Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Rambam and Mesorah

In a long thread of comments a few posts back, one of the commentors expressed shock when I mentioned that Rambam developed various concepts for which he had no mesorah from Chazal, and even employed various phrases, principles and laws from the Gemara with a meaning that Chazal did not intend. The person asked if I was accusing Rambam of being a liar or an idiot.

Although I was tempted to simply dismiss the person as an ignoramus, I should be more sympathetic. After all, fifteen years ago, I probably would have had the same reaction.

If one studies Rambam in depth, one realizes that much of his system of thought was taken from Aristotle and various Muslim philosophers. From his extraordinary interpretation of Maaseh Bereishis and Maaseh Merkavah to his understanding of (the non-existence of) demons and the supernatural, it all came from Greco-Muslim philosophy and was not a mesorah that had reached Rambam through the generations.

But Rambam was not dishonest. He did not believe that he was reforming Judaism. Rather, he felt that this was the original, authentic Judaism, which had been lost over the generations.

Rambam believed that the Nevi'im possessed this knowledge. It is widely held that he believed the same about (most of) Chazal, but I just came across this article by Yair Lorberbaum where he makes a case for saying that Rambam later came to believe that Chazal had already lost this knowledge, and that much of the Guide was a critique of Chazal.

A while back, somebody from a yeshivishe background who came to learn all the above had a different question for me. If all this is true, why do the works of Rambam matter? It's just an outdated way of reconciling Torah with an obsolete system of thought!

I believe that this is a mistaken perspective. And I don't just mean that studying the history of beliefs is scholarship, whether they are true or false. The fact of Rambam's system of thought being based on an obsolete framework does not mean that there is nothing valuable in it. While Greco-Muslim philosophy is obsolete, many of the challenges that it raises are similar to those raised by modern scientific thought. There is thus much in Rambam's approach that still proves valuable. Furthermore, since Judaism is a way of life that places great emphasis on traditional figures of authority, being able to demonstrate that approaches to modern challenges have precedents in the writings of Rambam gives them greater credibility and authority. These are the reasons why I believe that it is beneficial and important to study and teach Rambam's approach.

90 comments:

  1. If so, I suppose we can't attack Lurianic Kabbalists for being inauthentic, (i.e. for having made up things unknown to Chazal). After all, the rationalist enterprise is equally non-traditional. My discomfort with the Kabbalistic tradition based on the Zohar on Ari was very much predicated on my view that their Judaism was a rupture from tradition. However, are their innovations any more of a rupture than the Rambam's? In fact, was Gershom Sholem right when he wrote that the Zohar resonates with the rhythms and sensibilities of the Jewish soul far more than the Greco-Muslim Moreh Nevuchim? Oy veh!

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  2. Please clarify if you are referring to Mishnah Torah, Moreh Nevuchim or both. The difference being the approach one might have to each one.

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  3. Both. The Mishneh Torah also contains the influence of Rambam's philosophy (although, of course, not to the same extent as the Moreh).

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  4. Rabbi Slifkin,

    Would you be able to point out where the Rambam thought that this approach was lost? From everything that I learned in the Rambam it always seemed like he had an amora or Tanna backing up his ideas. At the very least he was able to bring proof to it from scripture.

    Also, it seems like we can find most of the Rambam's ideas in the Gemorah or Midrash. Just like he used Aristotle, so did the Amoraim, no?

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  5. In the More of rav kapach, translates that part about the shin -dalet s differently and explains why.
    Also the platonic system that the rambam uses (along with Aristotle) is not gone. It has been reincarnated into modifications of the Kant system.
    The Rambam borrowed from the neoplatonists along with (and maybe more than from) Aristotle.

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  6. E-man -- Everything's from a Tanna/Amora?

    Who in the Gemara says there's no such thing as Sheidim?

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  7. Pharasite- Well, any Tanna or Amorah that seems like they are disagreeing are explained as to why they are not disagreeing and the Rambam brings pasukim to back him up. Just check out Rambam's Mishna Torah Avoda Zara perek 11 halacha 16. Also, Check out in the sefer hamitzvos of the Rambam the negative commandments 31 and 32. I wish I knew more things by heart, but unless I see something else that is all I have.

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  8. "But Rambam was not dishonest. He did not believe that he was reforming Judaism. Rather, he felt that this was the original, authentic Judaism, which had been lost over the generations. Rambam believed that the Nevi'im possessed this knowledge. It is widely held that he believed the same about (most of) Chazal...There is thus much in Rambam's approach that still proves valuable...These are the reasons why I believe that it is beneficial and important to study and teach Rambam's approach."

    From your last two sentences it sounds like you are saying that we can now say today that the Rambam was basically incorrect in much of what he said philosophically (I am not referring to his knowledge of science here), but that nevertheless, there is still a value is studying his works. From the first five sentences, it sounds like you are saying that the Rambam maintained that his approach was exactly what the neviim and chazal expressed as truth.

    So my question is, how do you know the Rambam was indeed wrong? What about his philosophy is mistaken?

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  9. E-man -- The are so many Gemaras decribing Sheidim running amok, wreaking havoc, blowing people up, partying in the bushes etc.

    The Rambam in a Tshuva to Chachmei Luneil says that these are according to a lone opinion which we do not follow.

    Can you find me ONE Mishna/Tosefta/Gemara which says that Shaidim don't exist?

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  10. First off let me just say I said or he quotes pesukim. But, the fact that the Rambam says that those Gemoras are a Daas yachid and everyone else holds against it shows that he felt he had the support of Amoraim and Tannaim.

    Based on my limited knowledge and memory (I have been in medical school the past year and time limits on learning only allow me to learn so much) of Gemorah/Mishna/Tosefta/Midrashim I can only bring one case where I am almost certain that there is an argument as to whether Shadim exist or not.

    In baba Kama 21a it says:

    אמר רב סחורה אמר רב תונא אמר
    רב הדר בתצר תבירו שלא מדעתו אין
    צריך להעלות לו שכר משום שנאמר ושאיה
    יוכת שער נ )אמר מר בר רב אשי לדידי חזי
    ליה ומנגח כי תורא רב יוסף אמר ביתא
    מיתבא יתיב מאי בינייהו איכא בינייהו דקא
    משתמש ביה בציבי ותיבנא

    R. Sehorah slated that R. Huna quoting Rab had said: He who occupies his neighbour's premises without having any agreement with him is under no legal obligation to pay him rent, for Scripture says, Through emptiness (Shaya) even the gate gets smitten. Mar, son of R. Ashi, remarked: I myself have seen such a thing (A Shade:Rashi) and the damage was as great as though done by a goring ox. R. Joseph said: Premises that are inhabited by tenants keep in a better condition. What however is the [practical] difference between them?7 — There is a difference between them in the case where the owner was using the premises for keeping there wood and straw.
    (Translation found at come-and-hear.com)

    Just to explain a little for those not familiar with the Gemorah, The verse quoted here is found in Yishaya 24:12 and, as Rashi explains, Emptiness (Shaya) is the name of a shade that damages houses that no man lives in. Therefore, Rav Sechora in the name of Rav Huna in the name of Rav says a person does not have to pay rent for living in an empty house because he is doing the owner a favor, keeping Shaya away. Hence the opinion of Rav Sechora in the name of Rav Huna in the name of Rav is that Shadim exist to the extent that we base halacha on it! Mar the son of Rav Ashi even said he saw a shade like this and it was damaging like an ox.

