Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sounding Heretical, Sounding Frum

I was reading Menachem Kellner's Science in the Bet Midrash: Studies in Maimonides, and at one point, on p. 295, he mentions "Maimonides' notorious claim to the effect that the Torah as we have it is a concession to the primitive character of the Israelites leaving Egypt." On this sentence, he has the following footnote:
To traditional Jewish ears this sounds shocking. Indeed, Maimonides himself wrote about it: "I know that on thinking about this at first your soul will necessarily have a feeling of repugnance toward this notion and will feel aggrieved because of it" (Guide, III.32, p. 527). But the fact of the matter is that in structural terms, Maimonides is making a claim very similar to that made by Kabbalists; only when they make it, it sounds very religious. When Maimonides makes it, it sounds shocking. There is an important strand in Kabbalah, expressed openly by Nahmanides, amongst others, that the Torah as we have it exists in its corporeal form only because of the sin of Adam and Eve, and will cease to exist in the form in which we know it in the messianic era. I have a hard time understanding how that differs in structure from Maimonides' position (I realize that the music is very different.)
So, why does one sound very religious and one sound shocking? I have my own thoughts on the matter, but before I prejudice anyone's thinking, I would be interested to see suggestions in the comments.


  1. My comment is based on the text presented, and not on the original sources. We all know translation and paraphrasing do bad things to original meaning.

    What the Rambam wrote sounds heretical because it implies that Bnei Yisroel were little better than ignorant savages, and not a nation which recently ascended from the lowest levels of spirituality to practically the pinnacle achievable by man. It implies that the word of God had to be dumbed down. It implies that there are not esoteric secrets embedded in the very form of the letters (e.g. the tagin).

    Yeah, it sounds silly to me too, but this how many Frum (read: Charedim) think.

  2. I think that Rav Kook speaks to this point in stating that there is a combination of the Torah having to meet people on their level, yet at the same time through that it expresses the highest truths (the primitive level of people itself being part of the drama of Divinity unveiling itself--in my own words). The point as stated in Rambam's name by Kellner has implications of a primitive people for whom a primitive religion is devised, with with no deeper intrinsic manner. Thus, the argument of the Christians that, as mankind grew more civilized, a new teaching overrides the Torah, can sound persuasive. The Kabbalistic reading, as I understand it, is that the imperfection is itself part of the perfection, that only the avenue for growth and self-perfection contains within itself perfection. Thus, in whatever form the Torah was given, it is holy and relevant at all times, and not subject to being overridden or exchanged. (In his Nevuchei Hador, Rav Kook has a very interesting of how the Torah will appear after the coming of Moshiach. There are those who dismiss this work because, they say, it is relatively early and perhaps therefore represents his experimenting with ideas that he ultimately did not endorse.)

  3. The kabbalist strand attributes the issue to sin. All people sin. Primitive and advanced people sin all the time and just the same. So "blaming" it on sin is safe.

    The Maimonides strand blames it on the primitiveness of the Israelites. Contrasting the Israelites with ourselves it is possible to say that WE are less primitive. So the nuance is that WE are superior to those Israelites and WE are not primitive. Unlike the kabbalistic notion that equates all people as sinners. This fits in well with Maimonides rejection of "nistaknu hadoros" as well.

    Also, it's easier to pin it on Adam (a known sinner) than it is to pin it on the Dor Deah whom have been elevated to supernatural status by many streams of Jewish thought.

  4. How does it ceasing to exist in its current form in the Messianic era line up with this?
    כל ספרי הנביאים וכל הכתובים עתידין ליבטל לימות המשיח חוץ ממגילת אסתר הרי היא קיימת כחמישה חומשי תורה
    וכהלכות של תורה שבעל פה שאינן
    בטילין לעולם ואף על פי שכל זכרון הצרות ייבטל שנאמר כי נשכחו הצרות הראשונות וכי נסתרו מעיניי (ישעיהו סה,טז)ימי הפורים לא ייבטלו שנאמר וימי הפורים האלה לא יעברו מתוך היהודים וזכרם לא יסוף מזרעם (אסתר ט,כח.

    Mishne Torah hilchos Megila 2:20

  5. You're raising a contradiction between Rambam and the kabbalists?

  6. How they're similar: Both hold that the Torah is "b'dieved". HOWEVER... One is a tikkun, the other is capitulation.

    The Kabbalistic view sees the the fall of man as being preordained. "Nachash" is the gematria of "Mashiach". You need the fall in order to set the stage for rectification. And even though it might "conceptually" have been better for the fall never to have occurred, the truth is we come out of the process as higher human beings for falling and picking ourselves up, via the Torah.

