Monday, November 16, 2009

One Man's Maverick is Another Man's Bore

A few years ago I had an interesting conversation with a certain Rav. This Rav is a tremendous talmid chacham with tremendous breadth of thought, but he is basically in the charedi world. He didn't object to any specific view of mine, but he criticized me for the totality of them. He said to me, "Look, it's okay for a person to have one or two radical views, but why do you have to have so many?" The world being billions of years old, evolution, no global flood, Chazal being wrong about spontaneous generation, Moshe not being ten cubits tall, Rashi being a corporealist, etc., etc., etc. Why do I have to always be a radical?

My response was that in the intellectual circles into which I was (at that time) moving towards - frum academics and frum people who subscribe to their rationalist approach - nothing that I say is remotely radical. All the aforementioned views are completely normative. In fact, in these circles, I am considered as a person who has not contributed any original or interesting ideas.

It was interesting to see how taken aback he was.

119 comments:

  1. "He didn't object to any specific view of mine, but he criticized me for the totality of them."

    This reminds me of a similar issue brought up back in June:

    "I started asking people, "Could you give me an example? Point to a specific sentence which has a problematic 'tone,'"..."Nobody ever gave a single example." "

    http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2009/06/tone-or-approach.html?showComment=1246201116965#c3263726316312117037

    Instead of 'tone' (or as you correct me, 'approach') it is now 'radical views' that are at issue.

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  2. You only have one radical view - that everything must have a rational explanation. All the other problematic stuff just follows from that.

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  3. The "circle" of "frum academics" is a very very small one. I assume that when you speak of the circle of "frum people who subscribe to their rationalist approach" you mean a large number of modern/centrist Orthodox Jews. If that is true, then with regard to the issues that you raised I would assert the following based upon a few years of careful observation and extensive discussion with many modern/centrist Orthodox Jews (of which I am one):

    1) "The world being billions of years old" -- correct (most agree that the world is ancient).
    2) "evolution" -- mostly correct -- many do accept evolution as fact.
    3) "no global flood" -- somewhat correct -- there are very mixed opinions on this issue.
    4) "Chazal being wrong about spontaneous generation" - correct.
    5) "Moshe not being ten cubits tall" -- correct.
    6) "Rashi being a corporealist" -- incorrect -- the overwhelming majority do not accept this, and those who saw your article on the subject were largely underwhelmed by it.

    Just trying to present an accurate assessment of the issues that you lumped together as one big cholent.

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  4. Heck, even this post is boring. ;-)

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  5. Actually, this really is boring. So one guy goes from being haredi to being MO. It happens all the time, in both directions, sometimes for reasons which make sense, and sometimes, maybe more often, for no reason at all.

    For this to be significant at all, you are going to have to show how you can synthesize what is good in both worlds and help all of us who are frustrated with both (or all) canned options.

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  6. YU Talmid, by making my circles broader than I intended, obviously there are people who don't share these beliefs!

    For example, with regard to Rashi, I was only referring to people who are both full-blooded rationalists and are very knowledgeable about medieval Jewish history.

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  7. Very interesting - but there are many in the modern/centrist Orthodox camp who say that the *more* rationalist one is and the *more* one knows of medieval Jewish history, the more one sees that what you wrote is highly speculative at best and utterly false at worst.

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  8. Sorry, I don't believe that. That is to say, I believe that people claim it, but not that these people are themselves rationalists and knowledgeable about medieval Jewish history and devoid of religious bias. Care to name some names?

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  9. learning only works for them when you let them win the arguments. Push comes to shove it is about their authority and their ability to keep running their community in their customary manner. That was certainly my experience in yeshiva. In essence they are not orthodox in terms of respecting the fundamental texts. Push comes to shove they throw the text under the bus. That s why someone like you is so dangerous, Rabbi Slifkin.

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  10. How will naming names help? Based upon what I have seen from your posts in the past, I would guess that you will claim that whoever disagrees with your position is not truly a rationalist, or is not *really* knowledgeable in medieval Jewish history, or is biased, or all three. One of my wife's college professors who is certainly knowledgeable in medieval Jewish history, far more so than are you, told her that what you wrote doesn't stand up to any kind of serious scrutiny. I am not writing the professor's name because the conversation with my wife was not held in a public forum. So you can believe what you wish, but your beliefs and reality occupy two different plains.

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  11. I would guess that you will claim that whoever disagrees with your position is not truly a rationalist, or is not *really* knowledgeable in medieval Jewish history, or is biased, or all three.

    I wouldn't claim that if they weren't Jewish! But obviously someone who is a frum Jew and who devoutly believes that Hashem exists and is incorporeal, and who also believes that Rashi is one of the greatest Jewish heroes of all time, is biased! Do you disagree? (and does your wife's professor fall into this category?) Of course, this only affects their personal credibility; it does not mean that their arguments don't have merit. So let's hear what their arguments actually are. I am sure that Hakirah would be glad to publish them (in the next issue, there is an exchange between Rabbi Zucker and myself).

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  12. So wait a minute. Are you saying that the only people who can discuss this issue correctly as rationalists, knowledgeable in medieval Jewish history and without bias are non-Jews? Or in other words, are you the only Orthodox Jew who is a rationalist, knowledgeable in medieval Jewish history, and unbiased with regard to this issue? I know that there are many rational, knowledgeable, unbiased Jews who beg to differ. It's clear that you would label them otherwise, but then again, *they* label *you" otherwise (specifically with regard to this issue), and I'm not talking about charedi Jews - I'm talking about centrist Orthodox Jews. So it's "he said/they said."

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  13. No. What I am saying is that the only people with whom there is no presumption of bias are non-Jews. You can have frum Jews who are non-biased and rationalists in this area, but it's hard to be able to identify them.
    Look, do you disagree that someone who themselves believes that Olam HaBa is contingent upon believing that God is incorporeal, and who also reveres Rashi as a tremendous Torah scholar, is biased against the notion that Rashi is a corporealist?! I don't see how anyone could possibly dispute that. It would be like me claiming that I am unbiased in evaluating whether Torah is from Sinai or not.

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  14. I think this is semantics. Fine - we're all biased, you and every other Orthodox Jew as well. Can people rise above their bias and evaluate an issue properly? Can you but not they? What makes you think that you have arrived at a true conclusion, but that they cannot? They obviously feel the reverse in terms of your claim on this issue. They think your argument is weak to say the least, and that your knowledge of the history is severely lacking. If your answer here is that you clearly have risen above your bias because despite it you believe Rashi to have been a corporealist, that is like saying that someone raised in a frum household who now believes that Jesus is the messiah has an advantage in his claim, because after all, he rose above his bias. This is nonsense.

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  15. The thing that makes me think that I have reached the correct conclusion is my arguments! You haven't given me any counter-arguments, just their credibility as professors. But someone with a very obvious bias does not have credibility, and I am not clear how (or even if) you are disputing that.

    As for your Jesus example - yes, that person has more credibility IN TERMS OF BIAS than a frum Jew who rejects Jesus as the messiah. However, he doesn't have any credibility aside from that, in terms of arguments; besides, it is such a strange move that the person would be suspect on emotional grounds.

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  16. And have you not heard the counter arguments of anyone regarding your claims in this area? Many would assess you as having the same "emotional grounds" as the person you mentioned in your last comment.

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  17. I heard Rabbi Zucker's counter-arguments, and I have reason to consider them utterly worthless - you can see my response in the next Hakirah and judge for yourself.

    Many would assess you as having the same "emotional grounds" as the person you mentioned in your last comment.

    You keep mixing things up. I am not expecting anyone to accept my conclusions based on my credibility. I am expecting (or hoping) them to accept my conclusions based on the arguments that I offer.

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  18. Again, very interesting. Quite a number of people I have spoken to saw your claims as having no merit whatsoever, and Rabbi Zucker's arguments which were posted on your website as having most effectively refuted pretty much everything you had to say. In addition, people mentioned to me that they had discussions with friends, I'm guessing they were oral discussions, not listed on any websites, where they claim to have raised counter arguments that show the ineptitude of your arguments. Since they did not share these discussions with me in detail I am unable - not unwilling, but unable - to repeat them. I just mention this to report on what some people in the rationalist modern Orthodox camp are saying. In the end, of course, you are right - everyone will have to judge for themselves.

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  19. I am sure that lots and lots of people thought that R. Zucker's arguments had more merit than mine - even more people than you know of. But what does that prove? Of course there are plenty of frum Jews who find it hard to accept that Rashi could be a corporealist, just as there are plenty of charedi Jews who find it hard to accept that Chazal could be wrong in science. In the absence of arguments, it is meaningless, since these people do not have credibility.

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  20. But I think that you do have to concede that the bias here is pretty obvious, and therefore you can't assume that someone who disagrees with me is doing so for rational reasons.

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  21. what some people in the rationalist modern Orthodox camp are saying

    the fact that they are rationalist vis-a-vis, say, Chazal's knowledge of science, does not mean that they are rationalist in all areas.

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  22. So again I have to ask, are you saying that centrist Orthodox people who think you are utterly wrong about the Rashi issue because they think that the counter arguments, on the merits, have destroyed your claim completely - are not really being rational because they are biased, unless proven otherwise, whereas people who accept your arguments are rational and *not* biased? Are you serious? Do you not comprehend that there are many centrist Orthodox people who are generally fans of yours who think you are completely way off on this issue, on the merits of the case? Is their assessment about the merits of the case to be discounted as biased because they disagree with you? If this is what you are saying, then I have to admit that whereas I had been a fan of yours - I really liked your zoology and creation books - I must have been terribly mistaken about your approach in general. The disposition of your argument here is seriously flawed, and highly immature.

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  23. Rabbi Slifkin, you can effectively side-step any claim that people were actually genuinely convinced by the superior merit of R' Zucker's ARGUMENTS alone by going back to the bias issue:

    >>"I am sure that lots and lots of people thought that R. Zucker's arguments had more merit than mine - even more people than you know of. But what does that prove? Of course there are plenty of frum Jews who find it hard to accept that Rashi could be a corporealist,"

    In other words, you refuse to take seriously ANYONE who claims they have been able to overcome their biases for Rashi and still decide to disagree with your conclusions purely based on merit.
    Why?

    Is it because you believe that-- by definition--an Orthodox Jew concluding in Rashi's favor positively demonstrates that their biases are really insurmountable?

    And only you and those who agree with your conclusions have --by definition-- proven capable of succeeding in surmounting bias because they were in fact capable of arriving at an uncomfortable conclusion?

    Just to clarify some possible confusion:
    I concede that one cannot DEMONSTRATE in a positive sense that they have in fact overcome their biases, when they conclude in Rashi's favor.
    But that inability to DEMONSTRATE it in no way implies that one is INCAPABLE of overcoming one's biases when he concludes in Rashi's favor.
    I hope you realize this. Many honest, self-reflective people are quite capable of overcoming their bias for Rashi and still come to the conclusion that your arguments are faulty and R' Zucker's are superior based on the arguments' merits alone.

    Apparently you are unwilling to grant such an ability to anyone unless it can be demonstrated--and by concluding in Rashi's favor, they cannot demonstrate by definition.
    (I suppose that is a rationalist thing to do: Not accept any proposition until it can be demonstrated.)

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  24. "the fact that they are rationalist vis-a-vis, say, Chazal's knowledge of science, does not mean that they are rationalist in all areas."

    That's you you're describing. I mean, you said it yourself:
    "It would be like me claiming that I am unbiased in evaluating whether Torah is from Sinai or not."

