Thoughts on Judaism

Friday, August 19, 2011

Traifot - the Drusa

Chulin 53a gives a story following the discussion of traifot, when a cat claws a bird. We discussed this in relation to the Daat Emet's essay on the subject, but the daf yomi just passed by it, so I want to record it while it is fresh in my mind. The universal underlying assumption is that many animal claws, lions, martens, alley cats, hawks, wolves, foxes and others use their front claws to inject poison into the victim prey. This can be discerned by the bodek if he examines the body cavity and sees redness. That is a telltale sign that it was clawed with poison and is treif. So, I was happy enough to say that they decide the law based on what they saw, and the incorrect underlying fact is simply backstory and irrelevant to the law. Even the idea that in order to inject poison, the predator must retract the claw can be reconciled this way.

However, the Talmud gives a case where one of the Rabbanim saw a cat strike a door in anger and he claims he saw five red marks, indicating that the cat had injected poison in the door. So there can be no doubt that the redness they were discussing above was not the damaged tissue and blood, but the poison itself. Even if I chalk it up to empiricism in the case of the examining the animal, how to I regard the eyewitness account of a legal authority to something that we strongly suspect does not exist?

The primary answer is very weak. One might relate the "poison" to the bacteria responsible for "cat scratch disease". The germ infects the animal turning the inside red as the infection manifests in the body cavity. I might even presume that other predators convey the same cat scratch disease. However, what do I do with red poison presented in a wooden door? The bacteria would not turn it red, unless it reacts with the wood somehow. What did the Rabbis see? Was it the remnants of the cat's last kill? That would refute his point for bringing the story, namely the decision of when the cat injects the poison. Also, with regard to the windpipe, the Talmud sates that a cat scratch in any measure forbids the prey, whereas normally, the puncture of the windpipe require a larger measure, an issar or rov. However, the poison continues to burn, so it will get bigger. This might happen with bacteria, but I do not know. The Talmud says "zihara".

It is also a clear halacha that the claw poison is only injected with the will of the animal. That would not be the case with cat scratch bacteria.

Empiricism has to rule here, since that is all we can base a ruling on, but the facts of the Talmud are very hard to "shtim", and they leak dangerously close to the halacha.

Well, I am sure that there will be a full discussion of this in "The Coming Revolution 2". It is right up his alley after all. (NOT!)

Saturday, August 06, 2011

Coming Revolution by Zamir Cohen

Subtitled “How Science is discovering the truths of the Torah”

The title of this Israeli best seller set my alarms off to say the least. It certainly presumes a conclusion, rather than being an objective reporter of facts, so I am steeling myself for a strong polemic with some jumps of logic, some missing facts, and some broad exaggerations. However, I was unprepared for what I found, though I had even had a little bit of preview.

The book is a series of 2-3 page comparisons of what he claims are the Biblical positions with what he claims are the scientific positions on a variety of subjects. It is apparent from early on that he has never cracked a science text and is unclear even as to what science is. “Cracked” may be the operative term here, as in “pot”. He operates on the assumptions that the Torah, the Tanach, the Talmud and the Zohar are all literal and equal in stature, from a historical and scientific viewpoint, and that the Zohar is 2000 years old. (In reality is probably more like 700 years old, a world of difference in Jewish history.) This is not the view of Judaism nor of history, but he cherry picks arguments in order to make the facts correspond to reality. His recurring theme is that the Torah knew some fact that they had no way of knowing or imagining, and that science is now confirming that fact. He has a couple of interesting hits but nothing really compelling, and he does not even address the reverse argument, i.e. what to do with scientific facts in the Torah that are irrefutably wrong. But, 85% of the book is utter fantasy. He includes many photos, often which have nothing to do with the subject, but they make the book a prettier package.


He discusses continental shift, corresponding with the Torah view that there was one ocean and then dry ground formed one continent. Later the land separated into seven continents, and that this is revealed in the Zohar, among other places. This is essentially correct. Cool.

He discusses that there are many more stars than meet the eye, and then shows that they could not have known this without divine knowledge. Of course, anyone who had been in the city, even then, and then went to a flatter and less populated place would easily come to that conclusion. He also tries to play the numbers of stars versus estimates today, but his efforts fall short by a factor of over 50,000 times. Nonetheless, it is interesting so we will rate it cool.


The book descends into silliness quickly, with assertions based on “parapsychology”, magic and discredited crackpot theories, which he presents as proven science.

Auriculotherapy, the ear form of the magic cure known as reflexology, is presented as a medical fact. He brings the infamous article on the idolatrous cure known as acupuncture, relating it to the positions of the Tefilin (G-d forbid). Get a grip. Science has not shown these therapies to have any medical value or effect, despite many decades of effort.

He presents the work of Masuru Emoto, trying to prove that speaking of nice concepts makes pretty ice crystals where as saying negative things creates ugly ones. Sadly, no one has ever been able to replicate Mr. Emoto’s work. He does the same with Cleve Backster and making plants grow strong with positive speech and emotion. Mythbusters busted this myth 10 years earlier. He quotes Edgar Mitchell and Edgar Cayce on ESP, claiming Torah has foretold these amazing events. At least Mitchell was only deceived. Cayce was likely a mere carnival act.

Then he goes off the deep end. What is that you say? Oh, yes, even deeper. The Torah’s references to life after death are confirmed by photographs of ghosts. He displays a couple of such photos which circulate widely on ghost believer websites. These are “facts” that science is just coming to grips with according to Cohen. Last I checked, science had not accepted the existence of ghosts. Various demons and creatures from mythical lands mentioned in the Talmud and Zohar are attributed to the scientific discovery that alien cultures have been visiting our planet. He proves this with UFO photos and stories. He certifies prophetic dreams using anecdotes, as scientific admission.

There is more but I could not bring myself to write about it. I’m sure you get it by now. But don’t worry. I am sure the Coming Revolution 2 will be around soon, a guaranteed money maker. Why in blazes do I work productively for a living?

My final recommendation: Read this book for entertainment. Try not to get too offended by the comparisons of Torah ideas to nonsense. Do not, under any circumstances, share this book with someone unaffiliated, if they have any education whatsoever.