Saturday, November 20, 2010

Revolutionizing Rambam's Revolutions

When I was in yeshivah gedolah in England nearly twenty years ago, I was taught that the Rishonim never said anything that they didn't receive as a mesorah from Chazal. (The basis for that claim was - you guessed it - mesorah.) The most obvious difficulty with such a claim is, of course, Rambam.

Rambam has always been known as a revolutionary, controversial figure - and with good reason. I am always amused at the reaction of certain non-Charedim when, after they express derision at Charedi intolerance of Rambam-type views, I inform them of Rambam's views on topics such as providence, the World-to-Come, and reward and punishment. Suddenly they're not so tolerant themselves!

Traditionally, the traditionalist response to Rambam's revolutionary ideas has been to write them off as influenced by Greek philosophy and therefore not kosher, to explain that he only taught these ideas for outreach and did not subscribe to them, or to claim that his writings must actually be interpreted as referring to mysterious mystical concepts (always a fail-safe last resort!).

But recently I have noticed a new approach by anti-rationalists. It is to claim that, properly understood, Rambam never actually said anything controversial! Furthermore, the claim is that Rambam never accepted anything from Aristotle against the mesorah! I kid you not.

The fact is that not only were Rambam's philosophical views heavily influenced by Greco-Muslim philosophy, but, as Dr. Marc Shapiro has demonstrated at length in Studies in Maimonides and his Interpreters, so was the Mishneh Torah. And it's not only the view of modern academic scholars that Rambam's worldview was, to a large extent, the product of Greco-Muslim philosophy rather than a tradition from his rebbe'im. The Vilna Gaon famously commented that Rambam was “led astray by the accursed philosophy” to deny the existence of demons and other such phenomena. Rav Hirsch observed that Rambam's "trend of thought was Arab-Greek... Approaching Judaism from without, he brought to it views that he had gained elsewhere, and these he reconciled with Judaism." (The Vilna Gaon and Rav Hirsch were also influenced by non-traditional sources, but not quite as blatantly as Rambam.)

All this is fairly obvious to any honest and serious student of Rambam and history. But I just noticed that Rambam himself explicitly notes that his approach to Maaseh Merkavah (Ezekiel's chariot) - one of the major topics in the Guide for the Perplexed - was not based on any received tradition, but rather he developed it himself, based on his philosophical studies:

No divine revelation came to me to teach me that this was the intent of the matter, nor have I received my belief in this respect from any teacher; rather, I have been informed by what I learned from Scripture and the utterances of our Sages, together with the philosophical principles which I have adopted, that the matter is as such, without doubt. But it is possible that the matter is otherwise, and the meaning is different. (Introduction to Part III of the Guide, translation based on Schwartz edition)


As Chaim Kreisel writes in an article that can be freely downloaded, Rambam's subsequent discussion "does not leave the slightest doubt that the Chariot of Ezekiel is a parable for the structure of the heavens as depicted by scientists and philosophers" - including the Ptolemaic spheres and the four elements.

Now, Rambam himself truly believed that this is what Yechezkel was talking about. He may have also believed that Chazal knew this; I'm not sure. (In some cases, such as his denial of demons and astrology, he knew full well that he was going against Chazal, but here it's not so clear.) But he was certainly aware that he was reconstructing the original intent based on what he had absorbed from Greek philosophy - not transmitting a mesorah from his rebbe'im. And does anyone today believe that this is what Maaseh Merkavah was really about - the Ptolemiac spheres and the four elements?

This is not to denigrate the Rambam, G-d forbid. He was trying to understand things as best as possible, just as we all do. But there is a valuable lesson that he taught in general and specifically with this topic: that one should accept the truth from wherever it comes - even from outside our community.

52 comments:

  1. "The Vilna Gaon and Rav Hirsch were also influenced by non-traditional sources, but not quite as blatantly as Rambam"

    And what were those (re: GRA)?

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  2. Rav Eliezer Berkovitz z"l, in his book "Jewish Women in Time and Torah" makes a very strong case that CHaZaL themselves were also influenced by various outside sources, including Greek.

    He discusses several quotes by CHaZaL throughout the Talmud which seem, to our 20th century sensitivites (Rav Berkovitz published the book in 1990), he makes a distinction in what he refers to as “Torah-taught” and “Torah-tolerated”.

    “Torah-taught” is exactly as it sounds – something derived directly from the Torah.

    “Torah-tolerated" is not derived directly from the Torah, but also does not actually contradict anything that is “Torah-taught”.