    In the Rambam's view, the Torah isn't making any kind of higher tikkun - it's simply capitulating to primitive tendencies, so that we steer our cultic life in the direction of the One God.

    One is inspiring and idealistic. The other is, well... a moot point, since presumably we no longer need the Torah to sublimate our avoda zara drives or keep us from emulating the Egyptians, or any Ancient Near Eastern culture.

    What's more, why would we possibly hold onto practices which are themselves rooted in avoda zara? If the mitzvot keep us tethered to that world, then we should just cut the cord! And why on earth would we possibly want to reintroduce korbanot in Bayit Shlishi and revert to cultic practices? (Of course, the Rambam himself in Hilchot Melachim says we'll go back to sacrifices, so there's a brain-teaser for you!)

  7. As others have pointed out the kabbalists are making a theosophic point, Maimonides a practical one. From the Maimonidean perspective one cannot rule out subsequent and ongoing concessions to primitive man which would abrogate the eternality of the Torah. Are we not today primitive by the standards of those who may live a thousand years hence?

  8. Kabbalah by nature doesnt sound heretical because its something most yidden do not understand regardless and readily admit so. So this is one more thing that is not understood. On the other hand the rambam statement is explained with concepts which most people can understand and therefore to their ears is sounds heretical

  9. Probably because, although everyone believes their self to be frummer than frum (especially those who follow kabbalists), in reality they instinctively believe Adam and Eve to not be "real people" in the sense of literal historical entities that were human in the same way that we (and those who stood on Mt. Sinai) were, and thus it is not insult to say anything at all about that First Man and Woman. The whole world descends from them, and so their transgressions are nothing in particular about US, the Jews.

    Likewise, Adam and Eve is a pre-Matan Torah, pre-Avos, pre-Jewish History story, and so it has no bearing on our self-image as Jews in particular rather than humans. Whereas the deficiencies in those who stood at Sinai has direct bearing on us. As does any "deficiency" received in the Torah due to their own deficiencies - because we still have and operate with that same Torah.

    The kabalist's presentation of a "Corporeal" version of the text as less pristine than its original intended form pre-chet, really has no bearing on the accuracy, believability or detailed accounts within that corporeal text. It's all still the same just presented in a different format. No reason to question any of the contents. What the Rambam says, on the other hand, leads one to question the details contained within our text because it's been "compromised" by the deficiencies in the rabim who received it.

    I don't understand R Kellner's equivalence on this issue. Not one bit.

  10. You have to take this as an ignorant outsiders point of view, but...

    As Kellner presents it, Maimonides suggests that there is, in this world accomodations to the human condition(improving humans / accomodating Torah . Whereas, the kabbalists suggest that there is a difference between this world (degenerate humans / degenerate Torah) and the world to come (perfect humans / perfect Torah).

    They both suggest that the Torah allows for us meagre humans, but the Kabbalists put off the chance of human improvement until G-d does something about it by bringing the messiah.

    Admitting that humans are fundamentally broken is frum. Suggesting that humans can approach godliness is not frum.

    The distinction is not in accepting that there are concessions to be made to human frailty, but rather - how much potential one sees in human kind to fix the problem.

    Rather ironically, Rationalists allow humans to strive for apotheosis, but the kabbalists like to keep us human beings down here on earth.

  11. "So, why does one sound very religious and one sound shocking?"

    Because one makes sense and one doesnt, and religious matters do not have to make sense. (Christians refer to this as "the mystery.") If it made perfect sense, it would be mathematic, not religious. By contrast, matters which today we call "kaballastic" [even though they were never received from anyone] you can say literally anything you want, and adherents will nod enthusiastically. The less comprehensible it is, the more kabbalistic is it said to be. We are told to say "we dont understand it", rather than to say the Emperor with no clothes.

    Thus a statement about the Torah - a book - being in corporeal form now, but destined to transform itself into incorporeal form later, sounds religious. Because it makes absolutely no sense. Rambam's statement, right or wrong, makes perfect sense and is entirely rational - and hence it sounds shocking. Someone who does not understand this is either a baal teshuvah or only surface-knowledgeable about Judaism.

