Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Mud-Mouse in Support of the Sweat-Louse and On Internal Censorship in Me'iri

In his fascinating sefer, "Hishtanut Hatvayim Behalacha" (The Transformation of Nature in Halacha, Jerusalem 1988), R. Neriah Gutel discusses the implications the scientific discovery that there is no such thing as spontaneous generation has on Halacha. R. Gutel discusses the two approaches found in the poskim, regarding this problem. Both of the approaches were firstly presented by R. Yitzchak Lampronti. The discussion hinges on the question whether we should uphold Chazal's permission to kill lice in Shabbos or we should prohibit it in light of modern scientific discoveries.

In his approbation to the sefer, R. Avigdor Nevnazel writes the following interesting note:
אדמו"ר הגרשז"א [הגאון רבי שלמה זלמן אויערבאך] שליט"א נוקט דבענין הכינים הלכו חז"ל לפי מראית העין. ולולי דבריו, אחרי בקשת המחילה, נלענ"ד דהכינים שלנו אינם הכינים שעליהם דברו חז"ל, כמו שגם עכבר שחציו בשר וחציו אדמה אינו מוכר למדעני זמנינו. והמדע הכופר סותר את עצמו אם מצד אחד הוא מקבל את דברי פסטר האומר ששום חי אינו נוצר מעצמו ומצד שני את דרוין האומר שכולם נוצרו מעצמם. והאמת לא כדברי זה ולא כדברי זה אלא רובם כדברי פסטר אבל כגון הכינים והעכבר הנ"ל כדברי דרוין
He says that the lice Chazal spoke about is a species that does spontaneously generate, and it simply unknown to modern zoologists, just like the half-mud mouse which is also not known to scientist. And he also claims that atheist modern science contradicts itself by accepting Louis Pasteur's words about spontaneous generation while at the same time accepting Charles Darwin's theory about the development of  the species. Instead, he says, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Most species do not spontaneously generate, rather they sexually reproduce, while some species, like the lice and mice Chazal mentioned, do generate spontaneously, but miraculously no such species is known to modern science.

R. Nevnazel's approach is not uniquely his. This is also the approach of the R. Shamai Gross, Dayan of Belz, Jerusalem and others as enumerated in R. Natan Slifkin's fantastic book "Sacred Monsters". What struck me as interesting is his citing of the Mud-Mouse as support for the Sweat-Lice. Classical circular reasoning.

Another interesting note by R. Nevnazel in the aforementioned approbation, concerns the Me'iri who famously writes that discriminating laws in the Talmud apply only to the gentiles of yore but not to [most of] modern-day non-Jews who are גדורות בדרכי הדתות. (See Meiri Brachos 58a; ibid. 58b; Shabbos 156a; Yuma 84b; Yevamos 98a; Ksubos 15b; Gittin 62a; Bava Kama 37b; ibid. 113a; Bava Metzia 2a; ibid. 27a; ibid. 59a; Avoda Zara 20a; ibid. 22a; ibid. 26a; Horiyos 11a). In what I'm guessing is an attempt to reject R. Gutel's assertion that the discriminatory Halachos of the Talmud relating to non-Jews changed because the nature of non-Jews changed, R. Nevnazel writes as follows:
שמעתי את ההשערה שהמאירי כתב מה שכתב מפני שיד גוים היתה משמשת בספריו. כידוע בדורות מאוחרים כתבו הרבה דברים בגלל הצנזורה, ודוגמאות בולטות לכך בש"ס וילנא (בין השאר מובאות מהמאירי), במשנה ברורה, באור שמח, בערוך השלחן
He reports that he heard a supposition that the Me'iri wrote what he wrote as a type of internal censorship, because non-Jews used his seforim, and he didn't want to offend them or he was afraid of them. This is already mentioned by the Chasam Sofer (printed in Ateres Chachamim, 14) regarding the notes printed in the name of the Me'iri in the Vilna edition of the Talmud Bavli, Bava Kama 38a and 113a. The Chasam Sofer writes as follows:

