water from the habitable world. The stars were embedded in the lower surface of this dome, with gates that allowed the passage of the Sun and Moon back and forth."

    (I would point out that, of course, according to my reading of the midrash, the stars would need to be embedded through and through, rather than through just the lower surface of the dome.)

    Is this something that you are unfamiliar with? If you are familiar with it, why didn't you mention it in your discussion above about the Greek scientists?

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  15. looking back, i suppose you would point to "כיצד גלגל חמה ולבנה שוקעים ברקיע". but that is explicitly a matter of dispute, and is separate from the stars, which are not mentioned.

    thus, you wrote in your post, And of course, there is the admission made by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai that we simply do not know if the movement of the stars are indeed related to any celestial spheres.
    but you justified it with a statement explicitly made about the sun and moon, with no mention of stars. this conflation is against the text, and goes against established babylonian and sumerian conceptions.

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  16. >>>> I was wondering if anyone was reading my previous posts,
    Well i read your posts, but don’t wish to comment, despite the fact that i have much to say, simply beacuse:

    1) I am no talmid chochum, so i feel i am out of my league in debating the interpretation of various texts, and more importantly
    2) the writers of this blog, basically, appear to live on another planet, and completely dismiss or disregard reality, so what’s the point of debating.

    >>>> or if they were so convincing that nobody could find an argument against them.

    You are, of course, kidding. Your whole post doesn’t fly.

    Never mind the whole discussion of whether the rakia was solid or opaque, the fundamental question is: does the rakia correspond to anything in nature as we currently know it?.

    and you bring a medrosh which shows (in its simple translation) that the writer(s) of the medrosh had no concept of the structure of the universe. You know very well that once one is in outer space there is no concept of up or down. So the text should have read something in the order of:

    And Hashem took Avrohum up into the < insert some term meaning outer space > and told him to look around etc.etc…

    The expression “looking down” in this context is meaningless.

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  17. Josh Waxman,

    the Chasam Sofer actually held, that the Zohar was entirely a forgery written by Rav Moshe de Leon, so that people would pay more heed to the Zohar's ideas

    Do you have a source for this assertion? I recall once seeing a teshuva in the CS giving a nod to R’ Yaakov Emden’s sefer Mitpachas haSeforim but that’s about it. Is this what you were referring to? If so, do you have the mareh makom?

    Thank you,

    Simcha Coffer

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  18. "The Midrash Rabbah was made in Talmudic times.
    This is beside the point, but it is worth pointing out for the sake of general knowledge. Some of midrash rabba was made in Talmudic times. But Bamidbar Rabba, for example, is a much later work. Some people even attribute it to Rav Moshe HaDarshan, Rashi's contemporary."

    First what's your source? It would hardly seem likely Midrash Rabba would neglect a whole sefer of the Torah. Second there is a difference between writing a book and the sources of its quoting. Also it was claimed by critics such as Geiger that Sefer Yetzira was post Talmudic and now as we know the Encyclopedia Judaica points out linguistic studies show that is hogwash. Sefer Yetzira is from Talmudic times based on linguistic studies the encyclopedia says. The prejudice was previously to think Kabbala was only post-Talmudic.

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  19. I wrote:
    Or do you think that …that when Chazal thought the stars were objects embedded in the rakia, they must have meant that they were holes punctured through and through? Truth to tell, the Ramban entertains the possibility that that is what the reality is.

    I retract my statement about the Ramban. Ramban’s suggestion is that the stars are parts of the sky that fluoresce by contact with the heaven’s light.

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  20. Elimir: the writers of this blog, basically, appear to live on another planet, and completely dismiss or disregard reality, so what’s the point of debating. …Never mind the whole discussion of whether the rakia was solid or opaque, the fundamental question is: does the rakia correspond to anything in nature as we currently know it?

    Elimir, if you would read and understand this series, you would see that this is not the issue at hand.

    and you bring a medrosh which shows (in its simple translation) that the writer(s) of the medrosh had no concept of the structure of the universe. You know very well that once one is in outer space there is no concept of up or down. …The expression “looking down” in this context is meaningless.

