Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Hanging Corpses and Decomposing Faces

Rabbi Zucker's comments deserve a separate post, firstly because they are substantive, and secondly because he signed his name to them! Here is the first part.

Rabbi Zucker wrote:
I certainly agree that ALL the evidence needs to be weighed. Let us examine the "image of God" issue as Rashi presents it regarding a decomposing body. In order to do so, let us turn to the famous "killelas HaShem taluiy" prohibition against leaving the hanging corpse overnight. The Tosefta in Sanhedrin (9:7) explains that this is because people seeing the body hanging for a prolonged period will associate it with "God's image" and that is a degradation to HaShem. Now, the Rambam, the Ramban, and all the other staunch incorporealists learned that Tosefta as well. Clearly, they understood the Tosefta as teaching that the body is a reflection of the idea of tzellem Elokim, not that it is literally the image of God. Further, please see the gemara in Mo'ed Kattan 15b, which states that an aveil must turn over his bed, because HaShem gave us His image, and we overturned it with our sins. Again, the body is represented as the image of God, and the Rambam learned this gemara as well, as did the Ramban (who quotes it verbatim in his Toras HaAdam). Clearly, these incorporealists learned the gemara as stating that the body of man reflects the idea of tzellem Elokim, not that the body itself is the image of God literally. That being the case, could it not very well be the case -- is it not entirely possible -- that Rashi learned the same way? When he speaks about the decomposing body as losing its characteristic of tzellem Elokim, can it not mean that once the body is unrecognizable as such, it no longer reflects the idea of tzellem Elokim?


I do not agree that Rambam, Ramban etc. understood the Tosefta being based on the idea that the body is a (physical) reflection of the idea of tzellem Elokim. Where do we see any such idea in their writings? That’s the kind of idea that you see in later mekuballim, not in Ramban and certainly not Rambam. There is a much simpler explanation of their understanding. The body HOUSES man’s intellect. That is why it is degrading to see it hanging. Or see the explanation of Rabbi Meir Abulafia that I quoted in the essay. He explains that the reference is to “the form of man’s intellect,” which is modeled after that of God. But Rashi, in that case, simply states that man is “likewise made in the form (dyukno) of his Creator.” Yes, you can fit in one of the above explanations, but you would be fitting it in, not drawing it out.
But in the case of the mourner overturning his bed, we have a much more powerful case. You say that “Clearly, these incorporealists learned the gemara as stating that the body of man reflects the idea of tzellem Elokim.” That is not true at all. They presumably simply explained it to mean that man overturned i.e. corrupted his (non-corporeal) image of God, i.e. his bechirah (or however you want to explain tzelem Elokim), thereby bringing mortality upon himself, and the mourner commemorates that by overturning his bed. But Rashi specifically states that the mourner, by overturning the bed, is commemorating the facial decomposition of the dead, not commemorating man’s corruption of his bechirah. Now, you can insert an extra stage and say that the facial decomposition itself simply reflects the corruption of the bechirah, but that would not only be a classic case of ikkar chassar min hasefer, it would also make Rashi’s statement entirely pointless. It would not be necessary at all to mention the physical decomposition, one can simply say that a dead person has lost his bechirah! So this Rashi does indeed provide a strong argument that Rashi believed in a corporeal God. One can "wriggle out of it," but that is certainly the implication.

54 comments:

  1. The differences between Rambam and Ramban and how they use the tosefta is dealt with fully in

    Yair Lorberbaum. Image of God, Halakhah and Aggadah. Tel Aviv: Schocken Publishing House, 2004.


    yaakov

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  2. Again, I thank Rabbi Slifkin for his thought-through response, and again I apologize for not being clearer in my earlier post.

    With regard to the Tosefta in Sanhedrin (9:7): the Tosefta states, "this is analogous to identical twin brothers, one of whom was a king and one of whom was a robber. After a while the robber was captured and hanged. All the passersby who saw him said that it appears as though the king is being hanged...therefore it is stated 'Ki Killelas Elokim Taluiy.'" The literal meaning of this Tosefta is that man's physical image is identical with that of HaShem. The Tosefta is an unimpeachable source -- for the Rambam and the Ramban, along with everyone else. How did THEY learn this Tosefta? When I wrote earlier that they understood it as the body of man being a "reflection of the idea of tzellem Elokim," I meant that the image of man, as a unique creature, is associated with the concept of tzellem Elokim, and it is that association that causes the prohibition of prolonged hanging. Rashi's statement about the prohibition that "man is likewise made in the form of his Creator" is nothing more than a paraphrase of the Tosefta, a Tosefta that can clearly be interpreted as being consistent with incorporealism just as the Rambam and Ramban maintain. Thus, Rashi's paraphrase of that very Tosefta proves nothing with regard to corporealism.

    Now let us turn to the aveil's bed. The gemara in Mo'ed Kattan (15b) states, "an aveil is obligated to turn over his bed, as Bar Kappara taught, 'I have placed demmus diyyukni (my image) within them, and in their sins they overturned it; therefore let them overturn their beds on account of that.'" Again, how did the Rambam and the Ramban learn that gemara? As before: the image of man, as a unique creature, is associated with the concept of tzellem Elokim, and it is that association that obligates the aveil to overturn the bed in which is imprinted the image of man (which is why today we cover our mirrors).

    How did Rashi learn the gemara? In explaining the concept of the "overturned demmus deyyukan" He stated (in the critical edition of Rashi on Mo'ed Kattan), "pannav hafukhos e-mishtannos." We know that Rashi understands the concept of "demmus deyyukan" to mean the face (see Rashi on Chullin 91b) -- so that here, Rashi is merely explaining what it means that man, in his sins, has overturned the demmus deyyukan -- man's sins cause his own mortality resulting in man's image, which is associated with the concept of tzellem Elokim, (just as the Rambam and Ramban understood) to disintegrate. Rashi focused on the face because this is the essential feature of man's unique image (demmus deyyukan). To reflect this entire idea, we are enjoined to overturn our beds in connection with man's death.

