Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Was Rashi A Corporealist?

Here is my article from Hakirah vol. 7, with a letter about the article and my response appended to it. I've had a few people tell me that they can't agree with the article, but none of them were able to actually articulate responses to the arguments in it. But to people unaware of medieval Jewish intellectual history, it does come as a great shock.

82 comments:

  1. Read the articleJuly 22, 2009 at 7:29 PM

    There are no argument in the article. Can you point to even one such "argument" that provides even weak evidence?

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  2. RTA, don't be ridiculous. There were multiple arguments.

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  3. Dear Rabbi Slifkin,
    I am generally a big supporter of yours but I must say that I was dissapointed when reading this article. The Ramban that you quote
    discussing the corporalists critique of Rambam’s Moreh Nevuchim demonstrates that many if not most French Scholars held that view is extremely inaccurate. A careful reading of that section of Ramban’s letter shows that he refers to “acherim” others that held a corporeal view. Yet, Ramban strongly rebuffs this position by asserting that the Chachmei Tzarfat maintain that G-D is incorporeal. He quotes from the Sefer Harokeach to prove his point. The clear impression one gets from the Ramban’s letter is that in his view G-D’s incorporeality was held by scholars from ALL Jewish communities, France, Spain and has been a longheld view. Therefore to take a statement from his letter to attempt to show that most French Rabbis in the Ramban’s time believed in a physical G-D is a gross misrepresentation of the Ramban’s view. Additionally, the historical chronology that you assert does not makes sense. He attempts to paint a picture that in while in Rashi’s time, the corporeal view of G-D was rampant in France, by the time of his student, R Simcha of Vitry this view was sidelined and rejected. Yet R Simcha of Vitry died in the same year as Rashi, 1105. And to prove that in Rashi’s time the corporeal view was widespread, you use as a prooftext the Ramban’s letter which was written in the 13th century, much after the R Simcha of Vitry’s time!
    Given the great esteem that the Ramban held Rashi in as seen in his introduction to his commentary on Chumash it is inconceivable that the Ramban would have suspected Rashi of being a corporealist. The Ramban did not causually read Rashi’s commentary, he studied it meticulously and comments on in hundreds of time, as is well known. In the above letter the Ramban invokes R Saadia Gaon's statement that a corporealist is tantamount to one that "ein lo eloka klal". It therefore can't be that the Ramban could have even slightly suspected Rashi of sustaining such a belief. With all due respect, do you really think you understand Rashi better than the Ramban did?!

    The most sensible apporach to take is along the line of the Ramban's commentary to Breshit 46:4. There he is critical of Rambam's approach of avoiding any anthropomorphic descriptions of G-D. The Ramban strongly disagrees and does not believe that one must avoid such descriptions. Yet clearly he does not take them at face value. This seems to be the apporach of many, willing to use sometimes colorful metaphors vis a vis G-D but never chas v'shalom believing them at face value.

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  4. I was wondering where Rabbi Akiva Tatz's position (as described in
    his book WorldMask) fits into all this.

    If I understand R' Tatz correctly, he takes the expressions "God's
    hand" and "God's eyes" literally. If there's any metaphor going on,
    it is we humans who have the metaphoric hand and eyes. (Extending
    this thought, I suppose the whole universe would be, in a sense, a
    metaphor.) At the same time, he believes firmly that God is
    completely incorporeal, and that He is absolutely One. I believe he
    holds that the seeming contradiction is above humans to comprehend.
    I don't fully understand this position (and don't know how 'kosher'you think
    it is), but I was wondering something. Perhaps the "sages the
    Raavad refers to who are greater and better than the Rambam who
    hold this ... view" believed not that God was corporeal in any way,
    but rather, believed in the way R' Tatz writes about.

    Maybe what I'm doing is trying to defend the honor of these unknown
    sages against the charge of believing in a corporeal God, but my
    main goal is to figure out whether R' Tatz's position is the one the
    Raavad was actually referring to as being mistaken.

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  5. "Rashi said it, but we cannot"

    Hmmmm this statement seems too similar to statements made today about an ancient universe/nonliteral reading of Berishies. If there is no psak in hashkafah...?

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  6. This is a very nice piece of work. I like your clear writing style and excellent presentation of thought. The most difficult part, for me, is to control my a priori "knowledge" while reading the article. Yashar koach and I hope you link to many more of your articles in the future [since I have no idea how to get them otherwise].


    I have a question of one of the areas that are said to define corporeality. This is the area of HaShem appearing in a mobile form of some type. This has nothing to do with Rashi per se, but isn't it a standard idea to say that HaShem will lead us out of Egypt....onto the 40 yr journey. Or that His Presence enters and later exits the Mishqan and Beit HaMiqdash. Even the concept of a "Beit" HaMiqdash seems to imply something related to physical dimension. We commonly read such praises as Tehillim 68 [for one of many, many examples]which clearly seem to be describing some dominating form of a moving Presence, if not actual parades of mystical forces. When the Presence is said to exist in space and time, is that considered the same as "corporeality". Just wondering.

    Thanks,
    Gary Goldwater

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  7. I'm sorry to say, I must agree with the first comment.

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  8. Njn - I will have to check into the Ramban's letter again (I don't have access to it right now). But I am not claiming that Ramban suspected Rashi of being a corporealist. And given the nature of a case, I don't think that it is difficult to say that he didn't notice it; it's the kind of thing that one won't notice if one is not actively considering the question, and furthermore it's the convergence of evidence from multiple sources. Also, given the high esteem that Ramban held Rashi in, and his views on incorporeality, this would make it difficult for him to entertain the idea that Rashi was a corporealist; in the same way, I must note that the way you say "chas v'shalom" at taking anthropomorphisms at face value suggests that you have quite a strong bias against concluding that Rashi was a corporealist.

    Phil - I have heard people claim that there is no way to effectively resolve R. Tatz's view (which is presumably R. Moshe Shapiro's view) without effectively contradicting the unity of God.

    Gary - See Kellner, Maimonides Confrontation with Mysticism, for discussion of Shechinah.

