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Zohar Vaikra 10a [quotes the Book or Rabbi Hamnunab Sabah]:

וּבְסִפְרָא דְּרַב הַמְנוּנָא סָבָא, פָּרִישׁ יַתִּיר, דְּהָא כָּל יִשׁוּבָא מִתְגַּלְגְּלָא בְּעִגוּלָא כַּכַּדּוּר, אִלֵּין לְתַתָּא, וְאִלֵּין לְעֵילָּא, וְכָל אִינּוּן בִּרְיָין מְשַׁנְיָין בְּחֶזְוַויְיהוּ מִשִׁנוּיָא דַּאֲוִירָא. כְּפוּם כָּל אֲתַר וַאֲתַר, וְקַיְימִין בְּקִיּוּמַיְיהוּ כִּשְׁאָר בְּנֵי נָשָׁא.

ועַל דָּא אִית אֲתַר בְּיִשּׁוּבָא, כַּד נָהִיר לְאִלֵּין, חָשִׁיךְ לְאִלֵּין, לְאִלֵּין יְמָמָא, וּלְאִלֵּין לֵילְיָא. וְאִית אֲתַר דְּכוּלֵיהּ יְמָמָא, וְלָא אִשְׁתְּכַח בֵּיהּ לֵילְיָא, בַּר בְּשַׁעֲתָא חֲדָא זְעֵירָא. וְהַאי דְּאָמַר בְּסִפְרֵי קַדְמָאֵי, וּבְסִפְרָא דְּאָדָם הָרִאשׁוֹן הָכִי הוּא.

"The entire world and those upon it, spin round in a circle like a ball,' both those at the bottom of the ball and those at the top. All God's creatures, wherever they live on the different parts of the ball, look different (in color, in their features) because the air is different in each place, but they stand erect as all other human beings.

Therefore there are places in the world where, when some have light, others have darkness; when some have day, others have night. There is a place in the world where the day is long and night is but a short time... "

On the other hand, the biblical description of the firmament seems to contradict this.

How are the two views reconciled?


According to The Jewish Encyclopedia:

The Hebrews regarded the earth as a plain or a hill figured like a hemisphere, swimming on water. Over this is arched the solid vault of heaven. To this vault are fastened the lights, the stars. So slight is this elevation that birds may rise to it and fly along its expanse.[8]

enter image description here

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    I don’t see how that’s a contradiction. The only contradiction is between the Zohar and a picture which may or may not be accurate. – DonielF Jun 7 at 0:45
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    @DonielF I don't see how it's a contradiction. The only contradiction is between the Talmud and a kabbalistic midrash which may or may not be accurate. (Point is yes there is a contradiction here, and negating the accuracy/validity/authenticity/literalism of either source is one possible resolution.) – Double AA Jun 7 at 0:46
  • See @DoubleAA's comment on judaism.stackexchange.com/questions/22851/… that (even if Rashbi wrote it) Zohar was written long (400-500 years) after the Greeks anyway. – Al Berko Jun 7 at 9:09
  • @AlBerko See answer below, point (4) – yO_ Jun 7 at 15:44
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    Bringing actual sources instead of a picture would vastly improve this question. – user6591 Jun 7 at 16:04
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There is no contradiction; they talk about two points of view.

The litteral meaning of the Bible's verses, doesn't talk about a physical/scientific reality. But rather from an everyday-life point of view (1), and especially, about information that is directly usable (2), and relevant to halacha (3). For all countries and centuries (4).

On the other hand, Zohar isn't afraid of taking another point of view, and is intended for another kind of diffusion and target. And to explicitly reveal deeper layers of truth, to people (and time) prepared to accept it.


  1. How would you react to someone suddenly shouting at you "BEWARE!! THE GROUND IS MOVING UNDER YOU!!!!" ? What? Isn't true?

  2. Even some scientists deeply convinced that Earth revolves around the Sun, consider the Earth at rest for their computations: in astronomy you often use geocentric coordinates -- because it is easier, and more useful to know where to point out your telescope.

  3. Further in this direction, see the first Rashi on the Chumash, where, quoting R' Itzchaq, he gives a reason for describing the Creation in the Torah instead of diving right into first mitzvah.

  4. If the Bible, was describing the Universe like viewed now, since a few centuries - not much, relatively to 3300+ years - it may have been laughed at for a very long time, until recent discoveries.