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  25. It sounds like you're a cultural ambassador. You're relaying valuable information from one culture where it is ubiquitous to another where it is not on the radar. You are able to translate the concepts in a manner that is culturally accessible and can be heard.

    The fact is that it would be wise for people who are basically in the charedi world to be aware of what is happening in the scholarly world. It's not that anybody has to agree with the approach. But, no doubt, family members will want to leave the charedi world and it would just make good sense to know of other approaches that have standing in the world at large. It will make it easier for family members to "hear" one another and not worry that the rationalist is into something weird. I think providing access to differing approaches can only help to preserve loving relationships... be it between a husband and wife where one has developed a new approach, or between parents and children.

    I think a lot of good comes from your work. Certainly there is a lot of indignance about this or that sacred cow being shechted. But, in the end, you've provided the OPPORTUNITY for us all to be more tolerant of one another. And, IMHO, that is being a rodeph shalom and ultimately valuable.

    Gary Goldwater

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  26. So again I have to ask, are you saying that centrist Orthodox people who think you are utterly wrong about the Rashi issue because they think that the counter arguments, on the merits, have destroyed your claim completely - are not really being rational because they are biased, unless proven otherwise, whereas people who accept your arguments are rational and *not* biased?

    No, no, no!
    Let's go back to how this started. I said that rationalists don't see this as being a radical/off view. You claimed otherwise, and said that there are many centrists who think that my view here is off.
    I am saying that from MY point of view, I have every reason to think that this is because they are very biased in this issue. After all, as even you must agree, there is a very obvious bias here. And with regard to Rabbi Zucker's arguments, I think they are ridiculous - I will explain why at greater length in Hakirah. I also know many people who feel the same way. So why would other people feel differently? The obvious reason would be their obvious bias. (Those who agree with me have no obvious, extreme bias.)

    Do you not comprehend that there are many centrist Orthodox people who are generally fans of yours who think you are completely way off on this issue, on the merits of the case?

    Look, there was once a book on Torah and science written by a Modern Orthodox Jew. He starts off saying how the charedim are so irrational for not accepting that CHazal were wrong about many things in science. He then moves on to discussing Bereishis, and insists that there is no conflict between Bereishis and science, and fits modern cosmology into the pesukim! It was utter nonsense and utterly irrational. As an MO Jew, saying Chazal didn't fit with science didn't bother him, but he couldn't handle saying Bereishis doesn't fit with science.

    Now, you are saying that there are people, whom I don't know, and whom even you agree have an obvious bias here, who side with a set of arguments that I and many others consider ridiculous, for reasons that you cannot articulate. How can you expect me to take that seriously?

    Can you even tell me how you personally account for the fact that Rashi is silent about corporealist anthropomorphisms, but not about other anthropomorphisms?

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  27. I concede that one cannot DEMONSTRATE in a positive sense that they have in fact overcome their biases, when they conclude in Rashi's favor.
    But that inability to DEMONSTRATE it in no way implies that one is INCAPABLE of overcoming one's biases when he concludes in Rashi's favor.
    I hope you realize this.


    Of course! But since it cannot be demonstrated, and the odds are against it, why would I accept it about your unnamed people?

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  28. "the fact that they are rationalist vis-a-vis, say, Chazal's knowledge of science, does not mean that they are rationalist in all areas."

    That's you you're describing. I mean, you said it yourself:
    "It would be like me claiming that I am unbiased in evaluating whether Torah is from Sinai or not."


    Correct, there are areas where I have huge bias. Correct, I said it myself. Are you claiming that this is NOT true about others?

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  29. "Can you even tell me how you personally account for the fact that Rashi is silent about corporealist anthropomorphisms..."

    Almost silent:

    http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2009/07/was-rashi-corporealist.html?showComment=1249178620622#c4108227441289495336

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  30. No, that is nothing to do with corporeality. See the original Midrash that Rashi is basing himself on. And see the commentary in the Sapirstein Rashi.

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  31. To YU Talmid: Allow me to explain my view more at length.

    I showed my article to four people (aside from whoever Hakirah showed it to before they decided to publish it). Three of them were MO with professional expertise in medieval Jewish philosophy, one of whom had particular expertise in Rashi. The fourth was a charedi rav with great expertise in Rashi.
    The first three people thought my article was fine, though one of them thought that it wasn't much of a chiddush. The charedi rav didn't agree with me, but he didn't have any arguments as to wh I was wrong.

    Then the article was published. A lot of people, when they heard about it, insisted that I was wrong, WITHOUT EVEN SEEING MY ARGUMENTS! This is not really surprising at all. If you devoutly believe that Hashem is incorporeal (as many do), and you see corporealism as a primitive and foolish belief (as many do), and you revere Rashi as a great genius (as many do), and you were taught as a child that Rashi had ruach hakodesh (as many were), then you are naturally predisposed against the notion that he was a corporealist.

    Then Rabbi Zucker offered a series of counterarguments, which I evaluated and responded to (though I have better responses coming up in Hakirah), and consider to be entirely without merit. Many people agree with me. I also consider Rabbi Zucker's "categorical denial of any bias" to be utterly preposterous.

    Now there are some people here claiming that there are MO people who disagree with my article for unspecified reasons. Why would they have credibility with me? The fact that they believe in dinosaurs does not mean that they do not have the aforementioned predisposition against believing that Rashi was a corporealist! Just as there are more extreme people who rejected my article without even reading it, there are less extreme people who read it but with a strong predisposition against its conclusions. Even if you think my conclusions are wrong, surely you must agree that many, many people read the article with a strong predisposition against its conclusions, right?! So, in light of all this, why on earth would I assign any credibility to the judgment of these anonymous frum people? If you want to find their judgment credible, that's your business, but what reason do I have to find it credible? I am NOT saying that their bias means that they are wrong. I am saying that their bias means that I have no reason to assign credibility to their judgment.

    Hope that clears things up! Please tell me if you disagree with my statement that many, many people read the article with a strong predisposition against its conclusions.

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  32. I think that your encounter with this haredi Rav highlights the ideological chasm between the haredi world (even its moderate elements) and the rest of the Orthodox world, however you care to label it.

    I lived for a number of years as a haredi in Manchester, learnt for a short time in one of the haredi yeshivos you learnt in (I even met your pet iguana), and have now made aliyah with a kippa seruga.

    Having made a journey that intersects with yours to some extent, I am surprised that you are surprised at the Rav's assessment of your views. We now speak different languages, which is why I felt that I simply had no place in the haredi world, notwithstanding a cultural affinity for many of its mores. I think the sort of polemical opposition you are encountering in these comments emanates from a haredi strain within MO, with its centre at YU (with parallels in the Israeli chardal world). Having seen real haredim up close, I think this ersatz variety, which sometimes still self-identifies as MO, is more threatening to the Rationalist enterprise than the hard-boiled haredim.

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  33. "Correct, there are areas where I have huge bias."

    Shouldn't you, you know, fix that?? You're obviously keenly aware of bias's impact on one's ability to determine the truth of a matter: you correctly point out the failing in others. And yet you're (apparently and/or allegedly) oblivious to the fact that your own self-admitted bias in that area could be blinding you to the truth. Given your understanding of bias' distortion and awareness of your own bias, shouldn't you seek to repair it?

    Actually, I don't think you're as solid in your belief or as bent in your bias as you'd like people to think. People who really do believe in TMS generally don't claim that they do so out of bias.

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  34. Let me say this another way. You pointed out, rightly so, that people have to judge for themselves on the merits of the issues. You and the people who agree with you have judged for yourselves on the merits of the issues and have come to the conclusion that Rashi was a corporealist. Others, who think you are absolutely wrong, have judged for themselves on the merits of the issues and have come to the conclusion that Rashi was an incorporealist. You then point out that the people who have judged on the merits in accordance with your view are unbiased (or have overcome their bias) and are thinking clearly, whereas people who have judged on the merits and have come to a conclusion different from yours are biased and are not thinking clearly. This sounds more like an irrational rant than the calm, reasoned evaluation of a thinker. If this wasn't so sad and pathetic it would be quite funny. Please, please, please stop - you are doing a terrible disservice to the cause of rationality. You set yourself up as a self-described rationalist, and then behave like a demagogue, ranting against those who disagree with you. If people wind up thinking that your approach in any way reflects rationalism, we are all in big trouble. Instead of all your bravado and posturing, why not just be polite, and say "I disagree with the other side, for reasons X,Y,Z." There are many of who, like you, see ourselves as rationalists, and think that your arguments bordered on the nonsensical whereas those who debated with you expressed clear and logical positions. You disagree - fine. Just show everyone in rational terms where you think the mistakes are instead of yelling "bias, bias!" and people will decide for themselves using their minds - minds just as good as yours.

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  35. "Correct, there are areas where I have huge bias."

    Shouldn't you, you know, fix that??


    How? (Even if I wanted to.)

    People who really do believe in TMS generally don't claim that they do so out of bias.

    I didn't claim that I believe in TMS out of bias. I claim that I believe in TMS and that I am biased.

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  36. You then point out that the people who have judged on the merits in accordance with your view are unbiased (or have overcome their bias) and are thinking clearly, whereas people who have judged on the merits and have come to a conclusion different from yours are biased and are not thinking clearly.

    No, no, NO!
    This is NOT what I am saying!
    It is perfectly theoretically possible for people to come to a different conclusion and not be biased.
    However, when we are speaking about unnamed FRUM people, I see it as being extremely likely that the reason is that they are indeed biased.

    I ask you again (and please answer): Do you agree that many, many people read an article such as this with a strong predisposition against its conclusions?

    Just show everyone in rational terms where you think the mistakes are instead of yelling "bias, bias!"

    I DO show everyone in rational terms where I think the mistakes are! I also simultaneously point out that the reason why many frum people will nevertheless disagree is that they are biased.

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  37. "How? (Even if I wanted to.)"

    Don't be coy; you've overcome other biases to arrive at your current beliefs. Your reasons for clinging to this bias have scant to do with inability to overcome bias. Malingering won't get you out of this one.

    "I didn't claim that I believe in TMS out of bias. I claim that I believe in TMS and that I am biased."

    Way to prove my point about being blind to the effects of your bias!!

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  38. SQ, I honestly have no idea what you are trying to say.

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  39. R' Slifkin,

    I don't know you. I am sympathetic to much of what you write and say. None the less, from a distance at least, you come accross as cantankerous and enjoying being at the center of controversy. It makes difficult at times, to feel sympathy for you when you are attacked. I know many others who share your views. They do not seem to court arguments and controversy. Perhaps that is what the talmid chochom was referring to.

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  40. I believe that frum people start out with the predisposition to think that Rashi was not a corporealist. I also believe that the critical thinkers among the frum people (those who consider themselves rationalists) can put that predisposition aside in evaluating the merit of an argument, that is to say, they are not *blinded* by their predisposition. I also believe that people who enjoy the limelight of being a maverick and have certain emotional issues with the frum "establishment" may be predisposed to think - or at least to publish - that Rashi was a corporealist.

    "I do show everyone in rational terms where I think the mistakes are!"

    Let's see if the following expressions of yours (taken from this post), regarding your opponents' views, are "rational terms":

    "utterly worthless"
    "they are ridiculous"
    "entirely without merit"

    These strike me as immature expressions of bravado, and combined with the claim that any argument that is contrary to your own opinion is automatically suspect due to bias, they seem to me to be the rantings of someone who, to be honest, sounds a bit desperate.

