Saturday, September 15, 2012

Judgment Day: A Necessary Belief?

(A re-post from two years ago. Wishing all my readers a happy, healthy and successful new year!)

There is an astonishing discussion by Meiri here (link is to PDF at HebrewBooks). If I understand it correctly - and it is a little cryptic, so I may well be mistaken - he is saying that Rosh HaShanah is not really a time of judgment (which takes place constantly, not at a particular time), but Chazal declared it as such in order to have a season that would stimulate people to repent. If that is what he is saying, it would be a fascinating application of Rambam's idea of "necessary beliefs." But wouldn't it spoil it to say that it isn't actually true? (Which would also mean that I shouldn't be writing about it.) Presumably, if one is reasonably confident of one's audience, it would be acceptable if they are the sort of people for whom the facts are more helpful.

46 comments:

  1. He doesn't say that "Chazal" declared it as such. He was referring to G-d.

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  2. However it would fit with what the Chumash itself tells us about Rosh HaShanah which is very limited - you blow a shofar, that's about it.

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  3. Interesting little piece. The critical phrase refers neither ot Chazal or HaShem but rather says 'וזה מהשתדלות דרכי הדת'.

    It would indeed be a curious statement on the Meiri's part for his time to suggest that Chazal is consciously spinning a story to manipulate the people. The only other way I can see of reading it is to say that דרכי הדת is somehow a collective subconscious process. Religion develops narratives that serve social ends. But that would also be very progressive for the Meiri's time.

    Thank you for this tidbit, I'll have to read a bit more of it.

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  4. That's what I always thought and it never occurred to me that this would be controversial outside of gan yeladim.

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  5. "However it would fit with what the Chumash itself tells us about Rosh HaShanah which is very limited - you blow a shofar, that's about it."

    It also fits the passages in Nehemia 8 which refer to RH as a day of celebration and joy, nothing about teshuva or judgement.

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  6. I wholeheartedly agree with Rafi. I have viewed R"H as a time for reflection since adolescence. However, I would point out that in what I call "spiritually psychsomatic" terms, thinking of R"H as a time of judgment in any way, and experiencing it together with the hamon am actually makes R"H a more significant time of change. This means R"H is also a greater opportunity, and I suppose God judges us more when He can expect more. As for consequences of sincere repentance, they are naturally greater during such a time of reflection. This also explains the true meaning of all those start of the year customs that supposedly affect the entire future year.

    As for Chazal vs God as the author of Yom HaDin, I would very much like to think of God as responsible. After all, what would a Biblical Yom Teruah really mean by itself?

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  7. Actually, in Nehemiah it's davka *not* a day for teshuva. In fact, teshuva is postponed even past Yom Kippur (which is not mentioned) and Sukkot.

    It's also clear that the people had never heard of Rosh Hashana, a day (like Yom Kippur) unmentioned (outside of possible references only) in Devarim or the Neviim.

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  8. I am a bit confused by the comments here regarding the references in Tanach in regards to Rosh Hashana.

    Rosh hashana davening has three themes. Malchut, Zichronot, and Shofrot.

    I am uncertain as to which of these themes relates specifically to "teshuva"

    Perhaps there is a confusion between the selichot services and it's connection to Yom Kippur and the interruption of slichot with Rosh Hashana. Which as the Solvetchik Machzor puts it, is "coronation day."

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  9. I think this is a case where Rambam indicates that one must be sensitive to contradictions (he says it in reference to his own work, but also in reference to Chazal) and be able to understand what is being said for the sake of the vulgar, and what is actually true.

    In response to Anonymous, who wonders what a Biblical Yom Teruah means by itself, this is actually quite obvious. Read Shofarot, it's talking about Matan Torah. Zichron Teruah is also not referring to when RH falls out on Shabbos, btw.

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  10. You're mostly right but a bit off

    According to Meiri, the books are always "open" (the whole thing is, of course, a metaphor).

    It's the way of religion to only focus on these perpetual truths from time to time, at prescribed intervals. Presumably, people couldn't handle non-stop awareness, as they would just stop paying attention altogether.

