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Essay donated by Dr. Zvi Shkedi

"5. The Torah & Science:
Torah or Greek Philosophy?
generation of life. The solar system and
stars. Is the Earth Flat? The social dilemma

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5. Torah or Greek Philosophy:

The Greek philosopher Aristotle lived during the time of the Second Holy Temple. The Hellenistic (Greek) period which followed his death in 322 BCE, and the conquest of the Holy Land by the Greeks, had a powerful influence on Jewish life. Following the defeat of the Greeks on Hanukkah, some hoped that the Greek philosophy would no longer have an influence on the Jewish religious view of the world. Unfortunately, history proved otherwise. Aristotle's philosophy dominated the world at that time, and it also found its way into the Jewish religious literature, including the Talmud, and later, into the writings of the Rambam. 1 It took the scientific world 2,200 years to finally rid itself of the influence of Aristotle's imaginative theories. Because Aristotle's philosophy penetrated the Jewish religious literature, the religious world is still suffering from its influence, up until today, unable to distinguish between certain views of the Torah and the philosophy of the ancient Greeks.

In Psachim p.94b, 2 the Jewish scholars of the Talmud admitted that their theory for the movement of the sun (by day the sun moves from east to west under the sky and at night the sun moves back from west to east above the opaque sky) is wrong. This same theory is also presented in Baba Batra p.25b. 3 In a debate with the gentile scientists, the Jewish scholars accepted the gentiles' theory (that the sun moves in a continuous circle above the earth by day and under the earth at night) as being more correct. From here we learn two lessons:

a) the Jewish scholars did not mind the possibility that their theories in the field of science could be wrong - they were always open to learning from the wisdom of the gentiles; and,

b) the Jewish scholars sometimes learned too much from the gentiles, to the point that they really believed in the correctness of their mistaken theories.

The scholars of the Mishnah 4 and the Talmud 5 never considered themselves to be perfect. They knew that mistakes are possible and, when discovered, they need to be corrected. That's why we have Massechet Horayot, teaching us what to do when a mistake is discovered. In Psachim p.94a Rabbi Yochanan says explicitly: "...the Rabbis made a mistake". Again, mistakes occur and those who are intellectually honest acknowledge and correct them. Why, then, are we so afraid today to admit that mistakes are possible?

The Meiri (1249-1315), in Beit HaBchirah on Psachim p.109b, explains the inclusion of mistakes and nonsensical ideas (Havalim) in the religious literature. It was, and still is, common for the public to make mistakes and believe in nonsensical ideas. As long as such mistakes and ideas did not involve prohibitions, the Rabbis avoided disputing them because they were too widespread and heavily ingrained in the public opinion. This is why such mistakes and nonsensical ideas were included in the Talmud - to avoid conflicts and to please the public opinion at that time.

There is a famous dispute between the Geonim 6 and Rabenu Tam 7 regarding the time of Tzet HaKochavim - when do the stars come out after sunset. The Geonim said 18 minutes, while Rabeinu Tam said 72 minutes. Most of the Rishonim and Achronim followed Rabeinu Tam. Yet, the Vilna Gaon (1720 -1797) said that "Reality contradicts" the opinion of Rabeinu Tam, and decided that 18 minutes is the correct time. When "reality contradicts", the scientific reality is stronger than the opinion of the Rabbanim. Practically all of the Jewish world today follows this decision by the Vilna Gaon. Similarly, high quality kosher supervision of food today is also guided by the same principle - the reality, as determined by technical specialists, based on science, takes precedence over the written words in the literature. It is interesting to note that the same Rabbanim who argue that it is impossible for the religious literature to contain mistakes, are also those who do not recognize the Kashrut of food if its kosher certification is based exclusively on the words of the Shulchan Aruch and ignores scientific facts.

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch (1808 - 1888), provides a very educational answer to the question of scientific reality vs. mistaken theories in the religious literature.