    However, Rav Yosef disagrees and says the reason there is benefit to the owner is because a house falls apart when it is left alone. He argues with the notion that a shade damages an empty house. The only way to understand this is that Rav Yosef does not believe in Shadim (or specifically this shade, I will grant you that). He says that the reason the person who lives in someone else's house does not have to pay is because the person takes care of the house, which would otherwise fall apart due to neglect.

    The difference between them is if the house is used for storage. Rav Sechora in the name of Rav Huna in the name of Rav would say that Shaya will be no where to be found because there are people that come in and out. However, Rav Yosef will say that since it is only used for storage it will be left to whither away and become uninhabitable because it will not be repaired since it is only used for storage.

    This is how Rashi explains the argument.

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  11. "Can you find me ONE Mishna/Tosefta/Gemara which says that Shaidim don't exist?"

    Pharasite - your question is meaningless. Of course there is no mishna/tosefta/gemara which says that shaidim don't exist - how can there be? P'sukim in the Tanach speak of shaidim, satan, etc. The question is what do these things mean? Now, can YOU find ONE mishna/tosefta/gemara which says that one shouldn't interpret these things allegorically, but that they must be interpreted literally? I didn't think so.

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  12. Oh, come on! It's obvious that Chazal interpreted these things literally!

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  13. "Oh, come on! It's obvious that Chazal interpreted these things literally!"


    The question is did the majority or the minority explain them literally. I think the majority did not explain them literally, as I explained in the Gemorah in Babba kamma 21a that I am assuming you are about to post or never got. If you rejected it, please let me know why so I can fix it.

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  14. PESUKIM that Sheidim exist?
    Yeshaya mentions Lilit-which was understood to mean a Sheida. This week's parsha-KeToafot Re'am is understood by CHAZAL to mean Sheidim. Give me an explicit demonic verse. The best you'll have is the S'irim--something the Torah acknowledges that people worship, but not that they exist--se Ha'azinu - Yizb'chu LaS'irim
    LO ELOHA.

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  15. let's be honest:
    "Now, can YOU find ONE mishna/tosefta/gemara which says that one shouldn't interpret these things allegorically, but that they must be interpreted literally? I didn't think so."

    i agree with Rabbi Slifkin that *of course* they regarded it as literal. But if you need an explicit gemara, see the one in Eruvin I discuss here. The existence of Yosef the sheid is the basis for halacha, which is rather unlikely if sheidim are allegorical.

    pharasite:
    this is beside the point, but actually, it is "lo elo-ah". the patach is a patach ganuv like we see by other gutturals ayin and chet, and the dot is a mapik heh.

    kt,
    josh

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  16. "Give me an explicit demonic verse"
    also, שדים נכונו ושערך צימח. from the parallel to seirim in ושערך, we know what שדים means...

    (yes, i kid)

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  17. "Oh, come on! It's obvious that Chazal interpreted these things literally!"

    Let's pretend that we are having an academic conference and that you are challenged by fellow academicians to defend the statement above. What evidence would you put forth, other than "it's obvious"? After all, you could easily just have said that the Tanach mentions shaidim and satan, and "it's obvious that they are to be taken literally there. End of discussion."

    Which brings me to the next point. Pharasite said, "PESUKIM that Sheidim exist?...Give me an explicit demonic verse. The best you'll have is the S'irim--something the Torah acknowledges that people worship, but not that they exist--se Ha'azinu - Yizb'chu LaS'irim LO ELOHA."

    First of all, you misquoted the pasuk. It doesn't say "yizbechu las'irim lo eloah..." it says "yizbechu laSHAIDIM lo eloah..." There are 2 pesukim that explicitly mention shaidim: Devarim 32:17 and Tehillim 106:37.

    Second, what do you mean that the Torah means to say that people worshipped them but that they don't exist. Where do you get this from? Perhaps the Torah means that they do exist, merely as shaidim, not gods, but that the people worshipped them as gods. The sun exists, not as a god, but as a star, and people worshipped it. Or do you mean to say that when the Torah speaks of people worshipping the sun, it really means to say that the sun doesn't exist?

    Josh said: "But if you need an explicit gemara, see the one in Eruvin I discuss here."

    This actually proves nothing. The same gemara speaks of Eliyahu traveling during the time of Chazal. Are you suggesting that Chazal uniformly believed that Eliyahu literally never died? There are quite a few rishonim who would disagree with you about that. Further, just because there is a halacha based on this idea (of shaidim) does not mean that Chazal understood it to be a real existence. The best proof for what I just said is the gemara that you yourself cited on your website, dealing with zugot. There is a halacha because people FEARED that zugot were operative, not necessarily because zugot are indeed operative.

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  18. See this link:

    http://academictalmud.blogspot.com/2010/06/review-maimonides-in-his-world.html

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  19. Just to be clear about the first point in my previous comment: One could say the same thing as you claimed about all of midrashei Chazal - that "*obviously* Chazal meant them literally." Funny, the Rambam says exactly the opposite - that it's *obvious* that they did NOT mean them literally.

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  20. And yet, with demons, Rambam did NOT say that they did not mean it literally. He holds that they meant it literally, and they were wrong. Why?

    The answer is that it depends on the context, including the historical context. We know that everyone in the ancient world believed in demons. So when Chazal speak about demons, in many contexts, and especially since they speak about them in halachic (i.e. non-Aggadic) contexts, it stands to reason that they are speaking literally. And this is how all the Rishonim and Acharonim understood Chazal (with the exception of some hyper-rationalists) - most to agree that there are demons, and some to disagree and say that Chazal were mistaken.

    What reason do you have for saying that Chazal were NOT speaking literally?

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  21. "What reason do you have for saying that Chazal were NOT speaking literally?"

    I don't. I claim that one cannot say with certainty that Chazal absolutely were or were not literal about shaidim. This is subject to the interpretation of the rishonim and achronim. I am not claiming any certainty about Chazal - I am challenging *your* certainty, in that you insist that they obviously meant what they said literally. I don't have to prove anything; you do.

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  22. Rabbi,

    Doesn;t the Rambam hold that the minority opinion is that Shadim are real, but the majority opinion is that they are not? So, Rambam is not saying Chazal are wrong, but that we believe like the opinion in Chazal that Shadim are false since that is the truth.

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  23. let's be honest:
    "Are you suggesting that Chazal uniformly believed that Eliyahu literally never died? There are quite a few rishonim who would disagree with you about that."
    you are inserting the word "uniformly" in here. i would say that certainly those engaged here, trying to bring proof from an incident in order to derive halacha, almost certainly believed it.

    "The best proof for what I just said is the gemara that you yourself cited on your website, dealing with zugot. There is a halacha because people FEARED that zugot were operative, not necessarily because zugot are indeed operative."
    PROOF? that is an *explanation*. as you say, "not necessarily". that is not proof in the other direction. the fact is, no matter what the evidence, somewhere someone will be able to rationalize it away. (anyway, there is a difference between that and establishing metzius in order to derive hilchot shabbos / yom tov. it is the difference i gave in my post between operational interface and derivational interface.)

    kt,
    josh

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  24. What? No one brought the Meiri?

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  25. I am not claiming any certainty about Chazal - I am challenging *your* certainty, in that you insist that they obviously meant what they said literally.

    Well, I would refer you to what I said above - the textual context, the historical context, and the mesorah.

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  26. "i would say that certainly those engaged here, trying to bring proof from an incident in order to derive halacha, almost certainly believed it."

    Really? How do you know? Perhaps the halacha is derived from the meaning that people ascribe to the term.

    "PROOF? that is an *explanation*. as you say, "not necessarily". that is not proof in the other direction."