    Mendy - endorsing a comment that doesn't say anything, doesn't contribute anything. If you didn't see a single argument, then you didn't read the article, or you are so predisposed against the conclusion that you cannot read it objectively.

    By the way, I notice that still nobody has offered a single counter-argument (other than "if Ramban didn't suspect it, who are you to suspect it"), contradicted my reading of any Rashis in the article, or found a single Rashi that indicates otherwise. And yet people are still arguing that I am wrong! I think that this is a great example of how people can be so shocked at the idea that Rashi could have come from a radically different intellectual climate, that they think that a conclusion is definitely false even without dealing with the arguments for that conclusion.

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  9. I think what Read the article meant, there are many circumstantial points alluding to the possibility of a belief in corporeality in early Jewish France, but there were no positive proofs that Rashi sided with that minority.

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  10. Phil said:

    If I understand R' Tatz correctly, he takes the expressions "God's
    hand" and "God's eyes" literally. If there's any metaphor going on,
    it is we humans who have the metaphoric hand and eyes. (Extending
    this thought, I suppose the whole universe would be, in a sense, a
    metaphor.) At the same time, he believes firmly that God is
    completely incorporeal, and that He is absolutely One. I believe he
    holds that the seeming contradiction is above humans to comprehend.


    I understand this to mean that the essence of hand/eye (or anything else) is spiritual, not physical; the physical hand and eye we're familiar with are abstractions. (Anti-abstractions?) But only the second kind is corporeal, so asserting that one has the first kind doesn't mean one is corporeal.

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  11. "or found a single Rashi that indicates otherwise."

    The burden of proof is not to prove Rashi not being a corporatist.

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  12. It is silly to cut-and-past the article into the comments. I brought several different lines of arguments based on numerous different citations from Rashi. Nobody has addressed any of them!

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  13. I enjoyed the article very much. However, I see where a lot of the nay-sayers are coming from. Given the controversial nature of the conclusion, proofs that are based on what Rashi *could* have said but didn't, or on a lack of an expected disclaimer in some of his comments, is a bit of a let down. Basically, everyone is waiting for the money-quote (so to speak) of Rashi saying "G-d has a guf". Such a clear-cut quote, however, does not seem to exist. (Neither does, as you point out, a clear cut quote of Rashi saying otherwise, that G-d is incorporeal.)

    Given the terseness of Rashi's writing, this might be all that we have to go on. Pinning specific hashkafic positions on Rashi is a tricky and subtle business.

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  14. I'm trying to remember which rabbi said that YKVK has the form of a man. What he said was that if you spell yud hay vav hay vertically, it looks like a human figure.

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  15. "Phil - I have heard people claim that there is no way to effectively resolve R. Tatz's view ... without effectively contradicting the unity of God."

    I'll have to check if R' Aryeh Kaplan, in his essay on paradoxes (in The Aryeh Kaplan Reader) includes this one. Apparently there are several paradoxes that Judaism has learned to live with.

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  16. proofs that are based on what Rashi *could* have said but didn't...

    It's much more than that - it's in cases where, based on Rashi's principles elsewhere, we would VERY much expect him to say something.

    Plus, there were other lines of evidence in the essay.

    It's really extraordinary that some people claimed that the article has no arguments! One might disagree with the arguments; one might even have reason to do so (though none have been offered). But to claim that there were no arguments.... !!!

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  17. Thanks for the tip to read Kellner on Maimonides. I've been wanting to read "Must A Jew Believe Anything" also.

    BTW, when I read the Rashi from the ArtScroll Saperstein Edition on Shemos 14:31...the reading is:

    "The great might that the hand of the Holy One, Blessed is He, performed. The term "hand" can have many meanings, but all of them derive from the literal sense [yad mamash] of the word hand. He who comes to explain it must adapt its meaning to the context."

    So, according to the Saperstein the Rashi is describing a variety of meaning...all of which are analagous to a real hand.

    This would not be a "conspicuous by absence" moment. It doesn't state a fundamental belief by Rashi regarding the term "yad". At the same time, the Saperstein interpretation would take one in a very different direction than the samples in your essay.

    Thanks for your work,
    Gary Goldwater

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  18. This article is on its way to being a fine piece of academic scholarship.
    Have you considered doing a PhD at Bar Ilan or Beer Sheva in Jewish Thought? Before taking on the big issues of rationalism, historicism, or philosophy of language, the technical knowledge will greatly help.

    yaakov

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  19. In your fine essay, you provide some evidence that Rashi believes in God's corporeality via his silence on certain pesukim (Tzurah doesn't like this approach so much). I was wondering if you sought out arguments that he did /not/ believe in God's corporeality via his silence on certain pesukim.

    I'd like to offer a possibility:
    In Deut 4:15, it says, "Be extremely cautious for your lives, for you did not see any image on the day"
    Now, if this passuk means, "Be extremely cautious for your lives, for you did not see any image on the day, for God has no image to see", then I could see why Rashi was silent. It's pretty simple. On the other hand, if this passuk means, "Be extremely cautious for your lives, for you did not see any image on the day, even though God /does/ have form," then I have a hard time seeing why Rashi would be silent. I could see Rashi pointing out several difficulties on this passuk if it meant this.

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    Replies
    1. Also, Rashi argues with Onkelos's targum, and at times explains his metaphoric language, as way of respect, as cited in the article, yet he doesn't argue with Onkelos' targum of feet as throne in exodus, or face as presence, also in exodus.

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  20. Perhaps all those people who disagree with this essay are concerned that if they mention a flaw with only one or two arguments (but not all of them), it will be perceived as conceding that the others are valid.
    They truly believe that NONE of the arguments are really valid and it is just a matter of time until this can be demonstrated.
    They just would rather sit and wait till that happens before they pick at specific points.

    With that in mind, here is my rebuttal to "one or two arguments":

    Re:Evidence #1 and Evidence #2

    You point out that Rashi's goal in both these areas was to minimize disrespect to the Creator.
    This was Rashi's sole objective.
    Therefore, the only thing you may conclude from this is that Rashi did not consider corporeality disrespectful per se.

    As long as Rashi makes sure the corporeality under discussion doesn't involve physical limitations or foibles attributable to the Creator, Rashi is NOT CONCERNED with corporeality per se.

