Thursday, January 07, 2010

Let's ridicule Chazal

Just kidding! I have no intention of ridiculing Chazal, and strongly believe that I've never done it. Everyone hear that? I strongly believe that I have never ridculed Chazal.

But perhaps my definition of "ridiculing" is not yours. Let's find out, shall we?

EXAMPLE #1: Chazal said lice spontaneously reproduce. This claim is clear as day on Shabbos 107b. Alas, they were wrong. Not because they were stupid, but because they accepted the science of their time, and at that time everyone believed in spontaneous reproduction. The idea wasn't defeated until Pasteur, in the 19th century. Before Pasteur, plenty of smart people everywhere accepted spontaneous reproduction.There's no shame in it.

So, is this an example of "ridiculing?" I say it isn't. But apparently some Twitter people disagree and think its more polite to say chazal really and truly did know everything, only sometimes in the Talmud it appears otherwise because we're too dumb to get at the real meaning of their words. Though I agree this is true in some cases, its not true in the case of the lice where the view of chazal is unambiguous, and also wrong.

EXAMPLE #2: Chazal were awful smart, but they didn't know any science.

How about this one? Is it ridiculing? Do I, as one super-duper-polite Twitter person said, "enjoy feeling superior to tradition?"  If so, did Rambam, Ramban, Shmuel Hanagid, Saadya Gaon, Ibn Ezra and all the others who agreed Chazal didn't know science also "enjoy feeling superior to tradition?"  Was Samson Rephael Hirsch feeling "superior to tradition" when he wrote this letter denying the infallibility of the Sages on matters of science? What does it even mean to enjoy feeling superior to tradition anyway? Very confusing.

EXAMPLE #3: Mesorah and the sayings of the Sages are two different things. Not every recorded statement from Chazal - indeed not every statement recorded in the Midrashic books - is part of the mesorah.

My explanation here is the same as what I used for #2. Lots of great names said this first. It's their idea not mine. So unless you're prepared to say that Shmuel Hangaid was "ridiculing" Chazal when he told us we're free to pick and choose what to believe from their aggadic statements, I don't see how you can complain about me.

If you have other examples of me allegedly ridiculing Chazal, I'll address in the comments.

Search for more information about slanderous lies people tell about me at

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