    I ask you again, why can't you simply say - "I disagree with my opponents. I believe that I have rational arguments that can refute their claims, just as I recognize that they think they have rational arguments that can refute mine. I will be presenting them in the next Hakirah."

    By the way, I am seriously hoping that R. Zucker's article presents a point by point detailed argument demonstrating the falsehood of your claim, and that your article presents a point by point detailed refutation of his arguments. Anything less on either side, that is - some general broad-sweeping presentation alone, will not be very informative. If all the points are put out there in detail and in a systematic way, then we can use our own minds to arrive at a logical conclusion. Without all the name calling.

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  41. I also believe that the critical thinkers among the frum people (those who consider themselves rationalists) can put that predisposition aside in evaluating the merit of an argument,

    I agree, with one vital correction. Those who consider themselves rationalists are not necessarily rationalists! Plenty of people consider themselves to be rational - this doesn't mean that they are!
    So since you agree that frum people start out with the predisposition to think that Rashi was not a corporealist, does this not make it likely that many people who think that they are evaluating it rationally, are in fact subconsciously not doing so?

    I also believe that people who enjoy the limelight of being a maverick and have certain emotional issues with the frum "establishment" may be predisposed to think - or at least to publish - that Rashi was a corporealist.

    Absolutely - and I claim credit for mentioning that first, many weeks back.

    "I do show everyone in rational terms where I think the mistakes are!"

    Let's see if the following expressions of yours (taken from this post), regarding your opponents' views, are "rational terms"


    I wasn't referring to this thread! I was referring to my previous discussions with R. Zucker, and my forthcoming article in Hakirah!

    These strike me as immature expressions of bravado, and combined with the claim that any argument that is contrary to your own opinion is automatically suspect due to bias, they seem to me to be the rantings of someone who, to be honest, sounds a bit desperate.

    First of all, I don't know why you keep on putting a claim in my mouth that I do not say. I do not say that "any argument that is contrary to my own opinion is automatically suspect due to bias." I say that any anonymous FRUM person who disagrees with me in THIS TOPIC is automatically suspect due to bias.

    Second of all, with regard to the strong terms that I used, I would use exactly the same terminology about arguments for the world being 5770 years old, or Chazal being infallible, etc. Does this mean that I am desperate?!

    I ask you again, why can't you simply say - "I disagree with my opponents. I believe that I have rational arguments that can refute their claims, just as I recognize that they think they have rational arguments that can refute mine. I will be presenting them in the next Hakirah."

    First of all, I think that it is important for people to realize the very obvious bias that exists here. The first step in overcoming a bias is to be aware of it. I became even more convinced that this is necessary when R. Zucker made the ridiculous (sorry, but there is no other word for it) claim that he can categorically state that he has absolutely no bias! I don’t know how anyone can ever categorically state that they have no bias about anything, much less about a sensitive topic such as this, and certainly not when they have a very obvious bias!

    I am seriously hoping that R. Zucker's article presents a point by point detailed argument demonstrating the falsehood of your claim, and that your article presents a point by point detailed refutation of his arguments.

    Yes, that's exactly the format.

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  42. Well, I think this quote of yours says it all:

    "I say that any anonymous FRUM person who disagrees with me in THIS TOPIC is automatically suspect due to bias."

    You are quite correct in saying that "Those who consider themselves rationalists are not necessarily rationalists! Plenty of people consider themselves to be rational - this doesn't mean that they are!" I have heard from quite a number of people who describe themselves as critical thinking, Orthodox rationalists, that ever since your article, and particularly since your diatribe a while back against R. Zucker, et al, that you fit perfectly into your own description that you provided above.

    Having seen R. Zucker's comments on your website from a while back, I would guess that we can look forward to an article of his that spells out clear and thorough arguments refuting your claims. Having read your website comments I would guess that we can look forward to an article of yours that presents speculation in lieu of logical argument, sidesteps some issues, avoids others completely, and includes a labeling of "bias, bias!" as part of your "refutation" of his points. This is so disturbing to many of us who before this thought that your approach in general really was rational. It appears that your approach is really to court controversy (as Pesach noted), just using rationality as the garb for this approach. How sad. But, time will tell, and the articles in Hakirah ought to be really enlightening!

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  43. Well, I think this quote of yours says it all:

    "I say that any anonymous FRUM person who disagrees with me in THIS TOPIC is automatically suspect due to bias."


    You already agreed that frum people start out with the predisposition to think that Rashi was not a corporealist. Why, then, would there not be an automatic suspicion of bias? I keep asking you this.

    I have heard from quite a number of people who describe themselves as critical thinking, Orthodox rationalists...

    There are also a number of people who describe themselves as critical thinking and rational who believe that the world is 5770 years old, evolution is false, there was a global flood, and Rishonim were more intelligent than people today.

    Having seen R. Zucker's comments on your website from a while back, I would guess that we can look forward to an article of his that spells out clear and thorough arguments refuting your claims.

    Such as?

    Having read your website comments I would guess that we can look forward to an article of yours that presents speculation in lieu of logical argument, sidesteps some issues, avoids others completely, and includes a labeling of "bias, bias!" as part of your "refutation" of his points.

    Sorry to disappoint, but there is none of that.
    Incidentally, when have I ever presented speculation in lieu of logical argument? And when have I ever sidestepped or avoided issues? Please back this up.

    Also, earlier I asked you how you personally account for the fact that Rashi is silent about corporealist anthropomorphisms, but not about other anthropomorphisms. You avoided this - would you care to answer?

    I also have another question for you. What do you think about R. Zucker's claim that he can categorically deny being biased?

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  44. I'm not sure why I'm bothering to comment on this topic again, since I don't see it changing your mind, but I can't resist giving it one more shot.

    R Slifkin, claim of bias are ad hominem attacks plain and simple. No matter how you assert that there is any substantive reason for pointing it out, ad hominem it remains. If you were asserting (and you say that you are not) that a frum person cannot overcome this 'bias', the only reason for asserting it is to dismiss the opinion of one's opponent.

    Furthermore, one man's bias is another man's axiomatic assumptions. No one needs to be told that frum people would put a heavy burden of proof on one who would claim that Rashi, universally acknowledged as the greatest of all commentators held a position contrary to fundamental Orthodox beliefs. Especially since you seem to be the first one who discovered this fact. As far as I know, no one has even raised this as an issue before- even to knock it down! One would think that with all the great scholars throughout history who have studied Rashi in a microscopic fashion, someone would have raised this issue.

    Now does this mean that you are wrong? Of course not! I'm not claiming that it does. (I have not even read your article and I'm not taking a position on it.) But for you to throw around charges of bias just make you seem defensive and silly.

    If one would aim to prove that Darwin had a creationist bent in a specific area,by being 'medayik' in his words, I assure you that it would be greeted with a high level of skepticism. Would it be biased to be inclined to put a heavy burden of proof on one who claims to prove this? I don't think so. I think that if one aims to totally upend something that was taken for granted by many, many serious scholars, one has a extremely high bar to overcome.

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  45. I have to be honest - I have been following your blog for some time and have thought it to be very good. However, on this topic, the comments that you made leading up to (http://www.rationalistjudaism.com/2009/11/one-mans-maverick-is-another-mans-bore.html?showComment=1258401818495#c8724297341931907956), made me think exactly what YU talmid has since been articulating; it is very depressing.

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  46. Furthermore, I have asked you the following question on other occasions and for some reason you evade answering it-

    Do you not agree that the Gemorah often examines arguments in a way that you dismiss as biases? i.e.Examining new evidence in light if basic axiomatic assumptions and re interpreting the new evidence in light of it?- (Chosurei mechserah, It cant be that that Tanna held X, so we say it must mean Y... and there are many many examples of this throughout Shas.)

    Shall we dismiss the gemorah's conclusions as faulty due to 'bias'?

    Do you really want to put yourself in that position? I wonder how many of your fellow 'rationalists' would actually say that the gemorah's methodology is flawed? I imagine it's more than you think. After all, academics generally don't put much stock in 'ancient' methodology, do they? I suspect (really know) that this mindset infects frum academics as well.

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  47. claim of bias are ad hominem attacks plain and simple.

    Maybe we are working with different definitions, but I always understood that the problem with ad hominems is that they are unrelated to the topic. I would agree that claims of bias are never a substitute for a response to content, but if true, they are an important addition.

    Furthermore, one man's bias is another man's axiomatic assumptions.

    That's an interesting way of putting it!

    No one needs to be told that frum people would put a heavy burden of proof on one who would claim that Rashi, universally acknowledged as the greatest of all commentators held a position contrary to fundamental Orthodox beliefs.

    Louis, you are doing a great job of proving my point!
    "Greatest of all commentators" in what way?
    "Contrary to fundamental Orthodox beliefs" according to who? According to R. Moshe Taku and the French Rabbis that Ramban wrote to, it was the INcorporealists who were acting contrary to fundamental Orthodox beliefs!

    Especially since you seem to be the first one who discovered this fact.

    Actually, I discovered that I am not.

    As far as I know, no one has even raised this as an issue before- even to knock it down! One would think that with all the great scholars throughout history who have studied Rashi in a microscopic fashion, someone would have raised this issue.

    Sorry to have to say this, but this does not reflect the academic (rationalist) approach. First of all, to determine that Rashi was a corporealist, one would have to search all his commentary to build up a picture of his outlook on this. Not to study his commentary in a microscopic fashion, but to study it in a macroscopic fashion with this issue in mind. Nobody every set out to do this. Second, the great scholars to whom you refer are all traditionalists - of course they wouldn't address this question, and nor could they tolerate such a conclusion.

    I think that if one aims to totally upend something that was taken for granted by many, many serious scholars, one has a extremely high bar to overcome.

    I firmly disagree, due to the nature of the case. It's like saying that since it was taken for granted that the world by many serious scholars that the sun goes around the earth, a heliocentrist has an extremely high bar to overcome.

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  48. "You already agreed that frum people start out with the predisposition to think that Rashi was not a corporealist. Why, then, would there not be an automatic suspicion of bias? I keep asking you this."

    It's the same level of bias as "someone who thrives on the limelight of controversy and has emotional issues with the frum establishment" has toward saying Rashi *was* a corporealist. So I guess you would agree that your arguments are just as suspect due to bias. Curiously though, you choose to focus only on the bias of others. Every time you bring up their biases, you should also be bringing up your own. One comment months ago about your own bias versus countless and continuous comments about the biases of others does not seem to be balanced.

    What is the problem with saying that the rishonim were more intelligent than people are today? Do you disagree?

    "when have I ever presented speculation in lieu of logical argument? And when have I ever sidestepped or avoided issues? Please back this up."

    If I remember correctly, you claimed that corporealism was rampant amongst the Ashkenazic rishonim. This was speculative at best - there is no evidence that it was rampant, only that a handful were corporealists. You shut down the discussion with R. Zucker, and did not respond to quite a few of his challenges to you, claiming that you would not debate someone with bias. Sidestepping and avoidance.

    "Also, earlier I asked you how you personally account for the fact that Rashi is silent about corporealist anthropomorphisms, but not about other anthropomorphisms. You avoided this - would you care to answer?"

    Pliny was correct. Rashi was not *silent* as the right and left of G-d issue shows. R. Zucker dealt with your challenge a while back, and all you had in response was the comments of the Saperstein editors, which don't address his point. How about responding to his refutation?

    "What do you think about R. Zucker's claim that he can categorically deny being biased?"

