Friday, May 22, 2015

Guest Post: Rabbeinu Avraham vs. the Rambam?

Copyright 2015 by David Ohsie. All rights reserved

Rabbeinu Avraham vs. the Rambam?


In Rabbi Meiselman's attempt to discredit the Discourse, he finds a number of instances where he believes that the Discourse differs from the position of the Rambam. Since Rabbeinu Avraham strongly defended the his father’s position in many cases, Rabbi Meiselman takes this as evidence that Rabbeinu Avraham did not author those parts of the Discourse. While there is little reason to think that a lack of correspondence with the Rambam would create any doubt as to the authorship of the Discourse, in my humble opinion, there is in fact no divergence to speak of.  Let’s examine the evidence.

Rabbi Meiselman's first example is based a statement in the Discourse about the argument between the Jewish and Gentile sage regarding the path of the Sun at night (emphasis and translation mine):
Consider the wisdom of this secret, that Rabbi [Yehudah HaNasi] did not rule [lo pasak] in accordance with the opinion of the Gentile sages rather he decided according to them using a judgement based on the proof that we discussed. That is why [the Talmud] says “their words appear correct” which is a word that indicates decision [as opposed to “rule”].
Rabbi Meiselman judges this to be a deviation from the text quoted by the Rambam in the Guide 2:8 which we referenced in a earlier post (emphasis mine):
The theory of the music of the spheres is connected with the theory of the motion of the stars in a fixed sphere, and our Sages have, in this astronomical question, abandoned their own theory in favour of the theory of others. Thus, it is distinctly stated, "The wise men of other nations have defeated the wise men of Israel."
Here the Rambam seems to have a different text of the Talmud from Rabbeinu Avraham.   Rabbeinu Avraham emphasizes that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi specifically used the language "their words appear correct" to emphasize the uncertainty in their arguments.  In contrast, the language quoted by the Rambam is very strong.  Thus, in Rabbi Meiselmans opinion, this conflict indicates that Rabbeinu Avraham was not the author of this section of the Discourse.

In my humble opinion, this divergence proves nothing.   To begin with, the Rambam's quotation provides no evidence that Rabbeinu Avraham's text does not appear.  It is entirely possible that the Rambam's Talmud contained both texts and he chose to illustrate his point with the stronger statement of contradiction to the opinion of Chazal in order to better support his own disagreement with Chazal's theory of the music of the spheres.

In fact, Rabbeinu Avraham does quote the Rambam's text a few lines later when he says:
If it had been clear to him [Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi] definitively with a clear proof that the sphere rotates while the stars are fixed within, he would have ruled according to them [i.e. the Gentile sages], as other of our Sages said elsewhere: "The wise men of other nations have defeated the wise men of Israel."
Thus, Rabbeinu Avraham did have the same text as the Rambam.  It is unclear where Rabbeinu Avraham locates this statement in the Talmud, and it is likewise unclear where the Rambam locates his statement but there is no evidence of conflict between the two.  In fact, the parallel citation of the same phrasing is evidence of correspondence, since our text of the Talmud does not contain this phrase at all.

Morever, Rabbeinu Avraham refers to this same Gemara in his book Milchamos Hashem, where he defends the Rambam against some of his critics:



As you can seen from the graphic above, Rabbeinu Avraham also refers to the same text with the same phrase that he quotes in the Discourse: “their words appear correct”!  Unless Milchamos Hashem is also a forgery, the purported inconsistency proves nothing.

In fact, this example demonstrates why the entire enterprise of picking out “unexpected” phrases from the Discourse is doomed to failure.   The notion that we can look at a text and discern the probability that author could have written that text is fanciful.   Every text is going to have some unusual or unexpected content or we wouldn't bother to read it to begin with.

In this case, Rabbi Meiselman honestly judged the text so out of character for Rabbeinu Avraham, that it must be fraudulent, and despite his great erudition, his judgement proved incorrect.  The reason is straightforward: the entire methodology is faulty to begin with.

Arguing with Authority


Rabbi Meiselman's second example of an inconsistency involves Chulin 124a.   Briefly, a ruling of R. Yochanan is related to R. Nachman.   R. Nachman rejects the ruling and says that "even if R. Yochanan himself had told it me by his own mouth I should not have accepted it!"  Later, the discussion is reported to R. Ammi who objects to R. Nachman's language saying "And even if R. Nahman is the son-in-law of the Exilarch shall he make light of the teaching of R. Yochanan?"

However, when the details of the story are properly explained to R. Ammi, he realizes that the ruling given to R. Nachman had been garbled.   With respect to this mistaken version, R. Ammi exclaims: "even if Yehoshua bin Nun had told it me by his own mouth I should not have accepted it!" [1]

Rabbeinu Avraham uses this story to support the idea that one should only accept an idea based on its veracity and not based on authority.  R. Ammi would not accept a ruling, even from a prophet, unless it could be explained using the the methods of argument that were given over for deriving halachos.  Similarly, if we see a scientific assertion in the Talmud that does not hold up to scrutiny, we must reject it.

Rabbi Meiselman asks a number of questions here that are, in my humble opinion, quite puzzling. He writes as follows (TCS pg 112):
The Gemara indicates further than an Amora could not even disagree with a Tanna. This, too, is affirmed by the Rambam in all his works.  How, then could an Amora possibly have claimed the right to disagree with Yehoshua bin Nun?  Where do we ever find such an outright dismissal of the authority of a scholar from a previous period of history?
What is more, the author of this piece seems to imply that sevorah -- logical reasoning -- trumps even a mesorah, yet the Rambam writes in his Introduction to Peirush HaMishnayos that a Tanna or Amora cound not disagree even with a contemporary if the latter was backed by a mesorah.  It is hard to imagine, therefore, that any mainstream halachic authority could have penned these words. 
The line of questioning is difficult to understand.  To begin with, it is R. Ammi, not the Discourse, that tells us that he would disagree with Yehoshua Bin Nun.   Rabbi Meiselman's expression of wonder seems better directed at the Gemara than at the Discourse.

Moreover, Rav Moshe Sofer (Chasam Sofer) explictly writes what Rabbi Meiselman claims that no mainstream halachic authority could write.   He asks the following question: why did R. Ammi use Yehoshua and not Moshe Rabbeinu as his example?  His answer is that R. Ammi could disagree with Yehoshua whether or not Yehoshua argued from reason or from tradition (mesorah).  In contrast, we are permitted to disagree with Moshe Rabbeinu only when he argues from reason; doubting Moshe Rabbeinu's tradition would be tantamount to doubting Moshe Rabbeinu's revelation from Sinai and thus rejecting the system of halacha postulated at Sinai.  Thus, both of Rabbi Meiselman's "red lines" were crossed by one of our greatest halachic authorities!

We've shown that the Discourse, as interpreted by Rabbi Meiselman, is not "out of bounds" for a genuine halachic authority.  However, we still need to deal with Rabbi Meiselman's secondary argument:  that the Disource is inconsistent with the position of the Rambam.  While, in my humble opinion, disagreement with the Rambam would not discredit the Discourse,  there is no discernable disagreement to begin with.

In reality, the Rambam does not affirm in all his works that a Amora cannot disagree with a Tanna because the later or lesser figure cannot argue with greater or earlier figures.   In fact, the Rambam rules explicitly that any court can overrule a previous court's ruling based on reason, even if the later court is lesser in wisdom than the prior court.  One is obligated to listen to the court that functions in his or her day, even when it overrules an admittedly greater authority.  This is entirely consistent with the approach of the Discourse. [2]

Rabbi Meiselman also claims the following inconsistency:

  1. The Discourse implies that R. Ammi could disagree with Yehoshua on a matter of reason.
  2. However, the Rambam (Introduction to the Mishna) uses R. Ammi's statement as one of two pieces of evidence that prophecy plays no role in deciding halacha.  

Rabbi Meiselman argues that these two interpretations are contradictory and thus the Discourse is in disagreement with Rambam.