"In my opinion, the first principle that every student of Chazal's statements must keep before his eyes is the following: Chazal were the sages of God's law - the receivers, transmitters and teachers of His toros, His mitzvos, and His interpersonal laws. They did not especially master the natural sciences, geometry, astronomy, or medicine - except insofar as they needed them for knowing, observing and fulfilling the Torah. We do not find that this knowledge was transmitted to them from Sinai. …We find that Chazal themselves considered the wisdom of the gentile scholars equal to their own in the natural sciences. To determine who was right in areas where the gentile sages disagreed with their own knowledge, they did not rely on their tradition but on reason. Moreover they even respected the opinion of the gentile scholars, admitting when the opinion of the latter seemed more correct than their own."  (Trusting the Torah's Sages, Chapter 4)

Chazal were careful to admit a mistake when they noticed it, and made corrections. Why are students today miseducated in this regard?  Why are students today taught to believe that the Talmud has no mistakes and that every word in the Talmud is an absolute truth? Isn't it much more honorable to admit a mistake and correct it, then to refuse to admit it? Isn't this the essence of Tshuvah? Unfortunately, the quest to learn the truth today is hindered, and sometimes suppressed, by a political-religious environment which is hostile to suggestions that the religious literature could contain mistakes.

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Spontaneous Generation of Life:

The imaginative theory of spontaneous generation holds that complex living organisms are generated from decaying organic substances. For example: mice spontaneously appear in stored grain,  mice are spontaneously generated from mud, maggots spontaneously appear in meat, and worms spontaneously appear in fruit and in cheese. According to the Greek philosopher Aristotle, it was a readily observable truth that aphids arise from the dew which falls on plants, fleas from putrid matter, mice from dirty hay, and so forth.

In the 17th century such imaginative theories started to be questioned. Sir Thomas Browne, in 1646, published an attack on such false beliefs and "vulgar errors." The belief in spontaneous generation was so widespread that he was heavily criticized. Alexander Ross wrote: "To question this (i.e., spontaneous generation) is to question reason, sense and experience. If he doubts of this let him go to Egypt, and there he will find the fields swarming with mice, begot of the mud of Nylus (Niles), to the great calamity of the inhabitants."  Uneducated farmers in Egypt believe up until today that their mice are spontaneously generated from the fertile soil near the Niles river. Interestingly, the Talmud Bavli mentions that mice can be half dirt and half flesh (Sanhedrin 91a; Chulin 126b; Chulin 127a). The Mishna 4 also refers to the possibility of a creature which is half dirt and half flesh (Chulin 9.6).

A computer search of the texts of the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Talmud Yerushalmi, did not reveal any explicit indication of a belief in natural (non miraculous) spontaneous generation. The Talmud Bavli and later writings, on the other hand do mention it, probably under the influence of the Greek theories. For example: snails appear from rain (Sanhedrin 91a); worms, lice, and flees spontaneously appear in various foods, soil, and sweat (Rambam, Hilchot Shabat, ch. 11.2/3 ; Rambam, Maachalot Asurot ch. 2.12/13); and,  lice do not multiply through procreation (Shabat, 107b).

The astronomer Carl Sagan (1934 - 1996) coined the philosophical argument: "absence of evidence is not evidence of absence". This argument was used by him to defend his theory that there are millions of intelligent civilizations in outer space. It was also used to defend the claims of the existence of UFOs. The fact that we have no evidence of such civilizations, or UFOs, does not prove their absence. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that they do not exist. This argument was also used to defend the theory of evolution. Absence of evidence that humans evolved from monkeys is not evidence that humans did not evolve from monkeys. Therefore, there is no reason to believe that the theory of evolution is wrong. This type of reasoning is similar to the examples of deceptive science given above.

The same type of reasoning has been used to defend the theory of spontaneous generation. The fact that we cannot see spontaneous generation in action does not prove that it does not exist. Such argumentation may be logically correct only if no experiments were ever conducted to find and isolate the evidence. In the case of outer-space civilizations or UFOs, such experiments are obviously impossible. This argumentation does not apply, however, when controlled experiments are conducted and evidence is developed to isolate the exact conditions under which something can or cannot exist.

Alchemists tried for centuries to turn lead into gold. Every year the US patent office gets hundreds of patent applications for perpetual motion machines. Despite endless failures, all these futile efforts are motivated by the same philosophy - absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

Try the following simple experiment: Take two large metal boxes full of rotting grain. Seal one box with a tight-fitting lid with small holes in it (so air can get in but mice cannot) and leave the other box open. Inspect the boxes after a few weeks and search for mice. The presence of mice in the open box and the absence of mice in the closed box are solid evidence that mice get in from the outside and are NOT spontaneously generated in the rotting grain. If you are not convinced, repeat the experiment as many times as you wish.

Food in sealed sterilized metal containers is extremely popular. Once the container is sterilized and sealed, new organisms cannot enter the container and the food cannot spoil. If spontaneous generation of life was real, new bacteria and worms would spontaneously grow on the food and it would spoil regardless of it being sterilized and sealed. Why does it not spoil while the container is sealed? Why does it start spoiling after the container is opened?

