Wednesday, September 28, 2016

What sound is a Terua?

The Gemara in Rosh Hashana (34a) seems to offer 3 possibilities.
1. What we call a תרועה
2. What we call a שברים
3. What we call שברים-תרועה

The Gemara there then quotes an statement from ר' אבהו that he instituted the practice of blowing all 3 because of a ספק which is the correct תרועה.

R' Hai Gaon was asked the following question (quoted by the Beis Yosef  או"ח סי' תקצ)  :
נשאל רבינו האי: וכי עד שבא רבי אבהו ותיקן שיהיו תוקעים תשר"ת תש"ת תר"ת לא היו ישראל יוצאים ידי תקיעת שופר? והשיב: כך היה הדבר מימים קדמונים מנהג בכל ישראל: מהם עושים תרועה יבבות קלות, ומהם עושים יבבות כבדות שהם שברים, ואלו ואלו יוצאים ידי חובתם: שברים כבדות תרועות הן, יבבות קלות תרועות הן, והיה הדבר נראה כחלוקה, אף על פי שאינה חלוקה ולא היו מטעים אלו את אלו, כי חכמים של הללו מודים דיבבות תרועות הן, וחכמים של הללו מודים כי שברים תרועות הן. וכשבא רבי אבהו ראה לתקן תקנה שיהיו כל ישראל עושים מעשה אחד ולא יראה ביניהם דבר שההדיוטות רואים אותו כחלוקה.

R' Hai Gaon has a fascinating answer. He says that really all 3 are called a תרועה and you are יוצא the mitzva by blowing any one of the 3. תרועה means a crying type of sound and all 3 fit the bill. ר' אבהו was bothered by the fact that since different communities blew differently people would not understand and think that the other person is not יוצא, he also felt that it made it look like there are different Torah's. Therefore, he instituted a common practice of blowing all 3 different possibilities. This is how the Ritva and others explained that in Musaf the minhag was to blow תשרת for מלכיות and תשת for זכרונות and תרת for שופרות. If there really was a safek then you should need to blow all 3 after each section of the שמונה עשרה. However, according to R' Hai it makes perfect sense, since you are יוצא with any of them we are not מטריח the people to blow so many קולות.

The Rambam (and many other rishonim/acharonim) however disagrees with the Geonim and writes (פ"ג מהל' שופר הל' ב-ג)

תרועה האמורה בתורה נסתפק לנו בה ספק, לפי אורך השנים ורוב הגלות, ואין אנו יודעים היאך היא: אם היא היללה שמייללין הנשים בנהייתן בעת שמייבבין או האנחה כדרך שיאנח האדם פעם אחר פעם כשידאג לבו מדבר גדול או שניהם כאחד - האנחה והיללה שדרכה לבוא אחריה - הן הנקראים 'תרועה', שכך דרך הדואג מתאנח תחילה ואח"כ מיילל, - לפיכך אנו עושים הכל. ...נמצא מנין התקיעות שלשים כדי להסתלק מן הספק.

The Rambam states clearly that there was a real doubt as to what the sound of the terua was because of the long exile (and persecutions) and therefore ר' אבהו was מתקן to blow all 3 possibilities to alleviate the ספק.

This Rambam states an amazing fact, that at some point in Jewish history the people forgot and did not know what a terua sounds like. That means that there had to be a very long period of time when no one blew shofar. My 5 year old son can already make the sounds of all of the קולות and identify them by name, and I certainly would remember what a terua is even 50 years from now even if I never heard the shofar again. We can draw a number of conclusions from this:
  1. There were very long strectehes of time when the Jews did not fulfill basic mitzvos like shofar, so much so that they forgot the sound of a terua
  2. There is clear and long interruption of the mesora about an important mitzva like shofar. If the mesora was lost about shofar what else was lost?
This clearly lays to the rest the idea that there is an unbroken mesora back to Moshe Rabenu.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

אתרוג מורכב

Everyone has heard that an אתרוג מורכב is פסול. The poskim give various reasons for this among them that the resulting fruit is not an אתרוג. However, scientists have found that when you graft the branch of an אתרוג tree onto say a lemon tree, the resulting fruit is basically unaffected certainly not genetically. Therefore, any אתרוג grown from the grafted אתרוג should certainly be kosher it is an אתרוג. Additionally, DNA testing shows that all types of אתרוג that are used today have no lemon or other citrus fruit genes in them and therefore should be considered an אתרוג.