  12. Can someone provide me with a source where the Ramban says what Prof. Kellner quotes,"There is an important strand in Kabbalah, expressed openly by Nahmanides, amongst others, that the Torah as we have it exists in its corporeal form only because of the sin of Adam and Eve, and will cease to exist in the form in which we know it in the messianic era."

    Maybe there is some ambiguity as to what is meant by the messianic era--when the Temple will be rebuilt, (and we'll presumably be obligated to fulfill all the mitzvos), or after תחיית המתים (when mitzvos will be superfluous).

  13. Student V - I am with you!
    I think this is primarily a view of perspective. Adam and Eve are far back in ancient history, so much so that they are not 'real' and possibly even abstract/mythical to many.
    Yetziat Mitzrayim? That was yesterday (Pesach and the Seder seem to really work!)! This is Am Yisrael, me and you - calling us primitive?
    This then leads onto what Atheodox Jew says: indeed the spiritual (mythical?) decline after the first sin is such a wonderful abstract, philosophical concept. But pandering to primitive man? That's what the Torah does?

  14. The reason why the anti-rationalists - would follow something that leans towards the rational - is because they are incapable of rational thought. They blindly follow the anti-rationalists notions when the particular person is an authority within the anti-rationalist realm. No thought - just blind faith.

  15. Note about me (Rabbi Slifkin - feel free to remove this comment if you want - of course) I was not raised orthodox; tried becoming orthodox as a adult; did it for 3 years; could not maintain it. I found the intellectual climate in the frum world to be stifling. No offense.

    Back to comment on blog post.

    The important thing about Rambam's statement is not that the character of the Israelites leaving Egypt was primitive. That would not be shocking; after all, they were in slavery for centuries. Moreover, Rambam never met them, and as far as I know all we can deduce from their character derives from the Torah and Joshua (Please correct me if I am wrong.) Does the Torah say that the Israelites had a primitive character? I don't think it did.

    So then it must be that Rambam in his intellectual honesty found parts of the written Torah to be primitive in character in and of themselves. He deduced the primitive character of the Israelites from the primitive nature of the written Torah.

    So according to Rambam, the primitive form of the Torah must be a concession to beginning generations that left Egypt. It would be nice if the Torah itself made some reference or hint as to its own primitive nature. Does anyone know of this?

    As to the Kabbalistic statement, it is vague and malleable as is most mysticism. What exactly does the writer mean by the existence of the Torah in its present corporeal form? Well, I usually interpret corporeal as physical. Does that mean the world will cease to be corporeal after the time of the Moshiach? That seems to me to be in direct contradiction to Rambam's statements that the physical world would not change in the Messanic era.

    Another possible interpretation is that the physical Torah or its written form will not change, but that we will understand it in a completely different way than we do now. So the perception of the apparent primitive character of the Torah was merely a stage in the spiritual development of the Jewish People.

    As I see it, this raises problems. If our interpretation and understanding of the Torah changes in the Messianic era, then the entire (or nearly) all of the Oral Torah will be negated. And I have been told that it is more the Oral Torah than the written Torah that forms the basis of our beliefs as Jews. What, for example, will happen to Halacha? Will it be the same Halacha but with complete understanding? Maybe so.

  16. This is actually an issue that I discuss in passing in the conclusion to the dissertation I am in middle of writing. As I see it the “great sin” of Maimonides was that he broke down the clear lines between Judaism and the outside world. The one thing that any medieval or early modern Jew could understand about Maimonides’ philosophy was that he followed Greek philosophy and held Aristotle in great esteem almost as if he were one of the Hebrew prophets. What any lay person could understand about say for example the Zohar was that R. Simon b. Yohai wrote it and thus it represented a pure Judaism, untainted by outside elements. The irony of Kabbalah’s victory was that many of the elements that most appealed to Jews were precisely what made it dangerous, while what seemed dangerous about Maimonides was actually what made it safe. If halakha was simply a pedagogic aid than all traditions could be equally legitimate. If philosophy is a product of human intelligence unaided by miracles then no philosopher could claim halakhic authority based on philosophy. Kabbalistic revelations, though, are claimed to come from God and could therefore challenge halakha. Philosophers do not claim charismatic authority based on miracles, but kabbalists do. Thus no follower of Maimonides ran around Jewish communities with new minhaggim and psakim based on philosophical calculations, insisting that people abandon what had been their previous practice. The Mishnah Torah was never meant to be an unchallengeable final word in halakha. This is precisely what the followers of Luria did.