[UPDATE: Professor Lawrence Kaplan points out that I give too much credit in the dicussion below to Rabbi Meiselman's interpretation of the Rambam.  In fact the Rambam states rather directly the same thing that Rabbeinu Avraham states: R. Ammi teaches us that the a Navi's opinion has not additional weight in a halachic argument as a consequence of his greatness, so there is not contradiction to begin with.  So some of the argument below, while still correct, is unnecessary.  More in a later post.] [2a]

In my humble opinion, there is no contradiction at all.  The Rambam's interpretation simply implies that R. Ammi would have disagreed with Yehoshua whether or not he argued based on prophecy or based on his authority and greatness.  To see that this must be the case, suppose that the Rambam meant that R. Ammi would not have accepted Yehoshua's prophecy, but would have accepted his authority, as Rabbi Meiselman suggests.

In that case, R. Ammi's statement becomes nonsensical.  R. Ammi's point is that the halacha in question is so obviously mistaken that he would not accept even Yehoshua's authority in support.   But if he was merely saying that he would not accept the authority of any prophecy, then that would apply even if he had complete 50/50 doubt as to the status of the halacha.  In fact, he would not accept a prophecy even in support of a halacha that he agreed with.  According the the Rambam, no weight at all is given to prophecy in deciding halacha, even in cases of doubt.  The fact that he would reject prophecy would have no polemic value, since we never accept prophecy in deciding halacha.

Rather, the Rambam's reasoning must be as follows: R Ammi was able to use Yehoshua as an example of an unaccepted authority, even though is he is also a prophet, only because we don't accept prophecy in the halachic process.  Were we to accept prophecy to decide halacha, then R. Ammi would likely have used the example of another great figure who was not a prophet, to avoid any ambiguity and make his polemic more convincing.  However, the meaning of R. Ammi's polemic is that he was so sure of the halacha that he would not accept the authority of someone greater to overturn his judgement.  This interpretation is further supported by the fact that R. Nachman's original parallel exclamation, which R. Ammi is strengthening, related to R. Yochanan who was not a prophet.

Finally, Rabbi Meiselman writes that "the author of this piece seems to imply that sevorah -- logical reasoning -- trumps even a mesorah".   We have shown that the Chasam Sofer believes that compelling reasoning can be used to infer a mistake in a tradition, so such an idea would not be by any means controversial.  Nevertheless, such an idea would seem to diverge from the Rambam's position in his introduction to his Commentary on Mishnah, where he indicates that arguments in the Talmud are not based on arguments about whose tradition is more correct.

However, there is nothing in the Discourse to imply disagreement with the Rambam on this point.  Rabbeinu Avraham later quotes the very principle that "If this is a halachah, we shall accept it; but if it is only an inference, an objection can be pointed out. (אם הלכה נקבל ואם לדין יש תשובה)".  Furthermore, the Discourse quite clearly contrasts science and Torah and indicates that although we do bow to the authority of Chazal in Torah matters, we are not required to defend them in matters of science. [3]  In the case of R Ammi, there is no claim of a tradition, nor is the original purported author of the statement available for questioning.  Thus, there is nothing in the Discourse to contradict the Rambam's principle.

Still, one might ask: If Rabbeinu Avraham agrees that one cannot refute a tradition with reason, then how can we be sure that that we can rely on scientific evidence against a statement from the Talmud?   We could assume, of course, that like Rav Hirsch writes, Rabbeinu Avraham simply didn't think that the Rabbis were particularly experts in science, and that they were never speaking from tradition in these areas.  But let's instead make the assumption, arguendo, that some science of of the Talmud stemmed from tradition.  Why isn't Rabbeinu Avraham worried about such a case?  And if we are worried about such a case, then R. Ammi's example cannot help us because he is speaking of a case where there was no claim of tradition.

To answer this, we first need to answer the following question: Why is it that reasoning cannot trump an authentic tradition from Sinai? The answer is quite simple: authentic traditions are the postulates of the Torah's legal system.  It makes no sense to argue, say, that it is illogical to prohibit cooking a kid in its mother's milk, since the Torah's most basic halachos need not conform to any logic. [4]  The Chasam Sofer referenced above makes this clear: if the systems allows argument with Moshe Rabbeinu's mesorah, then you can reject the laws of the Red Heifer as illogical.  The rules of derivation and logic that the Torah gave to us allows to extend and adapt to additional cases not mentioned, but can't be used to override the underlying postulates themselves.  Thus the system relies on a notion of a tradition that is an inviolable starting point. [5]

In science, there is no such limitation.  Any time there is a conflict between science and the apparent words of the Talmud, the question can be resolved by examining the evidence on which the science is based.  If the scientific evidence is dispositive, then we can confidently say that the contradictory words of the Talmud, if taken literally, could not have been an authentic tradition from Sinai.  This is the Rambam's reasoning when he writes that "for speculative matters every one treats according to the results of his own study, and every one accepts that which appears to him established by proof," and "A man should never cast his reason behind him, for the eyes are set in front, not in back". Whereas in areas of halacha, if reasoning contradicts an authenticated teaching, then the system by its nature tells us to follow the authenticated teaching.  As a result, even under assumptions most favorable to Rabbi Meiselman's thesis, there is no contradiction between the Rambam's consideration for tradition in halacha with the Discourse's (and the Rambam's) treatment of science as always subject to verification.

So far, we haven't see any cases where the opinions of Rabbeinu Avraham contradict the words of the of his father.  But Rabbi Meislman proffers other contradictions between the Discourse and the Rambam.  We'll deal with those, with God's help, in the next post.

Comments are both welcome and encouraged. I'll make every effort to address any questions or arguments posted in the comments.

Notes


[1] GEMARA. ‘Ulla said in the name of R. Johanan. This rule applies only to the case where a wild beast tore it away, but where it was cut away by the knife [in flaying] it certainly is deemed negligible. R. Nahman enquired of ‘Ulla, ‘Did R. Johanan also say so even if it was as large as a tirta? — He replied. ‘Yes’. ‘And even as large as a sieve?’ — He replied. ‘Yes’. ‘By God!’ said the other; ‘even if R. Johanan himself had told it me by his own mouth I should not have accepted it!’ When R. Oshaia went up [to Palestine] he met R. Ammi and reported to him the discussion, ‘So said ‘Ulla and so answered R. Nahman’. Said [R. Ammi] to him, ‘And even if R. Nahman is the son-in-law of the Exilarch shall he make light of the teaching of R. Johanan?’ On another occasion he [R. Oshaia] found him [R. Ammi] sitting and expounding it with reference to the second clause [of our Mishnah] thus: ‘IF THERE WERE TWO PIECES OF FLESH EACH A HALF-OLIVE'S BULK UPON IT. THEY CONVEY UNCLEANNESS BY CARRYING BUT NOT BY CONTACT: SO R. ISHMAEL. R. AKIBA SAYS, NEITHER BY CONTACT NOR BY CARRYING. Thereupon R. Johanan had said: This rule applies only to the case where a wild beast tore them away, but where they were cut away by the knife [in flaying] they are deemed negligible’. Then said [R. Oshaia]. ‘Does the Master refer it to the second clause?’ — He replied. ‘Yes; did ‘Ulla tell it you with reference to the first clause?’ Said the other, ‘He did’. ‘By God!’ said R. Ammi, ‘even if Joshua the son of Nun had told it me by his own mouth I should not have accepted it!’