    But It does NOT provide even indirect evidence that Rashi personally subscribed to it at all.

    I would say Rashi thought it was false, but not an ikkar. Similar to the Ra'avad's view.
    The theological message that anthropomorphism conveys to us (God is "directly" and "intimately" involved with the world and human affairs) is far more important to Rashi than getting across a fine point of theology.

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  21. There is one very simple approach that would answer all of these pieces of evidence. Hakadosh Baruch Hu wants us to KNOW that He has no form and at the same time have a MENTAL IMAGE of Him with some types of human form characteritics, so as to better relate to Him.

    Rashi doesn't bother to clarify that Hashem has no form because it is precisely that image that Hashem wanted us to conjure up of Him, despite it not being reality.

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  22. Please see the Rashi on Yeshayahu 43:12 -- on the phrase "attem eidai" "you are My witnesses..." Rashi explains that HaShem said to Bnei Yisrael, "I opened up for you the seven heavens, and you saw no image (temunah) whatsoever." Further, see Machzor Vitri (simman 426) who states "since the Tzur has no form or image, anyone who says this (implying that He does), we suspect that he is a heretic (Min)." Now, it's one thing to say that Rashi's beloved student may have disagreed with his rebbi about corporealism; however it's quite another thing to say that Rashi's beloved student would call his rebbi a heretic. I believe the "smoking gun" is now before us.

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  23. Rabbi Slifkin,
    I never thought that you were arguing that the Ramban claimed that Rashi is a corporealist. I am saying that given A) Ramban's great esteem for Rashi and B)the harshness which he attacks the corporealist position, it is impossible that he could have held that Rashi is a corporealist. You seem to be comfortable with asserting that the Ramban is biased against corporealism he was unable to see this theme in Rashi that you discovered.
    The key issue is interpretation of anthropomorphic statements. They are replete throughout tanach and chazal as is well known. (I'm not sure why you feel the need to quote the sefer Ikarim to point out that one chazal, interpreted literally, is threologically problematic. there are probably hundreds of such statements)You site in your essay Breshit 46:4 as evidence that Rashi did not try to reinterpret ANOCHI ERED, therefore he must take it literally. Yet Onkelos translates it literally as well. If you don't interpret Onkelos like Rambam in MN 1:27, then he also is apparently interpreting it literally. Yet no one would make such an accusation on onkelos as you note in your essay. I mention this to try to issustrate that evidence anthopomorphic statements do not necessarily prove belief in corporealism. And while certainly some scholars believed in some degree of corporealism, given the degree to which that position is attacked by gedolei harishonim would seem far more reasonable to interpret Rashi along the lines of the Ramban's general appraoch outlined in brashit 46:4.

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  24. I'm glad to see that some people are actually engaging the issues and providing responses to my arguments! Apparently the article did indeed contain some arguments!


    Isaac - Your counter-argument to why Rashi was only concerned about pesukim that imply a deficiency would be reasonable. However I find it difficult to imagine that Rashi would be less bothered by people believing in God being corporeal if he truly did not believe in it. More devastatingly, the fact is that Rashi also says "dibra Torah" in the case of the smoking nostrils, which is not a "deficiency." Also, you didn't address any of the other arguments.

    Mark, your solution does not work at all. Hashem also wanted us to have an image of Him with smoking nostrils, resting, etc., and yet in those cases Rashi said that it is not literal.

    Rabbi Zucker - I don't see why the Rashi in Yeshayah is anything mroe than the pasuk in Devarim. Also, the fact that his student rated it as heresy is an argument, and one that I myself acknowledged in the article, but far from conclusive, for two reasons: 1) Rashi had other students who actually took this view; 2) Rav Elyashiv said that it is "heresy" to believe that Chazal erred in science, yet that was his rebbe's approach!

    Njn - it's not that Ramban was unable to see it in Rashi; it's that unless one is actively considering the question, one would not reach that conclusion.
    With regard to Onkelos - his position is unclear, sometimes he avoids anthropomorphisms, and sometimes not. Perhaps one can say that some shed light on the others; I don't know. But with Rashi, we see a very clear pattern of his repeatedly stressing Dibra Torah in certain types of cases but not others. Plus, all the other pieces of evidence, which you did not address (and nor did anyone else, for that matter).

    I thank you all for raising interesting points for discussion. But, rabbosai, in my essay I categorized five different lines of evidence. Any proposed answer has to work with all of them and with all of the citations from Rashi.

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  25. "Rabbi Zucker - I don't see why the Rashi in Yeshayah is anything mroe than the pasuk in Devarim. Also, the fact that his student rated it as heresy is an argument, and one that I myself acknowledged in the article"

    I think the pasuk in Devarim is 4:15, but your article doesn't mention it. (Half-jokingly, I feel slighted that you didn't comment on my last comment.)

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  26. I think that the passuk reads equally well either way.

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  27. "Apparently the article did indeed contain some arguments!"

    Not all arguments are arguments, "Disguised Nonarguments--We shall begin by examining several patters that are commonly used to disguise sets of statements that do not in fact constitute arguments at all, but appear to the casual reader or listener to be arguments." (page 538, Logic 4th Edition, R. Baum) Other works, I believe, call this category Fallacies of Relevance. Incidentally and argument from silence is not included in this category of fallacies. :)

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  28. Mark, your solution does not work at all. Hashem also wanted us to have an image of Him with smoking nostrils, resting, etc., and yet in those cases Rashi said that it is not literal.

    Rashi is saying that in those cases he did NOT want us to have such an image and it was only to placate our ear. But in terms of His form Hashem DID want us to have such an image and instill it in our minds while KNOWING it to be untrue.

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  29. Any other readers who'd like to share their opinion?
    Also, R' Slifkin, how about the first paragraph of my post at July 23, 8:51 AM?

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  30. Rabbi Slifkin:
    >>"However I find it difficult to imagine that Rashi would be less bothered by people believing in God being corporeal if he truly did not believe in it."


    I alluded to this in my earlier response. It was more important for Rashi to maintain the impact of the anthropomorphisms on the reader that to weaken it with a disclaimer that God isn't a corporeal being.