    They way to best keep in mind these truths always is to focus on them from time to time. That's what religion does.

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  11. I always was bothered by the whole "king is in the field" thing-doesn't HKB"H desire tshuva all year long. I always assumed it was more a way to get people to focus and hopefully raise the level of "their game" through this short term focus.
    KVCT
    Joel Rich

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  12. The Meiri is saying as follows:

    Hashem's judgment of the world is constant, and there is no special day where it is more intense. However, complacent beings that we are, to ensure we don't drift too far, WE need a time of year where tshuva is "in the air." Therefore, chazal(/Hashem) designated this specific time (for rather strange philosophical reasons, but that is not intrinsic to the Meiri's thesis). Now that everyone's feeling aimas hadin, if you don't do tshuva, you're in trouble--after all, if you're not doing tshuva now, kal vechomer you won't any other time. The same applies even if you know about this "ruse." After all, Elul does feel different. The niggunim and tfillos of Rosh Hashan DO inspire reverence, contemplation, and tshuva.

    Of course, there are several interesting nafka minas. A Jew who for no fault of his own doesn't know about Rosh Hashana is not judged! Same goes for all the non-Jews (which runs against some passages in Zichronos--albeit later additions). Even more shocking though, according to the Meiri, if someone belongs to a cult which believes that man is judged every February 29, that is indeed when G-d will judge him! Therefore, no matter what your beliefs about the Zohar, if I belive my din finishes hoshana rabba, it does! If a chassid believes the din extends till chanuka, it does!

    From my hotspot outside the Mir,

    Ksiva Vachasima Tova

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  13. The Rabbanim are given control over zmanim. Usully this is interpreted to mean they can determine whether the month is 29 or 30 days (indirectly determining when the holidays fall out). However, might it mean that they could determine RH and YK (and Shemini Atzeret) as being the time of Teshuva?

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  14. If you look at Meiri on the Talmud 16b, he implies the idea that the 3 books are just a parable to teach us that you are judged based on your actions, but he does say that the "Hitorarot" to do Teshuva on RH is so great that if one is passive and does not use the time wisely "he has no part in the God of Israel".

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  15. As I -- LAWRENCE KAPLAN -- understand it, for Meiri RH is chosen as the time for reflecting about divine judgment, though, in truth, judgment takes place every day, because the astrological sign for Tishrei is the sign of scales, and scales cause peolpe to think about judgment.

    An "enlightened" idea, but not really, IMO, a case of necessary belief.

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  16. I'm surprised no one brought up Psalms 81:4
    "Blow shofar on the moon's renewal...because chok l'Yisrael hu - it is a decree for Israel - mishpat l'Elokai Yaakov - a judgment for the G-d of Yaakov."

    I noticed that some translations add the word "day" after the word "judgment."

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  17. I think all he may mean is that the rbs"o is above time. he says that אין ב״ד של מעלה נכנסין לדין אלא אם בן קדשו ב״ד של מטה את החדש, mitzad the rbs"o actions are always known. I think he is just explaining the mashal of sefarim, how does the rbs"o really open sefarim, judge in time. mitzad us we are really given a day of din, even though to the rbs"o, our actions are always known. וכבר העיד וגלה האמת ר׳ יוסי
    ע״ה באמת ט, אדם נדון בכל יום, ועל צד משל להיות המעשים ידועים
    but this doesn't nec. imply that the yom hadin is not real din and just a necessary truth

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  18. I remember a statement of the Kli Yakar on Chumash that says that the reason the Torah doesn't explicitly say that Rosh Hashanah is a day of judgment is so that a person should feel he's being judged daily. (Similarly, the Torah doesn't say explicitly what day the Torah was given, so that a person should feel every day like it was given that day--that it's a new experience.) Otherwise, knowing that judgment is limited to one day of the year, s/he would behave himself just around Rosh Hashanah, and then be פורק עול the rest of the year.

    The Kli Yakar would thus be saying the opposite of the Meiri, to some extent.