    For many of the Torah-tolerated statements, which he believes is acceptable to question today, Rav Berkovitz argued that they were not a reflection on Jewish thought, values or tradition, but rather they reflected what the world – outside of the Jewish community – believed.

    For several of the Talmudic quotes that so bother some of our sensitivities, he provided several strikingly similar texts from several non-Jewish laws and philosophies that were prominent at the time.

    It is very clear that Rav Berkovitz believed that just as you say that the RaMBamM was influenced by non-Jewish, non-mesorah/CHaZaL sources, so too were CHaZaL themselves.

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  3. rambam makes it clear in the moreh that he more than suspects that the potelmic model of the universe isnt exactly correct but that he is using it because it is available [ but unproven]

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  4. If I understand Rav Kook correctly, I think he says that there is no such thing as "pure Torah", i.e. the scholars' understanding of the Torah has ALWAYS been influenced, even subconciously, by the outside world. This is a natural process and is part of the evoluation of our understanding of the Torah. In other words, this is the way things are supposed to be. This gives us continually new insights. We are not like the Muslim extremists who want to return to some very short-lived "golden past" that existed shortly after the death of Muhammed, but rather our golden age is in the future, with the Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash, in which our understanding of Torah, along with renewed prophecy, will reach its maximum.

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  5. Dear Y. Ben-David,

    As per your comment that "but rather our golden age is in the future, with the Mashiach..."

    Personally, I'm more inclined to believe that our true Golden Age - or what we try to make our Golden Age, isn't that past or the future, but our present.

    HaShamayim shamayim L'HaShem, veha-Aretz natan livnei adam".

    Our current reality is what should be our shining moment and the testament to our dedication to HaShem and His Torah.

    The external forces at play guarantee to make the turning of the present into our Golden Age our greatest challenge.

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  6. I think that the following Maharal on Avos sheds light on the potential psychological phenomenon that occurred inside the Rambam's mind:

    [Rambam's explanations in these areas] are not shared by our Rabbis...He is forced to advance these explanations to resolve a difficulty posed by a certain philosophical tenet...[Ultimately there] is no need for his explanations. The approach of the Rabbis is unquestionably certain,
    clear and pure. It is my opinion that Maimonides explained the verses as he did because the people of his generation were drawn after the philosophers — gentile scholars, upon whom the light of Torah had never
    dawned. Maimonides found a method to explain Scripture in a way that
    aligned with their opinions. He deviated from the explanations of the earlier Rabbis because there was risk of a more serious loss: The people might not have accepted Scripture at all. This is the reason he explained it in accordance with their views, but be assured that the genuine explanation did not elude him or anyone with wisdom in his
    heart.

    At any rate, maybe it is us who are influenced by the gentile scholars' approach to intellectual inquiry, and that we have broken away from the true Torah mesorah derech of analysis? Perhaps the yeshivishe velt has got it right all along?

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  7. Actually, I think that this quote reeks of apologetics rather than shedding any insight on Rambam. Rambam stated explicitly that the Guide represents the true wisdom. If anything, the quotation sheds light on the potential psychological phenomenon that occurred inside the Maharal's mind - that he could not imagine that such a great Torah scholar as Rambam truly held views so different from his own.

    Perhaps the yeshivishe velt has got it right all along?

    "Right" in what aspect? You think that the Maharal was correct in how he explained Pesachim 94b, and all the Rishonim were wrong?

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  8. Actually, I think that this quote reeks of apologetics rather than shedding any insight on Rambam. Rambam stated explicitly that the Guide represents the true wisdom. If anything, the quotation sheds light on the potential psychological phenomenon that occurred inside the Maharal's mind - that he could not imagine that such a great Torah scholar as Rambam truly held views so different from his own.

    1. From your words, I see that you clearly don’t realize how great the maharal was. Besides, it’s not like he said he couldn’t “imagine that such a great Torah scholar as Rambam truly held…” – he judged Rambam favorably, just as Rambam asks the reader in his intro to the moreh.
    2. Evidence that the Maharal is correct can be found in the intro to the moreh, here: “I adjure any reader of my book, in the name of the Most High, not to add any explanation even to a single word: nor to explain to another any portion of it *except such passages as have been fully treated of by previous theological authorities* (my emphasis): he must not teach others anything that he has learnt from my work alone, and *that has not been hitherto discussed by any of our authorities*.

