In response to our previous post, Rabbi Slifkin posted a clarification of his original position. Unfortunately his elucidation did not provide any clarity. In fact, it had the complete opposite effect. Here are his words followed by our analysis.
Rav Ettlinger was well aware that there is no absolute frame of reference. Indeed, in formulating his question, he himself says that the same question applies the other way around… But in my view… this sort of question would not be asked today. It would be inconceivable to us to be concerned about the position of the tree in
Australiarelative to , and vice-versa… This question was only asked by Rav Ettlinger because people at that time were still in the process of internalizing the knowledge of the shape of the world… Israel
As they say in the colloquial, this is bubba maasos! Rabbi Etlinger penned his teshuva over 350 years after mankind became aware that the world was round! On the contrary, it was this awareness, and its internalization, that was the very cause of Rabbi Etlinger’s halachic quandary. Since the world is round, therefore the derech gidul is different in
Australia than it is in and we now have a sha’ala; which frame of reference should be used to define the halachic requirement of derech gidulo? Should we use the geographical growth of the lulav, or should we use the geographical location of its owner? Without a round world, an upside-down lulav sha’ala would be incoherent. Israel
All this is obvious to the unbiased individual. Unfortunately Rabbi Slifkin is on a mission. He is constantly on the lookout for examples which, to his mind, demonstrate the fallibility of our ba’alei mesorah. His eagerness to demonstrate the advanced sensibilities of the modern man over his predecessors is what caused him to pen his original erroneous post. And it is precisely this eagerness which caused him to defend his position with an argument that is as equally erroneous as his initial one.
Please note: It is not my intention to highlight Rabbi Slifkin’s personal failings chs’v. This blog is above that (I hope). The purpose of this blog is to defend the validity of our mesorah against its attackers, foreign (goyim) or domestic (yidden). Rabbi Slifkin is a young, talented rabbi and a prolific writer. Unfortunately, he is on the wrong side of the fence.
Rabbi Slifkin writes as follows:
even we today have still not entirely internalized the correct view, and we feel uncomfortable with an "upside-down" map of the world.
This has nothing to do with the mandate of this blog but I’d like to comment on this statement.
First of all, we will always be uncomfortable with an upside-down map of the world. It is no different than trying to read a book upside down. We are used to seeing maps with North on top and South on the bottom. If one day they decide to make maps with South on top, then our previous comfort level will eventually change to conform to the new convention.
Second of all, I think I can offer an explanation as to why North was chosen as an absolute frame of reference (the other cardinal directions are defined as degrees from North) while simultaneously explaining why North is considered up and South down.
There are many stars in the sky and their seeming position changes over the course of the night as they appear to rotate around the earth’s celestial axis. Imagine a pole which travels through the center of the earth and upon which the earth rotates. This imaginary pole goes way up into the sky and the stars seem to change their positions at night as they rotate around this pole. Actually the earth is rotating and the stars are stationary but this is what appears to be happening. However, there is one visible exception to this rule.
The star Polaris remains relatively fixed above the North Pole. It is defined as the prominent (i.e. visible to the naked eye) star which lies directly overhead when viewed from the North Pole. Historically the North Star has served as an indispensible tool for purposes of navigation. This explains why North was chosen as an absolute frame of reference for the four cardinal directions and it also explains why North is synonymous with an upwards direction. How? Since North is identified as the direction which possesses a fixed star above it, it is thus used as the absolute direction from which the other directions flow. And since the defining element of the direction North is a star which is fixed above it in space, any point on earth below the North Pole is considered further below this star thereby making the direction North on earth an upwards direction.
I’m not such a chacham. I’m sure I read this somewhere, sometime. I just can’t find it right now. Maybe I’m wrong… comments welcome…