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  19. The Michtav MiEliyahu makes a similar point - these holidays are santuaries in time for us to focus on various aspects of our interactions with God.

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  20. Learned people:


    I was raised on the phrase:

    . . "The doors of repentance are always open."

    To me, that implies that judgement is continuous.

    But I have no idea of the source of that quote! And a quick Google search shows Christian and Islamic references, but no Jewish ones!

    _Is_ that a part of our tradition? And if so, from where?

    Thanks --

    Charles

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    Replies
    1. (דברים רבה (וילנא) פרשה ב ד"ה יב וכן גם באיכה רבה ובמדרש תהלים

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  21. This fits in pretty well with the Rambam. The idea of Rosh HaShanah as an individual day of judgment does not square with Rambam's concept of hashgacha pratit because this only exists for those who are on a high intellectual/spiritual level and even then only when they are contemplating Hashem, something which one cannot do that all the time. One has to sleep and there are of course places where such contemplation is assur.
    Mordechai; Manchester, UK

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  22. Charles - "Shaarei Teshuvah LeOlam Petuchim" (Devorim Rabba 2:12)

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  23. So, is this all an excuse to sell seats in shuls ?

    Be that as it may, a chasiva ve` chasima tova to all.

    And to you, Rabbi Slifkin, continued success in your pursuits.

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  24. This probably isn't a surprise to anyone reading this blog, but the Rambam in Hilchos Teshuvah (Chapter 3) links the shofar blowing on Rosh Hashanah to the call to teshuva, and the start of the days where a person's deeds are being weighed. It certainly lends the day of Rosh Hashanah an air as a day of being judged. (I suspect that since most of us are exposed to the explanations of the Rambam first in our Jewish education, any other idea by another rishon may come as a shock.)

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  25. Prof. Y. Leibowitz on Moreh Nevuchim 3, 43 shows from the actual text that Rambam doesn't think that R'H is the Day of Judgment. If we accept this explanation, which makes sense to me, how are we to relate to the R'H liturgy? Doesn't it stop making sense?

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  26. So I feel the need to point out that the Mishna says that Rosh Hashana is the day the entire world is judged, each person coming before in a single file line, one by one.

    I find it funny that people are arguing Rishonim, when they need to first deal with the Mishna.

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  27. Just providing the text of the Moreh Nevuchim that Carol cited:

    "New-Year is likewise kept for one day; for it is a day of
    repentance, on which we are stirred up from our forgetfulness. For
    this reason the shofar is blown on this day, as we have shown in
    Mishneh-torah. The day is, as it were, a preparation for and an
    introduction to the day of the Fast, as is obvious from the national tradition about the days between New-Year and the Day of
    Atonement."

    The Rambam seems to just be reiterating his view on Rosh Hashanah as set out in Mishneh Torah--the traditional interpretation of RH as a day of judgment. How is it possible to read the Moreh Nevuchim otherwise?

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  28. Maimonides in Guide 3:43 does not mention judgment at all, either in connection with Rosh ha-Shanah or Yom Kippur.

    Lawrence Kaplan

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  29. Lawrence Kaplan wrote: "Maimonides in Guide 3:43 does not mention judgment at all, either in connection with Rosh ha-Shanah or Yom Kippur."

    True, but the Moreh Nevuchim refers clearly to what Rambam said in Mishnah Torah about the significance of the sound of the shofar. The next halachot in the Mishnah Torah talk about how G-d judges, weighing merits and demerits. Why would Rambam refer to just an isolated passage in the Mishneh Torah, ignoring the rest of the context--of his own book?

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  30. Meiri's view
    The Meiri on Rosh Hashnaha 16a discusses some of the details of the judgment on rosh hashanah, so he does not seem to be dismissing it as a "necessary belief":
    בר"ה נדונים על גופם בחייהם ובמיתתם בעונג ובצער בריוח ובהפסד

    Purpose of Mitzvos
    It may be true that the idea of such a judgment is so people have a time during the year to reflect on the year and do teshuvah. This does not mean that it was some "necessary belief" that chazal declared to get people to repent. Many of the Mitzvos help instill certain ideas in people (Rambam wrote a book on this topic). But this doesn't mean that the Day of Judgement isn't 'real'.

