Saturday, June 27, 2009

Reasons for Mitzvos

One of the differences between rationalist and non-rationalist schools of the thought is the issue of reasons for mitzvos. This is sharply brought to light when one compares the following comments of Netziv with Rambam. (If anyone can tell me how to better format the layout of the Hebrew text I would appreciate it.)

First we have Netziv:

העמק דבר על שמות פרק כ פסוק יב
באמת אין לשבח מ"ע של כיבוד או"א שהוא מדת החסד יותר ממ"ע של מחיית עמלק או איבוד עה"נ שהוא אכזריות ושניהם אינם אלא חוקים וגזירות מנותן התורה ית' וכדאי' בברכות דל"ג ב'. אלא באשר אנו רואים מצות כיבוד או"א שהיא מתקבלת על שכל אנושי ג"כ. עלינו ללמוד ממנה למק"א. ובזה הדרך המה כל טעמי המצות אינם אלא לקרב אל השכל ג"כ. אבל חלילה לחשוב שזה עיקר דעת נותן התורה ית'.

He states that “...all the reasons for mitzvos are only to make them appealing to the intellect... but Heaven forbid to think that they are actually the main intent of the Giver of the Torah…”

Now let us see what Rambam writes:

There are persons who find it difficult to give a reason for any of the commandments, and consider it right to assume that the commandments and prohibitions have no rational basis whatever. They are led to adopt this theory by a certain disease in their soul, the existence of which they perceive, but which they are unable to discuss or to describe. For they imagine that these precepts, if they were useful in any respect, and were commanded because of their usefulness, would seem to originate in the thought and reason of some intelligent being. But as things which are not objects of reason and serve no purpose, they would undoubtedly be attributed to God, because no thought of man could have produced them. According to the theory of those weak-minded persons, man is more perfect than his Creator. For what man says or does has a certain object, whilst the actions of God are different; He commands us to do what is of no use to us, and forbids us to do what is harmless. Far be this! On the contrary, the sole object of the Law is to benefit us. Thus we explained the Scriptural passage, "for our good always, that He might preserve us alive, as it is this day" (Deut. vi. 24). Again, "which shall hear all those statutes (ḥuḳḳim), and say, surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people" (ibid. iv. 6). He thus says that even every one of these "statutes" convinces all nations of the wisdom and understanding it includes. But if no reason could be found for these statutes, if they produced no advantage and removed no evil, why then should he who believes in them and follows them be wise, reasonable, and so excellent as to raise the admiration of all nations? But the truth is undoubtedly as we have said, that every one of the six hundred and thirteen precepts serves to inculcate some truth, to remove some erroneous opinion, to establish proper relations in society, to diminish evil, to train in good manners or to warn against bad habits. All this depends on three things: opinions, morals, and social conduct. We do not count words, because precepts, whether positive or negative, if they relate to speech, belong to those precepts which regulate our social conduct, or to those which spread truth, or to those which teach morals. Thus these three principles suffice for assigning a reason for every one of the Divine commandments. (Guide 3:31, Friedlander translation)


The contrast is remarkable!

(Cue the creative reinterpretations to harmonize them...)

58 comments:

  1. Something went wrong.

    It was good before, now it is a bunch of codes

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  2. "(Cue the creative reinterpretations to harmonize them...)"

    See uber-rationalist RSRH in letter 18, and the editor's notes.
    -------------------------

