Monday, January 11, 2010

Demonic Dogmatism: Two Sides of the Same Coin

The Gemara (especially the Bavli, not so much the Yerushalmi) is replete with countless references to demons. Nevertheless, Rambam (as well as others such as Ralbag, R. Yaakov b. Abba Mari Anatoli, R. Levi ben Avraham ben Chaim, and probably Meiri and Ibn Ezra) were of the view that there is no such thing. Rambam does not explicitly deny the existence of demons, but it clearly emerges from many different discussions of his.

It is not only contemporary academic scholars who realize that Rambam did not believe in demons. As Marc Shapiro documents in his fascinating Studies in Maimonides and his Interpreters, there were many traditional Torah scholars who also realized this, including R. Shlomo b. Meshullam da Piera, R. Yosef b. Shem Tov, R. Yosef Shlomo Delmedigo, R. Aviad Sar-Shalom Basilea, Abarbanel, the Vilna Gaon, R. Yosef Ergas, R. Yosef Shaul Nathanson, R. Menashe ben Yisrael, R. Eliezer Simchah Rabinowitz, and R. Yosef Kapach. Some of these agreed with Rambam, others criticized him for this denial.

But many traditionalists simply could not imagine that the great Rambam could deny the existence of something that played so prominent a role in Chazal's worldview and even in halachah. Shapiro cites a long list of authorities who claimed that Rambam really did believe in demons. Even someone as relatively broad-minded as R. Yaakov Kaminetzky z"l wrote that when Rambam wrote that magic and the occult is all nonsense, he was only speaking about the magic practiced in his day, and was not referring to that of the Biblical and Talmudic era. He claims that Rambam agreed with Ramban that magic, demons and so on did actually exist.

This sort of historical revisionism is well known amongst traditionalists. But I discovered a fascinating new example of it amongst people who, one might expect, would be very different. Here we find someone claiming that Chazal themselves did not believe in demons (as actual entities), and here he claims that Ramban and all the other Rishonim did not believe in them either.

This is not only untenable, but absurd. Along with virtually the entire ancient world, Ramban certainly believed in demons, and writes at length about them. He describes them as being produced by witchcraft and possessing bodies composed of air that cannot be detected, along with the element of fire. Since they are composed of these light elements, they are able to fly, and since they travel in the sky, they are able to learn about future events from the angels of the constellations. Ramban also explains Chazal’s statement about demons eating like people to mean that they also subsist on food – although theirs consists of evaporated moisture and smoke from fires. He also views the denial of the existence of demons as signifying a general heretical worldview, berating Aristotle for denying the existence of that which cannot be empirically detected. It is quite clear that Ramban believed in the existence of actual demons, as did Chazal.

I'm not sure how to categorize this latter kind of revisionism, which seeks to read the Rambam's rationalism into all other great Torah authorities. Should it be termed hyper-rationalist? Fundamentalist-rationalist? Irrational rationalist? It's difficult to find a label that is accurately descriptive without being offensive.

80 comments:

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

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  2. If the desire to "exorcise" Chazal of their belief in shedim is a form of rationalist revisionism, what about those who say that the Chumash itself doesn't really hold of supernatural miracles (e.g. that the 10 plagues can be explained scientifically)?

    We should always keep in mind whether we're speaking in terms of academics or pedagogy. Pedagogically, we ask what do we teach in order to impart our values. In this context it's ok to "read into" the text, or into our sages' positions. (But we should be honest when we're doing this.) Academically, we ask only what is the most reasonable conclusion. Thus, it's not enough to show that it's "possible" to interpret the text a certain way -- it needs to be the most coherent explanation.

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  3. A few other questions...

    In Tanach, "shedim" refer to a certain class of gods that idolaters sacrifice to. If so, doesn't it stand to reason that the same people who deny the existence of false gods should deny the existence of shedim?

    This brings up a larger issue worth exploring -- to what extent in the Biblical Torah outlook were other gods considered "real" (albeit not in the same ballpark as the One God)?

    On a related note, some derive "shedim" from "shedu", the Akkadian protective god-entities placed by doorways and entrances. Is it just me, or does this sound a bit like "Shadai" written on the back of the mezuza?

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  4. How does anyone know that there are no demons?

    Do we have any kind of precise definition of them or their characteristics that would allow some kind of scientific investigation of the question?

    And why are demons so much less popular than angels, which the Rambam and other "rationalistic" thinkers seem to have accepted?

    (I hope everyone who knows me understands that I'm not stating an opinion, just raising questions.)

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  5. Rabbi, Do you bleive that a mezuza protects one's house from sheidim and the like? Do you believe that evil spirits exist? How about angels that accompany us home on friday night? Is it rational to believe in these things?

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  6. "and probably Meiri and Ibn Ezra"

    Why don't you research before speculating? As I recall the Meiri the Meiri believes in Kishuf and Shedim, The ibn Ezra indicates the same.

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  7. I'm not speculating. I have researched it extensively, and it's not absolutely clear what their views are. I have an essay on this that I plan to publish.

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  8. Much of current-day Orthodox Judaism insists that the Rabonim of the past were infallible and their work was guided by God (ruach hakodesh). Therefore there are those in each faction who seek to reinterpret the past to fit with their own beliefs. If they are right, and the rabonim of the past can’t be wrong, it stands to reason that the rabonim of the past held like they did. It all makes good logical sense.

    > How does anyone know that there are no demons?

    How do you know that there are demons?

    > And why are demons so much less popular than angels

    It’s true, we have no reason to think angels are real either. Though the word “malach” means messenger, and I think I’ve heard interpretations where all instances of angels in tanach can be read as a physical messenger (though I could be imagining it).

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  9. How about pseudorationalist apologetics?

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  10. The Gemara (especially the Bavli, Nevertheless, "Rambam (as well as others such as Ralbag, R. Yaakov b. Abba Mari Anatoli, R. Levi ben Avraham ben Chaim, and probably Meiri and Ibn Ezra) were of the view that there is no such thing. Rambam does not explicitly deny the existence of demons".

    PLEASE POST SOURCES WHERE IT IS WRITTEN.THANKS

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  11. DF

    It's exactly as Yehuda writes in the first comment. Some people will twist other people's words - that are uncomfortable to them - into fantastic contortions, so as to avoid the natural ramifications. There are countless examples of this in the orthodox world.

    DF

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  12. I found it amazing that the Shulchan Aruch Harav (written in about 1770) has a law that allows one to ask a demon for help on Shabbat in order to find a lost possesion

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  13. "This is not only untenable, but absurd. Along with virtually the entire ancient world, Ramban certainly believed in demons, and writes at length about them. He describes them as being produced..."

    I have strong objections to this type of language.

    We have no idea what the ancient world believed, we only know about the language they used. But we have no idea how that language was interpreted.

    We do not know what was idiom/allusion/metaphor and what was literal.

    A good example of this, is the story with the congressman and his explanation of the Internet as a series of tubes. People assumed that since he was old and doesn't use a computer, that his description was meant to be literal, instead of it being the extended metaphor that it was. Is it revisionism when the opposing understanding of the words is taking place minutes and hours after the comment instead of 1,000 years later?

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  14. The bottom line is that whether or not there are shedim is really just a scientific question - the Sages believed in them because they thought there was evidence of their existence and intervention in our lives. We know have evidence to the contrary that is more decisive.

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  15. @Anonymous Jan 12, 2010 1:08 AM

    I'm glad you agree entirely with the type of language used in the original post. I appreciate the extended metaphor and irony you used to convey that approval. You couldn't have been more clear that was your intent.

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  16. How do you know that there are demons?


    I see you didn't read the end of my comment where I say explicitly that I'm not expressing any opinion. I'm only saying that this is an empirical question that we cannot even begin to investigate until someone defines what a "demon" or "angel" is.

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  17. Ramban gives his definition - see the post.

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  18. Rambam himself claims that most of Chazal did not believe in astrology. Could this be an example of the same sort of revisionism? Is that really true?

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  19. Ramban gives his definition - see the post.


    I'm not sure that anything you quote there constitutes a definition, as opposed to an explanation of their properties. After all, the Ramban also "explained" the functions of the human body using the "elements" of air, fire, the four humours, etc. Does that mean that today we know that the human body doesn't exist?

    In general, I'm not sure where this thread is leading. The unfortunate truth is that lots and lots of Chazal's worldview seems very primitive to us today, and different groups are responding to this fact in different ways. The one thing that seems to be true historically for many centuries, though, is that Chazal pretty much constitute the practical definition of "Judaism", and we have to know how much we can disagree with Chazal's ideas and still be practicing Judaism in any meaningful sense.

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  20. "Rambam himself claims that most of Chazal did not believe in astrology."

    That's just a small example of the irony of defending the Rambam in article decrying revisionist rationalism; the Rambam was a revisionist rationalist par excellence! His entire religious philosophy was based on re-imagining the Torah and Chazal's works in anachronistic Aristotelian terms that would have been utterly foreign to their actual authors! So complaining that people are doing to the Rambam what he did to his own predecessors is quite strange.