[2] How can this reconciled with the fact Amoraim don't generally argue with Tannaim?  Rabbi Meiselman mentions the opinions of the Kesef Mishnah and the Rav Elchanan Wasserman.  The Kesef Mishnah offers the explanation that they simply accepted upon themselves not to do so.  Rav Elchanan Wasserman (Divrei Sofrim 2:5) objects to the Kesef Mishna (TCS pg 114 n. 326 IMHO mistakenly identifies this as a concurrence): if so, the Amora could simply disagree with that acceptance.  He argues that the universal acceptance of the Mishna and later the Gemara has the same status as decision by a Bais Din Gadol.  So an Amora could argue with a Mishna, but he would have to get similar universal acceptance or convene a Bais Din Gadol, since a later Beis Din Gadol could disagree with an earlier, greater one and could even disagree with the Mishnah or Gemara.  However, with either explanation, there is no principle that a lesser figure cannot disagree with a greater figure. The Rambam's rule that a lesser and later Bais Din can overrule a earlier and greater one stands.

We can go one step further.   Suppose, arguendo, that lesser figures could not disagree with greater figures and that furthermore, we assume that greater figures preceded lesser figures.  If so, the resulting rule would be that one could not argue with someone more than, say, 150 years earlier.  In that case, late Tannaim could not argue with early Tannaim, but early Amoraim could argue with later Tannaim.  Similarly, early Geonim could argue with the later Amoraim, but later Amoraim could not argue with early Amoraim.   But this is inconsistent with the practice.  So the issue is not precedence or greatness, but the fact that the "redaction" of either the Mishnah or Gemara somehow set a binding precedent; the nature of that authority is disputed, but it does not rest on a principle of complete deference to authority or even deference to a recognized superior.

[2a]


[3] According to this preamble, then, we are not duty bound to defend the opinions of the sages of the Talmud, concerning medicine, physics and astrology, as right in every respect simply because we know the sages to be great men with a full knowledge of all things regarding the Torah, in its various details. Although it is true that in so far as knowledge of our Torah is concerned, we must believe the sages arrived at the highest stage of knowledge, as it is said (Deu. 17, 11.) In accordance with the instructions which they may instruct thee, etc., still it is not necessarily so concerning any other
branch of knowledge.

[4] That is not to say that these laws don't have reasons behind them.  Both Rambam and Ramban empahsize even "Chukim" have reasons.

[5] This doesn't imply that there can never be a mistake in the transmission of a tradition.  Chasam Sofer makes explicit that there can be such a mistake after Moshe Rabbeinu.  Even the Rambam does not have to maintain that the Torah's transmission is infallible, just that we assume it to be so with respect to halacha in some cases.  This can be compared to the following quotation from the Mishneh Torah with respect to the command to follow the words of the Prophets:

The result is that any prophet who arises after Moshe Rabbeinu is not to be believed merely because of the miraculous sign (אות) that he produces. Thus, we don’t say that once he produces a sign, we listen to anything that he says. Rather, it is because Moshe commanded us in the Torah and proclaimed that if one can produce a sign that we must listen to this person. Just as he commanded us to decide matters in accordance with the testimony of two witnesses, even though we don’t know if they actually testified truthfully or not, so too we are commanded to listen to the prophet, even though we don’t know if his sign is a true one or if it was produced by way of sorcery. (Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah, 8:2)

53 comments:

  1. I don't quite understand your first argument about the girsa. First of all, if R' Avraham had both girsas in front of him, his argument that היא מלה מורה על הכרעה would be somewhat of a dishonest argument. (As R' Meiselman in fact writes on p. 109: "It would be very surprising if Rabbeinu Avraham knew of both variants of the Gemara yet chose to ignore the one cited by his father and base an argument specifically on the alternative.") Also, when he says נצחו a couple of lines later, I don't think it supports the Rambam's girsa; if anything, he is affirming that here Rebbe did not say נצחו. He is saying that if Rebbe was sure that the Chachmei Umos Haolam were correct than he would have said נצחו instead of 'נראי.

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    1. I don't quite understand your first argument about the girsa.

      I think that my explanation must be poor. Let me try to improve.

      First of all, if R' Avraham had both girsas in front of him, his argument that היא מלה מורה על הכרעה would be somewhat of a dishonest argument.

      From the text of the Discourse, it is appears that he had both phrases used in different places, not two different "versions". Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi use the language of "Nirin" with the regard to the "warm water at night" argument because that argument was not conclusive. This is contrasted with the language of "נצחו" that was used by others somewhere else (not exactly clear where). So no dishonesty.

      Also, when he says נצחו a couple of lines later, I don't think it supports the Rambam's girsa; if anything, he is affirming that here Rebbe did not say נצחו.

      But the Rambam never says that "Rebbe said נצחו". He just says that with regard to the topic of whether the stars are fixed to the sphere, they said openly that the Gentile sages triumphed. That doesn't mean that there was not also in his Gemara a phrase "Nirin" by Rebbe. He, like his son, could have had both phrases, but he used the stronger one to better support his argument here.

      Here is Rav Kafih's version:

      ואל יהא מוזר בעיניך שהשקפת אריסטו חולקת על השקפת חכמים ז"ל בזה, כי השקפה זו, כלומר, אם יש להן קולות, נספחת לדעה 'גלגל קבוע ומזלות חוזרים' . וכבר ידעת שהכריעו השקפת חכמי אומות העולם על השקפתם בעניינים הללו של התכונה, והוא אומרם בפירוש "ונצחו חכמי אומות העולם" .

      He is saying that if Rebbe was sure that the Chachmei Umos Haolam were correct than he would have said נצחו instead of 'נראי.

      Correct, but he doesn't say this hypthetically. He says that they did in fact use the phrase נצחו "somewhere else", but we don't know where. We also don't know where the Rambam had it. There is a conundrum because we don't know where this phrase ever appeared, but no contradiction.



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    2. Okay. We may have both misunderstood each other. I think it is a given that R' Avraham did not have a version of Pesachim 94b that used the term "נצחו". There are two lines of evidence for this. 1) If he had that as his girsa then his argument makes no sense, or if he had two different versions his argument is dishonest. 2) He explicitly states that the term "נצחו", although used elsewhere, was not used in Pesachim 94b. It seemed to me from the post that you disagreed with this, though from your comment it seems you do agree.

      The Rambam says that there is some discussion about "these things" in which Chazal (or a member of Chazal) said ונצחו חכמי אומות העולם. This does not necessarily have to be the Gemara in Pesachim. If all you are claiming is that the Rambam might have had our girsa in Pesachim and נצחו somewhere else then I retract my previous comment. However, it would not be perfect, because you have to assume that the Rambam was discussing the Gemara in Pesachim and instead of giving Chazal's response from Pesachim he gave the response from a different Gemara (which, incidentally, we have no record of and we do have records of נצחו in Pesachim), and he also includes the Gemara in Pesachim in the category of "נצחו" which R' Avraham is adamantly against.

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    3. 1) If he had that as his girsa then his argument makes no sense, or if he had two different versions his argument is dishonest.

      It wouldn't be dishonest as he is praising Rabbi's statement. He could disagree with the other assessment or he could maintain that the other assessment is based on other evidence than that which Rabbi quotes.

      He explicitly states that the term "נצחו", although used elsewhere, was not used in Pesachim 94b.

      I would say it is unclear. He could have meant the Rabbi said it, but then others said otherwise on the same page, but not the exact same location. It is very hard to tell without us having the text. But I can't say that your deduction has no validity; it just remains uncertain.

      The Rambam says that there is some discussion about "these things" in which Chazal (or a member of Chazal) said ונצחו חכמי אומות העולם. This does not necessarily have to be the Gemara in Pesachim. If all you are claiming is that the Rambam might have had our girsa in Pesachim and נצחו somewhere else then I retract my previous comment.

      I say that is one possibility. The point is that we don't know exactly where the statement was located, but there is no indication of a divergence. They both have "ונצחו" somewhere and Rambam never says that "Rabbi said נצחו, not נראי". Again, it is not uncommon to have a Stam summation after the discussion which could have had the stronger conclusion.

      However, it would not be perfect, because you have to assume that the Rambam was discussing the Gemara in Pesachim and instead of giving Chazal's response from Pesachim he gave the response from a different Gemara (which, incidentally, we have no record of and we do have records of נצחו in Pesachim), and he also includes the Gemara in Pesachim in the category of "נצחו" which R' Avraham is adamantly against.