    Elimir, try googling, “looking down from space” +NASA. You will see numerous statements by astronauts and other scientists who speak in terms of looking down at earth from space.* (The Rambam, too, noted that the earth is a sphere with people living at opposite poles, yet he describes the heavens as the upper region and the earth as the lower region.) For, you see, both the Rambam and contemporary astronauts consider whatever is towards the center of the earth as “down,” and whatever is away from that point, “up.” Earth, for us earthlings, is a basic reference point—as opposed to, perhaps, those who may be living on another planet.

    ===================

    *Here are just a few of the first ones I’ve found:

    http://www.nasa.gov/vision/space/features/carey_retires_prt.htm
    “It's a passion for me," he said. "Even while looking down from space, I would imagine moving across those green expanses on a motorcycle”— Space Shuttle pilot, Astronaut Duane G. "Digger" Carey, going back to his true love of motorcycling.

    http://www.nasaimages.org/luna/servlet/detail/NSVS~3~3~13899~113899:Looking-Down-at-the-Earth-from-Space

    http://www.nasa.gov/centers/langley/news/researchernews/rn_astrophotography.html
    Joseph
    “Although my job here at NASA Langely [Research Center] requires that I look down at the Earth’s atmospjere from space, I never stopped looking up at space from down here on earth” (Jospeh Zawdony, senior research scientist, Langely Research Center).

    http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2001/ast07aug_1/

    http://www.archive.org/details/SVS-2630 “Looking Down at the Earth’s Ocean Floor from Space.”

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  21. JW: Another rather obvious interpretation [for how Chazal envisioned Avraham Avinu seeing the stars from behind the celestial dome--ZL] is that since the ancients saw the stars as fixed in the dome, perhaps Chazal envisioned it as fixed through and through the depth of the rakia, such that one could look down from the other side and see the stars fixed in the same positions.

    Why was this possibility not evident, such that it is not even considered and such that you write that "That this is erroneous... can be plainly seen"?


    Because your interpretation of the Chazal, far from being “obvious,” lacks any basis in Chazal and rishonim. And your later comment shows it even contradicts your own “proof text.” You wrote:

    Here, from Wikipedia, is the Babylonian and Sumerian view:
    "… The stars were embedded in the lower surface of this dome, with gates that allowed the passage of the Sun and Moon back and forth."

    (I would point out that, of course, according to my reading of the midrash, the stars would need to be embedded through and through, rather than through just the lower surface of the dome.)…

    July 19, 2011 11:48 AM

    In other words, your “obvious” interpretation is contradicted by the very source you quote. No one ever thought that what we see as stars are the tips of bright rods stretching through the thousands of miles of rakia. (Besides the fact that such an assertion fails to explain what advantage there would have been to seeing the stars from there rather than from the earth.) The only “advantage” of this straw-grabbing hodge-podge of newfangled ideas you put together is that if one runs with it, claims that it’s the most reasonable way to understand the Midrash, and additionally claims that this was a matter of mesorah, one can announce one has found support for rejecting any part of the mesorah one is uncomfortable with.

    I’ve seen another oh-so-confident description of what the Sumerians thought: that the sky is a perforated tin, and the light we see is that of heaven shining through the holes. This would surely not work with Avraham seeing the stars from the back of the celestial surface. Certainly it would not explain why one would see more stars from there, than one does standing on earth. On the contrary.

    So you can pick your “experts” on Sumerian astronomy, but my advice is that if you want to understand Chazal, you utilize Torah methodology as practiced throughout the ages, and go to Chazal guided by the understanding of the rishonim—not the speculations of professors who attempt to reconstruct the ideas of ancient Sumerians by interpreting artifacts.

    I maintain my stand that this Midrash about Avraham Avinu seeing the stars from behind the rakia [sans baseless and strained newfangled reinterpretations] makes it plain that Rabbi Slifkin’s claim is erroneous. I.e., not all Chazal, and perhaps none, held that the rakia is opaque.

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  22. Also, the fact the Chochmei Yisroel said the galgal is stationary and the stars glide along it, indicates they did not think of the stars as long rods of light. The opposing--Greek, if you insist--understanding, was that the stars are round bodies embedded onto the surface of the galgal, not long rods of light shooting through it.

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  23. JW:
    Who says that the Sun has to be one of the stars embedded in the rakia, in the thought of Chazal?...
    looking back, i suppose you would point to "כיצד גלגל חמה ולבנה שוקעים ברקיע". but that is explicitly a matter of dispute, and is separate from the stars, which are not mentioned.