    See my last comment; I am not claiming certainty - you are. The fact that there is an explanation allows for a non-literal understanding is a PROOF that one cannot say with certainty that Chazal meant what they said literally.

    "Well, I would refer you to what I said above - the textual context, the historical context, and the mesorah."

    The textual context does not indicate certainty about literalness, any more than the textual contexts of Devarim 32:17 and Tehillim 106:37 indicate certainty about literalness. The mesorah is not clear at all about this, since there are quite a number of rishonim who say that these things are not literal. The historical context is somewhat irrelevant unless you can demonstrate that Chazal bought into it. I mean by that - if someone says that demons are a metaphor for the yetzer hara, for example, then the fact that the non-Jews around may have believed in literal demons has little bearing on the people who use demons as a metaphor for the evil inclination - UNLESS one can show a reliance on the acceptance of the literal meaning. Proving the claim of literalness from the mentioning of the term itself is "begging the question."

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  27. Just a reminder about my question above that so far has been unanswered...

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  28. "Really? How do you know? Perhaps the halacha is derived from the meaning that people ascribe to the term."

    sorry, but that doesn't fly. please, explain the give and take of the gemara with "the meaning that people ascribe to the term". please propose, precisely, how "the meaning that people ascribe to the term" gets a message on Shabbos past the distance of techum Shabbos. I eagerly await this explanation.

    I suppose the only thing that would convince you would be if the gemara would say:
    "Rav X: Something about shedim.
    Rav Y: Just to be clear, sheidim are meant literally, right? None of this metaphorical stuff.
    Rav X: Indeed, and all of Chazal agree to me about this."

    I doubt we would find this. Absent this, yes, any gemara is open to kvetching and radical reinterpretation. However, I would deal in likelihood, and the likelihood, given the way it is being used (context), as well as other factors, indicates to me that it was intended literally.

    otherwise, when the Mishna says "shnayim ochazin baTallis", can you prove to me that they did not mean it allegorically (in line with the deep kabbalistic pnimiyus interpretation) and not literally at all? how do we know that the numerous cases regarding such splitting also didn't happen, and are not meant allegorically?

    (in fact, i think you really agree with Rabbi Slifkin. everything you say to the contrary is surely only meant allegorically, and you are really talking about the migratory habits of ducks.)

    but seriously, without speaking in generalities, give me a convincing interpretation of the aforementioned gemara, making use of "the meaning that people ascribe to the term".

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  29. Josh, from the Gemorah in Eruvin are you referring to the fact that they listen to Yosef the shade or the idea that Eliyahu "Flew?"

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  30. "The historical context is somewhat irrelevant unless you can demonstrate that Chazal bought into it."
    given that everyone surrounding believed it, isn't it strange that they used it as metaphor and just expected their audience to intuit this? possible, but less likely.

    and how can one demonstrate, when any demonstration will be kvetched and allegorized unconvincingly?

    kt,
    josh

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  31. I am still unsure as to why we can;t say that some of chazal, aka Amoraim and Tannaim, believed Shadim were real and others did not. As per the Gemorah I brought, I think that idea is highly possible. Especially since there were MANY philosophers that held either way back then.

    Maybe chazal got the idea from Aristotle or some other rationalist that did not believe in demons, or maybe they came up with the idea themselves. However, to say that the only opinion that existed in the time of chazal was that shadim exist seems wrong, to me. I mean, to say everyone believed in demons at the turn of the century seems far fetched. maybe most of the general populace, but there were some that did not.

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  32. "are you referring"
    since the topic is shedim, the latter. but in general both. a reasonable allegorical explanation which also has halachic impact would need to account for the full give and take...

    kt,
    josh

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  33. "that they listen to Yosef the shade"
    not that they listen to him, but that that he would convey the seven rulings from Sura to Pumpedita in a Shabbos, without being subject to the rules of techum.

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  34. It is clear that the Rambam rejects the oft expressed idea in the talmud about the existence of Shaidim (demons) or 'black magic'. It is a stretch to assume that the sages were only discussing such matters allegorically - particularly, when in an halachic context. Given the references to such 'black magic' and its severe prohibition, the Rambam is forced to the position that the torah refers only to people's perception that these arts have real power, whereas, in reality, it is mere trickery. Similarly, the few references to Shaidim in Tanach would refer only to people's superstitious beliefs. The 'se'irim' in Lev. 17:7 are, presumably, also Shaidim. The word appears to imply something wild and uninhibited. The same can be said of 'shaidim' who are said to lurk in dark and dangerous places. Presumably, these are real, but strange, people who don't have the normal qualms about going about in the dark or living in ruins. Their destructive impulses are also a sign of abnormal behavior. The sages therefore considered them not quite human. We would call them wild or mentally ill people. Other mishaps such as some illnesses were also blamed on them since they were unaware of the microscopic much less, submicroscopic world.

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  35. it seems to me that there would be a difference in stregnth in different aspekts of Rambam's writings. Generally it is assumed in halachick jurisprudence that Rishonim carry more weight than acharonim. For the most part acharonim don't argue on rishonim (except for the earlier acharonim as the dates aren't set in stone). The reason being that the earlier one lived and studied, the closer he is to Sinai, and the closer to the Truth.
    But when Rambam takes ideas for his philosophy from external philosophers, then if it were to become obsolete, then we can argue with it. It isn't Torah,it's Aristotle.
    Thus it isn't strange that Rav Hirsch criticized this aspect of the Rambam - he was insisting on an internal philosophy.

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  36. "please propose, precisely, how "the meaning that people ascribe to the term" gets a message on Shabbos past the distance of techum Shabbos."

    I don't see the difficulty. The gemara proposes to learn something about techum from the fact that Eliyahu delivered a message past the techum but above 10 tefachim. The gemara counters with - perhaps a shaid delivered the message. For those who learn that Eliyahu was (and is) physically alive, the idea is simple - perhaps the people who claim to have seen Eliyahu didn't really see him; they had a vision of some image who, they thought, was Eliyahu. For those who learn that Eliyahu was not physically alive, the idea that people were provided with a vision of Eliyahu such that it would suggest a violation of techum - and this is inappropriate and as such would never be the subject of a vision from on high - we must say, to maintain the appropriateness of the vision, that he was above 10 tefachim. Or, that the people mistakenly thought the vision was of Eliyahu - it was merely a vision of some other image.

    Now I understand that you may not like that interpretation. However, it is a valid interpretation, and clearly a plausible one for the rishonim and geonim who reject the idea of literal shaidim and who accept this gemara. Either that, or they would say that this gemara was written by some members of Chazal who do believe in literal shaidim, whereas as others don't, as E-Man has convincingly argued. Either way, there is no certainty of all of Chazal agreeing in a literal understanding of shaidim.

    Which beings me to the next point. You repeated the sentiment of "yes, any gemara is open to kvetching and radical reinterpretation." So those rishonim who claimed that shaidim were not literal kvetched? But you know better? I am humbled before you.

    But seriously, what seems obvious to you is "obviously" so wrong according to others. Your opinion of "obvious" and their opinion of "obvious" - clash. So all we have are opinions. Now you are certainly entitled to your opinion, but this is not grounds for a solid academic discussion. And I believe that it is invalid to say - well maybe everything is an allegory. "Shaidim" and "satan" are areas for which we have rishonim saying they are allegorical. You are claiming that these rishonim DEVIATED from the mesora of Chazal, who uniformly accepted the literal understanding. Again, can you please prove that???