      He is not "against it". He is merely praising Rabbi for speaking appropriately based on the relatively weak argument that he uses.

      IMO, you are being too certain in your reasoning when we have no idea what texts that they had before them.

      we do have records of נצחו in Pesachim

      Do we have any actual texts like that? Or do we just have other Rishonim commenting on this text? I found a website that had variant Talmud texts and none that they showed had ונצחו. What is the best source for variant Talmud texts?

      And thank you again for your insightful comments and sources. Please keep it up...

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    4. R' Avraham discusses the significance of the word 'נראי and specifically contrasts it with the word נצחו. If he had both girsas in front of him, he would have no right to make his point because the variant girsa directly undermines his point. I don't see any way to say that R' Avraham had נצחו on the page in Pesachim, as he specifically says that had the arguments been definitively proven, Rebbe would have said נצחו.

      This doesn't mean that there is necessarily a divergence with the Rambam. The Rambam might have had נצחו elsewhere, and R' Avraham was also referring to that place when he said that there is a place where נצחו was said. My point was that a bunch of factors have to come together for such an explanation to be tenable, though, obviously that doesn't disprove the possibility.

      The records of נצחו in Pesachim are not from Talmudic texts. R' Meiselman writes that "[t]his variant is shared by a number of Rishonim" (p. 109) but the only source he quotes is the Shita Mekubetzes who quotes the Rosh quoting Rabbeinu Tam. And even that source doesn't specifically say that the girsa is נצחו; it just says:
      דאע"ג דנצחו חכמי אומות העולם לחכמי ישראל
      However, the Rema does seem to say that the Gemara actually said נצחו, but he's not a Rishon.
      http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=40161&st=&pgnum=37&hilite=

      I have an alternate way to read the Rambam. He writes:
      וכבר ידעת שהכריעו השקפת חכמי אומות העולם על השקפתם בעניינים הללו של התכונה והוא אומרם בפירוש ונצחו חכמי אומות העולם
      Instead of reading it as והוא אומרם בפירוש ונצחו חכמי אומות העולם, we can read it as וכבר ידעת שהכריעו השקפת חכמי אומות העולם על השקפתם בעניינים הללו של התכונה והוא אומרם בפירוש after which the Rambam is describing the reality, but not quoting any Gemara, by saying ונצחו חכמי אומות העולם.

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    5. R' Avraham discusses the significance of the word 'נראי and specifically contrasts it with the word נצחו. If he had both girsas in front of him, he would have no right to make his point because the variant girsa directly undermines his point.

      I agree with that point, but that is no the only possible arrangement. It could be that Rabbi said " 'נראי" based on his arguments and then the stam said נצחו based on other considerations.

      And even that source doesn't specifically say that the girsa is נצחו; it just says:
      דאע"ג דנצחו חכמי אומות העולם לחכמי ישראל


      Yes, I thought of that, but unless that source saw the Rambam, is something of a coincidence that they use the same words as the the Rambam.

      I have an alternate way to read the Rambam.

      I think the issue is unsolvable without more textual evidence.

      However, what we do know is that Rabbeinu Avraham had the text of "Nirin", so this doesn't discredit his authorship of that part of the Discourse.

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    6. I think at this point we're essentially agreeing. I would just add that many people before R' Meiselman (e.g. R' Dovid Sinzheim R' Yitzchak Herzog, R' Yaakov Toledano, R' Reuven Margoliot, R' Ovadia Yosef, et al) knew of R' Avraham's ma'amar and the various Rambams that it seems to contradict and none of them suggested that the ma'amar was not authentic. All five of the above mentioned Rabbis reference the ma'amar and and they all knew the Rambam's introduction to Peirush Hamishnayos and all of them (except perhaps R' Herzog) quote the Moreh 2:8.

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  2. Also, R' Shmuel Ibn Tabon noted that the Rambam's statement does not accord with the text of our Gemara and he suggests that the Rambam may have been referring to a different source or that the Rambam wasn't quoting the exact words of the Gemara. He doesn't suggest that the Rambam had a different girsa.
    http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=32699&st=&pgnum=59

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    1. Also, R' Shmuel Ibn Tabon noted that the Rambam's statement does not accord with the text of our Gemara and he suggests that the Rambam may have been referring to a different source or that the Rambam wasn't quoting the exact words of the Gemara. He doesn't suggest that the Rambam had a different girsa.
      http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=32699&st=&pgnum=59


      This all aligns with what I wrote. There is no evidence for "two contradictory texts". Only evidence for a missing text *in addition* to what we have as our text.

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    2. My comment was meant to support you, not as a kashya on you.

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    3. Got it now, thanks again. The word "also" threw me off...

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  3. I think this is your best post so far!

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  4. There's actually a lot to say about this girsa in the Rambam regarding "the wise ones of the nations". The Rambam-approved translator Ibn Tibbon himself noted the difference between the Rambam and the gemara here http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=9444&pgnum=61, but he seems to have been mistaken as to what the context was that the Rambam said it.

    In the Margoliot edition of Milchamot Hashem (which also has the essay on aggada in the back), in both essays Rav Avraham has the girsa of "nir'in divrehem", and then gives the reasons of the hotsprings. Meaning, there is no mentioning of them winning specifically over the Jewish sages. Obviously, contextually that doesn't change anything. But that's similar to how the Rambam has it according to this new academic transaltion into hebrew; ונצחו חכמי אומות העולם http://press.tau.ac.il/perplexed/chapters/chap_2_08.htm. Pines translation, the best English translation available, has this girsa as well. Ibn Tibbon which I linked above says the same.

    I think the fact that the accurate versions of Rav Avraham and the Rambam consistently do not have the second half, but only that the non-Jewish sages are right, shows they are referring to the same thing.

    We should point out as well that the Rambam didn't always quote things exactly, and would sometimes paraphrase even when he claimed he was quoting. Even pesukim. For example, the famous Rambam in Hilchot Teshuva of Pharoah's free will being taken away quotes a verse that is inaccurate. See Shapiro's Maimonides and His Interpreters for more examples of this. The point I'm making is that one should not put too much on how the Rambam quotes something and how it appeared in the Talmud he had.

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    1. There's actually a lot to say about this girsa in the Rambam regarding "the wise ones of the nations". The Rambam-approved translator Ibn Tibbon himself noted the difference between the Rambam and the gemara here http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=9444&pgnum=61, but he seems to have been mistaken as to what the context was that the Rambam said it.

      What was his mistake?

      In the Margoliot edition of Milchamot Hashem (which also has the essay on aggada in the back), in both essays Rav Avraham has the girsa of "nir'in divrehem", and then gives the reasons of the hotsprings. Meaning, there is no mentioning of them winning specifically over the Jewish sages.

      I don't have that available to me, but the Ein Yaakov version and Rabbi Meiselman's critical version both have the phrase after the discussion of Nirin. http://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=47606&st=&pgnum=19.


      Obviously, contextually that doesn't change anything. But that's similar to how the Rambam has it according to this new academic transaltion into hebrew; ונצחו חכמי אומות העולם http://press.tau.ac.il/perplexed/chapters/chap_2_08.htm.

      I'm now thoroughly confused by your comment :). You say that they correspond or don't correspond? Please comment again, because I'd like to understand what you are getting at.

      We should point out as well that the Rambam didn't always quote things exactly, and would sometimes paraphrase even when he claimed he was quoting.

      Yes, I read the same essay and the thought occurred to me. But you can also find the phrase "Nitzchu" in the Gilyon HaShas here: http://www.hebrewbooks.org/shas.aspx?mesechta=4&daf=94b&format=pdf. So that make it seem like there maybe was really a text like that.

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  5. "In that case, the R. Ammi's statement becomes nonsensical..."
    this is a very good point

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    1. Thank you.