In 1668, the Italian Francesco Redi proved that no maggots appeared in meat when flies were prevented from landing on it. This was the first positive experiment which proved that living organisms could appear in meat when flies were permitted to land on it, while they did not appear when flies were denies access to the meat. (Today we know that flies carry with them microscopic eggs of various organisms.) From the seventeenth century onwards it was gradually shown that the previous theories regarding spontaneous generation were wrong. This was the first time in history when scientists began to realize that every living organism has to come from a pre-existing living organism.

In 1683, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek discovered bacteria, and it was soon found that even though organic matter was protected by screens, or by being placed in stoppered receptacles, bacteria and other low organisms always appeared. Sterilization has not been invented yet. This observation delayed by another 179 years the final proof that the spontaneous generation theory was wrong.

In 1768 Lazzaro Spallanzani proved that microbes came from the air, and could be killed by boiling. Yet, it was not until 1862 that Louis Pasteur performed a series of careful experiments which finally proved that organisms do not appear on their own.

The French Academy of Sciences sponsored a contest for the best experiment either proving or disproving spontaneous generation. Pasteur heated the neck of a flask in a flame and bent it into the shape of the letter N. Air could enter the flask, but airborne microorganisms could not - they would settle by gravity in the neck. Then, he boiled meat broth in the flask (to sterilize it). No microorganisms grew. When Pasteur tilted the flask so that the broth reached the lowest point in the neck, where any airborne particles would have settled, the broth rapidly became cloudy with life. Pasteur had both refuted the theory of spontaneous generation and convincingly demonstrated that microorganisms are everywhere and are transported from place to place as dust in the air. This experiment was repeated many times by many scientists and students, always with the same results. It is so easy to perform, that even children can do it in school.

With this experiment, Louis Pasteur provided the final proof that the theory of spontaneous generation is false. He also scientifically proved the truth of what it says in the Torah: "From all life all flesh bring two of each kind into the ark to live with you, they shall be male and female." (Sefer Bereshit, Parashat Noah, ch. 6, v. 19)  and: "Every beast, every crawling creature, and every bird, all that move on the land, according to their species, went out of the Ark." (Bereshit, ch. 8, v. 19).  The Torah did not leave any room for new species or creatures which have not been in the ark and are not produced through procreation.

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The Solar System and the Stars:

Galileo Galilei was an Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher. He improved the design of the telescope, and used it to study the relative motion of the sun and the planets. His conclusions supported those of Copernicus -  the sun is at the center and the planets, including the earth, orbit around it. His findings resulted in the condemnation of the sun-at-the-center theory in 1616 by the Catholic Church as being contrary to the Bible: "Sun, stand still upon Giveon; and Moon, in the valley of Ayalon."  (Yehoshua, 10, 12)  The Catholic Church  would not allow anyone to argue with the theory that the earth is the center of the universe and all the heavenly bodies orbit around it. In 1633 Galileo was forced by the Italian Inquisition, under threat of torture, to retract his teachings. He spent the rest of his life under house arrest as a punishment for publishing his scientific findings, contrary to the orders of the Church. It took the Catholic Church more than 350 years to finally apologize and to admit, in 1992, that Galileo was right.

What is the Jewish view regarding the shape of the earth and the relative movement of the earth and the sun? Sefer HaZohar, in Parashat VaYikra tells us as follows:  (literal translation) "In the book of Rav Himnona it explains that the whole settled world spins around in a circle like a sphere. Some people are below and some people are above... and because of that, there is a place in the settled world, when it is light for some it is dark for others. For some it is day and for others it is night. And, there is a place where it is always day and it is never night, except for a very short period of time."

In this description, we see a clear understanding of the fact that the earth is shaped like a sphere and spins around its axis in a 24 hour cycle, as opposed to the theories of the flat earth and the sun orbiting around the earth.  We also see an understanding that people live all around the earth and while it is day for those on the side facing the sun, it is night for those who live on the other side away from the sun. Not only that, but as we know today, there is indeed a place (near the poles of the earth) where the day can be very long while the night is very short.

