Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A Question About Ralbag's Reception

Professor Menachem Kellner asked me to post the following question:

Rabbi Levi ben Gershom (1288-1344), known as Ralbag or Gersonides, is best known in the world of Jewish tradition as the author of commentaries on the earlier prophets and of Job. These commentaries are found today in the Mikra'ot Gedolot editions of the Bible along with other traditional commentaries. Once in the Mikra'kot Gedolot, Ralbag's status as a rishon was assured, despite his unusual positions on a whole range of theological issues. His hitherto very rare commentaries on the Torah are being made available by Mossad ha-Rav Kook and in an exemplary edition under the editorship of Rabbi Baruch Braner of Yeshivat Birkat Moshe in Ma'aleh Adumim.

Ralbag's apparently positive reception (as evidenced by his inclusion in the Mikra'ot Gedolot) notwithstanding, there is no denying that he became a controversial figure by the later middle ages. Indeed, the first publisher of his philosophic magnum opus, Milhamot ha-Shem (Wars of the Lord) states that many called the book Wars Against the Lord. The explicit doctrines Ralbag defends in his Milhamot Ha-Shem, like those relating to the creation of the cosmos out of a kind of pre-existing matter, and especially those relating to God's knowledge and providence, are daring. Indeed, Isaac Husik called his doctrine of God's knowledge a "theological monstrosity."

I am interested in finding responses to Ralbag by rabbinic figures from the last two centuries and would be grateful for any assistance. I am familiar with brief haskamot on his writings by Reb Moshe Feinstein, z"l, and by the Netziv, but almost nothing else.

Thanks in advance, Menachem Kellner (


  1. You might want to start with Wikipedia. The entry for him has a bit of information about the GRA's relation to him. The following is a expert: היחס לרלב"ג

    שלא כהוגים נועזים אחרים, כמו רבי יוסף אבן כספי ויצחק אלבלג, לא הוצא רלב"ג מחוץ לתחומה של היהדות המסורתית. אומנם ספרו "מלחמות ה'" זכה לכינוי "מלחמות על ה'", בידי מתנגדיו, אבל בסופו של דבר הוא זכה להערכה רבה. פרשנותו על התנ"ך מצוטטת עד עצם היום הזה בספרות הלכה ומחשבה (במיוחד אהוד פירושו למשלי כ"ט י"ח, המתפרש כהתקפה על אפשרות קיומו של מוסר טבעי שאינו מוסר התורה). בשם ר' ברכיאל, מקובל שחי במאה הארבע-עשרה, מובא ש"דברי הרמב"ם קרובים אל האמת יותר מאל השקר, דברי הרלב"ג קרובים אל השקר יותר מאל האמת, ואילו ספר הכוזרי כל דבריו אמת". עם זאת מסופר שכאשר שמע פעם הגאון מווילנה דברים בגנותו של הרלב"ג הגיב באומרו: "הלוואי ואשב לצידו בגן עדן".

    Also I would assume that you would find much material in Seymour Feldman's Gersonides: Judaism within the Limits of Reason.

    I also found this which might help: For Gersonides' biography, writings, and activities see chiefly: Charles Touati, La pensée philosophique et théologique de Gersonide (Paris: Minuit, 1973), pp. 33-82; Seymour Feldman, "Introduction," in S. Feldman, Levi ben Gershom (Gersonides): The Wars of The Lord, trans. with notes by Seymour Feldman (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1984-1999), 1: 3-67.

  2. I seem to remember Rav Yitzchak Isaac Chaver mentioning something about the "Milchamot Neged Hashem" in his sefer defending the Zohar, "Magen U'Tzina". However, it may have been in an introduction to that sefer, or possibly in the Radal's sefer "Kadmus HaZohar" which is printed together with it.

