Wednesday, May 12, 2010

A Curse Upon Thee!

Here is a fascinating extract from Prof. Twerksy's article on Ibn Kaspi (minus footnotes), regarding Rambam's view of the nature of curses:

The Torah prohibits us from cursing: "You shall not curse the deaf" (Levit. 19:14). In the Sefer HaMitzvot, Maimonides explains, at some length, the nature of the act and the reasons for its prohibition.

When a person is moved by a desire to revenge himself on one who has wronged him by inflicting upon him an injury of the kind which he believes he has suffered, he will not be content until he has requited the wrong in that fashion; and only when he has had his revenge will his feelings be relieved, and his mind cease to dwell on the idea. Sometimes a man's desire for revenge will be satisfied by merely cursing and reviling, because he knows how much hurt and shame this will cause his enemy. But sometimes the matter will be more serious, and he will not be content until he has completely ruined the other, whereupon he will be satisfied by the thought of the pain caused to his enemy by the loss of his property. In yet other cases the matter will be more serious still, and he will not be satisfied until he has thrashed his enemy or inflicted bodily injury upon him. Or it may be even more serious, and his desire for revenge will not be satisfied except by the extreme measure of taking his enemy's life and destroying his very existence. Sometimes, on the other hand, because of the lightness of the offense, the desire for vengeance will not be strong, so that he will find relief in uttering angry imprecations and curses, even though the other would not listen to them if he were present. It is well known that hot~tempered and choleric persons find relief in this way from the (annoyance caused by) trivial offenses, though the offender is not aware of their wrath and does not hear their fulminations.
Now we might suppose that the Torah, in forbidding us to curse an Israelite, (was moved by) the shame and the pain that the curse would cause him when he heard it, but that there is no sin in cursing the deaf, who cannot hear and therefore cannot feel hurt. For this reason He tells us that cursing is forbidden by prohibiting it in the case of the deaf, since the Torah is concerned not only with the one who is cursed, but also with the curser, who is told not to be vindictive and hot-tempered.


The upshot of this ethical-psychological explanation, which emphasizes the desire for revenge and the ethical shortcoming of the one who curses, is to deny the efficacy of the act: cursing is not really effective in the sense that it produces malevolent results. It is prohibited because it reflects moral weakness of the one who utters the curse.

In the Moreh Nebukim, in the context of his discussion of criminology and penology, Maimonides again has occasion to discuss the nature of the act of cursing. Having stated that severity of punishment according to the halachah is commensurate with the severity, frequency, and enormity of the culpable act, Maimonides notes that transgressions in which there is no action are not even punishable by flogging for they "can only result in little harm... and it is also impossible to take care not to commit them for they consist in words only." Why then is cursing one's fellow man one of the three exceptions to this rule? Maimonides answers parenthetically, almost nonchalantly, that the Torah dealt stringently with cursing "for in the opinion of the multitude the injury resulting from curses is greater than that which may befall the body." The popular view, "the opinion (and imagination) of the multitude," erroneous and without foundation in truth or reality, is sufficient reason for the law. In a word, the Torah takes into account psychological tendencies, fears, and beliefs, and popular perceptions which, even though philosophically unfounded, exert influence and, therefore, have their own "reality."

This is quite an extreme application of the idea that the Torah works within the intellectual framework of the Bnei Yisrael. Even though Rambam only explicitly invokes the principle of dibra Torah k'lashon bnei adam with anthropomorphisms, he is effectively using the same concept here - but in a much more radical sense.

65 comments:

  1. R' Sifkin,
    2 points:
    1) When you wrote "You shall not curse the dead" I assume that was a typo.
    2) I'm not sure this is comparable to Ibn Caspi's approach. Caspi said the Torah contains untrue statements to reach or calm the masses. The Rambam seems to be saying that cursing does have an impact on the listener/victim, even if only a psychological one, and is thus prohibited. (Thus raising the question of why cursing the deaf is an issue, which he answers in the quote you cite.) However, this is not a false statement - there is a (potential) real ill effect on the victim of a curse, albeit one that the victim creates in his own mind. That's not the same as saying the Torah contains falsehoods.

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  2. 1) Oops, that should be "deaf." That's what happens when you rely on OCR programs after scanning a document!

    2) The point being made is that the severe punishment does not reflect the injury caused by a curse to be greater than the injury caused by a physical wound; it is only a mistaken belief that there is a more severe injury. Rambam is clear that, even allowing for psychological harm, the injury caused by cursing is actually less.
    Incidentally, Ibn Kaspi likewise believes that curses have no effect; in fact he says that even with Bilaam, his curses had no power.
    But you are correct that this is not the same as cases of dibra Torah that I was discussing earlier.

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  3. "Caspi said the Torah contains untrue statements to reach or calm the masses."

    I hate to belabor the point, but so far there is no evidence shown that ibn Caspi said this - only that Twersky thought so. Just trying to be accurate here. (I have found that historically, if people repeat something enough times, it *becomes* a fact. Just trying to prevent that here).

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  4. Gary, while we are still trying to figure out Ibn Kaspi's full position, he explicitly invokes dibra Torah on a number of different occasions. For example, in Tam HaKesef p. 24, he says that when the Torah says that God tested Avraham, He did not really test him, but the Torah writes this due to dibra Torah.

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  5. Of course ibn Caspi invokes dibrah Torah... But your post said that ibn Caspi's sense of dibrah Torah... is in order "to reach or calm the masses." As of yet, there is no evidence for this latter part of the claim.

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  6. I think that this was Hillel's formulation. I don't recall Prof. Twersky writing that.

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  7. In Tam Hakesef 33-34, Ibn Caspi says that no harm is caused by counting people, and when the Torah says to count the people via machatzit hashekel to avoid harm, it is just catering to popular superstition.

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  8. If the Author of the Torah was willing to cater to popular superstitions, shouldn't we be willing to do so as well? What's with this newfangled rationalist stuff?

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  9. "Sometimes a man's desire for revenge will be satisfied by merely cursing and reviling, because he knows how much hurt and shame this will cause his enemy."

    I guess I should assume that Rambam is talking about cursing and reviling to the man's face, or publicly. Right? Perhaps I'm missing some nuance, but it seems that "cursing and reviling" is different from "uttering angry imprecations and curses."

    "Sometimes, on the other hand, because of the lightness of the offense, the desire for vengeance will not be strong, so that he will find relief in uttering angry imprecations and curses, even though the other would not listen to them if he were present."

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  10. "I think that this was Hillel's formulation. I don't recall Prof. Twersky writing that."