    >>"More devastatingly, the fact is that Rashi also says "dibra Torah" in the case of the smoking nostrils, which is not a "deficiency.""

    I think it is. Ever see someone get really angry and go into a rage? They look foolish and childish. Perhaps Rashi came across someone who poked fun at this verse.
    That "cartoon image" of God needs to be tempered by Rashi with a reminder that this graphic description is only a metaphor.


    >>"Also, you didn't address any of the other arguments."


    I see you didn't read my earlier response very carefully.

    If I may address your comments to NjN which I am in agreement with:

    >>"Njn - it's not that Ramban was unable to see it in Rashi; it's that unless one is actively considering the question, one would not reach that conclusion."


    If the Ramban was aware of this belief regarding some French rabbis and attacked it vehemently,
    why wouldn't he be "actively considering the question" when it came to Rashi?


    >>"With regard to Onkelos - his position is unclear, sometimes he avoids anthropomorphisms, and sometimes not. Perhaps one can say that some shed light on the others; I don't know. But with Rashi, we see a very clear pattern of his repeatedly stressing Dibra Torah in certain types of cases but not others."


    This was addressed by me. I explained that pattern and it cannot be grounds for concluding that Rashi personally was a corporealist.



    >>"Plus, all the other pieces of evidence, which you did not address (and nor did anyone else, for that matter).

    I thank you all for raising interesting points for discussion. But, rabbosai, in my essay I categorized five different lines of evidence. Any proposed answer has to work with all of them and with all of the citations from Rashi."


    Why do you demand this? Perhaps there are five different answers that can be used on a case by case basis?
    Just because you found a pattern that strings them all together doesn't mean it is more likely to be true.
    Rashi is not a law of physics. He may have been inconsistent like Onklelos was, or was reacting selectively due to some contemporaneous factors that we don't appreciate because of our historical distance.

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  31. Rashi is saying that in those cases he did NOT want us to have such an image and it was only to placate our ear. But in terms of His form Hashem DID want us to have such an image and instill it in our minds while KNOWING it to be untrue. - Mark

    This seems way too convoluted, and there is no hint of it in Rashi. Where do we see that Hashem did not want us to have an image of His smoking nostrils? Rashi is saying that they do not actually smoke, not that Hashem did not want us to have an image of that; on the contrary, that is pretty much what Dibra Torah means - that Hashem wanted us to have an image of that!
    Furthermore, how can you (and Rashi) take it for granted that in the case of form, "Hashem DID want us to have such an image and instill it in our minds while KNOWING it to be untrue," without specifying that it is untrue? All the other Rishonim had to specify that it is untrue, and this would be all the more necessary for Rashi, who lived in a place where there were known corporealists!

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  32. Phil - do you mean your question if I sought out counter-proofs? Of course I did, to the best of my ability. I wouldn't want to overlook things that others would bring up!

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  33. It was more important for Rashi to maintain the impact of the anthropomorphisms on the reader that to weaken it with a disclaimer that God isn't a corporeal being. - Isaac

    Again, as said to Mark, considering that Rambam, Onkelos etc. felt it important to point out that God is not corporeal, and we know that Northern France did have many people who subscribed to this belief, it would be all the more important for Rashi to do so. At least once!!!

    Ever see someone get really angry and go into a rage? They look foolish and childish. Perhaps Rashi came across someone who poked fun at this verse.
    That "cartoon image" of God needs to be tempered by Rashi with a reminder that this graphic description is only a metaphor.


    In Warner Bros. cartoons, it looks foolish. In the Torah, it looks serious, and that is exactly why (according to everyone) the Torah employs this imagery.

    If the Ramban was aware of this belief regarding some French rabbis and attacked it vehemently,
    why wouldn't he be "actively considering the question" when it came to Rashi?


    Good point. But I think that in the times of the Rishonim, people evaluated commentaries on a case-by-case basis. The idea of looking for overall patterns of thought is a new form of analysis. Consider how in ancient times they dealt with issues of why one parsha is adjacent to another, but rarely or never with questions of overall structure.

    Why do you demand this? Perhaps there are five different answers that can be used on a case by case basis?

    Absolutely. My point is that there are five different sets of evidence, but some people here seem to think that once they have countered one set, they have proved their case.

    Just because you found a pattern that strings them all together doesn't mean it is more likely to be true. Rashi is not a law of physics.

    Well, I would dispute that; but in any case, people have not countered the five sets of evidence.

    He may have been inconsistent like Onklelos was, or was reacting selectively due to some contemporaneous factors that we don't appreciate because of our historical distance.

    With ANY proof of ANYTHING one can ALWAYS say "perhaps there is some other explanation that we are unaware of." Perhaps; but we work with what is most reasonable. Of course, if one considers it a priori unacceptable to conclude that Rashi is a corporealist, then there is no real analysis taking place and the entire exercise is futile.

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  34. I apologize for not being clearer in my earlier post. The Rashi in Yeshayahu that I cited is NOT akin to the passuk in Devarim. In Devarim, one could say that "you saw no image" doesn't necessarily mean that there wasn't any image; it may mean that there was in fact an image but you didn't see it (I reject this interpretation; but let's go with it for the sake of this discussion). However, in Yeshayahu, the passuk, according to Rashi, is "you are my witnesses in that I opened up the heavens for you and you saw no image whatsoever." Now, if there was in fact an image, but we didn't see it, then what kind of witnesses are we? That would be akin to a murderer bringing a group of blind people before a judge and saying, "these are my witnesses; they were present at the time of the alleged murder, and they saw nothing!"

    As to the Machzor Vitry argument - the fact there MAY have been other students of Rashi who were corporealists, and the Machzor Vitry labels this view as heresy is not relevant to my argument. The idea of the talmid referring to his rebbi, one of the ba'alei hammesorah as a heretic is the problem. Your argument from Rav Elyashiv is not, to my mind, compelling. Were we to ask Rav Elyashiv directly, "Do you maintain that your rebbi was an apikoros?" what should expect him to answer? If he says yes, then we would be reasonable in inferring that Rav Elyashiv would maintain that we should not learn from the teachings of his rebbi who is outside the camp of Klal Yisroel. Is that what the Machzor Vitry would say about Rashi? Hard to believe, since he quotes Rashi profusely. On the other hand, Rav Elyashiv might respond about his rebbi, "kish'gaggah she-yotza milifnei hashallit." Now, while this may apply to our contemporary great people in basic areas of Torah, it is hard to imagine that the Machzor Vitry would say that Rashi is guilty of "kish'gaggah..." with regard to a fundamental principle about HaShem.