    I do not know R. Zucker personally, so I cannot comment about this intelligently. I will say, though, that I don't care whatsoever whether he is biased or not, or whether he is capable of assessing his own bias or not. I also don't care whether you are biased or not, or whether you are capable of assessing your own bias or not. All I care about with regard to the Rashi issue is R. Zucker's and your claims and arguments, on their own merits, regardless of the bias of the speaker. You seem not to be able to get past that. How sad for you.

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  49. Do you not agree that the Gemorah often examines arguments in a way that you dismiss as biases? i.e.Examining new evidence in light if basic axiomatic assumptions and re interpreting the new evidence in light of it?

    It's not necessarily wrong to analyze something in light of an axiomatic assumption - it depends on how valid the axiomatic assumption is! In other words, if you were to come across a statement by Darwin denying evolution, it would be valid to look for another meaning e.g. sarcasm in light of the fact that he was clearly an evolutionist.

    But if you want a different take on such things in the Gemara, see Menachem Fisch's book Rational Rabbis.

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  50. It's the same level of bias as "someone who thrives on the limelight of controversy and has emotional issues with the frum establishment" has toward saying Rashi *was* a corporealist.

    You can't be serious! You really think that when I approached this topic in the first place, it would really have been that hard for me to accept the idea that Rashi was not a corporealist?!

    So I guess you would agree that your arguments are just as suspect due to bias.

    I agree that people are perfectly entitled to propose that I am biased. I expect people to accept my conclusions based on my arguments, not based on my credibility. But I don't agree that my bias is as strong as that of many of my opponents. For goodness' sakes, some of them dismissed my article without even reading it!

    What is the problem with saying that the rishonim were more intelligent than people are today? Do you disagree?

    Yes, absolutely. What on earth is the evidence for it? And I will say that it is not consistent with being a full-blooded rationalist. You will certainly not find anyone at all who is not frum and believes such a thing.

    If I remember correctly, you claimed that corporealism was rampant amongst the Ashkenazic rishonim. This was speculative at best - there is no evidence that it was rampant, only that a handful were corporealists.

    What do you mean by rampant? I said that according to some, it was a majority, which I still maintain and can document. My own view is that it was certainly a significant number - I have no idea if it was the majority or not. What is your basis for saying that it was NOT a majority?

    You shut down the discussion with R. Zucker, and did not respond to quite a few of his challenges to you, claiming that you would not debate someone with bias.

    That is quite a misrepresentation. I said exactly why I shut down the discussion - because it was going round and round and round and there was absolutely no end in sight. How many rounds should there be? Please answer this.

    Rashi was not *silent* as the right and left of G-d issue shows. R. Zucker dealt with your challenge a while back, and all you had in response was the comments of the Saperstein editors, which don't address his point. How about responding to his refutation?

    The editors of the Sapirstein most certainly do address the point! Why are you so sure that they are wrong? And see the Midrash which is the source of Rashi's comment. Do you think that Rashi is changing the meaning of the Midrash that he is basing himself on?

    "What do you think about R. Zucker's claim that he can categorically deny being biased?"

    I do not know R. Zucker personally, so I cannot comment about this intelligently.


    I don't know him personally either. Forget him, what do you think about ANY frum Jew who makes a categorical denial that they are in any way biased in this matter?

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  51. By the way, Louis, I strongly recommend that you read this article:

    http://jqr.pennpress.org/PennPress/journals/jqr/thereception.pdf

    to get an idea of how modern academic scholars might attain a very different, and more accurate, understanding of Rashi's views than traditionalist Rishonim and Acharonim. Also see the Hakirah article on Tikkun Sofrim.

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  52. What is the problem with saying that the rishonim were more intelligent than people are today? Do you disagree?

    By the way, I was once at a Q&A session with a prominent Rosh Yeshivah from RIETS, and someone asked, "What is the nature of yeridas hadoros?" The Rosh Yeshivah replied, "Who says there's such a thing as yeridas hadoros?"

    I must also add that since you believe that Rishonim were more intelligent than people today, naturally you would also have a hard time accepting that Rashi was a corporealist. You can follow Louis and call this an "axiomatic assumption" if you want, but either way, it's something that affects your evaluation of the topic.

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  53. >You can follow Louis and call this an "axiomatic assumption"

    I am proud to assert that I put the burden of proof on one who would overturn the generally accepted assumption throughout Klal Yisroel that Rashi was not a heretic as we have defined one for many, many years.

    I assert that this is not to be dismissed as bias. It is a valid (and rational) methodological assumption.

    I take no position on the validity of your assertion with regard to Rashi.

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  54. Louis, you admit that you didn't read my article. In my article I showed why your basic assumption is fundamentally flawed. We know for a fact that many Rishonim were corporealists. And many of those who weren't, certainly did not view those who were, as being heretics.

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  55. It's funny to compare the comments of YU Talmud with Louis. YU Talmid is claiming that frum people generally evaluate the evidence on its own merits, whereas Louis is claiming that frum people do not and should not!

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  56. YU Talmid, what do you think of Louis' proud assertion that there is a heavy burden of proof on one who would claim that someone "universally acknowledged as the greatest of all commentators held a position contrary to fundamental Orthodox beliefs"?

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  57. "You can't be serious! You really think that when I approached this topic in the first place, it would really have been that hard for me to accept the idea that Rashi was not a corporealist?!"

    No - I'm saying that the lure of the limelight of controversy may have made you biased against objectively evaluating the issue *after* it initially entered your mind as a possibility.

    "But I don't agree that my bias is as strong as that of many of my opponents."

    Of course you don't.

    "For goodness' sakes, some of them dismissed my article without even reading it!"

    I'm not referring to those people. It is irrational to reject something without even reading it.

    "I said that according to some, it was a majority, which I still maintain and can document. My own view is that it was certainly a significant number - I have no idea if it was the majority or not. What is your basis for saying that it was NOT a majority?"

    Who are the "some"? I would love to see your documentation! Remember - you are claiming that a majority of the rishonim, not just the laity, in Ashkenaz were corporealists. The laity would have no bearing on your argument in terms of Rashi. My basis is the sources that R. Zucker quoted in his discussion on your website.

    "How many rounds should there be? Please answer this."

    On an issue as important as G-d, I would say that as long as there are new points and unresolved issues, it should go on until it is exhausted. You can certainly feel differently, but that would be "shutting it down" which of course is your prerogative, feeble as it may be.

    "The editors of the Sapirstein most certainly do address the point!"

    Really? Where? As far as I remember all they did was to reference a Rashi in Melachim Alef. R. Zucker argued that in Melachim Alef Rashi mentions only that G-d doesn't have a left but that He does have a right - not a spatial issue. In Bereishis Rashi mentions that G-d has neither - yes a spatial issue. What is the answer to his challenge? Neither you nor Saperstein answers that (other than to merely assert that there's really no difference, without explaining why).

    "what do you think about ANY frum Jew who makes a categorical denial that they are in any way biased in this matter?"

    I think that some would probably be deluding themselves and others would probably be telling the truth. But again, who cares? Why is this relevant to the issue?

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  58. I'm not sure why I'm bothering to comment on this topic again, since I don't see it changing your mind, but I can't resist giving it one more shot. R Slifkin, claim of bias are ad hominem attacks plain and simple...for you to throw around charges of bias just make you seem defensive and silly.
    Oh, the irony is completely lost on you, isn't it?

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  59. "We know for a fact that many Rishonim were corporealists."

    We know no such thing. This is speculation at best, and poor speculation at that. There is no one, not a traditionalist, not an academician, who can cite more than a handful of names of rishonim who were corporealists. If you have a source to the contrary, I would love to see it!

    "What is the problem with saying that the rishonim were more intelligent than people are today? Do you disagree?

    Yes, absolutely. What on earth is the evidence for it? And I will say that it is not consistent with being a full-blooded rationalist. You will certainly not find anyone at all who is not frum and believes such a thing."

    I did not ask about whether it is *possible* for people today to be as or more intelligent than the rishonim. I asked if they *were* as intelligent as the rishonim. Is your answer still yes?

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  60. I'm saying that the lure of the limelight of controversy may have made you biased against objectively evaluating the issue *after* it initially entered your mind as a possibility.

    Sure, there's a lot of merit to that. But can you really compare such a bias to someone's bias against accepting that one of the greatest Jewish heroes of all time was a heretic (in their view)?!

    I'm not referring to those people. It is irrational to reject something without even reading it.

    So only those people are irrational, but everyone who read it was rational? That's silly, of course there is a spectrum!

    Who are the "some"? I would love to see your documentation!

    R. Shmuel b. Mordechai, another source that I will reveal in my next article, and plenty of academics. Others, such as Ramban, reveal that there were corporealists, but it's not clear how many.

    My basis is the sources that R. Zucker quoted in his discussion on your website.

    What were they? I can't think of a single one.

    On an issue as important as G-d, I would say that as long as there are new points and unresolved issues, it should go on until it is exhausted.

    Please define "until it is exhausted."

    R. Zucker argued that in Melachim Alef Rashi mentions only that G-d doesn't have a left but that He does have a right - not a spatial issue. In Bereishis Rashi mentions that G-d has neither - yes a spatial issue. What is the answer to his challenge?

    The answer is that Rashi is simply paraphrasing. Do you think that he is changing the meaning of the Midrash that he is basing himself on? Why would he do this? And would it not be very out of character for Rashi to argue with CHazal?

    By the way, you didn't answer my questions to you. Why do you believe that Rishonim were more intelligent than people today? And what do you think of Louis' claim?

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  61. >whereas Louis is claiming that frum people do not and should not!

    This is either a willful distortion of my words, or a serious lack of reading comprehension. I never said or implied such a thing.

    Requiring a heavy burden of proof when challenging a basic assumption is not at all comparable to saying that one should not reevaluate in light of new evidence!

    If the evidence is there one should follow it, but it is eminently rational to heavily scrutinize such evidence before overturning fundamental assumptions.

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  62. "We know for a fact that many Rishonim were corporealists."

    We know no such thing. This is speculation at best, and poor speculation at that. There is no one, not a traditionalist, not an academician, who can cite more than a handful of names of rishonim who were corporealists.


    Please clarify the quantity defined by "handful" and the quantity defined by "many."


    I did not ask about whether it is *possible* for people today to be as or more intelligent than the rishonim. I asked if they *were* as intelligent as the rishonim. Is your answer still yes?


    Yes, the spectrum of human intelligence today (bell curve) is the same as during the time of the RIshonim. Do you disagree? And if so, what is your basis for this?

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  63. Requiring a heavy burden of proof when challenging a basic assumption is not at all comparable to saying that one should not reevaluate in light of new evidence!

    I didn't say that you said that one should not reevaluate in light of new evidence. I said that you require a very heavy burden of proof. I.e. arguments that might be convincing in a different context, would not convince you here.

    If the evidence is there one should follow it, but it is eminently rational to heavily scrutinize such evidence before overturning fundamental assumptions.

    Only when the fundamental assumption is itself eminently rational. Yours is not.

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  64. I'm more curious about the inclusion of spontaneous generation. I mean does anyone really believe chazal were correct about that? My impression is that everyone either says that was wrong or mumbles something about shinui hatevah (which as far as I can tell most people who use understand full well is simply because they don't want to say out loud that chazal were wrong).

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  65. Sure there are people who believe that! R. Shmuel Eliyahu, Chief Rabbi of Tzfat, for one. And plenty of rabbonim in the charedi world believe that Chazal were correct about the spontaneous generation of mice, let alone lice.

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  66. > In my article I showed why your basic assumption is fundamentally flawed. We know for a fact that many Rishonim were corporealists.

