Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Anti-Rationalism and Rashi

Over at Cross-Currents, Rabbi Shaul Gold published a follow-up to his anti-rationalist article "Trembling Before Rashi," and expanded further upon his views in the comments section. He is not very precise as to what he is saying, but it appears to me that the editor of Cross-Currents is engaging in wishful thinking; the editor is trying to convince himself that Rabbi Gold is just saying that "whether accepting Rashi's pshat or preferring another, Rashi must always be approached with reverence." Nobody would have disputed Rabbi Gold's article if that was all he had said. But he made several much more extreme claims.

1. Rashi and science

Rabbi Gold claims that we cannot challenge Rashi's scientific pronouncements. In support of this, he cites a silly article from Dialogue (which I shall be posting about shortly) about the unreliability of modern science and a largely irrelevant Midrash about one of the Tanna'im deriving scientific information from Torah (which is countered by many other sugyos about Chazal not being able to do so).

In response to this, I would point out that few non-extreme-Charedi rabbis today would insist that we should believe in the existence of mermaids simply because Rashi believed in them. There's no shortage of Rishonim and Acharonim who say that even Chazal's statements about the natural world were sometimes incorrect - kal v'chomer for statements by Rashi. And no less an authority than Chasam Sofer is explicit about dismissing Rashi in cases where his lack of anatomical knowledge is apparent:
“What are the meanings of the anatomical terms mentioned in this Mishna? After I researched medical books and medical writers as well as scholars and surgical texts, I have concluded that we cannot deny the fact that reality is not as described by Rashi, Tosfos and the drawings of the Maharam of Lublin. We have only what the Rambam wrote in the Mishna Torah and his Commentary to the Mishna – even though the latter has statements which are unclear. However, you will find correct drawings in the book Maaseh Tuviah and Shevili Emuna…. Therefore, I did not bother at all with the commentaries of Rashi and Tosfos in this matter since it is impossible to match them with true reality. You should know this.” (Chasam Sofer to Nidah 18a)
Thus, while Rabbi Gold is entitled to personally believe that Rashi is infallible and scientists don't know what they are talking about, and to accordingly believe in the existence of mermaids and werewolves, it is totally inappropriate to make this into an obligatory fundamental of Judaism.

2. Rashi being influenced by his surrounding culture


Rabbi Gold writes "“I don’t accept that Rashi allowed any outside influences to color his understanding of Torah HaKedoshah. To accept such is to invalidate the essence of Rashi and calls into question the sanity and probity of a millennium of great scholars that venerated Rashi, agonized over an extra or missing word in his commentary and wrote tomes and theses based on exactitude of his commentary.”

But it’s pretty well accepted, by figures ranging from the Vilna Gaon to virtually the entire gamut of scholars of Maimonidean thought, that Rambam’s understanding of Torah HaKedoshah was colored by the outside influence of Greek philosophy. If Rambam was influenced by his surrounding culture, why couldn't Rashi have been? Are we supposed to tremble before Rashi, but not before Rambam?

(It goes without saying that every Jewish academic, including virtually all Orthodox Jewish academics, would reject as ridiculous the notion that Rashi was not affected by his surrounding culture.)

3. Rashi giving Midrash as Peshat 

Rabbi Gold apparently condemns the idea that one can dispute Rashi for giving drash as pshat. As he says, "Rashi is very explicit when he is not explaining pshat or when he feels that the accepted understanding is not pshat... If Rashi says that Rivka was three, and he says so without qualifiers, he is then stating that this, according to his understanding, is peshuto shel mikra." And Rabbi Gold makes it pretty clear that we have no right to say that such interpretations are not peshat.

Yet there is a long history of Torah scholars criticizing Rashi for giving drash as pshat. Eric Lawee has a superb article on this topic entitled “Words Unfitly Spoken: Late Medieval Criticism of the Role of Midrash in Rashi's Commentary on the Torah,” in Between Rashi and Maimonides: Themes in Medieval Jewish Law, Thought and Culture, ed. Ephraim Kanarfogel. Here is an extract regarding Ibn Ezra (see the original for sources and extensive footnotes):
In one of his grammatical tomes, Ibn Ezra affirmed the ancient sages’ keen awareness of the distinction between peshat and derash and implied their preference for the former (their preoccupation with the latter notwithstanding). He then lamented the abandonment of scripture’s contextual sense by “subsequent generations” who made “each derash primary and paramount.” Nowhere was this regrettable trend more obvious than in the figure of “R. Solomon [Rashi], who explained the Torah, Prophets, and Writings by way of derash, though he thought it was peshat.” Weighing Rashi’s explanations against his twin standards of accuracy, grammatical precision and reasonability, Ibn Ezra determined that, aim notwithstanding, Rashi had successfully grasped and imparted the contextual sense “but one time in a thousand.” Yet he ruefully conceded that “scholars of our generation” (and ordinary Jews all the more, one presumes) “sing the praises of these [midrashically oriented] books.” Even allowing for exaggeration, here was an evidently acute critique.

Lawee discusses others who disputed Rashi's usage of midrash as pshat, and the cites the following sharp words from an anonymous Rishon:
In the Torah Commentary designated as belonging to “Rashi the Frenchman” I have seen rabbinic homilies (haggadot) and interpretations (perushim) that deviate from the way of the Torah’s intention in many places, in some being the very opposite of the correct intention and correct contextual meaning and the grammar and that which accords with reason (sekhel). I thought to record some of the places wherein he erred with haggadot and peshatim as my limited understanding allows...
So much for the claim that it is unthinkable to disagree with Rashi's concept of pshat.

