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Flat Earth: What the Rambam really said, and the game changer

Over Shabbat, I re-read a book called ‘New Heavens and a New Earth’.

I first read it a couple of years ago, but each time I go through all this stuff again, I glean more useful insights. While the author, Jeremy Brown, clearly believes ‘Copernicus was right’, I give him very high marks for actually trying to write the book in as ‘neutral’ a mode as he can.

And he brings a ton of relevant Jewish sources.

Let me set out the basic things I learned, and then we’ll get down to the sources themselves.

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  1. There are authentic Jewish sources for both a ‘flat earth’, a spherical earth ‘celestial sphere’ (more on that shortly) and also Rebbe Nachman’s ‘dreidel’ earth.

Today, I realised that the SHAPE of the earth is not where the main argument is at all, and you can believe any of the above and be in line with authentic Jewish sources (you’ll see why, in a moment.)

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2. There is ABSOLUTELY NO AUTHENTIC JEWISH SOURCE FOR BELIEVING THE EARTH REVOLVES AROUND THE SUN.

This idea was Copernicus’ big ‘chiddush’ – and there is not one credible Jewish sources from before the last 200 years that supports this idea.

(More on ‘who is supporting heliocentrism in Jewish community’ shortly).

If you believe in ‘heliocentrism’ as opposed to ‘geocentrism’ – you are have a big spiritual problem on your hands.

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3. Whether you believe the earth is spinning around in place – like a dreidel – or is totally stationary, either of these ideas have authentic rabbinic support.

But, there is ABSOLUTELY NO SUGGESTION THAT THE EARTH IS ‘SPINNING AROUND THE SUN’ OR ANYTHING ELSE.

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These are the basic ideas I learned from our authentic Torah sources.

So now, let’s take a look at some of them, including what the Rambam actually said, about ‘spherical earth’ (the really interesting bits are bolded).

(From ‘Mishneh Torah’, Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah, Chapter 3, 1-4):

The heavens are called shamayim, rakia, zevul and aravort, and they contain nine [concentric] spheres.

The sphere that is closest to us is the sphere of the Moon. The second sphere beyond that is of Mercury, the third is of Venus, and fourth sphere is that of the Sun. The fifth sphere is that of Mars, the sixth that of Jupiter, the seventh that of Saturn.

And the eighth sphere, called rakia, contains all the stars seen in the sky. The ninth sphere is that which turns each day from east to west, which encircles all the others and which moves all of them.

The explanation for the fact that all the stars appear as if they are in the same sphere – even though they actually lay one above the other, is that the spheres are absolutely clear as glass, so that a star in the eighth sphere could appear to be in the first.

All these spheres that orbit the Earth are spherical, like a ball, with the Earth suspended in the center.

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So much for all those who like to claim Rambam as somehow ‘supporting’ Copernicus and heliocentrism.

Now, take a look at the Gemara, Pesachim 94b, where there is a whole, very complicated, discussion about the thickness and properties of the rakia, as well as the properties of the zodiac.

Here’s a very small snippet from the footnotes in the Artscroll version – I highly recommend you take a look yourselves:

“The Gemara below (94b) records a dispute between the Jewish and the gentile [i.e. Greek] Sages regarding the movement of the sun.

The Jewish sages maintained that at night, after the sun sets in the west, it passes through the thickness of the rakia (i.e. the celestial sphere), emerges behind it and travels back from west to east, obscured from the earth by the opaqueness of the sphere [i.e. the rakia].

In the morning it reaches the East, passes back through the thickness of the rakia, and emerges inside it, where it becomes visible on earth as it rises over the horizon.

The gentile [i.e. Greek] Sages on the other hand, maintained the the sun rotates around the earth, passing below the earth at night.”

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There is a ton of info there, but it’s very complicated, I don’t really understand most of it, other than to tell you that it’s the furthest from Copernicus and ‘heliocentrism’ that you can get.

But try and apply what I brought above to the ‘flat earth’ map of Gleason, and see if you get anywhere:

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Here’s a few more sources in the Gemara to check out:

  • Tractate Yoma 54b: “R’ Eleazar opined that the world was created from the center outward, while R’ Joshua declared that the world was created from the edges inward. This dispute is only intelligible if the world is flat.
  • Chagigah 12a-b: A whole discussion about the creation of Heaven and Earth, and the Seven Heavens. This is just a brief snippet – please take a look yourself:
    • “Reish Lakish says: There are seven heavens and they are the following: 1) VILON (curtain), 2) RAKIA (sky), 3) SHEHAKIM (mills), 4) ZVUL (residence), 5) MAON (abode), 6) MACHON (arsenal), 7) ARAVOT (plains). [Reish Lakish begins to explain each] The first heaven, curtain, serves no purpose except that it enters its enclosure in the morning and emerges to cover the sky in the evening and thus renews the work of Creation every day.”

