Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Ibn Caspi quote

Someone pointed out that Rabbi Dr. Twersky's article about Ibn Caspi didn't actually include citations on the topic of Dibra Torah. You can download Ibn Caspi's works at Hebrewbooks.org; his Mishna Kesef is here. Twersky has many references in the endnotes of his article, but here is one of the most important quotes, from page 49:



It's tricky to translate this into readable English. If someone has the time to do so, please post it in the comments.

42 comments:

  1. Translation of ibn Kaspi:

    "The fifth instruction (as to how to understand the Holy Writings) - is to know that part of the perfection of our Torah, and the other books of the Bible, is that the sayings contained within them are (sometimes) arranged in a manner which is not logical. (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), due to their loftiness. And therefore the sages said "the Torah spoke in the language of man." This statement by our sages resolves most of the doubts in the Torah in its great breadth, almost as if to say that it (the idea of "the Torah spoke in the language of man") is an approach that resolves all of the difficulties as will be further explained in our work (below)."

    I will take this opportunity to add a translation here of the seventh instruction (found on the very same page in ibn Kaspi), which you did not reference:

    "The seventh instruction - is to know that the narratives of our Torah are true as they are literally written, for those who understand them - I mean for those who understand their literal meaning. This is so since these narratives were given to Moshe, the prophet of truth, from God blessed be He, whose seal is truth. However, while the narratives are literally true, there are (also) contained within them deep secrets which are hidden from all but for a select few..."

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  2. Based upon this translation of ibn Caspi, your claim that his view supports yours (and Twersky's) about dibrah Torah... doesn't hold any water.

    You, citing Twersky, wrote:

    "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."

    No where in the citation from ibn Caspi that you referenced is this idea to be found. On the contrary, he says that the Torah presents statements that are in conflict with known science AS AN ALLEGORY since the sublime nature of the given topic cannot be presented unless it is allegorical. Unless you have another quote from ibn Caspi, your citation of him as a support for your view is a gross misrepresentation.

    And that's without even touching what he said in his "7th principle."

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  3. Prof. Twersky cites dozens of references from Ibn Caspi. This is only one of them.

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  4. Could you reference the others, even if not linking to the full quotes?

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  5. The references are scattered throughout the endnotes in Twersky's article, which you can download via the link in the previous post.

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  6. I actually own the book in which the Twersky article appeared, and went through it a number of years ago. To the best of my recollection, the only citation from ibn Caspi on the issue of dibrah Torah... was footnote #31, which the commenter Klonymus mentioned earlier. I could be mistaken about that, though, and that's why I asked if you knew of the others that you had in mind. I couldn't find them.

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  7. Discussions like this make me question the approach of the blog.
    Twerski and ibn Caspi are so obviously talking about kabalistic/mystical approaches to the Torah and Torah study.

    It seems like some very strong blinders or head in the sand approaches are needed to read these sources as talking about a strict rationalism (as explained in this blog) perspective of Torah study.

    It seems to me that the proper approach to these topics is like Rav Kook, R. Aryeh Kaplan and "Modern Chasidim" which use rationalism as much as possible, but also don't ignore the more mystical side of Jewish learning and understanding.

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  8. Caspi was not at all talking about kabbalah or mysticism. He was an Aristotelian rationalist. But note that being a rationalist in the 14th century is not the same as being a rationalist in the 21st century.

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  9. Rabbi - this was kind of lame. You claimed that ibn Caspi supports your interpretation of "dibra Torah b'lashon bnai adam" and when challenged to cite a specific source, you bring the one on this post, claiming that "here is one of the most important quotes." And then when it turns out that the quote doesn't support at all what you claimed it did, you respond by saying "Prof. Twersky cites dozens of references from Ibn Caspi. This is only one of them." You must admit, this looks rather weak. Do you have another quote to support your claim?

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  10. On the topic of astrology and the Rambam, people might be interested in the folllowing article, which I don't recall being linked here, in the inaugural issue of the Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies Student Journal(pages 20-26):

    "Traditions Against Astrology: An Examination of the Curious
    Role of Tradition in Maimonidean Epistemology"

    http://www.yu.edu/uploadedFiles/REVEL/BRGS%20Student%20Journal%202009-2010%281%29.pdf

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  11. One of the factors driving Ibn Caspi was his opposition to those who engaged in a certain style of allegorical interpretation that was in vogue at the time, such as explaining that Avraham and Sarah are metaphors for "form and substance" rather than actual people. See http://tinyurl.com/333ct7n. That is presumably what lies behind his statement that "the narratives of our Torah are true as they are literally written." This does not counter the fact that he saw the Torah as using various phrases that are not true but are "muddled ideas" and "changes from the natural order" that were written "in the language of men."