    רמב"ם יד החזקה - הלכות מעילה פרק ח
    (ח) ראוי לאדם להתבונן במשפטי התורה הקדושה ולידע סוף ענינם כפי כחו ודבר שלא ימצא לו טעם ולא ידע לו עילה אל יהי קל בעיניו ולא יהרוס לעלות אל ה' פן יפרוץ בו ולא תהא מחשבתו בו כמחשבתו בשאר דברי החול בוא וראה כמה החמירה תורה במעילה ומה אם עצים ואבנים ועפר ואפר כיון שנקרא שם אדון העולם עליהם בדברים בלבד נתקדשו וכל הנוהג בהן מנהג חול מעל בה ואפילו היה שוגג צריך כפרה קל וחומר למצוה שחקק לנו הקב"ה שלא יבעט האדם בהן מפני שלא ידע טעמן ולא יחפה דברים אשר לא כן על השם ולא יחשוב בהן מחשבתו כדברי החול הרי נאמר בתורה ושמרתם את כל חקותי ואת כל משפטי ועשיתם אותם אמרו חכמים ליתן שמירה ועשייה לחוקים כמשפטים והעשייה ידועה והיא שיעשה החוקים והשמירה שיזהר בהן ולא ידמה שהן פחותין מן המשפטים והמשפטים הן המצות שטעמן גלוי וטובת עשייתן בעולם הזה ידועה כגון איסור גזל ושפיכות דמים וכיבוד אב ואם והחוקים הן המצות שאין טעמן ידוע אמרו חכמים חוקים חקתי לך ואין לך רשות להרהר בהן ויצרו של אדם נוקפו בהן ואומות העולם משיבין עליהן כגון איסור בשר חזיר ובשר בחלב ועגלה ערופה ופרה אדומה ושעיר המשתלח וכמה היה דוד המלך מצטער מן המינים ומן העכו"ם שהיו משיבין על החקים וכל זמן שהיו רודפין אותו בתשובות השקר שעורכין לפי קוצר דעת האדם היה מוסיף דביקות בתורה שנאמר טפלו עלי שקר זדים אני בכל לב אצור פקודיך ונאמר שם בענין כל מצותיך אמונה שקר רדפוני עזרני וכל הקרבנות כולן מכלל החוקים הן אמרו חכמים שבשביל עבודת הקרבנות העולם עומד שבעשיית החוקים והמשפטים זוכין הישרים לחיי העולם הבא והקדימה תורה ציווי על החוקים שנאמר ושמרתם את חקותי ואת משפטי אשר יעשה אותם האדם וחי בהם

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  3. Is the Netziv really saying that there are no reasons for the mitzvos? Or is he saying that we can’t possibly understand the reasons, and whatever rationalizations we have are just that, reasons to convince ourselves to do these things, while the real reasons are only known to God?

    Anyway, the reason to say that we don’t know why any particular mitzvah was given is because if we can say “this is the reason for the mitzvah” it becomes possible to disagree with the reasoning and to say that the reason is wrong, so we shouldn’t be bound by that mitzvah. If the real reasons for the mitzvos are beyond our understanding, then we have no way of judging the usefulness or truthfulness of a mitzvah.

    Thus denying our ability to understand the reasons for the mitzvos is useful in maintaining the status qou.

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  4. To make the text right-to-left, put
    <span dir="rtl"> at the beginning, and </span> at the end.

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  5. "Cue the creative reinterpretations to harmonize them"

    Well, I did notice that the Netziv used a key word, "main." The contrast would be far greater without that word.

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  6. I will certainly not try to harmonize the Moreh with mystical sources, because there was such a thing known as the
    Maimonidean controversy.

    But an interesting point is that there are non-Maimonideans who relate to the Moreh pretty well:

    The Meshech Chochma(quoted in R. Chavel's Ramban in beginning of Vayikra)tries to make peace between the Rambam's rational explanation of korbonos vs. Ramban's by saying that they were referring to two different points in history.

    I also found fascinating that according to the Willamsburg historian R. Webberman(Mishpacha article), R. Baruch Ber Leibowitz was asked why he was travelling to the Bronx to visit the "Malach",
    R. Avraham Dov Ber Levine haCohen, forerunner of a current small Chassidic sect in Willamsburg known as "Malachim".