The sun and stars orbiting around the earth is the Greek and the Christian view of the world. This is not, and never was, the Jewish view. In the very first letter published in Igrot Kodesh Vol 1, 3 the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, confirms that the Rambam's model of the world is based on the Greek philosophy, particularly that of Aristotle.  The question which most rabbis struggle with is, why did the Talmud and the Rambam (1138-1204) present the Greek theory, ignoring the Jewish knowledge? The answer is given by the Rambam in Sefer Zmanim, Hilchot Kiddush HaChodesh, at the end of Ch. 17: (literal translation) "And the reason for all these calculations... and how do we know each of these things, and the proof for each and every thing, this is the wisdom of periods and calculations about which the Greek scholars composed many books, and these are the books which are now available to the scholars. But, the books composed by the Jewish scholars from the tribe of Yissachar at the times of the prophets, did not reach our hands."  The Jewish books were lost, and the only books available were those written by the Greeks. Sefer Hazohar was not available for study except to a few Mekubalim in Eretz Israel. It was also not available for study in the Rambam's time, nor was it studied in Bavel at the time of the Talmud Bavli.

The Rambam continues and sets the stage for how to deal with new scientific knowledge:  "We do not worry about who is the author (of the knowledge), whether it was authored by the prophets or by the gentiles. Because, in every subject for which its reasoning was discovered and its truth became known through faultless evidence, we do not rely on the person who said it or who taught it, but, on the evidence which was discovered and the reason which became known."  This is a dramatic deviation from the classical religious blind reliance on the authority of a Rabbi who makes a religious ruling. According to the Rambam, when it comes to establishing scientific truth, personal credentials and authority carry no weight. The only thing that counts is the scientific evidence.

In Sefer Mada, Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah, ch. 3, the Rambam presents in great detail Aristotle's Greek theory about the structure of the solar system and the stars. The earth is stationary at the center, and all the heavenly bodies orbit around it in a series of layers, with no empty space in between. The Rambam also goes out of his way to provide a rare reference to the source of this knowledge - books composed by the Greek philosophers (ibid. ch. 3.5). There have been arguments in the rabbinic world that the Rambam wrote everything by "Ruach HaKodesh". However, where the Rambam himself gives the source of his knowledge as being the Greek philosophers, and clearly states that the Jewish books were lost, the argument of "Ruach HaKodesh" does not apply.

We still need to understand the reason the Rambam included the Greek model in "Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah" - the most fundamental laws of the Torah. Is a detailed knowledge of physics and astronomy a fundamental part of the Torah? When we study chapters 3 and 4 we see that the Rambam gives us a brief summary of all the available knowledge of science, particularly physics and astronomy, at his time. The Rambam then tells us that the study of science is "Ma-aseh Bereshit" - the science of creation. The study of science and the quest to discover and know as much as possible about the laws of nature is a fundamental and integral part of the study of the Torah. The Rambam ends chapter 4 by stating that as soon as one learns the Halachot of what is permissible and what is prohibited in everyday life, a person should study the basics of science next, BEFORE he studies other topics in the Torah. "And it is possible for everyone to know it, young and old, man and woman, someone with a wide heart and someone with a narrow heart." (ibid. ch. 4.13).

The Talmud Bavli, in Psachim p.94b also refers to the Greek model of the world. The Jewish and the gentile scholars discuss the movements of the sun and the stars in the sky. They disagree on the details, but they all agree that the heavenly bodies orbit around the stationary earth.

When observing the movements of the stars without a telescope and without the slightest understanding of the laws of physics, the Greek model makes perfect sense. In this regard, Aristotle was a genius. However, once a telescope is brought into the picture, coupled with an understanding of the God-given laws of physics, the Greek model is nothing but human imagination.

In Tehilim 19:5 we find the following verse: “For the sun He has set a tent in them” - God set the planets as a tent for the sun. The Meiri, at the beginning of his introduction to Beit HaBchirah, is using this verse as proof that the sun is at the center and the seven known planets orbit around it. The Meiri teaches us that David HaMelech (the author of Tehilim) knew that the sun is at the center through Kabbalah, while the greatest of the later scholars were confused about it. Obviously, the Meiri rejected the Greek model of the world, as presented by the Talmud and by the Rambam.  As we can see, the original Jewish knowledge that the sun is at the center and the planets orbit around it, was recorded in Tehilim even earlier than in the Zohar.

There has been an attempt to apply Einstein's theory of relativity to this controversy. The theory of relativity has two parts. The "easy" part is "special relativity" which is studied by most physicists. The other part is "general relativity", a very difficult field which is rarely studied, and is understood only by a few physicists who specialize in it. Practically all discussions of relativity refer to "special relativity". In special relativity, it does not matter who is moving and who is stationary, the only thing that matters is the relative motion. The German philosopher Hans Reichenbach, argued in his book "The Philosophy of Space and Time" (1928), that for the earth to orbit around the sun is the same as for the sun to orbit around the earth. This may be an interesting philosophical play with words, however, scientifically it is a bad mistake.