However, the poskim have not uptaken this position and in fact R' Sternbuch writes that all the Esrogim today are ספק מורכב and he is skeptical how anyone is יוצא the mitzva today.

Another interesting question that will come up is geneticaly engineered esrogim. What will the din be?

In short, we see that based on science there really is no such thing as an אתרוג מורכב, the poskim on the other hand ignore this information.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Should I say something?

My nephew got engaged recently to a rich girl, which is what he was looking for as he wants to sit and learn for the rest of his life (that is fodder for another post). When my mother told me the girls fathers name, I googled him as I usually do to get some information. To my great surprise what I found was that the girl's father had been charged (over 10 years ago) by the SEC with two different illegal schemes-an illegal offering scheme and a bank stock fraud scheme and that he had to pay a hefty fine/penalty and was permanently enjoined.  My brother and sister-in-law are very straight honest people, as are my parents, I am sure that they knew nothing about this, and if they had heard about this the shidduch would never have gotten off the ground.

The question that is really bothering me now is what to do with this information? On one hand I think it's important for them to know what they are getting into, on the other hand it is really too late. I don't see them breaking off the engagement because of this, so all I would do is upset everyone. I thought of sending an anonymous email with a link to the SEC litigation release but I am not sure that anyone would read it and again what would I accomplish?

What really gets me is that in the Charedi world (which my nephew is in) before a shidduch proposal is accepted both sides investigate. And yet, this information clearly did not come out in the investigation. I am sure that people who knew said nothing because they were afraid of loshon hara. The fact is that loshon hara has become the big savior for many people in shidduchim, people won't say the truth because of it. I would guess that there is another reason it didn't come out as well. In the Charedi world there is no little to no stigma attached to financial crimes. The father was involved in stock fraud, so what, it doesn't matter. What does matter is that he has a lot of money (possibly obtained illegally, but who knows) and is willing to support a son-in-law to sit and learn. Money cures all.

The bottom line is that I am not going to say anything and hope for the best.

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Can a modern state be run according to Halacha?

A year and a half ago the Bostoner Rebbe spoke at a news conference and said the following:

אני מפחד מהיום שיהיו 61 חברי כנסת, כי אני לא יודע איך ניתן לנהל מדינה עם האחריות של שמירת התורה. לדוגמה, לסגור את שדה התעופה בשבת, בעולם המודרני אני לא יודע איך אפשר לעשות את זה". ובכנות הוסיף ש"ברוך השם שלא באים לשאול אותי שאלות כאלה".

I am afraid of the day when we have 61 MKs because I don't know how you can run a state with the responsibilities of keeping the Torah. For example, shutting down the airport on Shabbos, in the modern world I don't see how you can do that. And in a moment of candour he added "Thank God that no one comes to ask me these types questions"

This raises a rather important question abut Torah Judaism. The Torah is supposed to be the the perfect blueprint for a society and yet the Bostoner Rebbe (and it's not just him, it's all of the Charedi leadership) doesn't have answers as to how to run a modern state al pi halacha. What does this say about the Torah and the society that the halacha requires? If the Torah was given by God for all times and places, then surely it should have answers for a modern society.  The problem is that the Torah deals with an agrarian society and the world has moved on.

Unfortunately, this is emblematic of the modern Charedi leadership,  don't deal with the modern world, rather withdraw from it. Don't engage with the world, rather have a Shabbos Goy (or non-religious Jew, or a Baal Teshuva) do the work for you.

It's very interesting that the Bostoner Rebbe pointed to closing the airport on Shabbos as the big problem that he has no answer for. Truthfully, that is the least of the problems. Power generation, police and army activity on Shabbos are much bigger problems. How do you balance security against chillu shabbos? Imagine if the police just ignored all non-pikuach nefesh issues on Shabbos, (robberies, rapes, car theft, etc.). How do you deal with industries (for example Intel's chip factories) which can't be shut down once a week? How would you create a workable justice system given the Torah's rules of evidence? Would Israel be like Saudia Arabia and have public lashings? The role of women? Slavery? The list goes on and on.

Just as problematic are economic issues that need to be dealt with. Modern economies are based on credit and interest, for example, every modern state sells government bonds which pay interest and the central bank sets the interest rates for lending. The consumer economy is very much driven by interst based lending (credit cards etc.) What about the prohibition of ריבית? What is the status of a company in Halacha? What would be the status of the government? The list goes on and on.