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  37. E-man:
    "I am still unsure as to why we can;t say that some of chazal, aka Amoraim and Tannaim, believed Shadim were real and others did not. As per the Gemorah I brought, I think that idea is highly possible."
    i agree that this is eminently possible. i am not sure about the particular gemara, involving Rav Yosef, given the reasons he gave Abaye for various other practices, where Abaye was initially presenting the 'rationalist' position. (it depends on how we understand ruach ra.)

    but, for example, the Talmudic statement that in the West (=Eretz Yisrael) they were not makpid about zugos. i'd rather say this that claim allegory.

    btw, i posted an anisakis post based on the disgust you mentioned.

    kt,
    josh

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  38. "Lets Be Honest" - if you're going to take the position that if someone living 700 years ago had a certain interpretation of the Gemara then it must be considered viable, please don't talk about how you want to have "grounds for a solid academic discussion."

    In academia, the fact that someone lived 700 years ago does not give them more credibility. Furthermore, in academia, it is well recognized that the rationalist Rishonim read Greco-Muslim philosophy INTO the Gemara rather than OUT of it.

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  39. So those rishonim who claimed that shaidim were not literal kvetched? But you know better? I am humbled before you.

    I would concur that R. Josh Waxman knows better. And it's not because he is more intelligent than those Rishonim. Nor is it because he knows anything about sheidim that they didn't.

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  40. "I would concur that R. Josh Waxman knows better. And it's not because he is more intelligent than those Rishonim. Nor is it because he knows anything about sheidim that they didn't."

    Rabbi Slifkin - that's all I wanted to hear. Thanks.

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  41. let's be honest:
    i initially understood "the meaning people ascribe to the term" as something metaphorical, like that sheidim means something metaphorical like the yetzer hara. and so i wondered how 'the yetzer hara' or whatever Eliyahu represents is delivering a message. i see you are taking it as the attributes to it which people would mistakenly ascribe.

    you answered, in a kvetchy manner, for Eliyahu Hanavi, and for Yosef the Sheid as what people mistakenly thought was Eliyahu. (though why not just say they saw a vision of a sheid?) (though that they would be willing to say that he is able to *fly* over ground and so quickly, thus violating natural travel, but not willing to say that he is a apparition and thus not subject to these rules seems dachuk.)

    we don't really end up with a sheid that is really metaphorical with this, do we? it is some spiritual apparition that communicates with people, revealing secrets. i'll take it one step further and say that we can call such an apparition a "demon". would those who consider all sheidim metaphorical really agree to such a "metahor"?

    (i know, you will likely say they don't mean Yosef the demon, even though they gave it the same name as the demon who communicated demon secrets to Abaye, and just meant to convey 'mistake' or non-Eliyahu vision. and this only in this one gemara that pertains to halacha.)

    i will grant you that you did find a way to explain it, though.

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  42. '"yes, any gemara is open to kvetching and radical reinterpretation." So those rishonim who claimed that shaidim were not literal kvetched?'

    I don't know. let us see them explicitly say what you said, first. they would have to say "allegory" rather than Chazal (or some of Chazal) being incorrect; and they would have to have considered and discussed this gemara.

    but if they would offer a kvetch, yes, i would label it a kvetch.

    i certainly think that people *nowadays* have a great capacity to kvetch any gemara, often because of reasons of frumkeit, and then expect others to treat the kvetch seriously as a real case of doubt.

    kt,
    josh

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  43. Rabbi Slifkin-

    True, in academia we do not give credence to people that lived 700 years ago just because they lived 700 years ago. However, in Orthodox Judaism and acedemia we do not preclude their ideas either. This, I believe, was the problem with those who attack you. They throw out any idea that argues with their Rabbis that lived 700 years (really more like 200 years) ago.

    The Rambam is a valid opinion correct? We believe in Mesorah, in fact, the Rambam in many places (the most recent place I read was the iggeret hataiman) says that everything we have is from our Mesorah (at least anything halachic, but even most hashkafa seemed like the Rambam held was Mesorah). The only time the Rambam says we can deviate from a Mesorah is when we have very good scientific evidence against it and it seems like this is only in Hashkafic matters and not halachic.

    Here we are discussing the idea of Shadim (Hashkafic matter btw). Did Chazal believe in Shadim or not. I believe that is an incorrect approach. Chazal lived after the time of aristotle, so to assume that none of chazal knew of his ideas would be foolish. Also, if the truth is that Shadim do not exist, some of Chazal should have known about it if it was actually part of the Mesorah. If it wasn't then maybe all of chazal believed in Shadim.

    However, there are two possibilities that can attest to the Rambam being right in his assumption about Shadim aka that there are many Amoraim and Tannaim that believed Shadim did not exist: either it was a Mesorah, and this mesorah was argued on later because at some point someone thought Shadim existed and machlokes erupted and the unhindered mesorah on this was lost ( like so many other things), but the majority still kept the correct mesorah (acc. to the Rambam). Or, Chazal did not have a mesorah on Shadim, but tried to figure out these verses in Tanach that sounded like Shadim existed and things that seemed like Shadim in their life time. So some Chazal believed like Aristotle and others believed like the Babylonians.

    These ideas seem to me to make the Rambam's position likely to be true. It could either be that the idea that Shadim do not exist is the Majority of Chazal, or the opinion that we "hold like (no Mesorah so we pick one of the various opinions in chazal)." However, the opinions that hold Shadim exist are the minority or we do not "hold" like them.

    However, even if all of chazal held that Shadim are true then I would say the Rambam would still argue, because of scientific evidence (Which I have never seen the Rambam bring against Shadim existing so I assume he is basing himself on a mesorah, espoecially since he quotes a pasuk to prove his point in avoda zara perek 11 halacha 16). But we do not have to say that. There is no reason to assume the Rambam is going against Chazal.

    Rabbu Slikfin, do you think the Rambam is arguing with ALL of Chazal or holding like one opinion over the other here?

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  44. shimon s said...
    What? No one brought the Meiri?
    June 24, 2010 6:56 PM

    Shimon, how about you? Thank you.

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  45. "I would concur that R. Josh Waxman knows better. And it's not because he is more intelligent than those Rishonim. Nor is it because he knows anything about sheidim that they didn't."

    Rabbi Slifkin - that's all I wanted to hear. Thanks.


    R. Waxman would doubtless not claim otherwise. And I hope you understand the reason why I still think that R. Waxman is correct to say that Chazal did believe in sheidim, and those Rishonim are incorrect to deny it.

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  46. E-Man - if there is any evidence that any of Chazal did not believe in sheidim, I am interested in hearing it. I don't know of any.

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  47. Rabbi, did you see the Gemorah I quoted and explained according to Rashi?

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  48. Natan-You don't know of any? E-man already quoted a Gemara which debates whether ושאיה יוכת שער means Shbaidim destroy the place or if it decays naturally. What's wrong with that?

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  49. "Rabbi Slifkin - that's all I wanted to hear. Thanks."
    why is that all you wanted to hear? because this now clarifies some point for you? or because you are an pseudonymous commenter trying to obtain a "gotcha" quote?

    i don't know whether rishonim suggest an allegorical interpretation, or suggest something akin to your extreme non-allegorical kvetch, but indeed, i would agree that sometimes i will know better than the rishonim in terms of peshat in a gemara.

    this for at least 2 reasons. first, standing on the shoulders of giants, and thus knowing what was widely believed as literal historical truth contemporary to Chazal.

    second, an attitude by which Chazal being wrong does not diminish them a whit. along with an attitude by which Chazal can say something and I would simply disagree. this leads to less of a need to "teitch up" Chazal in a way that they are neither wrong nor am i a heretic. it is great when they are right, and when what i believe accords with them. but i am more open to other possibilities.