      Truth be told, even if Rabbeinu Avraham thought that the phrase "only" referred to prophecy, there would still be no question. It would just mean that he would be making an analogy. Just like the Torah's rules prefer reason over authority, even a valid prophecy, as a source of rulings, so too should we do so when we evaluate scientific evidence. But I think that my point is correct, so we need not fall back to that.

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  6. By the way, many people stam ask a kashya on the Rambam that he is discussing the first machlokes in Pesachim where the pashtus of the Gemara is that Rebbe said that the umos haolam were WRONG. Interestingly, R' Yaakov Moshe Toledeno uses R' Avraham's ma'amar to answer this question - R' Avraham says that the two machlokes's are taluy zeh b'zeh and when Rebbe was swayed by the umos haolam's arguments in the second machlokes, he mimayla agreed to them in the first machlokes as well.
    http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=529&pgnum=79

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    1. Another great source.

      But of course R' Toledano was a Mizrachi and his book has a Haskama from Rav Kook, so we can disregard his acceptance of the Discourse. He's practically a Maskil :).

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  7. Regarding Chulin 124a, I think before we try to reconcile R' Avraham with the Rambam, we have to understand them individually and see how they fit in with the Gemara itself.

    The Rambam (Introduction to Peirush Hamishnayos) quotes this Gemara as a source that nevua does not contribute anything to a halachic debate. He says that since this is so, if someone claims to have such a nevua he is clearly a navi sheker and chayev misa. The question is how you see this from the Gemara. The Gemara doesn't say a word about nevua. In the Gemara, R' Nachman said that he wouldn't accept something obviously incorrect even if R' Yochanan told it to him directly. R' Ami said that he wouldn't even accept it if Yehoshua told it to him. Obviously, R' Ami is adding something by switching R' Yochanan to Yehoshua. The Rambam apparently sees that the only difference between R' Yochanan and Yehoshua is that Yehoshua was a navi. But what is R' Ami's point? If the Rambam is correct, then as you (David Ohsie) pointed out, not listening to Yehoshua has nothing to do with the incredulity of what he said - we would never listen to Yehoshua('s prophecy). So what was R' Ami adding by invoking Yehoshua? The fact that Yehoshua was a navi is לא מעלה ולא מוריד. Unless you say that R' Ami was gufa teaching us that you can reject a prophecy on the grounds that it doesn't make sense. But again that doesn't tell us anything, because we can reject a (halachic) prophecy even if it does make sense. I don't see how the Rambam explains the Gemara. If not for the Rambam, we could just say that R' Ami was just using Yehoshua because he was the greatest talmid chacham besides for Moshe (עיין בית יוסף יורה דיעה סוף סימן רמב http://beta.hebrewbooks.org/tursa.aspx?a=yd_x6211 ) or that it was an expression (עיין ים של שלמה בבא קמא פרק ח סימן נג http://hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=40932&st=&pgnum=179&hilite= )
    But once the Rambam makes it about nevuah, I don't see what R' Ami was accomplishing.

    R' Avraham interprets this Gemara to be saying that we don't accept something if the sayer can't logically explain it, even if he is a navi. He applies this to scientific statements. Now if R' Avraham was simply coming to tell us that we don't have to trust a nevuah if it doesn't make sense then it would fit well. But if he agrees with the Rambam (that nevuah doesn't have a role in paskening) then once again, R' Ami isn't telling us anything, and moreover, the reasoning for not listening to a nevuah wouldn't apply to a nevuah about science.

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  8. R' Ami said that he wouldn't even accept it if Yehoshua told it to him. Obviously, R' Ami is adding something by switching R' Yochanan to Yehoshua.

    It seems obvious to me that the difference is a rhetorical one. Here is an analogy:

    A: My physics professor invented a perpetual motion machine.
    B: No he didn't; you must have gotten it wrong. I wouldn't believe that even if your professor told me directly.
    C: I wouldn't believe that even if Einstein told me.

    The Rambam apparently sees that the only difference between R' Yochanan and Yehoshua is that Yehoshua was a navi.

    Who says that the Rambam was looking at any differences? He only quotes the latter statement.

    But what is R' Ami's point? If the Rambam is correct, then as you (David Ohsie) pointed out, not listening to Yehoshua has nothing to do with the incredulity of what he said - we would never listen to Yehoshua('s prophecy). So what was R' Ami adding by invoking Yehoshua? The fact that Yehoshua was a navi is לא מעלה ולא מוריד.

    The answer is simple, and again, I think obvious from the Gemera. He upping the rhetoric by stating that the halacha was so wrong that I wouldn't even believe Yehoshua, let alone R. Yochanan.

    Unless you say that R' Ami was gufa teaching us that you can reject a prophecy on the grounds that it doesn't make sense. But again that doesn't tell us anything, because we can reject a (halachic) prophecy even if it does make sense. I don't see how the Rambam explains the Gemara.

    Rambam is not "explaining" the Gemara. He is deducing something from the Gemara. The fact that R Ammi used Yehoshua, who was a Navi, as an example of someone who would not be believed implies (to some extent, but it is not dispositive) that he would not believe him under any circumstance, including saying "God just told me so". Support for this is that the Rambam actually brings two prooftexts for his contention. (The other is that we would not listen to Elihayu if he told us to do Chalitzah with a sandal).

    But once the Rambam makes it about nevuah, I don't see what R' Ami was accomplishing.

    Exactly. Therefore that is not what the Rambam meant.

    R' Avraham interprets this Gemara to be saying that we don't accept something if the sayer can't logically explain it, even if he is a navi. He applies this to scientific statements. Now if R' Avraham was simply coming to tell us that we don't have to trust a nevuah if it doesn't make sense then it would fit well. But if he agrees with the Rambam (that nevuah doesn't have a role in paskening) then once again, R' Ami isn't telling us anything, and moreover, the reasoning for not listening to a nevuah wouldn't apply to a nevuah about science.

    He is saying that he wouldn't listen to the authority of Yehoshua (unless he was convinced by his argument), neither by his greatness, nor (if he did agree with the Rambam's deduction on this point) by his prophecy.



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    1. The Rambam's lashon (Ibn Tabon translation; I don't have a Kafih translation) is:
      אבל בעיון ובדין ובחקירה בדיני התורה הרי הוא כשאר החכמים הדומים לו שאינם נביאים ואם יפרש איזה פירוש ויפרש מי שאינו נביא פירוש אחר ויאמר הנביא אמר לי ה' כי פירושי הוא הנכון אין שומעין לו אלא אפילו אלף נביאים שכולם כאליהו ואלישע פירשו איזה פירוש ואלף חכמים וחכם פירשו היפך אותו הפירוש אחרי רבים להטות ועושים כדברי האלף חכמים וחכם לא כדברי האלף נביאים המופלגים וכך אומרים חז"ל האלקים אלו אמרה לי יהושע בן נון בפומיה לא הוה ציתנא ליה ולא שמענא מניה
      The words וכך אומרים חז"ל indicate that this very statement of R' Ami is actually saying that nevuah is inadmissible. The way you explained it, however, is that the inadmissibility of nevua is taken for granted by R' Ami.

      Why, according to R' Avraham, would we not listen to a navi in scientific matters? You can't learn it out from Chulin because the reason why we don't listen to a navi in halacha is that the guy is a navi sheker (assuming R' Avraham agrees with the Rambam). By science, where there is no issue of navi sheker, why wouldn't we listen to nevuah? If you say that by definition if a nevuah contradicts science it's not a real nevuah then that has nothing to do with the Gemara in Chulin.




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    2. The words וכך אומרים חז"ל indicate that this very statement of R' Ami is actually saying that nevuah is inadmissible. The way you explained it, however, is that the inadmissibility of nevua is taken for granted by R' Ami.

      I think that you are way overthinking the Sugya. R' Ami's statement was not a Chiddush in how to treat Nevua or a Navi. He exclamation is about how obviously wrong the halachah in question is.

      Here is the outline of the Rambam's argument.