4. Rashi's literalist approach to Midrashim

Rabbi Gold also appears to sharply condemn the idea of rejecting Rashi's literalist approach to Midrashim. He is perfectly entitled to do so - no doubt Rashi would have felt the same way! He is not, however, entitled to claim that this represents the basic standards of Judaism.

There can be no doubt that many Rishonim in Ashkenaz interpreted many or even all Aggados literally. This is precisely what much of the Maimonidean controversy was about! As Bernard Septimus notes, “The one surviving polemical letter from French anti-rationalists equates non-literal interpretation of aggadah with rejection.” Rashi himself even adopted this approach in cases that offended the sensibilities of others. For example, in the opinion of some Rishonim (and of modern scholars untainted by bias), Rashi took a literal interpretation of the account of Adam mating with all the animals. And Rabbi Meir Abulafia, famed author of Yad Ramah, vehemently opposed Rashi’s literalist explanations of certain aggadic passages, considering them disrespectful to God.

So Rashi, along with many other Rishonim in Ashkenaz, generally interpreted Aggados literally. Some Rishonim, most famously Rav Moshe Taku, even interpreted anthropomorphic aggados about Hashem literally. And it is well known that Rambam and many others sharply disputed the literalist approach. So on what grounds does Rabbi Gold prohibit following the non-literalist approach of Rambam and others?

5. Is it forbidden to argue with Rishonim?


All the above already shows why Rabbi Gold's claims are wrong, and why it is irrelevant to talk about it being forbidden to argue with the Rishonim (Rabbi Gold even claims that one should not side with one Rishon over another). But, in any case, it is certainly not forbidden to argue with the Rishonim. There are even those who do so in halachah; certainly when it comes to parshanut, there is absolutely no grounds for saying that it is forbidden to disagree with Rashi's view.

6. More intelligent?

Rabbi Gold appears to argue that Rashi was not only a towering Torah scholar who lived much closer to Chazal than us (with which nobody would argue), but also that Rashi is orders of magnitude more intelligent than us - and that this is a fundamental axiom of Judaism. As he puts it, "we need to submit our understanding to their superior ken and wisdom... It is a fundamental axiom that Rashi was on a higher plane than we are, both scholastically and spiritually."

He appears to be saying that Rashi and the other Rishonim were actually more intelligent than Homo sapiens of today - that they could solve a Rubik's cube in two seconds, build an atom bomb (as Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel claims the Gra could have done), and so on. This is certainly not grounded in any reason or empirical evidence, and I do not know of any basis for making it a fundamental axiom of faith.

7. All in the tone?


At this point I am having deja vu over the controversial ban of my books. The opposition claimed that my views were heretical. Many moderate charedim, uncomfortable with the idea that the Gedolim could really be so opposed to Maimonidean rationalism, convinced themselves that the problem was in the "tone" of my books. But this claim was always left vague and unqualified. My response to someone who claims that the problem is all in the "tone", is that they should:

(a) give specific, real-life examples of unacceptable tone,
(b) present the acceptable alternative,
(c) explain the difference,
(d) and explain why it is critical.

The same applies here. As noted above, it seems that the Cross-Currents editor is trying to convince himself/his readers that Rabbi Gold is only objecting to the tone. As documented above, this is in any case clearly not true. But let's consider that claim.

The editor says that Rabbi Gold is "commenting upon the tendency of many to be dismissive of Rashi as hopelessly stuck in a primitive, literalist mode that is beneath enlightened moderns, chas v’shalom." But there can be no doubt that Rambam would indeed be dismissive of many of Rashi's comments as "hopelessly stuck in a primitive, literalist mode that is beneath enlightened moderns"!

Given the gap in time between us and Rashi, and our relative stature and position in Jewish history, it would indeed not be appropriate for us to speak in those terms about Rashi. But I don't know of anyone who does speak with such bluntness, so who was Rabbi Gold condemning? And there doesn't seem to be anything wrong with saying that Rashi's comments sometimes reflect the literalist approach of those medieval Ashkenazi Jews lacking exposure to philosophy and science, with which others may politely and respectfully disagree.

As in the controversy over my books, alleged objections to "tone" nearly always turn out to actually be objections to the underlying rationalist approach.

8. The real issue

After having said all the above, I must note that there one valid point that emerges from Rabbi Gold's article. I do not agree with the critical comments of Rabbi Gold's article that were posted by R. Netanel Livni, who wrote that "Intellectual honesty, critical analysis, and historical context are the prerequisites to understanding. And understanding is the prerequisite to talmud Torah of any kind... a conduit of kedushah in this world."

The problem is that while intellectual honesty, critical analysis, and historical context are the prerequisites to an accurate understanding of what Rashi meant and a proper evaluation of his words, they do indeed stand in contrast with religious feelings of reverence and awe. I have written about this in two previous posts: Traditionalist vs. Academic Torah Study and The Drawbacks of Academic Torah Study. So if Rabbi Gold were to merely be warning against the spiritual dangers of understanding and evaluating Rashi properly via intellectual honesty, critical analysis, and historical context, I would agree. However, since doing so is entirely consistent with reason and with the approach of many great Torah scholars through the ages, it cannot be condemned as beyond the pale or inherently wrong.

55 comments:

  1. In Item #3, you quote R. Gold as saying one thing and then you object a different thing.

    R. Gold is quoted as saying that Rashi always signals when he is writing something that he thinks is not peshuto shel mikra. Your objection seems to be that Rashi's conception of peshat need not be universally accepted. But that doesn't contradict R. Gold.

