Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Does Halacha Change?

I saw this post at Wolfish Musings which reminded me of something I had once learned. At first I commented on the woman learning Gemara part, and I have to say it is a really amazing feeling to see something from the Gemara and actually know what it’s talking about and where it came from. Ex: Lakewood Falling Down’s Post. But now I’m going to comment on a different part of the Wolf’s post.

The Wolf asks:

“The question at hand was whether it's possible that rabbinical statements could be influenced by the environments in which the people who uttered them lived in, or are they delivered in a vacuum (so to speak) and are always valid at all times and under all circumstances.”

My Answer (As typed up from my seminary notes from R’ S.):

There are many things in Halacha that seem to be contradicting and you start to wonder if maybe Halacha changes as time goes on or if the Rabbi's were wrong.

Here are some Examples:

  1. If a cat attacks and animal, that animal becomes treif from the venom poisoning it.
    Q: But there's no Venom in a cat.
    A: Cats that go into the garbage get infections, so Halacha doesn't have to change, there's just a different reason.
  2. On shabbos you could kill lice, you can't kill stuff that reproduce, lice comes from dirt.
    Q: But its impossible that something comes from nothing.

    A: 1679 - Pachad Yitzchak said chachamim made mistake about not being able to kill lice.
    All Torah was given to Moshe, how to apply it was given to the Chachamim, Moshe said you could kill lice, we find reasons based on knowledge and apply it, the reason could be wrong, but Halacha is not wrong.

    Chachamim knew reasons aren't good, but people would only listen if there is a reason to believe to accept the Halacha. It’s a reason that people believed in at that time.

    There are Many reasons for halacha, not just 1 reason, but it doesn't say all the reasons.
  3. Bird grows from tree and needs shchita
    Q: But its not possible that a bird comes from a tree.
    A: A bird coming from a tree is just a metaphor.
  • A) Chachamim had superior knowledge -- Ruach Elokim, even if scientist say that its not true.
  • B) Overtime nature has changed, we can't use their refuahs cause we changed, were not the same, certain halachos could change.
  • C) It could be we misunderstood the chachamim, so we can't say they’re making mistakes.
  • D) They spoke in metaphor's, not everything is meant to be taken seriously.
  • E) Chachamim got knowledge from scientist, then they made Halachos, now Halacha changes.


  1. Snake stays pregnant for 7 years. Now it takes only a few years, scientist did research and found garter snake is pregnant for 7 years. So it could be that in the time of the chachamim there was a snake that was pregnant for 7 years.
  2. Salamander oil if you smear it on your body it will become fireproof and won't burn, if there's a continuous fire for 7 years then a salamander will come from it. There are different types of salamanders.


Mikeinmidwood said...

Its salamander skin that doesn't burn, not oil. This was proven by scientists in france over 600 years ago. The gemara wrote it 1500 years ago. Salamanders lay there eggs in fire.

nmf #7 said...

Actually- I've had a problem with the snake one for many years. Garter snakes- check it on the internet- only have a gestation period for 2-3 months. I have researched it, and found that there are some snakes who's gestational period is 2-3 years, but that's about it.
If you have another answer- I'd love to hear it- or the source for your original one.
Oh, and the lice coming from dirt- I had heard that might be a metaphor, as they seemingly spring up from dirt, or live in dirty places....
But thanks for your clear answer!

nmf #7 said...

Oh, and I'd love to see the source for the salamander skin/oil one as well- if either Babysitter, or Mikeinmidwood has it!

nmf #7 said...

R' Natan Slifkin, if you're interested, actually says that salamanders have a limited ability to survive in fire, due to a special fire-resistant foam produced by their bodies.

Shorty said...

another "good reason" to kill lice is that it can affect our health...it is Jewish Halacha to preserve health, and perhaps we can extend this to killing lice?

Halacha does change...slightly...as technologies change...maybe?

muse said...

I try to ignore rationales for halachot. That's because technology can make the halacha obsolete.

Moshe said...

Cats, farm animals and humans all have different diseases which, in most cases, are not transferable. While a cat may be bitten by a rabid animal and then transfer it to cattle, cattle is regularly checked for abnormal behavior.

DavenedByDeKoisel said...

Without commenting on any one particular aspect of the above halachos, it seems to me that one takes on an awesome responsibility trying to change(edit)halachos according to ones own understanding. The penalty for adding or taking away from the Torah is severe for good reason.(Good fences make for less possible problems)Please dont mistake this as blanket condemnation, just saying that very few people in a generation can deal with subject matter like this.( The Chofetz Chaim said;"It's easier to be Machmir than to be Maikel when it comes to P'sak Halacha")

The Babysitter said...

MikeInMidwood: ahh ok, I'm surprised you heard of this stuff, I think when I learned it, it all went over my head so I didn't really get the technicalities of it all. But this is the way I had it in my notes, so it was the way I was taught, could be there are different opinions.

NMF#7: I'm surprised you knew about it too!

I didn't write down a source, so I'm not sure.

Right, so one of the ways to deal with contradictions, is that it's a metaphor.

You're Welcome! Glad you found it so clear, I wasn't so sure, cause it seemed cryptic to me.

I wish I had written down sources...

that's cool, he's the Zoo Rabbi?

Shorty: I would think the same way!

Muse: That reminds me, we had a class in seminary called "Taami Hamitzvos", the reasons for mitzvos. In the introduction that was one of the issues she discussed, that the problem with giving reasons is that people may just simply dismiss the Halacha because they feel the reason doesn't apply to them.

Moshe: Interesting, didn't know that before.

DavenedByDeKoisel: I would think the same way!

Except that theory can cause some problems sometimes. Like thinking that everything is a Halacha when some of it can just be chumras, and putting the same weight on them isn't good Chinuch. Cause then if one would see people not keeping Chumras one may think their not keeping Halachos, and one may stop keeping Halachos themselves.

nmf #7 said...

Babysitter- yeah, he's the Zoo Rabbi- the one with the banned books. I can't say I've read them, although I'd love to get my hands on one of them- it seems to answer a bunch of the animal questions out there. His blog is www.zootorah.blogspot.com

I've heard many of these answers before and in my opinion- they just strengthen Daas Torah. A great book is R' Nosson Bushwick's Understanding the Jewish Calendar. One of my favorites is that Chazal calculated how far away the moon is from the earth- and then Nasa came up with almost the same number- a 100,000th of a decimal off- and then, Nasa recalculated, revised, and came up with the same number as Chazal. Interesting- no?

The Babysitter said...

NMF#7: right, I remember hearing about those banned books. I'll check out his blog.

That is cool when the scientist come up with things after they were said earlier by Chazal. It's great when they strengthen Das Torah, but at the same time I think it's important to keep in mind that not always are they going to be the same, and one has to set precedence over the other. So that with things where science doesn't agree then it doesn't make Chazal wrong, that science doesn't give Chazel the credibility, it's just a cool backup.

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