      1) R. Ammi exclaims "You said that you would not accept this Halacha from R. Yochanan mouth. I'll up the ante. This halacha is so obviously mistaken that I would not accept it even on Yehoshua's authority." That is R. Ammi's statement and his intention.

      2) What we can deduce from here that R. Ammi would not accept even the authority of Yehoshua if he was convinced otherwise by his "Sevara".

      3) Therefore, even the authority of a Navi, who is considered be on the highest intellectual level and a semi-direct connection to God, cannot override a Sevara.

      4) Perhaps, he also intended to say that R. Ammi would not have accepted Yehoshua even if Yehoshua claimed a Nevuah (but see the comment below where Prof Kaplan argues that the Rambam was not trying to prove that part from the story).

      Why, according to R' Avraham, would we not listen to a navi in scientific matters? You can't learn it out from Chulin because the reason why we don't listen to a navi in halacha is that the guy is a navi sheker (assuming R' Avraham agrees with the Rambam).

      This is incorrect for two reasons:

      1) R. Ammi can't be saying that he would not accept Yehoshua's Nevuah, but he would accept his reasoning. Because we *never* accept a Navi's Nevuah, whether we are sure or unsure. Even if R. Ammi was in doubt about the halacha, he would not accept the Nevuah. So then the exclamation would give no indication on how strongly R. Ammi felt about his Sevarah against the halacha in question:

      2) As Professor Kaplan points out, the Rambam says explicitly that we learn from R. Ammi that Navi's vote in halacha (based his own Sevara) has exactly equal weight to that of a non-Navi, Your greatness as a Navi counts for nothing. You have to convince the other judges even though they are on a lower level. (See my response to his comment.)

      By science, where there is no issue of navi sheker, why wouldn't we listen to nevuah? If you say that by definition if a nevuah contradicts science it's not a real nevuah then that has nothing to do with the Gemara in Chulin.

      1) We might or might not listen to a Nevuah on "Metzius" (the acharonim actually discuss this issue), but that is not at all what Rabbeinu Avraham is talking about. He only says that we should not listen to the authority of great men when we have proof against their words. That he learns from R. Ammi who would not accept a Navi (which according to Rambam is a person on the highest intellectual level) against his own sevara, despite being on a lower level. He argues we should do the same in science (where there is no Passuk that tells us to follow prior rulings).

      2) He is talking about accepting statement of Chazal. They did not speak from Nevuah.

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    3. I attached the Rav Kafih translation as note [2a].

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    4. just to be clear, we don't accept a voice from heaven or miracles as proof for a halacha either, just ask Rabbi Eliezer (Bava Metzia 59a–b)

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  9. David: I believe you misunderstood the Rambam's point. First, he argues that no one can appeal to prophecy to decide a matter of halakhah. If he does so, he is, ipso facto, a false prophet. Thus, if Yehoshua, heaven forbid, said that God revealed to him some matter of halakhah, he would be a false prophet, Then the Rambam makes a second point. Not only does prophecy play no direct role in deciding halakhah, but the fact that someone is a prophet does not add any weight to halakhic opinions that he utters as a Sage, That is the point of the Rambam's example of the 1001 Sages debating with 1000 Sages whose prophetic level is that of Eliyahu. The fact that the 1001 Sages are also prophets does not add any weight to their authority as Sages, and therefore their halakhic view can overruled led by the the 1001 non-prophetic Sages, And that is R, Ammi's point. The fact that Yehoshua was a great prophet would not add any weight to any halakhic view he might express as Sage. It would be completely irrelevant. And that is why Moshe is not cited. Because Moshe, unlike all other prophets, can appeal to prophecy to resolve a matter of law, indeed his prophecy is the source of all halakhah.

    As a P.S.: Rabbi Meiselman's misunderstandings here are astounding.

    Lawrence Kaplan

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    1. Dear Lawrence:

      Thank you for your comment. I think that you are correct. I wrote in haste relying on R. Meiselman's description and my memory of the Rambam. I should have double checked the source carefully, as I did with the Kifāyah al-`Ābidīn and others to find whether or not it was characterized properly.

      So I would stand by the reasoning of the post, but rather than deducing what the Rambam's position on authority based on the meaning of the Gemara, we can see it directly from his words. (Now I need to find my copy of Zeraim of Rav Kafih so that I can properly update my post to correct my error.)

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    2. As a P.S.: Rabbi Meiselman's misunderstandings here are astounding.

      Do you really think they are "misunderstandings" or willful misrepresentations?

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    3. I believe they are misunderstandings.

      Lawrence Kaplan

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    4. Yossi, I'm not the comment moderator, but I'd prefer if we kept the comment section to a discussion of the ideas. I don't imply any personal criticism of you in this request.

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    5. Hi David,
      I am surprised you published that comment, to be honest. I deserved the mild rebuke…. However;

      I am livid with Rabbi Meiselman. I think the (intentional) damage he has done is shameful, and his approach deserves all the criticism that can be directed towards it. The issue is, however, is that Rabbi Meiselman, and/or his followers have set him up as The Authority on issues of science and religion by virtue of his authority as a PhD in a STEM discipline, his smicha and his relationship with Rabbi J. Solovitchik. While arguments from authority are logical fallacies, it is de rigueur in mimmetic traditions.

      As an academic, I resile from Rabbi Meiselman’s approach to analysis. Clearly he had reached his desired conclusion prior to beginning his work, and then sought the evidence to support his position and actively set out to obfuscate the evidence (tradition) that did not agree with his thesis. This is an inherently dishonest approach, exactly akin to the travesty of analysis the David Irving uses, and just like David Irving, Rabbi Meiselman should be held to account. While giving a person respect should be the default position we take, and allowing a person a presumption of good intent is standard, there comes a point when a person so tarnishes their own reputation by dishonesty that they are undeserving of that assumption.

      Contemporaneously we can compare the Rabbi Meiselman’s academic opus with the alleged behaviour of Rabbi Michael Broyd. Rabbi Broyd’s reputation is trashed on the basis that he is alleged to have manufactured sources to support a halachic opinion, and then tried to cover-up his dishonesty. It was this accusation, not the juvenile sock puppets he created for internet blogging, that caused me to lose faith in Rabbi Broyd’s presumption of good will. Rabbi Broyd’s alleged dishonesty are far less grievous than Rabbi Meiselman’s, due to their transperancy.

      While my arguments here are ad hominem in nature, it is on the back of your intellectual and dispassionate deconstruction of Rabbi Meiselman’s approach. But, as I indicated to you previously, the people who Rabbi Meiselman is writing for are less interested in the content, and more interested in the existence of the book and the authority he claims. For this reason, he should also be subject to ridicule.

      More to Come.

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    6. Lawrence,

      If the errors where accidental, incidental and random then they would point in many different directions, i.e. the errors would not consistently support a particular thesis. That all the errors change the meaning of the text to support a specific hypothesis indicates a deliberately mendacious approach.

      Yossi

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    7. Hi David,
      Continuing on from my previous post (again, I know your disdain for ad hominem so I appreciate that you continue to publish my posts.

      Based on your essays, Rabbi Meiselman effort in this book appear to be mendacious. As I have previously indicated, he is attempting to obfuscate an inconvenient source, without evidence. Simply by casting aspersions on the reliability of Avraham ben Ha’Ramabam’s works Rabbi Meiselman has created a controversy where none existed previously.

      Summarising the logical fallacies that Rabbi Meiselman has put forward (again based on your essays here)

      1) Without any strong evidence Rabbi Meiselman has suggested that the translations of Discourse that are available to us today are fraudulently altered. Rather than starting with the assumption that the translation is valid and authentic, Rabbi Meiselman, bestowing on the text an assumption of validity, where the accusation of fraud then needs to be proved, Rabbi Meiselman has assumed that perceived discrepancies in other parts of the text cast doubt on the whole text. As you have demonstrated, the perceived discrepancies don’t stand up to scrutiny, are minor in nature and do include the substance or text that is germaine to the controversy.