    There comes a point that the weight of the evidence must be judged by an objective mind. Arguing that Rashi was a corporealist from evidence that he SHOULD have made comments in certain areas but didn't, versus evidence that Rashi said explicitly that the fact that Bnei Yisrael saw no image is a testimony about HaShem, and Rashi's beloved student saying that anyone who says that HaShem has an image is outside the parameters of Klal Yisroel -- which according to your view must have been said about his own rebbi, the great Rashi) -- I think the weight of the evidence is clear. Remember, the Rambam famously pointed out that people can wind up interpreting facts in any way they wish -- the notzrim looked at the passuk of Shema' Yisroel HaShem Elokeinu HaShem Echad and saw in it the false notion of the trinity.

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  35. > "Phil - do you mean your question if I sought out counter-proofs? Of course I did, to the best of my ability. I wouldn't want to overlook things that others would bring up!"

    I was talking specifically about counterproofs that use Rashi's silence as evidence. Since none appeared in your essay, I couldn't tell.

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  36. R' Slifkin,

    Insisting that all arguments be addressed at once is a bit unfair. Of course each of the arguments can be addressed individually! A paper with 5 arguments, but with 2 or 3 of them under active debate is still a good paper, but it's certainly not as strong as when all 5 are undebated.

    In addition, this forum is probably the most friendly public forum for you to discuss the paper substantively. The commenters aren't claiming to knock down you whole paper with their kashas. The readers here are bringing some good guestions, and I expect a scholar like yourself to be a bit more gracious (and less defensive) with accepting substantive feedback.

    (Also, these are blog comments, not articles or book chapters. You can't knock people here for failing to write a 20-page treatise dealing with every argument you bring.)

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  37. This seems way too convoluted, and there is no hint of it in Rashi.

    There's no hint of anything about G-d's corporeality in Rashi either.

    Where do we see that Hashem did not want us to have an image of His smoking nostrils? Rashi is saying that they do not actually smoke, not that Hashem did not want us to have an image of that; on the contrary, that is pretty much what Dibra Torah means - that Hashem wanted us to have an image of that!

    No it isn't what it means. It means that G-d had to state it some way that we could understand it, but once we understand it the actual image is completely dispensable.

    But in the case of G-d having a form it isn't merely that Hashem wanted us to understand and had to come up with some way to say it, he actually said exactly how He wanted us to conceive of Him, while recognizing that it is false. It is like "Tzadikkim sit with crowns on their heads" - that's not just some way to explain it to us - that's exactly the imagery Chazal want us to retain and to relate to.

    Furthermore, how can you (and Rashi) take it for granted that in the case of form, "Hashem DID want us to have such an image and instill it in our minds while KNOWING it to be untrue," without specifying that it is untrue? All the other Rishonim had to specify that it is untrue, and this would be all the more necessary for Rashi, who lived in a place where there were known corporealists!

    You can't take anything for granted. Rashi doesn't engage in philosophical debates in his Perushim. He explains Pshat.

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  38. "and we know that Northern France did have many people who subscribed to this belief, it would be all the more important for Rashi to do so."

    1) Your case is based upon this being true, however you never established it other than a suspicion. You have never proven it was prevalent enough to require Rashi to state otherwise.

    2) The object of Rashi's perush is to explain the pesukim, where do you see anywhere that Rashi went out of his way to correct a misconception?

    3) All of your evidence is based on the strong possibility of Rashi being a corporealist, so therefore all your evidence is weak.

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  39. Rabbi Slifkin,
    In your essay you clearly state that Onkelos strove to distance corporeal descriptions of G-D. Yet now you are not sure? I don't think there is anyone that argues Onkelos' position. I again encourage you to reread the Ramban's letter and rethink your charachterization of how widespread the corporealist position is. I still maintain that you have greatly distorted his meaning. Ramban is clearly margainilizing the corporealist position. He not denying that it exists, but is asserting that it is totally wrong and has no basis in our mesora.

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  40. Rabbi Slifkin:

    Suppose Rashi was a corporealist. Suppose he was not a corporealist.

    What's the Nafkeh Menah?


    (I don't mean this facetiously or confrontationally. Aside from being interesting to consider, how would Rashi being a corporealist or not change anything?)

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  41. The commenters aren't claiming to knock down you whole paper with their kashas.

    Some of them are very much talking as though they believe themselves to be doing this.

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  42. Rabbi Zucker - I will look into the Yeshayah topic.
    Re. Machzor Vitry - I agree that it is a reasonable argument, but I do not see it as dispositive.

    There comes a point that the weight of the evidence must be judged by an objective mind. Arguing that Rashi was a corporealist from evidence that he SHOULD have made comments in certain areas but didn't, versus...

    As I stated before, please remember that this is NOT the only evidence. See the other sets of evidence in the essay, including Rashi describing a dead person's face decomposing as them losing their image of God. If you are weighing up evidence, it has to ALL be weighed up.

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  43. "and we know that Northern France did have many people who subscribed to this belief, it would be all the more important for Rashi to do so."

    1) Your case is based upon this being true, however you never established it other than a suspicion. You have never proven it was prevalent enough to require Rashi to state otherwise.


    Please see all the sources that I cited in the essay. There is much testimony about this. And we are told that Rashi's talmid, Ri bar Shimshon, was a corporealist.

    2) The object of Rashi's perush is to explain the pesukim, where do you see anywhere that Rashi went out of his way to correct a misconception?

    In all the cases where he says "dibra Torah lesaber es ha-ozen."

    3) All of your evidence is based on the strong possibility of Rashi being a corporealist, so therefore all your evidence is weak.