    Again, you missed my point. I have no position as to whether or not you are right about Rashi. I was discussing whether or not it is a flaw in a frum person to be skeptical to your claim that Rashi, who I will again assert, is universally accepted and has been widely scrutinized by many talmedei chachomim who hold that coporealism is heresy, was in fact a heretic by this definition.

    Also, I was asserting that if one does come to a different conclusion that you did, he can not be dismissed out of hand as being 'biased' because in fact this so called 'bias' is a rational assumption and is relevant to the question at hand.

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  67. is universally accepted and has been widely scrutinized by many talmedei chachomim who hold that coporealism is heresy

    You are mistaken. Rashi's comments on such matters were NOT universally accepted - R. Moshe Abulafiah had harsh criticism for him.
    And Rashi's position on Hashem's in/corporeality has not only not been widely scrutinized, it has not been scrutinized at all. And those Torah scholars you have in mind would anyway have been very traditionalist about this. Look at that article that I linked to.

    this so called 'bias' is a rational assumption and is relevant to the question at hand.

    It's not a rational assumption, for the reasons that I stated. And even it was, it might (I need to think about this) still mean that you are not evaluating the evidence objectively.

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  68. "My basis is the sources that R. Zucker quoted in his discussion on your website.

    What were they? I can't think of a single one."

    R. Dr. Kanarfogel, the Ramban who said Jews throughout the ages, including chachmei Tzorfas, maintained incoporealism.

    "Please clarify the quantity defined by "handful" and the quantity defined by "many."

    A handful is literally five. Many would be a noticeable presence - let's say 30 - 40 % (that's just arbitrary reckoning). You, however, spoke about rampant or prevalent - I forgot which term you used. That would suggest a majority (of Torah sages - rishonim in Ashkenaz - not the plain folk).

    "I did not ask about whether it is *possible* for people today to be as or more intelligent than the rishonim. I asked if they *were* as intelligent as the rishonim. Is your answer still yes?

    Yes, the spectrum of human intelligence today (bell curve) is the same as during the time of the RIshonim. Do you disagree? And if so, what is your basis for this?"

    Are you defining a rishon as *anyone* who lived from say 1000 to 1400? I am not. I am defining a rishon as one of the class of sages who has taught Torah, passed it along to the generations, and is recognized by the *nation* as its Torah scholars during this time period. With that definition, yes, I assert that the rishonim were far more intelligent than we are today. Does it *have* to be this way? No. Is it? Yes.

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  69. >Only when the fundamental assumption is itself eminently rational. Yours is not

    Which assumption is not rational?

    That Rashi is universally accepted?

    That many, many, many scholars who hold that coporalism is heresy have studied Rashi and not found him to be a heretic by their definition?

    Amongst them many Rabbis (take R Yaakov Emden for example) who were very comfortable is calling out heretics did not notice that some might (in their view) "Chas vesholom think that Rashi was a coporolalist" and aim to defend Rashi against this?

    And that those factors should lead one to to be skeptical when one makes a radical claim?

    Which of the above is not rational and why?

    (I have to leave now, I will respond if necessary when I can.)

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  70. R. Dr. Kanarfogel, the Ramban who said Jews throughout the ages, including chachmei Tzorfas, maintained incoporealism.

    R. Dr. Kanarfogel was talking about a much larger area over a much longer period, after Rambam's influence.

    Ramban named ONE of chachmei Tzorfat who maintained incorporealism, and clearly believed that more than one Torah scholars in Tzorfat was a corporealist.

    A handful is literally five. Many would be a noticeable presence - let's say 30 - 40 % (that's just arbitrary reckoning). You, however, spoke about rampant or prevalent - I forgot which term you used.

    I think that given how many Rishonim spoke about corporealists, it was certainly a lot more than 5. I don't know how many it was. When I used the term majority, I was only saying that some hold that, and I noted that others claim otherwise.

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  71. I am defining a rishon as one of the class of sages who has taught Torah, passed it along to the generations, and is recognized by the *nation* as its Torah scholars during this time period. With that definition, yes, I assert that the rishonim were far more intelligent than we are today.

    Okay, so the parallel would be the brightest people over our time period. Do you maintain that these Rishonim were more intelligent than these people?

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  72. Which assumption is not rational?

    That Rashi is universally accepted?

    That many, many, many scholars who hold that coporalism is heresy have studied Rashi and not found him to be a heretic by their definition?


    I was referring to your assumption that Rashi was universally accepted in his theological beliefs, and your assumption that corporealism is accepted by virtually everyone as being heretical. To this I would add your assumption that if Rashi was a corporealist, the traditionalist Torah scholars who studied his works would have noticed it and called him on it. All these assumptions are mistaken, and I have provided clear explanations and documentation why (in my article and the linked article).

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  73. >I was referring to your assumption that Rashi was universally accepted in his theological beliefs,


    I only have time for one more quick comment.

    Remember we are not talking about just a belief, which of course there could be a machlokes rishonim about that, we are talking about assuming that people did not notice that Rashi was saying something that they considered heretical!

    There is big difference.

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  74. By the way, YU Talmid, I am still waiting for you to comment on Louis' claim that an extremely high level of proof would be needed in this case.

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  75. Remember we are not talking about just a belief, which of course there could be a machlokes rishonim about that, we are talking about assuming that people did not notice that Rashi was saying something that they considered heretical!

    There is big difference.


    Of course! The difference is that this would make them even LESS LIKELY to see this view in Rashi!

    (By the way, plenty of Rishonim did not consider this view heretical. Raavad says that greater and better people than Rambam were corporealists, and therefore you shouldn't define it as heretical.)

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  76. "R. Dr. Kanarfogel was talking about a much larger area over a much longer period, after Rambam's influence."

    But also including the period of Rashi as well, not excluding it.

    "Ramban named ONE of chachmei Tzorfat who maintained incorporealism, and clearly believed that more than one Torah scholars in Tzorfat was a corporealist."

    If you read his language carefully, you'll see he speaks in the plural, not the singular, in terms of incorporealists. He names one incorporealist by name, but he doesn't name ANY corporealists by name. Who were they? How many were there? Speculation.......

    "I think that given how many Rishonim spoke about corporealists, it was certainly a lot more than 5."

    Speculation.........

    Also, when they speak about unnamed corporealists, who are they talking about? Rishonim (in the way that I defined the term before)? A melamed in the cheder? You don't know. You can't know. But it's is only if they are talking about *rishonim* that you have any sort of claim with regard to Rashi. Speculation..........

    "When I used the term majority, I was only saying that some hold that,"

    And yet you still have not cited who hold that there was a majority. Who holds this?

    "Okay, so the parallel would be the brightest people over our time period. Do you maintain that these Rishonim were more intelligent than these people?"

    Yes.

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  77. "By the way, YU Talmid, I am still waiting for you to comment on Louis' claim that an extremely high level of proof would be needed in this case."

    I think that the burden of proof would be on the one challenging the assumption. I don't know if it would be a *heavier* burden of proof.

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  78. But also including the period of Rashi as well, not excluding it.

    Yes, but once you expand the period under discussion, of course it is true to say that only a minority were corporealists.

    If you read his language carefully, you'll see he speaks in the plural, not the singular, in terms of incorporealists. He names one incorporealist by name, but he doesn't name ANY corporealists by name. Who were they? How many were there? Speculation....

    I don't know who they were. But he speaks in the plural of both incorporealists and corporealists. So on what basis do you say that he says that corporealists were the minority? That's not very rational!

    "I think that given how many Rishonim spoke about corporealists, it was certainly a lot more than 5."

    Speculation...


    That's not speculation! It is a reasonable inference based on the evidence! When at least a dozen Rishonim, from different countries and time periods, speak of corporealists, it is extremely reasonable to infer that there were a lot more than five! Maharam Alashaker writes about there being corporealists in France and several other places! Besides, do you really think that R. Moshe Taku and the other known corporealists would have been complete mavericks who came up with the idea out of the blue? R. Moshe Taku certainly didn't see himself that way! And if so, how could their campaign to denounce Rambam's incorporealism have been taken seriously?

    Also, when they speak about unnamed corporealists, who are they talking about? Rishonim (in the way that I defined the term before)? A melamed in the cheder? You don't know. You can't know.

    Well, let's see. Raavad describes them as "greater and better people than Rambam." Maharam Alashker describes them as "gedolei baal haTalmud." R. Moshe Taku, himself a self-declared corporealist, is described by Ramban as a great Torah scholar. So I can know, and I do know.

    And yet you still have not cited who hold that there was a majority. Who holds this?

    R. Shmuel B. Mordechai, and another, less reputable source, that I will cite in my article. Also, as R. Kanarfogel admits, most academics to have studied the period.

    "Okay, so the parallel would be the brightest people over our time period. Do you maintain that these Rishonim were more intelligent than these people?"

    Yes.


    What is your basis for this?

    Sorry to have to say this, but you are really confirming my belief that people who disagree with my conclusions are not rationalists!

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  79. I think that the burden of proof would be on the one challenging the assumption. I don't know if it would be a *heavier* burden of proof.

    Yet Louis certainly feels that it requires a very heavy burden of proof. Why do you think he feels that way?

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  80. Also, if the most intelligent people of 1000-1500 CE were more intelligent than the most intelligent people of 1500-2009 CE, are you also claiming that the most intelligent people of 500-1000 CE were more intelligent than the most intelligent people of 1000-1500 CE, and so on? What is your evidence for this? How do you account for this genetic aberration? And does this mean that in the future, mankind will have even less intelligent people?

    Please see my new post.

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  81. "I don't know who they were. But he speaks in the plural of both incorporealists and corporealists. So on what basis do you say that he says that corporealists were the minority? That's not very rational!"

    The Ramban's entire argument to his correspondents was "why are you getting so upset at the Rambam for saying that G-d is incorporeal, this has been the classical view in Judaism, etc., including the sages of France. His point is that this is normative.

    "When at least a dozen Rishonim, from different countries and time periods, speak of corporealists, it is extremely reasonable to infer that there were a lot more than five!"

    Which dozen rishonim claimed that there were *rishonim* who were corporealists? The only one you can cite is the Ra'avad, who spoke about "a few" - how many is a few?

    "Maharam Alashaker writes about there being corporealists in France and several other places!"

    Sorry, Maharam alshakar, in the 1500's is past the period of the rishonim. Irrelevant to the Rashi issue.

    "it is extremely reasonable to infer that there were a lot more than five!"

    Speculation..............

    "Besides, do you really think that R. Moshe Taku and the other known corporealists would have been complete mavericks who came up with the idea out of the blue?"

    I don't know where he got it from. I don't know what the extent of the others was (if there were others) that he got if from. Do you? Can you prove it? Is this the way you conduct research and come to conclusions in general? This is rather shoddy.

    So at the end of the day, there's R. Moshe Taku, a few of the Ra'avad's rishonim, and....? By the way, did any of these people live during Rashi's time?

    "And yet you still have not cited who hold that there was a majority. Who holds this?

    R. Shmuel B. Mordechai,"

    If I remember correctly, R. Kanarfogel explained that R. Shmuel b. Mordechai was not saying that the sages of France were corporealists in the sense that you mean. He was saying that they were corporealists from a strict Rambam definition. So it's not even relevant to your argument.

    "Also, as R. Kanarfogel admits, most academics to have studied the period."

    No, the academics that he cites do not claim that the majority of *rishonim* were corporealists. You again confuse the masses with the rishonim.