    Indeed, in your objection you quote Ibn Ezra, who says that in many cases Rashi thought something was peshuto shel mikra when it wasn't. But Ibn Ezra agrees that Rashi thought it really was peshuto shel mikra, which is exactly what R. Gold claimed.

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  2. I know, but if you look at the larger context, R. Gold seems to clearly be saying that it is unacceptable to dispute with Rashi as to whether it really is peshat.

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  3. Then I think you should quote the larger context. Show with "specific, real-life examples" that R. Gold actually says what you are criticizing him for saying.

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  4. "But I don't know of anyone who does speak with such bluntness, so who was Rabbi Gold condemning? "

    Based on some careful and ingenious decoding on my part I deduced that he was talking about DovBear posts (all kidding aside, I believed he mentioned the term "fantastical midrash" which DB uses frequently). It also doesn't matter if he really means DB per se. Surely his kinds of posts and the like is what he meant - discussions about Rashi and midrash that in his wildest dreams, in all his naivete, he never imagined were possible.

    That is why on the first Cross Currents post my comment was to the effect that the fact is that many frum Jews (to say nothing of ones who are not frum) will not and can not - ever - relate to Rashi or R. Boruch Ber the way his rabbeim seemed to, and the way he seems to. Some people are quakers, some people are not - and some people only quake before God. So what does he suggest for them? Nothing, that's what.

    In the second post I made a comment which has not appeared, despite posting it over 24 hours ago, and despite the fact that Rabbi Gold has since posted a comment, suggesting that he has read it (even if I didn't get a rejection email). My comment was to the effect that Rashi's view was that philologically speaking Hebrew words are biliteral, whereas other grammarian Rishonim taught that they are triliteral (this is arguably the mainstream frum view, and it certainly is the accepted academic linguistic view). Is Rabbi Gold suggesting that we cannot accept the triliteral theory because Rashi accepted the two letter one? Conversely, what entitles us to reject the other Rishonim? This makes a practical difference, as in our own scholarship we have to take a position. So how can he say that not taking sides will not stunt our growth in learning?

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  5. >The problem is that while intellectual honesty, critical analysis, and historical context are the prerequisites to an accurate understanding of what Rashi meant and a proper evaluation of his words, they do indeed stand in contrast with religious feelings of reverence and awe.

    I (obviously) don't agree. Awe and feelings of reverence must be based on true understanding. To base them on the shaky foundations of ahistorical thought does not lead to constructive religiuos goals. It may very well be a greater challenge to some people to feel awe towards a demystified version of the past, but this just means they need to update both their expectations and the categories of their religious worldview. Kedusha and emet must be linked - to decouple them is the equivalent of fooling oneself into a false emtional sense of kedusha, one that does not have a kium of any sort when confronted with the facts.

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  6. Netanel Livni:

    Awe and feelings of reverence must be based on true understanding. To base them on the shaky foundations of ahistorical thought does not lead to constructive religiuos goals.

    As long as the shakiness of the foundation is not known to the possessor of the awe and reverence, the awe and reverence may well lead to constructive religious goals. Why not?

    It may very well be a greater challenge to some people to feel awe towards a demystified version of the past, but this just means they need to update both their expectations and the categories of their religious worldview. Kedusha and emet must be linked - to decouple them is the equivalent of fooling oneself into a false emtional sense of kedusha, one that does not have a kium of any sort when confronted with the facts.

    Your objection seems to be an appeal to the consequences that ensue in the event that the "fooled" individual is disabused of his incorrect notions. What if such a change of outlook is very unlikely to occur? In many Orthodox Jewish circles today, there are a great many people who hold beliefs of the type you criticize, and there seems little chance that the vast majority of them will ever reject those beliefs. In such a situation, what exactly is the negative consequence of the belief for the believer?

    Bear in mind, too, that some people are led to heresy by what you (and I) would consider the demystified, objective truth. It's not as if one set of beliefs is beset with spiritual danger, while the other is free of peril.

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  7. As I see it, a rationalist position is inconsistent with what is taught in many yeshivot. There is hardly a basis for a debate on the matter since what is obvious to someone with a rationalist bent borders on heresy to those who accept the current Hareidi position. I would, instead, like to comment on something that DES mentioned. He argued that there are potential religious dangers involved in both positions, and that those who accept the "quaking" attitude towards Rashi and Rishonim can easily remain with such beliefs, apparently, because it is so prevalent in their circles.

    The problem is that we are considering a subset of those 'frum' believers, i.e., those that access the internet and read jblogs such as Cross-Currents and Rationalist Judaism. Those exposed to alternative ways of thinking about religious subjects and alternative attitudes towards religious figures, may come to accept a more rationalistic view of the issues. Such exposure can lead to doubt, not only over the 'infallibility' teachings of their rebbe'im, but the trustworthiness of all that they had been taught. It is important for them, therefore, to be exposed to the views of those of us who take a rationalist approach to the works of men, but who retain fundamental beliefs about the origin and nature of torah. In other words, one can serve as a model for the proposition that discarding some of what one has been taught should not lead to a wholesale discarding of religious beliefs.

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  8. In other words, one can serve as a model for the proposition that discarding some of what one has been taught should not lead to a wholesale discarding of religious beliefs.

    I agree wholeheartedly! One of the principal motivations behind my compilation at the address below was to help people realize that there are viable attitudes toward our sages other than the polar options of "wholly and blindly accept" or "wholly reject."

    http://torahandscience.blogspot.com/2006/04/sources-indicating-that-chazal-did-not.html

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  9. Rabbi Gold writes "“I don’t accept that Rashi allowed any outside influences to color his understanding of Torah HaKedoshah. To accept such is to invalidate the essence of Rashi and calls into question the sanity and probity of a millennium of great scholars that venerated Rashi, agonized over an extra or missing word in his commentary and wrote tomes and theses based on exactitude of his commentary.”