    "Right" in what aspect? You think that the Maharal was correct in how he explained Pesachim 94b, and all the Rishonim were wrong?
    1. in terms of their derech halimud and approach the mesorah. I don’t know if the maharal was correct, but I do know that the rishonim have a valid position to take, that chazal were speaking literally, which is the pashtus of the Gemara there. The maharal holds differently, preferring to go against the grain, and a scholar as great as himself has every right to do so. (besides, we find acharonim arguing on rishonim, such as the chasam sofer and vilna gaon – and maharal is a very early acharon, so it’s for sure not a problem for him to argue on rishonim. Yes it’s a big chidush to argue on so many rishonim, but his position is a valid one, and you must judge him favorably that he had very logical reasons for his peirush there.)

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  9. "When I was in yeshivah gedolah in England nearly twenty years ago, I was taught that the Rishonim never said anything that they didn't receive as a mesorah from Chazal."

    In fairness to charedi ideas, while they are very often completely at odds with reality, they aren't this idiotic (not that I can speak for Gateshead). As chazal said, "Im kabbalah hi, nikablei, vi'im lidin, yesh alav teshuvah."

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  10. @Asher: Beautiful comment.

    In the Rambam's view, should we reevaluate the Maaseh Hamerkavah in light of the current model of the Universe? To expand the question, should any writings based on science be reevaluated in light of more accurate scientific knowledge? Wouldn't this be a corollary of the technique of using scientific premises?

    BTW, I have seen that the Gra's comment (that the Rambam was led astray by philosophy) is hearsay and has not been corroborated. Is it probable that the Gra commented that the Rambam was influenced by philosophy and this statement was interpreted (possibly mistakenly) to mean that the Rambam had been led astray?

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  11. From your words, I see that you clearly don’t realize how great the maharal was.

    There is plenty of precedent for great Torah scholars mistakenly believing that Rambam couldn't possibly have meant what he wrote.

    Besides, it’s not like he said he couldn’t “imagine that such a great Torah scholar as Rambam truly held…”

    I was giving an insight into his motivation, just as he did for Rambam.

    – he judged Rambam favorably, just as Rambam asks the reader in his intro to the moreh.

    OK, let's go with this. We'll judge Maharal favorably, and say that he couldn't possibly have meant that Rambam did not really mean what he wrote in the Guide, which he considered his most precious work and the "wisdom of truth." Rather, Maharal must have been full aware that Rambam meant what he wrote, and Maharal said what he did out of concern that simple-minded people would be led astray by the Rambam!

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  12. There is plenty of precedent for great Torah scholars mistakenly believing that Rambam couldn't possibly have meant what he wrote.
    -every case has its own merits, and should be considered on its own. In this case, you speak as if it is a fact that Rambam meant what he wrote. To say the Maharal was wrong is arrogant. But to say he is entitled to his rational opinion is honest and humble. Why was moshe rabeinu the greatest man of all time? Because of his humility – the declares he was the greatest, saying he was more humble than any other person on earth. So too, we can be great by being humble about our great scholars of old and today.

    Besides, it’s not like he said he couldn’t “imagine that such a great Torah scholar as Rambam truly held…”

    I was giving an insight into his motivation, just as he did for Rambam.
    -so maharal is to Rambam, as you are to maharal? I would question such an implicit hekesh.

    – he judged Rambam favorably, just as Rambam asks the reader in his intro to the moreh.

    OK, let's go with this. We'll judge Maharal favorably, and say that he couldn't possibly have meant that Rambam did not really mean what he wrote in the Guide, which he considered his most precious work and the "wisdom of truth." Rather, Maharal must have been full aware that Rambam meant what he wrote, and Maharal said what he did out of concern that simple-minded people would be led astray by the Rambam!
    -not bad, but I don’t think that simple-minded people would be reading maharal on avos where this piece on the Rambam is found…

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  13. I think that it's incredibly arrogant and offensive to Rambam to say that "Maharal on Avos sheds light on the potential psychological phenomenon that occurred inside the Rambam's mind..."

    By the way, in my final comment above, I was being facetious. Saying that people "didn't really mean what they said they meant" is always weak, unless there are VERY good reasons for saying so. Maharal didn't give any, and your reasons weren't remotely convincing. It's better to be like the Vilna Gaon, and to admit that the person said something that you really, really don't agree with.

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  14. I think that it's incredibly arrogant and offensive to Rambam to say that "Maharal on Avos sheds light on the potential psychological phenomenon that occurred inside the Rambam's mind..."
    -I think you are misunderstanding things here. We are merely explaining rambam’s l’sheim shamayim intentions! And my intention was to convey the fact that the maharal was EXPLAINING rambam’s rationale behind what he wrote. Chas v’shalom to criticize Rambam and his l’sheim shamayim writings!