    When the past is irrational, but tradition is authority, tradition-dependent rationalists must resort to anachronism. Those who don't get banned because it is inherently subversive.

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  21. "So complaining that people are doing to the Rambam what he did to his own predecessors is quite strange."

    Why? You can say that it's poetic justice or something like that, but it's nevertheless wrong to engage in intellectually dishonest revisionism, even though Rambam did it too. Besides, I think it's less excusable nowadays, when scholarship is so accessible.

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  22. A good point. And frankly the same can be said for Chazal, whom the Rambam reimagines; the latter was "returning the favor" for what Chazal did to the Torah.

    But still, how can you look to tradition as authority, or a source of authority, while undermining it by disbelieving its content without the cover of reimagining tradition to match the new belief?

    That's not so much a question for you as a general problem for Judaism in modernity. We're too acutely self-aware to allow our changes be done unconsciously and to pass uncommented upon, to be post-facto justified later (i.e. "mina hani mili"). We've lost the ability to forget and recreate, the "dark" side to scholarship (really: information) being so accessible. It's a big problem, as you've found out the hard way. Recall your (somewhat infamous) emails about the mabul, where the authority you eventually (somewhat angrily) cited when pressed for precedent (read: authority) were not rishonim, but ice cores and DNA the like.

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  23. I'm glad you know betterJanuary 13, 2010 at 12:35 AM

    "Why? You can say that it's poetic justice or something like that, but it's nevertheless wrong to engage in intellectually dishonest revisionism, even though Rambam did it too."

    Let us take a step back here for a second. What do you think the Rambam himself would respond to the question, "aren't you engaged in revisionism here - REinterpreting what Chazal really meant based upon your own subjective views?" Do you think he would respond, "why yes, you're quite right. Shhhh, please don't tell anyone." Or do you think he would respond, "No. What I wrote is what I think Chazal truly meant. I merely used the terms of philosophy as a tool to convey the meaning that they truly had."

    If you say that he would respond with the latter, but that he REALLY was a revisionist, i.e., he would be lying, but you know better, (as Slifkin seems to be saying in the quote at the top of this comment), then are you not engaged in a gross defamation of the Rambam as one of the classical transmitters of the mesorah of Torah? The same, of course, is the case if you think he would respond with the former.

    We are truly blessed to have a Torah sage as erudite and as honest as Slifkin to help guide us through the murky and dishonest writings of people like the Rambam! Thank heavens!

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  24. "Ramban gives his definition - see the post.

    I'm not sure that anything you quote there constitutes a definition, as opposed to an explanation of their properties. After all, the Ramban also "explained" the functions of the human body using the "elements" of air, fire, the four humors, etc. Does that mean that today we know that the human body doesn't exist?"

    I agree with what you wrote here.
    It bothers me that people have a strong emotional reaction to the idea that what previous generations described as angels and demons, we describe at subatomic actions/reactions.

    Taking the words of the Ramban's definition of demons, how does this differ from radiowaves/photons which are created by scientists/witches and are able to see in the future by looking deep into space/they sky. (we know the sun will blow up in X years for example, or we know the weather will change based on the movements of these particle etc.)

    Is the only difference that people refuse to believe that G-d controls the subatomic world with as much detail as He controls the angels and demons? Or is the metaphor just too strong of our collective human power? I'm not sure why both religious and scientific people revolt instinctively at such a suggestion.

    Doesn't the Ramban himself say that we know angles exist because you can see two pieces of metal get pulled closer to eachother with nobody touching them?

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  25. To "I'm glad" -

    You don't understand what I meant; perhaps I did not write carefully. Of course Rambam wasn't lying! He really, truly thought that the Neviim and Chazal were presenting Aristotelian physics and metaphysics. I'm not sure whether it's appropriate to call this "intellectually dishonest." One would think that he should have realized how radical and forced a viewpoint this was, but perhaps when one is deeply embedded in a worldview, it's hard to see out.

    What exactly do you dispute? Are you claiming that maase merkavah really is Aristotelian metaphysics? And that maase Bereishis represents the Aristotelian hierarchy of nature?

    One thing that virtually all academics and traditionalists agree on is that Rambam read Greco-Muslim philosophy into Torah and Chazal.

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  26. I'm glad you know betterJanuary 13, 2010 at 11:33 PM

    "One would think that he (the Rambam) should have realized how radical and forced a viewpoint this was, but perhaps when one is deeply embedded in a worldview, it's hard to see out."

    Once again, you have proven my point. The Rambam didn't realize that his view was not REALLY authentic Torah, but that it was RADICAL and FORCED. He couldn't realize this because he was too close to his own worldview, but, fortunately, you can see what he could not. Your arrogance is appalling.

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  27. Good grief. You think I came up with this on my own? From the Gra to Rav Hirsch to all the Maimonidean scholars of today, virtually everyone agrees that Rambam read Greek philosophy into Torah. Do you disagree?

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  28. I'm glad you know betterJanuary 14, 2010 at 6:55 AM

    "virtually everyone agrees that Rambam read Greek philosophy into Torah."

    If by this statement you mean that everyone agrees that the Rambam perverted Torah by forcing Greek philosophy artificially into Torah, rather than using Greek philosophical form to explain what the Rambam maintained are true, authentic Torah ideas, then yes, of course I disagree. If your reference to the Gra is his comment in Yoreh Deah, see Ruach Eliyahu, among others, who cite compelling evidence (written accounts of first generation students) who seriously challenge the authenticity of the comment. You can disagree all you want with the Rambam's philosophy, but to claim that he was blind to the fact that he himself forced external ideas into Torah, whereas you clearly see this mistake, is, as I said, appallingly arrogant.

    Yaft Elokim l'Yefet v'yishkon b'oholei Shem.

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  29. Nobody claims that he deliberately perverted Torah! Rather, he was a product of Greek philosophy, considered it true, and saw Torah through that lens. He reasoned that the Nevi'im and Chazal themselves thought the same way, and that this wisdom had subsequently been lost and had been rediscovered by Aristotle.

    The Gra's comment is authentic. People who are uncomfortable with it engage in revisionism. See R. Yisrael Yaakov Dinstag, “Was the Gra Opposed to the Philosophical Approach of the Rambam?” [Hebrew], Talpiot 4:1-2 (Tammuz 5709) p. 254. And have you seen what Rav Hirsch writes? He's even harsher than the Gra. (let me guess - Rav Hirsch's comments are forgeries...)

    If you consider me to be arrogantly initiating an idea that was not said by countless Torah scholars and academics, you are appallingly ignorant, and the same kind of revisionist that I was criticizing in this post. (In fact, since you are afraid to give your name, perhaps you are the revisionist that I was criticizing in this post!)

    I notice that you ignored my questions. Are you claiming that maase merkavah really is Aristotelian metaphysics? And that maase Bereishis represents the Aristotelian hierarchy of nature?

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  30. I'm glad you know betterJanuary 14, 2010 at 1:51 PM

    "The Gra's comment is authentic. People who are uncomfortable with it engage in revisionism. See R. Yisrael Yaakov Dinstag, “Was the Gra Opposed to the Philosophical Approach of the Rambam?” [Hebrew], Talpiot 4:1-2 (Tammuz 5709) p. 254."

    Dienstag (who was a friend of mine) is one legitimate view. Are you definitively claiming that the other (legitimate) view (that the comment in Yoreh Deah is an interpolation) is revisionism? So the students of the Gra himself who wrote openly that it was an interpolation were definitely revisionists? You know this to be an indisputable fact? You definitively know better than the Gra's own students? Amazing!

    I did answer your questions. Your lack of intellectual acumen prevented you from being able to see that. Yes, maaseh merkavah represents metaphysics, whose principles were reflected in Aristotle's formulation of that area of knowledge. Aristotle, about whom the Rambam wrote that he reached the highest human intellectual level just short of prophecy. Maaseh Bereishit represents physics. The Rambam's exposure to the height of physics was what Aristotle formulated it to be. That does not mean that Bereishit reflects the exact details of Aristotelian physics. It means that it reflects physics as a whole. All of this is the Rambam's view and I follow it. That does not mean that there are not other legitimate views. Elu v'elu...

    Now what is your problem with all of this?

    Are you aware of Rav Soloveitchik's shiur on makshish magideha which claims that anyone who says that Chazal's pronouncements were not absolutely and thoroughly refined through the prism of logic and Torah ideals, but rather were products of their own culture etc., is in violation of makshish magideha and is considered a heretic? Should give you some pause before your arrogant rantings.