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  12. The fifth instruction (as to how to understand the Holy Writings) - is to know that part of the perfection of our Torah, and the other books of the Bible, is that the sayings contained within them are (sometimes) arranged in a manner which is not logical. (Thus, they contain) doctrines that are based upon the approach of Aristotle's books on nature only by way of allegory.
    May I suggest a correction to the translation of the bold:
    ...which is not logical, setting up premises in the manner of the books of natural-science of Aristotle, for example.

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  13. Wouldn't it be more straightforward to say "dibra Torah b'lashon Elokim" - i.e. it's not a book about G-d in the language of man, but a book about man in the language of G-d?

    A modern day example: Let's say I go to a cafe and end up meeting my soul mate. If I'm religiously inclined, I might recount it by saying, "G-d brought me to my soul mate and said, 'This is the one for you'."

    Is it such a stretch to think of Torah as describing human events with a G-d flavor?

    The implication isn't that G-d doesn't exist or inspire us, but rather that our experience of G-d (i.e. without explicit audiovisuals) isn't fundamentally different from Biblical times.

    Seems to me this is the most "rational" approach.

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  14. To say in one sentence that the Torah is full of Alegory and non accurate statements, and then to argue that the pshat is still litteraly true,( and how dare you say it isn't?) Is something that can only make sense in a Mystical framework ala Ramban and the Maharal.

    Does Ibn Kaspi ever bemoan the influence of the Zohar?

    I think you are presenting a false dichotomy to say one is either a Rationalist or a Mystic. My favorite perushim are both!

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  15. Yehudah - I believe your suggestion is untenable for two reasons:

    1) the most common medieval (and modern, too) connotation of the word "hagbalah" is "limitation" - not "setting up." The phrase "derech mashal" in ibn Caspi usually means "allegorically" - not "for example." When he means "for example" he usually says "lemashal" (or "ke-gone").

    2) according to your suggestion, ibn Caspi would be saying that "premises in the manner of the books of natural-science of Aristotle" are not logical. This cannot be, since ibn Caspi clearly held that Aristotle's premises are the epitome of logical thought.

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  16. "One of the factors driving Ibn Caspi was his opposition to those who engaged in a certain style of allegorical interpretation that was in vogue at the time, such as explaining that Avraham and Sarah are metaphors for "form and substance" rather than actual people. See http://tinyurl.com/333ct7n. That is presumably what lies behind his statement that "the narratives of our Torah are true as they are literally written."

    No kidding. Even the anti-Rationalists would agree with this statment. Based on the text you cited, he is not excluding chomer and tzurah; he is merely saying that the literal interpratation can not be excluded. You have to site where he says that he doesn't believe in the validity of chomar and tzurah in order to claim his your version of Rationalism

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  17. I don't understand what you are saying. Also, please use your name or a pseudonym.

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  18. "I don't understand what you are saying. Also, please use your name or a pseudonym.
    "

    I am not anonymous, but I think what he meant to say was...

    Based on the quotes you have given. Ibn Kaspi does NOT reject the reading of Sarah and Avaraham as "form and substance" He is only possibly saying that while Sarah and Avaraham are "form and substance" they are ALSO people.

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  19. Of course! As long as they are actual people, what difference does it make if there is additional meaning, such as Avraham being chessed?

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  20. While the last few comments are certainly interesting and relevant, they do not address the point that started this discussion. That is, the quote from ibn Caspi that was referenced does NOT support the interpretation of dibra Torah... that you suggested. That's not necessarily a "kushya" - but I believe that in order to back up your claim, you need to find other quotes from ibn Caspi, which you claim do exist, that clearly support your interpretation.

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  21. It's not my interpretation, it's Rabbi Prof. Yitzchak Twersky's interpretation, and his credentials as both a talmid chacham and academic scholar are first class and unimpeachable.
    But I think that this source (and others in Ibn Kaspi) do indeed prove what he says. He specifically discusses scientifically inaccurate statements.