  17. I think the Kabbalist/Ramban idea is more palatable because the notion the Man experienced a great spiritual decline after the eating from the eitz hada'as a basic tenet of Jewish philosophy (and Christian for that matter!). Jewish literature lists inumerable thing that were different about "Adam haRishon kodem hachet". That "the Torah as we have it exists in its corporeal form only because of the sin of Adam and Eve, and will cease to exist in the form in which we know it in the messianic era" is just an extension of that idea.

    That the Torah should be merely a "concession to the primitive character of the Israelites leaving Egypt" reduces it for US, right now. (We haven't just left Egypt, to my knowledge.)

    By the way, Rambam only said that about a few mitzvos. For Kellner to say "the Torah as we have it is a concession to the primitive character of the Israelites leaving Egypt" is misleading, if not technically untrue.

    It is these implications that lead many to believe that the Moreh was (a) in many places merely trying to answer questions for those bothered by apparent contradictions between Aristotelian thought and the Torah or (b) flat wrong.

    It is curious that Rambam would bother devoting a large part of the Mishnah Torah to Hilchos Korbanos, etc., if he really they thought they were essentially irrelevant.

    Who knows?

  18. [I don't know if my comment went through earlier, but did a bunch of editing since that attempt]

    Kellner's footnote is not the problem - it is his initial statement in the name of the Rambam that "the Torah as we have it is a concession to the primitive character of the Israelites leaving Egypt." The Rambam said no such thing - at least not explicitly. Kellner can argue that's what he meant, but it ain't what he said (at least not in the chapter quoted). The Rambam's point in this entire chapter is that the Creator leads His people - by way of the Torah - through a natural process of development, accommodating their human limitations and realities. The reality was that idol worship was endemic and could not be simply legislated away. Without an outlet for this basic human drive, there would be no way to overcome it.
    According to the Rambam, this includes two types of growth - growing directly towards inherent (necessary) value ("kavana rishona") and growing out of misguided (contingent) values ("kavana shniya"). It is certainly a chidush of the Rambam that the Torah includes contingent mitzvos, but this is a far cry from Kellner's subversive attempts to cast the Torah as so many remedial lessons far beneath today's refined and advanced population.
    The Rambam's understanding of the people's drive to worship is not equivalent to being "primitive," as it is a virtual certainty that the human condition was necessarily going to have to work its way through its idol worshiping tendencies just like all its other human tendencies - which is the whole point of the entire Torah: to guide the People of the Covenant in a process of ongoing development. To conclude, (a) the Rambam never called the Generation One Jews "primitive," and yes, that would be heretical and the kabbalists would never suffer such nonsense (nor should anyone else).
    [Should you argue that this is not all that different from calling them primitive, consider two Talmudic teachings, which address the original point independently, to a degree: (1) The sages were devastated to discover that even upon the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, there was still a drive for idol worship among the people and prayed that G-d miraculously remove it. He did as they wished, and they immediately observed a "lion cub" bounding out of the Holy of Holies (essentially crippling the drive to worship and connect with G-d, at the same time - see commentaries) - i.e., if not for this, there would be as many internet sites for worship as for that other human drive (which was deliberately left in place on that occasion) - I apologize but I do not recall the cite offhand. (2) One of the Amoraim was making fun of King Menashe's penchant for idol worship, and another chastised him, saying, "had you been alive then, you would have hiked up your robe to run ahead of him." i.e., don't think you're so advanced.]

    Secondly, the comparison to the kabbalists view is wildly off-base. The kabbalists - as well as the Rambam, who explained this very point - taught that Adam and Eve's eating from the Tree of Knowledge of Good an Evil brought about the introduction into existence of good and evil itself. Try imagining a Torah in a world without good and evil and then see what Kellner's argument looks like. It's rather obvious - is it not? - that the Torah would be expressed in an entirely different manner if there is or is not such a thing as good and evil!