      2) Rabbi Meiselman has put words in other people’s mouths: Again Rabbi Meiselman starts with the assertion that the text of Discourse is in error, and then asserts that if other historical figures had been aware of his interpretation they would never have written what they wrote. Again, the purpose is to obscure an inconvenient theological point rather than to actually address it. By asserting that Rav Herzog or Rav Hirsch would not have held a particular view he is dismisses (minimizes) their actual view without actually addressing them.

      No person claiming to be a scholar, either an academic or a rabbi, should engage, or be allowed to engage in this type of intellectual dishonesty. Worse, resorting to duplicity, Rabbi Meiselman has not only attempted to discredit the existing Discourse but he has damaged the reputation of Rabbi’s as reliable scholars.

      As a side note; Seven or more years ago I was already hearing Charidei figures cite Rabbi Meiselman as validating the black listing Rav Slifkin’s works. There specific attribution was Rabbi Meiselman’s PhD and his relationship to Rav Solevitchik. Questions regarding the provenance of Discourse are already routinely thrown around, again founded on baseless and false accusations of fraud.

      Hence the validity of the ad hominem.

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  10. First Last: You make a similar mistake as David Ohsie: First, if a person states that God revealed to him that the law is such and such, he is, ipso facto, a false prophet. Second, and this is case of R, Ami, if a person said that God told him that his interpretation of the law which he arrived at on the basis of his own understanding is the correct one "we do not listen to him." That is, he is not a false prophet, but we pay no attention to what he says. That is why R. Eliezer in the Tanur shel Aknai story was not treated as a false prophet. In this light, your question about prophecy and science falls to the ground.

    Lawrence Kaplan

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    1. Lawrence, I think that there is a subtlety here. R. Ami did not make his statement in order to teach us the principle that we do not give additional weight to a Navi who claims God's agreement. He made his statement to strongly disagree with the mistaken Halacha and emphasize that he was so certain that he would not accept anyone's authority, even that of a Yehoshua. (In contrast, if he was not so sure of the halacha, then he would accept Yehoshua's judgement, even if Yehoshua had no new arguments to offer.)

      The Rambam then brings this as a support for the principle that a Navi has no extra weight in deciding halacha, even if he claims that God tells him that his Sevara is correct. So he is saying (quite explicitly as you point out) that we don't give greater weight to the Sevara of a Navi on his own reasoning alone or even along with God's agreement.

      Rabbi Meiselman's argument appears to be that the Rambam "only" learns from R Ammi that he would not take into account Yehoshua's claim of God's agreement, but in fact that he would take into account his authority alone. In the post, what I show is that this can't possibly be what R Ammi meant, because then his statement would have no polemical value. We simply ignore any claims about Nevuah with respect to Halacha, so that such a statement would not indicate, in any way, that R. Ammi's conviction was strong. Even if he wasn't sure, he would not listen to a Nevuah to inform his views.

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    2. Actually, there is an ambiguity in the Rambam, reflected in my different responses to David Ohsie and First Last. To begin with, the Rambam states that if a prophet said that "God told me that my interpretation is correct" we do not listen to him. That is, he is not a false prophet, but God's word cannot strengthen his authority as a Sage. But then the Rambam seems to make another point. He says that if 1001 non-prophetic Sages disagree with a 1000 prophetic Sages, the law follows the 1001 non-prophetic Sages. Here there does not seem to be an appeal to God's word. Rather the Rambam's point seems to be that the fact that the1000 prophetic Sages are prophets in addition to being Sages does not lend any additional weight to their authority as Sages. It is in this context he cites the Gemara about R. Ammi and Yehoshua.

      Lawrence Kaplan

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    3. I think I agree with Lawrence Kaplan. The Rambam is discussing two different categories:
      1) Someone who weighs in on a halachic matter based on a nevuah 2) A navi who weighs in on a halachic matter but not on the basis of a nevuah.
      The first person is a navi sheker while the second person is just a scholar stating his opinion. The Rambam is only bringing the Gemara in Chulin for the second case. R' Ami is saying that despite Yehoshua's status as a navi, we don't give him any extra weight. The Gemara has nothing to do with an actual nevuah.
      Similarly, R' Avraham was also not discussing nevuah; he was discussing a navi, and he says that someone's status as a navi does not add anything (both in halacha and science). It would come out, then, that if someone would have a nevuah about a purely scientific matter, R' Avraham would accept it.
      According to this there is no contradiction between R' Avraham and the Rambam since they are both simply using the Gemara to show that navi status doesn't add anything. The Rambam just happens to also discuss a separate issue, which R' Avraham didn't discuss and which is not based on Chulin, that someone claiming a halachic nevuah is a navu sheker.

      I think this is what Lawrence Kaplan was saying; if it's not then I'll just take credit for it myself.

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    4. Actually, I think I am not saying the same thing as Lawrence Kaplan. Lawrence seems to be making three categories:
      1) Someone who comes up with a new halacha via nevuah
      2) Someone who decides a halachic matter via nevuah
      3) Someone who is a navi but does not use nevuah to decide halachic matters
      Lawrence is saying that only #1 is a navi sheker whereas #2 is merely אין שומעין לו and #3 is just equivalent to a regular scholar.

      I am only making two categories. I am placing #2 in the same category as #1 because of what the Rambam writes a few lines later:
      וכן אם אמר הנביא שה' אמר לו כי הפסק במצוה פלונית כך ושדינו של פלוני הוא הנכון הרי אותו הנביא נהרג לפי שהוא נביא שקר כמו שביארנו לפי שאין תורה אחרי השליח הראשון ואין תוספת ואין גרעון לא בשמים היא ולא המחנו ה' אל הנביאים אלא המחנו אל החכמים בעלי הדין לא אמר ובאת אל הנביא אלא אמר ובאת אל הכהנים הלוים ואל השופט וכבר האריכו חכמים בענין זה מאד מאד והוא הנכון

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    5. Rather the Rambam's point seems to be that the fact that the1000 prophetic Sages are prophets in addition to being Sages does not lend any additional weight to their authority as Sages. It is in this context he cites the Gemara about R. Ammi and Yehoshua.

      It is hard to say. Because the next line is "there is no addition or subtraction in the Torah on the part of Prophecy at all". So here he seems to indicate that he learns both that a Prophet has no extra authority and that Prophecy is of no uses. But maybe that sentence only refers to the second Gemara about the Eliyahu and the sandal, but that R. Ammi's statement is only about 1001 vs. 1000.

      Either way, the bottom line is that the Rambam explicitly says, related to the Gemara from R. Ammi that the case we are talking about has to do with a Prophet speaking his own reasoning, perhaps with a claim of Divine validation. He is not speaking of a case where the sole source is prophecy. Which make sense because the alternative doesn't serve the rhetorical purpose of R. Ammi. So either way, the thesis is TCS that the Rambam only refers to prophecy itself as an invalid source of halacha is untrue.

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    6. The Rambam is discussing two different categories:
      1) Someone who weighs in on a halachic matter based on a nevuah 2) A navi who weighs in on a halachic matter but not on the basis of a nevuah.


      Almost. There is also the case where he weighs in on a halachic matter and claims God's support via prophecy. This is a subcase of 2 (call it 2A :).

      The first person is a navi sheker while the second person is just a scholar stating his opinion. The Rambam is only bringing the Gemara in Chulin for the second case. R' Ami is saying that despite Yehoshua's status as a navi, we don't give him any extra weight. The Gemara has nothing to do with an actual nevuah.

      Maybe, maybe not according to Rambam. He does talk about 2A. It is hard to say whether or not he is learning out 2A from R. Ammi. It is ambiguous.

      Similarly, R' Avraham was also not discussing nevuah; he was discussing a navi, and he says that someone's status as a navi does not add anything (both in halacha and science). It would come out, then, that if someone would have a nevuah about a purely scientific matter, R' Avraham would accept it.