    Respectfully, Rabbi, that's exactly what R' Twersky wrote:
    "Leshon b'nei adam is not just a carefully calculated concession to certain shortcomings of the masses, that is, their inability to think abstractly, but a wholesale adoption of mass views and local customs."

    How is a "concession to the shortcomings of the masses" different from attempting to reach or calm them? If the Torah wasn't trying to reach the masses, why bother with concession in the first place?

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  11. Are blessings alos futile? What about Birchat Hakohanim?

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  12. Can you please cite the entire text of the Moreh (the beef of your arguemnt) instead of Twersky's bits and snippets?

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  13. rabbi, you need not post this comment. it has to do with a discussion last week. here is a link to the ry on the mir banning students from attending hafganot. scroll down, there is a picture with yeshiva stationary. http://www.bhol.co.il/news_read.asp?id=16931&cat_id=1

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  14. Chinuch cites Rambam and says explicetly that Rambam doesn't hold curses to "work".

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  15. R' Slifkin, and Gary,

    OK, here's the deal:
    The Rambam says explicitly that dibra Torah is because of the people who can't grasp God without the concept of a body. (Yesodei HaTorah 1:9).
    Caspi expands on this concept, citing "permission" from the Rambam and Ibn Ezra, to include within this principle ideas such as:
    1) all "nisyonot" , are not actually tests, which are not a Godly concept, the phrase is just used to help people grasp what's going on. (tam Hakesef 1:24)
    2) the punishments of Adam, Chava and the nachash, and Hashem making for them "kotnot or" (mishneh kesef 51)
    3) Hashem's conversation w/Moshe by the s'neh, including the preamble about taking off the shoes (which Caspi says was a malach preceding God's voice(!) invoking a custom of the time of removing shoes to show respect, in order to prepare Moshe for encountering God) through Moshe insisting on having a partner against the will of God, and God eventually relenting (Caspi says this is dibra Torah's way of allowing us to countenance much loftier concepts, though he does not here elaborate on what they are). (mishneh kesef 136)
    4) Numerical discrepancies in the Torah, such as "b'shivim nefesh" and "yom lashana" (69=70, 39=40). Caspi explains that dibra Torah means just as a person is sometimes exact and sometimes abbreviates (or rounds or exaggerates), so too the Torah, then warns about the dangers of confounding the two. (mishneh kesef 162)

    Bottom line is this: I have not seen Caspi use the term "sheker", but he uses terms like "kinui" and "melitza" and "metzamtzem" to describe the language used by the Torah, and he states explicitly the reason the Torah uses this terminology is to help people grasp lofty concepts. In light of this (especially 2 and 4 above), I think R' Twerski's position on Caspi makes perfect sense.
    Cheers,
    Hillel

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  16. PS: Further in the realm of using "dibra Torah" to explain why natural phenomena described in the Torah should not be taken literally, as R' Slifkin suggested, Caspi writes by both Arbeh (re the nymber being the greatest ever before or after) and Choshech (re Egyptians being unable to stand) that this is dibra Torah and should not be understood literally as natural phenomenon.

    After citing Ibn Ezra, who states that the statement that there will never be Arbeh like this before or after is a prophecy, Caspi writes:
    "ובאמת אין זה טבע מין זה המאמר, אבל
    הוא מכלל מה שאמרו דברה תורה בלשון הבאי"

    Mishneh Kesef 2: 165-66

    Cheers,
    Hillel

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  17. Hillel, thanks so much! Yasher koach.

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  18. Hillel -

    Thank you so much for looking up the sources, and for citing the exact references so that others (like me) can look them up in the original). Having done that, please allow me to point out the following:

    Ibn Caspi explains that the phrase "God tested" is an example of dibrah Torah... since God does not need to actually test in order to know something. So, this is a case of a metaphor as applied to God.

    Ibn Caspi explains that the verb "made" - as in "God made for them kotnot or" is a metaphor, since the incorporeal God does not actually, physically "make" things the way that we do. So, again, this is a case of a metaphor as applied to God.

    Ibn Caspi explains that Moshe's "conversation" at the s'neh was one of a prophetic vision, and did not actually take place in a physical sense. That is, when the angel told Moshe "do not approach..." and "remove your shoes..." that was part of the vision, but there was no physical removal of shoes, etc. So, this is a case of a metaphor for a metaphysical (prophetic) event.

    Ibn Caspi explains that sometimes the Torah will round a number up, and sometimes it will round a number down, the way that people do, for a purpose - to teach a specific lesson. That is, since we know the real number from other p'sukim or deductions, the rounding up is to indicate a disposition of greater significance toward whatever is being counted, and the rounding down is to teach a lesser significance toward whatever is being counted. So, the Torah's "adjustment" (and it is a KNOWN adjustment from the Torah itself, since the Torah elsewhere states or alludes to the exact number) is to teach a lesson.

    Nowhere in ANY of these examples is Twersky's interpretation of ibn Caspi to be found. That is, nowhere does ibn Caspi say, or even suggest, that the Torah says something that is false in order to accommodate the ancients' limited, inaccurate knowledge.

    Again, I thank you for citing the sources. Unfortunately, your conclusion does not follow at all from these sources. On the contrary - ibn Caspi's sense of dibrah Torah... follows RMBM's, that the Torah uses metaphors because of the sublime nature of the incorporeal, and it uses deliberate phrasing in order to teach a lesson through that phrasing. The Twersky-Slifkin interpretation of ibn Caspi is thus still without any evidence at all (as of yet).

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  19. What about the other reference above - In Tam Hakesef 33-34, Ibn Caspi says that no harm is caused by counting people, and when the Torah says to count the people via machatzit hashekel to avoid harm, it is just catering to popular superstition.

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  20. Gary,
    I think there is an unnecessary exclusion of opinions from your view. It is true that Caspi believes the "kinuyim" and "melitzot" used by the Torah are there only to lead man to focus on a loftier idea which could not adequately be expressed in words. BUT that does not exclude or contradict the positions of R's Twersky and Slifkin; Caspi suggests that the reason WHY these particular terms are used, despite the fact that they are incorrect and do not correspond with nature (or Aristotle) is because it allows base ("shafel") man to have a basis for expanding on the (incorrect) words to understand the loftier concept which could not be out into words. Thus he incorporates the 'metaphor' ideas of Ibn Ezra and Rambam and moves forward to establish the position described by R's Twersky and Slifkin.