    Is this not a valid, logical possibility as to what Rashi means? Can Rashi reasonably be interpreted this way, consistent with the Rambam's and Ramban's understanding of the gemara, if we were to assume that he was an incorporealist, just as the literal interpretation is reasonable IF WE WERE TO ASSUME that he was a corporealist? If both are logical possibilities that depend upon assumptions, then neither one is a proof as to Rashi's corporealism or incorporealism. And so we are left with finding clear evidence...

    In that regard, I await a response regarding what I think is clear evidence as to Rashi's incorporealism from his commentary on Yeshayahu, and I await an explanation as to why the Machzor Vitry case is "reasonable but not dispositive."

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  3. Rabbi Zucker, you are quite right that the straightforward meaning of this Tosefta is that man's physical image is identical with that of HaShem. And that is exactly why R. Meir Abulafia and Ben Ish Chai take pains to explain that it is not to be understood in its straightforward manner. Not only does Rashi not offer any such reinterpretation; he even adds the word dyukno which makes it sound even more like he is referring to a physical similarity.

    With the aveil's bed, you are making Rambam/Ramban's hypothetical approach needlessly complicated. There is no need to invoke the physical image of man. Mortality signifies sin; sin is a corruption of tzelem Elokim. How is the face the "essential feature of man's unique image (demmus deyyukan)"? On the contrary; it is a distracting, irrelevant part of it.

    Yes, you can "fit in" your reading. But it is much more difficult. To put it another way: If one had NO PRIOR VIEW regarding Rashi's position on corporeality, one would certainly take this Rashi to be teaching us that man is made in the physical resemblance of God.

    (comments to the Yeshayah issue and Vitri will be in separate posts. I want to keep the discussion threads distinct, for clarity.)

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  4. Yaakov - I don't have access to Lorberbaum's book until I return to Israel next month. Can you summarize what he says about Rambam and Ramban's approach to the Tosefta?

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  5. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I did not state that the "straightforward" meaning of the Tosefta is that man's image is identical with that of HaShem -- I said that the "literal" meaning is that man's image.... There is a difference. To an incorporealist, a metaphor may be very straightforward but not at all literal. When Rashi adds the word "deyyukan" he is doing nothing more than using Chazal's language for the description of the "face of man" -- the "star" of the metaphor (if one interprets the Tosefta metaphorically). Could not the Rambam and the Ramban be equally comfortable with the term "deyyukan" applied to the Tosefta? Of course they could -- it is Chazal's language which they interpret metaphorically. Thus to say that Rashi added the term to emphasize his corporealist idea is true ONLY if you have preconceived notion that Rashi is a corporealist. The use of the term itself -- something that the Rambam and Ramban could equally use -- proves nothing with regard to Rashi.

    You asked about the use of the face as the "essential feature of man's unique image (demmus deyyukan)," claiming that it is irrelevant and distracting. Not so at all! Again, please see Rashi on Chullin 91b who states that the demmus deyyukan refers to the face of man. Thus, when the gemara said that the aveil overturns his bed because through his sin he overturned the demmus deyyukan, Rashi must explain in what sense the face of man is "overturned" via his sins. It is thus that he defines "overturned" as disintegrating. The explanation fits smoothly and beautifully; it can easily be understood to be metaphorical, just as the Rambam's and Ramban's approach is.

    I do not think that this is "fitting something in" to Rashi at all. Your implied "yardstick" question is a very good one, i.e., "If one had no prior view regarding Rashi's position on corporeality, how would one interpret this Rashi?" I would say -- yes, if ALL that one knew of Rashi was this one comment, then one would take it literally, and conclude that Rashi is a corporealist. Just like if ALL that one knew of the Rambam was the one comment of Hilkhos Ma'aseh HaKorbanos 4:11, that "one who sacrifices an 'olah must have in mind that the burning is designated to produce a smell that will be pleasant to HaShem," one would conclude that the Rambam was a corporealist. The one statement on its own doesn't prove anything since it can logically be interpreted literally or metaphorically. We KNOW clearly how to interpret the Rambam's statement based upon what he says elsewhere. The question now is how to interpret Rashi's statement based upon what he says elsewhere. Each form of interpretation for the statement on its own, literal or metaphorical, cannot be a proof for its own approach, so we must look outside that statement for clear proof. And so, let me turn the question around to you -- if we knew clearly from another source in Rashi that he was an incorporealist, would we then view his statement about demmus deyyukan concerning an aveil as a problem? Is it not the case that we would merely say that it is a metaphor, exactly in the same sense as the Rambam or Ramban would profess? If so, then it is not a proof for Rashi's corporealism whatsoever. And thus, I turn again to what I believe ARE clear proofs...the Rashi in Yeshayahu and the Machzor Vitry.

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  6. The use of the term itself -- something that the Rambam and Ramban could equally use -- proves nothing with regard to Rashi.

    They COULD use it - but they wouldn't. Not without explaining it. It does not conclusively prove Rashi's position - but I think it does lean towards a direction. Still, I understand your position.

    Could not the Rambam and the Ramban be equally comfortable with the term "deyyukan" applied to the Tosefta?

    Frankly, I don't think that Rambam would have been comfortable with it at all. I think that this and similar Aggadatas are exactly what Raavad had in mind with his famous comment, and probably also what lie behind R. Yeshayah de Trani's statement about Chazal.

    ...if ALL that one knew of Rashi was this one comment, then one would take it literally, and conclude that Rashi is a corporealist. Just like if ALL that one knew of the Rambam was the one comment of Hilkhos Ma'aseh HaKorbanos 4:11...