    Order of Nature
    If the Judge is beyond time, why is there a single day of judgement? If you want a 'rationalist' perspective on it, there is a certain course to nature that is unlikely to change immediately regardless of how a person or group of people pray and repent. This is the "gzar din" which is already sealed. However, before the matter is sealed, there can be Divine influence within nature that will affect the outcome of events. For example, a butterfly flapping its wings in one place can affect the weather a few months later elsewhere.

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  31. And yes, one can ask how such judgements work if it is not clearly visible in the world and sometimes good people suffer. This question is a difficult one but it has been asked before. (There's a book in the bible on this topic.)

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  32. Interesting

    The Torah as most of you know calls the 1st day of the 7th Month Yom HaTeruah (Day of Sounding) presumably a horn, trumpet, shofar, etc.

    The exact nature of the holiday seems to be some type of agricultural celebration or commemoration.

    Fictionally the Rabbi's once again seemed to created a Day of Judgement,not really clear as to why.

    Some think that as time passed this holiday fell out of practice and the Rabbi's found a way to redefine a Biblical precept and created four New Years days found in the Mishnah Rosh Hashanna.

    I have no real answers just some thoughts. Maybe someone else has some insight.

    Shalom

    Rabbi Simon

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  33. Yehudah P. Good question. Indeed, here we may say that the question of a wise person is half an answer. My answer, therefore, is that that's just the point. Rambam refers only to his assertion in the MT regarding Rosh ha-Shanah as a day of Teshuvah (the only place in Guide 3:43, btw, where he refers to the MT) and does not mention his discussion of it as a day of judgment to indicate that only that part of his discussion in the MT (the Teshuvah part) represents his true view, and the rest (the judgment part) belongs to the category of "necessary beliefs."

    Lawrence Kaplan

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  34. I think that Prof. Leibowitz is saying that in the Guide Rambam is giving the reasons for commandments in the Torah without later enhancements. This is why he refers to one day of R'H and not two. Also, Rambam doesn't refer to Y'K as the day of atonement, even though this is how it's called in the Torah, but as a day repentance and pure Divine service. Repentance is affected by man's own deeds and is not limited to a specific time and so is the judgment. By his repentance man judges (R'H) and purifies (Y'K) himself.

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  35. "Maimonides in Guide 3:43 does not mention judgment at all, either in connection with Rosh ha-Shanah or Yom Kippur."
    Nu, and what about Psalms 81:4?
    "Blow shofar on the moon's renewal...because chok l'Yisrael hu - it is a decree for Israel - mishpat l'Elokai Yaakov - a judgment for the G-d of Yaakov."

    I noticed that some translations add the word "day" after the word "judgment."

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  36. 'and does not mention his discussion of it as a day of judgment to indicate that only that part of his discussion in the MT (the Teshuvah part) represents his true view, and the rest (the judgment part) belongs to the category of "necessary beliefs."
    Or, more likely, the Rambam refers to the portion of Mishneh Torah which is relevant to what he is discussing (the reason for the mitzvah of shofar), and does not refer to other parts of the Mishneh Torah which are irrelevant.

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  37. Looking at it in terms of liturgy is probably looking at it backwards, but:

    None of the spiritual and emotional themes of any of the Yomim Tovim are unique to that specific holiday. All are found, albeit often briefly, in the daily liturgy. As the needs of our days go, we may feel especially struck by something in the daily davening, for one day, or for a while.

    If we think in terms of classical music, the daily liturgy states many themes, but doesn't develop many of them. Each of the holidays, however, develops one of them at length: physically through the particular mitzvot and minhagim of the day, and intellectually through the study, drashot, and emotionally -- well, that depends on our family and community to some extent, especially when we are younger.

    We then carry those experiences back to our daily davening; Pesach can inform the mentions of yetziat Mitzrayim, etc.