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  21. I don't understand what the question is with regard to counting the people. Ibn Caspi states there as follows:

    "This area (the dangers of counting the people) stems from the ones who are being counted, not from the nature of the counting itself. That is to say, it stems from the power of the imaginative faculty, as I mentioned with regard to Bilam. All the sages spoke extensively about the amazing phenomena that come from the imaginative faculty. From this there is a well known consensus, based upon foolishness, among the masses, even to this day, that plague besets those who are counted...Therefore, the Lord, blessed be He, who loves our nation, commanded them when they count the people, that there will be no plague among them. This, in order to remove from their hearts and heads this evil imagination (that they have). Since counting the people is necessary before going to war, the Lord commanded them to give each a half shekel and He told them that by this method they will be guarded from the harm of the count, and that they could rely on God in this matter. (This is in accordance with the idea) that one who donates money to God will be protected by Him."

    Ibn Caspi clearly states that God "worked" within the corrupt framework of the people in order to bring them out of this corrupt framework in a gradual sense ("in order to remove from their heads and their hearts..."). The reason for doing this here is that the power of the imaginative faculty is so great, that to merely command something contrary would be ineffective. This is exactly akin to RMBM's formulation of Korbanot in MhN. The people feel that true worship must involve sacrifice, so they get weaned away from that by the Torah's formulation of Korbanot.

    I do not understand how from this idea you extract the notion that the Torah presents falsehoods of facts in order to accommodate the ancients' lack of knowledge. Especially when the latter does not involve the extreme powerful factor of the imaginative faculty. You are drawing a conclusion from something that is dissimilar, and therefore the conclusion is false.

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  22. Hillel - I am at a loss here. Now you are saying (as I understand it) that what ibn Caspi says does not preclude the notion that Twersky-Slifkin advance. Even if that is true, which I do not believe is the case for the reason I stated in the earlier comment, that is a far cry from EVIDENCE that ibn Caspi maintained this notion. It is as if you are saying, " well, ibn Caspi says something that is not contradicted by Twersky-Slifkin, so what they say is true." Huh?

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  23. Gary,
    I am confused by your comment. The reading of R' Slifkin works perfectly well within the words of Caspi; it explains his statements about the Torah making naturalistic statements that are not in accord with nature, reassuring people about a plague that wouldn't happen anyway, and recording events that didn't take place and numbers which don't add up. If I make a statement that perfectly explains primary source A, then the words of primary source A itself ARE the evidence!

    Additionally, you wrote "But your post said that ibn Caspi's sense of dibrah Torah... is in order "to reach or calm the masses." As of yet, there is no evidence for this latter part of the claim." I don't understand how this point can be proved any more clearly. When Caspi says (and we have shown he says this on many occasions) that many statements in the Torah are kinuyim and melitzot so the hamon can grasp the beginning of a lofty idea, how is that different from what R' Twersky and R' Slifkin (and I) have written?

    Cheers,
    Hillel

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  24. OK - let's try this once again. The Twersky-Slifkin claim is:

    "...the phenomenon of scientifically incorrect information in the Torah, such as the description of the heart and kidneys as the seat of the mind and consciousness...the account of dew falling from Heaven, the firmament, etc...Six hundred years earlier, R. Yosef Ibn Kaspi had already presented this approach...

    Here is an extract from Isadore Twersky...:

    'Kaspi frequently operates with the following exegetical premise: not every Scriptural statement is true in the absolute sense. A statement may be purposely erroneous, reflecting an erroneous view of the masses. We are not dealing merely with an unsophisticated or unrationalized view, but an intentionally, patently false view espoused by the masses and enshrined in Scripture. The view or statement need not be allegorized, merely recognized for what it is...Kaspi rather boldly takes a third step and more or less systematically extends the parameters of this philological principle to include issues and problems totally unrelated to anthropomorphism.'"

    Nowhere in the quotes from ibn Caspi that you cited is this principle evident. Granted, you, and R' Twersky, and R' Slifkin have a right to come up with your own view of the Torah. However, nowhere does ibn Caspi say what you claimed he said. The fact that your claim is not CONTRADICTED by ibn Caspi (again, I think it is, but let's leave that for now) is not evidence in support of your claim. Let's look at what you wrote in your last comment:

    "Torah making naturalistic statements that are not in accord with nature...and recording events that didn't take place"

    - in the ibn Caspi citations, these had to do with God not doing physical actions and Moshe's prophecy - both issues of allegory due to sublime notions, not due to scientific ignorance of the ancients.

    "reassuring people about a plague that wouldn't happen anyway"

    - in the ibn Caspi quote this has to do with weaning the people away from the powerful sway of the imaginative faculty, as described in my previous comment, no different from Korbanot according to RMBM. The Torah is NOT presenting the idea that counting causes plagues; it is telling the people that their belief in this area needs to be weaned away, as ibn Caspi explicitly states.

    "numbers which don't add up"

    - in the ibn Caspi quote this has to do with the Torah presenting a lesson to the people. In fact, how do you know that the numbers don't really add up in the first place? From the Torah itself!!! This is, as ibn Caspi states, a pedagogic device derived from within the Torah itself, not due to historical ignorance of the ancients.

    I reiterate, there is NOTHING within the quotes from ibn Caspi that you cited that supports your view as presented in the first part of this comment, cited directly from R' Slifkin's and R' Twersky's own words.

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  25. I think a much more fruitful direction would be to explore the modern analytic philosophical category of "speech acts." The Rambam's explanation doesn't really explain why the Torah prohibits curses - who cares whether
    people think one way or the other? I understand the Rambams shitah generally, but here were talking about justice in court. Does someone have to pay nezek or tzaar as a result of his curse?

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  26. "in the ibn Caspi citations, these had to do with God not doing physical actions and Moshe's prophecy - both issues of allegory due to sublime notions, not due to scientific ignorance of the ancients."

    Gary,
    Now I'm even more confused. Why is it or the other; it seems to me that it's obviously both! You concede that:
    a) Caspi says that the Torah records events which did not take place (making use of allegories/falsehoods); AND
    b) Caspi says the Torah uses these allegories/falsehoods to allow base man to understand lofty concepts; BUT
    you deny that the reason these allegories/falsehoods appeal to base man in the first place is because of his ignorance of the truth.

    That is a very difficult position for me to understand. If the Torah could just as easily have made true statements that would allow base man to grasp lofty concepts, why would it resort to allegory, a dangerous idea that Caspi himself exhorts the reader (in numerous places) to use with great caution? Why, for instance, would would the Torah say things like the story of the punishment of man/woman/snake, or darkness preventing the Egyptians from standing, or unprecedented locust? These stories have nothing to do with anthropomorphism, and could easily have reflected 'true' statements with minor modification (or omission) of some details. Caspi's statements about the "hamon" being unable to understand provides an excellent explanation - and this is R' Twersky's position. I simply don't understand how your position explains this at all.