    Read that sentence slowly, and you see that there is an unbridgeable gap between the rationalists & anti-rationists. So what's the point of discussion?

    Does R. Gold really believe that understanding Rashi in his context is to question the sanity of a millenium of Rabbis? To me, THAT belief is insane. On the other hand, I'm convinced R. Gold truly beleives it. But he has no choice. He is trapped, and is a victim of his own dogma.

    But my main point is, I think these discussions are largely irrelevant, because someone indifferent to reason will never be persuaded by reason. So why bother?

    Ezra

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  10. As long as the shakiness of the foundation is not known to the possessor of the awe and reverence, the awe and reverence may well lead to constructive religious goals. Why not?

    DES March 20, 2012 8:09 PM

    HMM, so are you positting that religious reverence should be based on ignorance of true understanding?

    I seem to remember Freud making a similar statement.

    Really what is the point of religion is it is merely a deception?

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  11. 3. Rashi giving Midrash as Peshat

    Might I suggest that the metaproblem here is in Jewish pedagogy, particularly to people who become Rabbis. My experience has been that Chumash and Nach are education are largely restricted to primary level education, while secondary and higher education focus boys/mens learning on Gmarra. In primary school we really do teach our children fairy tales about the Avot, and gloss over their failings.

    I have challenged many a Bocher or Rav to look at Esav without out the blinkers of RASHI and identify explicitly any action that he did wrong. The vilification of Esav is entirely drasha, but very few people are willing or able to read the chumash in this way.

    If Chumash is only formally taught in primary school, and in primary school drash is taught as pshat (which much to my current chagrin it is), then why are we surprised that many of todays Rabbis are unable to see the difference, or even believe that looking for that distinction is a hersay?

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  12. Just wanted to commend you on a job well done. I really liked the way you went through each of your points of dispute and spelled out exactly what you felt was incorrect, and then preempted possible arguments that would shift the debate to the realm of "tone." All in all, it was a very readable post.
    On a separate note, I'd like to mention the personal connections I have to this Rashi debate, which others may be able to relate to. Having been taught growing up (in a Modern Orthodox school, no less!) essentially that Rashi had ruach hakodesh, and that we can take everything he says literally, it's now become much harder for me to have respect for him. I was taught to believe that he was something he was not, and now that I understand that he doesn't fit the image I was given, I struggle with maintaining the proper level of reverence for him. I think it would be much smarter for us to tell it to our children like it is. Rashi made an enormous contribution to the study of Tanach (I don't think his persush on Gemara is as controversial) by compiling Midrashim and Gemaros to make it more accessible to everyone. Part of Rashi's making Tanach more accessible involved a tendency to cast "good characters" in a perfect light and to make "bad characters" entirely evil. It would probably be helpful for someone to know that this attitude is not fundamental axiom of faith while they struggle with the possibility that Moshe made a mistake or that Vashti was not evil.
    Finally, to address the point that a similar debate isn't taking place over, for example, the Rambam: Aside from the obvious reasons, it makes sense that people would want to convince themselves that Rashi's say is final. As I mentioned, he tended to characterize characters in Tanach as purely good or evil. This overly simple worldview is understandably tempting--wouldn't it be great if everything were that simple? That's the motivation behind, for example, white-washed ArtScroll biographies. While my attitude towards people who want to believe such things is live and let live, they have no right to force those beliefs onto others.

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  13. Rabbi worship is idol worship. Is it not?

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  14. > "Rabbi worship is idol worship. Is it not?"

    You'll have to define your terms.

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  15. In your section about tone, were you seriously asking the question, because in this case, I could very easily go over the comments, that were accepted and those that you posted that were rejected and point out the tonal differences.

    The differences are very clear to me, and I can't tell if you truly don't recognize the tonal difference, or if you are just trying to engage in rhetoric.

    And specifically in your rejected comment, it seems like an issue of "off topic" rather than tonal.

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  16. "Aside from the obvious reasons, it makes sense that people would want to convince themselves that Rashi's say is final. As I mentioned, he tended to characterize characters in Tanach as purely good or evil. This overly simple worldview is understandably tempting--wouldn't it be great if everything were that simple? "

    Yes, wouldn't you like it to be that simple? You wish they prefer Rashi because he is Black and white, and they want to view the world in a simple way. However, I don't believe that caricature.

    The reason why Rashi is venerated above others is because, like the Mishna, and the Gemora, he wrote tersely. In the terse writings, you can find more meaning, read more into the text, and create a world beyond the simple line. You can read the same sentence, year after year, and learn a new thing from it each time.

    That is much harder to do with verbose writing.

    Also, Rashi was not just a scholar who sat in his room, and wrote some commentary that other people picked up on. Rashi and many of the other "greats" that we continue to read today, were leaders of their communities, and often affected the thinking and practice of many other communities during their life times. Dismissing Rashi, is not only dismissing his writings, but also questions the communities and mesoras that were passed on in those Yeshivot. There really is much more at stake for them than just merely an intellectual curiosity of what Rashi thought the Torah and Talmud were trying to say.

    Ofcourse, you'll never find Charedim talking about Rashi that way, it's much too academic of a language for them to utilize. Instead they write what R. Gold wrote.

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  17. "Rabbi worship is idol worship. Is it not?"

    Could be... But when was the last time you say a siddur which read: Baruch Atah Rashi, Elokanu melech haolam?

