Sunday, July 16, 2006

Daas Torah

Hihruim, one of our more subversive bloggers, has brought to light the most famous daas torah mistake of all time:

...the doyen of current rashei yeshiva, R. Schach, proves the value of Torah as the self-sufficient repository of all knowledge by asking, rhetorically: "Whence did Hazal know that the earth was forty-two times larger than the moon, and that the sun was approximately one-hundred-and-seventy times larger than the earth if not from the power of the Torah.
This is, to be blunt, a schoolboy howler: the Moon has approximately 1/4 Earth's diameter, 1/50 Earth's volume, and 1/80 Earth's mass, while the Sun is 109 times greater in width; 1,300,00 times greater in volume; and 330,000 times greater in mass. Yet, this is Rav Shach's idea of a slam dunk proof that daas torah is real?

As Rav Lichtenstein concludes

In raising this question, [Rav Shach] is wholly oblivious not only of the rudiments of astronomy but also of the fact that the selfsame Rambam explicitly states, with respect to these very issues, that they are beyond the pale of Hazal's authority:

Do not ask of me to show that everything they have said concerning astronomical matters conforms to the way things really are. For at that time mathermatics were imperfect. They did not speak about this as transmitters of dicta of the prophets, but rather because in those times they were men of knowledge in these fields or because they had heard these dicta from the men of knowledge who lived in those times

I understand why the idea that all secrets might be contained in the Torah is facinating to small minds, but can the large minds please finally give it a rest?

Over the last 1000 years the gedolim have been wrong about countless issues of great importance. A small sampling:

1. The Rambam. In our day we pretend that the Rambam's ideas were always accepted and to oppose him is to commit heresy, but Marc Shapiro has neatly exploded that idea. We now know that almost every single one of the Rambam's precious ikkarim was ignored or discounted by someone great. So who were the heretics? The Rambam or the people who opposed him? And where was the daas torah of the Sages who permitted his books to be burned?

2. Mussar. Rabbi Salanter was the Nosson Slifkin of his day, opposed and condemed by many of his generation's leading lights. But, in the end, he won. Who had the daas torah? Him or his enemies?

3. The holocaust The official daas torah of the 1930s was the Europe was safer than America. Good thing this was mostly ignored. Had our ancestors paid attention, most of us would never have been born.

[more here]

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