Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Rambam’s Moreh Nevuchim

Rewriting Jewish Intellectual History: A Review of Sefer Chaim Be’Emunasom

Part 6: Rambam’s Moreh Nevuchim


Chapters 66 through 70 are devoted to the Moreh Nevuchim, which is the thorn in the side of anyone trying to deny the authenticity of the rationalist approach. After all, in the Moreh Nevuchim, Rambam does everything that R. Schmeltzer defines as being heretical: denying the truth of some of Chazal’s statements, interpreting many of Chazal’s statements allegorically, deriving truth from secular philosophy, and interpreting many parts of the Written Torah allegorically. R. Schmeltzer provides several ways of doing away with the Moreh:

· It was written merely for outreach (and cannot be taken as either Rambam’s own approach, or as a legitimate approach at all; according to this, it is apparently acceptable to teach heresy for the sake of outreach).

· Its true meaning is in its secret kabbalistic depths (and it cannot be interpreted in the way that it was interpreted by Rambam’s official translator Shmuel Ibn Tibbon and hundreds of years of subsequent interpretation).

· It was written before the revelations of kabbalah (pp. 276, 291).[1]

R. Schmeltzer is free to follow those approaches. However to claim that these are the only possibilities, and that the Moreh (with a non-kabbalistic interpretation) is not considered by any authority to represent a legitimate approach within Judaism, is unacceptable. Especially with regard to the statements in the Moreh Nevuchim that we are discussing – those noting that some scientific pronouncements of Chazal were in error – there have been many, many authorities in more recent generations who took the same approach in these matters.[2]


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[1] I must confess that I find it odd that in certain circles it is acceptable to say that Rishonim were ignorant of the revelations of kabbalah, but not to say that they were unaware of the discoveries of modern science.

[2] For example, R. Yair Chaim Bacharach, Rav Hirsch, Maharam Schick, Ben Ish Chai, Rav Herzog, etc. See www.torahandscience.blogspot.com for an extensive list.

31 comments:

  1. "R. Schmeltzer is free to follow those approaches. However to claim that these are the only possibilities, and that the Moreh (with a non-kabbalistic interpretation) is not considered by any authority to represent a legitimate approach within Judaism, is unacceptable."

    Who post kabalistic revelation accepts the rambam's approach?

    (not his work, one can easily say there are many many valuable things in the moreh while fully accepting the kabala. why throw out the baby with the bath water? Which leads to a bigger question, did the rambam have an 'approach' or is the sefer just a topic by topic sefer, albeit influenced by the thinking of that day?)

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  2. "[1] I must confess that I find it odd that in certain circles it is acceptable to say that Rishonim were ignorant of the revelations of kabbalah, but not to say that they were unaware of the discoveries of modern science."

    Perhaps because Chazal make specific claims about the natural world, but acknowledge that the secrets of the Torah were not known by all.

    The difference, without saying yea or nay about your approach, is that one is asserting lack of knowledge, the other is outright error.

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  3. Who post kabalistic revelation accepts the rambam's approach?

    Do you mean actually follows his approach, or accepts it as an alternative legitimate approach? The two are not the same. One might not follow Rambam's approach, but this does not mean excluding it as being kefirah, as R. Schmeltzer and his Maskimim do.

    Second, the specific aspect of the Moreh that is most bothering R. Schmeltzer - its position that not everything in the Gemara is infallible Divine Torah from Sinai - has certainly been adopted by countless authorities, even post-kabbalah. See torahandscience.blogspot.com. And, as mentioned earlier, even many of those who did not actually adopt it, still acknowledged it as a legitimate alternative.

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  4. "[1] I must confess that I find it odd that in certain circles it is acceptable to say that Rishonim were ignorant of the revelations of kabbalah, but not to say that they were unaware of the discoveries of modern science."

    Perhaps because Chazal make specific claims about the natural world, but acknowledge that the secrets of the Torah were not known by all.


    On the contrary! Even Chazal, and kal v'chomer the Rishonim, did not consider themselves to possess infallible divine knowledge regarding the natural world, but the Rishonim did consider themselves authoritative in determining the legitimate approach to the Gemara.

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  5. R. Schmeltzer is free to follow those approaches.

    I have to finally ask: Free according to whom? According to the U.S Constitution or some other legal system?

    If you think something is sheker, then no one is really free to follow it.

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  6. I have to say that I am tired of reading what you have to say re. Schmeltzer. He is obviously not a serious scholar, so enough wasting time with him.

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  7. Anonymous, the problem is that while to you it is
    "obvious" that he is not a serious scholar, to some of the greatest Torah authorities in the Charedi world it is obvious that he is.

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  8. I don't understand - he actually says both that its "true meaning is in its secret kabbalistic depths" AND that "it was written before the revelations of kabbalah"?