    Cheers,
    Hillel

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  27. "reassuring people about a plague that wouldn't happen anyway"

    - in the ibn Caspi quote this has to do with weaning the people away from the powerful sway of the imaginative faculty, as described in my previous comment, no different from Korbanot according to RMBM. The Torah is NOT presenting the idea that counting causes plagues; it is telling the people that their belief in this area needs to be weaned away, as ibn Caspi explicitly states. - Gary


    That is incorrect. The Torah does not TELL the people that they need to be weaned away from this belief; it CATERS to it.

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  28. Hillel -

    "(making use of allegories/falsehoods)"

    Wrong! Ibn Caspi spoke of allegories - you call them falsehoods. Unless you mean to claim that all allegories are by definition false.

    "Caspi says the Torah uses these allegories/falsehoods to allow base man to understand lofty concepts; BUT you deny that the reason these allegories/falsehoods appeal to base man in the first place is because of his ignorance of the truth."

    Ibn Caspi himself states explicitly that the reason that man needs an allegory is that corporeal man cannot speak of incorporeal truths with any meaning unless he learns them through allegory. Man will NEVER be able to understand these lofty ideas no matter how much his knowledge progresses, because the limitation is due to his nature as a physical being. This has nothing to do with ancient man "needing" to be told a falsehood because he lacks scientific knowledge (that one day he will ultimately gain). You want to extend what ibn Caspi said from man's inherent limitation as a physical being to include "falsehoods" due to man's temporary scientific ignorance. The extension does not follow automatically, and if you want to claim it, then you need evidence, which, so far, you don't have.

    "If the Torah could just as easily have made true statements that would allow base man to grasp lofty concepts..."

    Wrong! The Torah could NOT just as easily... as ibn Caspi explicitly states.

    DP -

    Of course the Torah did not tell the people they need to be weaned away from the powerful sway of their imaginative faculty, just as it did not tell the people that they need to be weaned away from their powerful belief that worship must involve korbanot - but that is exactly what ibn Caspi and RMBM explicitly state was the Torah's purpose in the case of the count and the korbanot, respectively. I don't follow your objection.

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  29. "Wrong! Ibn Caspi spoke of allegories - you call them falsehoods. Unless you mean to claim that all allegories are by definition false."

    This is a false dichotomy. Not ALL allegories are false, merely ones that utilize facts that did not occur. Thus, THESE allegories, the ones claimed by Caspi, contain falsehoods. What else can you possibly call a statement of fact which is false, other than a falsehood? Do you believe it to be truth? When Gad hanavi told David about the rich man, the poor man and the sheep, that was a falsehood, albeit a falsehood designed as an allegory to compel David to see the truth of his actions. The fact that it was designed as an allegory didn't magically make the story true! If your ta'anot against R' Slifkin are based on a distinction between "allegories that use facts didn't happen" and "falsehood", you're (in my book) on VERY thin ice.

    "Man will NEVER be able to understand these lofty ideas no matter how much his knowledge progresses, because the limitation is due to his nature as a physical being."

    This is not true at all. What is your basis for saying this? Caspi says exactly the reverse! He states that for man to understand, or come closer to understanding, these lofty ideas, he must start on the lowest, basest level, and this is, therefore, the level the Torah uses, regardless of strict adherence to fact. If man can't understand a concept at all, why would God bother trying to communicate it in the first place?

    "Wrong! The Torah could NOT just as easily... as ibn Caspi explicitly states."

    Where does he explicitly state this?

    Hillel

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  30. Hillel -

    Your argument - and please pardon me here - is childish. You claim that since ibn Caspi said the Torah used allegory for a specific purpose, and allegory is a type of "falsehood" then ibn Caspi claims that the Torah uses different forms of falsehood for different types of purposes. This has no basis in logic at all.

    "This is not true at all. What is your basis for saying this?...Where does he explicitly state this?"

    See Yishai's translation of ibn Caspi at the beginning of this thread. It could not be MORE clear.

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  31. "Your argument - and please pardon me here - is childish. You claim that since ibn Caspi said the Torah used allegory for a specific purpose, and allegory is a type of "falsehood" then ibn Caspi claims that the Torah uses different forms of falsehood for different types of purposes. This has no basis in logic at all."

    Gary,
    If one makes a statement of fact, it is either true or false. Caspi is fighting against (and openly mocks) those who claim these p'sukim in the Torah are literally true. He makes two arguments:
    1) These statements are not true literally, they are false literally. (He doesn't use the term 'sheker', but instead calls them "melitza", "dikduk tzimtzum" "lo-tiv'i" and "kinui". These terms are NOT synonymous with allegory); and
    2) It's OK that they are false literally, because they serve as the key to a higher understanding, and these false statements are the only way man can possibly grasp the higher, truer concepts.
    If for you that magically makes the statements not false, then I'm a bit worried you don't grasp the concept of truth and falsehood.

    "See Yishai's translation of ibn Caspi at the beginning of this thread. It could not be MORE clear."

    Here I agree; it couldn't be more clear. Let's recall what Caspi wrote (Yishai's translation, my emphasis):
    "since the topics of these books are very lofty, it is impossible for a human being to speak of (these topics) UNLESS HE USES THIS APPROACH (footnote: an allegorical approach), due to their loftiness. And therefore the sages said "the Torah spoke in the language of man."

    How exactly does this prove, as you wrote, "Man will NEVER be able to understand these lofty ideas no matter how much his knowledge progresses, because the limitation is due to his nature as a physical being." It proves exactly the reverse!

    Cheers,
    Hillel

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  32. Hillel -

    I am at a loss as to understand your objections. You keep harping on the (false) notion that I think that according to ibn Caspi everything in the Torah is literally true. An allegory is not literally true - it is an allegory. Regarding the distinction that I made between allegory and falsehood, a concept that you cannot seem to grasp or accept, let us take the case at hand to illustrate. Various p'sukim indicate the notion of the kidneys providing counsel for man. One approach is to say that the verses are allegorical. Is this a falsehood? Well, yes, insofar as (according to this approach) the kidneys do not literally give counsel to man. However this is different from the second approach: the pasuk states in a literal way, not allegorically, that the kidneys give counsel to man, because that is what the ancients believed. That is, the pasuk presents a falsehood in order to make ancient ignorant man comfortable by accommodating his (erroneous) beliefs. This falsehood is of a completely different nature than the "falsehood" of an allegory. For the life of me (another allegory here!) I cannot understand why you don't grasp this distinction.

    You can emphasize whatever you like from Yishai's translation, but the fact is that ibn Caspi said that it is *impossible* to understand the lofty concepts without allegory. You had asked where ibn Caspi explicitly disagrees with your notion that "if the Torah could just as easily have made true statements that would allow base man to grasp lofty concepts, why would it resort to allegory..." Yishai's quote is a direct answer to your question, no matter which words you choose to capitalize.

