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Why Archeology is Kosher

April 1, 2014

I find it frustrating discussing the renewal of Jewish practices, like the wearing of t’cheleth, with those who would seriously posit that halacha does not take Archeology into consideration. This is a fallacious argument, as Archeology is merely a word we coined to describe discovering evidence, whereas to them it represents a system of beliefs, with a sinister Latin name, that must be at heads with Torah methodology.

  • R’ Schachter has always pointed out that the Talmud uses archeological evidence in deciding the law. The Gemara says that although one can acquire whatever is on his property merely by stating a claim, a qinyan hatzer, there is a case where one can enter the domain of another, and unearth a buried treasure and claim it as his own, and the other, the owner of the domain, has no claim, as the antiquity  and location of the treasure indicate that he had no foreknowledge of its presence. To the sages, the circumstances indicate that “the Amorites left it.”
  • Maimonides and later scholars Like R’ Isaac Herzog, the Chief Rabbi who rediscovered t’cheleth, assumed that one could use textual research and archeology to discover unknown truths. It is ironic that many will say that the Tempe menorah had straight branches, as indicated by Maimonides, whereas in truth Maimonides would be the first to concede that based on all of the evidence now uncovered, it is certain that the Menorah had rounded branches. Maimonides would also of course want us to use the best editions of his works, and not  abide by the Hazon Ish’s view that once a version of a text has been accepted, it can not be replaced or improved upon. In his introduction to the complete Mishneh Torah, Yohai Maqbili brings many examples where Maimonides determined the proper Talmudic text and the resultant halachoth from studying old manuscripts, often overturning  centuries of precedent.
  • Rabbinical courts of all stripes readily accept archeological evidence as credible. I personally observed how one local court ruled in a gentleman’s favor after he was able to provide documentation supporting his claim. Now, the document in question had been tucked away in a file in his closet, but he found out during his Passover preparations. If he had to look for it a little harder, and because it was a century old he only found it in his late great-grandfather’s archives, would that not be some sort of archeology? If the document was two hundred or two thousand years old, what difference would it make concerning that to which it attests? How would its location upon discovery matter either?

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