  19. According to Kabbalah the purpose of Torah and Mitzvot is to get a person to stop thinking of themselves and think of others (either other people or HaShem). See the story of Hillel and the convert.
    Adam and Eve sinned when they ate from Etz HaDaAt as it says "the tree was good for eating and a delight for the eyes." They cared about themselves and not what HaShem wanted. "But of the tree of knowledge... you may not eat."
    In the future (Mashiach?, Techyat Hamaytim?, etc) all our actions will be for HaShem. At that time there will no longer be a need for Torah and Mitzvot since they will have done their job (in geting us to think of others, or HaShem). Purim will still be "observed" since purim represents the idea that even actions for yourself (Haman) will be for HaShem (Mordechai). You will not know the difference between "Arrur Haman", actions for yourself, and "Baruch Mordechai", actions for HaShem, because all the actions will have a kavanah only to please HaShem. On Purim there is a mitzvah to get drunk, because "nichnas yayin (yayno shel torah) yatzha sod", when all the actions have a kavanah only to please Hashem, then the sodot-secrets of torah are revealed.

  20. Also, I don't understand the statement that the Torah will cease to exist in it's present form in the Messianic era:
    During the galut/golus, we aren't able to keep all the mitzvos.
    When Mashiach will come, we won't have to keep all the mitzvos.
    So when will we be able to keep all the mitzvos?

  21. As I recall, Maimonides includes a similar discussion on the institution of slavery which, like sacrifices, was once widely practiced. Rather than outlawing it outright, which would have been difficult, it was covered with numerous moral and legal conditions, and eventually its practice faded into Jewish history. (It remains still legal under Islamic law however, and is still practiced in places.)

    But if sacrifices were a widespread practice at the time of the Exodus, that wasn't the case by the time the Second Temple was destroyed. There are certainly some who expect to see the sacrificial cult revived in a restored Temple, but are we so certain G-d wants it any more than he would sanctify slavery?

    Most don't know there was an attempt to rebuild the Temple in the 4th century under Julian the Apostate - more to spite his former Christian coreligionists than on behalf of the Jews. The project failed, according to his chronicler, because "terrifying balls of flame kept bursting forth near the foundation of the temple, and made the place inaccessible to the workmen, some of whom were burned to death; and since in this way the element persistently repelled them, the enterprise halted." (Goodman's "Rome and Jerusalem" p. 477)

  22. The Jewish beleif is that Torah is the word of G-d and represents the absolute truth. Kabbalah doesn't contradict this beleif since according to it the same text when rearanged differently will reveal a different meaning. The commandments are eternal in their mystical sense of affecting the sfirot.

    According to that particular passage in Rambam the commandments do represent Divine truth but not the absolute truth. In other place he writes that the true Divine service takes place in the mind of a person. This is not very 'frum'. I don't know how to understand him.

  23. Yehuda P,

    See Ramban Devarim 30:6 during a discussion on bechira, where he mentions that bechira only applies during the "zman hatorah" which implies that there is a zman after which the rules change. Also in Ramban Devarim 32:26 where he alludes to the secret of Adam Harishon.

    I agree that to call these explicit teachings is a stretch - but to learn Ramban (at least in these types of issues) you often have to string together cryptic comments from multiple sources.


  24. Rambam does not say that they were primitive. He only says that they were used to certain forms of worship.

  25. It's not the Rambam that calls the Israelites primitive, it's Kellner and I don't think that that is accurate. What the Rambam is saying is that a few mitzvos were commanded by God in order to assist the Israelites in weaning themselves off of the pervasive idol worship that existed in the ancient world. It sounds odd to us because that would mean that these mitzvos have no real meaning for us, but then neither do the prohibitions against worshipping Molech, Ov, or Yidoni.
    The mystical statements of Kabala are often difficult to understand and often have no real meaning (to me at least). Something you don't understand usually can't be too offensive.

  26. Not sure if you have read Gershom Scholem, "Messianic Idea in Judaism," but some say he dates the Zohar to the end of the 13th century and that no evidence before de Leon's time claim that Shimon ben Yokhai penned the Zohar. Anyway, if you assume credibility based on time and authorship without discrete mathematical logic then you are back to tradition which you can argue all day.

    Put another way, if one is contradictory to another as in the case of the rock hyrax and rabbit then when will we keep giving lip service to errant texts.

  27. I don't think the answer is to be found particular to this question.
    Rather the answer to the question is sociological. We see this all the time. The average Orthodox Jew sees Kaballa as always frum including everything associated with it. (Jewish superstition is frum not assur.)But rationalism is at best too Litvish and at worst too academic.

    But it does beg the question, of course. Why?

    1. Easier. (For example, after some tragedy, it's easier to change your mezuza than to take on some really tough obligation.)

