fQuote Credit: Albert Einstein

What makes something true?  Is there such a thing as objective facts, or is everything subject to context that reality itself is impossible to be separated from the internal phenomenon of the observer?  For example, sound or a color are collection of waves along a certain frequency.  Not only is it impossible to know how another organism or alien would see or hear, it is even impossible to know if two humans phenomenologically even experience the same colors or sounds.  Meaning, we both may choose to call this collection of light waves to be “Red”, but what it looks like inside our minds is impossible to compare.  For all you know, your red looks like your neighbor’s blue.

The Gemara on Amud Beis quotes an argument between secular scientists and the rabbis:

תָּנוּ רַבָּנַן, חַכְמֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל אוֹמְרִים: גַּלְגַּל קָבוּעַ, וּמַזָּלוֹת חוֹזְרִין. וְחַכְמֵי אוּמּוֹת הָעוֹלָם אוֹמְרִים: גַּלְגַּל חוֹזֵר, וּמַזָּלוֹת קְבוּעִין. אָמַר רַבִּי: תְּשׁוּבָה לְדִבְרֵיהֶם — מֵעוֹלָם לֹא מָצִינוּ עֲגָלָה בַּדָּרוֹם וְעַקְרָב בַּצָּפוֹן.

In a discussion related to the structure of the natural world, the Sages taught: The Jewish Sages say the celestial sphere of the zodiac is stationary, and the constellations revolve in their place within the sphere; and the sages of the nations of the world say the entire celestial sphere revolves, and the constellations are stationary within the sphere. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi said: A refutation of their words that the entire sphere moves can be derived from the fact that we have never found the constellation of Ursa Major in the South or Scorpio in the North. This indicates that it is the stars themselves that revolve in place and not the celestial sphere as a whole, because otherwise it would be impossible for Ursa Major to remain in the North and Scorpio to remain in the South.

I am struck by this representation which is full of symbolic content. It is noteworthy that according to the Sages the Zodiac or Mazal are seen as relative and in constant motion. Yet, according to the secular scholars, it is the zodiac that is fixed and rather the entire sphere that rotates.

This corresponds with the rabbinic world view that reality is subject to negotiation via human intervention. The month is determined and the year is determined by rabbinical fiat. As explained in great detail with vast implications, the Torah is not in heaven. The rabbis can even overrule the Heavenly court and best G-d Himself in a legal argument (Bava Metzia 59b). However, secularity i.e. Greek and Babylonian astrological wisdom, seeks to contain, manage, and hold a rigid form of reality.

Is it an accident that the secular year is based on a fixed solar calendar of approximately 365 days that is consistent every year? On the other hand, the Jewish calendar is based on a lunar cycle that is constantly flexing and requiring rabbinic adjustment. Remember, you can always use an old and outdated Jewish and Secular calendar from a different year to determine sunrise and sunset.  Do not look at the Jewish date.  Rather, if you look at the secular date, September 1 or any secular date will ALWAYS have the exact same time for sunrise and sunset.  This is because the solar calendar is based on the position of the Sun and Earth that is consistent for each day of the year, no matter what year.

My friends, this is a key difference between the Torah outlook and the secular outlook. It is not that the torah ignores secular science and facts, because that is just plain pigheaded and stupid. It is only a recent phenomenon of the last hundred years or so that you can occasionally hear of a rabbinical Authority’ making fun of secular science and wisdom. You would never find a Rishon or early acharon suggesting the secular scientists are foolish. They might disagree on intellectual or religious grounds, but they never thought they were foolish. 

Nevertheless and scientific “facts” notwithstanding, the rabbinic view is that reality itself is not completely objective and that the intersubjectivity of the human experience allows for, and even requires, active and flexible intervention in order to succeed.

For Video versions of this click here, and look for title and daf.  

Translations Courtesy of Sefaria, (except when, sometimes, I disagree with the translation cool.)