התם בב"ק ... הפסק בשם המאירי מצוה למוחקו כי לא יצא מפה קדשו והוא דעת האומרים לרשע צדיק באמונתו יחיה, ויעויין בהקדמת בן-יוחי
It is interesting that the Chasam Sofer cites Ben Yochai. Ben Yochai was authored by R. Moshe Kunitz as a response and a challenge to R. Yaakov Emdin's anti-Zohar polemic Mitpachat Sefarim. As Dan Rabinowitz notes ("Nekkudot: The Dots That Connect Us", Hakirah vol. 2) "What is truly fascinating is that nothing in R. Kunitz’s biography would cause one to choose him as a defender of the authenticity of the Zohar. He was solicited by R. Aaron Chorin, a primary founder of the Hungarian branch of the Reform movement of Judaism, to write a responsum permitting various innovations. The fact that R. Kunitz allowed an organ in the synagogue is certainly indicative of his reformist tendencies". And the Chasam Sofer specifically didn't like him. As Dan writes in that article "R. Simeon Sofer (1842-1906) writes that his father, R. Moses Sofer (Hatam Sofer) had wistfully hoped the authorship of these two works could have been reversed, i.e., with R. Emden defending the Zohar from the attacks on it by R. Kunitz." Dr. Marc Shapiro also wrote recently about it, but he didn't elaborate as he is planning to write about it in the next issue of Milin Havivin. As he later wrote in the comments to the linked post, he will specifically address the Chasam Sofer's issue with R. Kunitz.

Returning to the issue of the Me'iri, considering how many times the Me'iri repeats this idea, even in "harmless" places (i.e. where the censor wouldn't care) like Shabbos 156a, or the places where he goes out of his way to point out that this or that nondiscriminatory Halacha applies even to non-Jews who are not גדורות בדרכי הדתות like in Kesubos 3b or Gitin 58a or Kiddushin 17b or Bava Kama 113b or Kesubos 6b, or in places where he uses it to answer a kushya like in Bava Metzia 2a, it seems very unlikely that this was some kind of internal censorship of the Me'iri, rather this was his genuine opinion.

R. Dovid Zvi Hilman (Zfunot, vol. 1 pp. 65-72) vigorously defends the Chasam Sofer and writes:
כל הקורא את כל (ההדגשה במקור) לשונות המאירי בדינים אלו יווכח בעליל שכוונתו בהן אינה אלא ככוונת כל מדפיסי הספרים ברוסיא ופולין במודעותיהם שבראשי הספרים ובשינויים שהכניסו בגוף הספרים שהוכרחו לעשותם בגלל הצנזורא. ומוקצה מן הדעת לשער שח"ו בקושטא ס"ל להמאירי הכי
He then goes on to cite many citations in Me'iri, emphasizing the words גדורות בדרכי הדתות and similar terms, but he doesn't provide any explanation - besides for boldfaced letters - as to why he sees that as evidence that the Me'iri only wrote so "for the gentiles" and he didn't really hold so. On the contrary, as I showed earlier, the Me'iri is at pains to point out that certain Halachos DO apply to non-Jews who are not גדורות בדרכי הדתות. Why the inconsistency if he does not believe in what he writes?


  1. "as I showed earlier, the Me'iri is at pains to point out that certain Halachos DO apply to non-Jews who are not גדורות בדרכי הדתות"

    Yeedle is this all YOUR work (like you write), or what you collected from the articles quoted here?

  2. Most of my sources come from searching Bar Ilan's responsa project program. Two of 'em were pciked up from R. Hilman's article in Zfunot. Thanks for the link, though. I'll check out if I can find any additional info there.

  3. If we're quoting Meiris which are out there, here's a really revolutionary one, from Avodah Zarah 26b:

    נעשה משומד לע"ז כלומר לעבודת אלילים הרי הוא בכלל המינים והוא בכלל מורידין לדברי הכל... ודברים אלו כלם בשעדיין שם ישראל עליו, ומאחר שהוא מתפקר ומחלל את הדת ענשו חמור הרבה, הא כל שיצא מכלל דת יהודית ונכנס לו בכלל דת אחרת הרי הוא אצלנו כבני אותה הדת שנכנס בה, לכל דבר חוץ מגיטין וקדושין...

    This also appears in his commentary on Horayot 11a.

  4. Yes, this is one Me'iri that R. Hilman takes particular issue with, writing:

    ברור כשמש שמה שכתוב [בהוריות] דף יג וב[עירובין] דף כו לא כתב אלא מפני אימת המלשינים ומוסרים

    Another bug chiddush is in Yevamos 98a, where he says that what the Gemara says that we are not חושש לזרע האב is only regarding those who are not גדורות בדרכי הדתות. R. Hilman points out that according to this- אחים נוצרים שבזמננו שנתגיירו חוששין בהם לזרע האב ואם מת אחד מהם חייב האחר ליבם! If what R. Hilman writes is true, this is a big chiddush not found in any other posek (I say "if" because I think גר שנתגייר כקטן שנולד דמי overrides this).

  5. Oops, that should be וב[עבודה זרה] דף כו.

  6. The new Milin Havivin has appeared

  7. Thanks, for letting me know. For all interested it can be downloaded here:,com_docman/task,doc_download/gid,1861/