    R. Baruch Ber answered with awe that his rebbe R. Chaim Brisker had a secret seder in the Moreh with the Malach.

    So we have R. Chaim, R. Baruch Ber, and the "Malach"(a Gaon with Chabad proclivities), while not rationalists, all studying, or in awe of the Moreh!

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  7. I'm thinking that one can, in practice, harmonize taamei hamitzvos, even if the rishonim themselves disagreed.

    See the Sefer Hachinuch in Terumah when explaining the Mishkan, where he prefaces his explanation with there being 70 faces to Torah and one is just picking the fruits within grasp. So the Rambam's explaining korbonos merely as a historical exigency needn't in practice conflict with deeper reasons.

    See also Michtav Meliyahu Vol IV, 353-355 where he says that the Rambam gave special guidance to the "Confused"; he says, I belive, a similar thing for a Radak's explanation regarding certain textual nekudos(my conclusion from this is that today today we shouldn't throw away non-yeshivish science/Torah approaches needed both for the "Confused" as well as for the "non-Confused").

    You might also want to explore Michtav Meliyahu's(one of my favorite seforim) approach critiqued in the link below by R. Yaakov Weinberg:

    "[R. Weinberg] was also astonished when I mentioned Rav Dessler's view of eilu v'eilu - that it is simply a manifestation of different perspectives but all competing view of our sages are fundamentally in agreement. "You can't tell me that an intelligent person can think this way! If so words have no meaning."

    http://daattorah.blogspot.com/2008/12/questions-i-what-vs-why-vs-silence.html

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  8. Is the Netziv really saying that there are no reasons for the mitzvos? Or is he saying that we can’t possibly understand the reasons, and whatever rationalizations we have are just that, reasons to convince ourselves to do these things, while the real reasons are only known to God?

    G*3 - the latter, absolutely. But even that is sharply different from Rambam's position, even as expressed in the Mishneh Torah above. Rambam says that the reasons for the Mishpatim are known.

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  9. I'm thinking that one can, in practice, harmonize taamei hamitzvos, even if the rishonim themselves disagreed.

    Shades - the point is whether there ARE primary reasons that are comprehensible to man. Rambam says yes. Netziv says no.

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  10. Here is what I have to say.

    "But the truth is undoubtedly as we have said, that every one of the six hundred and thirteen precepts serves to inculcate some truth, to remove some erroneous opinion, to establish proper relations in society, to diminish evil, to train in good manners or to warn against bad habits."

    In this statement the Rambam puts forward what he believes to be the reason for the mitzvos. The problem is that if the anti-rationalists take such an approach they end up jumping at all sorts of possible reasons for the mitzvos. The rational, reason based, mitzvos only work if you have limit yourself to the observable, something the antirationalists are not willing to do.

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  11. "Rambam says that the reasons for the Mishpatim are known."

    "the point is whether there ARE primary reasons that are comprehensible to man. Rambam says yes. Netziv says no."

    Just want to be clear whether you meant to limit that to mishpatim in the first sentence, but expand it to ALL mitzvos in the second.

    FWIW, I recently saw a discussion about a well known mishpat, ribbis (interest), by someone in the Weinberg family. I thought the mitzvah made good enough sense to me, but he asked some fascinating questions about it that seemed to turn the mitzvah into a parah-adumah-type chok!

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  12. Mendy -

    "See uber-rationalist RSRH in letter 18, and the editor's notes."

    I'll try to get hold of it, but RSRH was most certainly not an uber-rationalist, and R. Elias (the editor) is very far from being a rationalist, aside from considerably diverging from/ rewriting Rav Hirsch's views.

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  13. Are you sure that the Netziv is not just holding like the Maharal in tiferes yisroel in perek 8, I think it is. For a discussion of the differences between the Rambam, Ramban and the Maharal's ideas on the reasons for the mitzvos see Maharal's tiferes yisroel perakim 6-8.

