Thoughts on Judaism

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

The size of the Sun

This is an interpretation of the Part II, Ch. 7 of the Tanya, a book written by Rav Shneur Zalman, the first Chabad Rebbe. It is a treatise on belief in G-d and therein he explains in Chapter 7 that limitations in halacha, like the sun being 170 times the size of the Earth are limitations on G-dly revelations to us, to allow us room to exist, where otherwise we would have none. Fun. However, in this aside, he seems to affirm the Rambam, by quoting this size, and we know that the sun is far more than 170 times the size of the Earth. The late Chabad Rebbe tries a direct apologetic below.


Note of the Rebbe: “Rambam in Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 5:8 states ’about 170 times,‘ and in Hilchot Shevuot 5:22 he writes ’170 times.‘”

“This, however, poses no difficulty with the Alter Rebbe’s statement, for in Rambam’s introduction to his commentary upon the Mishnah (s.v. VeHineni Noseh) he is more precise and writes ’166 and three-eighths times.‘”

(Rebel's note: Later he will say that the size and pertuberations cause great variances. Here he tries to nail down an even more precise figure. To be consistent, it should have said a range of sizes.)

As to the seeming contradiction between this view and that of present-day astronomy that the sun is 4 or 5 million or more times greater than the earth, the Rebbe has explained as follows:

The view of astronomy applies to the volume of the sun, and that of Maimonides to its diameter.

(Rebel's note: That would be fine, except that the other measurements that Rambam gives are not in terms of diameter, nor volume necessarily. Learn it and see. And give this guy a shout. Also, the diameter of the sun is only 110 times that of the Earth. The CR tries to further extracate it.)

The diameter of the sun, based on present-day astronomy, is about one hundred and ten times that of the earth [not 170], but this measurement takes into consideration only specific layers of the sun and not all of them. For the outermost layers of the sun contract and expand greatly from time to time, and not all the layers are visible to the eye (only their effects are visible). Hence, it is difficult to measure them. Likewise, the protuberance is not taken into account.

(Rebel's note: It is difficult to measure them but above we can get to 166 3/8 Earth diameters rather than the 170 estimate. By protuberance, I think the means the periodic swell and fall "breathing" effect that would cause huge variances in the diameter that were only temporary. He does not make clear what counts and what does not in the 170 x figure. Nor does science today offer any clear layer where the 170 figure is accurate.)

One thing he does make clear is that he means to understand the Rambam literally and infallibly. He would have it that Sinai revealed these unseen layers of the sun, that we have only discovered recently, and that the Rambam received from mesora. Two facts speak against this understanding.

a) The Rambam himself says that he does not bring this astronomy from mesora. He refers the reader to the Sifrei Chachmai Yavan (secular Greek books) right in Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah. In Moreh Nevuchim, the Rambam states outright that he brings astronomy from science, not from Sinai.

b) Though these hidden levels were only to be revealed by the science in recent times, teh Ptolemean astronomers knew all about it because they brought the same exact number. That's right! The hidden wisdom of the science of Mt. Sinai, the Maaseh Breishis that could not be revealed except to special sages of Israel, was WELL KNOWN IN GREEK BOOKS since the 2nd century!

Now, you don't think fundamentalism would stop here, do you? No! The Sanhedrin taught these precept to the Greek / Egyptian sages back in the Ptolemean / Mishna era. Hence they knew it. That's right. It was only secret for Jewish people. They were more than happy to reveal these secrets to the nonJews.

So here we have a top notch Talmid Chacham, ranking with or above any in the recent past, well above most, out on a limb, trying to save an infallibility for the Rambam that he himself denies! This shows how deep the river under the mystical approach runs. The knows the facts as well as I. He knows the Mishna Torah and the Moreh and even the science. Yet, he must cling to a weak raft of apologetics so that the mystical approach is safe. Why? Some might say that he simply knows and it is arrogant to question his logic. Some might say that he sacrifices logic to save a greater precept. I leave that to you.


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