    2. Easier to believe in direct cause-effect. (See prior example.)

    3. Here, a short story is in order:
    R. Lichtenstein and R. Amital were listening to a meal time dvar torah. It was not very Gush like. So R. Lichtenstein says, this is not the way to acquire Torah to which R. Amital responded yes, but this is the way to sell it.



  28. I'm glad that others have already pointed out Prof. Kellner's exaggerated language about the Rambam's position on the purpose of some mitzvot. The Rambam is not nearly as 'heretical' as Kellner would have us believe. After all, the Rambam's masterpiece, Mishne Torah, deals with the minutia of rules regarding all the mitzvot of the torah - including korbonot.

    However, exaggeration is not confined to a modern professor. The sages of the talmud are also prone to such license as in "all mitzvot will be nullifed in the future, except for Purim". That is a heretical thought (at least according to the Rambam's 13 dogmas) if taken literally. Instead, what they presumably mean is that even if other mitzvot were to become neglected or no longer appropriate - such as the rules governing slavery, the mitzvot of Purim will continue.

    As to Kabbala, there is a long-standing, even if minority, rejection of kabbalistic notions such as the supposed description of the 'godhead'. In that view, kabbala can be considered heresy - not that anyone is going to call into question the wine made by someone who believes in kabbalistic ideas.

  29. My understanding of the Rambam is very different than that of the Kabbalists. To the Kabbalists the "concessions" are a form of the Torah. To the Rambam, that is the only form of the Torah. That makes it more shocking. It makes you say "wow, that's the whole reason?". In the post you wrote "Torah as we have it is a concession... ". Did the Rambam say "as we have it"?


  30. A brief comment, ‘al regel achat as I am rushing out l’avodat ha-bore – as I have fully articulated elsewhere, it all depends how one understands/interprets and in fact applies the very apt and judicious insight, “shm’a ha-emet m’mi she-amarah” -- namely, does one listen to the truth (a well-reasoned opinion) regardless who happened to say, or one is allowed to accept the opinions of only those, invariably “approved” powers that be.
    Tellingly, I’bn Ezra’s censored-out comments in contrast to no less bold and brilliant exegetical elucidations offered by the devout and saintly Rashbam, serve as an instructive case in point -- v’ein kan ha-maqom le’ha’arikh…

  31. A lot of comments say that Rambam is being misquoted. It would be most helpful if someone could post Rambam's exact comment. A translation would also be helpful to those of use who cannot understand the Hebrew.

  32. As a general rule, a book or set of books, is to perform a Tikkun. After that there follows another book, with another Tikkun, and another one, and so forth, until the time of Moshiach. Torah, Nevi'im, Ketuvim had their time of glory. Mishnah and Talmud had their time of glory. The Zohar and the Arizal had their time of glory. The Ramchal and the GR"A had their time of glory. They all exist, but the time of Tikkun is over and gone.

    The Rambam may be very shocking, but not to who know to do the Tikkun of today.

  33. They are not saying the same thing at all. The Rambam is talking to the primitive level of the nation at an historical moment. The Kabbalists are talking to a cosmic reality that was generated from the cosmic sin of primordeal man (the sin of primordeal man for the kabbalists is not simply the normative trasgression by a first man. It is a nearly determenistic cosmic process that is closesly integrated with the process of emanation through which the Ein Sof created the world.)

    To the mind of the frum Jew, the Rambam's formulation sounds irreverant - especially since it is not mixed with all the midgets on the shoulders of giants stuff that usually goes along with such statements. The Kabbalists are simply describing a cosmic reatlity and that the Torah as we have it is the result of a particular semi-contingent process of Divine emanation which, to the extent that it is even comprehensable to most frum people, at least uses the words they are used to hearing about the essoteric Torah.

  34. "As to Kabbala, there is a long-standing, even if minority, rejection of kabbalistic notions such as the supposed description of the 'godhead'. In that view, kabbala can be considered heresy - not that anyone is going to call into question the wine made by someone who believes in kabbalistic ideas."

    There are plenty of people who will not wear tefillin wrriten/made by people who believe in sefirot and other kabbbalistic ideas. There are still more who would prefer not to, lechatchilah. Various Yemeni groups is EY provide precisely that asssurance. If more MO people were makpid it would be a sign of healthy self confidence in the knowledge that we're not really just Haredi-lite.

  35. The main difference in this post that I see is that the "Kabbalsists" seem to believe that the messianic era will never come about.