    By the way, in my final comment above, I was being facetious. Saying that people "didn't really mean what they said they meant" is always weak, unless there are VERY good reasons for saying so. Maharal didn't give any, and your reasons weren't remotely convincing. It's better to be like the Vilna Gaon, and to admit that the person said something that you really, really don't agree with.
    -and there is a very good reason here, as the maharal explains (which apparently you missed). I don’t know why you claim my reasons weren’t convinving – i don’t recall listing any reasons, and if I did, they should be in line with what the maharal said, so if you could explain your criticism that would be great. Thanks!

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  15. There is plenty of precedent for great Torah scholars mistakenly believing that Rambam couldn't possibly have meant what he wrote.

    Reminds me of a great joke I read awhile back:

    Two Rabbi's, a mitnaged and a chassid spend their whole lives arguing over a particular passage of Rambam. The mitnaged argues that it has to be read literally, while the chassid argues it must be interpreted mystically. Eventually, they both pass to olam habah and continue their arguements there. One day they have the bright idea to just go and ask Rambam himself. They approach Rambam with the question and he responds that yes, he literally meant what he wrote. The chassid, very upset, storms off and can be heard muttering under his breath, "What do those Sepharadim know about Rambam anyways."

    Hope I didn't butcher it too much.

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  16. I was taught that the Rishonim never said anything that they didn't receive as a mesorah from Chazal
    =======================
    And did Chazal ever say anything they hadn't heard from MOshe Rabbeinu?

    IMHO when you see the breadth of richonims' approaches to various issues, it could be true, but a far more likely explanation in many cases is that they were looking at a text and trying to understand, based on all their learning, what it meant using "a clear and logical mind" :-)
    KT
    Joel Rich

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  17. Uhhh, Maverick....

    This comment of the Vilna Gaon can be found on the page of the standard Shulchan Aruch. It is not apocryphal and I have seen it myself. I think the lashon was "[His philosophy] Hita'ato" = "caused him to err/stray."

    For the exact source, you can ask Rabbi Slifkin.

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  18. This is not to denigrate the Rambam, G-d forbid. He was trying to understand things as best as possible, just as we all do. But there is a valuable lesson that he taught in general and specifically with this topic: that one should accept the truth from wherever it comes - even from outside our community.

    Huh? You are saying we should learn from the Rambam to adopt current scientific understandings into our interpretations of Torah despite the likelihood that they will be overturned over time?

    Are you serious?

    Or are you so confident in TODAY's scientific understandings to not think this is poses any risk at all?

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  19. Rabbi Slifkin, I wish that you would stop emphasizing that ALL the Rishonim explained that Pesachim 94b is based off of Babylonian cosmology and is now prven otherwise; not ALL the Rishonim held this view. In fact, Rashi, Tosafot, Maharsha and Rabbeinu Chananel all seem to ascribe to Chazal's empiricism vis-a-vis the hemispherical shape of the cosmos, as seen in Megillah daf 12, regarding the Mazalot as the caus eof the Mabul. I do not mean to say that I agree with Chazal in this respect either; however, you cannot blatantly state that ALL the Rishonim said one way.

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  20. "When I was in yeshivah gedolah in England nearly twenty years ago, I was taught that the Rishonim never said anything that they didn't receive as a mesorah from Chazal."

    Certainly that is false, but more to the point, chazal themselves made up derashas, all the time. The Gemara is filled with countless examples of impromptu derashos being made. The notion of a "chain of transmission" for all halachor or hanhagos mentioned in shas is risible. If such a chain existed, you would not find thousands of statements or halachos recorded in the name of a particular amora or tanna - everyone would have known them. Every single halacha would be a "tanna rabban".

    It is, really, truly amazing how such a demonstatively false doctrine is so widespread. It doesnt say much for us as religious Jews if we make these absurd statements. Better to say we respect tradition, rather than claim that all traditions go back to Sinai.

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  21. Rabbi I have to disagree with you on this idea. The Rambam thought he was following the traditional views. He believed the traditional views of chazal, at least the majority of chazal, were as he explained everything.

    The Rambam believed that Chazal did not believe in astrology as a whole. The Rambam believed that chazal did not believe in sheidim as a whole.

    He read his rationalistic understandings into chazal. The only times he goes against chazal is when he can find no other recourse, aka in reinterpreting them to fit what he believes. For example, he is willing to say that certaing aspects of chazal's knowledge in science was lacking.