    Actually, I had in mind (a) the posuk, which treats the sun moon and stars as a compound subject, sharing the one verb describing their placement in the shamayim, and (b) the Chazal that the sun, moon and stars are all within the second rakia.

    thus, you wrote in your post, “And of course, there is the admission made by Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai that we simply do not know if the movement of the stars are indeed related to any celestial spheres,” but you justified it with a statement explicitly made about the sun and moon, with no mention of stars. this conflation is against the text,…

    Technically, Rashbi’s statement was, as you say, a response to what others suggested about the sun and moon. But I (and other commentators) think it reasonably follows that Rashbi thought that the cause of the movements of the planets, and of the fixed stars, was no less a matter of futile human speculation.

    …and goes against established babylonian and sumerian conceptions.
    See my previous post ("Not-So-Solid-Proof About the Rakia") where I debunk the myth that experts are certain that the Sumerians and Babylonians—or the early Greeks, who were the real contemporaries of the Chochmei Yisrael—thought the sky is a hard solid, opaque dome.

    Also, keep in mind that Chazal were capable of independent thought.

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  24. JW:
    From the gemara, there is a dispute between Chazal and the gentile scientists whether the Sun goes behind the Earth at night (gentile scientists) or whether it goes behind the rakia (Chazal). The gentile scientists would not have a problem with the Sun lighting the moon; Chazal might, if the rakia is not transparent.

    That was exactly my point. Therefore it makes more sense to say the Chochmei Yisroel did think it is transparent.

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  25. Elemir said earlier: Never mind the whole discussion of whether the rakia was solid or opaque, the fundamental question is: does the rakia correspond to anything in nature as we currently know it?

    Reb ZL replied: Elimir, if you would read and understand this series, you would see that this is not the issue at hand.

    But, don’t you see, it should be the issue. Discussing whether the Rakia was solid or opaque is like arguing over what is the scientific basis of Superman being able to fly. They are both fictional. (I am NOT chas v’sholom comparing a meimer Chazal with a comic character,)

    After all, what does the Rakia correspond to in real life? I read your Part V on this topic and aside from its obvious neat and informative summary of the position of the Rishonim, all it does is show that many, if not most, of the Rishonim could not provide a satisfactory answer to the above question either.

    >>>>> Elimir, try googling, “looking down from space” +NASA. You will see numerous

    We are talking about “looking down at the stars” and you point to numerous examples of “looking down on earth” … find me some examples of the former phrase…to my knowledge there is NO concept of looking down at the stars in space (maybe at the edge of the universe, one would say “looking back at the stars”)
    elemir

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  26. Elimir, see the first part of the series for what the discussion is about, and why it's worthwhile to discuss whether Chazal thought the rakia to be solid and/or opaque:
    http://slifkin-opinions.blogspot.com/2011/06/nature-of-rakia.html

    The issue you raise is of course an important one. I think you would enjoy the Malbim's commentary on the Torah. The bottom line about what the Torah is referring to by the stellar "rakia" is that it refers to the part of the sky we see above us, without going into its specific nature or the explanation of how the heavenly bodies move.

    As far as "looking down at the stars," you can google that phrase, too. Regardless, the concept is the same: looking at the stars toward the earth's direction.

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  27. thanks

    could you kindly tell me what your view is with regards to chazal's overall knowledge of the natural world or point me to a post.

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  28. I am not going to debate this further, because I impose limits on myself in debates.

    SC:
    Sure. You can read the teshuva here:

    http://parsha.blogspot.com/2011/06/chasam-sofers-position-that-zohar-is.html

    It is not just that he speaks of Mitpachat Sefarim approvingly, as that teshuva is commonly cited, but he uses it as an *example* of someone knowingly forging something to get it more accepted.

    YA:
    I am not going to debate authorship of various books of Midrash Rabba with you. There is no proof I can offer that you would accept.

    Kol tuv,
    Josh

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  29. Josh Waxman,

    It is not just that he speaks of Mitpachat Sefarim approvingly, as that teshuva is commonly cited, but he uses it as an *example* of someone knowingly forging something to get it more accepted.

    Thank you for the mareh makom. I have a response to your “teshuva” (i.e. the implication from the CS’s teshuva) but if I were being objective I would have to say, at least for now, that it is primarily apologetic in nature so I won’t waste your time.