    There's quite a difference. Rambam's position is made abundantly, emphatically clear, again and again and again. With Rashi, you are relying on a single comment in Yeshayah (which I will address in a separate post; I believe that you are misunderstanding it), against all his comments elsewhere, and against the background of Northern France where, we are told by several authorities, belief in corporealism was rampant.

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  7. Rabbi Slifkin,

    You wrote, "They [the Rambam and the Ramban] COULD use it [the term demmus deyyukan] - but they wouldn't. Not without explaining it." But in fact, the Ramban, a verified incorporealist DID use the term without explaining it in his Toras HaAdam on aveilus, on the issue of overturning the bed. This is because he was quoting Chazal, who explicitly used the term in the gemara Mo'ed Kattan. This point also negates your next argument, "Frankly, I don't think that Rambam would have been comfortable with it [the term demmus deyyukan] at all." Was the Rambam "uncomfortable" with this gemara? In fact, he was very comfortable with the gemara, understanding it metaphorically.

    You further wrote, "With Rashi, you are relying on a single comment in Yeshayah (which I will address in a separate post; I believe that you are misunderstanding it), against all his comments elsewhere, and against the background of Northern France where, we are told by several authorities, belief in corporealism was rampant."

    I have 3 responses to this point: [1] If my understanding of the Rashi in Yeshayahu is correct, then all I need is one single comment to prove the point. [2] The Rashi in Yeshayahu does not stand up against ALL HIS COMMENTS ELSEWHERE -- in fact NOWHERE does Rashi say he is a corporealist. There are no "all his comments" -- only quotes and paraphrases from Chazal, the same Chazals that the Rambam and Ramban learned as well. And of course "all his comments" by definition cannot include all the places that Rashi "should" have said something but didn't. So the one clear quote from Yeshayahu is not standing up against anything else. Further, the fact that corporealism MAY have "rampant" in Northern France does not mean that it was rampant among the rabbonim and rebbeim of Northern France. And EVEN IF THAT WERE TRUE (for which there is NO evidence), what has that got to do with Rashi's views? [3] Lastly, please don't forget about the "Machzor Vitry argument" which, to my mind, is just as powerful as the Yeshayahu argument.

    I would like to add that I sincerely appreciate the opportunity to clarify and discuss these issues in the forum that you have graciously provided.

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  8. Rabbi Slifkin,
    May I ask if the Isaiah verse that R' Zucker pointed out (and its similar Devarim verse) were verses that you originally considered and then rejected from your essay, or simply ones you missed.

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  9. I searched the DBS database for Ramban in Toras HaAdam and I couldn't find it, can you give the reference? In any case, I well accept that confirmed incorporealists can interpret that term in accordance with the incorporealist view, and can parrot it from the Gemara without elaboration. But the term itself does lean towards corporealism, and all other things being equal, it reflects such a view. So I agree that if you have evidence from elsewhere that Rashi was not a corporealist, then his commentary to this Gemara is not a problem. But if we are trying to draw an overall picture without a preconceived notion, then this cite does provide a small leaning in the corporealist direction.
    You say that RambaM was very comfortable with this Gemara - can you give a reference? (or did you mean to write RambaN?)

    Now to your three points:
    [1] If my understanding of the Rashi in Yeshayahu is correct, then all I need is one single comment to prove the point.

    If the Rashi in Yeshayahu is 100% evidence, then of course it is 100% evidence. If, however, it is simply a strong argument in the direction of incorporealism, then it has to be weighed against arguments in the other direction. (I plan to argue that it is not even an argument at all.)

    [2] The Rashi in Yeshayahu does not stand up against ALL HIS COMMENTS ELSEWHERE -- in fact NOWHERE does Rashi say he is a corporealist. There are no "all his comments" -- only quotes and paraphrases from Chazal, the same Chazals that the Rambam and Ramban learned as well. And of course "all his comments" by definition cannot include all the places that Rashi "should" have said something but didn't. So the one clear quote from Yeshayahu is not standing up against anything else.

    I disagree. Again, if the comment in Yeshayah is 100% incontrovertible, then we have no choice but to accept that this was Rashi's view - in which case we will be left with a question as to the pattern that I pointed out in the essay of why Rashi stresses dibra Torah in some types of descriptions but not in others. But if the comment in YEshayah is anything less than 100%, then we are back to weighing things up. And the fact that Rashi stresses dibra Torah in some types of descriptions but not in basic corporeal descriptions is an argument - not 100% proof, but an argument - in favor of his being a corporealist.

    Further, the fact that corporealism MAY have "rampant" in Northern France does not mean that it was rampant among the rabbonim and rebbeim of Northern France. And EVEN IF THAT WERE TRUE (for which there is NO evidence), what has that got to do with Rashi's views?

    Why do you say "MAY"? We have explicit testimony in this regard from several Rishonim, and no testimony to the contrary whatsoever. The testimony concerns Torah scholars, not regular folk. And this has a lot to do with Rashi's views - number one, it makes it more likely that he too was of this view, and number two, if he were not of this view, we would expect him to be concerned with uprooting it.

    [3] Lastly, please don't forget about the "Machzor Vitry argument" which, to my mind, is just as powerful as the Yeshayahu argument.

    Don't worry, I haven't forgotten it. I am just trying to keep the elements separate.

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  10. Alex - I missed them when I wrote my essay. I made it clear that I have not seen every comment of Rashi, and I was explicitly opening myself up to the possibility of even one citation being brought that would completely overturn things. However, I don't think that that Rashi does that at all. I have nearly finished writing my post on it.

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  11. From a few comments back: "Not only does Rashi not offer any such reinterpretation; he even adds the word dyukno which makes it sound even more like he is referring to a physical similarity."

    I'm confused. On p. 87 (near the top) of your essay, you write that the dyukn(i) argument is a weak one.