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  9. This seems to be a classic problem of what S. often refers to: You are wishing the book be something that it is not:

    >>"However to claim that these are the only possibilities, and that the Moreh (with a non-kabbalistic interpretation) is not considered by any authority to represent a legitimate approach within Judaism, is unacceptable."

    This book is not taking a survey of Jewish intellectual history. It is defining what is and what is not acceptable according to his school of thought. That is the goal of the author and the book achieves that goal masterfully.

    To R' Schmeltzer, these ARE the only ACCEPTABLE possibilities.
    To R' Schmeltzer, it is not a legitimate approach according to ANY ACCEPTABLE authority.

    Again, from what you are critiquing, he doesn't imply that others never differed. (If that were the case he would indeed be guilty of rewriting history.) Rather he implies that all who did (and do) differ are simply unacceptable as authorities on these matters.

    All you can say is contest his assertion that they are unacceptable.

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  10. Why is it unacceptable? Was it unacceptable for those authorities to take that position in the first place? Mima nafshach - if those positions were acceptable - then he has every right to follow them which includes believing the rationalist understanding of the moreh is simply wrong. And if those authorities were never allowed to have that position than r. Schmeltser can't either - even if he would agree that there are alternate understandings.

    You are making a logical error - a person doesn't have to live his life as if he is studying history - he is allowed to take a stand and live history.


    Your other posts you claim he is being revisionist or distorting the position of gedolim that he feels bound by their opinions - a legit point. But here you are off base - he has a right to claim that the rationilist understanding of the moreh was never correct - as held by ther authorities he quotes. You can argue - and you happen to be correct - but you can't claim distortion on his part.

    This also disconts your argument against following rav moshe on a matter of torah despite him studying the moreh. Who says understanding it as a kabbalist is wrong? That is the very debate. Again you may be correct - but you have no logical rationalist argument to prove it.

    Yitzi7

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  11. Isaac and Yitzi - you are both making the same misunderstanding of the book. Do you have access to a copy? The book IS claiming to be a comprehensive review of Jewish intellectual history. It was not unacceptable for the quoted authorities to take the position that they took; but it is unacceptable, in a book claiming to provide a comprehensive overview, to ignore all the others. I will be elaborating upon this more in future posts.

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  12. Rabbi slifkin - I do have the sefer and read it cover to cover.

    As an aside - did you? I think your reading of his attitude to aggadata is wrong. He is actually more radical than you say.

    But on this point I look forward to your continued posts - but you should rethink your position. You are making a mistake many take on many issues. You have to debate within certain parameters. A satmar book on zionism will say all gedolay yisrael held zionism is evil. You can answer two ways - one you say but rabbi soloveitchik was a zionist! That is no response - they will say he was not a gadol - which is their right to hold. You have to show that someone who was a gadol according to them disagrees - then they have to respond - & that is where they frequently distort.

    In this debate you have to show that someone who they hold of held this position is acceptable. And that is why on the other issues your position was strong - you debated them on their sources. Over here they are saying that you have always misunderstood the fundamental idea of the moreh - as stated by anyone whose opinion is worth anything - to them.

    It is their position that the overwhelming majority of gedolim read the moreh like them. On this I think r. Schmeltser is correct.

    Yitzi7

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  13. Yitzi, the sefer claims that nobody of any importance ever genuinely held that anything at all in the Gemara is not from Sinai!!! It does not claim that all these Rishonim and Acharonim were not Gedolei Torah. It simply ignores them or distorts them, Rambam most of all. And even within the non-rationalist stream of Judaism, I don't think anyone would distort the Yad and the Perush HaMishnah in the way that this sefer does.

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  14. >"The book IS claiming to be a comprehensive review of Jewish intellectual history."

    To those who do not have access to the book, you will have to scan the relevant pages in order to substantiate your reading of its claims.

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  15. "· It was written before the revelations of kabbalah (pp. 276, 291).[1]"

    Wasn't the Moreh written 20 years after the Bahir was published?

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  16. I was a little bit confused about the dates and the locations of the various "schools of thought", and so I did a little refresher on the information. And I noticed some nice irony.

    I found it highly ironic that the kabbalah became prominent in France, which later became famous for the Enlightenment, while Spain produced the rationalists and later became most famous for the Spanish inquisition.

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  17. Rabbi slifkin - Everything you write in your last comment is correct. But with reards to moreh nevuchim you are not.

    Yitzi7

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  18. Yitzi - saying that someone isn't correct does not give the slightest reason for that person or anyone else to accept what you are saying. You have to actually give a reason!

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  19. "I must confess that I find it odd that in certain circles it is acceptable to say that Rishonim were ignorant of the revelations of kabbalah, but not to say that they were unaware of the discoveries of modern science."


    No, no, no Rabbi Slifkin, it is not odd, it is either absurd, ridiculous, idiotic or just showing a lack of analytical ability (that being the ability to analyze one's own statements and how they contradict one another).