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  22. When I was in graduate school I had a professor who used to say, if you quote someone's opinion or interpretation of something, you "own it" and it is yours to defend. Saying that the question that I asked is minimized because a great thinker like Professor Twersky said it, is an appeal to a person, not an idea, which, for a rationalist, should be anathema. I fail to see how the quote from ibn Caspi which you provided supports your (and Twersky's) interpretation. Ibn Caspi says that the Torah provides scientifically inaccurate statements as allegories because one cannot speak of sublime ideas such as metaphysics in true, accurate terms. Nowhere in the quote cited does he say (or even hint at the fact) that the Torah speaks inaccurately in order to accommodate the false, limited knowledge of the ancients who received the Torah. Hence my objection, and hence my request for another citation which would support your interpretation.

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  23. My point was that I haven't learned much of Ibn Kaspi, but Prof. Twersky has, and I assume that he had adequate reason to describe Ibn Kaspi's approach in this way. B'n I'll try to get around to studying the rest of the citations. Or maybe you can?

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  24. Lawrence Kaplan

    Rabbi Slifkin: I'm sorry, but this quote does NOT prove your point. Actually, it proves it even less than would appear from Yishai's translation. The word Yishai translates as "muddled ideas," "heakhrut" (?), from akhor, does not fit in contextually and makes no sense gramatically. It is obviously a mistake, and the word should be haavarot (it is the easiest to misread and take a bet for a chaf) which in medieval Hebrew is just another term for metaphorical, non-literal terms.

    OTOH, I have studied ibn Kaspi's commentary on the Moreh--Prof. Twersky in his article refers to my dicussion of the commentary in my thesis which I wrote under his direction -- and it is my considered judgment that ibn Kaspi was a radical rationalist. Read, for a start, his tzavaah in Hebrew Ethical Wills. The idea that he was a kabbalist or mystic a la the Maharal is laughable.

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  25. Lawrence Kaplan

    To continue: Actually, this statement of ibn Kaspi is MORE conservative than that of the RMBM in Guide 1:26, who understands there Dibrah Torah to mean "in accordance with the imagination of the multitude." For Ibn Kaspi, at least here, Dibrah Torah refers to the intrinsic limitations of human language when speaking of these profound matters.

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  26. Professor Kaplan,

    Thank you for your clarification. I would just like to point out, and I am rather sure you will agree, that RMBM in MhN 1:26, where he speaks of "in accordance with the imagination of the multitude" limits his application of dibrah Torah...in that sense to any expression of corporeality of the Creator. He is NOT saying that the Torah contains falsehoods from a scientific perspective just to accommodate ancient man's limited, deficient knowledge of, for example, the world. He is speaking only with regard to God's incorporeality. Therefore, for Rabbi Slifkin to claim that the passage in MhN that you cite, or for him to claim that the passage from ibn Caspi that he cited, is a support for his view of dibrah Torah... is not valid. Any thoughts?

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  27. I must be missing something here... where did I claim that Rambam is discussing scientific inaccuracies?
    But I would be glad for Prof. Kaplan to weigh in with his understanding of Prof. Tersky's article.

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  28. "It's not my interpretation, it's Rabbi Prof. Yitzchak Twersky's interpretation, and his credentials as both a talmid chacham and academic scholar are first class and unimpeachable."

    Many of the banners where considered to be the experts in their field; hence, many weilded to their authority. Yet, you made a convincing case for yourself by making source-based arguments.

    However, with regards to this issue, you are asking your readers to follow an expert even though you have not yet provided persuasive evidence to his position. Many of us find this confusing.

    Additonaly, many readers are of the impression that a true Rationalist denies such concepts as "chomer" and "tzurah". You have classified ibn Kaspi as a Rationalist, hence, it would seem to follow that he denies the existence of the aforementioned concepts. Can you cite to where he denies such concepts (obviously, in this particular quote, he doesn't deny their existence; just makes the case for an interpratation that does not exclude the simple connotation of the terms)?

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  29. You didn't. I was just anticipating that perhaps you might make that claim since RMBM speaks of the "imagination of the multitudes" (even though he explicitly states there that he is speaking only with regard to the incorporeality of the Creator). Thus far, that is - until and unless Professor Kaplan weighs in with other sources from ibn Caspi, there is nothing from within ibn Caspi himself that we know of which supports your (and Twersky's) interpretation. That's all I meant to say up to this point.

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  30. Lawrence Kaplan

    Rabbi Slifkin: Your understanding of Prof Twersky's article is correct. And, IIRC, there are some quotes from ibn Kaspi which do support Prof. Twersky;s understanding. But it's been a long time since I read the article, and a long time since I've read ibn Kaspi, so I am unable to speak with any authority, much less certainty, about this. The only point I was making is that the quote you cite does not support Prof Twersky's reading.