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  31. I got a good laugh out of that last paragraph.
    This is my first peek at your website, (aaaaah) but my sense is that at the core of “rationalism” is a search for the Emes(t), and an honest evaluation of what we are looking at.
    Any reasoning that at the outset is only prepared to promote certain conclusions, and is not willing to take in the facts is not rational”ism” at all. It’s just simple, old fashioned rationalizing…or perhaps more accurately rationa”lie”zing. But being that it’s an entity that’s up in the air trying to look like something else while causing us pain, I’d call it…a demon. ‘Cept unfortunately this is all too real.
    (Hmmm after writing the above, I think I’ve come up with a true usable term…How about distortionalism?)

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  32. "Are you definitively claiming that the other (legitimate) view (that the comment in Yoreh Deah is an interpolation) is revisionism?"

    It doesn't really bother me if the Gra didn't say it. But apparently it it very problematic for you if he did say it. Right?

    And what do you do with this quote from Rav Hirsch:

    However, not everybody grasped the true spirit of Judaism. In non-Jewish schools Yisrael's youth trained their minds in independent philosophical inquiry. From Arab sources they drew the concepts of Greek philosophy and came to conceive their ultimate aim as perfecting themselves in the perception of truth. Hence rose conflict. Their quickening spirit put them at odds with Judaism, which they considered to be void of any spirit of its own; and their view of life was in contradiction with a view that stressed action, deeds, first and foremost, and considered recognition of the truth to only be a means toward such action.
    And so the times brought forth a man of spirit who, having been educated within an uncomprehended Judaism as well as Arab scholarship, was compelled to reconcile this dichotomy within himself. By giving voice to the way in which he did this, he became the guide for all who were engaged in the same struggle.
    It is to this great man alone that we owe the preservation of practical Judaism until the present day. By accomplishing this and yet, on the other hand merely reconciling Judaism with the ideas from without, rather than developing it creatively from within, and by the way in which he effected this reconciliation, he gave rise to all the good that followed- as well as all the bad.
    His trend of thought was Arab-Greek, as was his concept of life. Approaching Judaism from without, he brought to it views that he had gained elsewhere, and these he reconciled with Judaism. Thus to him too, the highest aim was self-perfection through recognition of the truth; and the practical, concrete deeds became subordinate to this end. Knowledge of God was considered an end in itself, not a means toward the end; and so he delved into speculations about the essence of God and considered the results of these speculative investigations to be fundamental axioms and principles of faith binding upon Judaism.

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  33. Yes, maaseh merkavah represents metaphysics, whose principles were reflected in Aristotle's formulation of that area of knowledge... That does not mean that Bereishit reflects the exact details of Aristotelian physics. It means that it reflects physics as a whole. All of this is the Rambam's view and I follow it... Now what is your problem with all of this?

    My problem with it is that it's wrong. More significantly here is that you apparently think that I am some sort of radical for saying that. Whereas in fact this is the standard view amongst both traditionalists and academics.

    Are you aware of Rav Soloveitchik's shiur on makshish magideha which claims that anyone who says that Chazal's pronouncements were not absolutely and thoroughly refined through the prism of logic and Torah ideals, but rather were products of their own culture etc., is in violation of makshish magideha and is considered a heretic? Should give you some pause before your arrogant rantings.

    Yes, I am well aware of it. It's a problematic statement. But in any case, it's irrelevant here. We are talking about Rambam, not Chazal. Are you seriously claiming that there is not a significant body of Torah scholars who have claimed that Rambam was very influenced by Greek philosophy in his interpretation of Torah??!!

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  34. I'm glad you know betterJanuary 14, 2010 at 6:36 PM

    It doesn't bother me at all if the Gra really said it. (Just know that the statement is suspect). It doesn't bother me at all what R. Hirsch wrote. Let's see - a "machloket" between the Rambam vs. the Gra and R. Hirsch - hmmmmm.... As I said, you can disagree all you want with the Rambam, but I ask you again, does the Rambam maintain that he himself was representing authentic Judaism? You are claiming that you know better than he - he REALLY was injecting an outside view and representing it as Judaism, but you know better what he was really doing! Wow.

    "My problem with it is that it's wrong."

    So let me get this straight - you KNOW that the Rambam's fundamental ideology about Torah ideas - that which he repeatedly emphasized in the Moreh - is WRONG. Are you aware that when the Gra was approached to stop someone from delivering a shiur in Vilna on the Moreh, the Gra not only didn't stop the shiur, but encouraged it, saying that we cannot begin to fathom the Rambam's greatness in hashkafah. And that story (documented in Ruach Eliyahu) is not suspect whatsover (as opposed to the Yoreh Deah comment).

    "Yes, I am well aware of it. It's a problematic statement. But in any case, it's irrelevant here. We are talking about Rambam, not Chazal."

    So now you know better than Rav Soloveitchik as well. By the way, you are wrong that it is irrelevant. I was at the shiur, and asked the Rav afterward if his statements applied to the rishonim as well and he emphatically said, "absolutely."

    Now let me ask you a question. You claim "This website is an exploration into the rationalist approach to Judaism that was most famously presented by Maimonides." What do you mean? He engaged, in your own words, in "revisionism" of Judaism, and was wrong about the central themes of maaseh Bereishit and maaseh merkavah. So you stand for revisionism and mistaken approaches in ideology? What exactly is the approach of his that you are taking? Trying to be logical? What logic? Aristotle? Hume? Kant? Ramchal? You are disingenuous at best, but that's OK since it is offset by the obvious expertise and knowledge that you have, which far exceed those of the Rambam (and, I presume, other rishonim as well). Ashreinu Yisrael that we have Slifkin!

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  35. Let's see - a "machloket" between the Rambam vs. the Gra and R. Hirsch - hmmmmm...

    Well, obviously you are not a rationalist, nor a follower of Rambam's methodology, if you hold that in such a dispute, Rambam must be correct. Do you think that Rambam would have considered somebody of his generation inherently more likely to be correct about any given theological issue than (many more) people of a later generation?

    You are claiming that you know better than he - he REALLY was injecting an outside view and representing it as Judaism, but you know better what he was really doing!

    It's not me - it's virtually everyone who lived after him, who had the benefit of historical hindsight.

    Are you aware that when the Gra was approached to stop someone from delivering a shiur in Vilna on the Moreh, the Gra not only didn't stop the shiur, but encouraged it, saying that we cannot begin to fathom the Rambam's greatness in hashkafah.

    It didn't stop the Gra (and many others, such as Ramban and R. Menashe b. Yisrael) from saying that Rambam was wrong about demons, and that he was influenced by Greek philosophy not to believe in them.

    I was at the shiur, and asked the Rav afterward if his statements applied to the rishonim as well and he emphatically said, "absolutely."

    I find it hard to believe that the Rav would claim that Rambam was not influenced by Greco-Muslim philosophy. Still, if he did, that would mean he was going against many Rishonim, Acharonim and contemporary scholars. Was Hirsch a makchish maggideha for what he said about Rambam?

    You claim "This website is an exploration into the rationalist approach to Judaism that was most famously presented by Maimonides." What do you mean?

    See the post when I defined it. Of course rationalism in the 12th century had different manifestations than rationalism today. Or do you believe that Rambam was also correct when he insisted that insects spontaneously generated and that there is no scientific explanation for the pattern of movement of the stars?

    You are disingenuous at best, but that's OK since it is offset by the obvious expertise and knowledge that you have, which far exceed those of the Rambam (and, I presume, other rishonim as well)

    Actually, other Rishonim likewise claimed that Rambam was influenced by Greek philosophy in his interpretation of Judaism. Were they likewise guilty of makchish maggideha?

    It looks like you are blinding yourself to 800 years of rabbinic and scholarly analysis of Rambam.
    I don't mind debating you further, but before I waste time doing so, I must insist that you post under your real name (even though I am pretty sure that I can already make some educated guesses about you).

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  36. "makchish maggideha" Could you kindly define this term for us lesser lights. thank you.

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  37. I'm glad you know betterJanuary 15, 2010 at 6:36 PM

    I have no problem posting my name - it is Shimon Friedler. I'm not sure what that accomplishes, nor do I have any idea what you mean when you say that you can guess who I am. I do not know you from Adam, nor do you, I believe, know me from Adam. I have noticed that this is a pattern of yours - to turn the debate personal when you begin to get uncomfortable with the issues. Ah well, if you have to resort to this, I have no problem at all. By the way, if you have a disdain for anonymity, why allow anonymous posts from ANYONE?

    "Well, obviously you are not a rationalist, nor a follower of Rambam's methodology, if you hold that in such a dispute, Rambam must be correct."

    Nice straw man here! I didn't imply that he must be correct because of his generational position. I implied that he is correct because of his knowledge and wisdom, as compared to those of the Gra and R. Hirsch.

    "Actually, other Rishonim likewise claimed that Rambam was influenced by Greek philosophy in his interpretation of Judaism."

    Please provide a source for this, i.e., a rishon who says that the Rambam injected the foreign ideas of Greek philosophy into Judaism, not just that he used Greek philosophical terminology to elucidate Torah principles.