    I do not understand what you are saying at all. Of course if it is, for some external reason, impossible for Rashi to have been a corporealist, then all the evidence would have to be reinterpreted or remain a mystery. But since we have testimony from the Rishonim that many Torah scholars in France were corporealists, then the evidence stands.
    What I would say is that anyone here who is strongly ideologically opposed to Rashi being a corporealist cannot trust themselves to be evaluating the evidence honestly.

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  44. In your essay you clearly state that Onkelos strove to distance corporeal descriptions of G-D. Yet now you are not sure? I don't think there is anyone that argues Onkelos' position.

    I have seen some discussion about Onkelos being inconsistent in this regard, and I haven't studied enough of Onkelos' comments to be able to say.

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  45. ...he actually said exactly how He wanted us to conceive of Him, while recognizing that it is false.

    Are you suggesting this as a possibility, or saying that Rashi believed it to be false? Do you have any reason to say that Rashi believed it to be false? How do you explain his comments on the decomposing face?

    Rashi doesn't engage in philosophical debates in his Perushim. He explains Pshat.

    But we see in many cases that where pshat would lead to theological errors, he goes out of his way to caution his readers. That's not "debates."

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  46. "Rashi doesn't engage in philosophical debates in his Perushim. He explains Pshat.

    But we see in many cases that where pshat would lead to theological errors, he goes out of his way to caution his readers. That's not "debates.""

    Its been a little while since I was reading on the topic but even conceding that Rashi had a progressive clarity in his understanding and approach to peshat which is evident in his peirush, I don't think one would find a black and white forumla on when Rashi should offer a more litteral approach and when he would return to a more midrashic approach. Likewise, even though one may find patterns I don't think that they could be used to definitively predict when Rashi will essentially reject a midrash he chose to bring down. Likewise, while I can see your point about when he chose to explain away some anthropomorphic readings I'm still highly skeptical that it isn't an argument from silence to infer what he "should" comment where he to object to corporealism.

    I would likewise note that the examples you mention, in this regard at least, seem to me to fit the view of the Ra'avad. I could very see, in theory, the Ra'avad deciding to object to such overtly anthropomorphic descriptions while at the same time not being so concerned about "merely" corporealist even though he felt the approach was incorrect.

    I also think the evidence of the Machzor Vitri is a little stronger than you do and I don't think your teirutz regarding Rav Elyashiv shlita is all that convincing. After all he has, as I recall, qualified his appellation of heresy as lav davka while I see no such indication of the term being used loosely by the Vitri.

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  47. Hi, in your July 24, 5:26 AM post, you wrote "2) Rav Elyashiv said that it is "heresy" to believe that Chazal erred in science, yet that was his rebbe's approach!"

    Are you sure you worded that correctly? After all, on your site,
    http://www.zootorah.com/controversy/ravelyashiv.html you wrote, "This further confirms my understanding that Rav Elyashiv does not consider (my books) to be bona fide heresy, merely severely inappropriate for his community. "

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  48. "According to Rashi, the Targum is not giving a clarification, but instead is using a euphemism; a polite fiction instead of the description recorded by Scripture. (In other places, Rashi states that the Sages actually changed the words of the Torah in order to make it more respectful
    vis-à-vis God.38)" -- from p. 95 of your essay.

    But isn't it true that the expression "emendation of the scribes" can mean something else? As the Metzudah Chumash writes: "I.e., it is so written out of respect and reverence for G-d, for it is not fitting to say that G-d waited for Avraham. The commentaries (Mizrachi, etc.) stress that this is not to say that the text of the Torah was tampered with (Heaven forbid) but, that the Torah wrote it in a way comparable to how Scribes would amend the statement of a king to render it more respectful. "

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  49. Phil - Good point!

    Pliny - It is true that others interpret the phrase "emendation of the scribes" differently. However, Rashi (contrary to popular belief) interprets it in this way, as we see from his saying that "they changed the order of the words." There is an article on this in an earlier volume of Hakirah, available online.

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  50. Rabbi Slifkin,

    Thank you for your responses to the points I raised. You wrote,

    "I will look into the Yeshayah topic."

    I look forward to your response on that issue.

    Further, you wrote,

    "Re. Machzor Vitry - I agree that it is a reasonable argument, but I do not see it as dispositive."

    Please explain why not.

    Finally, you wrote,

    "As I stated before, please remember that this is NOT the only evidence. See the other sets of evidence in the essay, including Rashi describing a dead person's face decomposing as them losing their image of God. If you are weighing up evidence, it has to ALL be weighed up."

    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? And if this is indeed a logical possibility as to how Rashi could be learning, (along with the possibility that he is learning the way that you interpreted) then citing that Rashi is no longer evidence that he is a corporealist. It is merely a quote that can be interpreted "corporealistically" or "incoporealistically" depending upon one's view about Rashi as a(n) (in)corporealist. The quote itself is no longer a viable piece of evidence. That being the case, I reiterate that the Rashi in Yeshayahu and the Machzor Vitry's statement about corporealism as Minnus are indeed evidence -- of Rashi's incorporealism.

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  51. here is the article, starting on page five in the text and footnotes:

    http://www.hakirah.org/Vol%205%20Lieberman.pdf

    kt,
    josh

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  52. Rabbi Slifkin -- I hope you keep your word & look into the Yeshayahu evidence. I think it just shows the weakness of the article that such a strong piece of evidence was not brought down.

    But just as you write that anyone "ideologically opposed to Rashi being a corporealist cannot trust themselves to be evaluating the evidence honestly" I have my doubts about anyone who wrote an article trying to prove that Rashi was can honestly evaluate the opposing evidence. I hope you prove me wrong.