    I think you are confusing your slogans and rhetoric for reality.

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  18. In general we agree on the substance of these issues, the feedback I get sometimes from others is not that "the problem is all in the "tone"," but rather if you have enough (TBD) slips in the tone, it shows your "true personality" is not a torah one lsheim shomayim etc. (not withstanding that those on the other side of the debate may have more frequent or egregious tone challenges)

    Just FYI, not sure how much one can control the perception of others, but to the extent we can, it gives less ammunition (may not make a difference anyway, I know).

    KT
    Joel Rich

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  19. Yossi,

    Please see the Haftara of Toldot and explain why G-d hates Eisav.

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  20. "...a millennium of great scholars that venerated Rashi, agonized over an extra or missing word in his commentary and wrote tomes and theses based on exactitude of his commentary."

    This is true of Rashi's commentary on Gemmoro, but not on his commentary on Chumash.

    The former is indisputably concerned only with Peshat, the latter is at least a machlokes.

    I think in this debate, a greater distinction needs to be made between the two.

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  21. Statements that Rashi was not pshat (and knew it) are as early as Rashbam quoting Rashi himself.

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  22. @ Amateur
    "Could be... But when was the last time you say a siddur which read: Baruch Atah Rashi, Elokanu melech haolam?"
    At many Charedi simachos,they will play se'u she'arim rasheichem... veyavo Melech Hakavod for a Rosh Yeshiva." Is that very different?

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  23. Arie,

    Part of Rashi's making Tanach more accessible involved a tendency to cast "good characters" in a perfect light and to make "bad characters" entirely evil.

    I'm not sure this is fair.
    At the beginning of Vayeishev Rashi criticises Yaakov and Yosef.
    The warning that G-d gives to Aharon at the beginning of Acharei Mos could be seen as insulting according to Rashi.
    He implicitly criticies Moshe by saying he forgets Halachot when he gets angry eg at Aharon in Sedra Shemini.

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  24. "At many Charedi simachos,they will play se'u she'arim rasheichem... veyavo Melech Hakavod for a Rosh Yeshiva." Is that very different?"

    We sing that for the Torah going int o the ark no? Aren't Rosh Yeshivas supposed to be comparable to the Torah? Not sure.... I also seem to remember hearing that sung at a wedding once for the groom though.

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  25. "build an atom bomb (as Rav Elya Ber Wachtfogel claims the Gra could have done)"

    Is this published, or available on tape?

    (Related to this, R. Reich said that "...the Gaon says that he could bring down kol galgal hachamah on this table and show it to Aristo...", and R. Sander Goldberg, in article previously on your site wrote that, "my personal theory is that most certainly if Chazal wanted to invest the time into scientific research, after a generation or two, they could have invented an atomic bomb" )

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  26. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  27. I don’t accept that Rashi allowed any outside influences to color his understanding of Torah HaKedoshah. To accept such is to invalidate the essence of Rashi and calls into question the sanity and probity of a millennium of great scholars that venerated Rashi, agonized over an extra or missing word in his commentary and wrote tomes and theses based on exactitude of his commentary.

    Someone has to show this guy the many textual variants and likely interpolations we have in the text of Rashi on Chumash. It will surely blow his mind.

    Or he will just claim that the nusach in the first mikraot gedolot is the divinely inspired printing we must follow.

    One silly idea inevitably breeds more.

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  28. There is enough basis to argue against the ideas presented in the CC articles that we don't have to resort to rhetoric and sophistry.

    No, their way is not idolatry. In case you were klerring if Boro Park is an ir hanidachas, you can leave your swords at home.

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  29. Amateur:
    See יחוה דעת vol 3 siman 73 about singing that song for people.

    Among other things, he mentions the Zohar that פני האדון ה refers to Rashbi.

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  30. Snag said...
    "...a millennium of great scholars that venerated Rashi, agonized over an extra or missing word in his commentary and wrote tomes and theses based on exactitude of his commentary."
    This is true of Rashi's commentary on Gemmoro, but not on his commentary on Chumash.


    i believe the opposite is true. For instance, the difficult Rashi in Vayeshev,
    ויתנכלו אותו להמיתו, אתו עמו
    is claimed by Kabalists to contain a profound, profound secret, IIRC. You also might want to read the new set of Chumashim with 11 supercommentaries on Rashi. There is also a citation from Rabeinu Tam? that he could have composed Rashi's commentary on Gemarah, but not the one on Chumash.

    reject

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  31. -It goes without saying that every Jewish academic, including virtually all Orthodox Jewish academics, would reject as ridiculous the notion that Rashi was not affected by his surrounding culture.
    Well, obviously his town in France was just like Squaretown, and Rashi never even saw a non Jew!
    Seriously, I think that's where R'Gold gets this kind of idea. If our Gedolim are isolated and insulated from the outside world, Kal V'Chomer Rashi could never have been influenced

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  32. On the story about the Gra and Aristotle see Yeshurun vol 15 pg 526 that RSZA and Rav Shach did not take it literally, and were not fond of people repeating it.

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  33. As per Yossi's statement that our perception of Esav as a rasha is mostly due to what Rashi writes about him:
    A similar thing can be said about Bilaam--he looks on the surface to be very frum--he'll repeatedly says he'll only do what Hashem tells him to do! But, peshat has to also explain Bilaam's role in Bnei Yisrael's fornication with the women of Midian. Rashi seems to fill in the blanks well, no?

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  34. Should it be understood that people do actually recognize the rejection of the "tone" from the rejected comments?

    I'm really having a hard time understanding that section of this post.