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  33. Gary,
    Here we get to the heart of the problem. Any time there is a falsehood, your response is to call it allegory. The kidneys giving counsel is a perfect is example. This NOT an allegory. In the ancient world, doctors believed counsel came from the kidneys, not the brain. Calling this an allegory is 100% apologetics. It is not allegory, it is falsehood.
    (Note: If you want to call it allegory, the burden of proof is on you to show that the text shouldn't be read to mean exactly what it says, especially when that reading is in accord with the best science and medicine of the time.)

    Now, your interpretation of Caspi is that he reads everything as allegory. I (and R' Slfkin, and R' Twersky) disagree. I think when Caspi says a statement is not teva, he doesn't mean it's an allegory, he means it is false. He then explains why that's OK. But that's a matter of interpretation. The point is this: you asked for evidence and I gave it to you. Simply because you have an alternative (in my opinion, weaker) reading of the evidence doesn't mean the evidence hasn't been given, merely that you disagree with it.

    Regarding your second point, I'm glad you have finally changed your argument from:
    "Man will NEVER be able to understand these lofty ideas no matter how much his knowledge progresses"
    to: "it is *impossible* to understand the lofty concepts without allegory"
    Those last two words change your argument to come closer to reflecting what Caspi says. The problem, of course, is that it still assumes Caspi is always saying allegory, rather than falsehood, which is incorrect, for the reasons stated above. And, even taking your assumption, it also doesn't answer the question why the Torah needs to mask allegory as true statements, rather than clearly identifying them as allegory, the way Gad hanavi does. As I mentioned earlier, Caspi concedes this is very dangerous. A simple well-placed letter chaph preceding the 'allegory' could have clarified the entire matter beyond dispute! Indeed, in other, closely related places, the Torah does exactly that ("k'eshen hakivshan", etc.). Of course, if this is not allegory but false statements masked in the best knowledge of the time, it makes far more sense why there is no mitigation.

    Cheers,
    Hillel

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  34. Hillel -

    "Here we get to the heart of the problem. Any time there is a falsehood, your response is to call it allegory."

    This is not the heart of the "problem" whatsoever, and your inference is patently false. I cited the example of kidneys as an illustration of the difference between the "falsehood" of an allegory vs. a lie or a mistake. You then chose to ignore the distinction and to focus on the particular example. A clever technique to avoid the basic issue! Moreover, I did not, nor do not, call a falsehood an allegory "whenever" any falsehood appears. And no - the burden of proof is upon you. Ibn Caspi said (see Yishai's quote) that the seal of God is truth and thus the Torah is to be understood in its literal level of understanding, with the exception of the areas delinated by the "mitzvot" of reading that ibn Caspi enumerates. A prophetic statement that says that the kidneys provide counsel, if it is not an allegory, is not true in any sense. Yet its source is the One whose seal is truth. Now if you want to claim that according to ibn Caspi God lied for a purpose, the burden of proof is upon you to show that that this type of falsehood is something that God does. Ibn Caspi says that God does engage in allegory; he NOWHERE says that God lies in order to make ancient, ignorant man comfortable.

    "I think when Caspi says a statement is not teva, he doesn't mean it's an allegory, he means it is false. He then explains why that's OK."

    You can think whatever you like, but ibn Caspi said (from Yishai's translation:

    "(Thus, they contain) doctrines that are based upon the approach of Aristotle's books on nature only by way of allegory. As a result, there are contained within them, I mean the books of the Bible, some changes (from the approach of Aristotle), some muddled ideas, and innumerable metaphors and equivocal terms. It was necessary (for the Bible) to be written this way; since the topics of these books are very lofty, it is impossible for a human being to speak of (these topics) unless he uses this approach (footnote: an allegorical approach)..."

    His explanation is that man needs this in order to understand the lofty implications of incorporealism; he does NOT say that it is to appeal to ancient man's ignorance.

    "Regarding your second point, I'm glad you have finally changed your argument from: "Man will NEVER be able to understand these lofty ideas no matter how much his knowledge progresses" to: "it is *impossible* to understand the lofty concepts without allegory""

    You're kidding, right? "Man will NEVER be able to understand these lofty ideas in their own terms" and "it is IMPOSSIBLE for man to understand these lofty ideas without allegory" mean the same thing.

    "why the Torah needs to mask allegory as true statements, rather than clearly identifying them as allegory, the way Gad hanavi does."

    Like most of what you wrote, I have no clue what you are saying here. Ibn Caspi explicitly states that God's *making* the kotnot ohr for Adam and Chava is an allegory. The Torah doesn't state "it is as if God made..." The allegory, according to ibn Caspi, is for man to understand from the context. According to you, ibn Caspi must maintain that God has a physical hand since the Torah doesn't say ke-be-yad chazakah. Are you serious?

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  35. Gary.
    OK, I'm done. Neither you nor I have said anything particularly new in the last 4 or 5 posts. I think you have taken the weaker side of interpreting Caspi, which is fine, and that you refuse to credit the stronger interpretation, which is not fine, but if nothing I said had changed you mind, nothing I will say will change it, so what's the point. As to the rest of your post, all of it either misstates what I said, what you said, or repeats what was said earlier, so I don't really see a need to respond.

    Kol tuv,
    Hillel

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  36. Ibn Caspi says that God does engage in allegory; he NOWHERE says that God lies in order to make ancient, ignorant man comfortable.

    Actually, that is EXACTLY what he says with regard to counting.

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  37. Hillel -

    "I think you have taken the weaker side of interpreting Caspi, which is fine, and that you refuse to credit the stronger interpretation, which is not fine..."

    You realize, of course, that this one-sided opinion of yours contributes nothing to the discussion. I could easily say the same about your views. But I do understand that you do not wish to respond any more to the issues.

    Anonymous -

    according to ibn Caspi, God does not LIE about counting to make ancient man comfortable. His exact words (obviously in translation) are:

    "All the sages spoke extensively about the amazing phenomena that come from the imaginative faculty. From this there is a well known consensus, based upon foolishness, among the masses, even to this day, that plague besets those who are counted...Therefore, the Lord, blessed be He, who loves our nation, commanded them when they count the people, that there will be no plague among them. This, in order to remove from their hearts and heads this evil imagination (that they have)..."

    Please reread that last line. According to ibn Caspi, the count in the form of a half-shekel donated to God is a "bridge" to help the people "get over" their erroneous belief. It is exactly like RMBM's view of korbanot. There is no lie here according to ibn Caspi.

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  38. Therefore, the Lord, blessed be He, who loves our nation, commanded them when they count the people, that there will be no plague among them. This, in order to remove from their hearts and heads this evil imagination (that they have)..."