In truth, I agree with the Bostoner Rebbe, I don't see Torah answers for these questions however, we draw very different conclusions.

Monday, September 19, 2016

A person's income for the year is decided on Rosh Hashanah?

This is what the Gemara in ביצה states, כל מזונותיו של אדם קצובין לו בראש השנה. Therefore, according to this, in December there is no reason to work overtime to get a bonus, after all it was decided a few months earlier how much money you will make so your hard work is completely irrelevant.

In fact, the Hirhurim blog a few years ago quoted Rav Feivel Cohen about this subject as follows:

R. Feivel Cohen (author of the Badei Ha-Shulhan) returned from a convention of Agudath Israel of America somewhat upset. It seems that there was a big discussion at the convention about what some were calling a "tuition crisis." R. Cohen pointed out that the Gemara in Beitzah 16a states the following:

All of one's livelihood is determined from Rosh Hashanah through Yom Kippur except for what one spends on Shabbos, on holidays, and one's children's Torah education because [for these three things] if one reduces [the expense] they reduce [one's income] and if one adds [to the expense] they add to one's income.

Clearly, said R. Cohen, there cannot be a tuition crisis. The more you pay for tuition, the more one receives as income to make up for that expense. At least according to the Gemara and "We know what we call people who do not believe what the Gemara says."

So according to R' Cohen there can't be a tuition crisis because the Gemara says that Hashem will pay you back so you can pay any amount in tuition as you will simply make the money back.

While this sounds good in theory, in practice it doesn't work. There is a tuition crisis and most people including Charedim see a link between what they do and the financial results. In fact, the Charedi world is full of quick rich schemes and other illegal ventures. The Jewish Worker has a great post detailing some of these here Fascinating letters in yesterday's Yated.

The Gemara in Rosh Hashana seems to contradict the Gemara in ביצה. The Gemara on 16a states that there are 4 judgement days, on Rosh Hashana people are judged, on Pesach תבואה (which in those days was the equivalent of income) is judged etc. The Ran asks what is going on, if a person is judged on Rosh Hashana, surely that includes a judgement on his תבואה, if so what is the judgement on Pesach? He answers that the judgement on RH is for individuals and the judgement on Pesach is for the nation. The Turei Even asks, how does that answer the question? If everyone in the nation is judged on Rosh Hashana individually then in essence the nation was judged as well so what is judged on Pesach?  He gives the following ingenious answer. He says that on Rosh Hashana a person is judged and given not a specific amount of תבואה, but rather a percentage of the nations תבואה, e.g. 1%. On Pesach the nation is judged and allotted a specific amount of תבואה. Therefore your ultimate income is a combination of your personal judgement (the percentage) and the national judgement. With this he explains a difficult statement of Abaye. Abaye says that if a person sees in the winter months before Pesach that things are going well it is a sign that the judgement of the previous year was good and therefore, he should try to plant and harvest as much as possible before Pesach.  The question is obvious, how can you get more then you were given on Rosh Hashana? With the Turei Even's answer, we can understand this as well. Here is a simple example with numbers. On the Pesach before RH it is nigzar that your country will get 1,000,000 bushels of wheat. On RH it is nigzar that you will get 1% of that. The next Pesach it is nigzar that your country will get only 500,000 bushels of wheat. If you get 50% of your allotment before Pesach and 50% after Pesach you will end up with 0.5% of 1,000,000 which is 5000 and and 0.5% of 500,000 which is 2,500 for a total of 7500. What Abaye is suggesting is that you try to get 70% of your allotment before Pesach and only 30% after. If you do that you end up with 0.7% of 1,000,000 which is 7000 and 0.3% of 500,000 which is 1500 for a grand total of 8500. In other words even though you got the same 1% percent of your country's total in real terms you ended up with an extra 1000 bushels.

Many times, the word תבואה represents not just grain, but parnasa as a whole. If that is the case here then it turns out that a person's income is not fixed in absolute terms on RH. Rather, it is set as a percentage of the total income of the country. Therefore a person could increase their income by doing what Abaye suggested, shifting the distribution around. This could mean that there is justification for a person working harder to get a bonus in the winter, his hishtadlus really does increase his net income and this is not in contradiction to the fact that a person's income is fixed on RH because what is fixed is the percentage not the actual amount.