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  14. "Similarly, if one were to follow up most of these revealed precepts, one would discover that they are, to a large extent at least, partially justified and possess much utilitarian value, although the wisdom and the view that the Creator had in mind in decreeing them is far above anything that men can grasp, as Scripture says For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways (Isa. 55:9)." (R. Saadia Gaon, Book of Beliefs and Opinions, Rosenblatt/Yale page 145)

    Taking the model of Hashem looking into the Torah to create the world, and not vice versa, would seem to suggest utilitarian benifits of the mitzvos are their result and not their cause.

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  15. I should have noted that the italics and bold were mine with the exception of the scriptural citation.

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  16. The idea that Hashem "looked into the Torah and created the world" is itself not at all straightforward. Certainly Rambam did not hold of it in the way that it is interpreted today.

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  17. Do you have arguments supporting the idea that how "it is understood today" is different than how Chazal meant it? How else does one understand it without rendering it a poetic platitude?

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  18. I'm getting a little trigger happy tonight, I meant to add that the bit about the Torah as the blueprint of creation was just an afterthought to the quote from Rav Saadia which I think is highly relevant.

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  19. "Cue the creative reinterpretations to harmonize them..."

    I'm waiting your you to harmonize the Rambam in Yad that I quoted in comment #3, with the your interpretation of the Moreh.

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  20. There are many, many apparent contradictions between the Yad and the Moreh. But in this case, even the Yad presents a radically different perspective than the Netziv.

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  21. Do you have arguments supporting the idea that how "it is understood today" is different than how Chazal meant it?

    I was not contrasting how it is understood today with how Chazal meant it (although those may well be different); I was contrasting how it is understood today with Rambam's theology. It seems to me that Rambam may have interpreted it differently or simply rejected it. See Kellner, Maimonides Confrontation with Mysticism, ch. 2.

    But with regard to what it means - what does it mean? Does it mean that the mitzvos reflect ontological realities? Does it mean that all knowledge is in the Torah? It's interesting that Hafoch ba..., which is usually interpreted to mean that all knowledge is in the Torah, was NOT interpreted that way by Seforno.

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  22. "For a discussion of the differences between the Rambam, Ramban and the Maharal's ideas on the reasons for the mitzvos see Maharal's tiferes yisroel perakim 6-8."

    I was thinking of this last night as well. The Ramban and Maharal in TY are fundamental becuase they go through Chazal's such as "lo nitnah Torah ela l'zarief es habriyos".

    Ramban in Chumash on Shilucah Hakein quotes at the end a "Sod", but the majority aspect focuses on Mitzvos being for people's benefit, such as not becoming cruel. Is this closer to Moreh quoted here by R. Slifkin than to the Netziv?

    I didn't have a chance to see the entire Maharal in 6th perek of TY, but I noticed that he objected to making the Torah just into a "Sefer Hamiddos". Can E-man or anyone else summarize the three-way machlokes between Moreh, Ramban, and Maharal?

    MN 3:48, linked below, on Shilucah Hakeinn and Oso ves Bno also has an interesting animal connection, namely that Rambam says that an instinctive maternal love exists in animals, like in people. I assume Rambam agrees that human emotions are obviously still deeper than animals(this is independent of evolutionary psychology). Any thoughts on that Rambam, R. Slifkin?

    See also this essay by RYA:

    http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2006/07/20/what-animal-behavior-tells-us-about-humans/

    http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/mahshevt/more/c16-2.htm#2

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  23. "It's interesting that Hafoch ba..., which is usually interpreted to mean that all knowledge is in the Torah, was NOT interpreted that way by Seforno."

    Intertesting also how Judge Scalia understood it(not that he's a bar plugta with the Seforno) !

    http://www.cross-currents.com/archives/2009/06/08/why-torah-trumps-the-us-constitution/

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  24. "I was not contrasting how it is understood today with how Chazal meant it (although those may well be different); I was contrasting how it is understood today with Rambam's theology."

    Why isn't how Chazal intended more significant to Jewish hashkafa?