    "Okay, so the parallel would be the brightest people over our time period. Do you maintain that these Rishonim were more intelligent than these people?"

    Yes.

    What is your basis for this?"

    My knowledge of the amazing genius of the rishonim and my knowledge of the admirable intellect of the contemporaries.

    "Sorry to have to say this, but you are really confirming my belief that people who disagree with my conclusions are not rationalists!"

    Of course.

    "Yet Louis certainly feels that it requires a very heavy burden of proof. Why do you think he feels that way?"

    I don't know. Why don't you ask him. What is this, a junior high school social studies class?

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  82. The Ramban's entire argument to his correspondents was "why are you getting so upset at the Rambam for saying that G-d is incorporeal, this has been the classical view in Judaism, etc., including the sages of France. His point is that this is normative.

    Normative for *classical* Judaism. There is nothing whatsoever in Ramban to indicate that he held that there were more incorporealists than corporealists in France.

    Which dozen rishonim claimed that there were *rishonim* who were corporealists? The only one you can cite is the Ra'avad, who spoke about "a few" - how many is a few?

    They all spoke in the plural. The sources are in Shapiro's book. And they were not all speaking about the same five people!

    Sorry, Maharam alshakar, in the 1500's is past the period of the rishonim. Irrelevant to the Rashi issue.

    Eh? He's talking about the period of the Rishonim. By the 1500s, there weren't any corporealists left.

    "it is extremely reasonable to infer that there were a lot more than five!"

    Speculation...


    No, it's not. When several people in several places and several time periods speak about people in several places who maintain this view, you'd have to be seriously biased not to think that there are more than 5 people being discussed!

    "Besides, do you really think that R. Moshe Taku and the other known corporealists would have been complete mavericks who came up with the idea out of the blue?"

    I don't know where he got it from. I don't know what the extent of the others was (if there were others) that he got if from. Do you? Can you prove it?


    No, I can't prove anything. But what is more reasonable to believe? Especially since R. Moshe Taku himself claims that one of Rashi's talmidim held the same. Generally, when Rishonim (or anyone) hold views, are they the only person in their entire circle to maintain such a view?

    So at the end of the day, there's R. Moshe Taku, a few of the Ra'avad's rishonim, and....?

    And the ones mentioned by Ramban, Riaz, Maharam Alashkar, and the ones mentioned by all the other sources in Shapiro's book. It's amazing that you are convinced that it must only be 5 people!

    By the way, did any of these people live during Rashi's time?

    I don't know. But we know that corporealism was on the decline with the influence of Rambam. So if they lived after Rashi's time, this is not reason to think that there were less in Rashi's time.

    If I remember correctly, R. Kanarfogel explained that R. Shmuel b. Mordechai was not saying that the sages of France were corporealists in the sense that you mean. He was saying that they were corporealists from a strict Rambam definition.

    Good point, but you didn't get it exactly right. R. Kanarfogel said that we have no way of knowing what he really meant, but his preference is to read it in the way that you say. Personally, I would think that "magshim" most likely means what it is usually understood to mean and what it means in other contexts.

    No, the academics that he cites do not claim that the majority of *rishonim* were corporealists. You again confuse the masses with the rishonim.

    Not the academics that I have spoken with regarding France.

    My knowledge of the amazing genius of the rishonim and my knowledge of the admirable intellect of the contemporaries.

    Please give examples of the amazing genius of the Rishonim which demonstrates them to be greater geniuses than the Gra or Einstein. And please tell me if you think that this is a consistent pattern of a decline in intelligence over the millenia.

    "Yet Louis certainly feels that it requires a very heavy burden of proof. Why do you think he feels that way?"

    I don't know. Why don't you ask him. What is this, a junior high school social studies class?


    My point is that the very bias which you claim does not exist is being touted by Louis as the correct approach! (except he labels it "axiomatic assumption.")

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  83. "Sorry to have to say this, but you are really confirming my belief that people who disagree with my conclusions are not rationalists!"

    Of course.


    My point was that a basic difference between the ancient (non-rationalist) and post-Enlightenment (rationalist) view is whether there is a gradual decline from the ancients, or whether there is a basic equality of intellects over the ages. If you are saying that the Rishonim were more intelligent, you are apparently siding with a viewpoint that is generally identified as pre-modern and non-rationalist.

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  84. Your first few paragraphs address the same point, so I'll just respond with the following:

    "So at the end of the day, there's R. Moshe Taku, a few of the Ra'avad's rishonim, and....?

    And the ones mentioned by Ramban, Riaz, Maharam Alashkar, and the ones mentioned by all the other sources in Shapiro's book. It's amazing that you are convinced that it must only be 5 people!"

    Every one of the names you quoted do not speak about a number (except the Ra'avad who speaks of a "few") and do not name any names. So who knows what the number is? Do you? Also, if we don't know the names, then (besides the Ra'avad and the Maharam) who knows what type of people they were talking about - rishonim, regular folk, melamdei tinokos - you don't know. Ever hear of Occam's Razor? If you don't know you can fill in the blanks any way you like but it's... SPECULATION! Your last sentence is a complete mistake - I am not convinced that it must be only 5 people - I am convinced that I don't know, and I am convinced that you don't know either. The *evidence* points to a very small number. Suggesting a larger number requires other evidence. You're "it is reasonable to assume or infer..." is just that - an assumption without evidence. Is it correct? Who knows? You (and I) certainly don't.

    "When several people in several places and several time periods speak about people in several places who maintain this view, you'd have to be seriously biased not to think that there are more than 5 people being discussed!"

    Or....maybe there *were* only a few, but the existence of a dangerous hashkafa had to be rooted out even if only a few people held it. Maybe? Do you know for sure? I didn't think so.

    "Not the academics that I have spoken with regarding France."

    Names? and the basis for their claim?

    "My point is that the very bias which you claim does not exist is being touted by Louis as the correct approach! (except he labels it "axiomatic assumption.")"

    I didn't claim that no bias exists. I said that some people will be biased, others won't be.

    I must confess that I don't feel like getting into a whole discussion about the intellect of the rishonim vs. contemporaries. It's beyond the pale of the point that I wanted to raise in the first place - about varying degrees of acceptance and rejection within the centrist Orthodox communities regarding different claims of yours.

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  85. Every one of the names you quoted do not speak about a number (except the Ra'avad who speaks of a "few") and do not name any names. So who knows what the number is? Do you?

    No, I don't. But it certainly looks like more than five!

    Also, if we don't know the names, then (besides the Ra'avad and the Maharam) who knows what type of people they were talking about - rishonim, regular folk, melamdei tinokos - you don't know.

    Rambam says that they have a reputation as talmidei Chachamim. Ibn Ezra and several others cited in SHapiro's work all refer to them as chachamim.

    I am not convinced that it must be only 5 people - I am convinced that I don't know, and I am convinced that you don't know either. The *evidence* points to a very small number.

    Make up your mind - do you have no idea, or is it a very small number? And what evidence points to a very small number? On the contrary, the evidence that I brought indicates that there were people over different time periods and in different countries, that were a serious enough problem for Rambam and others to devote much time to refuting them.

    I must confess that I don't feel like getting into a whole discussion about the intellect of the rishonim vs. contemporaries. It's beyond the pale of the point that I wanted to raise in the first place - about varying degrees of acceptance and rejection within the centrist Orthodox communities regarding different claims of yours.

    It's exactly relevant. Our argument is about whether it is legitimate for me to claim that those who disagree with my article are likely to be non-rationalists. Your statements indicate that you identify with a known non-rationalist position which also happens to be very relevant to the topic at hand.

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  86. "Make up your mind - do you have no idea, or is it a very small number? And what evidence points to a very small number? On the contrary, the evidence that I brought indicates that there were people over different time periods and in different countries, that were a serious enough problem for Rambam and others to devote much time to refuting them."

    Nowhere did I change my mind. The evidence shows a few named corporealist rishonim, a few unnamed corporealist rishonim, and a completely unknown number of people called by the undefined term "chacham." That's all the evidence shows. Anything more is your "filling in some blanks" which is complete speculation. Can I prove that your speculation is wrong? No. But if you want to present something as true, not merely possible, then you need to provide evidence. There is no reason to assume something that is not in evidence. There are no modern scholars who maintain that a majority of rishonim who were corporealists in France (you seem to claim that there are, but have ignored requests to name them). A "serious enough problem" does not necessarily indicate quantity - it could also indicate quality. That is to say, even if a handful of people were promulgating a dangerous view, it would need to be addressed. Your assumption of quantity is... an assumption. Seriously, is this the way you do all your "fact-based" research? Oh my!

    "Our argument is about whether it is legitimate for me to claim that those who disagree with my article are likely to be non-rationalists."

    That is not our argument. I don't care at all what you claim about those who disagree with you. I find your statements to be arrogant and baseless, and you obviously disagree, but I'd rather focus on the real issue. For example, your non-answer about right and left with regard to G-d: you said Rashi was merely "paraphrasing" - what does that mean? Is it not the case that in Melachim Rashi said G-d doesn't have a left but DOES have a right? And is it not the case that in Bereishis Rashi said G-d doesn't have a left NOR a right? Is this not a fact? And by saying that G-d doesn't have a left but DOES have a right, doesn't that mean that his question is not about a spatial issue? And by saying that G-d doesn't have a right NOR a left, doesn't that mean that the question IS about a spatial issue? Are these not facts? What does Rashi "paraphrasing" mean as an answer to this question?!?

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  87. Louis,

    On "chasurei mechsera," you must see the Vilna Gaon's comment that the Amoraim sometimes disagreed with the Tanaim, but rather than openly disputing them, they sometimes claimed that the Mishnah was "missing words." Basically they lied.

    For the exact source, watch the interview with Rabbi David bar Hayyim on YouTube (I don't remember which part).

    (Apparently the first letter of the four words "chasurei mechsera v'hachi ketani" spells the Hebrew word for "evade." That's what the Gaon says.)

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  88. The evidence shows a few named corporealist rishonim, a few unnamed corporealist rishonim, and a completely unknown number of people called by the undefined term "chacham." That's all the evidence shows.

    I'm fine with that. I'm glad that you have apparently moved beyond saying that there were five. But I would add that I see no reason to distinguish between "chacham" and "rishon".

    Anything more is your "filling in some blanks" which is complete speculation.

    I didn't say anything more than that.

    There are no modern scholars who maintain that a majority of rishonim who were corporealists in France (you seem to claim that there are, but have ignored requests to name them)

    I don't want to name people who haven't published it, but I am not lying! In print, let's see... if I recall correctly, Jose Faur, Shamma Friedman, Yair Lorberbaum and Menachem Goshen-Gottstein all either say it or imply it very strongly (e.g. claiming that even Chazal were corporealists).

    That is not our argument. I don't care at all what you claim about those who disagree with you.

    Have you forgotten how this whole thread started? I said that rationalists don't see my position on Rashi as being off. You disagreed. I said that these people probably aren't rationalists. You objected vociferously. So it is extremely relevant to show that you maintain a view of Rishonim which is well-known as a pre-modern and non-rationalist position.

    For example, your non-answer about right and left with regard to G-d: you said Rashi was merely "paraphrasing" - what does that mean? Is it not the case that in Melachim Rashi said G-d doesn't have a left but DOES have a right?

    Yes.

    And is it not the case that in Bereishis Rashi said G-d doesn't have a left NOR a right? Is this not a fact?