    (for a similar reason, i feel free to say that Chazal were *wrong* about zugos, rather than saying like Rosh than different countries and climates are different.)

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  50. Yasher koach, R' Josh. Dead-on as always.

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  51. Rabbi Slifkin:
    thanks.

    btw, i discuss the bava kamma gemara, as well as reanalyze the eruvin gemara, in a new post on my blog.

    it is possible that by Yosef Sheda, was is meant is 'Joseph the human expert in demonology'. then, he would be making use of demons to transport himself there quickly. (and indeed, this may be what Rashi is saying.) even so, it would depend on the existence of demons as real entities.

    kt,
    josh

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  52. "sometimes i will know better than the rishonim in terms of peshat in a gemara. this for at least 2 reasons. first, standing on the shoulders of giants, and thus knowing what was widely believed as literal historical truth contemporary to Chazal. second, an attitude by which Chazal being wrong does not diminish them a whit. along with an attitude by which Chazal can say something and I would simply disagree. this leads to less of a need to "teitch up" Chazal in a way that they are neither wrong nor am i a heretic. it is great when they are right, and when what i believe accords with them. but i am more open to other possibilities."

    "Yasher koach, R' Josh. Dead-on as always."

    You make a claim about knowing better than the rishonim in terms of understanding the p'shat in a gemara - and then support that claim with two reasons. Sorry - your argument makes no sense - I am not referring to the conclusion you come to - I am referring to the line of "reasoning."

    Your second "reason" is not a reason at all - it is an apologistic statement meant to deflect you from being accused of diminishing Chazal. It is not a REASON as to why you would know better than the rishonim.

    Your first "reason" fails as an argument because you claim to stand on the shoulders of giants. Who are these giants? You cannot possibly be referring to Jewish sages, since a gentile agnostic could / would easily come to the same conclusion you did - that Chazal meant what they said literally, and that they were wrong. Now the gentile agnostic would not be standing on the shoulders of Jewish sages, so in what sense are you? If you mean the shoulders of secular academicians, who claim to know about the ideologies of non-Jewish contemporaries of Chazal, and these are the giants' shoulders upon which you stand, then you are pitting your assumption about Chazal having the same ideologies as their non-Jewish contemporaries against the knowledge that the rishonim had about Chazal. Your assumption does not afford a clearer, "higher" view than the rishonim's, since yours is based upon an assumption (and maybe theirs is too). At best, yours is an equally valid view.

    If your two "reasons" are invalid as a basis for your conclusion, then I believe that your conclusion is certainly subject to doubt. And the same with those who wish you a hearty Yasher Koach for such flimsy "reasoning."

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  53. Your second "reason" is not a reason at all - it is an apologistic statement meant to deflect you from being accused of diminishing Chazal. It is not a REASON as to why you would know better than the rishonim.

    Of course it is a reason why R. Waxman would know better! If someone passionately believes in X and claims that so did Chazal, it lacks credibility vis-a-vis someone who has no such bias. There is a well-known tendency for people to try to read their views back into Chazal. So when a hyper-rationalist who claims that there is no such thing as demons also claims that Chazal felt the same way, this lacks credibility vis-a-vis someone who also does not believe in demons but admits to the somewhat discomforting realization that Chazal did.

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  54. While I would certainly not disagree with the idea that all men are fallible, it is important to maintain a distinction between questions of fact vs. halachic reasoning and authority. The rational stance is that the sages of the talmud and the Rishonim were wrong about various aspects of physical reality, as were their contemporaries. There never were 'shaidim' or 'black magic' or 'adnei hasadeh' or 'mud-mice', nor were there ever spontaneously generated lice or worms. These were simply incorrect, albeit popular, notions, and nature hasn't changed significantly since the times of the talmud. On the other hand, while one may or may not be convinced of the logic of a talmudic sage or Rishon, they, nonetheless are entitled to a serious study of their views. Whether truly correct or not, their opinions carry legal weight. The same can be said of the leading Acharonim.

    The problem arises when halachic conclusions appear to be based on false facts. For example, the
    Rema states that metal vessels absorb cooked food material throughout its volume. While cast iron vessels may contain such material in its numerous microscopic cracks, that is not the case for forged stainless steel. The same can be said of the Rema's stance with regard to the absorptivity of glass vessels. The glassware we have aren't at all absorptive, and could be easily kashered. Still, it would take a contemporary posek of great standing to make such distinctions and have them widely accepted. I note that many poskim appear to contemplate such distinctions when it comes to stringencies such as the anisakis worms in some fish, the same should hold for leniencies such as the above vessels.

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  55. First of all, what you wrote has nothing to do with what Josh wrote.

    He wrote, "an attitude by which Chazal being wrong does not diminish them a whit. along with an attitude by which Chazal can say something and I would simply disagree. this leads to less of a need to "teitch up" Chazal in a way that they are neither wrong nor am i a heretic. it is great when they are right, and when what i believe accords with them. but i am more open to other possibilities."

    What has this to do with the issue of "bias"?

    Second, are you seriously claiming here that Josh can learn the p'shat in a gemara better than the rishonim because they were biased, and unable to escape from that bias, whereas he is not?

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  56. This is exactly what he wrote. He does not have a need to make Chazal agree with his own view. Hence he is not biased.

    And yes, I am seriously claiming that he is less biased in this area. It's the advantage of historical hindsight, plus a more detached context.

    Don't you think it's a little suspicious that virtually everybody, whether they believe in demons or not, agrees that Chazal believed in demons, and just a few authorities who themselves are convinced that belief in demons is nonsensical also believe that Chazal thought the same way? What gives them this incredible insight into Chazal that everybody else lacked?

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  57. "This is exactly what he wrote. He does not have a need to make Chazal agree with his own view. Hence he is not biased."

    Please read again what he wrote. He wrote 2 points: disagreeing with Chazal doesn't diminish them, and that he has a right to disagree with them. Your "hence" is contained NOWHERE in anything that he wrote. You are reading into what he wrote something that isn't there. Is this your method in general?

    "Don't you think it's a little suspicious that virtually everybody, whether they believe in demons or not, agrees that Chazal believed in demons, and just a few authorities who themselves are convinced that belief in demons is nonsensical also believe that Chazal thought the same way? What gives them this incredible insight into Chazal that everybody else lacked?"

    OK - let's reframe this issue. Chazal speak on numerous occasions about animals talking. Don't you think it's a little suspicious that virtually everybody, whether they believe in animals' ability to talk or not, agrees that Chazal believed in animals talking, and just a few "hyper-rational" authorities who themselves are convinced that belief in animals talking is nonsensical also believe that Chazal thought the same way? What gives them this incredible insight into Chazal that everybody else lacked?

    The answer to this question will answer your question. Oh, and before you start saying that the two issues cannot be compared, please provide sources for anyone saying that Chazal should not be taken literally with regard to talking animals, DIFFERENT from the sources who say that Chazal's statements about shaidim should not be taken literally.

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  58. "Your second "reason" is not a reason at all - it is an apologistic statement meant to deflect you from being accused of diminishing Chazal. It is not a REASON as to why you would know better than the rishonim."

    what rabbi slifkin said. namely, because i don't think that saying Chazal erred in science diminishes them, i am less likely to engage in apologetics to defend them. that makes me less biased.

    similarly, i don't feel it would make me a heretic to disagree with them. therefore, i am not biased to retroject my own views onto Chazal, as the medieval Jewish philosophers and various kabbalists did. my stake in olam haba is not at stake here, and so i am willing to say they disagreed with me, and that i am either wrong or right in my disagreement with Chazal. but that Chazal meant X.

    i don't have time to respond to "reason 1" at the moment. i have to run somewhere.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  59. Please read again what he wrote. He wrote 2 points: disagreeing with Chazal doesn't diminish them, and that he has a right to disagree with them. Your "hence" is contained NOWHERE in anything that he wrote. You are reading into what he wrote something that isn't there. Is this your method in general?