    "which is usually interpreted to mean that all knowledge is in the Torah, was NOT interpreted that way by Seforno."

    I don't see how that's relevant a discussion about mitzvos.

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  25. I don't want to sound like I'm demanding or even deserving of an answer to my previous question, but I thought maybe it just slipped your mind, and I'm very curious. Thanks!

    By the way, the theme of this post reminds me very much of one of your first posts,
    http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2009/03/
    in-defense-of-my-opponents-plus.html
    In it, I attempted to reconcile, to some extent, the Rambam with Rav Sternbuch.

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  26. Why isn't how Chazal intended more significant to Jewish hashkafa?

    Did I say that it isn't?


    I don't see how that's relevant a discussion about mitzvos.


    I was just pointing out that maamarei Chazal such as that, concerning which people assume there is only one meaning, often turn out to have different interpretations.

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  27. If you would want to develop the non-rationalist hashkfa on taamei hamitzvos, you could quote the Beis Halevi regarding the world just being a hecha timtza for mitzvos; ie, we have parents in order to fulfill kibbud av veim, not the oppposite. The malachim therefore wanted the Torah as well.

    The Ramban in the preface to Chumash is also fundamental for the mystical approach, because it says that all sciences are indicated in Torah--hafoch bo, etc. I'm wondering if the Rambam would disagree with that(eg, the Rambam's interpretation of Maaseh Merkavah is probably relevant).

    One aspect which rationalists have to deal with is the wisdom of Shlomo Hamelech. This is usually understood to mean that he understood all modern day sciences. I am wondering if there is only one way to understand that.

    Also statements such as the Kuzari that all science originated from the Jews(you also have statements in the Rambam in Kiddush Hachodesh about seforim of Bnie Yissachar)--are there different shittos in this, and when did the historical development of science become an ikkar in emunah?

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  28. > One aspect which rationalists have to deal with is the wisdom of Shlomo Hamelech. This is usually understood to mean that he understood all modern day sciences. I am wondering if there is only one way to understand that.

    You mean Shlomo HaMelech could have provided the cures for smallpox, plague, polio, etc., could have introduced modern farming techniques, could have built all the labor-saving machines we have today, and decided to allow people for the next two and a half thousand years to die of horrible diseases, to continue to die of starvation, and to spend their lives in drudgery when they could have been learning instead? What a rasha!

    Or maybe he was wise in the sense that he knowledgeable and intelligent.

    > Also statements such as the Kuzari that all science originated from the Jews

    There seems to be tendency to attribute everything good in the world to a Jewish origin, no matter how unlikely that may be. Not only good things, but any custom shared by Jews and non-Jews. Though which is more likely – that a small minority adopted some customs from the dominant culture they were living in, or that any shared customs were adopted by the large dominant culture from the few Jews living among them?

    Anyway, many early scientific discoveries are well-documented, and while Jews are over-represented in the sciences, they are not the majority or even close to it.

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  29. Sounds to me as if Rambam has a tone problem. :>)

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  30. When it comes to Taamei HaMitzvot there is a pair of opposed principles which one must balance.

    On the one hand, all the mitzvot where given for our good, and so they have some 'reason', even if the reason might occasionally be 'it is good for people to trust in Hashem and do things they don't understand simply because it is commanded'.

    On the other hand, the mitzvot are not only means, but also ends in their own right. We can't make the mistake Shlomo Hamelech did and say "I will keep the underlying reasons for the mitzvot and not keep the actual mitzvot themselves." In his case, failing to keep the mitzvot eventually led to failing to keep the reasons. But even were that not true, I believe he would still have been making a mistake by keeping the underlying reasons (the sod, if you will) while failing to keep the literal mitzvot (i.e., the pshat).

    The Netziv is correct that you cannot keep the mitzvot by keeping their 'real' purpose without obeying the letter of the law. The Rambam is correct that anything that comes from the Wholly Good One must be good in and of itself.