  36. Gabriel,

    I agree! One can make a strong case that some Kabbalistic notions are heretical. But even if they're not, why should anyone care about contradicting them? They have absolutley no basis in Jewish tradition. (even if they have now become a tradition of their own, after several hundred years)

    As far as Carol's point that "absolute truth" is a Jewish belief, I would refer her to the story in the Talmud regarding tanoor shel akhnai. R. Yehoshua gets a clear bat kol from heaven - the Talmud's way of saying "absolute truth" - & he rejects it, with the famous words:
    "lo bashmayim he"


  37. Tanur shel achnai is a legal ruling on a detail of the law. Nobody questions that the laws of tahara are devine. I don't think it's the same.

  38. Carol,

    Usually when people say absolute truth, they mean: the ideal, pure objective reality, not tarnished by a subjective perspective. I think when a bat kol pronounces a halacha, it's the equivalent of saying: this is the pure, ideal halacha.

    And yet, R. Yehoshua is not impressed. He basically tells them to get lost.

    And btw, the story clearly shows that while the laws might have a Divine ORIGIN, in the real world, we - imperfect human beings - can decide the halacha, EVEN IF it contradicts absolute truth.
    That's the whole punch line of "nitshuni banai."

  39. Samuel Dinkels said: "It would be most helpful if someone could post Rambam's exact comment. A translation would also be helpful to those of use who cannot understand the Hebrew."

    Well, here is a link to the Friedlander translation.
    Go down to Chapter 32, in the paragraph starting, "Many precepts in our Law are the result of a similar course adopted by the same Supreme Being."
    It seems Prof. Kellner is using a different translation, however. When you read the whole chapter, the Rambam doesn't sound so "heretical".

  40. Y. Aharon: You made a serious mistake .The Sages of the Talmud do NOT say that all the holidays will be abolished except for Purim (and some say Yom Kippur). That view is found in the late unathoritative Midrash Mishlei. The Rambam does not quote it, and would no doubt consider it to be heresy. There is a Yerushalmi, cited by the Rambam, stating that all the Ketuvim will be abolished except for the Torah, the Torah she-be'al peh, and the Book of Esther.

    I am certain Prof. Kellner was using the Pines tranalation of the Guide, which is not available on line. The excellent Hebrew translation of Prof. Michael Schwartz IS available on-line.

    The Rambam does NOT say that there is a natural inclination to idolatry. What he says is natural is not going from one extreme to another. I have MUCH more to say, but will save it for later.

    Lawrence Kaplan

  41. Thank you Yehudah P. I found it from your link.

  42. Prof. Kaplan, I may be foolhardy in debating my recollected citation of a gemara with a talmid chacham and Jewish studies scholar, since I am neither. Nor do I possess a search tool for Shas. Your version of the citation that you attribrute to Midrash Mishlei is probably more accurate than my recollection. However, I don't recall ever looking at that medrash, but do recall seeing the cited expression in a gemara - probably T.B Megilla or, possibly, Ta'anit. I also recall a different gemara which states, "Words of torah are (may be)exaggerated; words of the prophets.., and the words of the sages..". The example given for an exaggerated torah expression is, "cities fortified up to the heaven". That is the 'frum' basis on which I presumed that seemingly 'heretical' material are mere exaggerations that are used as a rhetorical flourish.

  43. Rabbi Slifkin, Are you still planning to write about this?

  44. As usual, a foolish point by Kellner. Were the Ramban to say what Kellner claims (I don't think he says that the Torah will change in the messianic era. Rather, like the Rambam, he says that in the messianic era there will be no evil inclination), his point about Adam's sin would be one about human nature. We live in the world created by Adam's sin. In contrast, the Rambam's point is controversial because (on the surface at least) it appears to be relating the Torah to specific historical circumstances which are not inherent to human nature. Since the mitzvot are eternal, as the Rambam will be first to tell you, this approach to ta'amei hamitzvot creates problems.

  45. Re: Lawrence Kaplan's comment: "The Sages of the Talmud do NOT say that all the holidays will be abolished except for Purim (and some say Yom Kippur). That view is found in the late unathoritative Midrash Mishlei. The Rambam does not quote it, and would no doubt consider it to be heresy."

    Actually, the Rambam does quote this but he interprets it in a way that does not contradict his principles (as do many Rishonim--none that I know of say that it is unauthoratative or heretical). See the same halakhah, Megillah 2:18.


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