    I have to do more research and ask David Guttman what he thinks, but this is the impression I get when reading the Guide and other books of the Rambam (like the letter on astrology).

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  22. You mention that Rambam knew he was going against Chazal's approach with regard to astrology and demons. I encourage you to look at Rambam's letter to Montpelier (initially thought to have been a letter to Marseilles) in which it is clear that he felt his views in astrology were consistent with some Talmudic figures. He certainly was aware that he was not expressing the opinion of all of Chazal, but he felt that it was shared by some of those Rabbanim. I am not so sure he would take an approach to any topic (at least one with halachic ramifications) that he felt went counter to all opinions stated in the Gemara. Keep in mind that Lo TeOnein and Nichush are products of these types of beliefs. If one believes them to be based on true principles, like Ramban (see Rashba Resp. 413, Chavel's Kitvei Ramban and Beit Yosef 179), then when one would be informed by an astrologer he would BE OBLIGATED to listen (as is the currently accepted halacha, see Shulchan Aruch Y.D. 179). Rambam maintains one is prohibited from doing so, since it displays foolishness and is included in the prohibition. (Rambam Avodah Zarah Ch. 11) It seems unlikely that Rambam would disagree with the Talmud's halacha if decided unanimously. (See Introduction to Sefer Madda)

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  23. We are merely explaining rambam’s l’sheim shamayim intentions! And my intention was to convey the fact that the maharal was EXPLAINING rambam’s rationale behind what he wrote.

    Yes, and it's incredibly patronizing towards Rambam - that he must conform to YOUR idea of what the right derech is, without considering the possibility that he may have differed from you as to what the right derech actually is.

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  24. Rabbi Slifkin, I wish that you would stop emphasizing that ALL the Rishonim explained that Pesachim 94b is based off of Babylonian cosmology and is now proven otherwise

    I am very careful with my words, and I never said any such thing. What I emphasize is that ALL the Rishonim explained that Pesachim 94b is discussing the physical facts of cosmology (in contrast to Maharal). Not all the Rishonim agreed that the Chachmei Yisrael were proven incorrect; Rabbeinu Tam says that they were actually correct.

    (I don't understand what you are claiming from Megillah, however)

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  25. Leonard - I agree that Rambam would disagree with halachic conclusions. However when it comes to such things as demons, I don't think that Rambam believed that any of Chazal denied them.

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  26. "Saying that people 'didn't really mean what they said they meant' is always weak, unless there are VERY good reasons for saying so."

    Actually, with respect to the Rambam, Leo Strauss said just that!

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  27. DF

    It is, really, truly amazing how such a demonstatively false doctrine is so widespread. It doesnt say much for us as religious Jews if we make these absurd statements. Better to say we respect tradition, rather than claim that all traditions go back to Sinai.


    It's much worse than that: Why did Rambam make such an effort to correctly attribute the source of various halachot / gezirot / minhagim? Because, at least according to him, it's a d'oryta sin to incorrectly attribute something to Sinai which isn't from Sinai and visa versa.

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  28. Jack - I share Herbert Davidson's view of Leo Strauss.

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  29. phineasgage -

    You should take a look at the book Ruach Eliyahu, where he cites a written work by a first generation student of the Gr"a, who testifies that the Gr"a never wrote the comment, and that it was inserted by another student. He also cites counter-testimony by another student, saying that the comment was genuine. The matter is far from clear. What is clear and unchallenged, however, is that the Gr"a defended and encouraged a public shiur in the Moreh in Vilna, including those areas of the Moreh that cite Aristotle.

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  30. "Saying that people 'didn't really mean what they said they meant' is always weak, unless there are VERY good reasons for saying so."

    "I meant what I said and I said what I meant - An elephant's faithful, one hundred percent!"
    Dr. Seuss

    Too bad the Achronim didn't have access to Dr. Seuss, it could have settled the whole issue!

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  31. Yes, and it's incredibly patronizing towards Rambam - that he must conform to YOUR idea of what the right derech is, without considering the possibility that he may have differed from you as to what the right derech actually is.

    -I’m not saying that. Again, we are simply explaining the rambam’s mindset in order to create the smoothest blend between his words and Chazals!

    -by the way, doesn't maharal also believe in a literal approach to pesachim 94b, in addition to the metaphysical approach?

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  32. "Tom",

    The idea that it was a forgery was started by the maskilim who did not want to accept the GRA as being anti-philosophy. A talmid of the GRA testified that he saw the GRA's comments in his own handwriting.