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  31. "You mean Shlomo HaMelech could have provided the cures for smallpox, plague...and to spend their lives in drudgery when they could have been learning instead? What a rasha!"
    G3,

    I think the answer given is that science could be misued, as in the atom bomb.

    See this quote in the Yated from the Kletzk Mashgiach hy'd regarding the Rambam, Rashba and the Vilna Gaon.

    http://jewishworker.blogspot.com/2007/07/could-shlomo-hamelech-have-invented.html

    Also, Rabbi Sander Goldberg in defense of R. Slifkin mentioned a similar idea.

    http://jewishworker.blogspot.com/2006/01/could-shlomo-hamelech-have-invented.html

    (Regarding Rambam in Kiddush Hachodesh, maybe RNS can do a post on it, but in 18:8, he mentions an aspects which were "ish mpi ish mpi Moshe Rabbeinu"(I was referring to 17:24; see also, 11:3). )

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  32. Rishonim KemalachimJune 29, 2009 at 8:44 PM

    G*3,

    I strongly recommend that you read Emunah UBitachon by the Chazon Ish, chapter 5.

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  33. R. Sander Goldberg has two comments in the second "Jewish Worker" post I linked. To quote from one:

    "Chazal, in their day had the vision and discipline to direct their brainpower for Inyanei Kedusha exclusively and that is why we have much of the Torah Sh’baal Peh intact today. For this we must praise and thank Hashem, and commend and extol Chazal, but I don’t think it is healthy or beneficial to fantasize and exaggerate about anything. Keeping the true picture in perspective is a greater accolade to Chazal than to attribute to them powers and knowledge that paints a false picture."

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  34. > I think the answer given is that science could be misued, as in the atom bomb.

    Anything can be misused. Fire. A knife. Hey, I could pick up the chair I'm sitting on and smash it over someone's head. That's not a good reason not to make chairs.

    While certainly advances in science are inevitably used for military applications, scientific discoveries have consistantly improved our standard of living.

    One more thing. "Science" is not monolithic. Improved agricultural techniques, even builing tractors and combines, does not inevtiably lead to nuclear missles.

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  35. I recall hearing on a R' Avigdor Miller tape something to the following effect: "One reason for the commandment to keep kosher is that it could be good for your health. A lot of yeshiva bachurim are surprised to hear that."

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  36. Shadesof, I read through the links you provided. Oy…
    Let’s take it point-by point.

    Rabbi Sander Goldberg:
    >At the time of Chazal, governments such as Rome and Persia, were not democratic nor concerned about human rights. Thus, if my conjecture is accurate, it would have been perfectly responsible not to endeavor to develop technology, which inevitably would have been abused and misused by the powers that be.

    Maybe, maybe not. But I would like to point out that it was secular Humanism, not Judaism, that developed the sensibilities that supposedly allow us to live with modern technology without annihilating ourselves.

    Also, it could be argued that had the Roman and Persian empires remained intact, the Dark Ages would never have happened and Zoroastrianism, a less warlike religion than Islam, would now dominate in the Middle East.

    >As for modern medicine, that too is only beneficial to an economic base that is geared for it. In the West, medicine developed contemporaneously with technology and modern economies. However, when modern medicine was introduced in Africa, the average lifespan dramatically increased and infant mortality dramatically dropped. This resulted in an unnatural population explosion. However, the economies of those nations remained “stone age”, the masses of population sunk into abject poverty and must exist on handouts.

    This is an argument against introducing only modern medicine. If Chazal knew all modern knowledge, they could have introduced modern manufacturing and economics as well.

    > A great component of the Syata D’Shmaya that Chazal, and Jews throughout the generations were endowed with is their superior intellects.
    > We see in general Jews are smarter than goyim.