  3. I do not know an answer to Rabbi Kellner's question, but I do have an interesting trivia item.
    In addition to being in the Mikraot Gedolot, there is a crater on the moon named after the Ralbag(Rabbi Levi's Crater - ).
    Not to be confused with "Judah Halevi crater" on Mercury.
    The Ralbag is also said by some to have invented an astronomy tool that was in use by navigators for some time - "Jacob's Staff".

  4. My brother gave a shiur on the Ralbag in his History series at the Web Yeshiva.

    You can download a copy from his blog:

    You could also access the shiur from the Web Yeshiva ( and search for Rabbi Sedley: Great Personalities in Jewish History

  5. R' David Horwitz, Rosh Yeshiva at RIETS/YU, wrote his doctoral dissertation on Gersonides. That's all I know.

  6. Suggest you read Yitzcah Grossman's two articles in Hakirah magazine, one on Ralbag specifically (in which he quotes the same Isaac Husik you refer to above) and the other on divince omniscience generally. Dont recall if or to what extent he discusses responses to Ralbag.

  7. Many thanks to Rabbi Slifkin for bringing up the Ralbag for discussion,and to those who suggested wikipedia and other sources. Very helpful.

  8. From the Seforim blog (9/4/2007), R' Meir Mazuz on the study of Ralbag's Milchemeth Hashem:

    ודברי רלב"ג במלחמות ה' ידועים. וזו היתה צרת הפילוסופיא היונית שלכדה ברשתה רבים וכן שלמים (כמו שלכד יצה"ר דע"ז בזמנו את מנשה בן חזקיה וחבירו ואפ"ה למדים מהם הלכה למעשה ע' סנהדרין דף קב ע"ב). בס' מלחמות ה' אסור ללמוד רק מי שמילא כריסו ש"ס ופוסקים וצריך לעיין בו משהו לפי שעה. וכבר כינוהו הרב אברבנאל והיעב”ץ "מלחמותיו עם ה'" (ח"ו). אבל בפירושו על התנ"ך מותר ללמוד ויש בהם דברים נפלאים וחכמה עמוקה, אם כי לפעמים נטה מדרך היושר. וה' הטוב יכפר בעדו

  9. Rav Mazuz in Ish Matzliah warns against studying the commentary of the Ralbag on Iyov because of its theological problems. Rav Rabinovitch, on the other hand, evinces an interest in assimilating the Ralbag's more controversial views into the mainstream camp by interpreting the traditional principles of faith more broadly and flexibly. This is all I know.

  10. In my essay, "Rav Kook and the Jewish Philosophical Tradition," I touch brirfly on Rav Kook's attutude to the Ralbag.

    Lawrence Kaplan

  11. It is interesting that I always thought Ralbag's perush on Nach was frummer than Radak's. Can someone supply an example of what Ralbag said that was controversial? Thanks.

  12. R. J. D. Bleich of YU wrote:


  13. isn't the Maharal's 2nd hakdama to Gvuros Hashem on Ralbag?

  14. Good to see my alleged ancestor's making a comeback. (Family tradition, no evidence to my knowledge that Ralbag even had kids, but hey :P ).

    I don't know French, but Seymour Feldman cites Touati as listing out authorities' views of Ralbag in Gersonide, pp. 541-559.

  15. Maharal's 2nd hakdama to gevuros hashem is against the Ralbag's view of miracles.

    The Ralbag is an amazing figure and is probably the most rationalistic of all rishonim. His principles make a lot of sense to the rationalistic thinker. I bought seymore feldman's translation on milchamos hashem. Very good philosophical work and a must for anyone who is serious about the field of rationalistic judaism.

  16. I hate it when a rabbi forbids the study of a well-known sefer unless you're filled with shas and you only need to investigate it for a moment, or it's forbidden to learn his commentary on Job, or other bans to the same effect. It's insulting to everyone's intelligence. They're actually afraid someone will go off the derech learning his Torah! Not gonna happen.

  17. @Ephrayim:
    The quote from Wikipedia about the GRA sounds like a bubbe maiseh. Is it written in any printed sefer?


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