    No, that is not a fact. Rashi does NOT say that "G-d doesn't have a left NOR a right." In Bereishis, Rashi says, "And DOES God have a right and left?" Which can be read as, "Does He have a right AND left? Surely He just has a right?!"

    Are these not facts?

    Correct, as pointed out, these are not facts.

    What does Rashi "paraphrasing" mean as an answer to this question?!?

    It means that he is much briefer and uses different phraseology than in his commentary to Melachim on the very pasuk that he is discussing here.
    I asked you: Rashi based himself on Midrashim. In Melachim, and here, he is basing himself on the same Midrash. Is it at all reasonable to say that he changes the peshat of the Midrash in one place, but not in another? Why would he do this, when the question of the Midrash works fine? Is there any other place where Rashi deliberately changes the meaning of Chazal?

    This is presumably why the editors of the Sapirstein said that Rashi saying the same thing in both places. They're not idiots, and nor do they have a "bias to undermine established beliefs." It just doesn't make much sense to say that Rashi in one place is fine with the Midrash, but in another place changes its meaning. It makes much more sense to say that in the place where Rashi is not commenting on the pasuk in the Midrash, he simply paraphrases his discussion from the place where he does comment on it.

    Now, you can maintain that it is in fact more reasonable to say that Rashi decided to differ with Chazal and with his own citation of Chazal elsewhere, for some completely unknown meaning. But others will understandably prefer to agree with the Sapirstein.

    Which means that we again return to the question: How do you account for Rashi's silence with some types of anthropomorphisms, but not others? I have an explanation that works in every case. Do you?

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  89. Seeing how this discussion has been hijacked by the Rashi/corporealism question, I just want to point out that Rabbi Slifkin is the one who originally really kept to the subject of this post, which was only the sociological aspects of his opinions, not the opinions themselves.

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  90. "I'm glad that you have apparently moved beyond saying that there were five."

    I will paraphrase Louis' earlier astute observation: your comments are either a willful distortion, or you have serious reading comprehension problems. I have not "moved" anywhere. I continue to maintain that if you wish to bring evidence that is *fact* based about the presence of corporealist rishonim in France, all you can say with any certainty is that there was a handful. Anything more than that is mere speculation, and speculation is not evidence.

    In terms of the right and left of G-d brought by Rashi: You are asking us to believe that in Bereishis Rashi is saying "Does G-d have a right and a left?" MEANING, "Does G-d have a left, no, He only has a right." So instead of saying simply, with fewer words, "Does G-d have a left?" which would convey his meaning totally clearly, Rashi ADDS a word ("right") making his meaning much less clear from what you propose he really meant. Rashi, who is demonstrably parsimonious with his words, ADDS a word, making his meaning LESS clear. Really? This is how you learn a Rashi? You may not LIKE the fact that Rashi's question in Bereishis is different from his question in Melachim, you may not be COMFORTABLE with it, you may not be able to answer why he changed it - but that doesn't alter the facts. Your reinterpretation of Rashi, a forced one, which has Rashi adding words and by doing so muddling the clear meaning - just to fit your preconceived notion - is not objectivity, not rationalism!

    BTW - Rashi changed the question because in Melachim he was simply interpreting the medrash in its own context. In Bereishis, the entire context of 1,26 is anthropomorphsim, so Rashi is clarifying there what the limits of the anthropomorphist expression are.

    So we are back to the fact that Rashi was *not* silent the way you thought he was.

    I think this issue is wonderfully illustrative of how you deal with texts whose clear meaning present problems to your theories. Again, how sad.

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  91. I continue to maintain that if you wish to bring evidence that is *fact* based about the presence of corporealist rishonim in France, all you can say with any certainty is that there was a handful. Anything more than that is mere speculation, and speculation is not evidence.

    Well, it looks like we are going in circles. I maintain that the fact that several people in several places and several time periods speak about people in several places who maintain this view, means that there was more than a handful. You consider this "speculation."

    Your reinterpretation of Rashi, a forced one, which has Rashi adding words and by doing so muddling the clear meaning - just to fit your preconceived notion

    Really? It's just to fit my preconceived notion? So why did the Sapirstein editors learn it that way? What preconceived notion were they fitting it to?
    The question of why Rashi would add a word is much, much less than the question of why he would change the pshat in the question of a Midrash from what Chazal themselves meant, when he himself is satisfied with Chazal's understanding of Chazal elsewhere. Is there any other example of such a thing in Rashi?! I predict that you cannot find such a thing.

    In Bereishis, the entire context of 1,26 is anthropomorphsim, so Rashi is clarifying there what the limits of the anthropomorphist expression are.

    That is not the context of Rashi's comment at all! The context is Hashem's attributes, of how he consults with the melachim. In fact, the context itself suggests that left and right refers to prosecution and defense!

    So we are back to the fact that Rashi was *not* silent the way you thought he was.

    Again, I think that I have more than adequately refuted your claim. But let's, for a moment, go with your belief that your pshat in Rashi is correct, and Sapirstein and myself are wrong. So how do you account for this very strange pattern in Rashi - that he is silent about every single corporealist description, except this one?

    I think this issue is wonderfully illustrative of how you deal with texts whose clear meaning present problems to your theories. Again, how sad.

    How sad that when even people who do not share my view of Rashi learn Rashi this way, you are sure that I am only learning it this way out of bias. When, of course, since there are people with YOUR bias who nevertheless learn it my way, the fact that you learn it differently would logically suggest that your judgment is motivated by bias, not mine.

    I should also point out that when this Rashi was first mentioned, before I looked at Sapirstein and realized it was being misunderstood, I readily and explicitly conceded that it presented an excellent challenge to my theory. Hardly the reaction of someone whose bias prevents them from ever accepting challenges to their view.

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  92. You really get hung up on the issue of bias, don't you? I'll tell you what - let's all concede that we are biased, and let's agree to forget the bias and concentrate on the points themselves. And if you're not willing to do that, then I will concede that I am totally biased and you are totally not biased, and then let's concentrate on the points themselves.

    With all the many words that you used in your response, I notice that you did not address my point at all. Why did Rashi ADD a word here, and in so doing he made his meaning far LESS clear, when Rashi is known for parsimonious wording and for clarity? He could have communicated what you say he meant by simply writing "Does G-d have a left side?" simply and clearly. Please answer that issue itself, without making recourse to the great wisdom of the Saperstein editors or to your own lack of bias, and without presenting the distraction of "where else does Rashi do this." Just answer the question!

    "So how do you account for this very strange pattern in Rashi - that he is silent about every single corporealist description, except this one?"

    I don't have to. Once there is an exception, you have no rule. I turn the question back to you: how do you explain a pattern that includes a case that doesn't fit into your pattern?

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  93. You really get hung up on the issue of bias, don't you?

    Eh? It was you who claimed that I was only learning Rashi this way in order to fit my preconceived notions!

    Why did Rashi ADD a word here, and in so doing he made his meaning far LESS clear, when Rashi is known for parsimonious wording and for clarity?

    Maybe he was going from memory, and thought that the Midrash in full said, "Does Hashem have right and left, surely He only has a right." He condensed it (since he is not commenting here on the passuk in the Midrash) and removed the last part of the phrase. Or maybe a copyist added the word, but I think the first explanation works fine.

    I noticed that you did not address my question concerning Rashi changing the meaning of a question from the way that Chazal themselves understood it. Do you not find that extremely bizarre, and can you cite any other case where Rashi does such a thing?

    "So how do you account for this very strange pattern in Rashi - that he is silent about every single corporealist description, except this one?"

    I don't have to. Once there is an exception, you have no rule. I turn the question back to you: how do you explain a pattern that includes a case that doesn't fit into your pattern?


    I don't have a problem, because the way that I and others learn the Rashi, this case has nothing to do with the pattern. So I am back to the existing pattern, which I have a perfectly satisfactory explanation for. But you are faced with an even stranger pattern: Rashi explains anthropomorphisms literally when they refer to God being tired or breathing air, but never when they refer to Him as being corporeal, unless they refer to Him having a right and left. Why?

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  94. let's all concede that we are biased

    Yes, let's! I certainly think that, at this point, we are both biased! So we are faced with a question: how are we to perform an impartial judgement as to whether it is the similarities or the differences between Rashi here and in Melachim that are more significant? The answer is simple - we can go with the judgment of someone who is not biased, and in fact I am even willing to go with the judgment of someone who sincerely believes that Rashi was not a corporealist! And lo and behold, their judgment here is that my way of learning Rashi is correct!

    You see, sometimes, the bias issue is relevant. That's why there's a concept of masiach lefi tumo.

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  95. "Maybe he was going from memory, and thought that the Midrash in full said, "Does Hashem have right and left, surely He only has a right." He condensed it (since he is not commenting here on the passuk in the Midrash) and removed the last part of the phrase. Or maybe a copyist added the word, but I think the first explanation works fine."

    So when there's a Rashi that poses a difficulty to your theory your answer is Rashi's faulty memory or a copyist's emendation? Again I ask, is this your method of learning in general?

    "can you cite any other case where Rashi does such a thing?"

    I don't know - I'd have to look around. Now let me ask you: can you cite any other case where Rashi adds a word, changing the text from his source in the medrash and in so doing makes the meaning LESS clear, where in reality his intent is the exact same one as the medrash? I predict that you will not be able to find such a case.

    "I don't have a problem, because the way that I and others learn the Rashi, this case has nothing to do with the pattern."

    So you're saying that if a person has a theory about a pattern, and there is an exception that contradicts his theory, all he need do is to claim that the pattern stands, and the exception has nothing to do with it. Is this consistent with the scientific method? I always thought that one can falsify a claim by showing one contradiction to it. Now you claim that that doesn't falsify anything - it's just "outside of the pattern." We need to revise all of our scientific experiments then.

    "we can go with the judgment of someone who is not biased"

    So if we ask someone else l'fi tumo, what does Rashi mean when he says "Does G-d have a right and left?" and that person says that Rashi means that G-d has neither right nor left, then we need to say that we just can't understand what Rashi means since people l'fi tumam interpret it in different ways? Is this a valid method in learning texts in general? BTW, have the Saperstein editors seen this challenge, and despite the challenge answer as you do? Or did they just gloss over the difference without dealing with Rashi's adding a word and in so doing subtracts from the clarity?

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  96. So when there's a Rashi that poses a difficulty to your theory your answer is Rashi's faulty memory or a copyist's emendation? Again I ask, is this your method of learning in general?

    No. But when there is a Rashi on a passuk that quotes a Midrash on that Passuk, and another Rashi elsewhere that quotes the same Midrash but with a variation, I am forced to choose between Rashi either choosing to disagree with Tannaim, or considering that the variation is of no significance. I think that the latter is vastly preferable.

    I don't know - I'd have to look around. Now let me ask you: can you cite any other case where Rashi adds a word, changing the text from his source in the medrash and in so doing makes the meaning LESS clear, where in reality his intent is the exact same one as the medrash? I predict that you will not be able to find such a case.

    OK, stalemate! But I still think that it is hard to accept that Rashi would argue with Chazal.

    So you're saying that if a person has a theory about a pattern, and there is an exception that contradicts his theory, all he need do is to claim that the pattern stands, and the exception has nothing to do with it.

    No, I am not saying anything of the sort! I am saying that it is not an exception, because it is not talking about spatial issues!
    So, given the understanding of Rashi shared by Sapirstein and myself, the pattern that remains is one that I have a perfectly satisfactory explanation for. What is YOUR explanation for the pattern as you see it?

    So if we ask someone else l'fi tumo, what does Rashi mean when he says "Does G-d have a right and left?"