This attempt to apply special relativity to the orbital motion of astronomical bodies ignored the differences between special relativity and general relativity. It also ignored the orbital motion of the other planets. Is Venus orbiting around the sun the same as Venus orbiting around the earth? Is Venus orbiting around the earth the same as the earth orbiting around Venus? Special relativity is a very narrow application of relativity which deals ONLY with motion on a STRAIGHT LINE at a constant speed, without accelerations, without rotations, and without the influence of gravity. Once we add even one of these factors into the picture, (and in our case all three are present) special relativity is no longer applicable. We enter the realm of general relativity. In the presence of gravity, acceleration, and rotation, it makes a huge difference who is moving and who is not; who has a low mass and who has a high mass. Therefore, for the earth to orbit around the sun is NOT the same as for the sun to orbit around the earth.

The attempt to introduce relativity into the discussion also involves a serious built-in contradiction. One of the fundamental tenets of relativity is that nothing can move faster than the speed of light. If we try to fix the earth at the center and let the stars orbit around the earth, the stars will have to move at a speed greater than the speed of light, because of their distance. So, is relativity applicable or not? We cannot choose one half of relativity which is convenient to the argument and ignore the other half.

Here is the exact description of who orbits around whom:

The sun and the planets together form a system which has a certain point in space as the system's center of mass. This point is inside the sun, but is not exactly at its center. All the planets and the center of the sun orbit around this center-of-mass point. When we say that the planets orbit around the sun we mean that they orbit around the center-of-mass point which is inside the sun. The orbit period, in years, of each of the planets is: Mercury - 0.24, Venus - 0.62, Earth - 1., Mars - 1.88, Jupiter - 11.86, Saturn - 29.46, Uranus - 84.01, Neptune - 164.8

To see, on the Internet, animated examples of orbits around a center of mass point, go to:

bullet The relative motion of two bodies of equal mass:
bullet This is what the earth-moon system looks like:
bullet This is what the sun-earth system looks like:

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Is the Earth Flat?

The theory that the earth is flat is as old as ancient history. Members of the "Flat Earth Society" still believe that the earth is flat. They believe that airplanes flying around the earth are really flying in a circle like a fly around a pizza pie. They call missions to space a hoax, and they don't believe the stories of astronauts who observed earth from the moon, and were able to see the spherical earth spinning around its axis in a 24-hours cycle.

In the Talmud Bavli, contrary to the teachings of Sefer HaZohar, we find some indications of the belief that the earth is flat. In Psachim, p.94b, we find a discussion about the movement of the sun. The Gemara states that fountain waters at night are warmer than by day because the sun warms up the water during the night from underneath the earth. This is used as evidence to support the opinion of the gentile scientists that the sun is traveling under the earth at night. In Chagigah p.12b we find a discussion about the number of support columns on which the earth stands. Opinions on the number of columns vary, but everyone agrees that the earth stands on columns. How are the columns supported? What do they stand on?

In the Talmud Yerushalmi we find only one hint to the flat earth theory through a mention of the thickness of the earth. (Yerushalmi, Brachot, ch. 1.1, p.4b).

Today, even those who still believe in the Greek's imaginative model of the solar system, as described by the Rambam, have accepted the scientific evidence that the earth is not flat, but, is rather shaped like a sphere. Some of those believers have also accepted that the earth spins around its axis once every 24 hours. What those believers are not yet willing to accept is that the earth and all the planets orbit around the sun, and not the sun and the planets around the earth.

The Social Dilemma

The members of the tribe of Yissachar, in addition to being great Torah scholars, used to be the world's greatest scientists of their time. Other tribes also had great Torah scholars. But, only the members of Yissachar, who included science in their studies, merited to be supported by their partner Zvulun. Jews today are still the world's greatest scientists, both in quality and in relative quantity. Why is it, then, that so few Rabbis today know science?  Those who study Torah full time expect the Jewish community to support them like Zvulun did. So, why is it that they don't do their share in this partnership, don't follow in the footsteps of Yissachar, and don't include science in their studies?

In recent generations, there was one great Torah scholar who did follow in the footsteps of Yissachar. His overall knowledge of Torah and science exceeded that of any other scholar of recent generations. He has studied thousands of Torah and science books and remembered them by heart; he guided Admiral Rickover in the development of the first nuclear submarine; he advised US military officers on detecting radioactive contamination released into the ocean by other countries; he guided medical doctors on curing people which they have given up on; he advised scientists on how to conduct their scientific research; and, he invented, for a Jewelry dealer, a chemical formula for washing pearls and increasing their luster. This Torah and science giant was the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.