When I first saw this Turei Even when I was younger, I was blown away by this answer. It was brilliant and so neatly answered the questions. Now I am quite skeptical. Is this really the pshat in the Gemara? Is God really running a crazy scheme like this to provide people parnassa? He allocates percentages to every person in the nation and then an amount to the nation? Really? Does God really give you a way to game the system as Abaye suggested?  When you take a step back and think about how God should/could run the world, this kind of crazy scheme is not what would come to mind.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

What does bitachon really mean in Judaism?

You would think the answer would be obvious and self evident as bitachon is one of the fundamental tenets of the faith. However, this is actually a dispute between R' Yisroel Salanter and the Chazon Ish. R' Yisroel Salanter believed that a true believer would receive anything he asks for. If he wanted a gold watch and believed with all sincerity that Hashem would grant the request, then it would be granted. They tell the following story related to this. A poor man once came to R' Yisroel Salanter after one of his mussar speeches and said that he wants to change his life and sit and learn all day but he has no money. R' Yisroel answered that if he truly believes he should quit his job and buy a lottery ticket and he will win the lottery of 10,000 rubles. The man did as advised, but after a few days he had nothing to eat, R' Yisroel told him just hold out a few more days until the lottery. 2 days before the lottery the man returned to R' Yisroel and said I can't take it, my family has no food. R' Yisrael offerred to buy his lottery ticket for 5000 rubles. The man joyfully agreed. R' Yisroel answered, go back to your job, you don't have real bitachon. Someone with real bitachon would never sell a 10,000 ruble ticket for 5000.  We see from here that R' Yisroel held that if a person had 100% bitachon he would get whatever he asked for if he truly had bitachon.

The Chazon Ish on the other hand, dismisses this view of bitachon as incorrect. He held that Bitachon doesn’t mean you will get what you want, but rather it means to trust in Hashem that whatever He gives you - whether or not it is what you want - is for the best.

Again, we find a fundamental theological idea in dispute only 100 years ago. How can this be? How is it that we don't have a clear mesora of what bitachon is? This is not a machlokes in details, this is a machlokes in the fundamental concept of bitachon. In fact, how come we didn't see this machlokes in earlier sources? We see that even on basic fundamental ideas there is no clear mesora so kal vachomer there is no mesora on smaller issues.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Halacha and technology part 2 - Kashrus

In this post I would like to talk about modern technology and kashrut. There are a number of major areas that need to be addressed:

  1. Genetically engineered organisms
  2. Lab grown meat
  3. Absorption of pots etc.

Genetically Engineered Organisms

Genetically engineered salmon has been approved for consumption by the FDA. The genetic material inserted into the Atlantic salmon comes from two fish, the related Pacific Chinook salmon – which is kosher, and the ocean pout – an eel like fish that is not kosher.  There are a number of questions:
  1. Do the genes from a non-kosher animal render the fish non-kosher? 
  2. What would the status be of a non-kosher animal that was genetically engineered to have split hooves amd chew it's cud?
  3. What is the cut-off point to change the identity of an animal? A few genes, half the genes? 
These are very difficult questions which require a deep knowledge of science as well as halacha. Actually, it is not clear that the halacha really addresses this issue and it is very hard to find precedent. 

Lab grown meat

According to many of the articles that I have been reading, in 5-10 years lab grown meat will take over the world of meat production. Lab grown meat is created by extracting stem cells (the body’s master cells; templates from which specialized tissue develop) from a cow’s muscle tissue. These stem cells are cultured and multiplied with nutrients and growth promoting chemicals, and later coalesced, forming tiny strips of muscle fiber. The question is whether the meat is kosher and whether it is parve? What about lab grown pig? 

Again there is little to no real precedent here.

Absorption of pots

The basic halacha of Yoreh Deah is that pots absorb taste in the walls and therefore if you cook something treif the pot needs to be koshered etc. However, a number of Dati Leumi poskim (see for an interesting discussion) have started to question this. They point out that the scientific evidence shows clearly that today's metal pots (stainless steel) do not absorb and do not discharge any taste. Therefore, they raise the question should we need to kasher pots today?

This is one area where I can easily see a split between the Charedim and more modern poskim. The Charedi poskim will NEVER change the din of kashering pots, whereas I can see more modern poskim (OO and even some MO) changing the psak based on the new reality.


Technology is changing the kashrus landscape rapidly and again the poskim will have to decide whether to be conservative and not make any changes or be bold and apply the technological changes to the halacha. In all 3 areas that I mentioned above, it would not shock me to see a split between the Charedi world and the more modern world. 