    "do you believe that Rambam was also correct when he insisted that insects spontaneously generated and that there is no scientific explanation for the pattern of movement of the stars?"

    You've got to be kidding! Rationality is an approach - it is not tied to the particulars of scientific inquiry which are, by definition, limited to the best of the science of the times. I criticized you for your claiming that the Rambam himself was a revisionist, something that is contra-rational, while you simultaneously claim to follow the approach of the Rambam. And you respond with a question as to whether I accept the Rambam's erroneous scientific conclusions, erroneous due not to a lack of rationality but rather to the limitations of the science of his time? Does this have anything to do with the flow of the discussion? This seems to be a desperate "free association" on your part to create a distraction from the point of the argument. Nice try!

    Rather than hiding behind what you claim others have said about this whole issue, I am asking YOU, Slifkin, directly - do you claim to know better than the Rambam himself that he was really blinded about his ideology of Judaism - that it wasn't true Torah Judaism that he expressed in the terminology of Greek philosophy, but rather an injection of foreign matter into Torah? Can you please answer this without making any references to R. Hirsch or anyone else? Or is that too difficult for you?

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  38. "makchish maggideha" Could you kindly define this term for us lesser lights. thank you.

    See Rambam, Hilchos Teshuvah 3:8, and Commentary to Avos 1:3 and Sanhedrin 11:3. It refers to someone who entirely denies the Oral Torah.

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  39. I have no problem posting my name - it is Shimon Friedler. I'm not sure what that accomplishes, nor do I have any idea what you mean when you say that you can guess who I am. I do not know you from Adam, nor do you, I believe, know me from Adam. I have noticed that this is a pattern of yours - to turn the debate personal when you begin to get uncomfortable with the issues.

    Shimon, I am not uncomfortable and do not plan to make it personal. As I have written before me, it annoys me when people are rude to me when hiding behind anonymity. Also, usually using one's real name encourages one to speak with more derech eretz. However, this is apparently not the case with you; you are still incredibly insulting.

    I didn't imply that he must be correct because of his generational position. I implied that he is correct because of his knowledge and wisdom, as compared to those of the Gra and R. Hirsch.

    On what basis do you say that Rambam's knowledge and wisdom is greater than that of the Gra and R. Hirsch? And what about Ramban, who likewise said that Rambam was adversely influenced by Greek philosophy?

    Please provide a source for this, i.e., a rishon who says that the Rambam injected the foreign ideas of Greek philosophy into Judaism, not just that he used Greek philosophical terminology to elucidate Torah principles.

    Ramban in Toras Hashem Temimah, R. Moshe Taku in Ksav Tamim (about Saadiah and various Rishonim). An Acharon who says it is R. Menashe ben Yisrael in Nishmas Chaim. And, of course, the Gra and Rav Hirsch.

    I criticized you for your claiming that the Rambam himself was a revisionist, something that is contra-rational, while you simultaneously claim to follow the approach of the Rambam.

    Being unconsciously revisionist is not contra-rationalist. I am sure that in years to come, people will see that in our generation we misunderstood things because we interpreted them in our own frame of reference.

    Rather than hiding behind what you claim others have said about this whole issue, I am asking YOU, Slifkin, directly - do you claim to know better than the Rambam himself that he was really blinded about his ideology of Judaism - that it wasn't true Torah Judaism that he expressed in the terminology of Greek philosophy, but rather an injection of foreign matter into Torah?

    Yes, of course (although I would say "traditional" rather than "true"). And it has nothing to do with me claiming to be more intelligent or more honest than Rambam, as you claim me to be saying. It's simply the benefit of historical hindsight and having centuries of Maimonidean scholarship to look back on. How do you think everyone else reached this opinion?

    Shimon, I answered your questions, now will you please answer the question that I asked you last time. You apparently endorsed the position that to say that any Rishon's views were not purely from the Torah but involved ideas etc. from other cultures is in violation of makshish magideha and is considered heresy. I previously pointed out that the Gra and Rav Hirsch said this about Rambam, and now I added others. So are you claiming that these people were guilty of makchish maggideha?

    And one more question, this time a new one. Where do you think Rambam got the idea that there is no such thing as demons, even though Chazal believed in them?

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  40. I'm glad you know betterJanuary 17, 2010 at 3:02 AM

    "makchish maggideha...It refers to someone who entirely denies the Oral Torah."

    Not a very accurate answer. The terms literally means "those who deny the SPEAKERS of Torah sheb'al peh."

    "On what basis do you say that Rambam's knowledge and wisdom is greater than that of the Gra?"

    I am basing it on what the Gra himself said about his own knowledge of Torah relative to that of the Rambam (again, quoted in Ruach Eliyahu regarding the event of the shiur on the Moreh).

    "Ramban in Toras Hashem Temimah"

    Well, I looked through the whole drasha of the Ramban - a quick read-through, but a complete one. I counted about ten places where the Ramban quotes the Rambam. Most of those, he quotes the Rambam as a proof for his own position. In two places, he argues (about korbanos and about the end of the world) but NOWHERE did I see that he said the Rambam maintained his positions because he was influenced by the foreign ideology of Greek philosophy. I did read through it rather quickly, and maybe I missed it - so instead of giving vague references, could you provide an exact page number for what you think exists. If it's not there, it won't be the first time you were mistaken or dishonest about a supposed "source."

    "Yes, of course (although I would say "traditional" rather than "true"). And it has nothing to do with me claiming to be more intelligent or more honest than Rambam, as you claim me to be saying. It's simply the benefit of historical hindsight and having centuries of Maimonidean scholarship to look back on."

    So the bottom line is that "of course" you know better than the Rambam about his own ideology of Torah. Sadly, he unconsciously allowed foreign influences to cause him to put forth a vision of Torah that was not really Torah at all. And you know this because of the hindsight of "Maimonidean scholarship" (which consists largely of the OPINIONS and PROJECTIONS of secularists). This is your notion of Judaism?!

    "You apparently endorsed the position that to say that any Rishon's views were not purely from the Torah but involved ideas etc. from other cultures is in violation of makshish magideha and is considered heresy. I previously pointed out that the Gra and Rav Hirsch said this about Rambam, and now I added others. So are you claiming that these people were guilty of makchish maggideha?"

    The answer to your question is that I thoroughly endorse the position of Rav Soloveitchik, zt"l.

    "Where do you think Rambam got the idea that there is no such thing as demons, even though Chazal believed in them?"

    As you yourself pointed out, the Rambam is not direct about this point. What is the problem with saying that the Rambam viewed any idea of "shaidim" as either a metaphor for "mazikin" that emanate from a person's own evil choices, or as a term denoting physical, unseen forces (a category that we today would say includes viruses, bacteria, etc.). Who said that the Rambam denied the existence in ANY sense of shaidim?

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  41. "makchish maggideha" - Rabbi Slifkin is correct as to the sources however to understand Rabbi Soloveitchik's understanding (which is different than the one Rabbi Slifkin gave) a literal translation might be useful: Makchish = deny , Maggideha = its [torah's] tellers (or transmitters);
    hence makchish maggideha means someone who denies the transmitters of Torah (The Baalei Hamesora),
    what this means is a matter of disagreement between rabbi slifkin who says it is a denial of the oral torah in general and rabbi soloveitchik who said it is a specific denial of the personalities of the baalei hamesorah, saying they were influenced by psychological or sociological factors (or the like).

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  42. Rabbi Slifkin, you had said about the anonymous commenter that "I must insist that you post under your real name (even though I am pretty sure that I can already make some educated guesses about you)."

    Now that he has revealed his name, can you tell us if you were correct in your guesses, and if so, how you did that, and if not, were you "chosheid bik'sheirim"?

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  43. There's no way his real name is Shimon Friedler.

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  44. "On what basis do you say that Rambam's knowledge and wisdom is greater than that of the Gra?"

    I am basing it on what the Gra himself said about his own knowledge of Torah relative to that of the Rambam (again, quoted in Ruach Eliyahu regarding the event of the shiur on the Moreh).


    The fact that the Gra considered Rambam to be wiser and more knowledgeable than him does not mean that Rambam was wiser and more knowledgeable than him. Furthermore, the Gra clearly considered himself to be correct regarding Rambam importing Greek ideology into Judaism, so you can't use the Gra's respect for Rambam as reason to say that the Gra must be wrong.

    but NOWHERE did I see that he said the Rambam maintained his positions because he was influenced by the foreign ideology of Greek philosophy.

    Ramban writes that the ancients, whether Jewish or pagan, accepted the reality of supernatural occult phenomena. He says that Aristotle innovated the approach of denying such things. He also disputes Rambam's denial of such things. Hence he views Rambam as accepting Aristotle's innovation.

    If it's not there, it won't be the first time you were mistaken or dishonest about a supposed "source."

    What on earth is with this disgusting manner of speech? What's the matter with you?

    So the bottom line is that "of course" you know better than the Rambam about his own ideology of Torah.