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  35. I could very easily go over the comments, that were accepted and those that you posted that were rejected and point out the tonal differences.

    Please do.

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  36. Yehudah P,

    We knew Eisav was evil from Malachi and that Bilam was evil from the Haftara of Balak and the fact people aren't told off for killing him (Sedra Matos).

    Rashi is explaining how we learn these things from the text.

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  37. Alistair said... Yossi, Please see the Haftara of Toldot and explain why G-d hates Eisav.

    Says Reject: then continue to the [Ashkenaz] Haftara of Vayishlach.

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  38. After going back to the post, I see that only koillel nicks comment was ultimately rejected. However, I wrote what I wrote before I saw that those comments were infact just awaiting response from the moderator to be placed directly into the comment. A strange method of comment moderation to be sure.

    Tone problems for each of the rejected comments:
    Koillel nick:

    1. Not sure what language this post was written in. Not English, not Hebrew. “Rabbeim” is not a word.

    From the beginning of this comment, we have something which tells us, that the person is interested in criticizing for the sake of criticizing. There is no apology for the “pet peve”. In addition, we know that koillel nick IS aware of the language the post is written in, and his call for the whole post to be illegible due to one word, is a gross mischarachterization. We can dismiss Koillel nick as someone who is not seriously engaged in the conversation to further knowledge or understanding.

    If Koillel nick was serious his comment might have started as “Sorry to be so pendantic, but it’s a pet peve of mine, “Rabbeim” is neither English nor Hebrew. Please try to use proper language in a public posting.

    I imagine the rest of the comment wasn’t even read, or if it was read it was done with an eye for mischief rather than any real comment

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  39. .
    Netanel Livni:

    >It is a fundamental axiom that Rashi was on a higher plane than we are, both scholastically and spiritually.

    I have looked and looked all around the great ikarim literature that exists and have not found this axiom anywhere. Please enlighten us from where this axiom appears (other than, of course, in your own judgement of what is proper)

    This comment too is written in a harsh and judgmental manner, where the writer is looking to attack and not gain knowledge. If he truly wished to gain knowledge he would write something like: “I’ve often been curious where this axiom is first found. I have never been able to find it myself. Is there a source?”

    Instead the author is attacked, and the worst is assumed of him. Not really a good starting point for a mutual conversation.

    >We must submit to Rashi, we must to Ramban, Rosh, Mordchai, et al, just as they submitted to the Amoraim and Tannaim that preceded them.

    I must submit to God. I must submit to my own concience that God implanted in me. But to submit to Basar veDam?!? NEVER! THAT is avoda zarah.


    No rational person can see a statement about submitting to Rashi, the same way that Rosh submitted to the Amoraim or the Amoraim submitted to the Tannaim, as Avodah Zarah. It’s pure hyberbole. Added to the previous attacking tone of the comment, It’s likely the rest of the comment wasn’t even read and was rejected at this point.

    Myself: (R’ Slifkin)

    Amoraim do not argue with Tannoim, and Rishonim do not argue on Amoraim – in PISKEI HALACHAH. In non-halachic matters, and in explanations for the sources of piskei halachah, we do indeed find dispute. See Rav Shlomo Fisher in Derashos Beis Yishai for further elaboration. Rambam most certainly was not of the view that it is a “fundamental axiom” that earlier generations are scholastically on a higher level than later generations.

    Furthermore, the Rishonim were never canonized vis-a-vis us in the way that the Gemara was canonized vis-a-vis the Rishonim. That is why Rav Moshe Feinstein explicitly states (Yoreh Deah 1:101) that he sometimes argues with the Rishonim – in halachah!

    The article here is still somewhat ambiguous, but it seems to strongly say that it is unacceptable to say that Rashi interpreted Midrashim literally, or that on occasion his explanation was based on scientific information that is now obsolete. Since both these points were made by countless authorities from R. Moshe Abulafiah to Chassam Sofer to Rav Aryeh Carmell ztz”l, on what grounds does the writer state that this is unacceptable, that it contradicts the notion of mesorah, and that it results in “Torah minayin”?

    In this case, I don’t think there was any issue of tone. Rather it just seemed like R. Slifkin was trying to change the topic of the post. R. Gold is writing about giving reverence to Rashi, and R. Slifkin wants to talk about his own pet issues. There is also an accusatory tone, and patronizing tone here, where R. Slifkin sounds like he is trying to “school” R. Gold. I imagine though that the tone is too subtle to warrant a rejection of comments, unless the person rejecting the comments is somebody other than R. Gold, who might have felt the need to get into a long debate on the nuance of arguing, vs submission, and issues of piskei halacha, vs non-halachic material.

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  40. Yehuda P., while the sages amplify the evils of the wicked such as Eisav and Bilaam, the torah does allude to some of their misdeeds.

    Eisav, for example, married 2 Canaanite women who continued their idol worshipping practices within eyesight of their in-laws, Yitzchak and Rivkah. Eisav was aware that such practice was deeply offensive to his father, yet didn't divorce them. Instead, he married an additional woman - the daughter of his uncle, Yishmael.