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  12. Just a random thought from the essay: "For
    example, in one place the Talmud discusses the Torah scroll seen by
    Zechariah in a prophetic vision, which it describes as measuring forty
    by twenty cubits.18 In light of the fact that the Talmud proceeds to
    explain how this scroll was many times greater than the universe, Rashi
    explains that the cubits of which it speaks are God’s cubits. This
    is clearly the intent of the
    Talmud, as it makes its calculation based on
    a verse describing God’s hand as spanning the world. It is thus
    claimed that Rashi is viewing God as being of gigantic human form."

    FWIW, just the notion of "many times greater than the universe" is an illogical statement. Size doesn't apply outside the universe.

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  13. A weak indication, especially taken on their own, but something nonetheless. I plan to write a post on the idea of convergence of evidence in general.

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  14. Lorberbaum shows that the image of God in tannaitic literature has an iconic sense. The human body is an extension of the divine form. Thus, every human would be an extension of the divine presence. However, if his thesis is meant to explain the meaning of zelem, then it also sheds light on God's intention in Gen. 1:26 --God's decision to make humankind in God's image. According to Lorberbaum's suggestion, God's presence is being extended to every human individual.
    Hence for Maimonides, the intellect is Divine, while for Nahmanides there is a kabbalistic soul - somewhat midpoint between Maimonides and Rashi.
    You can find more on the web to last until you return to Israel.

    yaakov

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  15. You want to email Yair Lorborbaum.
    I am sure he will respond fully and graciously.

    yaakov

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  16. Rabbi Slifkin,

    The Ramban in Toras HaAdam can be found in Chavel's Hebrew edition of the Kisvei Ramban volume 2, page 183.

    It is, of course, difficult to respond to a claim that the Rashi in Yeshayahu is "not even an argument at all" vis-a-vis Rashi's incorporealism until I see what your reasoning is with regard to that issue (a reasoning, I trust, that deals with the texts of the Rashi in Yeshayahu and the Machzor Vitry on their own terms, absent any preconceived notions); so I await reading your future post on this, as well as on the Machzor Vitry argument. (I do find the statement about "not even an argument at all" to be a little bit amusing, given your reaction to a similar comment made to you in the early posts on the previous thread in this blog).

    As far as the argument that you have advanced about Rashi's silence in certain places, I must concur with an earlier post -- that of Levi Notick -- who noted that this is hardly "evidence." One can come up with varied explanations as to why Rashi was silent where he was. It is difficult to "read Rashi's mind" as to why he was silent, and to project that it must be because he was a corporealist is, to my mind, highly subjective and speculative at best, even without my two arguments. Of course, when weighed against the two arguments that I have advanced, if they are correct, then the speculation disappears at any rate.

    You had written earlier "...against the background of Northern France where, we are told by several authorities, belief in corporealism was rampant," and "the testimony concerns Torah scholars, not regular folk." Please let me know the source(s) for this testimony --that corporealism was "rampant" amongst the "Torah scholars" -- not the regular folk, not the "yeshivaleit novices" but the Torah scholars.

    On this issue, you mentioned that if this were true, it makes it more likely that Rashi was of this view as well. Really? Why is that so? Further, you said that if corporealism was rampant among the Torah scholars in northern France and if Rashi was indeed an incorporealist, then "we would expect him to be concerned with uprooting it." As far as I know, the meforshim of greater Ashkenaz and France hardly ever, if at all, used their commentaries as a forum for polemics. In addition, we do not have writings of theirs in the forms of "Kol Korei"s, exhortations, "maqqalahs", etc., the way that we do have from chakhmei Sefarad. This may be because the chakhmei Ashkenaz generally did not write such works, or because the works that they may have written in these forms were lost. In either case, the idea that the absence of such a work by Rashi indicates that he was a corporealist is, I think, at best unconvincing.

    As we face another Tish'a BeAv, please allow me the opportunity to wish all of us true nechamah, with the wish that all together as one we are zokheh to "see" the return of the shekhinah to Tzion.

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  17. One can come up with varied explanations as to why Rashi was silent where he was.

    Yes, one can, but there are explanations that are more straightforward and explanations that are less straightforward. It is possible that Rashi wrote comments here too but they were edited out of his manuscript by a student with an agenda. It is possible that Rashi wanted people to have a corporeal image of God. One can come up with any number of possibilities, but some are more poshut than others. If Rashi takes pains in many places to stress that the pasuk is not literal, but does not do so in any case of corporeal descriptions, the most straightforward explanation is that he does indeed consider that the Torah is being literal in those cases.

    Please let me know the source(s) for this testimony --that corporealism was "rampant" amongst the "Torah scholars" -- not the regular folk, not the "yeshivaleit novices" but the Torah scholars.

    R. Yeshayah de Trani, Ramban, and all the sources quoted in Marc Shapiro's chapter on this topic.

    On this issue, you mentioned that if this were true, it makes it more likely that Rashi was of this view as well. Really? Why is that so?

    I don't understand the question. If the majority of Torah scholars in a place are of opinion x, then the odds of any given Torah scholar in that place being of opinion x are high.

    Further, you said that if corporealism was rampant among the Torah scholars in northern France and if Rashi was indeed an incorporealist, then "we would expect him to be concerned with uprooting it." As far as I know, the meforshim of greater Ashkenaz and France hardly ever, if at all, used their commentaries as a forum for polemics.

    I'm not talking about polemics. Rashi in many places stresses that pesukim should not be interpreted literally. Several people have suggested here that Rashi didn't need to be concerned that people would be interpreting corporeal descriptions of God literally. I am pointing out that it would be very much a concern.

    I hope to get to the pasuk in Yeshayah today, iy"h! (I'm in LA, I have a long time until the fast begins.)

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  18. Oops, I forgot to mention the most important source, R. Shmuel ben Mordechai of Marseilles, he says that the majority of Torah scholars in northern France believed in a corporeal God.