    I never said that I know better than the Rambam about his own ideology of Torah.

    Sadly, he unconsciously allowed foreign influences to cause him to put forth a vision of Torah that was not really Torah at all.

    Well, I think Rav Kook's approach is that the Torah is meant to absorb positive ideas from the world, so I wouldn't negate everything that Rambam imported.

    And you know this because of the hindsight of "Maimonidean scholarship" (which consists largely of the OPINIONS and PROJECTIONS of secularists).

    I wasn't aware that Ramban, the GRa, Hirsch, etc., etc., were considered secularists.

    This is your notion of Judaism?!

    Yes, and it's perfectly normative. You're the one taking a far-out position.

    "You apparently endorsed the position that to say that any Rishon's views were not purely from the Torah but involved ideas etc. from other cultures is in violation of makshish magideha and is considered heresy. I previously pointed out that the Gra and Rav Hirsch said this about Rambam, and now I added others. So are you claiming that these people were guilty of makchish maggideha?"

    The answer to your question is that I thoroughly endorse the position of Rav Soloveitchik, zt"l.


    To paraphrase what you said earlier - I am not interested in what Rav Soloveitchik may have said and what you claim he meant. I am interested in what YOU are saying. You are saying that some of the most prominent Rishonim and Acharonim were makchish maggideha - heretics who did not understand the basic rules of Torah! This is your notion of Judaism?!

    What is the problem with saying that the Rambam viewed any idea of "shaidim" as either a metaphor for "mazikin" that emanate from a person's own evil choices, or as a term denoting physical, unseen forces

    That's not what Chazal meant. And if Rambam understood Chazal that way, he wouldn't have had to tamper with all the halachos about sheidim in the way that he did.

    I don't think that there's any more to discuss here. I am appalled at your rudeness, and at your condemning a normative viewpoint amongst Torah scholars throughout the ages as heresy.

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  45. I'm glad you know betterJanuary 18, 2010 at 2:06 AM

    "Ramban writes that the ancients, whether Jewish or pagan, accepted the reality of supernatural occult phenomena. He says that Aristotle innovated the approach of denying such things. He also disputes Rambam's denial of such things. Hence he views Rambam as accepting Aristotle's innovation."

    Well, as I suspected, you have completely perverted the Ramban's meaning for the purpose of your claim. For the benefit of everyone else out there - you can find the Ramban that Slifkin refers to on page 147 of the R.C. Chavel edition. The Ramban says that Aristotle accepted only what the senses lead to and that caused him to deny "spiritual" matters such as shaidim, witchcraft, creation, G-d's providence, etc. which were known to all during the ancient days DUE TO THEIR KNOWLEDGE OF SCIENCE AND/OR OBSERVATION. He does not say that Aristotle denied that which we know from mesorah from G-d, but that he denied that which was known to the ancients of the whole world from their general knowledge. So if anyone were to accept Aristotle's view on this (shaidim and witchcraft - not creation and providence) he would be denying the knowledge of the ancients - Jewish and non-Jewish. He would NOT be denying the mesorah of Torah in and of itself.

    This Ramban is your "proof" that the he maintained that the Rambam introduced FOREIGN MATTER INTO JUDAISM because he was influenced incorrectly by Aristotle?!? This would be tantamount to saying that since the ancients all believed that the earth was the center of the universe, if a great achron wrote about the earth not being the center he must be introducing foreign elements into Judaism because he was influenced in his theology by Copernicus, Galileo, Einstein, etc. The Ramban maintained what he did because he looked at the ancients and saw their view as not contradicting reality as the Ramban knew it. The Rambam saw shaidim (as explained in the classical sense) and witchcraft as contradicting reality as he knew it. This means that the Ramban's argument with the Rambam is that he saw the Rambam's JEWISH IDEOLOGY as being influenced by foreign matter? That's your entire proof from the rishonim? You must be kidding!

    To "Off the Derech" - it is my real name. And your comment is rather funny coming from someone who doesn't have the guts to sign your own name at all!

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  46. "I never said that I know better than the Rambam about his own ideology of Torah."

    You should say that you never implied it, not that you never said it.

    (I'm not saying you did imply it; I'm just saying that your retort could be a lot stronger.)

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  47. The Ramban says that Aristotle accepted only what the senses lead to and that caused him to deny "spiritual" matters such as shaidim, witchcraft, creation, G-d's providence, etc. which were known to all during the ancient days DUE TO THEIR KNOWLEDGE OF SCIENCE AND/OR OBSERVATION. He does not say that Aristotle denied that which we know from mesorah from G-d...

    But Ramban holds that the Chumash and Chazal both attest to the reality of such phenomena! It makes no difference whatsoever that non-Jews also attest to it. So RambaN holds that RambaM denied that which is our mesorah from the Chumash and Chazal, due to his accepting the influence of Aristotle. (And even Rambam would agree that Chazal believed in these things.) QED.

    Your mashal from astronomy is ironic. The mesorah was that the earth stands still, based on various pesukim, and elaborated upon by many Rishonim. It is precisely for this reason that numerous Acharonim denounced Copernicus as being contrary to the mesorah, and lamented those Torah scholars who accepted such a non-traditional view. I guess we have another set of Acharonim who were makchish maggideha to add to the list...

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  48. "I never said that I know better than the Rambam about his own ideology of Torah."

    You should say that you never implied it, not that you never said it.


    I think it's pretty obvious that nobody even knows for sure what Rambam's complete ideology of Torah was, let alone knowing better than him! For example, his position on miracles is an enigma with no clear solution.

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  49. Dear Rabbi Slifkin,

    I am a huge fan of yours, having read most if not all of your books and articles. Keep up the great work! I must say that the tone of the commenter "I'm glad..." is really horrible. Even those who accuse you of having a terrible tone in your works when it comes to Chazal could never say that your tone matches anything like that of "I'm glad..."

    Being a fan of yours and taking to heart the "derech" that you are trying to impart, I do want to point out that on the substance of the matter concerning the Ramban, I am unconvinced. Allow me to explain. When the chareidi fundamentalists criticized you for your stance on Chazal and science, you correctly pointed out that Chazal's view of science is not part of the mesorah of Yahadut - and therefore they are subject to error in science. The Ramban says that Chazal accepted sheidim and the like because the whole world accepted them due to observations and common knowledge. He didn't say or imply that Chazal's view of sheidim stems from any mesorah of Yahadut. Therefore, when the Rambam rejected sheidim, he was rejecting a view held because of observation and common knowledge, not a view held due to mesorah. His rejection of this view was due to what he felt was a rational outlook. The fact that Chazal accepted sheidim doesn't make it mesorah, any more that Chazal's accepting other observable phenomena doesn't make that mesorah. Your assessment of the Ramban's view of the Rambam, it seems to me, relies on a rejection of a principle that you (correctly) use in your own defense against the chareidim.

    Please note that this comment has nothing to do with whether or not there were sages who viewed the Rambam as bringing foreign influences into Judaism. It challenges only the reading of the Ramban in that way.

    Again, keep up the great work that you do, and happy Martin Luther King Jr. Day!

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  50. Flatbush Fan - thanks for the kind words!

    In your comment, you are mixing up different usages of the term "mesorah." Chazal's statements on science are certainly part of Yahadut in the sense of our tradition of what Chazal held. But they are not Torah MiSinai.

    When it comes to demons and magic, Shimon Friedler is claiming that when Chazal and the Rishonim said anything about Torah, it is unacceptable to say that this was due to foreign influence as opposed to traditional Jewish beliefs, and denied that Ramban saw Rambam in those terms. But Ramban certainly held that the Chumash describes demons and magic as real entities i.e. that demons as real entities is Torah MiSinai. Furthermore, he held (and I think Rambam would agree) that Chazal held demons and magic to be real entities - i.e. this is the mesorah. The only reason why Rambam did not believe them to be real entities is because he accepted the perspective introduced by Aristotle - which, according to Shimon Friedler, means that he was a heretic.

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  51. Dear Rabbi Slifkin,

    Thank you for your quick reply. I don't see your distinction as being compelling, for the following reason: if the Ramban held that demons and magic were part of the "mesorah misinai" then why did he say that they are real based upon the fact that all the ancients, Jew and non-Jew, observed them as real? He should have given a more powerful argument - that the Torah presents them as real, and that is our mesorah. By making recourse to a "worldly" phenomenon rather than to Torah misinai (especially for the Ramban who clings to Torah views over "historical" ones) it seems that he is indicating that the strength of interpreting demons etc. as literal, lies in the worldly perception, not in a sacred mesorah. He can still vehemently criticize the Rambam for making what he, the Ramban, thought was a mistake, but that is different from saying that the Rambam introduced foreign substances into Yahadut. I hope I communicated that clearly, and thanks again for all that you do.

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  52. First of all, even supposing you couldn't come up with an answer to your question, this would not prove that Ramban held that they are not in the mesorah. They clearly are part of the mesorah, for the reasons that I mentioned.

