Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Brisker Myth/Moshol Theory

[Guest Post]

The approach that Torah is not a history book has always left me feeling a bit uncomfortable. However, after reading a significant portion of RYBS Ish Hahalachah, I now have a new perspective on the science/history vs religion issue. One needs to make a “brisker” type of distinction between “al pi din” and “metzius”. The object one sees through a prism is no less real than without a prism. Just as when we look at something through our eyes and a “visible spectrum” of light it appears different than if we could see the entire electromagnetic spectrum. Is any one view right or real? No just different perspectives. Halachah and Judaism looks at the world through its own prism, while science has its own view. Is any one view right or is either one real? No, they just use different perspectives.

Halachah expects us to view things through its own perspective. It has its own set of rules and regulations. Thus, salting meat will “remove” the blood, carrying an object 4 amos in a public place “removes” it from one domain to another domain, a bliah in a kli will make the food it comes in contact with imbued with a taam of the bliah if it's less than 24 hours old and the taam will be pogum if its more than 24 hours, an animal with a sign of treifah can not live etc. For an Orthodox Jew, the boundary provided by a “tsuras hapesach” is no less real than a solid wall. All these halachik constructs are not necessarily factual from a “metzius” perspective but they are 100% factual from a halachik perspective.

Mathematics is considered the “purest” sciences. Yet to a mathematician, so called “imaginary numbers” are no less real or useful than so called “real numbers”. The square root of a negative number is no less “real” or useful than is the square root of 4. Non-Euclidean geometry can be just as real as Euclidean geometry. Is any one view right or real? No they just use different perspectives. No wonder why, the Gra, one of the greatest Talmudic minds appreciated math so much. (I understand that R Moshe Feinstein z”tl also enjoyed solving complex calculus problems).

Similarly, the Torah wants us to view Breishis, Noach etc as if they were factual no less than any other halachik construct. They are no more mythical than imaginary numbers or laws of kashrus. Thus Shabbos IS the “seventh” day, Adam and Chavah WERE the first two people etc. By adopting this perspective we attain a Torah viewpoint of life. This perspective is important when considering the value/need to observe Shabbos, the value of a single human life etc. The question of “what really happened” is no more relevant [GH: I assume he means to Judaism, obviously it is relevant to Science] than what is the red stuff that exudes from a piece of salted meat. Halacha considers the liquid as “juice” and considers creation as having taken place in 7 days. When studying science we wear a scientific “hat” when living our lives as moral/halachik Jews we view things from a Torah perspective.

From time to time there may appear a seeming conflict between these two viewpoints. Of course, halacha has some flexibility in it, so an 8 month baby is now viable and the metzius/halacha has changed. Sometimes the halachah allows for a convergence of the metzius and the din sometimes they remain distinct. When that should happen is for the poskim to debate.

Makes sense to me. What do you think?

[GH: I think you are basically saying that it's a myth/moshol, but you don't want to use those words. And also that there are 'halachik' (or rather 'hashkafic') reasons why the Torah portayed things the way it does i.e. There are deep moral and spiritual lessons in the Torah's version of events, which is exactly what Myth/Moshol Theory says too. So I think this is ultimately the Myth/Moshol theory with a Brisker/RYBS spin on it. In other words, I like it!]