    To return to the mashal: the whole liturgy of the year is a huge symphony; at times -- Shabbat and holidays -- a theme previously stated briefly will be elaborated at length. As with any classical music, the more you experience it and the more you know, the more you get out of it, but in some ways the most rewarding experiences are when something you've heard many times suddenly seems fresh and new because you hear it differently.

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  38. amateur


    'I find it funny that people are arguing Rishonim, when they need to first deal with the Mishna
    '
    I suppose rabbi slifkin will understand the meiri that r. yosi disagrees with mishnah

    R. kaminetsky in emes leyaakov discusses why yom hadin not mentioned in the torah.
    I think he says they were on a higher madreigah then and they woul not lose out, by not knowing
    as they did teshuvah every day. later after yeridos hadoros chazal had to inform people.

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  39. Nachum - relative to your interesting point above -

    It is not 100% clear that the Jews of the period had never heard of Rosh Hashana. They may simply have been observing it "in the breach." The fact that the Kohanim told them it was a holy day is no proof - even today, Rabbis still get up to tell us how holy the day is. Doesnt mean we didnt know it beforehand.

    Further, even if they had not heard of it, what is the significance of that? The same text tells us that generation had also not heard of Succos. Can you elaborate on your point?

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  40. Correction: 'Atonement (not Repentance) is affected by man's own deeds and is not limited to a specific time and so is the judgment. By his repentance man judges (R'H) himself and atones for his transgressions (Y'K)'.

    This is my own translation and it's still not good enough.

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  41. "Or, more likely, the Rambam refers to the portion of Mishneh Torah which is relevant to what he is discussing (the reason for the mitzvah of shofar), and does not refer to other parts of the Mishneh Torah which are irrelevant."

    WFB- More than any other Jewish scholar, the Rambam is a Rorschach test, where one sees what he wishes. You wish to believe that there is consonance between the philosopher Rambam and the Beis Medrash Rambam, so you see the two as going hand in hand. There are other ways to see him. I am not saying you are wrong, but you might be.

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  42. To Lawrence Kaplan and Carol: O.k., I see how the Moreh Nevuchim quote can be read to isolate the Mishneh Torah citation to just intend the meaning of tekiat shofar.

    However:
    1) I notice in the standard edition of Hilchos Teshuva, Chapter 3, halachah 4 spans over the ideas of a)the message of tekiat shofar, b)the weighing of deeds and subsequent judgment, and c)intensifying good deeds and tefillah during the 10 days of penitence--all in one halachah. I think this supports keeping these ideas linked as well.
    2) Berel Wein, in his lecture on the Moreh Nevuchim, said that the Rogochover Gaon and the Ohr Sameach both held that there can be no real dichotomy between the Rambam of the Mishnah Torah and that of the Moreh Nevuchim. (I'm sure readers of this blog can bring counter-examples to that, however.)

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  43. Yehudah P. If you will look at the Frankel Rambam,you will see that Teshuvah 3:4 is in fact three separate halakhot corresponding to the three points you made.

    Lawrence Kaplan

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  44. Not only the Rogotchover Rebbe and the Ohr Sameach, but also, more immediately, Prof R' Yitzchak Twersky, z"l, with whom I had the privilege to study for a semester.

    If you know how to learn, there is only one Rambam.

    Meanwhile, a quote from R' Soloveitchik: "The Bible is very far from sharing the views which were later espoused by the medieval philosophers in their tireless crusade against any anthropomorphism. By assigning to G-d pure actuality to the exclusion of all responsive behavior, one detaches Him from His world and renders practical religion almost absurd." (The Emergence of Ethical Man, pg 41)

    Looks to me like the Meiri had a problem with "limiting" G-d, as it were, to a particular day. Yet he acknowledges that for "practical religion" to exist - and it does exist - there need to be specific times for religious expressions. The Torah designated Yom Teruah, and as we know, the Shofar is a warning sound, a siren.

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  45. Thank you, M --

    Charles

    And a good start to the New Year . . .

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