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  19. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I had a little bit of time before getting ready for the ta'anis, and so I went through every single source (in their originals) on this issue as quoted by Shapiro in his chapter 3 -- which you reference in your post -- with the exception of two sources (I don't have those two in my collection of books nor in any data base that I have). After looking through this thoroughly, I believe that you (unknowingly) grossly misrepresented the claim that corporealism was "rampant among the Torah scholars of northern France." The famous Ra'avad on Hilkhos Teshuvah 3:7 speaks of "kammah gedolim..." not "harbeih gedolim..." How many is "kammah"? It literally translates as "a number" or "a few" -- not "many." Similarly, the ibn Ezra that Shapiro cited on Shemos 33:21 speaks of "chakhmei doreinu" -- how many is that? Ten? A thousand? Two prominent ones? Sources such as HaEmmunah HaRammah speak of masses of UNEDUCATED, IGNORANT people who were corporealists. The Ramban in his letter addressed to chakhmei Tzorfas (Chavel, Kisvei Ramban I:345)said that he heard a rumor from people that the addressees (how many people was he writing to? I do not believe we have an answer to that) rejected the Rambam's Sefer HaMadda' because of the issue of incoporeality. The Ramban then proceeds to say that all of the chakhamim of Sefarad and of BAVEL, from antiquity, accepted incorporeality. So the Ramban's letter points to "rampant corporeality by the scholars of France" based upon a RUMOR, with an unknown number of addressees? Similarly, the writing of Ri de Trani do not contain any reference to numbers of people. It is true that R. Moshe Taku, R. Shlomo Simchah of Troyes, and R. Yosef Ashkenzi were themselves corporealists. So if we include them with the "kammah"s and the unspecified numbers mentioned by the others, how many do we have? Ten? Fifty? Who knows? This is the "rampant corporealism among the scholars"? It is critical to look up the sources first hand!

    Further, your wrote, "If Rashi takes pains in many places to stress that the pasuk is not literal, but does not do so in ANY case of corporeal descriptions..." ANY? I believe that Levi Notick's article cites some cases where Rashi DOES clarify a non-literal interpretation of anthropomorphic terms contained in some pessukim. It seems to me that your argument is that Rashi should have done so in ALL cases. The argument, to my mind -- as I have mentioned -- seems rather weak.

    You also wrote, "I don't understand the question. If the majority of Torah scholars in a place are of opinion x, then the odds of any given Torah scholar in that place being of opinion x are high." Please forgive me -- I just don't understand your response. What is the cause-and-effect relationship between "a majority of Torah scholars in a place" and "the high odds of a given Torah scholar in that place maintaining their opinion." Ma'asim shebekhol yom throughout all of history challenge that rather large assumption.

    Again, the argument for Rashi's corporealism from the fact that he didn't write a "kol koreih" against those who maintained corporealism, is, to my mind, exceptionally weak. That is akin to arguing that the Torah itself CLEARLY maintains corporealism since it never addresses the issue in an outright, unequivocal passuk. If that were true, then the Rambam, Ramban, etc. would have little to say, and yet that is clearly not the case. Further, I reiterate that Rashi DID address the issue outright, in his commentary on Yeshayahu.

    Again, warm wishes for a meaningful ta'anis.

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  20. What do you think the literate Jewish population of France was to begin with? This is the medieval period we are talking about. It was a relatively small population.
    And, as I pointed out, R. Shmuel ben Mordechai of Marseilles says that the MAJORITY of Torah SCHOLARS in northern France believed in a corporeal God.

    I believe that Levi Notick's article cites some cases where Rashi DOES clarify a non-literal interpretation of anthropomorphic terms contained in some pessukim.

    I cited those myself, and they reinforce my point. Rashi takes pains to clarify non-literal interpretations of CERTAIN TYPES of anthropomorphic terms, but never those referring to physical form.

    What is the cause-and-effect relationship between "a majority of Torah scholars in a place" and "the high odds of a given Torah scholar in that place maintaining their opinion."

    Basic math. If 63.5% of Torah scholars in a place believe something, then there is a 63.5% chance that any given scholar believes something.

    Again, the argument for Rashi's corporealism from the fact that he didn't write a "kol koreih" against those who maintained corporealism, is, to my mind, exceptionally weak.

    Again, that is a misrepresentation of my argument. The argument (under consideration, aside from the others) is that Rashi takes pains to clarify non-literal interpretations of CERTAIN TYPES of anthropomorphic terms, but never those referring to physical form.

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  21. Rabbi Slifkin,

    Thank you for your quick response. Could you please let me know exactly where to find the R. Shemuel ben Mordekhai of Marseilles source? I would like to look it up in the original, given the (unknowing) misrepresentation about the degree of "rampant" from the other sources, as delineated in my previous post. As to what you wrote, "What do you think the literate Jewish population of France was to begin with? This is the medieval period we are talking about. It was a relatively small population." So then, is "ten rabbis" indeed "rampant"?

    As to what you wrote, "Rashi takes pains to clarify non-literal interpretations of CERTAIN TYPES of anthropomorphic terms, but never those referring to physical form." What about Levi Notick's citation of the 2 Rashis in Shemos 33, dealing with HaShem's "hand"?

    Finally, with regard to my question "what has the view of other rabbis to do with Rashi's view" you wrote, "Basic math. If 63.5% of Torah scholars in a place believe something, then there is a 63.5% chance that any given scholar believes something." I am somewhat surprised at the notion of using statistical assessments to arrive at a conclusion about the hashkafah of a Rishon (or anyone, for that matter).

    Again, Kol Tuv!

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  22. Could you please let me know exactly where to find the R. Shemuel ben Mordekhai of Marseilles source? I would like to look it up in the original,

    I got the reference from R. Kanarfogel's article. I don't have anything with me here in the US.

    given the (unknowing) misrepresentation about the degree of "rampant" from the other sources, as delineated in my previous post.