In any case, the poskim will have to make tough decisions with little to no precedent available. The Gemara, Shulchan Aruch etc. don't talk about genetic engineering or anything like it. The Gemara, Shulchan Aruch, etc. all assume that pots absorb and much of Yoreh Deah revolves around that. How the poskim deal with the change in reality that pots don't absorb will be fascinating to watch. It will be interesting to see how reality matches the claim that everything is found in Torah.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

The Pew study on the growth of the "Nones"

R' Yitzchak Adlerstein of Cross Currents has a fascinating article which addresses the latest Pew study which follows up on the reasons why so many Americans are leaving religion.

they’ve come to realize that religion is the opiate of the masses; understanding science obviates the need for religion; they find religious belief irrational or unfounded; they prefer to make their own decision, rather than rely on some external authority; as scientists, they cannot believe in miracles.

R' Adlerstein is concerned that this attitude is seeping into the Orthodox community and it's influence will only grow. Therefore, he believes that Jewish education needs to adapt and provide more sophisticated and better answers:

we need more educators who have sufficient grasp of the great works of the Rishonim that they can distill their essence and convey them in the vernacular to less sophisticated audiences. (Elementary school children don’t have to know about the Rambam’s Moreh, but I would submit that people who have not puzzled through it, the Kuzari, and R Sadyah Gaon are more likely to come up with philosophical pablum rather than anything of substance – even when speaking to children.) We need more rabbeim who have absorbed and personalized works that address modern and post-modern questions, like R Samson Raphael Hirsch and R. Kook. We need teachers who can convey the depth of the more intellectual chassidus, like Sfas Emes and R. Tzadok. We need to take our children out of classrooms that suppress questions, or offer dumb answers.

I believe that his approach is doomed to failure for a number of reasons:

  1. The Charedi world will never accept it. During the Slifkin affair R' Hirsch was described by a R' Moshe Shapiro as "not from our Beis HaMidrash". Likewise, R' Kook is persona non grata in the Charedi world.  Even the Moreh Nevuchim of teh Rambam is completely ignored in the Charedi world. There is no way that the Charedi world will change their approach.
  2. The Philosophical works of the Rishonim that he mention (Moreh Nevuchim, Kuzari, etc) are basically irrelevant today. Philosophy has moved on and thereofre the questions and answers that they deal with are not the questions and answers of today. Likewise for the later authors that he mentioned as well. They simply don't address the questions of today.
I would like to expand on point 2 above. The issues with Judaism today fall under the following general categories:
  • Contradictions between science and Torah - These are relatively new questions and we aren't going to find answers in the Rishonim or even the Acharonim.  Science has progressed so much since even R' Hirsch's time that he doesn't address the current issues. The fact is that there are no good answers to the science torah contradictions.  The only 2 approaches are outlined below and neither is very satisfactory: 
    • Bury your hand in the sand and deny any contradictions (the Charedi approach)
    • Admit that Chazal used the science of their times and then scramble to deal with the halachic issues. For example, much of classical kashrus Yoreh Deah is based on ideas about בליעה which are simply not true of todays materials. Once you go down that path is is a very slippery slope.
  • The historicity of the Torahs account - Again this is a relatively new question. Until the late 1700s the Torah was looked upon as a historical document and no one disputed the facts. Nowadays, the seminal events in the Torah are denied by historians and archeologists. The Rambam, Kuzari, R' Saadya, R' Hirsch, even R' Tzadok can't help here.
    • The numbers in the Torah (600,000 men, 2-3 million people) leaving Egypt is simply not believable given everything we know about population numbers at that time. Add in the medrash quoted by Rashi that only 1/5 of the Jewish population left Egyot (4/5 died) the numbers become simply ridiculous. 
    • Some version of the Documentary Hypothesis calls into question whether the Torah was given from God.  
    • There is no evidence that there was global flood, in fact, there is much evidence that there was no global flood.
  • Mesora - As I have pointed out in my numerous posts on this blog, the mesora which is the cornerstone of Orthodoc Judaism, is itself under question and the orthodox view of משה קבל תורה מסיני ומסרה ליהושע is becoming harder and harder to believe. 
  • Ethical and Moral concerns - The Torah is out of step with current Western values and seems to be morally and ethically deficient when measured against them:
    • Slavery - The Torah condones and actually promotes slavery (of non-Jews) including a prohibition to free a non-Jewish slave. 
    • Genocide - The Torah describes and commands genocide
    • Womens status - Halacha relegates women to a secondary status, there is no getting around it. In today's world where a woman is Chancellor of Germany, Prime Minister of England, and may become President of the United States, excluding women from positions of power in the Jewish world e.g. women rabbis) is seen as immoral and backwards. Divorce is another area where halacha is unfair to women.
    • Sexual issues - In today's world being gay or lesbian is seen as normal and driven by genetics.
R' Adlerstein proposes to use the existing intellectual mesora (Rambam, Kuzari, R' Tzadok, etc.) to help people deal with questions. IMHO this is doomed to failure because these issues are not really addressed by the existing Mesora. One of the most frustrating email exchanges I had was with a Charedi Rabbi when I asked him many of the internal questions that I raised on this blog. His response was that the Maharal answered my questions and he referred me to various Maharal's. I had a very very hard time convincing him that the Maharal did not deal with the questions I was asking him.  He finally agreed with me that the Maharal did not address the questions and neither did anyone else. 