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  20. Ok I will try one more time.

    We are speaking of this specific claim with regard to the moreh.

    You argued that r. Schmeltsers position on this specific topic is unacceptable.

    I responded that r. Schmeltser is merely taking a stand, one held by great authorities that the rationalist reading of the moreh has always been wrong.

    That is, as opposed to other threads where he may be distorting words of gedolay yisrael, here he is accurately taking a position.

    And I added that here it is indeed your position against rav moshe as to the accurate reading of a torah text - the moreh.


    I also added that I think you are correct in your reading of the moreh, but that he is correct in what has always been the overwhelming traditional approach to the moreh.


    You never responded to this you just changed the topic and brought up other issues.

    To respond to this you must show that there is at least a decent minority position among gedolay yisrael that understands the moreh as you do. Otherwise you are merely disagreeing with r. Schmeltser but not showing where his position is not accurate.

    So remember - you must stay logical, rational, on topic, and modeh al haemes. You must show in what way r. Schmeltser is not accurately portraying the overwhelming traditional approach to the moreh. Remember - one is allowed to take a standm

    Yitzi7

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  21. Yitzi, I am not claiming that he is not accurately portraying the standard revisionist approach to the Moreh. My point is that he claims to be providing a comprehensive review, and there have been many who saw the Moreh - ESPECIALLY with regard to its position vis-a-vis Chazal and science, which is the primary focus here - as being a legitimate approach.

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  22. Maybe someone (Rabbi Slifkin or a knowledgeable commenter) could give some examples of how it is possible to "read the Moreh Nevuchim with a kabbalistic interpretation"?

    My (very non-expert) impression is that the MN is a detailed, expository work which explains all its ideas at length. How is it even conceivable to give a completely different interpretation to such a book?

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  23. >>"How is it even conceivable to give a completely different interpretation to such a book?"

    Apparently you are unaware of the esoteric school regarding the Guide.

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  24. Yitzi

    All the Rishonim that comment on the Rambam, ibn tibbin, the abarbanel, ibn kaspi, Ralbag, Maharal and so on believe that the Rambam is portraying the rationalist approach. Rabbi Slifkin has these great gedolei yisroel to back him up. Also, all the people who were anti-the rambam believed he was a rationalist as well. Remember those book burnings, yeah those rishonim also thought the Rambam's works were rationalistic, hence they burned the Moreh and the sefer hamada.

    Also, to respond to the foolish person that said France had the renaissance and spain had the inquisition. You clearly know nothing about history. Spain had the longest history of Jewish prosperity in all of Europe, it was something like 450-500 years of Jewish growth and learning. France had constant pogroms and Rashi's own grandchildren, Rabbeinu Tam and others suffered immensely under the crusaders. Also, they were constantly expelled from the land. Look up a little history.

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  25. E-man,

    What happened in 1492 in Spain?

    What happened in 1789 in France?

    Where was the Rambam from?
    Where was Issac the blind from?

    It's irony and ironic. It's not unexplainable, or incomprehensible. Certainly many things happened in the 500-800 years between the Rambam/Issac the blind, and famous events regarding each of those countries, but it's still ironic.

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  26. I don't understand what you are trying to say. First of all, the Rambam lived the majority of his life away from spain. Second of all, you know after Isaac the blind there were still many many many oppressions of Jews in France even an expulsion or two.

    Did you know one of the most rationalistic Rishonim was from france, his name is the Ralbag. So what does France vs spain prove again? Nothing, oh that is what I thought.

    How about America being the best country for the Jews ever. What does that prove. There were never any Jews here so does that mean that the true Judaism is none at all? Is that Ironic? The truth is that anyone can make up any balony claim they want to say rationalism is better or mysticism is better and they would both be wrong. You know why? Because we don't have a time machine to go see har sinai or even the time of the first bais hamikdash and ask the prophets what the deal is.

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  27. Apparently you are unaware of the esoteric school regarding the Guide.

    My whole comment said that I am aware of it, but I have never seen an example, and I have a hard time imagining one. If you want to provide one, I would appreciate it.

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  28. My comment was tongue-in-cheek.
    That's not the esoteric school I was referring to.

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  29. My comment was tongue-in-cheek.

    I don't get it.

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  30. In a Letter dated 1957:
    The late Lubavitcher Rebbe writes to someone who was complaining of Dark powers negativley effecting his life the Rebbe responds: "They have no powers whatsoever", rather the powers they do have are that of Hashem directly, strictly, so turn to Hashem only and all will be well...[ just as one will not run to th emoon or the stars or the seasons or the nature for they are in the hands of Hashem - which brings us back to the whole more fundamental conversation of Divine providnce - who controls what when and where}.
    email me for my upcoming essay on this topic: rabbimzhecht@gmail.com

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