The Rebbe knew that Chazal themselves considered the scientific wisdom of the gentile scholars equal to, and sometimes greater than their own. The Rebbe knew that the scientific model of the solar system is correct and confirms what we find in the Zohar and in the Meiri. The Rebbe knew that the Rambam's model of the world is based on Greek philosophy, not on the Torah. The Rebbe also knew that spontaneous generation of life does not exist. However, there was one thing the Rebbe did not do - the Rebbe did not openly acknowledge the possibility of scientific mistakes in the religious literature, even though other great Rabbis before him did acknowledge it. We don't know the Rebbe's reason - all we can do is guess. One possibility is that the Rebbe was afraid that history will repeat itself, and such acknowledgement would be exploited by elements hostile to Chabad, to justify new attacks against Chabad. Another possibility is that the Rebbe was afraid that such acknowledgement would be exploited by non-religious people to justify their disrespect for the religious literature. A third possibility is that the Rebbe's infinite respect for earlier great Torah scholars did not let him say anything which might be misinterpreted as criticism.

It is still a perplexing mystery trying to understand how people today can still believe in the imaginative Greek model of the world which violates many God-given laws of physics. Yet, these same people drive cars, fly in airplanes, use electric power, and make international phone calls via satellites, all of which would be impossible without the same laws of physics.

The best proof that deep in their heart even the most anti-scientific Jews accept the scientific model of the world, comes to light every Friday evening. The time of sunset on Friday evening is critical to the determination of the beginning of Shabbat. How many Rabbis are there in the world today who know how to calculate, years in advance, based on the Jewish calendar, the correct times of candle-lighting and sunset in their own location?  Rabbis and non-Rabbis alike, all around the globe, including those who openly reject modern science, when they need to find out these exact times, they look at the times published in their local Jewish calendar. All these times are determined by advanced SCIENTIFIC calculations which are based on the SCIENTIFIC model of the world.

Louis Pasteur proved that the ancient theory of spontaneous generation of life is wrong. Based on that, he invented  the sterilization of food and medical equipment. Sterilization works only because spontaneous generation does not exist. Now, when it comes to eating old food from a sealed container, we accept the sterilization. We know that bacteria and worms will not spontaneously appear in there. How is it, then, that when it comes to accepting the underlying evidence which led to this invention and made it possible, some people reject it?

One possible answer is that the livelihood and social status of those who reject modern science depend on their loyalty to a religious party line. They don't enjoy the freedom to express their beliefs without fear. Quietly enjoying the benefits of modern science does not involve a social risk. The only ones who can afford to express what they think without fear, are those whose livelihood and social status are not tied to such party-line loyalty.

Copyrightę 2007-SEP by Zvi Shkedi. The author permits not-for-profit republication of the above article with proper credit and without changes.
Originally posted: 2008-MAR-30
Video added: 2017-MAR-13
Author: Zvi Shkedi

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A fascinating seven-minute video:

It is by Wylie Overstreet and shows the construction of a scale model of the solar system in the desert:


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The following information was added by this web site's main author to try to clarify some of the Jewish terms used. The hyperlink is not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Rambam" was the nickname of Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, commonly known as Maimonides. He was a medieval Sephardic Jewish philosopher who became one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars of the Middle Ages.
  2. "Pesachim" (Hebrew: פסחים ), is the third tractate of Seder Moed ("Order of Festivals") of the Mishnah and Talmud.
  3. "Bava Batra" is the third of the three tractates in the Talmud in the order Nezikin; it deals with a person's responsibilities and rights as the owner of property. It is part of Judaism's oral law.
  4. "Mishnah" is the oral law in Judaism, as opposed to the written Torah, or the Mosaic Law.
  5. "Talmud" is the body of Jewish civil and ceremonial law and legend.
  6. "Geonim" refers to the rabbinic leadership in Babylonia.
  7. "Rabenu Tam" (1100-1171 CE) was one of the most renowned Ashkenazi Jewish rabbis and leading French Tosafists during the 12th century.
  8. "Igrot Kodesh" is a book containing correspondence and responses of Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the seventh Rebbe of Chabad-Lubavitch.
  9. Wylie Overstreet, "To Scale: The Solar System," Vimeo, at:

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