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  33. Lawrence Kaplan coments

    As someone who has intensively studied the Moreh for many many years, I see no basis for the Maharal's view. It goes against the entire tenor of the Moreh and many of the Rambam's specific statements there. But it would take an entire essay to show this. My view is, I believe, the view of all academics specializing in the Rambam, many of whom, of course, are Orthodox.

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  34. Leo Strauss may be wrong but he is not "anti-rational". The idea that an esoteric view of the Moreh Nevuchim is without merit and "anti-rational" strikes me as extreme as some of your detractors.

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  35. I did not say that an esoteric view of the Moreh Nevuchim is without merit, nor did I describe it as "anti-rational." Please do not put words in my mouth.

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  36. Pesach Sommer -

    I know about the testimony of the Gr"a's student that you cited. It is one side of the issue as described in depth by Ruach Eliyahu. The other side is another student of the Gr"a who claims with just as much certainty that the Gr"a did not write the comment, and that it was interpolated by someone that he identifies. We have here a contradiction between two prominent students of the Gr"a, each one claiming that the other's testimony is not true. Have you read Ruach Eliyahu?

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  37. Jack said:
    " 'Saying that people 'didn't really mean what they said they meant' is always weak, unless there are VERY good reasons for saying so.'

    Actually, with respect to the Rambam, Leo Strauss said just that!"

    But doesn't Strauss point out his REASONS for saying that in the cases in which he does? Nevertheless, it is also a glaring weakness in his argument!

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  38. Maharal's view is not going against rishonim. First off, I think he admits this gemara is also taken literally.

    Secondly, Maharal intended to make it clear that, while the rishonim all understand it literally, we shouldn't question whether a deeper side to this gemara exists because for sure the rishonim also understood it metaphorically, it's just that they found no need to explicitly state it. Virtually all non-halachic matters have a deeper side them, and as the years progressed, specifically by the time of maharal, someone had to come out and inform everyone that there is a deeper side to the gemara, which the rishonim would agree, but they found no need to state it.

    All these gemaras should be learned in terms of pshat and drush (maharsha says so, and also see chidushei harashba).

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  39. Absolutely wrong. Maharal's view is most certainly going against the Rishonim and he is adamant that the Gemara CANNOT be understood according to the literal meaning.

    Furthermore, it is nonsense to say that "for sure the rishonim also understood it metaphorically." There is simply no basis for that whatsoever, and it goes everything that we know about them.

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  40. "Leonard - I agree that Rambam would disagree with halachic conclusions. However when it comes to such things as demons, I don't think that Rambam believed that any of Chazal denied them."

    With astrology, however, Rambam's views have him stating that listening to unsolicited astrological advice is prohibited. (Avodah Zarah Ch. 11) If he were to maintain astrology was a true science he would have agreed with Ramban and REQUIRED one to heed to the seer's words. In this regard, and as is clearly stated by Rambam himself, it is pretty clear that he felt he was basing his opinion on Talmudic sources. (Rambam's letter to Montpelier) Rambam felt that there were Amoraim who maintained that astrology was a falsehood.

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  41. Leonard J., kindly cite the language used by the Rambam where he allegedly cites Amora'im who believed that astrology was false. The Rambam may have referred to the opinion in Talmud that Jews (as opposed to other peoples) were not under the governance of the heavenly bodies. Hence, there was no reason for them to be concerned with astrological calculations - in addition to his conviction that such calculations were nonsense.

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  42. Y. Aharon -

    He is not refering to "ain mazal leYisrael". (Shabbat 156a) At the end of the segment of his letter dealing with astrology (prior to discussing a false messiah from Yemen) he states, "And I know that it is possible to find INDIVIDUALS from the sages of truth, our rabbis (may they rest in peace) of the Talmud, Mishna, and Midrash, whose words give the appearance that they believed that astrological influences affect people, this is not problematic, etc." The entire letter was written to disprove the overall concept of astrology and this is the Rambam's summation. He is clearly stating that astrology in its entirety is absurd (something he says explicitly earlier in the letter and in his Mishne Torah Avodah Zarah Ch. 11). He also is calling the Talmudic opinions that espoused these views "individuals".

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  43. I am no expert in the Maharal and have not read the original source cited (in translation) here. I will assume it is correct. I tend to share Prof. Kaplan's view of the Moreh. However, I do not know how one can say that view is held by "all academics" specializing in the Rambam? This is just not true.