    The following has nothing to do with this thread but since you brought up the authenticity of the Zohar, I’d like to mention that Rishonim as early as the Ramban seem to hint to it, R’ Yitzchok d’min Acco clearly supports its authenticity, as does Recanati and several other rishonim (the aforementioned were all talmidim of the Ramban). Ari and Ramak, the two greatest “mekubalim” we have, consider it authentic along with intellectual giants of the ashkenaz world such as the Gra.

    There is no question that the Zohar as we have it was not composed by RSBY, as it includes the opinions of later tanaim and amoraim. But this is irrelevant. As far as I’m concerned, the question really is, is the Zohar an accurate representation of Chazal’s opinions, and primarily those of RSBY. In halacha, the Zohar is given the status of a medrash and thus we pasken like the Zohar whenever is does not contradict a ma’amar Chazal in the Talmud Bavli (mishna berurah). In all probability, the Zohar was redacted by one of the chachmei haTalmud who was expert in the kabbalistic opinions of his contemporaries or those who lived not long before him.

    Why the Zohar did not make its initial (public) appearance until seven hundred years after Chazal is currently a mystery to me…

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  30. "Rishonim as early as the Ramban seem to hint to it"
    It depends on how you interpret it. That the Rambam on Chumash brings as his own insights things that are found in Zohar seems to suggest that he was not aware of the work, and further, possibly that the Zohar took it from the Ramban.

    R’ Yitzchok d’min Acco clearly supports its authenticity
    Not so clearly. Indeed, it is his testimony that it is a forgery.

    the aforementioned were all talmidim of the Ramban
    Who are the first to mention the Zohar, since it was revealed by Rav Moshe de Leon.

    In halacha, the Zohar is given the status of a medrash and thus we pasken like the Zohar whenever is does not contradict a ma’amar Chazal in the Talmud Bavli
    That is one position, that of the Mishna Brura. Would the Chasam Sofer, who said that halacha and kabbalah are kilayim, agree?

    as it includes the opinions of later tanaim and amoraim
    That much is obvious. But what about that it includes citations from the sefer Kuzari, or from Shmuel Hanagid, who were post-Talmudic? Or that it uses Hebrew expressions which were not in use by Chazal, but only began in the language of the Rishonim? Or that the conversations between named Tannaim / Amoraim could not have taken place chronologically? Or that there are a few Spanish words thrown in there? Or that they darshen the shape of nikkud and trup, where these only emerged post-Talmudically? I can go on an on, but I won't.

    At the end of the day, you cannot use Zohar to establish the position of Chazal. Well, you can, but there is no guarantee that others will take your argument seriously.

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  31. Josh Waxman,

    But what about that it includes citations from the sefer Kuzari, or from Shmuel Hanagid, who were post-Talmudic? Or that it uses Hebrew expressions which were not in use by Chazal, but only began in the language of the Rishonim? Or that the conversations between named Tannaim / Amoraim could not have taken place chronologically? Or that there are a few Spanish words thrown in there? Or that they darshen the shape of nikkud and trup, where these only emerged post-Talmudically? I can go on an on, but I won't.

    No need. You’ve made a vigorous, well-considered argument in support of your position. I would like to explore this topic with you further but before I do I need concrete examples in the Zohar which demonstrate your above-noted assertions (5, if I count correctly). I’ve written about this topic in the past and I’ve come to realize that often-times people make unsubstantiated claims regarding the Zohar that, when investigated, simply don’t hold up. I of course am not accusing you of such chs’v. I just want to make sure we’re on the same page regarding the source material. As you mentioned in your missive, it all depends upon how you interpret things…

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  32. Sorry, but you'll have to count me out. I've said enough, and in general try to limit myself to X number of rounds in any conversation. This, something I've learned in from past experience, from conversations that have gone on for months on end. Besides my wanting to limit my interaction on this particular blog.

    Enough has been written (by others, and by me) on the subject anyway.

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  33. Josh Waxman,

    Sorry, but you'll have to count me out. I've said enough, and in general try to limit myself to X number of rounds in any conversation.

    We’ve barely begun our discussion…

    Besides my wanting to limit my interaction on this particular blog.

    You made several claims. I asked for verification. WADR, your response sounds like avoidance.

    Enough has been written (by others, and by me) on the subject anyway.