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  53. >>"Rashi (contrary to popular belief) interprets it in this way, as we see from his saying that "they changed the order of the words."<<

    This is not so cut and dry. There are two versions in manuscript and Mizrachi chose one. I believe Tzeida Laderech and Gur Aryeh chose the other.
    See this post (especially the edits at the end):

    http://elucidation-not-translation.blogspot.com/2006/06/artscroll-rashi-on-tikkunei-soferim.html

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  54. Rabbi Slifkin,
    It seems that the approach here you are taking to defend the critiques of your article is much different than the approach you took defending your books. To defend your books you rightly demonstrated how your approach is solidly grounded in the works of many Ba'alei HaMasorah. Yet, to defend critiques of this essay, you are forced to say that the Ramban has a biased view of Rashi so he couldn't see this theme in Rashi, Machzor Vitry is unaware of the position of his Rebbe, Onkelos has an ambiguous positon on this issue,contrary to Rambam, Ramban, etc... To justify the assertions of this essay you seem to need to back yourself in a corner.
    Rather, it seems far more reasonable to view the statements of Rashi from your essay in a broader context as Rabbi Zucker has outlined.

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  55. Rabbi Slifkin,

    I wanted to first preface my remarks by mentioning that it is with great trepidation that I wade in to, even make a small point,amongst such great minds, but I think that it is (perhaps separate) but still a matter that I feel I must ask you, thank you in advance for allowing me.

    You mention at the outset of your piece, whilst attempting to show that there were those within the Mesora that held from the possibility of corporeality of the creator, that the Ra'avad
    "Famously disputes the Rambams classification of Corporealists as heretics, stating 'greater and better people than the Rambam", this is something that many people have used to bolster the claims of the corporealist side and I am troubled that you glossed over this important quote.

    The Ra'avad in its entirety as found in the standard text :

    והואמר שיש שם רבון אהד אלא שהוא גוף ובעל תמונה. א"א ולמה קרא לזה מין וכמה גדולים וטובים ממנו הלכו בזו המחשבה לפי מה שראו במקראות ויותר ממה שראו בדברי האגדות המשבשות את הדעות

    What those who make your argument failed to leave in ( granted again, it was an aside but included nonetheless ) was the last half of the Ra'avad's statement after " greater than he", namely his explanation, " Because of what they saw from the Mikra, and even more so from that which they saw in the Agadot, which DISTORT THE DEOT"

    Including the Ra'avad in an abridged form changes the implications of his statement, the Ra'avad says that these people have distorted ideas that they came to from a literalist reading of the verses! Now, I am a mere student, but it would seem that the inclusion of the phrase " Hemeshabshot es Hadeot" completely changes the tone and tenor of the quote and makes it seem more that the Ra'avad is openly rejecting the corporealist in terms of THEOLOGY whilst making a HALACHICK point of disagreement with the Great Eagle.

    I would also point to the Kesef Mishna on this quote who says

    כתב הראב"ד "ולמה קרה לזה מין וכו' .המשבשות את הדעות עכ"ל.
    ויש לתמוה על פה קדוש איך יקרא לאומרים שהוא בעל גוף ובעל תמונה גדולים וטובים ממנו . ואפשר שעיקר הנוסחא כמו שכתוב בספר העיקרים פ"ב ממ"א וז"ל. א"א אע"פ שעיקר האמונה כן הוא המאמין היותו גוף מצד תפיסתו לשונות הפסוקים והמדרשות כפשטן אין ראוי לקרותו מין .

    The mechaber was clearly bothered by what could be a reading of the Ra'avad that would cause one to think C"V that he was soft on corporealism and instead disregards this girsa!

    Again, Thank you for your honest and open debating of these issues, I hope that my minor point, is not viewed as nit picking but as a sincere desire to work this out with you....

    Thanks,

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  56. With regard to the following comment made much earlier:

    “there are many circumstantial points alluding to the possibility of a belief in corporeality in early Jewish France, but there were no positive proofs that Rashi sided with that minority.”

    I don’t know what you mean by “circumstantial,” “possibility” and “minority.” According to R. Shmuel ben Mordechai of Marseilles, the majority of Torah scholars in northern France believed in a corporeal God.

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  57. >>"Rashi (contrary to popular belief) interprets it in this way, as we see from his saying that "they changed the order of the words."<<

    >This is not so cut and dry. There are two versions in manuscript and Mizrachi chose one. I believe Tzeida Laderech and Gur Aryeh chose the other.
    See this post (especially the edits at the end):
    http://elucidation-not-translation.blogspot.com/2006/06/artscroll-rashi-on-tikkunei-soferim.html


    I saw the post, and the comments, as well as the article in Hakirah, and the arguments overwhelmingly favor the conclusion that the text of Rashi stating that “Chazal altered the order of the words” is accurate.

    ReplyDelete
  58. Machzor Vitri (simman 426) who states "since the Tzur has no form or image, anyone who says this (implying that He does), we suspect that he is a heretic (Min)." Now, it's one thing to say that Rashi's beloved student may have disagreed with his rebbi about corporealism; however it's quite another thing to say that Rashi's beloved student would call his rebbi a heretic.

    I do not have access to Machzor Vitri right now, but this citation and interpretation seems exceedingly strange. If “saying that the Tzur has a form” mean “saying that God is corporeal,” and if R. Simcha Vitry held that it is heretical to believe that God is corporeal, then why would he say that we SUSPECT someone who says this of being a heretic? The person IS a heretic! I very much want to check this in the original and see if there is something that sheds light on it.

    Rabbi Zucker, I will address your other comments in a new post.

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  59. you are forced to say that the Ramban has a biased view of Rashi so he couldn't see this theme in Rashi,

    It's not quite like that. It's the sort of thing that emerges from looking at Rashi in a broader context in light of this question, which Ramban never had particular reason to do.

    Machzor Vitry is unaware of the position of his Rebbe,

    I'm still looking into that one. But we do have T. Moshe Taku's testimony that another of Rashi's talmidim was a corporealist. How do you explain that?

    Onkelos has an ambiguous positon on this issue,

    Why is that a problem with my position?

    contrary to Rambam, Ramban, etc...

    Why is that a problem with my position?

    To justify the assertions of this essay you seem to need to back yourself in a corner. Rather, it seems far more reasonable to view the statements of Rashi from your essay in a broader context as Rabbi Zucker has outlined.

    But this does not remotely satisfactorily address all the evidence from the statements of Rashi himself. All your arguments are from external sources, not from Rashi himself. Read the essay again, and see the forthcoming posts.

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  60. "I'm still looking into that one. But we do have T. Moshe Taku's testimony that another of Rashi's talmidim was a corporealist. How do you explain that?"

