Rabbi Dov Linzer On Science & Halakha

This past Wednesday night, Rabbi Dov Linzer, the Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah spoke at NYU’s L’SHMA Lecture Series on “Science and Halakha: Sympathies and Strategies.”

Rabbi Linzer discussed the difficulties in dealing with rabbinical errors in the Talmud. Do we have a right to say that the Rabbi’s were wrong in certain cases? Rabbi Linzer explained that many groups in Judaism deal with nishtanu hateva or the concept that the rabbis were not wrong, but rather nature has changed.

He elaborated, that although this concept may have worked in the past, or within more traditional Jewish communities, today in more modern communities this explanation is not really viable.

Rabbi Linzer discussed an example of a baby born in the eighth month of pregnancy. In the Talmud it says that a baby born in the eight month is not considered viable and therefore cannot be delivered on Shabbat and is even considered mukstza. Rabbi Linzer explained that obviously today we know that there is high rate of survival for babies born in the eight month and sometimes even in months before that. If a baby is born on Shabbat it is clear that it can and should be saved.

Some other examples that he brought included the Talmud’s prohibition of eating meat and fish together because of health reasons as well as the issue of paternity blood tests.

Traditionally the Rabbis were hesitant to contradict opinions in the Talmud. They were fearful that any acceptance of scientific reasoning over a rabbinic opinion would destabilize the halakhic system. On the other end of the spectrum, Rabbi Linzer pointed out that we must also recognize the importance of truth in our system. How can we live by a system or by a certain halakhic decision if it was based on false knowledge?

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