    Bilaam clearly intended to curse the Israelites. Moreover, he advised the Midianites to use their women to entrap Israelite men (Num. 31:16). His role in the latter debacle is what prompted the Israelites, who were told to avenge the unprompted hatred towards them of the Midianites, to kill Bilaam (Num. 31:8)

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  41. @Ameteur
    The reason for argument #1 was that the whole post is written in some language that should be classified as Yinglish. It is more similar to Abie Rottenberg's song Yeshivishe Rayd than an acceptable op ed. Cross Currents should not accept posts written so horribly. Words that shouldn't be capitalized are capitalized; words that should be written in English are written in Hebrew or Aramaic. There is no translation of Talmudic terms, nor are they italicized.
    R Emanuel Feldman once expressed it nicely. - We don't wrap tefillin in a brown paper bag. Torah should be articulated clearly and properly.
    Gold ignored my comment. It seems to me that he is unwilling to respond to sources. My comment has sources to back up my arguments. His does not. He does not know what mesorah, tradition, in Torah means. He does not understand method of Halacha, nor the power of chiddush. I'd advise him to read Rambam's introduction to Mishna, introduction to Mishne Torah, introduction to Chapter Chelek, 2nd Shoresh. He should also read Maran Yosef Karo's introductions to Bais Yosef, and Shulchan Aruch, and Kessef Mishneh. He should read them carefully.

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  42. koillel nick,

    I agree with you. I was commenting only on tone.

    You could have said what you wanted to say, in a much nicer way, which would have been less of an attack and more of an objective comment about style, clarity, making Torah attractive.

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  43. Eisav, for example, married 2 Canaanite women who continued their idol worshipping practices within eyesight of their in-laws, Yitzchak and Rivkah. Eisav was aware that such practice was deeply offensive to his father, yet didn't divorce them. Instead, he married an additional woman - the daughter of his uncle, Yishmael.

    1) Yitzchak never complained. Only Rivka expressed offence.

    2) As soon as he heard it was offensive to his mother (who didn't particularly like him) he went a sought a wife from his first cousins

    3) it seems clear from the text that were it not for Rivka's intervention, Yitzchak had no intention of arranging a marriage for either son. Thus it seems that by inaction, Yitzchak facilitated Eisav's choices.

    4) We know how undesirable it is for a man to divorce his wife (in the Torah's time), thus it can be interprotesd as an act of charity that Eisav did not turn away his own family as his grandfather did.

    (Side note, one should not confuse "Eisav" with "Edom". The Toldot reference tells me HaShem hated Edom. Further, HaShem expressing hate fro "Eisav" is not an actual explanation for why he hates them.)

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  44. Koillel nick said [in the previous post]:

    R Yisrael from Shklov, in his introduction, cites the Gaon of Vilna that the phrase “chasuri michsera vehachi ke’tanni, [The Mishna] is missing [words] and this is what it should state,” means that the Amora is actually disagreeing with the Mishna.

    Where is this? It isn't in his intro to his comm on Shekalim.

    [see also my counter-quote on the previous post 3/21 8.56 pm.]

    [Interesting Shach 36:6 you cited. Thank you.]

    reject

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  45. To Alistair and Y. Aharon:
    Thank you for your insights. (I'm always on pins and needles when I post a comment, because I don't know how people will react to what I wrote.)
    My point was directed to Yossi, who claimed that our painting of Eisav as wicked is entirely from what Rashi says, not so much from peshat of the text. I intended to point out with the example of Bilaam that he seems obedient to Hashem's will, but the text also demands (from Num. 31:16) that he was somehow involved in the incident at Peor. Rashi fills in the blanks by telling us the connection--that Bilaam advised Balak to entice Bnei Yisrael to worship avodah zarah. which is demanded for the peshat to be consistent.
    Although I am reluctant to bring up the viewpoint of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on this website, since his views are sometimes at odds with the rationalist approach, the Rebbe typically would say that 1)since Rashi states repeatedly that his aim in his commentary is to bring pshuto shel mikra, and 2) Rashi also brings midrashic material, then 3)it must be that the midrash he brings is somehow demanded by peshat (at least in Rashi's view).

    Rashi filling in the blanks in the story of Bilaam and Balak with midrashic material is an example of a drash being used so that the peshat is better understood.

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  46. Another response to Yossi's statement that only Rivkah expressed offense at Eisav's intermarriage: Bereshis 26:34-35 says that Eisav's Canaanite wives were a source of bitterness of spirit to Isaac and Rivkah. Also, 28:8 says "and Esau saw that the daughters of Canaan pleased not Isaac his father"--so Isaac was clearly just as upset as Rivkah--while just adhering to the plain meaning of the text.

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  47. @Reject
    It is there in his intro.
    והיה יודע כל חסורי מחסרא שבתלמוד בשיטותיו דלא חסרה כלל בסדר שסידר רבינו הקדוש המתני', ולא אורחא שחיסר דבר, רק דרבי ס"ל כחד תנא דאליבי' סתמה ולא חסר כלל אליבי', וגמ' ס"ל כאידך תנא ואליבי' קאמרה הגמ' חסורי מחסרי, וה"ק והי' דורש ע"פ חמוקי יריכיך ר"ל ר"ת חסורי מחסרי וה"ק ירכיך מה ירך בסתר אף ד"ת בסתר שבנסתרים גדולת דרכי התורה שבע"פ.

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  48. I fail to understand how anyone who has studied Rashi in depth can make the argument that what he says is incontrovertible Peshat. Even if all you learn is the common Mikraot Gedolot, not Gur Aryeh, not Mizrachi, not Midrash Rabba itself, even then, it is clear that Rashi offers one of many possible interpretations of the Mikra. True, his commentary is brilliant on many levels, it has a profound influence on the Jewish World, and it is entirely fair to say that it was inspired with Ruach HaKodesh. But to say that Rashi is the one and only Peshat shows a profound misunderstanding of the word "Peshat", as well as a slap in the face to all of the Tannaim and Amoraim whose Midrashim Rashi chose to omit from his commentary.