    Gary: You are right with reference to the Rambam's understnding of Dibra Torah in Guide 1:26. But note the somewhat broader application in Hilkhot Yesodei ha-Torah 1:12 (as opposed to 1:9).

    OTOH, there are indications that the Rambam felt that Yehezkel's nevuah re ma'aseh merkavah was in accordance with the best astronomical theories of his day, and in certain details was wrong, e.g. that the spheres make sounds. But this is another, very controversial issue.

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  31. many readers are of the impression that a true Rationalist denies such concepts as "chomer" and "tzurah".

    Why would you think that? Rambam was the rationalist par excellence, and he certainly invoked those concepts.

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  32. So unless I am mistaken, the matter - as it stands now - is that there are some people who have a feeling that ibn Caspi somewhere does have quotes which would support the Twersky-Slifkin interpretation, but they cannot, at this point, identify these quotes. Am I correct, therefore, in stating that until those quotes are found, the valid working assumption should be that your interpretation is subject to critical doubt and skepticism?

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  33. I guess that would depend upon how much credibility you assign to Prof. Twersky.

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  34. (My own working assumption would be that he is correct, in the absence of any reason to think otherwise.)

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  35. So in the end, you are asking your readers to rely on the Twersky interpretation - in the absence of any credible evidence so far - for a claim that is untraditional (that God presents untruths in the scripture in order to accommodate the ignorance of the ancients) - just because one believes in Twersky's wonderful reputation. This is ironic, as Fred pointed out above.

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  36. Why is the fact that it's untraditional a reason to think that he didn't take this position? His entire worldview was untraditional.

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  37. "You are asking your readers to rely on the Twersky interpretation - in the absence of any credible evidence so far"

    Gary,
    That's unfair on two counts. First, R' Slifkin never said anyone should "rely" on this reading Ibn Caspi (whatever that means), he just made his readers aware of the fact that this reading of Caspi exists. One can debate whether it's Caspi's opinion or R' Twersky's take on Ibn Caspi, but the fact remains that this is a noteworthy view which is embraced by at least one scholar. Second, the opinion of a scholar does constitute 'credible evidence' of something, it just doesn't make it absolute truth. (If the weatherman says it's going to rain tonight, you probably bring an umbrella.)

    That being said, since the quotes in the article (e.g., relating to those chasing the spies sent by Yehoshua) don't appear to evidence the broader view of Rabbis Slifkin and Twersky, there is an open open question at this point as to what the basis for the opinion is.

    Cheers,
    Hillel

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  38. The great rationalist and skeptic James Randi says often, "big claims require big evidence." The claim that the Torah, which was given as a timeless book for people throughout the ages, presents falsehoods within it in order to address the limited, ignorant notions of a people in a specific place and time is a "big" claim. That requires "big" evidence. But the truth is, right now, I'll settle for ANY evidence. You claimed that a rishon, ibn Caspi, maintained this view, and you offered zero evidence to back up this claim so far, other than to say that you ASSUME it to be true since Twersky is a credible person.

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  39. Gary, considering who Ibn Kaspi was, it's not a big claim. Rambam says much more extreme things. And the fact that you speak about "Ibn Kaspi, a Rishon" - as though his being a Rishon makes it less likely that he held this view - shows that you are approaching this from a traditionalist perspective, not an academic perspective.

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  40. Lawrence Kaplan

    Rabbi Slifkn: While I would not phrase the matter as Gary does, I have to agree with his basic point. At this stage, the burden of proof is on you.

    BTW, the other explicit example that Prof Twersky refers to, but leaves out, about "Hananiah ha-Navi," doesn't prove very much either.

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  41. Rabbi Slifkin:

    "the fact that you speak about "Ibn Kaspi, a Rishon" - as though his being a Rishon makes it less likely that he held this view - shows that you are approaching this from a traditionalist perspective, not an academic perspective."

    This is a false supposition / assumption on your part. I included the idea of ibn Caspi as a rishon, merely mirroring your own original claim, in your earlier post about this subject:

    "he was mainstream and important enough to merit a lengthy biographical sketch in Artscroll's "The Rishonim.""

    Why did you have the reaction that you did?

    Professor Kaplan: thank you.

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  42. Sorry Gary, I had no idea that you were mirroring anything, it sounded like you were saying that his being a Rishon made it less likely that he held such a view.

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