Monday, December 5, 2011

The Enigma of the Maklos - part II

In yesterday's post, I provided three approaches to the enigma of the Maklos. One was that of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, the second one was that of MakeForYourself, and the third was that of Dr. Blonder as quoted by Shadal. At the end of the post I linked to R. Josh Waxman's post where he analyzes Shadal's words. In this post I would like to present R. Josh's own pshat. But first, a minor digression. I wrote yesterday "is it really true that observable inheritance was disproved? Nowadays I think there is no doubt that it is not true." Well, here is a scan of Rabbi Zamir Kohen's book "The Coming Revolution" which pays no heed to the fact that Maternal Impression has long been disproved. There is also a Hebrew version which i can upload at readers request.

Now I turn to R. Josh's pshat. Here are his words:
I think that the most straightforward reading of the Torah text is that Yaakov believed that the particulars of the striping on sticks would cause the patterns on the sheep. This impact of the imaginative faculties was believes in ancient times and was believed by Chazal. It certainly could have been believed by Yaakov Avinu.
Does this then mean that the Torah advances an incorrect scientific belief, and that the Biblical narrative depends on this false scientific belief? That certainly is one possible conclusion. 
Another conclusion could be somewhat multivalent. Recall that Yaakov's dream indicates some Divine influence on the outcome of the sheep patterns. We could say that Yaakov did his hishtadlus, in accordance with the beliefs of his time; and then, Hashem helped things along, in determining which seed was selected.
The first part of his pshat is the same as Rav Hirsch's. The second part where he states that the sheep patterns were influenced by a miracle, is that of Rabbi MakeForYourself. An interesting mixture, that fits the pshat very well.

What I don't understand is, why can't we just say- as I proposed in part I - that the cause of the pattern change in the newborns were Mendelian inheritance Law's? Actually, Mendelian Inheritance fits the verses depicting the dream just as well as the miracle proposed by R. Josh.



  1. Yeedle, congratulation on the new blog. Yafutzu maynosecha chutza.

    I'm not a doctor or scientist, and don't profess to be one either, but as far as I know the illustartion presented in the Tanchuma (or as you refered to it, Maternal Impression) was never competely "scientifically disproved". As wikipedia puts it, it was at most "abonded". Due to the continous discoveries in the field of genetics, scientists and doctors gradually ignore(d) the former theory due to "hard evidence". Yet, that doesn't mean that it is was merely an old superstition. This being the case, IMHO, pashut pshat in Yaakov's method of "getting what was rightfully his" was in fact done through what they (later) called Maternal Impression. Aside from the medrash, we find this in a gemara mefureshes as well (A. Z. 24a). See also the Ramaban in his Iggeres ha'kodesh (ch. 5) where he elaborates on this belief why it indeed has such impact on the offspring. (IMO there is no machlokes here between Raboseinu z"l and science. And for obvious reason. I simply don't have the time right now to be maarich, but I trust you can see the makom l'chalek).

  2. ...and of course the gemara in Berachos (20a) which tells how R' Yochana (if I recall the name correctly) would sit outside the mikva. Same reason.

  3. “congratulation on the new blog. Yafutzu maynosecha chutza.”

    You’re right about it not being disproved, nevertheless it was abandoned for good reason: anything it seeks to explain, is much better explained by Genetic Theory. Furthermore, there is no known mechanism for Maternal Impression, ma she’ein kein Genetic Theory.

    Thanks for the references to Brachos and AZ! Do you mind elaborating why you think there is no machlokes between Chazal and science?

  4. (By the way, Iggeres Hakodesh was erroneously attributed to Ramban. See Kisvei Ramban, Chavel ed. Vol 2 pp. 315-320. IIRC, R. Yosef Digikatila was the author.)

  5. 1) The phenomenon of Maternal Impression expressed by Chazal v'habaim achareihem, seemed to have been built upon early Kabbalistic doctrine. Later, Rishonim, Achronim & Mekubalim came (there are others who I didn't mention), advanced and spread this theorem. In other words, Chazal were disscussing a more sublime phenomenon, as opposed to a theory based upon their knowledge of natural human development. In contrast, comes along the discovery of genetics and scientists start proving it's (starring) role in the human development. Yet still, the former is not disproved. And nor would the former neccesarily reject the laws of genetics. They can BOTH have their credible hereditary impression and live (pun intended) happily ever after.

    On the other hand, if Chazal were to issue a statement built solely upon their knowledge and/or understanding (or lack of, as some might say) in contradiction to scientific proof where the two could not jive, THEN a machlokes is justifiable.

    (please for heaven's sake, let's not get into a whole back & forth of "well, if Chazal were infallible...".)

    2) re: the author of the iggeres, your right, yet I believe Chada"sh abandoned (notice the amount of "abandonment" going on here) that suspicion and agreed it most probably wasn't from Mahar"i G. If I'm not mistaken, R' YAZ Margolios (in his ed. of the iggeres) was of the opinion too that is was from the Ramban. All in all, most refer to the iggeres "ha'meyuchis l'Ramban", hence my accrediting to Ramban.

  6. I'm not sure I agree to your premise that Maternal Impression in Chazal is based on an early Kabbalistic doctrine rather than on their own knowledge. How did you arrive at such a conclusion?
    I do agree however that Maternal Impression was never "disproved" in the sceintific sense of the word. I also agree that when Chazal's words are based on a Kabbala from Sinai they should be infallible.

  7. Did you see what Ramban (for argument's sake) writes in ch. 5 of "the" iggeres? That's not based on scientific or any other secular knowledge. The idea is already found in the beginning of time: "v'Adam YADA es Chava". See Rabbeinu Bachyah there. This is just the tip of the iceberg, there's much kabbalistic grounding for this phenomenon. I don't mean to be a push-off, I simply don't have the time to elaborate at the moment. I trust you can research the inyan on your own.