    You have to also show them the Rashi in Melachim and the Midrash on which it is based.

    then we need to say that we just can't understand what Rashi means since people l'fi tumam interpret it in different ways?

    Not that "we can't understand what he means," but that we can't use masiach lefi tumo to discount the bias factor.

    BTW, have the Saperstein editors seen this challenge, and despite the challenge answer as you do? Or did they just gloss over the difference without dealing with Rashi's adding a word and in so doing subtracts from the clarity?

    I have no idea. Why don't you ask them?

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  97. "I am forced to choose between Rashi either choosing to disagree with Tannaim...I still think that it is hard to accept that Rashi would argue with Chazal."

    You are setting up a false dichotomy. Rashi is not "disagreeing" with Chazal, he is adapting their question in order to convey the idea that this anthropomorphism is an allegory - it is an adapted question to reach the very same answer that Chazal gave. And there is nothing in the adapted question with which Chazal would disagree (unless you say that all of Chazal were corporealists). So your quote that my interpretation of Rashi implies that he disagreed with Chazal is simply wrong.

    "No, I am not saying anything of the sort! I am saying that it is not an exception, because it is not talking about spatial issues!"

    You're waffling here! You had asked me that even if you concede my interpretation of Rashi, how would I explain the pattern. I said that given my interpretation, there is no pattern as you claim it, since the cases include an exception to your pattern. Now you revert back to the question absent the concession about my interpretation. You are waffling!

    How can I get in touch with the Saperstein editors?

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  98. Rashi is not "disagreeing" with Chazal, he is adapting their question in order to convey the idea that this anthropomorphism is an allegory

    I should have phrased it better. He is not arguing with Chazal conceptually. But he, according to you, changing the meaning of the question that the Midrash saw fit to ask, even though he was happy with Chazal's version of the question elsewhere, and is staying with the same answer. I find that odd (I wouldn't find it odd for Rambam to do that, but it's not something I'd expect from Rashi), and you haven't even attempted to give any explanation as to why he would do that here.

    You're waffling here! You had asked me that even if you concede my interpretation of Rashi, how would I explain the pattern.

    I'm not waffling, and that's not what I said/meant. What I said/meant was that from YOUR perspective on Rashi here, how do you explain why in some places he explains that anthropomorphisms are not literal, and in other places he doesn't.

    How can I get in touch with the Saperstein editors?

    I don't know.

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  99. "you haven't even attempted to give any explanation as to why he would do that here."

    I believe I've already attempted and succeeded, but let me clarify - Rashi's theme in 1,26 is twofold: 1) that G-d displays "humility" by consulting with the angelic court, 2) the issue behind the consultation here is because of the phenomenon of demus as Rashi repeats a couple of times. By repositioning the question as Rashi did, giving the same answer as the medrash, he takes care of both issues with one fell swoop. He explains the "consultation" and he explains that the demus is allegorical. The issue of demus is not relevant in Melachim Alef, and so there he sticks to the context of medrash on its own.

    As to how I would explain Rashi's selective comments - I would have to think about it. In the meantime, maybe R. Zucker will have something to say about that issue in his article. But regardless, whatever answer I or anyone else can or cannot come up with is irrelevant to this discussion. If your claim is incorrect, then my not providing a counter, correct claim does not minimize the incorrectness of your claim.

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  100. the issue behind the consultation here is because of the phenomenon of demus

    I don't understand what you mean. The issue behind Rashi's comments here is the plural form "Let US make man." Nowhere here does Rashi indicate that he is dealing with the problem of dmus. In fact, the word dmus hasn't even occurred yet - that's later in the passuk!

    As to how I would explain Rashi's selective comments - I would have to think about it.

    So right now, you are stuck. I'm not.

    If your claim is incorrect, then my not providing a counter, correct claim does not minimize the incorrectness of your claim.

    Yes, but you have not shown my claim to be incorrect. Let me know if you get hold of the Sapirstein editors and convince them that they're learning Rashi incorrectly.

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  101. "Nowhere here does Rashi indicate that he is dealing with the problem of dmus. In fact, the word dmus hasn't even occurred yet - that's later in the passuk!"

    Oy vey. I did not say he was dealing with the "problem" of demus; I said he was dealing with the "issue" of demus. Please read carefully. I now cite from Rashi, as translated by the Saperstein edition: "Let us make man. The humility of the Holy One Blessed be He we have learned from here. Since man is in the likeness (demus) of the angels and they would be jealous of him...He said to them "There exists in the higher spheres in My likeness (demus), if there are not beings in My likeness (demus) in the lower spheres too..." So yes, demus is the issue behind the consultation with the angels.

    "Let me know if you get hold of the Sapirstein editors and convince them that they're learning Rashi incorrectly."

    It turns out that I don't have to. Now that I have actually seen the Saperstein edition of Rashi, it is clear once again that you either willfully misrepresented or have serious problems with reading comprehension. I quote here the entire, exact Saperstein editors' footnote (with the exception of the Hebrew words, which in any event, they translated):

    "Rashi appears to be asking how the verse can speak of "His right" and "His left when G-d is not limited by the dimension of space. However, in his commentary to the verse in Kings, Rashi states, "Is there left Above? Does it not say, 'The right hand of Hashem is lofty; the right hand of Hashem performs mightily'" (Psalms 118:17), and concludes along the lines of Rashi to our verse. According to Rashi there, the question is posed only with regard to "His left." That's it.

    Where are they saying that Rashi is really paraphrasing and asking the same question in both places?!? On the contrary, they are noticing the difference between the questions, and leaving the observation about the differences as it is. From this you get the idea that the editors are saying that there's no significant difference and that it's really the same question? If this is rationalism, then those of us who really aspire to be rational are really in trouble!!!

    And since you and I are biased here, why not ask your readers to respond about their take on the Saperstein comment? Again, oy vey!

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  102. Oy vey. I did not say he was dealing with the "problem" of demus; I said he was dealing with the "issue" of demus. Please read carefully.

    The word demus is mentioned, but that's not the issue he's dealing with.

    I read the Sapirstein as saying as follows: Rashi APPEARS to be learning it as so... HOWEVER, from the Rashi elsewhere, we see differently. In other words, the appearance is false, and the Rashi in the other place reveals what is really going on.

    I'll tell you what, I'll try to contact the Sapirstein people and see what they meant, okay? And if they say what you say, I will readily retract my claim that they are a masiach lefi tumo support for my interpretation.

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  103. "The word demus is mentioned, but that's not the issue he's dealing with."

    He mentions it 3 times as the central issue behind why G-d consulted with the angels. With one fell swoop Rashi explains both issues by adjusting the question and giving the same answer. What is it about this that is problematic for you?

    "I read the Sapirstein as saying as follows: Rashi APPEARS to be learning it as so... HOWEVER, from the Rashi elsewhere, we see differently. In other words, the appearance is false, and the Rashi in the other place reveals what is really going on."

    Typical. You deduce the meaning you want by adding a bunch of missing components on your own: "the appearance is false..."

    "How can I get in touch with the Saperstein editors?
    I don't know."
    "I'll tell you what, I'll try to contact the Sapirstein people and see what they meant, okay?"

    Which is it, you do know how to contact them or you don't know how to contact them? If you do, please let me know so that I can contact them as well. Your reliability on reporting the "facts" is, to my mind, somewhat suspect.

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  104. "The word demus is mentioned, but that's not the issue he's dealing with."

    He mentions it 3 times as the central issue behind why G-d consulted with the angels. With one fell swoop Rashi explains both issues by adjusting the question and giving the same answer. What is it about this that is problematic for you?

    "I read the Sapirstein as saying as follows: Rashi APPEARS to be learning it as so... HOWEVER, from the Rashi elsewhere, we see differently. In other words, the appearance is false, and the Rashi in the other place reveals what is really going on."

    Typical. You deduce the meaning you want by adding a bunch of missing components on your own: "the appearance is false..."

    "How can I get in touch with the Saperstein editors?
    I don't know."
    "I'll tell you what, I'll try to contact the Sapirstein people and see what they meant, okay?"

    Which is it, you do know how to contact them or you don't know how to contact them? If you do, please let me know so that I can contact them as well. Your reliability on reporting the "facts" is, to my mind, somewhat suspect.

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  105. "The word demus is mentioned, but that's not the issue he's dealing with."

    He mentions it 3 times as the central issue behind why G-d consulted with the angels.


    Actually, I have a much better answer. Demus is nothing to do with corporeality anyway - it is intellectual aspects, as Rashi later explains.

    Typical. You deduce the meaning you want by adding a bunch of missing components on your own: "the appearance is false..."

    I'm explaining that the combination of "it appears... however" implies that "however" is telling you that what appears to be so ain't so. Otherwise, they would say "rashi here means... but elsewhere..."

    Which is it, you do know how to contact them or you don't know how to contact them?

    Right now, I don't know how. But I have a way of finding out.

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  106. "Right now, I don't know how. But I have a way of finding out."

    So you'll let me know when you find out?

    "if they say what you say, I will readily retract my claim that they are a masiach lefi tumo support for my interpretation."

    You should actually do more than that. You should readily admit that their masiach lefi tumo interpretation is a support for my claim.

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  107. So you'll let me know when you find out?

    I just got an email address, which I think is for the right person. But I don't want to post it online. Email me and I'll send it to you.

    You should actually do more than that. You should readily admit that their masiach lefi tumo interpretation is a support for my claim.

    Agreed.

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  108. (But, quid pro quo, if they agree with mine, will you agree that it is support for my claim?)

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  109. Huh. That's really disturbing. Do you have a citation for Rav Eliyahu saying that about mice?

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  110. "(But, quid pro quo, if they agree with mine, will you agree that it is support for my claim?)"

    I would certainly agree that if after being exposed to the issues that were covered in this discussion, the Saperstein editors maintain that there is no significant difference between Rashi's two comments, then that is a support, based upon maisiach lefi tumo, for what you claim. Assuming, of course, that there is no maisiach lefi tumo support the other way from some other recognized readers of Rashi.

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  111. OK, I asked the editor, and you were right! I misunderstood what he wrote. He did, however, admit that I have a good question regarding Rashi changing the pshat of the question from Chazal's own.

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  112. Yasher Ko-ach on the research and on the honesty.

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  113. With regard to Rashi changing the text of Midrashim, Rabbi Bonachek in his introduction to "What's bothering Rashi" on Vayikra (as well as in numerous specific pesukim in the series) has numerous examples where Rashi changes the text of a midrash and explains an idea in each case as to why rashi does so.

    This is because Rashi has a different purpose then Midrash and makes use of midrashim for his purpose.

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  114. Thanks for the reference, I'll check it out. Does he have cases where Rashi is actually changing the fundamental meaning of the Midrash?

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  115. there used to be 116 comments here, now there are 115. what was removed and why?

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  116. Nothing was removed. If it was, you'd see "this comment has been removed by the administrator."

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  117. I had absolutely no idea that corporealism of God was a Jewish concept even if limited in adherents. I know about other religious groups who are believes in corporealism, most notably the Mormons.

    I'm a naturalist. I was brought up frum but as I gained knowledge and insight into science and the ways of the world, the lack of evidence for a divine creator and the non-acceptance of obvious scientific truths such as evolution, an old universe, big bang, genetic relatedness of all living things, no global flood in modern civilization etc made me feel very uncomfortable with identifying as a believer in Judaism.

    I'm stunned that others who seem to share the same skepticism as I do maintain a religious identity.

    Where are these people situated?

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