Can one assume that there is a perfectly rational approach to superstitious ideas? May one go out of one's way to come up with rational approaches if these ideas bother him? My thinking is, LeHavdil, along the lines of being Dan LeChaf Zechuth - judging someone favorably - when you are pretty sure someone is doing something wrong.

Instead of assuming the sages meant exactly what it sounds like they said, even if it offends my rational consciousness, and facing the painful choice of A) The sages got it totally right or B)The sages got it totally wrong, can there be a C)I've got a really good explanation that perhaps nobody's ever thought of before?

Inspired by the following questions (and many others):

What can a pregnant woman do if she already stepped on nails?

Good and Bad Omen - on something that can be calculated in advance

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    If we're going to have both rabbis and sages-chazal, we're going to need good tag-wikis explaining when to use which.
    – Double AA
    Jun 7, 2012 at 21:33
  • Related (thematically if not topically): judaism.stackexchange.com/q/4037
    – msh210
    Jun 7, 2012 at 21:37
  • depends which branch of orthodoxy you ask.
    – Menachem
    Jun 8, 2012 at 2:05
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    @Menachem, look at the reaction to RaMBa"M's.
    – Seth J
    Jun 8, 2012 at 2:49
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    How is accepting the science of today any different than accepting the science held to by the Rambam or l'havdil the statements of Chazal (according to the opinion that they were just going off the science of their day by mistake c'v)? What is the basis within Judaism for concluding that today's science is certainly correct to the point that we need to bend Divrei Chazal to fit it?
    – yoel
    Jun 12, 2012 at 19:42

1 Answer 1


One shouldn't lightly dismiss a statement of chazal that seems outdated without trying to understand something from it. Sometimes there's another level to what they are saying and sometimes the idea can be understood within modern science also. For example, some of the statements about demons can apply to other hidden harmful forces, such as bacteria (see https://judaism.stackexchange.com/a/9746/369). I think it is worth being "dan l'chaf zechuth" to see what explanation one can find in a puzzling statement. However, even if there isn't another explanation, there's no reason to view them negatively for following the 'science' of their time. Also, some superstitions may in fact be forbidden, and the Rambam forbids some of the cures mentioned in the gemara.

  • Following your answer on that page (and something I've wondered about), is it then logical to state that the custom to wash with a cup after using the bathroom is mostly outdated now that we have soap and hand sanitizers?
    – Seth J
    Jun 12, 2012 at 19:20
  • see Netilat Yadayim: Ritual of Crisis or Dedication? here: atranet.co.il/gordon/netilat.pdf Jun 12, 2012 at 23:19
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    @SethJ It probably has to do with how much you view it as a takkana or not. Tosfot Pesachim 7b for example seems to take it as obvious that one makes an Al Netillat Yadayim when washing after leaving the restroom.
    – Double AA
    Jun 13, 2012 at 0:09

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