    Just to clarify that I maintain, based on the cumulative testimonies from all these Rishonim, that it can indeed be called rampant.

    So then, is "ten rabbis" indeed "rampant"?

    I don't know. It would depend on how many rabbis there are to begin with. But a description of "the majority" does indeed mean rampant!

    What about Levi Notick's citation of the 2 Rashis in Shemos 33, dealing with HaShem's "hand"?

    I addressed those in my essay. Levi apparently did not understand what I wrote.

    I am somewhat surprised at the notion of using statistical assessments to arrive at a conclusion about the hashkafah of a Rishon (or anyone, for that matter).

    Why? It's not arriving at a conclusion as to the absolute hashkafah, but rather as to the likelihood of a hashkafah. If 38% of the people in your town are Republicans, then there is a 38% chance that you are a Republican!

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  23. Rabbi Zucker -- please write an article on the topic. It is clear that your position is at least as compelling as Rabbi Slifkins -- so it is important that his view does not go unchallenged -- & not only on this blog.

    In any case Rabbi Slifkins argument is almost getting silly. I do not believe that ANYONE objective after reading all the evidence could possibly say anything more than "It is possible that Rashi was a Corporealist." And now "there is a statistical possibility" that he was. But that is hardly the basis for an article. But once he wrote one you should respond.

    I like Rabbi Slifkins work -- but don't really have a scientific background. I hope his published books are really not as weak as this article & I hope his not backing down from the ban is not just his stubborn streak seen here.

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  24. Moshe Z - Are you aware that everyone considers themselves to be objective?

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  25. Rabbi Slifkin,

    Thank you for pointing me to Rabbi Kanarfogel's article as the source for the quote from R. Shemuel ben Mordekhai of Marseilles. Rabbi Kanarfogel is my next door neighbor, so I had a wonderful discussion about the whole issue with him this afternoon. He pointed out a number of very interesting issues to me:

    [1] Very little is known at all about R. Shemuel ben Mordekhai, although it is known that he is not one of the leading provencal leaders. [2] While R. Shemuel does say that "rov chakhmei Tzorfat magshimim..." it is Rabbi Kanarfogel's clear understanding from a close reading of the entire manuscript that R. Shemuel, himself an incorporealist, was stating that according to the strict standards of negative theology, a majority of provencal rabbis wind up being classified as corporealists, NOT that they themselves claim to be such by stating that HaShem has a form. (One can be a corporealist, for example, if one maintains that HaShem has emotions, etc.). R. Kanarfogel mentioned to me that he is going to clarify this issue, along with the notion that in his opinion it is NOT the case that great numbers of the provencal rabbis were corporealists, in the next book that he is in the process of writing. [3] In a separate footnote of the article that Rabbi Kanarfogel wrote, from which you took the quote for R. Shemuel, Rabbi Kanarfogel cited a letter from a little-known provencal incorporealist who was addressing a corporealist, and the author complained, why can't you be more like your forebear Rashi who was an incorporealist?

    Is this not enough to shut down the whole argument? A provencal Rabbi is testifying to the fact that Rashi was an incorporealist! At any event, to use R. Shemuel as a source that the majority of provencal rabbis were corporealists is an (unknowing) distortion of great proportion, from my discussion with the very author who studied the manuscript closely and from whose work you took the quote.

    I understand your saying that "Levi didn't understand what I wrote." Can it not also be said with equal validity that you didn't understand what Levi wrote?

    I must confess that I just do not understand what you are saying about statistics and Chazal's hashkafos. Would you say that if a rabbi lives in a city where the majority of rabbis believe that a certain person is a navi, then until we can ascertain with clarity what that rabbi holds we should assume that he also holds the man to be a navi? Should we not simply say that we don't know at all what he holds, despite what others may hold, until we find out?

    Lastly, I just saw that you posted on the Yeshayahu issue, but alas, that will have to wait until Friday. Again, have a meaningful fast.

    MosheZ,

    The time, energy, and resources involved in writing publicly in a serious way about such a serious issue that is omeid be-rumo shel 'olam, is more than I have right now. But I think you are correct -- someone should write the article that you suggest.

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  26. Thank you for clarifying matters. In light of this, there is no evidence that a majority of French rabbis were full corporealists. Neither, might I add, to my knowledge, is there evidence that the majority were not coporealists.

    Regarding the claim by a Provencal rabbi that Rashi was not a corporealist - it depends on who made it and on what basis. Of course there are many who claim that Rashi opposed corporealism, based on assuming from his numerous statements about "dibra Torah..." that he opposed all forms of corporealism.

    Regarding Levi - I will address his letter in a separate post. He apparently misunderstood what I was saying about kinuy vs. dibra Torah.

    Would you say that if a rabbi lives in a city where the majority of rabbis believe that a certain person is a navi, then until we can ascertain with clarity what that rabbi holds we should assume that he also holds the man to be a navi?

    You have picked an example of a belief that we are instinctively against. But that is already taking sides. Furthermore, I do not say that "we should assume that the person is of that belief" but rather that it is likely that he is of that belief.
    Suppose, in a frum town in Israel, 70% of people support Agudah, and 30% support Degel. For any given person, without knowing anything further about them, is there not a 70% chance that they are a Degel supporter?

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  27. Coy question of the day:
    Fill in the blank with the appropriate word:

    "Someone who is a priori _______ to the idea that Rashi was corporealist
    will devise rejoinders to all these arguments."

    A. opposed
    B. committed

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  28. Clever! But it's not quite like that. Everyone has biases; but people with religious biases are much less likely to evaluate evidence objectively. Some people are religiously/ emotionally distressed at the thought that Rashi was a corporealist, but nobody is religiously/ emotionally distressed at the thought that Rashi was not a corporealist!