    One answer to your question (there could be others) is that Ramban couldn't simply say "but the Chumash attests to it", because obviously Rambam had his own way of learning the chumash, and he couldn't say "but that is our mesorah from Chazal" because Rambam knew that and didn't care. In fact I would suggest that even Ramban would not see the fact of it being a mesorah from Chazal as being compelling - see his comments on the rainbow, and on Isha Ki Tazria.

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  53. Dear Rabbi Slifkin,

    I think I must be missing something here. Your last statement mentioned that

    "I would suggest that even Ramban would not see the fact of it being a mesorah from Chazal as being compelling - see his comments on the rainbow, and on Isha Ki Tazria."

    If the Ramban didn't see it as a mesorah from Chazal, then disagreeing with the Rambam who followed Aristotle in this area would not be a criticism that the Rambam introduced foreign matters into Yahadut. If sheidim, etc. are not part of the mesorah of Chazal, then the Ramban is simply disagreeing with the Rambam, but not on a matter of mesorah. Am I getting something wrong here? Thanks for your help.

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  54. OK, let me explain. First of all, the idea that introducing foreign ideas is inherently wrong is Shimon Friedler's position, not Ramban's. I was pointing out that Ramban views Rambam as introducing foreign ideas, contrary to his claim that such a thing is unthinkable.

    Ramban was, on occasion, willing to say that traditional Jewish beliefs (not from Sinai) were wrong. E.g. the comments that I referred you to.

    But with sheidim, he holds that it is something in the Torah itself, as well as being a traditional belief that is correct and critical to Judaism.

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  55. OK, I see where you are going. But how do you know that the Ramban maintained that sheidim are Torah misinai, as opposed to a view held by people, including Jews, since the ancients, based upon the popular notion of how the world operates? After all, the Ramban never explicitly said that sheidim are Torah misinai. He simply interpreted the Torah that way because it was consistent with the accepted knowledge of his day. If you say that this was the Ramban's approach, then everything can be consistent and the Rav's view is very tenable, at least with regard to the Ramban. I guess what I am asking is what is the compelling reason to say that the Ramban must have viewed sheidim as Torah misinai as opposed to accepted truth that is consistent with Torah as he saw it? Thanks again for spending the time to answer.

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  56. ''But Ramban certainly held that the Chumash describes demons and magic as real entities i.e. that demons as real entities is Torah MiSinai.''
    is this Shimon Friedler position or your series?

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  57. what is the compelling reason to say that the Ramban must have viewed sheidim as Torah misinai as opposed to accepted truth that is consistent with Torah as he saw it?

    I think it's unreasonable to say that Ramban felt that what he saw as the correct pshat in the Torah and which was clearly supported by Chazal, was not Torah MiSinai!

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  58. ''But Ramban certainly held that the Chumash describes demons and magic as real entities i.e. that demons as real entities is Torah MiSinai.''
    is this Shimon Friedler position or your series?


    It's my understanding of Ramban's position. And pretty much everyone else's, too.

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  59. Shimon Friedler, what happened to you?

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  60. Is there a reason my comment wasn't published?

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  61. I asked to what extent we can say that the positions held by Torah scholars were influenced by the ideas prevalent at the time. For example, Yaakov Elman argues that there is a clear link between the law of kinyan peros/kinyan haguf and contemporaneous Sassanian (Persian) legal developments. Can we say that there was a cross fertilisation of ideas? Apparently there is also a clear parralel to Chazal's statment that 'bnei, chayei u'mezonei lav bizchusa talya milsa, ela be'mazala talya milsa' in Persian mythology of the time. Is there anything wrong with saying that the Gemara must be interpreted in its historical context, especially when it seems that certain ideas, which appear only in the Bavli and not in the Yerushalmi, have clear parralels in Sassanian culture?
    Academic history of halacha is replete with examples of how outside factors influenced how decisions were made. Is this theologically legitimate?

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  62. Dear Rabbi Slifkin,

    Again, thanks for your response. I need to time think about whether what you said ("I think it's unreasonable to say that Ramban felt that what he saw as the correct pshat in the Torah and which was clearly supported by Chazal, was not Torah MiSinai!") is something compelling, or whether it is just a reasonable assumption with other assumptions being possible as well (namely, that the Ramban saw his p'shat as something in consonance with Torah misinai, but to the exclusion of different possibilities). At any rate, thanks for the clarification!

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  63. oops - should read "but NOT to the exclusion..."

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  64. I'm glad you know betterJanuary 19, 2010 at 6:46 PM

    "I don't think that there's any more to discuss here."

    "Shimon Friedler, what happened to you?"

    Make up your mind. Is there anything left to discuss here or not? The truth is that I have been amused, but not surprised, at your recent postings to the fellow from Flatbush. Let me give you a little lesson in Logic 101: a proof is only as strong as its weakest part. Your entire "proof" that the Ramban viewed the Rambam as introducing foreign ideology into Torah is based on your ASSUMPTION that the Ramban viewed sheidim as part of Torah Misinai, despite the fact that his unambiguously stated reason for accepting sheidim as literal is because this is what the ancients - Jews and non-Jews - all believed, and that idea fits into the pesukim as the Ramban saw them. He never invokes Torah Misinai in this issue once.

    Your quote of "I think it's unreasonable to say that Ramban felt that what he saw as the correct pshat in the Torah and which was clearly supported by Chazal, was not Torah MiSinai!" is an ASSUMPTION - it is not a fact. It's very nice that you think that. So in effect, your "proof" about how the rishonim looked at the Rambam lies in an opinion of yours with regard to how to read a Ramban (on something that he never said in any way explicitly). This is laughable!

    In addition to that, your own words are contradictory: "Ramban certainly held that the Chumash describes demons and magic as real entities i.e. that demons as real entities is Torah MiSinai." "The mesorah was that the earth stands still, based on various pesukim, and elaborated upon by many Rishonim." So according to you, the earth standing still is Torah Misinai since that's how rishonim saw the p'shat of the pesukim. As a result, according to you Torah Misinai, as represented by the rishonim, is false. If, on the other hand, one were to say that Chazal interpreted the Torah (in the areas of the earth's motion, sheidim, etc.) based upon their knowledge of the time and that they knew this was an INTERPRETATION and NOT indisputable Torah Misinai, and that knowledge of the time is limited, then there is no problem. Of course you could never learn that way because it contradicts your own agenda.

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  65. I'm glad you know betterJanuary 19, 2010 at 7:22 PM

    I almost forgot - what do you think of the following, that I recently came across:

    "Noticeably absent from the numerous sources cited by R. Schmeltzer are the views of the Gerona kabbalist R. Shlomo b. Meshullam da Piera,[1] R. Yosef b. Shem Tov,[2] R. Yosef Shalom Delmedigo,[3] R. Aviad Sar-Shalom Basilea,[4] Abarbanel,[5] R. Yosef Ergas,[6] R. Yosef Shaul Nathanson,[7] and R. Menashe ben Yisrael,[8] all of whom note that Rambam indeed denied the existence of demons, and most of whom did not consider Rambam to have thereby perverted Judaism...

    But in citing the Vilna Gaon’s position authoritatively, R. Schmeltzer is overlooking the fact that there was a prominent Rishon who argued with the Gaon’s condemnation: Rambam himself. He did not feel that he had been led astray to pervert the Torah! Is the Vilna Gaon of so much greater stature than Rambam for R. Schmeltzer to say that he is able to absolutely disqualify Rambam’s views?!"

    The words should be familiar - they are yours. Try to stop talking out of both sides of your mouth. It will be easier for people to hear you.

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  66. This is almost too ludicrous for words.
    Let’s go over things, Shimon. You claim that it is heresy for someone to claim that Chazal or the Rishonim adapted the mesorah based on influence from non-Jewish sources. I pointed out that several Rishonim and Acharonim accused the Rambam of doing precisely that. You accepted that the Gra and Hirsch engaged in such heresy, but you claimed that no Rishon, not even Ramban, did so.

    I then pointed out that Ramban clearly says that the idea of demons/ magic not existing came from Aristotle. You are conceding that to be the case, but you claim that this is not an example of him accusing Rambam of adapting the mesorah based on influence from non-Jewish sources, since Ramban did not believe that demons-being-real is part of the mesorah – it’s just something that happens to be compatible with the mesorah and was “fitted in” with it.

    Let’s start with Chumash. According to Ramban, when the Torah speaks about demons and magic, it is talking about real phenomena. According to Ramban, this is how Moshe understood it, how Yehoshua understood it, how Chazal understood it, how everyone understood it until Aristotle. And this is not Torah miSinai?!

    Let’s move on to Chazal. They certainly believed in demons as real entities. They instituted halachos and hanhagos based on it. This is the Jewish mesorah – how can you possibly claim otherwise? Rambam adapted those halachos and hahagos, due to his accepting Aristotle’s approach.