    Gordon, why don't you read what he wrote:

    "...along with an attitude by which Chazal can say something and I would simply disagree. this leads to less of a need to "teitch up" Chazal in a way that they are neither wrong nor am i a heretic. it is great when they are right, and when what i believe accords with them. but i am more open to other possibilities."

    You apparently missed the point that he was making. To paraphrase your snarky comment, Is this your method in general?

    Your animal example is strange. Do you mean places where Chazal speak about animals praising Hashem in their own language? Yes, they may well have believed that animals have language. I can't think, off-hand, of any Chazal about animals talking to people - although, of course, there are two examples of that in the Chumash.

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  60. "I can't think, off-hand, of any Chazal about animals talking to people - although, of course, there are two examples of that in the Chumash."

    Really? There are numerous midrashim that speak of animals talking to people, particularly, by way of example, snakes talking to people in the time of King Solomon's court. There are many other similar midrashim besides.

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  61. "i don't think that saying Chazal erred in science diminishes them, i am less likely to engage in apologetics to defend them. that makes me less biased."

    Why are you focused on "science" here? You also seem to think that Chazal could err in theology as well. Certainly the issue of shaidim is not one of science - it is one of theology. Does saying that Chazal can err in theology diminish them?

    "i am not biased to retroject my own views onto Chazal, as the medieval Jewish philosophers and various kabbalists did."

    Surely you would agree that the rishonim did not see themselves as "retrojecting" their view into Chazal. They believed that their view of Chazal was what Chazal themselves believed. Now, the same can be said of you. Perhaps your academician-materialist view is the cause of a bias on your part to see Chazal as being wrong in areas that don't coincide with academic-materialist ideology. Maybe you are "retrojecting" your view into Chazal due to your bias in this area, and clearly don't see it as a bias on your part, just like the rishonim (in your opinion) "didn't see their own bias."

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  62. Perhaps your academician-materialist view is the cause of a bias on your part to see Chazal as being wrong in areas that don't coincide with academic-materialist ideology.

    The overwhelming majority of Rishonim and Acharonim (as well as all academics) hold that Chazal believed in demons. So how exactly is R. Waxman (or myself) "biased" in agreeing with this overwhelming consensus?

    Even if you are creative enough to come up with some kind of bias, it will be minimal compared with the bias of saying that Chazal agrees with one's own views.

    Certainly the issue of shaidim is not one of science - it is one of theology. Does saying that Chazal can err in theology diminish them?

    Incredibly, you have just proved our point perfectly. You see it as a bizayon of Chazal to say that they mistakenly believed in Sheidim. And since you don't believe that sheidim exist, you are forced to say that Chazal couldn't have believed in them, either. This is a very obvious and powerful bias, and the Rishonim were not immune to it.

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  63. There are numerous midrashim that speak of animals talking to people, particularly, by way of example, snakes talking to people in the time of King Solomon's court.

    I'd appreciate a source for that, it would be useful to me. But I don't see what it has to do with our discussion.

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  64. Gordon:
    "Please read again what he wrote. He wrote 2 points: disagreeing with Chazal doesn't diminish them, and that he has a right to disagree with them. Your "hence" is contained NOWHERE in anything that he wrote. You are reading into what he wrote something that isn't there. Is this your method in general?"

    besides my clarifying that that was exactly what i meant, it was there in my original statement, when i said "this leads to less of a need to "teitch up" Chazal in a way that they are neither wrong nor am i a heretic. it is great when they are right, and when what i believe accords with them. but i am more open to other possibilities." that was my HENCE.

    i would like to see an explicit retraction or admission on your part on this count, rather than a mere changing of the subject to other matters. i have good answers to other things you wrote, such as a clarification of what "shoulders of giants" mean or your reply to my comment. but if i don't think there is any point in responding, because you DO not or WILL not understand my plain meaning, then i am not going to waste my time.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  65. "You see it as a bizayon of Chazal to say that they mistakenly believed in Sheidim. And since you don't believe that sheidim exist, you are forced to say that Chazal couldn't have believed in them, either. This is a very obvious and powerful bias, and the Rishonim were not immune to it."

    Apparently, you completely misunderstand my position. I do not see it as a bizayon to Chazal to say that they mistakenly believed in shaidim. There is a machlokes rishonim as to whether shaidim literally exist, meaning, there is a machlokes rishonim as to what Chazal meant when they spoke about shaidim. I have no problem with either side of that machlokes. In fact, I do not "know" that shaidim don't literally exist - perhaps they do. How do you know otherwise? Do malachim literally exist? Why not shaidim? Where I contend that you are grossly in error is your statement that Chazal "certainly" uniformly believed in shaidim literally - and that those rishonim who claim otherwise are simply wrong, (according to your opinion). This position is indefensible, other than to say "well, since the non-Jews at the time believed in literal demons, all of Chazal must have done so as well, and any rishon that says otherwise is ignorant, or is "retrojecting" his own view into Chazal." This is the height of arrogance (and foolishness) on your part.

    To be clear, I have no problem with your agreeing with some rishonim over others, but to say that the rishonim with whom you do not agree are "retrojecting" their view out of bias, is not a rational approach to learning Torah.

    I also notice that you skipped over my question. Does saying that Chazal can err in theology diminish them?"

    When I have some additional time to spend with an array of books, I will, bli neder, get you the sources on the midrashim relating the snakes, etc., talking to people. Its relevance to the discussion is that the same rishonim who deny the literalness of shaidim are the ones who deny the literalness of those midrashim. There is silence from the remaining rishonim. Now by your "logic" that means that Chazal "certainly" meant those midrashim literally, and they must have been mistaken since animals don't talk to people. My point is that if you claim otherwise with regard to the midrashim, then that applies as well to the issue of shaidim. But for some reason that is hard to understand, you arbitrarily differentiate between the two.

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  66. This position is indefensible, other than to say "well, since the non-Jews at the time believed in literal demons, all of Chazal must have done so as well, and any rishon that says otherwise is ignorant, or is "retrojecting" his own view into Chazal." This is the height of arrogance (and foolishness) on your part.

    Actually, what I say is that since (a) all the non-Jews believed in demons, and (b) Chazal discuss many different aspects of demons, and (c) virtually every Rishon, Acharon and scholar, and certainly everyone without a vested interest, draws the conclusion that Chazal believed in demons, and (d) since there is nothing in Chazal which gives any indication that they did not believe in demons, - then I likewise conclude that Chazal believed in demons. Which is not the way that you described my position.

    to say that the rishonim with whom you do not agree are "retrojecting" their view out of bias, is not a rational approach to learning Torah.

    Actually, based on the four reasons I gave above, it is exceedingly rational. I think that what you meant to say is that it doesn't fit your sensibilities to say that a Rishon could be reading his worldview into earlier sources.

    I also notice that you skipped over my question. Does saying that Chazal can err in theology diminish them?"

    Does saying that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was no more special than any other rabbi of the 20th century diminish him?

    Regarding talking animals - first of all, there are some significant differences. But I am also astounded at how you determined my view on it before I even said anything.