    2nd hand? Hearsay? Not to totally dismiss it but does it really stand up to a first hand account?

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  61. R. Moshe Taku lived almost at the same time. And you don't have a first hand account that Rashi was not a corporealist!

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  62. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

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  63. "R. Moshe Taku lived almost at the same time. And you don't have a first hand account that Rashi was not a corporealist!"

    Uh, as I understand what you wrote R. Moshe Taku is a second hand account of the opinion of a talmid of Rashi, not of Rashi's opinion.

    The Vitri is a first hand account of a talmid of Rashi. No?

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  64. Hello, two comments:

    1. It is inherently easier to show that a Midrashic interpreter rejects anthropomorphism than to show that he accepts it. The raw material is often anthropomorphic; one who goes to the trouble of reinterpreting it clearly shows his discomfort for anthropomorphic understandings. But one who retains the anthropomorphisms may intend them to be taken figuratively, just as he thinks the midrash meant them. I believe a number of your textual readings do not take this last point into account.

    2. You say that Rashi's use of a figurative interpretation in some places only means that in all other places he adopts the anthropomorphic interpretation. This argument relies on the assumption of consistency between his comments. But there are Rashis in other places, on other topics, that seem to clearly contradict one another, and thus undermine your assumption.

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  65. Yirmiahu - what I meant was that the Vitri is not a first hand account of what Rashi held - it's a first hand account of what Vitri held!

    Anonymous - I will read your document and respond to it. Thank you.

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  66. Rabbi Slifkin,

    Your question of July 28 4:41 a.m. is understandable given that you do not have access presently to the Machzor Vitry. The Machzor Vitry states that anyone who says something which IMPLIES that the Creator has a form, is SUSPECTED of being a "min." He is SUSPECTED as such because his words IMPLIED the attribution of a form to the Creator; they did not state so unequivocally. The implication, of course, is that according to the Machzor Vitry, had the person said unequivocally that the Creator has a form, he would not be suspected of being a "min" -- rather he would in fact BE a "min". I believe that answers your question.

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  67. Anonymous - please resubmit your document to Scribd with a name on it. If you don't want to use your real name, use a pseudonym.

    ReplyDelete
  68. "Yirmiahu - what I meant was that the Vitri is not a first hand account of what Rashi held - it's a first hand account of what Vitri held!"

    And R. Moshe Taku is NOT a first hand account of what a Talmid of Rashi said. That was my point.

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  69. http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=33694&pgnum=1

    There are several versions of MV online at HB.

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  70. Rabbi Slifkin, I've posted the document up with my name. I did not mean to log in anonymously before - not sure why that happened.

    Here is the document:

    http://bit.ly/z5ztq

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  71. Another Rashi which distances corporeality is Rashi on Breishis 1:26 "Naaseh Adam" where Rashi states
    "We learn God's humilty from here. Since man is in angelic form and they were jealous of him therefore God asked for their opinion. And when He judges kings he asks his "court", since this is what we see with regard to Achav, that Michah said to him "I saw Hashem sitting on his throne and all of the heavenly legions were standing to his right and to his left" but is there left and right in front of Him? rather these "on the right" were for innocence and "on the left" for guilt"

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  72. Good find, Jacob.
    That verse seems like one that would come to mind immediately upon deciding to write an article on God and corporeality. I'm really surprised R' Slifkin didn't address it in his article.

    http://www.chabad.org/library/bible_cdo/aid/8165/showrashi/true for a convenient link to this Rashi on Gen 1:26.

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  73. I didn't address it because I didn't know about it?

    It's a good find, and a legitimate counter-argument. Yasher koach. However it's still not dispositive. First of all, it's a quote from a Midrash - which the corporealists presumably also learned. Second, it doesn't say why there is no right and left. Maybe it's because God is outside of the realm under discussion. It's talking about the throne, which apparently in heichalic talk, was the place from which one sees God, not the place where he is. But this needs further research. Good find!

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  74. "If I understand R' Tatz correctly, he takes the expressions "God's
    hand" and "God's eyes" literally. If there's any metaphor going on,
    it is we humans who have the metaphoric hand and eyes. (Extending
    this thought, I suppose the whole universe would be, in a sense, a
    metaphor.)"

    "Phil - I have heard people claim that there is no way to effectively resolve R. Tatz's view (which is presumably R. Moshe Shapiro's view) without effectively contradicting the unity of God."

    I didn't read R. Tatz's book, but I believe the following sources take the approach:

    R. Yosef Bloch(or perhaps his son) in Shiurei Daas, Shaloh and R. Gifter, the latter both quoted in the Artscroll Overview to Shir Hashirim(R. Gifter's comments there are in original Hebrew).

    It's been a while since I've seen these sources, but I believe they all follow what's quoted here from R. Tatz.

    I would suggest looking at the essay in Shiurie Daas by R. Bloch where the point is developed at length.

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  75. Pliny,
    I was also surprised that Rabbi Slifkin didn't notice it since one of his "proofs" was based on a Rashi later in the same Pasuk.

    Rabbi Slifkin
    I don't understand your response, in terms of the Corporealists how do you know if they held by this midrash? They knew that there were incorporealists, maybe they thought that this midrash was written by an incorporealist?

    Why isn't it conclusive? what other reasons based on "Heichalot" are you referring to? Also based on the Pasuk, God was definitely there since Michah said that he saw God sitting on the throne.

    If God has a body why can't there be Malachim to his right and left? Doesn't every body and shape have a right side and a left side?

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  76. While I haven't formulated my thoughts on your entire article, I'm fairly certain now that your conspicuous absence argument is an argument from silence

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  77. What are your thoughts on Rashi on Megillah 21a? From a bird's eye view of your article you don't seem to address it, and I don't recall it having been brought up so far.

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  78. http://yediah.blogspot.co.il/2011/07/rabbi-moshe-ben-chasdai-taku-circa-1200.html

    any response that rmt was not a corporealist

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  79. I have translated the entire text of Ktav Tamim and it's abundantly clear to me that RMT was a corporealist.

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  80. is kesav tomim translation available on line . if so where

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  81. I think it's at http://www.seforimonline.org

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