    It’s perfectly clear that Ramban saw Rambam as perverting both the traditional and correct pshat in the pesukim, received from Sinai, as well as the teachings of Chazal, based on his accepting Aristotle. Which is exactly what Crescas, Abarbanel, Menashe ben Yisrael say.

    Now let’s move on to the topic of the earth standing still. You claim that I am contradicting myself, because according to me it would come out that “the earth standing still is Torah Misinai since that's how rishonim saw the p'shat of the pesukim,” which clearly could not be what I hold. But actually, that is exactly what I hold. The Torah does indeed present the belief that the earth stands still. And it presents the belief that the heavens are a firmament stretched over the sky. And that hares chew the cud. And that the heart is used for emotions, and that kidneys are used to make decisions. Dibra Torah k’lashon bnei Adam, as per Rav Kook’s interpretation - the Torah presents certain beliefs according to the worldview of the generation that received it.

    Finally, you claim that I am contradicting myself when I wrote elsewhere that “Is the Vilna Gaon of so much greater stature than Rambam for R. Schmeltzer to say that he is able to absolutely disqualify Rambam’s views?!" But I am not contradicting myself in the least. Yes, I believed that it is due to accepting Aristotle that Rambam rejected demons – the Gra was correct. However, I don’t see that as reason to say that Rambam was wrong, or that this is not a legitimate Jewish view. I am surprised that Schmeltzer accepts the Gra’s verdict to disqualify Rambam’s view from being legitimate.

    One more thing. I really don’t mind if you continue with the nasty insults, but you should be aware that you’re making yourself look bad, not me. Usually, when people have good reason to be confident in the strength of their arguments, they don’t feel the need to stoop to insults.

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  67. I'm glad you know betterJanuary 19, 2010 at 9:16 PM

    "This is almost too ludicrous for words."

    I thoroughly agree. (By the way, given the last paragraph from your recent message, you're making yourself look bad here).

    "Let’s start with Chumash. According to Ramban, when the Torah speaks about demons and magic, it is talking about real phenomena. According to Ramban, this is how Moshe understood it, how Yehoshua understood it, how Chazal understood it, how everyone understood it until Aristotle. And this is not Torah miSinai?!"

    So according to you, when the Torah speaks about issue X, and a given rishon says it means ABC, according to that rishon, ABC is how Moshe understood X, ABC is how Yehoshua understood X, ABC is how Chazal understood X, etc., so that must be what the Torah meant misinai. Now if a different rishon understands X as meaning DEF, the first rishon must view the second rishon's view as outside of Torah misinai. Is this for real? So the phrase "shivim panim latorah" was rejected by the rishonim?

    "The Torah does indeed present the belief that the earth stands still. And it presents the belief that the heavens are a firmament stretched over the sky. And that hares chew the cud. And that the heart is used for emotions, and that kidneys are used to make decisions. Dibra Torah k’lashon bnei Adam, as per Rav Kook’s interpretation - the Torah presents certain beliefs according to the worldview of the generation that received it."

    Once again, I think that you have a basic misunderstanding of Torah. Are you saying that the Torah misinai holds definitively that the earth does not move? or are you saying that the Torah misinai does not commit to that position in and of itself, but purposely wrote in such a way so that people in ancient times could understand it in their framework and people in later times could understand it in their framework? If the former, then you are claiming that Torah misinai is false. If the latter, then when someone comes along and interprets the pasuk based upon new knowledge of the times, he is not injecting foreign ideology into Judaism - he is illustrating the Torah's expansive definition - something that the Torah meant in the first place.

    So, either your position is correct and Torah misinai is false, or your position is incorrect and Torah misinai is true. Having any trouble deciding which way to go?

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  68. I'm not sure how much it'll help the discussion here, but since I (surprisingly) didn't see anyone mention it, the Torah verse that mentions sheidim is Deut 32:17 -->

    "They sacrificed unto sheidim, not to God; to gods whom they knew not, to new gods that came newly up, whom your fathers feared not."

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  69. "This is almost too ludicrous for words."

    I thoroughly agree. (By the way, given the last paragraph from your recent message, you're making yourself look bad here).


    You don't see a difference between calling a discussion ludicrous, and calling a person stupid, dishonest, etc.?!

    So according to you, when the Torah speaks about issue X, and a given rishon says it means ABC, according to that rishon, ABC is how Moshe understood X...

    No, that's not what I said. This is not a Rishon saying it means ABC; this is a Rishon insisting that everybody always knew it to mean ABC, until Aristotle came along.

    Are you saying that the Torah misinai holds definitively that the earth does not move? or are you saying that the Torah misinai does not commit to that position in and of itself, but purposely wrote in such a way so that people in ancient times could understand it in their framework and people in later times could understand it in their framework?

    Neither. Obviously God knows that the earth moves. However, the Torah presents the (scientifically incorrect) view that it is stationary, just like it presents the (scientifically incorrect) view that the kidneys make decisions, etc.

    I am still at a loss to understand how you can possibly claim that demons are not part of the mesorah. What about all the halachos and hanhagos that Chazal based upon demons?

    And don't you think that your position is a little, uh, weird, if you have to rate several Rishonim and Acharonim as heretics for espousing it? Maybe the idea that Rambam held that one should accept the truth from wherever it comes, and saw Aristotle as presenting some truths - whether Rambam was right or wrong for doing so - is actually not heretical? And maybe that's why Ramban, Abarbanel, Gra, R. Avraham Yagel, R. Menashe b. Yisrael, and Rav Hirsch saw nothing wrong in pointing it out?

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  70. I'm glad you know betterJanuary 20, 2010 at 5:02 PM

    "This is not a Rishon saying it means ABC; this is a Rishon insisting that everybody always knew it to mean ABC, until Aristotle came along."

    The "everybody" that this rishon invokes is not "Torah sages" exclusively - it is people of the world. You have been ignoring the point (I wonder why) that the Ramban does not invoke the mesorah or revelation to show that demons exist - he points out that everyone - Jews and non-Jews recognize that they exist. Meaning, this is not "revealed" knowledge - it is "scientific" or "observable knowledge. Therefore, when the Rambam denies it, he is not, in the eyes of the Ramban, denying revealed or masoretic knowledge, he is denying the accepted "scientific" knowledge. This denial is not "introducing foreign ideology into Judaism."

    "the Torah presents the (scientifically incorrect) view that it is stationary, just like it presents the (scientifically incorrect) view that the kidneys make decisions, etc."

    If we are to say that the Torah is not false, then we must say that the Torah presented these either as metaphors, or that the Torah spoke in terms that all generations would be able to see ideas in these terms based upon their own level of understanding - that this was the design of the Torah to begin with. So when the Rambam used Aristotle to claim that sheidim don't mean demons literally, it is exactly the same thing as using medical knowledge to show that emotions are not seated in the heart. This is not "injecting foreign ideology in Judaism" - it is showing how the expansive meaning of Torah is to be understood with current knowledge.

    "What about all the halachos and hanhagos that Chazal based upon demons?"

    How is this a challenge at all? The Rambam understands the ideas of sheidim, mazikin, etc. metaphorically - psychological influences, etc. - upon which there could absolutely be halachos that apply. Sheidim are real - they are just not literal, like the Satan, according to the Rambam.

    "...if you have to rate several Rishonim and Acharonim as heretics for espousing it?"

    Again, your dishonesty. What rishon would be I be counting as a heretic? You have proven NOTHING with regard to the Ramban, and have not mentioned any other rishon, aside from R. Moshe Taku, who, according to the Rambam would be a heretic anyway due to his corporealism. The bottom line is that you have to go through hoops with various assumptions and "deductions" to show that the Ramban viewed the Rambam as introducing foreign ideology into Judaism. One can understand the Ramban just as well (actually, even better) without his meaning what you think he did. Your argument is not compelling at all - it's basically fantasy - so you have no PROOF from the Ramban.

    If you aren't going to DIRECTLY address these issues, I don't see the point in just repeating what you said again and again.

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  71. You have been ignoring the point (I wonder why) that the Ramban does not invoke the mesorah or revelation to show that demons exist - he points out that everyone - Jews and non-Jews recognize that they exist.

    Because his goal is not to prove that demons is exist. The context is explaining how it happened that anyone in the world believes otherwise.

    Meaning, this is not "revealed" knowledge - it is "scientific" or "observable knowledge. Therefore, when the Rambam denies it, he is not, in the eyes of the Ramban, denying revealed or masoretic knowledge, he is denying the accepted "scientific" knowledge.

    You're still ignoring what I wrote. According to Ramban, Moshe Rabbeinu knew that pshat in the pesukim about demons and magic is that they are real things, as did everyone after Moshe Rabbeinu. The only reason why, according to Ramban, Rambam thinks otherwise, is that he accepted Aristotle's chiddush. It was this that caused Rambam to learn pshat differently than what was received from Moshe. How on earth is this not introducing foreign ideology?!