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And there’s a bunch of references in Psalms and elsewhere about the ‘fixed’ nature of the earth, like this, from Pirkei DeRabbi Eleazar, Chapter 3, which jibes nicely with the ‘flat earth’ model, and the ice wall surrounding the oceans:

“The beams that hold the sky are embedded in the ocean. The waters of the ocean stand between the end of the sky and the end of the Earth, and the ends of the sky are spread over the ocean.”

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In the discussion about the rakia from Pesachim 94b, the Sages there Jewish give various measurements for the thickness of the rakia that range from about 1,000 miles to 2,500 miles….

I was pondering that, when I remembered a strange set of experiments carried out by the USA in 1962, called: Operation Fishbowl.

They basically sent a massive amount of nukes up into the rakia, trying to blow a hole in…. what, exactly?

Snippet from Wikipedia:

Johnston Island was a remote location, more distant from populated areas than other potential test locations. In order to protect residents of the Hawaiian Islands from flash blindness or permanent retinal injury from the bright nuclear flash, the nuclear missiles of Operation Fishbowl were launched generally toward the southwest of Johnston Island so that the detonations would be farther from Hawaii.

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Hawaii just happens to be the place nearest to the ice wall, when you look at Gleason’s map, above.

Coincidence?

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In the next post, I have a ton of information to share about where this anti-Torah ‘heliocentric’ idea came from, specifically in terms of how it started to infect the Jewish world.

It’s going to be an epic post.

But in the meantime – lots more to think about, but hopefully lots more clarity, about what the real issue is.

Again, it’s not so much the shape of earth – flat plain suspended in a crystalline ‘sphere’? Spherical earth? – but a question of Torah-true  ‘earth centric’ or heretical Greek ‘sun centric’.

TBC

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UPDATE:

A reader sent me this, and I really liked it, so I’m sticking it up here.

That ‘bottom point’ of the dreidel is the Tzaddik Yesod HaOlam.

And then, we have the 36 (or some say 72) Lamed Vav Tzaddikim.

And then, the Jewish people – who are so, so, so on the bottom, but this is the ‘olam hafuch’, the upside-down world, where those on the bottom are really on the top, spiritually, and vice-versa.

And the whole world revolves around our connection with Hashem – i.e. our spiritual level and Torah learning, and prayers, and mitzvot, and working on our emuna and on overcoming our bad middot is truly keeping the world spinning around. The whole world is made for us! And what we believe, and how we act, affects the whole of creation, mamash.

Think about what’s written here – it’s awesome. No wonder the heretics are trying to obscure this fundamental truth, about the true nature of the world.

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5 replies
  1. Efraim
    Efraim says:

    Exactly. The shape is irrelevant. The main think is to accept what Hashem said . Eretz is the nekudat hapnimi of the creation and stands in the “heart” of Heavens. The meorot created for the earth and her inhabitants and after the earth. Impossible that the earth travels around the sun. One other tip. Eretz is called the dry land only. The oceans are not part of the earth. …Harokaa aretz AL hamaim

    Reply
  2. Gilberto Canto
    Gilberto Canto says:

    Shalom Rivka,

    I’m a Brazilian ben noach named Gilberto Canto.

    I would like to email my book called Poetry at the Vespers of Mashiach.

    I imagine you don’t read in Portuguese. You can send the e-book to someone who reads in this language and likes poetry.

    Sincerely,

    Gilberto.

    Reply
  3. Yosef from the Galil
    Yosef from the Galil says:

    Two thoughts come to mind.

    1. I can’t find it now, but I remember a lesson (audio) from R’ Tzvi Aryeh Rosenfeld where he says, and I’ll try to quote as close as I can, “Chazal tell us that Earth is at the center of the universe and I have no reason to dispute them”. I could be way off, but I distinctly remember him saying something very close to that. I think it might have been in his well-known Sichot Haran series.

    2. What does it matter whether Earth is at the center? Hashem doesn’t put anything else of value at the center. The Beit Hamikdash was not in the center of Har Habayit. The holiest place inside was all the way to one end. Who cares where Earth is? It doesn’t indicate any instrinsic value either way.

    Reply
    • Rivka Levy
      Rivka Levy says:

      Totally disagree.

      ‘Greek thinking’ takes everything down to a materialistic level.

      Jewish thinking understands the whole world is metaphorical, that descriptions of even the most mundane material object contain untold spiritual depths and life lessons.

      Humanity is at the centre of God’s creation. Human beings are the WHOLE REASON God created the world, the universe, everything.

      For a human being, and that human being’s free choice to serve Hashem.

      There is nothing ‘random’ here, everything is precisely ordered by God.

      There’s so much more to write about this, but go look at some of the comments from people who suddenly realise the earth is the cental point of creation – they literally transform from depressed, apathetic people wasting time on their xboxes and social media addiction to people with a renewed sense of purpose, and a drive to discover why God actually went to the trouble of creating them.

      That speaks more powerfully than any ‘logical argument’ I can put together here.

      Reply
    • Shimshon
      Shimshon says:

      You are asking the wrong question. The correct question is: Why the deception?

      When you answer that, you will get the answer to why it matters.

      Reply

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