    Seriously? What evidence is there of this? Unless this can be backed up with studies, this is blatant racism. And even if it can be shown that Jews, on average, score higher than non-Jews on cognitive tests, confounding factors would have to be taken into account, such as: Many Jews are middle or upper middle class, and IQ correlates strongly with socio-economic status; the social emphasis placed by many Jews on scholarship may give children more practice using cognitive skills; most Jews live in cities, and while this is no longer a large factor, historically IQ tests favored urban populations.

    Then he goes on, as if to clinch the argument.

    > The Gedolim of all the generations were usually geniuses.

    This says nothing about the IQ of the average Jew, any more than saying, “Leading theoretical physicists are usually geniuses,” says anything about the general population. Being a genius is pretty much part of the qualifications for the position.

    I did like this comment, though:

    dilbert said...
    The best quote on this is in (I think) an article by R. JJ Schacter on da'as Torah. He said something like- I am sure that the Torah contains all knowledge, and even the details of plumbing are contained there, although I know of no one who has the capacity to find those plumbing details in the Torah. Until I find someone who does, I will hire a plumber for my plumbing needs and not a Torah scholar.

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  37. sas"Did I say that it isn't?"

    Your advocating the Rambam's approach while conceding that it may differ with [the most likely] way Chazal meant it.

    "I was just pointing out that maamarei Chazal such as that, concerning which people assume there is only one meaning, often turn out to have different interpretations."

    Which is a red herring unless you back it up with a plausible alternative.

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  38. "Maybe, maybe not. But I would like to point out that it was secular Humanism, not Judaism, that developed the sensibilities that supposedly allow us to live with modern technology without annihilating ourselves.

    Also, it could be argued that had the Roman and Persian empires remained intact, the Dark Ages would never have happened and Zoroastrianism, a less warlike religion than Islam, would now dominate in the Middle East."

    See Challenge of Creation. ;)

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  39. I should clarify, the bracketed [most likely] in my second to last post was not meant to assert that any position was most likely but rather to not imply that we could say with certainty/conslusively that the position of the Rambam and Chazal conflicted.

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  40. Earlier, I had written, "Well, I did notice that the Netziv used a key word, "main." The contrast would be far greater without that word."

    The more I look at the two quotations, the more I feel that I hit upon the key word that reconciles the Netziv and the Rambam very nicely. I don't think I had to "REinterpret" anything.

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  41. Sorry, it just doesn't work. Netziv says that the given explanations are NOT the main reason. Rambam says they ARE the main reason.

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  42. "Sorry, it just doesn't work. Netziv says that the given explanations are NOT the main reason. Rambam says they ARE the main reason."

    But Saadia Gaon also says they are not the main reason (or that their main reason is beyond us). Your distinction would place Saddia Gaon among the "non-rationalists".

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  43. Well, it's not always so easy to categorize rationalists vs. non-rationalists in all areas.

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  44. "Sorry, it just doesn't work. Netziv says that the given explanations are NOT the main reason. Rambam says they ARE the main reason."

    Are you talking about mishpatim only, or all mitzvos? (See Phil's comment above.)

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  45. For now, let's keep the discussion on Mishpatim.

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  46. "For now, let's keep the discussion on Mishpatim."

    Even though Rambam was referring to chukim in your quote?

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  47. He was talking about both. I find that discussions are much more productive when they are as focused as possible.

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  48. "Sorry, it just doesn't work. Netziv says that the given explanations are NOT the main reason. Rambam says they ARE the main reason."

    Perhaps the Netziv was talking about /specific/ reasons for the mitzvos, while the Rambam was talking about reasons /in general/.

    In other words, I believe that Rambam would agree with the following statement: "Yes assign your reason to this mitzvah and that mitzva. That's crucial to do. Make it appealing to the intellect. That's crucial, too. Just don't think that the reason you gave is necessarily the same one that God would give. This is especially true of the chukim."

    I'm not sure whether the Netziv would agree about the "that's crucial" part, but from what you pasted of his words, I think he'd agree that it's a good idea anyway.