    That is ABSOLUTELY NOT the correct translation!

    He says that Hashem commanded them that when they count the people, they should give 1/2 shekel, SO THAT there should not be a plague. In other words, God is catering to the false belief. It is EXACTLY a lie to make them comfortable.

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  39. Lawrence Kaplan

    Gary: I supported you before when you were right, but here you are wrong and tendentious


    First, you misunderstand the Rambam, Guide3:32. The Rambam states that god accomodated the people re sacrifices to wean them aaway from idolatry. He never says that God sought to wean the people away from sacrifices.

    As for ibn Kaspi: You are completely off the mark. When Ibn Kaspi says that the purpose of this method of counting is to remove from their hearts this evil imagination, he does NOT mean that god wants to wean them away from the false belief that counting brings about a plague. It clearly means that since it is necessary to count the people in time of war, and since the people falsely believe that counting birngs about a plague, God provided this method of counting to remove from their hearts this evil imagination that they OTHERWISE would have had that they would be subject to a plague. This way they will go to battle confidently, not bothered by "their evil imagination" which could have depressed them and have real consequnces. Your idea that God is trying to wean them away from their false belief that counting brings about plague is simply wrong and an impossible reading of the text.

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  40. Anonymous -

    I'm not sure where you learned Hebrew, but the translation that I provided is EXACTLY correct, despite the fact that you may not be comfortable with the idea that ibn Caspi puts forward. Just to be clear, the Hebrew wording of ibn Caspi on pages 33-34 of Tam HaKesef is:

    "Velachein HaE-l yitbarech, oheiv ameinu, tzeevam ki tisa et rosh b'nei Yisrael - velo yihyeh negef bifkod otam, KI LEHASIR ZEH HAMEDAMEH HARA MILEEBAM VEROSHAM..."

    I would love to see your translation of the above to conform to your wishes as to what ibn Caspi "really" said.

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  41. Professor Kaplan -

    I understand what you're saying here. I do believe that my reading is possible, but I accept your reading as a smooth one. (By the way, I never meant to say that RMBM maintained that the people should be weaned away from sacrifice - only that they should be weaned away from the notion that sacfrifice is the height of worship. See MhN 3:32). At the same time, it seems to me that according to your reading, ibn Caspi is saying that God gave a concession with regard to counting because of the powerful sway of the imaginative faculty - a sort of "dibrah Torah keneged yetzer hara" application. What I would like to ask you here is the following: do you think that it follows FROM THIS application of God's concession to the people, that ibn Caspi holds that God spoke falsehoods to the people about scientific facts (where there is no powerful sway of the imaginative faculty - just scientific ignorance) in order to accommodate the people's ignorance? That is the claim that has been put forth, and I do not see how that follows from the "counting" issue. Your thoughts?

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  42. By the way, Anonymous, where is the LIE that God said? He told them that they should go to war confident that they won't be harmed since they donated money to God. He allowed them to function within the powerful sway of their imagination; He never told them that counting causes plague. In other words, he told them that even within their framework, they have nothing to worry about here. He didn't tell them that their framework was correct. In fact, ibn Caspi said that God commanded a count numerous times, even when it did not preceed a war, and that God would never command the people to do something harmful to themselves. So, according to ibn Caspi, God, in a subtle way, did communicate that their notion about counting and plague is false. He just accommodated them in the case of war because of their powerful imagination which would come to debilitate them. This is not what you claim it to be - a LIE.

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  43. Lawrence Kaplan:

    Gary; Does not the verse imply that the reason there will not be a plague is because they are not being counted directly or because they have given money. But, this is in accordance with the false belief of the people. In truth even were they counted directly they would not have been subject to the plague.

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  44. Professor Kaplan -

    Ibn Caspi's explanation (following your own comment above) is that of course there is no *real* harm in counting; however, since the powerful sway of the imaginative faculty led the people to believe that there is a harm, and since that (false) belief can lead to real (debilitating) consequences, God enabled a count by which the people, even in their own (false) framework would be pacified, and thereby enabled to function. Is this a "lie" on God's part? Isn't it akin to - and this is only an analogy - a psychiatrist who, in order to help his patient with a debilitating fear, tells him that in this case you need not be afraid - since XYZ is at work here, according to your own worries, there won't be a bad outcome. This is not the same thing as telling the patient, "You know, your fears are absolutely true."

    I would greatly appreciate your answer with regard to the question I raised - do you think that the principle [A] "God tells lies in the scripture in order to accommodate ancient man's scientific errors (in areas that do not involve the powerful sway of the imaginative faculty)" follows from ibn Caspi's statement [B] that "God accommodates the people's powerful imaginative faculty allowing them to function even within their own (false) framework." That is, can one absolutely derive A from B such that we can say with confidence that ibn Caspi certainly maintained A.

    Thank you very much for your consideration of the issue.

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  45. Lawrence Kaplan


    Gary: You are retreating to a fall back position.. The workings of the people's imagination flow from their scientific ignorance, i.e., precisely because they falsely believe that coounting causes a plague, God's counting them without providing that they give money would distress them, and God accomodates Himself to their false belief in order to alleviate their distress. Now as to whether there are examples, according to ibn Kaspi, in the Torah where God simply accomodates Himself to the people's scientific ignorance where no such consequences follow, I don't know. But while, as as I was one of the first to say, the other examples brought by Rabbi Slifkin did not prove his or Prof. Twersky's point, this one does. At this point you should be modeh al ha-emet.

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  46. Professor Kaplan -

    I would be glad to be modeh al ha-emet if I thought that what you said was true. Unfortunately, I believe it is not. The crux of the issue hinges on something that you yourself stated:

    "Now as to whether there are examples, according to ibn Kaspi, in the Torah where God simply accomodates Himself to the people's scientific ignorance where no such consequences follow, I don't know."

    Ibn Caspi emphasizes the point that God's instruction to the people about donating money in the count is to assuage them because otherwise they would be debilitated in war due to the powerful sway of their imaginative faculty. This is not peripheral to his explanation - it is the heart of his explanation. Therefore to say that God accommodates man's scientific ignorance by stating falsehoods in the Torah where no debilitating consequences are present is assuming something not in evidence. You are, pardon me, committing a logical fallacy: if A is true where B is present, then A is also true where B is absent. In order to posit this, you must show that B is accidental to the issue of A. In this case, ibn Caspi states that B is essential to the issue of A. I would welcome an explanation as to how my analysis of your position is in error. And here I will say to you as well, it may be time to be modeh al ha-emet.