    And with regard to Chazal - first of all, not all references in Chazal can be understood as psychological phenomena, etc., which is exactly why Rambam modified or ommitted certain halachos from the Gemara. Second of all, according to Ramban, they are all referring to real entities - this was Chazal's belief, and RAmbam thought otherwise because of Aristotle. Again, introducing a foreign ideology.

    If we are to say that the Torah is not false, then we must say that the Torah presented these either as metaphors, or that the Torah spoke in terms that all generations would be able to see ideas in these terms based upon their own level of understanding

    Or you can say that the Torah spoke according to the worldview of the generation that received it, which involved descriptions of the natural world that we now know to be false. How do you see the "kidneys making decisions" as meaningful according to our understanding?!

    What rishon would be I be counting as a heretic?

    CHasdai Crescas and Abarbanel both insist that the Torah makes it clear that demons are real entities, contrary to what the philosophers claim. They don't say it's just "a widespread ancient belief that is compatible with Torah"!
    And does it not perturb you at all that you are classifying the Gra as a heretic?

    The bottom line is that you have to go through hoops with various assumptions and "deductions" to show that the Ramban viewed the Rambam as introducing foreign ideology into Judaism. One can understand the Ramban just as well (actually, even better) without his meaning what you think he did.

    You must be joking. This is absolutely the standard understanding of Ramban. In fact, I was amazed to counter someone who thinks differently. From Mir to YU, everyone would learn Ramban as saying that the Torah mesorah was that magic is real, and Rambam believed otherwise due to his accepting the foreign ideology of Aristotle.

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  72. I'm glad you know betterJanuary 22, 2010 at 4:14 PM

    As I suspected, you just repeated your claims from before without adding anything: "According to Ramban, Moshe Rabbeinu knew that pshat in the pesukim about demons and magic is that they are real things, as did everyone after Moshe Rabbeinu. The only reason why, according to Ramban, Rambam thinks otherwise, is that he accepted Aristotle's chiddush. It was this that caused Rambam to learn pshat differently than what was received from Moshe. How on earth is this not introducing foreign ideology?!" ALL the rishonim "knew" that when pesukim spoke of astronomical phenomena, the Torah misinai CERTAINLY meant a geocentric world, etc. Until worldly knowledge advanced, and then the meforshim knew that it meant something else. So according to you, Torah misinai was false, and those who understood a heliocentric or relativistic astronomy, etc. in the pesukim were introducing foreign ideology into Judaism. This is your version of "rationalist Judaism"?

    I see no point in continuing this ridiculous discussion with one exception:

    "From Mir to YU, everyone would learn Ramban as saying that the Torah mesorah was that magic is real, and Rambam believed otherwise due to his accepting the foreign ideology of Aristotle."

    From the friendship I had with Professor Diestag, and from my relationship with the Rav, I know some people at YU. I will write a hard copy letter to Rabbis Schachter, Willig, Rosensweig, Twersky, and Reichman, asking them if the Rambam - (A) used philosophical terms to elucidate what Torah misinai meant, i.e., an understanding of Torah that is part of the legitimate mesorah of shivim panim latorah, but that these philosophical terms were a vehicle for his elucidation, not an influence of foreign ideology into Judaism, such that he (unconsciously) corrupted Torah, or (B) was influenced by Greek philosophy and introduced foreign matter into the area of Torah where it had no place.

    According to you, it should be impossible for them to answer (A) since "everyone" from Mir to YU learns the Rambam as you do. I suspect you'll be eating your words once again.

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  73. ALL the rishonim "knew" that when pesukim spoke of astronomical phenomena, the Torah misinai CERTAINLY meant a geocentric world, etc. Until worldly knowledge advanced, and then the meforshim knew that it meant something else. So according to you, Torah misinai was false, and those who understood a heliocentric or relativistic astronomy, etc. in the pesukim were introducing foreign ideology into Judaism.

    We've been over this. Yes, the Torah does indeed describe the world as standing still, and the heart as being the seat of emotion, and the kidneys as making decisions, and the world as being created in six days, etc. It presents an inaccurate scientific description of the world, because it fits in with the worldview of the generation that received it.

    In any case, the point is not MY approach to Torah, or even Rambam's approach to Torah, but rather Ramban's approach to Rambam's approach to Torah. You consider it inconceivable that Ramban rated demons/magic as part of Judaism because it would mean that Rambam was introducing a foreign ideology. I have demonstrated that he most certainly considered it part of the Jewish mesorah.

    With regard to your question to the YU Roshei Yeshivah, I have two points to make. One is that you are phrasing it slightly misleadingly - many people would consider Rambam's ideology to be one of the legitimate facets of Torah EVEN IF he was basing himself in part on a foreign ideology. Not everyone shares your definition of makchish maggideha!

    The second point is that although I don't know that much about YU, my impression is that the real experts on Rambam's theology there are people such as R. David Berger, R. David Shatz and R. Ephraim Kanarfogel.

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  74. I'm glad you know betterJanuary 24, 2010 at 11:20 PM

    I noticed that your response contains two typical manipulations, indicative of your general approach:

    "You consider it inconceivable that Ramban rated demons/magic as part of Judaism because it would mean that Rambam was introducing a foreign ideology."

    This is a ridiculous, dishonest "restatement" of my position. I never said or implied that the Ramban didn't consider demons or magic part of his concept of Judaism. I said only that his approach does not ipso facto mean that the Rambam's approach is OUTSIDE of Judaism according to the Ramban. Just like the Ramban considered any interpretation of his to be within Judaism, but allows for the existence of other views within Judaism, even if he disagrees with them - because of shivim panim latorah - so too here with the Rambam's view. Your manipulative twisting of my position is typical of your style of "debate."

    "From Mir to YU, everyone would learn Ramban as saying that the Torah mesorah was that magic is real, and Rambam believed otherwise due to his accepting the foreign ideology of Aristotle."

    "the real experts on Rambam's theology there (at YU) are people such as R. David Berger, R. David Shatz and R. Ephraim Kanarfogel."

    So when you said that "EVERYONE" from Mir to YU would learn the Rambam as saying..." you meant not the roshei yeshiva but the academicians. I guess I can understand that when a statement you made is about to be proven incorrect, it is most important to say that you really meant something else. And if those academicians don't weigh in the way you thought, I guess you can always emend your statement to "I meant only the non-frum academicians at YU."

    With this wriggling and slithering to make sure you are always correct, do you really expect people to take your argument seriously?

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  75. This is a ridiculous, dishonest "restatement" of my position. I never said or implied that the Ramban didn't consider demons or magic part of his concept of Judaism.

    I wasn't being manipulative, I was just being brief. Maybe it wasn't the most accurate way of making a shorthand reference to your position, but everyone knows what your position is, you've stated it several times - that Ramban did not consider demons and magic to be Torah MiSinai or part of the Jewish mesorah. And I've provided lengthy explanations as to why this is nonsense. But instead of responding, you just engage in a vitriolic attack against my shorthand reference to your position.

    So when you said that "EVERYONE" from Mir to YU would learn the Rambam as saying..." you meant not the roshei yeshiva but the academicians.

    No, I am pretty sure that the Roshei Yeshivah would learn it the same way. But if you are interested in learning from the greatest experts in Rambam, I suggest you speak to those who have specialized in studying his works. (Maybe some of the Roshei Yeshivah have too, I don't know.)

    Shimon, I think that I have given you enough of a platform for your your nasty comments. It's a free country, and you have the right to open up your blog to slander me. But I won't be posting any more comments from you unless you stick to the point, write like a mensch and have something substantial to say.

    Here's a guide. If you think that I have distorted something, say, You have distorted XYZ, not "this is a typical manipulation, indicative of your general approach."

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  76. It is sad that someone could put forth such a brilliant idea and feel no need to show how it "fits" it into the words he is supposedly explaining! To maintain that the Ramban did not believe in demons is to ignore the very clear and concise language he used to communicate all but his Kabbalistic ideas!

    I don't claim to have seen a demon, the Ramban certainly would never have, as he writes that they are invisible (Lev. 17:7) That does not stop me from accepting as a given that he believed they did exist.

    Concerning the passages in the Talmud, I don't believe that Ramban took them all literally, as that would contradict some of his own commentary on Chumash, but he certainly did not see those words as talking about a mere psychological phenomena!

    To accept such an idea as the explanation behind the words of Chazal would seem to imply that many people regularly hallucinated!

    Saruk

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  77. And they said that Rambam's notion of rocks having souls was crazy.... http://www.nytimes.com/2007/11/18/magazine/18wwln-lede-t.html?_r=1&

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  78. "berating Aristotle for denying the existence of that which cannot be empirically detected"

    Doesn't make sense. Aristotle *believed* in demons, along with the rest of the pagan world, and Ramban knew that. As Hacham Faur commented, this was most likely a disguised hit on the Rambam.

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