    Suit yourself. It’s too bad though; we could have explored this subject rationally, you and I, and perhaps gain a mutual appreciation of both sides of the debate…

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  34. We’ve barely begun our discussion…
    True, but I've already posted quite a lot in this comment thread. That is a warning sign for me.

    "You made several claims. I asked for verification. WADR, your response sounds like avoidance."

    Read it how you like. I spend MONTHS on a Global Yeshiva thread years ago, debating (for example) facilitated communication. I have to limit myself.

    Besides for this, I'll be somewhat frank and, alas, a bit insulting. It is indeed avoidance. This might not be your intention, but a website dedicated to taking down every single position of person S (with a very occasional exception, where there was still disagreement) reads like a hate blog. And your association with Dr. Isaac Betech, on this blog, I find distasteful. And the sorts of "answers" I've seen so far, in general, have been extremely unimpressive. I am reluctant to post, because it lends credence to your site.

    So why did I comment in the first place? Just an occasional comment to point out that there is what to say in response, so that people don't think that this is so obvious and that the other side are ignoramuses who have nothing to reply. The Midrash Rabba proof was silly, and ignored a very straightforward interpretation, which was not even mentioned in passing as a *possibility*. The Zohar and the undated Midrash Aggada was brought as proof to Chazal's belief, without any indication that this may be sketchy. This is proof of concept that not everything presented here is really as straightforward as set out.

    I am sure that you can put forth all sorts of wonderful apologetics justifying X or Y. Not just for Zohar. (And I *know* many of the counterarguments, already, and can put them forth myself. A counterargument will almost always exist, to any position.) I am not interested. The apologetics won't convince me. Rather, they will just confuse others enough to think that there is what to debate.

    And debating it all the way through will likely take a good amount of time, which I don't have, and will not serve to convince either party.

    And yet, here I am responding again. Oh, well.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  35. Elimir: could you kindly tell me what your view is with regards to chazal's overall knowledge of the natural world or point me to a post.

    I'm sorry, but I have not been privileged to arrive at a fully developed conclusion, besides the fact that there are different shittos rishonim and acharonim touching on this. And saying anything more involved than this would either be too general and simplistic or be referring to exceptions that are liable to being misinterpreted and broadened to elicit incorrect ideas.

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  36. The Midrash Rabba proof was silly, and ignored a very straightforward interpretation, which was not even mentioned in passing as a *possibility*.

    Josh, this is incredible. I already showed that your "very straightforward interpretation" of Chazal thinking the stars are rods of light stretching through-and-through the 500-year rakia is a newfangled idea contradicted by the very source you brought to support it, and not only unsupported, but actually contradicted by Chazal (who described the stars as gliding along the surface of the rakia). Yet without a scintilla of an argument, you simply revert to your silly claim. Unbelievable!

    The Zohar and the undated Midrash Aggada was brought as proof to Chazal's belief, without any indication that this may be sketchy. This is proof of concept that not everything presented here is really as straightforward as set out.

    The major point I made is supported by the Breishis Rabbah whose early dating is not questioned. The Zohar and Midrash Aggada reinforce it, but it is not dependent upon these sources. The controversy about the Zohar is well known, with heavyweights on both sides of the issue. There is no need to mention the issue every time the Zohar is brought as evidence for something. The educated reader takes these sources for their worth.

    In support of the fact it was recognized that the moon's light was due to the sun, I also cited Philo, the Jewish philosopher who lived in Tannaitic times, and in my comments listed the non-Jewish Greek philosophers of the time who thought so as well.

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  37. Josh Waxman,

    I have no desire to utilize this venue as a facility for tit for tat mudslinging. I will not respond to your accusations regarding the nature of this blog (hate) or my intellectual honesty (apologetics). I simply wish to point out that when challenged to produce sources for your assertions, you instead went off on a tangent about irrelevant things. You justify your avoidance by claiming that you’ve reached your maximum for this thread (how convenient) yet go on and write another five paragraphs which amount to nothing more than ad hominem attacks against this blog and its authors. You could have provided the source material in one paragraph! IMHO, you need to inspect your motives a bit more closely.

    If you ever feel like exploring the sugya of the Zohar’s authenticity and to what extent it acts as a verification for Chazal’s opinions, I am here. But please check your biases at the door before entering.

    Best wishes,

    Simcha Coffer

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