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  49. I believe that you are mistaken with regard to both Rambam and Netziv. When there is a mitzvah with a straightforward rationale, such as kibud av, shiluach hakein, etc., Rambam would absolutely say that we know the main reason.

    On the other hand, Netziv would never allow for us to say that we know the reason.

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  50. I guess we must now determine what percentage of the mitzvot have a straightforward rationale. If the percentage is high enough, then I can feel comfortable with your statement, "The contrast is remarkable!" But if not...

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  51. "Well, it's not always so easy to categorize rationalists vs. non-rationalists in all areas."

    Earlier you wrote,

    "One of the differences between rationalist and non-rationalist schools of the thought is the issue of reasons for mitzvos. This is sharply brought to light when one compares the following comments of Netziv with Rambam."

    It strikes me as backtracking rather than recognizing your dichotomy does not hold up as "sharply" as you suggested.

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  52. I believe the three way machlokes in TY that the Maharal points out is like this:

    Rambam holds that the mitzvos in general are for the benefit of the natural order. Like being nice to birds is in order that the birds be happy. That is the point of shiluach hakan, so the bird does not feel mistreated. However, the specifics about mitzvos, like shechting from the front instead of the back, is arbitrary.

    The Ramban, on the other hand, is holding that all mitzvos are for the betterment of man. All mitzvos are in order that man's own character traits improve. It has nothing to do with the nature of the world, just the nature of the Jews.

    The Maharal says that these are all really nice ideas. However, the main idea is that since G-D gave us a commandment we are supposed to follow it and that is the only reason to follow it. Not like the Rambam, that says it helps the world and not like the Ramban that says it improves our character traits, rather it is a third opinion. He says that the point of the mitzvos are to, basically, prove our loyalty to G-D.

    At least this is how I remember the machlokes in TY.

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  53. Based on the post that I just wrote doesn't it seem like the Rambam contradicts himself? He says that the specifics of the commandments are arbitrary, but in the Moreh that you quoted he seems to say that is ridiculous.

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  54. Rambam holds that the reasons for the mitzvos are all to improve middos/ intellect etc., but the halachic parameters and details of the mitzvos may be arbitrary and serve simply to be able to define the parameters of the mitzvah in a halachic framework.

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  55. It seems like the way that the Maharal explains the Rambam is that the Rambam is not saying the mitzvos are to better our middos and intellect, but rather to perpetuate the world, no? For example, the Maharal says that according to the Rambam the whole reason we are nice to the bird is for the sake of the bird, not for the sake of our middos. The Maharal would say that the approach of all mitzvos is for the betterment of our middos is the Ramban.

    Also, how can the Rambam hold that the specifics of the mitzvos are arbitrary? How is that rational?

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  56. Also, how can the Rambam hold that the specifics of the mitzvos are arbitrary? How is that rational?

    An attempt is made at explaining this on the Webyeshiva blog.

    Excerpt:

    Rambam vigorously argues that every mitzva in the Torah has a rationale; the commandments reflect divine wisdom, not just divine will (Moreh Nevuchim 3:25). God surely acts motivated by reason and not based on capricious whim. However, Rambam strikes a different note regarding details of the mitzvot. There, he argues that wisdom and necessity demand some arbitrary details. If you ask why a particular sacrifice is a sheep and not a ram, the identical question remains if the offering had indeed been a ram. The same logic applies to the number of sheep as well (Moreh Nevuchim 3:26). Apparently, Rambam assumes that details are crucial because they give mitzva acts concrete identity but the specific details chosen lack a rationale.

    The topic is also discussed at Yeshivat Har Etzion

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  57. When the Netziv writes, "all the reasons for mitzvos are only to make them l'krov al hasechel..." -- does he mean all the reasons in Hashem's mind?, all the reasons in the layman's mind?, or all the reasons in a great scholar's mind (even the Rambam's)? (I know the first choice isn't it, but I thought I'd include it for completeness.)

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