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  29. Rabbi Slifkin,

    When I pointed out that Rabbi Kanarfogel's article made reference to a provencal rabbi who explicitly stated that Rashi was an incorporealist, you responded, "Regarding the claim by a Provencal rabbi that Rashi was not a corporealist - it depends on who made it and on what basis." Now, I totally understand the need to investigate the "on what basis" part of your response. Context and meaning are everything. I do, however, have a question about the "who made it" part of your response.

    You cited R. Shemuel ben Mordekhai of Marseilles as your main source to advance the argument that since most of chakhmei Tzorfas were corporealists (a claim that has since been proven false from the clarification by Rabbi Kanarfogel as noted in the earlier posts), therefore we should expect Rashi to be a corporealist as well (still an argument that I do not comprehend, but let's leave that). Did you investigate the same "who made it" issue with regard to R. Shemuel ben Mordekhai as you propose we should do with the statement of the provencal rabbi? If you had investigated R. Shemuel ben Mordekhai, you would have concluded, as Rabbi Kanarfogel pointed out -- both he and the provencal rabbi were equally relatively unknown, and both were not of the leading provencal leaders. There is precious little, if anything at all, to distinguish one from the other in terms of their "reliability" or "authoritativeness." So if you had investigated R. Shemuel ben Mordekhai, you would have concluded that the provencal rabbi is just as reliable or unreliable a source as he was. If, on the other hand, you did not check the issue of "who he was" for R. Shemuel ben Mordekhai who, you thought, was advancing a basis to argue for Rashi's corporealism, and you do insist upon a check of "who he was" for the provencal rabbi who is advancing a basis for Rashi's incorporealism, is that not a double standard? Does that not smack of a preconceived notion and assumption regarding Rashi's position on corporealism?

    Please help me out here!

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  30. Rabbi Zucker, to say that a specific person, Rashi, was not a corporealist, needs a more authoritative source than to say that rabbis in the town in general were corporealists. This in the same way as I would be more reliable in general saying about how many people in my town vote Gimmel, than in saying what a particular person votes, unless I had specific knowledge of that person beyond others. So if this person was someone who knew Rashi beyond his commentaries that we all have, his testimony would be extremely significant, and would even outweigh any testimony regarding people in France in general. But not if his knowledge is simply from Rashi's commentary.

    There are two points in your comment that seem inaccurate.

    most of chakhmei Tzorfas were corporealists (a claim that has since been proven false from the clarification by Rabbi Kanarfogel

    He said it was false, or he said that we cannot prove it was true, since he was talking about a stricter definition of corporealism? I thought it was the latter. There's a difference.

    therefore we should expect Rashi to be a corporealist as well (still an argument that I do not comprehend, but let's leave that)

    It bothers me intensely that you do not comprehend this. Do you not agree that in a town where 70% are charedi and 30% are dati, if we are considering any given person, then without any other data we would say that there is a 70% chance that he is charedi? How can you possibly dispute this?

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  31. Rabbi Slifkin,

    You are, of course, correct that there is a difference between something being false and something not being proven to be true. I made my comment because, as I think I mentioned in an earlier post, Rabbi Kanarfogel indicated to me that in his forthcoming book he intends to show though a number of primary sources, some printed and some in manuscript, that the majority of the provencal rabbininc leadership were incorporealists. I guess we'll just have to wait...

    I am sorry that my non-comprehension of your "majority" argument bothers you (although in terms of our overall discussion at this point, the issue is moot). Let me try to illustrate with a halakhic analogy -- on the one hand we have the issue of "kol de-parush mi-rubbah parush" and on the other hand we have the issue of "kol kavu'a ke-mechtza al mechtza dammi." You are looking at Rashi's hashkafah based upon his colleagues in terms of the former; I am looking at it in terms of the latter. Kol de-parush holds true only in the case of a ta'arovess; Rashi's views along with those of his colleagues are not, to my mind, a ta'arovess. Each one stands alone.

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  32. Would you agree that in a town where 70% are charedi and 30% are dati, if we are considering any given person, then without any other data we would say that there is a 70% chance that he is charedi?

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  33. Rabbi Slifkin,

    Your question skirts the issue. Is Rashi's view on Torah part of a ta'arovess with the views of other rishonim? Or does it stand alone, as does the view of each individual? Please explain the basis of viewing it as a ta'arovess.

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  34. I don't see how to translate the issue of ta'aroves/ stand alone to the topic of hashkafos.

    I think that my question is very much to the point. Would you agree that in a town where 70% are charedi and 30% are dati, if we are considering any given person, then without any other data we would say that there is a 70% chance that he is charedi?

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  35. Rabbi Slifkin,

    You wrote, "I don't see how to translate the issue of ta'aroves/ stand alone to the topic of hashkafos." And this is exactly my point. In your 70% - 30% question, I would need to know: what is the issue at hand? Are we deciding on the character of the group as a whole for the purpose of giving food stamps to the group? Then, it is a GROUP issue, and yes, it is a "ta'arovess" -- so I would say that the unknown should be grouped with the 70%. If you are asking about the "level" (whatever that means) of hasmodah of a particular unknown individual, then he is not part of a mixture -- he is his own gavra, and thus - ke-mechtza al mechtza.

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  36. Are you serious? So you would say that for any given individual, there is only a 50-50 chance that he is charedi, even if 90% are charedi? I find it astounding to believe that in real life, you would really think that way.

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  37. Rabbi Slifkin,

    Thanks for your response. I find it equally astounding that you would apply statistical assessments to determine a particular individual's hashkafah. What can I say? We are mutually astounding and astounded!

    And, yes, I am serious.

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  38. As I keep saying, not to conclusively determine a person's position, but rather to talk about the likelihood of his holding a position.

    I think that our dispute here may be fundamental to our other disputes. Maybe I'll do a post on it and encourage others to contribute their thoughts.

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  39. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I don't think that this issue is at all "fundamental" to our other disputes, and I think that at this point we ought to return to the basic issue at hand -- Rashi's view on corporealism, as I stated more fully in my last comment of this evening on your "Seeing No Image" thread.