    There's something else that I concur with R. Waxman about. You are repeatedly rude ("You are reading into what he wrote something that isn't there. Is this your method in general?" calling me "arrogant," "foolish" etc.) even though both R. Waxman and myself clearly demonstrated that in fact you were utterly misrepresenting his viewpoint despite your repeated claim that I was doing so. I would like to see you admit that you were wrong, and that it was in fact you and not I who was misrepresenting R. Waxman, before this discussion goes any further.

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  67. Josh Waxman:

    "it is great when they are right, and when what i believe accords with them. but i am more open to other possibilities." that was my HENCE."

    I am confused. The "hence" statement was one that Natan made, not you. My challenge regarding the "hence" statement was to him, not you. Yet now you respond to me by saying, "that was my HENCE." But YOU never said the "hence" in the first place. Unless you and Natan are one and the same.

    "i would like to see an explicit retraction or admission on your part on this count"

    Sorry - it is not warranted. The statement ""it is great when they are right, and when what i believe accords with them. but i am more open to other possibilities" does not in and of itself contain the issue of bias whatsoever. You are claiming now that your words above objectively mean that you consider the rishonim biased, whereas you are not. Yet, one can well be open to possibilities other than what the rishonim said without considering them biased in the least. The two issues are not inherently related. And so, your call for a retraction is unfounded.

    As to your claim that you "have good answers to other things you wrote" but that you are concerned about wasting your time - I leave that decision up to you.

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  68. Your a,b,c,d, argument fails for two basic reasons:

    "(c) virtually every Rishon, Acharon and scholar, and certainly everyone without a vested interest, draws the conclusion that Chazal believed in demons"

    This is a self-fulfilling definition. According to you, any rishon who interpreted Chazal in a manner other than literal "has a vested interest." This is rather absurd. Why not say that any rishon who interpreted Chazal literally (also) had a "vested interest." The very application of the term "vested interest" to this issue is a subjective judgment on your part.

    "(d)...there is nothing in Chazal which gives any indication that they did not believe in demons"

    There is also nothing in Chazal which gives any indication that they did not believe in animals talking to people. So do you now believe that Chazal uniformly believed that snakes and people in the time of King Solomon spoke to each other, literally?

    As to your last paragraph, see the last comment that I addressed to Josh - it covers the same point.

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  69. One more point - I understand your comment of "Does saying that Chazal can err in theology diminish them? - Does saying that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was no more special than any other rabbi of the 20th century diminish him?" to mean that saying that Chazal can err in theology (not science, math, physics, etc., but in Jewish religious ideology) indeed does not diminish them. Please correct me if I am wrong in understanding your view about this.

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  70. Dear Rabbi Slifkin,

    I'm just writing to say that I am very disappointed with the tone that some of your critics take when arguing. At the same time, I think that there is a to'elet from the give and take. For example, I was not aware that you maintain that you can sometimes learn a piece of gemara better than a rishon can. Now, I admit to being shocked by that statement; I need to think about it, though. Without all the give and take, I never would have known your position on this (or on other important issues), so I think that the discussion, even if it comes from a less than positive place, is beneficial to us readers. Thanks so much for being open regarding all these issues.

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  71. Jewish evolutionistJune 30, 2010 at 8:16 PM

    Hey Rabbi,

    A while back someone mentioned that Rabbi J. Luchins gave a class where he mentioned sources among the rishonim which would strongly support an evolutionist view. Have you heard about that class? Do you know the sources? What is your opinion on that?

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  72. "Regarding talking animals - first of all, there are some significant differences."

    I'm not taking any sides on the heart of this discussion topic, but surely you must realize how lame the sentence above sounds. I mean, to claim that there are "some significant differences" as an answer to a challenge, without even referencing in the slightest what those significant differences might be.

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  73. The statement ""it is great when they are right, and when what i believe accords with them. but i am more open to other possibilities" does not in and of itself contain the issue of bias whatsoever.

    Amazing that I understood exactly what R. Waxman was saying, and you didn't! I guess I must be really good at understanding people.

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  74. According to you, any rishon who interpreted Chazal in a manner other than literal "has a vested interest." This is rather absurd. Why not say that any rishon who interpreted Chazal literally (also) had a "vested interest."

    If they themselves believe in demons, then, yes, they also a have a vested interest. But if they don't believe in them, and they admit that Chazal did, then they are working against their vested interest. Hence they have more credibility.

    There is also nothing in Chazal which gives any indication that they did not believe in animals talking to people. So do you now believe that Chazal uniformly believed that snakes and people in the time of King Solomon spoke to each other, literally?

    I think that there may be - the idea that man is unique in possessing a ruach memalela. But I'm entirely open to the possibility that Chazal believed that animals speak.

    I understand your comment of "Does saying that Chazal can err in theology diminish them? - Does saying that the Lubavitcher Rebbe was no more special than any other rabbi of the 20th century diminish him?" to mean that saying that Chazal can err in theology (not science, math, physics, etc., but in Jewish religious ideology) indeed does not diminish them.

    No, that's not what I meant. My point was that everything is relative. If you believe that the Rebbe was head-and-shoulders above every other rebbe (and certainly if he is the Mashiach), then from that perspective, it is indeed diminishing him to say that he was no greater than the rest. So it all depends on the starting point.

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  75. I'm just writing to say that I am very disappointed with the tone that some of your critics take when arguing.

    Yes, me too.

    At the same time, I think that there is a to'elet from the give and take. For example, I was not aware that you maintain that you can sometimes learn a piece of gemara better than a rishon can.

    This probably needs a post to itself. It's not that *I* can learn Gemara *better* than them. It's that people today may have a certain approach that is different, in a way that ends up being more accurate. For example: Rambam and Ramban have diametrically opposed views as to whether magic is real. You yourself (probably) agree with one, and not the other. Suppose your choice happens to be correct. Does this mean that you can learn pesukim better than the other Rishon?

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  76. "if they don't believe in them, and they admit that Chazal did, then they are working against their vested interest."

    Pray tell, which rishon or rishonim do not believe in literal shaidim and admit that Chazal uniformly did believe in literal shaidim?

    "No, that's not what I meant..."

    If that is so, then you have not answered the original question (with a simple yes or no answer, such that a reader such as me can understand): Does saying that Chazal can err in theology (not science, math, physics, etc., but in Jewish religious ideology) diminish them?

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  77. Gordon Lazar:
    "I am confused. The "hence" statement was one that Natan made, not you. My challenge regarding the "hence" statement was to him, not you. Yet now you respond to me by saying, "that was my HENCE." But YOU never said the "hence" in the first place. Unless you and Natan are one and the same."

    in other words, you don't retract or apologize. By "that was my HENCE", i meant that that AMOUNTS to my "hence". the particular words i used were "this leads to".

    this was because you stated "Your "hence" is contained NOWHERE in anything that he wrote." -- he being me. I was showing where his HENCE was in my statement, such that that was my -- equivalent of -- hence.

    this reply of yours unfortunately reveals you to be a moron with almost zero skills in reading comprehension. not exactly the best person to take a view on how to comprehend the words of Chazal.

    indeed, your entire first comment was misunderstanding my "second reason", expanding my terse "first reason" into what you thought it would be, and attacking it. (hint: it was not what you said.) perhaps if you first had asked for clarification of my first point, this could have progressed better.

    my advice is to work on you reading comprehension skills, and come back in a few years when you are capable of engaging in an intelligent conversation in which you understand what the other party is saying.

    i am sorry if this is insulting, but i believe it to be true. which is why i likely won't continue wasting my time conversing, and why you will continue to think you understand my position, but will not.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  78. Midwood Mentsch:
    my take on this.

    it is not just rude tone but, from my perspective, intractability and stupidity. there are intelligent non-rationalists out there. i know some of them. but it is an exercise in frustration and futility to argue with certain others.

    indeed, there is to'elet, and i could also use the opportunity to clarify my own views. but it takes an emotional toll.

    kol tuv,
    josh

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  79. Whoa! Rabbi, this sounds like a retreat on your part, and if so, I would be so saddened.