    In general, it seems to me that people who protest that something is Peshat vs Derash, have not dedicated the time and effort to the study of Midrash Aggada that is necessary to truly understand what Derash is.

    And, like 2 of the 3 categories of people that the Rambam describes, they make Chazal (and Rashi by extension) seem foolish, either by taking them literally or by rejecting them wholesale.

    For instance: that Eisav is a huge disappointment is in fact the deepest of Peshat, based on Derash of many pesukim in the Tanach. If you don't know Tanach and just read what it says in Toldot, then, yeah, he looks just fine. But that's not Peshat. Peshat is knowing what "VaYivez" means. Peshat is knowing what "Tzayid" means.

    True respect and awe of our Chachamim comes from understanding what they said, in all its depth. They do not need to be uniquely "Peshat" (as if such a thing existed), in order for us to "tremble" before their Chachma.

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  49. My theory is that we all have sparks of Ruach Hakodesh eg when we come up with a completely new idea which answers our problems and is proven correct. What varies is the intensity and duration.
    Rashi says Yaakov lost his divine spirit whilst Yosef was sold, but saw sparks eg when he sees there is food in Egypt. It says the spirit of G-d pulsated in Shimshson (vatochel – Shofetim 13:25). Elisha required music at one point to prophecy (Melachim 2 3:15).
    At times Rashi had Ruach Hakodesh. At other times he didn't. The same applies to other commentators.
    Therefore we don't know if a given comment by a particular commentator was based on Ruach Hakodesh. The question is consequently irrelevant.
    We know that if 2 commentators say something irreconcilably different then at least one of them did not have Ruach Hakodesh when he wrote it.
    Perhaps we can say the statistical probability of Ruach Hakodesh rises over the period that no serious objections are raised. For example the comments of Rashi which remain undisputed to this day are more likely to be Ruach Hakodesh than his disputed comments or the comments of later commentators.
    Low intensity Ruach Hakodesh may allow a person to understand a little bit of a story or to reconcile apparently contradictory questions. Higher intensity may allow one to incorporate the Torah they are learning in their own personal lives. This could mean working out a Halacha or embarking on a course of action where the choices are Halachically neutral.

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  50. > We know that if 2 commentators say something irreconcilably different then at least one of them did not have Ruach Hakodesh when he wrote it.

    This would only be true if there were an objectively "correct" commentary. There is no such thing, the concept does not exist in Torah.

    Would you say that when R' Eliezer and R' Yehoshua present 2 different, conflicting views on Torah - like whether the world was created in Tishrei or in Nissan - that one of them had Ruach HaKodesh and the other didn't?

    Of course not. Both are true and both have their source in Torat Emet.

    I'll go even further - everything that Rashi says is Torah and written with Ruach HaKodesh. It doesn't mean you have to agree with it. But you do have to say Birkat HaTorah before learning it.

    (BTW, "Ruach Hashem" and "Ruach HaKodesh" are not the same thing)

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  51. Kira,

    I would have to say either one or the other is correct and possibly spoke with ruach Hakodesh unless there is some deeper meaning.

    When Ramban says Rashi is wrong do you say both have ruach Hakodesh?

    What's the difference between Ruach Hashem and ruach Hakodesh?

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  52. There is always deeper meaning. R' Eliezer and R' Yehoshua expose two different perspectives about the purpose of the world (Tishrei = universal, Nissan = Yisrael). Both are true, both have Ruach HaKodesh.

    Ruach Hashem in the Tanach is the drive to do things that appear impossible, for Am Yisrael. It might have a component of Nevuah or not. Shaul's did, Yiftach's did not. Ruach HaKodesh, as the Ramchal defines it in Messilat Yesharim, chapter 26, is the step before Nevuah.

    It is one of great Chachamim were granted Ruach Hashem in order to write a commentary of the breadth and depth, and even if they reached Ruach HaKodesh, that does not mean that what they produced is on the level of Nevuah. It isn't. It is Torah, but it is not "Devar Hashem asher lo yashuv reikam".

    I can prefer Ramban over Rashi, but it doesn't make Rashi "wrong". I can even make my own Peshat as I see it, and it doesn't have to be consistent with Rashi, only with the Mikra as a whole.

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  53. Kira,

    Thanks for the definition of Ruach Hashem.

    It's not a matter of you saying Rashi is wrong. Ramban says it himself. I don't see how both can be writing with Ruach Hakodesh.

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  54. There are several approaches:

    1) OK, so there wasn't Ruach HaKodesh. You can disagree with those who said there was, they have no proof.

    2) Lo Bashamaim Hi. Truth in Torah is not predicated on Ruach HaKodesh but on its logic. R' Eliezer had Ruach HaKodesh, even a Bat Kol, but it doesn't matter.

    3) From a certain perspective, Rashi is wrong and the Ramban is right. Then you read some Gur Aryeh or Mizrachi, and then all of a sudden Rashi is totally on the mark and they're either not talking about the same thing at all, or the Ramban misunderstood what Rashi was trying to say.

    It doesn't help to apply binary logic to Torah, there are too many better alternatives.

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  55. I haven't read all of the comments so I don't know if this has been mentioned. It seems that some are playing around with semantics. If the text says nothing about a subject, then one CANNOT say that the PSHAT (i.e. simple meaning of the text) is one way or another. In other words, if the text doesn't mention Rivka's age, then no amount of mental gymnastics, nor frumkeit can validly say that the PSHAT is that she was 3 years old. Even if she was actually 3 years old, in reality - that doesn't make it pshat. It makes it a peripheral fact. It is NOT part (let alone the simple meaning) of the verse.

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