    Leo Strauss (and Shlomo Pines???) would probably agree with the Maharal that the Rambam didn't really mean what he said and that he had to hide his real views from the general public. Of course, "what he really meant" to them is the exact opposite of the Maharal. Nonetheless, the notion that the Rambam had to hide his true beliefs is not without merit. It is a belief shared by legitimate academics.

    Student V - Strauss does give his reasons. Ayen Sham. The Maharal also gave his reasons. I dont agree with either of them.

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  44. Leonard J., you still haven't cited anything from the Rambam where he lists Amora'im who believed astrology to be false. The Rambam is free to refer to some Amora'im as 'individuals' who did believe in astrology. After all, only a small minority of Amora'im have had their views on the subject cited in the talmud. The question is, then, can we find 1 Amora who is cited as expressing disbelief in astrology? In the absence of such a counter-example one may conclude either that none of the talmudic sages disbelieved in astrology, or that there must have been some who disbelieved but didn't have the good fortune of being quoted. The Rambam, who considered astrology to be nonsense, took the latter point of view.

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  45. Y. Aharon, I must say that I cannot attribute such an intellectually dishonest approach to Rambam. To project one's view on others just because they never discussed a topic is not an honest way of finding or expressing the truth. I find it hard to proclaim that Rambam, of high moral integrity, would resort to such lowly tactics. Besides, in his commentary to Mishna Rambam states, "And the Sages have already explained that all these occcurrences linked to this imagery is merely coincidence ... similarly I have found that the Sages expressed falsehood of astrology ..." (Peirush HaMishna Avodah Zarah 4:7) While I concede that it is unclear exactly where in the statements (quoted by Rambam or otherwise) this was seen, Rambam personally felt that the Sages' statements were consistent with his position against astrology. He mentions that he has "found" statements that "he" felt showed this.

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  46. Jack, there's a difference. And I'm not an expert in Strauss, but just from what I know of the basic outline, there is this important difference that I can see from what we are talking about here (Maharal).

    Strauss tries to explain problems in the text (foremost of them, contradiction) by formulating his thesis. Maharal *created his own problem*, based on his own personality/frumkeit, along the lines of: "Rambam would never say that because how can any frum Jew say that, and/or because I disagree so strongly with that" - & therefore he didn't really mean what he said.

    Although his thesis is off, Strauss is not saying, well Rambam is so ____ (how about we use the word, "smart") therefore he couldn't have meant x when he said it. He's not imposing his own intellect or his own personality onto the Rambam. He's trying to explain inconsistencies WITHIN Rambam, not inconsistencies with some outside value system being imposed onto Rambam. (Of course, in the end Strauss' way of answering it sort of molds rambam in strauss' image, but that's besides the point IMO).

    Does the Maharal really use proofs and citations in Rambam's own words in other places which indicate his position here? I was under the impression that that is NOT the case.

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  47. Leonard J., we obviously differ in how we understand the Rambam. In my view, it is not intellectually dishonest to state that sages (or wise men - I'll let the scholars of the Rambam inform me how to parse the words translated from the original Arabic) labelled astrology as a false discipline. The Rambam clearly considered astrology and all forms of witchcraft and omen seeking to be both false and dangerous. He wouldn't believe, then, that all the sages of the talmud could have been so misled. I would, of course, be prepared to yield to some positive evidence that at least 1 of the sages labelled such matters as foolishness. Neither you nor anyone else has brought such evidence - to my knowledge.

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  48. - Y. Aharon

    Firstly, while you entitled to your beliefs, I must say that that is ludicrous. If I were to state that since I believe wholeheartedly in leprechauns (I do not), it must be that Y. Aharon believes in them just the same since he is a smart guy. I am unfamiliar with statements of Y. Aharon that say otherwise, so I will conclude that he does believe in them and, in fact, is currently on a mission to find a pot of gold below a rainbow. Now, that I know that I will go and tell everyone that Y. Aharon believes in leprechauns and is currently involved in a very lucrative business deal. I have seen some less than scrupulous individuals act in this fashion, but I have a difficult time asserting that Rambam was of this mindset. (I also do not believe that he believed in leprechauns.) Secondly, in that quotation from Peirush HaMishna it is clear that Rambam is referring to the "Talmudic Sages". After the segment I quoted he mentions, "Thus, they have expressed the prohibition of astrology as comprabale to those that ..." Clearly, a reference to the Talmudic Sages and a Talmudic prohibition. Also this is a display of how he saw their expressions as debunking astrology. Y. Aharon, I encourage you to view the sources in their original (or at least translated) form and not just take the few snippets seen quoted in these posts.