    1) First, Rabbi Waxman: "i would agree that sometimes i will know better than the rishonim in terms of peshat in a gemara."

    2) Then, Rabbi Slifkin: "Yasher koach, R' Josh. Dead-on as always."

    3) Then, later, Rabbi Slifkin: "Of course it is a reason why R. Waxman would know better (than the rishonim)! If someone (i.e., a rishon) passionately believes in X and claims that so did Chazal, it lacks credibility vis-a-vis someone who has no such bias (i.e., Rabbi Waxman)."

    4) But then, later, Rabbi Slifkin: "It's not that *I* can learn Gemara *better* than them. It's that people today may have a certain approach that is different, in a way that ends up being more accurate. For example: Rambam and Ramban have diametrically opposed views as to whether magic is real. You yourself (probably) agree with one, and not the other. Suppose your choice happens to be correct. Does this mean that you can learn pesukim better than the other Rishon?"

    Rabbi, in #4 you are retreating from what you said in #1-3. Don't let yourself be intimidated into changing what you originally said in #1-3! Stick to your guns, in the name of all that's good in rationalism!!!

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  80. "if they don't believe in them, and they admit that Chazal did, then they are working against their vested interest."

    Pray tell, which rishon or rishonim do not believe in literal shaidim and admit that Chazal uniformly did believe in literal shaidim?


    R. Yaakov b. Abba Mari Anatoli and probably Rambam.

    Does saying that Chazal can err in theology (not science, math, physics, etc., but in Jewish religious ideology) diminish them?

    There is no simple yes or no answer, because it depends on what you mean by "diminish." Does it diminish Chazal to say that they can err in science? In a way, yes; after all, someone who has ruach hakodesh and knows all science is certainly greater than someone who doesn't!

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  81. Saddened said...
    Whoa! Rabbi, this sounds like a retreat on your part, and if so, I would be so saddened.


    It's not a retreat.

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  82. "this reply of yours unfortunately reveals you to be a moron with almost zero skills in reading comprehension."

    "my advice is to work on you reading comprehension skills, and come back in a few years when you are capable of engaging in an intelligent conversation in which you understand what the other party is saying."

    "i am sorry if this is insulting, but i believe it to be true. which is why i likely won't continue wasting my time conversing..."

    I don't find it insulting. I find it somewhat amusing. You have revealed your true colors in the comments, and I appreciate that. Good luck with your continued mission to educate poor unfortunate morons like me!

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  83. "R. Yaakov b. Abba Mari Anatoli and probably Rambam."

    Please provide a specific source for each. Just to be clear, following your own parameters: a source that states clearly that they do not believe in the literalness of shaidim, and a source that states clearly that they believe Chazal uniformly to have believed in the literalness of shaidim.

    "Does saying that Chazal can err in theology (not science, math, physics, etc., but in Jewish religious ideology) diminish them? There is no simple yes or no answer..."

    Fair enough. In what sense does saying that Chazal can err in theology (not science, math, physics, etc., but in Jewish religious ideology) not diminish them? After all, we are talking about the realm of Jewish ideology, something about which by their very nature as "Chazal" they should be experts in (as opposed to areas of science, etc.).

    By the way - I saw your response to "Saddened." I thought he made a good point in his inference of the statements 1-4 as he outlined them. In what way is your #4 *not* a retreat from the earlier statements?

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  84. Dear Rabbi Waxman,

    I am a fan of yours, and a regular reader of your website. I enjoy many of your presentations there. It is somewhat painful for me, therefore, to point out that I think that your outburst here, no matter what the provocation, is rather unbecoming.

    I also wish to point out, and please be patient with me here - remember I am an admirer - that the point you made leading to calling your antagonist a moron, to my mind was not really convincing. You equated your statement of "...with an attitude by which Chazal can say something and I would simply disagree. this leads to less of a need to "teitch up" Chazal in a way that they are neither wrong nor am i a heretic" with the conclusion that "the rishonim could be biased but you are not." (Not a quote, but a summary of what Rabbi Slifkin attributed to you). I don't see how these two "statements" are equal. A person can certainly be open to possibilities that are in disagreement with the rishonim (your first "quote") without ipso facto considering them (the rishonim) to be biased (the opposite of your second quote).

    I understand that you may have meant these statements differently from what I portrayed above, but I think that what I portrayed above is certainly a *reasonable* understanding of the two statements as they appear in this thread. And so to call someone a "moron" for understanding them in this way is, as I said before, rather unbecoming.

    Other than that, please keep your erudite material and explanations coming!

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  85. I predict that this thread will be misunderstood, without nuance, and then cited triumphantly by some -- the same ones who would say that ALL Rishonim (rather than one of two hypothetical ones) were wrong in explaining the gemara in Pesachim 94b by interpreting the gemara literally, because those Rishonim(!) lacked knowledge of Pnimius, and/or kabbalah. This is too bad.

    "Saddened" seems rather ecstatic. Though I don't know why he is embarrassed to use his real name as he snipes.

    kt,
    josh

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  86. "this reply of yours unfortunately reveals you to be a moron with almost zero skills in reading comprehension."

    I was enjoying the back and forth debate on this thread for a while, and then I read the above comments, from joshwaxman's June 30 (11:14 PM) comments. I was shocked and appalled by its personally insulting tone. "Snarky" comments are one thing, but this sentence crossed a line. Keep it civil, please.

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  87. The latest comment submissions (which I did not post) have shown that this comment thread is really getting out of hand. I am shutting it down.

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  88. if anyone who is not a sockpuppet wants to contact me for clarification, they can email me at joshwaxman@yahoo.com

    kt,
    josh

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  89. I don't know whether this will help matters or the reverse, but I wrote a post at great length explaining what I found so objectionable in Gordon Lazar's comment.

    it wasn't disagreement about substance, or even about whether I was was making the same point in substance as Rabbi Slifkin (as WaxmanFan understood by beef). i explain there.

    all the best,
    josh

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  90. Hello all.

    If Rabbi Slifkin will afford me with the opportunity, I would like to express my regret at my particular choice of language. I know that Rabbi Slifkin himself would not employ such language, and indeed shut down the thread when he saw how heated the discussion was becoming.

    In retrospect, I should not have used the word "moron", and I apologize to Gordon Lazar. I was perturbed by his tone, but more by his consistent misunderstanding of my words, both in my first comment and in my second comment when I tried to clarify; as well as where I asked for acknowledgement that I was indeed giving a reason (regardless of the particular content of the reason), and that I had used words ("this leads to") to indicate causality (equivalent to the word HENCE). I adopted a straightforward and blunt language to indicate that he was consistently misunderstanding and misrepresenting my words, and that conversation is impossible and pointless in such a scenario. Perhaps a better description would be that he was being a "hasty" and uncareful reader, such that he was misrepresenting my position.

    Polite language sometimes obscures meaning, and that was what I was trying to avoid. (And indeed, judging from some of the comments, I didn't even avoid this.) But I apologize to Gordon Lazar and anyone else who was offended.

    all the best,
    josh

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