  • In my view, what Zohar says (even if we attribute that to Rashbi and IF the translation was exact, which is in fact very far from it), isn't "knowledge" per se. There's NOTHING in Zohar that follows that worldview, supports it Halachicly or otherwise, showing why would G-d create the world this weird way and why people don't fall down. This cannot be called "knowledge". I truly understand your desire to justify just about everything, but sometimes the truth must be told. – Al Berko Jun 9 at 17:55
  • I support your #4 that there can be no scientific knowledge in the Torah beyond the practical necessity. So the argument is totally lame. I know Z.Cohen personally and I know how those facts are made to sell his books, but for a noble purpose of bringing our secular brothers and sisters back. He has explicit permission from Rabbis to do so - to skew the truth to make people believe. – Al Berko Jun 9 at 18:00
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No contradiction. The earth is round but not a perfect circle. More specifically it's the shape of an oblate spheroid (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Figure_of_the_Earth), which being not a perfect circle can have four distinct quadrants.

"Kanfei HaAretz" doesn't necessarily mean "corners of the earth." It literally means "wings of the earth," "wings" being more open to interpretation.

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    I think it literally means the edges of the earth – Double AA Jun 7 at 16:45
  • Who translates kanfei in this context as wings? (Besides yourself) – robev Jun 7 at 17:00
  • The second pasuk is Shemos 19:4: Atem re'item asher asiti l'Mitzrayim; v'esah etchem al kanfei nesharim v'avi etchem elai. You saw what I did to Mitzrayim; that I have borne you on the wings of eagles and brought you to Me. – Rafi Hecht Jun 7 at 18:05
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Very interesting, to resolve your contradiction you better read the Zohar a page before and a page after the portion you quote (I added the original):

  1. Zohar mentions רקיע or רקיעים numerous times on the same page(s), for example 9bט:

    וְכֻלְּהוּ רְקִיעִין, אִלֵּין עַל אִלֵּין כְּגִלְדֵּי בְּצָלִים, אִלֵּין לְתַתָּא, וְאִלֵּין לְעֵילָּא. וְכָל רְקִיעָא וּרְקִיעָא, אַזְלָא וְרַעֲשָׁא מֵאֵימָתָא דְּמָארֵיהוֹן.

    Or this one, more specific:

    וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים יְהִי רָקִיעַ בְּתוֹךְ הַמָּיִם. רִבִּי יְהוּדָה אָמַר, אִלְמָלֵא הַהוּא רְקִיעָא דְּאַפְרִישׁ בֵּין מַיִין עִלָּאֵי לְתַתָּאֵי, הֲוָה פְּלִיגוּ בְּעָלְמָא מִנַּיְיהוּ.

    Zohar is very consistent and descriptive describing the firmament(s), clearly showing that the concept of the firmament is very basic and accepted in its worldview.

  2. On the other hand, the quote from R' Hanunah's book is exceptional, not relating to anything in the context, besides saying that the Creation is weird and we should praise G-d.

    IMHO, after some investigation, it appears that the spherical Earth does not fit into the rest of Zohar's descriptions of the Earth. For example, Zohar keeps using the terms - above and below, higher and higher, G-d above all and similar time after time, which is inconsistent with what's quoted from R' Hanunah.

    It appears that the association of this quotation with the spherical Earth was made very lately to promote the idea of the Jewish omniscience.

  • Why is there any contradiction between the concept of a rakia and a spherical earth? At the very least the Rambam held of both, but there's no reason to go so late in history. – Mordechai Aug 20 at 21:48
  • @Mordechai Did I say that? That was the question. Theoretically, they can coexist, had we defined the concept of רקיע better. I suppose the OP refers to the dispute b/w the Sages and the Greeks where the Sages suggest the Sun goes back above the Rakia as opposed to Greek's view that it circles the Earth. Just as his picture suggests. – Al Berko Aug 21 at 5:03
  • "IMHO, after some investigation, it appears that the spherical Earth does not fit into the rest of Zohar's descriptions of the Earth". And how would we define רקיע so it would be a problem with a spherical earth? – Mordechai Aug 21 at 8:33
  • @Mordechai Wait, those are two different questions. 1, רקיעים can be all spherical and it does not contradict spherical earth 2. I claimed that the concept of spherical Earth contradicts Zohar constant reference to up and down, above and below. – Al Berko Aug 21 at 8:35
  • So if "up" means father from the center of the Earth, and "down" means closer, and so to with "above" and "below", there is no question; right? – Mordechai Aug 21 at 8:41

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