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  49. Leonard J., The translation of the Rambam's Peirush Hamishnayot into Hebrew that I find in the conventional Mishnayot editions appears to be garbled. I would rather that a scholar of the Rambam like prof. Kaplan would comment on this issue of what the Rambam meant in his Peirush on Mishnayot Avodah Zarah, and what evidence, if any, has been found as to a source for a disbelief in astrology in the Babylonian or Jerusalem talmud, or in medrash halacha, i.e. Mechilta, Sifrei, Sifra, etc. It's not a question of my opinion as to the existence of such a source. I don't have that kind of expertise. I merely have the clear impression that a source hasn't been found. Let the experts enlighten us.

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  50. Isaac writes:
    Huh? You are saying we should learn from the Rambam to adopt current scientific understandings into our interpretations of Torah despite the likelihood that they will be overturned over time?

    Are you serious?

    Or are you so confident in TODAY's scientific understandings to not think this is poses any risk at all?


    Our current understanding will be altered in time. But it will still be better than that of Rambam which was in its turn better than that of Chazal. That's how science works.

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  51. "When I was in yeshivah gedolah in England nearly twenty years ago, I was taught that the Rishonim never said anything that they didn't receive as a mesorah from Chazal."

    You don't have to go to modern science to know that this is wrong. Rambam himself says it. For example, in hakdama leshmone prakim he says "now I am going to quote a person I would prefer not to name because his correct ideas could be rejected because of his bad name" and he proceeds to quote Al Farabi for about 2 pages. BTW, Al Farabi was, and still is, considered by Muslims to be a heretic, that was the source of most of the "bad press" he got.

    As far as the question of influences between Jews and goyish philosophers, it was probably a 2 way road. In a book "Greek and Roman authors on Jews and Judaism" I have bunch of classic Greek and Roman sources that claim that "Plato wrote Jewish philosophy in Greek, he was influenced by Jews", that Pythagoras learned his philosophy from Jews (by a direct Pythagora's student), very old source (from 400 BCE) that acknowledges that the first Greek philosophers learned from Jews and Brahmas (Indians). When you think about it, it is not that far fetched. Greek philosophy started in Asia Minor, close to Israel. In Tanach, in earlier books, frum guy used to bring a lot of korbanot to mishkan. Later developed a mystic prophet preacher character type. Same happened in Greece, but about 200-300 years after Israel.

    When you think about it, was Honi haMehagel a Pytagorean, or was Pythagoras Honi haMehagelan? I don't mean that literately, I know Pythagoras lived centuries after him, but perhaps Pythagoras learned of Jewish tradition Honi used to get rain? They both drew circles to get rain. Except that Honi haMehagel also davened and got rain. No Pythagorean ever even made a claim he got rain from his circles, and for Honi haMehagel there were many witnesses (Hz"l sources claim, Brachot even says that he caused flooding, and Shimon ben Shetach threatened nidui because of it). When you think about it, there is a similarity between Pythagorean basic premises and oldest kabalistic traditions like Sefer Yetzira... Greek philosophers picked up many ideas similar to Torah in late bayit rishon times, in an area that is geographicly very close, and there were very developed trade routes (archaeology confirms a lot of trade).

    Influences probably went both ways and there is nothing wrong with it. Torah is alive, and for all times, by denying the present in order to defend Torah from perceived enemies we are actually disparaging Torah. It will stand the test of time regardless what science comes up with, and denying science, and influences, is hillul Hashem, because that makes Torah look silly.

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  52. - Y. Aharon

    Try using the Kafach edition. Even if you felt the standard printing in the back of the Gemara was garbled, nobody would argue that this segment in the Kafach edition is garbled. It reads very smoothly and is quite clear. In it Rambam states, "And so I have found an insight FROM THEM regarding the ways of the astrological forces THAT THEY ARE COMPARABLE TO other forms of superstition and sorcery. It is NOT THAT they cause anything as proposed by those who watch the stars. AS THEY have said, 'Thou shalt not engage in sorcery like those that magically engage with weasels, birds and stars.'" While I concede that I am not sure where in this statement Rambam saw that Chazal found astrology baseless, as Rambam says himself, Chazal's comparison of sorcery and astrology to these types of people is a display that Chazal found this type of magic unfounded (in RAMBAM'S OPINION). The statement he is quoting can be found in Sanhedrin 66a and is a clear reference to Chazal. I would love to hear a Rambam scholar's thoughts, however, I think Rambam speaks for himself clearly in this statement.

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