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  47. I know Professor Kaplan by reputation only, a sterling reputation. I myself am a professor of philosophy, specifically teaching courses on logic, in a rather well known university. I admit to not being an expert in the history of medieval Jewish philosophy, although I do have a strong interest in it, and have read extensively in that field. All that being said, I must say that it seems to me that Gary has a solid point here (although I would not have expressed his view with some of the caustic terms that he used). I read the piece by ibn Kaspi, and Gary's logic does follow consistently. Ibn Kaspi speaks of a scriptural untruth due to a specific factor, the great anxiety of the people. It does not follow from what ibn Kaspi said that he would maintain that scripture utilizes untruth when there is no such anxiety, or factor analogous to such anxiety. I mention this only in the interest of fairness and accuracy. Perhaps Professor Kaplan has another source for what he claims ibn Kaspi's position is?

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  48. Dr. R. M.,
    Perhaps Professor Kaplan has better exmples, but in the meanwhile, as I suggested above, I would point you to Mishneh Kesef where, by arbeh and choshech, Caspi simply points out that various statements in the Torah are not natural statements, but rather gross exaggerations ("dibra torah b'lashon havai"). He then goes on to mock those who take the statements literally. He does not say there is any reason for these statements other than dibra Torah b'lashon b'nei adam. No anthropomorphism, no deep lessons, no fear of the people. The Torah uses grossly exaggerated language which does not reflect physical reality (truth), merely to enhance its readability and relatability for the common man.

    KT,
    Hillel

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  49. lawrence kaplan

    Gary: The original question was whether there are any examples from ibn Kaspi's writings to support the claim that he maintains that the Torah accomodates itelf to the scientific ignorance of the people. To begin with, I, like you, was of the opinion that the original examples cited by Rabbi Slifkin from Prof. Twersky's article did not support that claim. Indeed, I strengthened the argument AGAINST that claim by pointing to a textual error in the printed version of ibn Kaspi's comment about Dibra Torah bi-leshon benei adam.

    However, the comment from Tam ha-Kesef re counting DOES support that claim. As I said, you have now adopted a fall back positon. You now admit that this is an an example of where the Torah does accomodate itself to the scientific ignorance of the people, but correctly note that the Torah does this to alleviate the people's mistaken anxiety. You now are adding a new condition. Is there, an example, you ask, where ibn kaspi speaks of the Torah's accomodating itself to the people's scietific ignorance if no suh anxiety is involved? I answered "I don't know.' All I want you to admit is that Rabbi Slifkin has proved his original claim, and that you are now adding an extra condition to that claim. Fine, but admit that is what you are doing.

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  50. Dr. R.M. -

    Thank you for your comment and support. I will try not to be caustic in my choice of words in the future.

    Hillel -

    I have looked up all the sources that you cited - and more - in an attempt to determine what ibn Caspi means when he speaks of "dibrah Torah bilshon hava'i." Granted that I may not have seen every single instance that he uses the term, but in all the instances that I did find, his definition of the term is "exaggeration." That is, people speak in exaggerated terms such as "X was the greatest thing EVER;" "it was so dark that no one could even move;" and they use rounded-out numbers (for a purpose, as ibn Caspi explains). In fact, ibn Caspi makes a point of saying that people today still use the same mannerism of speech.

    Now, you want to claim that this is a support for the Twersky-Slifkin interpretation of ibn Caspi - that the Torah lies in order to accommodate the people's scientific ignorance. However, I believe that this just doesn't follow. Your argument depends upon the notion that exaggeration as a manner of speech and an outright lie regarding a scientific fact are the same thing, and that if the Torah uses man's manner of speech (exaggeration) it will also use lies in order to accommodate man. Since there is a difference in use of speech mannerisms vs. conceptual content, the burden of proof is upon you to show that ibn Caspi lumps all inaccuracies together. Thus far, we have not seen any such proof. How the Torah speaks (the way that man does - with exaggerations) is not the same as what concepts the Torah imparts. When an ancient said, "My kidneys give me counsel," he was not exaggerating; he was saying something that he maintained to be scientifically true. Ibn Caspi's "hava'i" statement has nothing to do with this.

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  51. Professor Kaplan -

    I am sorry; your statement is inaccurate. I do not "admit that this (the issue of counting) is an an example of where the Torah does accomodate itself to the scientific ignorance of the people..." Ibn Caspi openly states that the rounding off of numbers is a mannerism of speech that people use ("exaggeration") in their common parlance, even today. It is NOT due to any "scientific ignorance." Was Moses, who knew and recorded the exact count of the Israelite males above the age of 20 (excluding the Levites) as 603,550 (Numbers 2:32) "scientifically ignorant" when he spoke of them as 600,000 (Numbers 11:21)?

    Moreover, I am not "adding a new condition." The very essence of what ibn Caspi stated was that "dibrah Torah..." in the case of the counting means that God took into account the debilitation of the people when speaking to them. This has no bearing when there is no such debilitation.

    As a result, I cannot accede to your request, "All I want you to admit is that Rabbi Slifkin has proved his original claim, and that you are now adding an extra condition to that claim. Fine, but admit that is what you are doing." R' Slifkin has not proved his original claim at all; and I have not added anything new.

    I welcome your response, and thank you for your time and consideration.

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  52. lawrence kaplan

    Gary: I am sorry if I was not clear. When I referred to counting, I did not mean the issue of rounding off numnbers or exaggerating. On that I agree with you against Hillel. I was referring to the idea that the people believe that God's counting them will bring down a plague on them and therefore, ibn Kaspi argues, the Torah says that they should give money so that no plague will befall them, even though this statement is scientifically wrong. It seems to me that this proves Rabbi Slifkin's original claim, and that you are now adding a new condition by referring to debilitation or anxiety. I'll let the readers judge.

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  53. Professor Kaplan -

    Sorry - that last comment conflated two different points, the "counting" that I had been addressing to Hillel, and the "counting" that I had been addressing to you, and they are not the same "counting."

    Nevertheless, the point that I made still stands. You are using the term "scientific ignorance" in an equivocal sense, and that undermines your argument. In the case of the counting, the people had a superstitious fear of counting, thinking that counting will result in a plague. Yes, had they been aware of the science, perhaps they would not have had that superstition (I say perhaps because, as a recent Wall Street Journal article showed, many scientists have absurd superstitions, despite what they know to be true). Then there is the scientific ignorance of thinking that kidneys provide counsel. In the former case, scientific ignorance is not the substance of their false belief - the ignorance merely allows for the superstition to persist. In the latter case, the scientific ignorance is itself the false belief.

    It is therefore not a "fall back" position to assert that ibn Caspi, who spoke only of the first type of "scientific ignorance" must agree with the second type in terms of the Torah presenting a falsehood. This is the heart of what ibn Caspi said - not a fall back to a new position.

