Rewriting Jewish Intellectual History: A Review of Sefer Chaim Be’Emunasom
Part 5: Rambam and Demons
On p. 290-291 R. Schmeltzer cites the Vilna Gaon’s well-known declaration that Rambam was led astray by the “accursed philosophy” to deny the existence of demons and other such phenomena. Of course it is not acceptable, even in R. Schmeltzer’s circles, to simply dismiss the Rambam in this way, and so in the footnotes, R. Schmeltzer cites numerous views which explain that Rambam did not really deny the existence of demons. (There are, in fact, many more such views beyond those cited by R. Schmeltzer.) So R. Schmeltzer presents the reader with two options: either Rambam was perverting Judaism, or he has been misunderstood and did not really deny demons. R. Schmeltzer is forced into this view because his book’s fundamental point is that everyone is unequivocally obligated to accept the truth of everything in the Gemara.
Noticeably absent from the numerous sources cited by R. Schmeltzer are the views of the Gerona kabbalist R. Shlomo b. Meshullam da Piera, R. Yosef b. Shem Tov, R. Yosef Shalom Delmedigo, R. Aviad Sar-Shalom Basilea, Abarbanel, R. Yosef Ergas, R. Yosef Shaul Nathanson, and R. Menashe ben Yisrael, all of whom note that Rambam indeed denied the existence of demons, and most of whom did not consider Rambam to have thereby perverted Judaism.
Since this topic has not been raised in the controversy over my works, and I have not written on it until now, it is possible that R. Schmeltzer and his maskimim were entirely unaware of these sources. I would hope that these sources will be given due consideration, including their ramifications for the book’s entire thesis.
Furthermore, the Vilna Gaon himself was unambiguous in his view of Rambam’s position in these matters – that Rambam was led astray by the accursed philosophy to deny the existence of demons and other such phenomena, even though their existence is attested to in the Gemara. R. Schmeltzer clarifies in a footnote that the Vilna Gaon did not mean to denigrate Rambam himself, Heaven forbid, and reports the account of how the Vilna Gaon spoke highly of the Rambam and wished to share his portion in the World-to-Come. Yet first of all, this story appears to be nothing more than a folktale, with no authentic basis. Second, the Vilna Gaon quite clearly meant to condemn Rambam’s position as a denial of the truth of the Talmudic accounts. Thus, R. Schmelzer is saying that if the Vilna Gaon’s understanding of Rambam is correct (and most would indeed agree that Rambam was influenced by Aristotelian philosophy), Rambam’s views are to be considered invalid, even heretical. But in citing the Vilna Gaon’s position authoritatively, R. Schmeltzer is overlooking the fact that there was a prominent Rishon who argued with the Gaon’s condemnation: Rambam himself. He did not feel that he had been led astray to pervert the Torah! Is the Vilna Gaon of so much greater stature than Rambam for R. Schmeltzer to say that he is able to absolutely disqualify Rambam’s views?!
 In Yediyot HaMachon LeCheker HaShirah HaIvrit 4 (1938) pp. 33, 55. This and the following sources are taken from Marc Shapiro, Maimonides and his Interpreters, pp. 105-108.
 His comment is printed in his translation of Crescas’ Bittul Ikkarei HaNotzrim p. 93.
 Eilim (Amsterdam 1628) p. 83.
 Emunas Chachamim p. 15b.
 Commentary to Devarim 18:9, p. 173.
 Shomer Emunim, p. 11.
 Responsa Shoel U’Meishiv 4:87.
 Nishmas Chayyim 3:12.
 See R. Yisrael Yaakov Dinstag, “Was the Gra Opposed to the Philosophical Approach of the Rambam?” [Hebrew], Talpiot 4:1-2 (Tammuz 5709) p. 254.