The bottom line is that R' Adlerstein believes that there are answers, I and the people who read this blog, who are the people he is trying to reach don't see any good answers.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Dreams, Religious Revelations and the neurochemistry behind them

I read a fascinating article Why are dreams such potent vehicles for the supernatural which details how the world’s great religions and spiritual journeys emerged from dreams and visions and explains the neurochemistry behind this and why dreams are such potent vehicles for the supernatural.

In short, under the right conditions, hallucinogens such as psilocybin can produce intense spiritual and mystical experiences. They do so, in part, by producing the same neurochemical milieu (high dopamine and low serotonin in the brain’s limbic sites, and high glutamate in prefrontal sites) as found during REM sleep.

It is no wonder then that when we dream or when REM invades waking consciousness – as it does during periods of sleeplessness, stress, daydreams or acid trips – it can produce ‘visions’. Given all this, the phenomenological features of dreams and hallucinations of course overlap. Dreams, in short, are transient ‘trips’ and, when they forcibly and suddenly break through into waking life, they sometimes become visions or hallucinations.

If dreams and visions originate in the same neurobiology that produces psychedelic experiences, of course they can fuel religious experiences and ideas. REM sleep generates the combustible materials that fuel the fire of the religious imagination. 
The raw experience of the dream and the intense work of interpretation explain why the spirit realm was considered absolutely real for most of humanity’s history. People directly experienced the spirit realm in their dreams.

The link between REM dreams and spiritual experience suggests that religion may be nothing but delusional dreaming and hallucinations. The implications for organized religions including Judaism are obvious.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

The vastness of the universe

The discovery of the "closest" exoplanet orbiting around Proxima Centauri has generated a whole lot of interest in space, the galaxy and the universe.

IMHO, the vastness of the universe and even the Milky Way Galaxy shows how silly all our Earth based religions are which put us, human beings, and in Judaism, the Jews at the center of the universe.

From Wikipedia:

The Milky Way is a barred spiral galaxy that has a diameter usually considered to be about 100,000–120,000 light-years[27] but may be 150,000–180,000 light-years. The Milky Way is estimated to contain 100–400 billion stars. There are likely at least 100 billion planets in the Milky Way.

According to the best estimates of astronomers there are at least one hundred billion galaxies in the observable universe. That makes the number of stars in the universe unimaginably large.

Given the above, we can ask the following.

Why would God create an unimaginably large universe with over 100 billion stars and planets just in our galaxy if the purpose of creation was man and his acceptance of Torah? Who needs all those stars, planets and galaxies, especially since most of them could not even be seen until modern times? Why bother with all of these billions of stars when they have no impact or influence on Earth? It seems clear from the vastness of the universe the sheer number of stars and planets that there is nothing unique about either the sun or the earth and therefore no reason to believe that a creator would create just us on a random planet in the middle of an arm of the Milky Way Galaxy.  Why would God specifically pick this planet around this star to put his creations on?

Shouldn't the size and scale of the universe put to rest any notion that somehow mankind on the planet earth are God's chosen?

It is clear that this is the reason why the Catholic Church (and many Rabonim) fought so hard against Galileo in the 1600s as the move away from geocentrism was seen as heretical. Once the Earth is not the center of the universe then it raises questions as to our place in the universe and Gods interest in us. Today, the knowledege that the Earth is essentially being one planet among billions just in the Milky Way Galaxy is much more dangerous.