    I hope that clarifies my position.

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  54. Gary: I agree with you that from the examples cited until this point, we have not estlished that ibn Kaspi would extend his position to cover the kidney's giving counsel. But I certainly never claimed that and I not certain that Rabbi Slifkin claimed that.

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  55. Anyone know if there's an online copy of Tirat Kesef/Sefer Hasod? Caspi says in a few places that he deals with issues relevant to this discussion there, but I can't find it it.
    Thanks!
    Hillel

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  56. To Anonynous (of 9:00 pm):

    You wrote that "we have not established that ibn Kaspi would extend his position to cover the kidney's giving counsel. But I certainly never claimed that and I'm not certain that Rabbi Slifkin claimed that."

    Please note Rabbi Slifkin's original post that started this part of the discussion:

    "In several previous posts, I referred to the phenomenon of scientifically incorrect information in the Torah, such as the description of the heart and kidneys as the seat of the mind and consciousness... I proposed to address these with the principle of "The Torah speaks in the language of men," according to the way that it is developed and presented by Rav Kook. But I just realized that Rav Kook was not the first to use the principle of Dibra Torah in this way. Six hundred years earlier, R. Yosef Ibn Kaspi had already presented this approach..."

    Rabbi Slifkin certainly sought to present ibn Caspi as support for his notion about the Torah's presentation of the kidneys. And to reiterate what you stated, to date, no such support has been found in the words of ibn Caspi himself.

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  57. Lawrence Kaplan

    Gary: Anonymous 9:00pm was I.

    You are right. the statements of ibn Kaspi cited so far, even the rather striking one about counting and the plague, do not cover Rabbi Slifkin's kidney example, though I his example is a fair extention of ibn Kaspi's principle. But it is an extention nevertheless, unless some other statement of ibn Kaspi can be found.

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  58. Thought you might like this entry on "dibra torah bilshon bnai adam" by R' Steinsalz in his Reference Guide to the Talmud:

    "The Torah spoke in the language of men. Despite its apparently comprehensive wording, this principle has only narrow and specific application. Frequently, double verbs are used in the Torah (eg shalach t'shalach - "you shall surely release"). According to Rabbi Yishmael and his school, such verbs have no exegetical significance, as doubling of the verb is simply an ordinary linguistic usage ("the Torah spoke in the language of man"), whereas Rabbi Akiva and his school attempted to draw Halakhic inferences from such verb repetitions. Thus, "the Torah spoke in the language of man" is not a general principle of Biblical exegesis, as its application is limited to cases where a verb form is repeated. Indeed, this formulation of our rule is not found in the Jerusalem Talmud, where the controversy between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yishmael is described this: l'shonot ribooyin hayn / l'shonot cfulin hayn -- ie., double verbs are either "repeated expressions" (and hence exegetically insignificant) or "amplificatory expressions" (i.e., exegetically significant).

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  59. Professor Kaplan -

    Your integrity is a beacon of light. Thank you.

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  60. Lawrence Kaplan:

    Phil: R. Steinsalz is referring to its meaning in rabbinic literature. In medieval sources it has a broader, more theological, meaning.

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  61. Phil/Professor Kaplan,
    Both R' Steinzaltz and Rabbi Twerski said dibra Torah are principles of R' Yishmael, but doesn't the gm (BT Berachot 31a) say exactly the opposite?

    KT,
    Hillel

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  62. Gary,
    Your understanding of dibra Torah b'lashon havai meaning exaggeration is correct - this is exactly how the gm' uses it (e.g., "arim g'dolot uv'tzurot bashmayim") But ultimately this argument is a matter of semantics, which is why I don't know if there's a lot us utility in arguing our relative positions too much. That being said, I'll give it a shot...

    If an author writes "the man was 100 feet tall", then (outside the realm of sci-fi/fantasy), there can be general agreement that this is an exaggerated statement meaning he was a very tall man. But what if the author writes "the man was nine feet tall"? Let's further assume many commentators on the book take this statement absolutely literally, which makes sense since it is possible for a human to be that tall. If someone comes along and says "'nine feet tall' is is not a natural statement, but rather a gross exaggeration for the purpose of enhancing readability" that is, to my mind, the exact same thing as saying "the author has lied to his audience (and indeed duped many experts who took it as literal truth) in order to access a common belief or emotion, thereby connecting with his audience." I see the two as essentially synonymous, as the only difference between exaggeration and any other kind of lie is authorial intent (which is unknowable) and reader understanding (which cannot possibly lend itself to exaggeration in this instance).

    Long story short, I agree with you that I haven't seen Caspi saying "this a lie", (outside the counting issue) but the sum total of his turns of phrase, taken in context, make his position on the matter abundantly clear. (i.e., in numerous areas where most, if not all commentators took verse literally, Caspi will say it's melitza, kinui, lo-tivi, etc.)


    I'll give an example that I hope will clarify:
    If a witness at trial says, repeatedly, "I told him a million times" and it turns out he said it three times, a reasonable juror will not be shocked at the missing 999,997 occasions, since this is an obvious exaggeration.
    However, if a witness says, repeatedly, "I told him on six different occasions" and opposing counsel proves it was three, the witness will look like a liar, and saying "I was just exaggerating" (even if it's true) will not change matters, since a reasonable person couldn't be expected to understand that it was an exaggeration.

    Since Caspi has tremendous respect for Ibn Ezra, and doesn't think him a fool, Caspi can't believe these exaggerations are category one, which means it's impossible to truly distinguish between exaggeration and falsehood.

    Now I'm not saying your position is 'wrong', I'm just saying both positions are valid interpretations of the data.

    KT,
    Hillel

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  63. Lawrence Kaplan

    Hillel: In the TB Berakhot 31b (not 31a) the gemara just cites a debate between R.Yishmael and R. Akiva as part of a larger discussion, and it the anonymous gemara there which states Dibrah Torah. The debate cited there between R. Yishmael and R. Akiva has nothing to do with Dibrah Torah.

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  64. Professor Kaplan,
    But why would the anonymous gm' ascribe to R' Yshamel the position of dibra Torah if he rejects this position? How would this answer the question posed?

    KT,
    Hillel

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  65. Lawrence Kaplan

    Hillel: Thw anonymous gemara here does NOT attribute Dibrah Torah to R. Akiva. It's the gemara's OWN suggestion regarding a problem that exists with reference to a certain verse in light of R. Akiva's view about another verse.

    One point however. The Bavli does not attribute Dibrah Torah specifically ot R. Yishmael. That emerges from the Yerushalmi and the books of midrash halakhah.

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