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"Today, unfortunately, the majority of Jews have abandoned the Torah as their primary guide in life, rather than finding meaning and inspiration in its profound philosophical, psychological and moral lessons. Many of them will not turn to Judaism unless they find the system of studying its primary texts sound and responsive to reality".
There has been much discussion in the Orthodox Jewish world recently about the question of rabbinic authority. Yeshiva University published a book on the subject, the journal Tradition devoted an issue to the topic and there have been numerous postings in "Mail Jewish", an e-mail forum on the Internet, regarding various facets of the topic.
This paper is written to address one important aspect of the topic only - the opinion that holds Talmudic sages to have been infallible and that all their statements, including those of a factual type, whether they relate to history, geography, medicine, astronomy, biology, etc., to be absolutely true.
The objective of this paper is to demonstrate that such an opinion is logically untenable and a misunderstanding of the sources.
If the above opinion meant that in many areas the sages had exceedingly great insight surpassing others of their time, it would be fine. If it meant that in certain cases the sages had a tradition originating from a Divinely-inspired source, that would be a different matter. If it meant that Halacha, even in those instances when apparently based upon factual insights of the sages, remains binding regardless of present-day scientific opinion, until a future Sanhedrin exercises its duly-authorized power to reevaluate matters, it would be correct. However, some present-day yeshiva authorities mean actual infallibility and absolute truth in all Talmudic statements.
This position cannot be accepted. Its negative effects cannot be overstated.
A clarification of this matter is called for not only to improve the quality of our own Torah study, but also to remove a stumbling block from the path of many who might thus find their way to Orthodox Judaism. It is not only the opinion in and of itself, but its consequences that are particularly injurious, as will be briefly touched upon further in this paper....
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