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  40. I just don't think that you are being honest with yourself. If you hear that a certain person lives in Bnei Brak, you don't assume that they are probably charedi? That's inconceivable to me.

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  41. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I believe that your argument is highly specious. The reason that one would assume that a person living in Bnei Brak is a chareidi is not per se because 90% of the people in Bnei Brak are chareidi; it is because Bnie Brak is a community that is known to attract chareidim who want to live in close proximity to other chareidim, forming a like community. Now, are you claiming (in your prior mistaken assumption that the majority of rabbis in northern France were corporealists) that the rabbis of northern France chose to move and live there in order to live in a like community of corporealists? If so, then would be a valid comparison to the Bnei Brak case. But I would first like to see any evidence that rabbis flocked together in northern France in order to be in a like community of corporealists.

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  42. Yours is not the reason why I would say that someone living in Bnei Brak is likely charedi. It has nothing to do with why people move to the town. It is simply due to the statistics. We can remove your alleged factor and it would still hold true. In a town were 90% of people are Republicans, would you not say that there is a 90% chance that any given person is a Republican?

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  43. Rabbi Slifkin,

    You have asked this question now three times (to my recollection). I have answered it three times, though clearly not to your satisfaction. Would you ask the same question repeatedly to the tanna'im of the gemara about a case of "kavu'a from a rove which is nevertheless considered by the gemara as kemchtza al mechtza"? You do not like my answer, which is based upon the logic of the halakhic system. I suppose you can keep repeating the question, but I don't see a purpose in that. As I suggested, let's get back to the core issue -- Rashi's opinion about corporealism.

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  44. No, because I accept that halachah has its own system of reaching conclusions - the classic example is tannur shel Achnai. But we are talking about reaching historical truth, not paskening halachah.

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  45. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I must stress once again, the point is moot once you have admitted the mistake about your original claim that the majority of French rabbis were corporealists. Nevertheless, I see that you feel the need for some reason to revisit this now-irrelevant issue repeatedly. I have sent the following e-mail to two professors of statistics, one at Columbia, the other at Harvard. It may be a while until I get a response, but when I do, I will share it verbatim:

    "Dear Professor: I have a question about the application of statistical assessments; I hope you can help me. I greatly appreciate your guidance, time, and effort in this matter. A friend of mine has made the following claim, and I would like to know if it holds true from a statistical point of view. Five hundred years ago there were 1,000 bona fide philosophers who live in a certain community. Seven hundred of them are known to maintain philosophical position X. Two hundred ninety nine of them are known to maintain philosophical position Y. Currently, the position of the last, unknown philosopher, whose view on X or Y is not discernable from his writings, is being investigated. My friend maintains that the current scholarly community logically must assume that the unknown scholar in fact maintained philosophical position X, until proven otherwise, since that was the majority view. He claims that there is a 70% chance that position X was his view, and that until we know for certain otherwise, this must be our assumption. Again, I appreciate if you could let me know your view about this at your earliest convenience. Thanks so much."

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  46. Rabbi Zucker, I don't know why you haven't noticed my clarifications. You represent my position as "and that until we know for certain otherwise, this must be our assumption." I have repeatedly pointed out that it is not that our assumption is that the person holds position X; rather, our assumption is that there is a 70% likelihood that the person holds position X.

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  47. Rabbi Slifkin,

    And if there is a 70% chance that he holds position X, should we not therefore assume that that's what he held? Or is the "70% likelihood" irrelevant to what we should be assuming? What is your point of saying that there is a 70% likelihood that that was his position if not to say that we should therefore assume that he held position X? And from you last comment should I assume that you think my question to the professors is not relevant to our (side) discussion now?

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  48. We assume that there is a 70% likelihood that it is his position! And therefore one who believes that it is not his position has to produce some kind of evidence if he wants us to think that there is not a 70% chance that it is his position.

    Your question to the professors is only relevant if you disagree with this.

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  49. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I am sorry -- I do not understand what you are talking about. Rashi, in fact, was either a 100% corporealist or a 100% incorporealist. He was not a 70% corporealist. Now, I understand the notion that since 70% of the people around him were corporealists, therefore the scales are tipped toward our saying that he was a 100% corporealist (a notion that I maintain is absolutely false, and is the question that I posed to the statistics professors -- but it is a notion that I can at least understand). I do not, however, understand what it means that there is a 70% chance that he was a corporealist without it translating to what our assumption should be about his 100% view.

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  50. Correct, Rashi was either a 100% corporealist or a 100% incorporealist. But before bringing evidence either way, we can say that the statistical chance of his being one way or the other relates to the community to which he belonged. The ramifications are as to who has the burden of proof.

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  51. Rabbi Slifkin,

    EXACTLY. And thus my question to the professors as written is absolutely relevant.

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  52. It is worth noting that the Ramban in his letter to the french Rabbis, on the page immediately after (in the chavel version) his noting the rumor of belief in corporeality in france, he quotes many incorporealists in order to prove that Judaism maintains an incorporealist position. One of his quotes speaks openly about God's face and its comparison to man's face, again this quote is by a clear incorporealist. Hence the argument that Rashi's talking about Man's face being a reflection of God's "face" showing that he thinks God has a body is not a valid argument.

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  53. your argument was "
    I do not agree that Rambam, Ramban etc. understood the Tosefta being based on the idea that the body is a (physical) reflection of the idea of tzellem Elokim. Where do we see any such idea in their writings? That’s the kind of idea that you see in later mekuballim, not in Ramban and certainly not Rambam."
    I quoted the Ramban to disprove your claim. How is it not relevant? I apologize again for not quoting it, I saw it in shul on Shabbat and do not have access to a copy, for anyone who wants to look it up it is on the page after he addresses the corporealists in france.

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