Thursday, January 12, 2006

R. Yitzhak Herzog on the Sages and Science

You might recall that certain contemporary rabbis have said that it is no longer acceptable to follow the position of Rambam and his son, R. Avraham, regarding the Sages' knowledge of science. R. Yitzhak Herzog disagreed. Here is what he wrote in an essay that was published in his Judaism: Law & Ethics p. 152:

The attitude of the orthodox Jew towards the scientific matter embedded in this colossal mass of Jewish religious learning may be best summed up in the words of R. Abraham Maimuni, the great son of the greatest codifier of Jewish law and the foremost Jewish philosopher of the Middle Ages. "It does not at all follow," Abraham Maimuni declares in his classical introduction to the Haggadah, "that because we bow to the authority of the sages of the Talmud in all that appertains to the interpretation of the Torah in its principles and details, we must accept unquestionably all their dicta on scientific matters, such as medicine, physics and astronomy. We ought to be quite prepared to find that some of their statements coming within the purview of science are not borne out by the science of our times..." It is of importance to bear this in mind when we enter upon the study of science in the Talmud. The subject should be approached from the historic angle, and when it is thus approached, it will prove highly interesting.

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