      Not necessarily. If a Navi said that God showed him the design for a non-miraculous perpetual motion machine, then Rabbeinu Avraham might assert that the Navi erred in the interpretation of his prophecy. Some claim that Rambam implied that this was true with respect to the noisy spheres. You can't tell. Or maybe making that claim would even make him a Navi Sheker, same as if he made a false prediction that an earthly reward is coming.

      According to this there is no contradiction between R' Avraham and the Rambam since they are both simply using the Gemara to show that navi status doesn't add anything. The Rambam just happens to also discuss a separate issue, which R' Avraham didn't discuss and which is not based on Chulin, that someone claiming a halachic nevuah is a navu sheker.

      I think this is what Lawrence Kaplan was saying; if it's not then I'll just take credit for it myself.


      Yes, agree, modulo my first comment above :).


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    7. I wrote a comment before your two most recent comments. It never appeared. In it, I clarified the difference between Lawrence Kaplan and me. I noted that according to Lawrence there are really three categories (similar to what you subsequently called "2a"): 1) A navi who is mechadsh a new halacha via nevuah.
      2) A navi who decides which position is correct via nevuah
      3) A navi who decides ahich position is correct but not via nevuah

      I believe Lawrence says that the middle category is not a navi sheker but simply אין שומעין לו. I would say that #2 is also a nevi sheker, based on the Rambam's words a few lines later:
      וכן אם אמר הנביא שה' אמר לו כי הפסק במצוה פלונית כך ושדינו של פלוני הוא הנכון הרי אותו הנביא נהרג לפי שהוא נביא שקר כמו שביארנו לפי שאין תורה אחרי השליח הראשון ואין תוספת ואין גרעון לא בשמים היא ולא המחנו ה' אל הנביאים אלא המחנו אל החכמים בעלי הדין לא אמר ובאת אל הנביא אלא אמר ובאת אל הכהנים הלוים ואל השופט וכבר האריכו חכמים בענין זה מאד מאד והוא הנכון

      The idea that a nevuah can represent incorrect metzius was said in regards to a navi's understanding of the metzius in his prophecy. But that is not necessarily the same as a prophecy whose entire purpose is to tell the metzius.

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    8. I wrote a comment before your two most recent comments. It never appeared.

      R Slifkin moderates the comments, so it can take some time for them to come in. Your comment did eventually come through. I don't see them until they are posted, although I can respond immediately without moderation.

      I believe Lawrence says that the middle category is not a navi sheker but simply אין שומעין לו. I would say that #2 is also a nevi sheker, based on the Rambam's words a few lines later

      There is a minor contradiction here because he does say earlier that "if God told me that that my explanation is correct" that you don't listen to him, but not that is a false prophet. But maybe it means that you don't even listen to his explanation since he is a false prophet as he explains later.

      Either way, R. Ammi refers to a prophet giving his own explanation (perhaps with a claims of God's agreement), but not God giving an explanation. So R Ammi's statement does not refer to exclusively to prophecy.

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    9. The idea that a nevuah can represent incorrect metzius was said in regards to a navi's understanding of the metzius in his prophecy. But that is not necessarily the same as a prophecy whose entire purpose is to tell the metzius.

      Good point.

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  11. First last: I am very well aware of the statement "a few lines later," but I believe the Rambam is referring to two distinct cases. 1) If a Navi said "God told me that MY peirush is correct," then he is not a navi sheker, but ein shomin lo. Here he acted first as a hakham, and his nevuah just comes to confirm his hokhmah. Still it is of no avail. 2) However, if a Navi said "God told me that ANOTHER SAGE'S peirush ( in a matter of debate ) is correct," then he is a navi sheker, because in that case he is not acting as a hakham at all, and he is basing his entire halakhic ruling on nevuah. That, at least, is how I explained this Rambam when I taught the Rambam's Hakdamah in my course at McGill on the Legal theory of the Rambam.


    Lawrence Kaplan

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  12. However, if a Navi said "God told me that ANOTHER SAGE'S peirush ( in a matter of debate ) is correct," then he is a navi sheker, because in that case he is not acting as a hakham at all, and he is basing his entire halakhic ruling on nevuah.

    Professor Kaplan: Allow me to speculate here. The reason that a person who claims a permanent halacha based on prophecy is a Navi sheker is as follows: he is claiming a revelation which adds or detracts from that of Sinai. If he says that "the halacha is X" based solely on a prophecy, then his is creating a new prophetic source of halacha outside of Sinai and thus altering the Torah.

    Whereas, if he claims a halacha based on halachic reasoning, and then adds that God agrees with his reasoning, then this is not adding or detracting from the Torah via a new revelation but simply attempting to get his reasoning accepted (similar to attributing your reasoning to a great authority of the past). This is ignored, but does not cross any red lines.

    If so, when the prophet claims God's endorsement of any sage's view, whether his own or that of another, he is not a false prophet, although his statement is ignored. Only if he states a halacha with no reasonable basis other than the prophecy itself would he be violating the prohibition on permanently adding or detracting from the Torah through a new revelation.

    If you agree, you can use this explanation in your next class without attribution :).

    BTW, it sounds like a fascinating course. Sometimes I wish I was back in school...

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    1. Lawrence and David:

      There is a nuance. Being deemed a navi sheker is not a punishment. It does not have to do with the seriousness of the wrong committed. A navi sheker is simply someone who was shown to have prophesied falsely. Thus, if someone predicts something and it doesn't happen (barring teshuva) he is a false prophet. Similarly, if someone claims that God told him a new halacha, the reason why he is a false prophet is that we know that God did not actually tell him that. So now when it comes to someone claiming that God told him that a certain position is correct, in order for him to not be a navi sheker, we must grant the possibility that God indeed did tell him that a certain position is correct even though God Himself established that His word on such a matter is meaningless.
      If we assume that there is a difference between someone claiming that God favors HIS ruling and someone claiming that God favors A DIFFERENT PERSON'S ruling, we then have to further assume that it would be impossible that God would tell someone that he favors HIS ruling yet possible that God would tell someone that he favors SOMEONE ELSE'S ruling. Since in both cases, the reason why we don't accept the person's claim is "לא בשמים היא" it would be somewhat odd that we (and primarily the Rambam who would be the source for this) would be so sure that God would do one and not the other when both are equally meaningless.

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    2. There is a nuance. Being deemed a navi sheker is not a punishment. It does not have to do with the seriousness of the wrong committed. A navi sheker is simply someone who was shown to have prophesied falsely. Thus, if someone predicts something and it doesn't happen (barring teshuva) he is a false prophet.

      I don't believe that this is exactly the Rambam's conception. A false prophet is one who claims prophecy, but is lying as best we can tell by the rules. Thus, if one makes a false prediction, it is still possible that he is not a false prophet if the prediction was one of doom. In that case, we assume Teshuva might have averted the decree, and we do not deem him a false prophet.

      Similarly, if someone claims that God told him a new halacha, the reason why he is a false prophet is that we know that God did not actually tell him that.

      Correct, and this is, in my opinion, because of Rambam's principle that there are no new revelations of permanent halachos.

      So now when it comes to someone claiming that God told him that a certain position is correct, in order for him to not be a navi sheker, we must grant the possibility that God indeed did tell him that a certain position is correct even though God Himself established that His word on such a matter is meaningless.

      And Peshat of Tanur Shel Achnai implies that this could happen (although this is almost certainly a parable by the Rambam's rules).

      If we assume that there is a difference between someone claiming that God favors HIS ruling and someone claiming that God favors A DIFFERENT PERSON'S ruling, we then have to further assume that it would be impossible that God would tell someone that he favors HIS ruling yet possible that God would tell someone that he favors SOMEONE ELSE'S ruling.

      I think that you have it reversed, but I agree that both are possible so that neither is deemed a false prophet.

      Since in both cases, the reason why we don't accept the person's claim is "לא בשמים היא" it would be somewhat odd that we (and primarily the Rambam who would be the source for this) would be so sure that God would do one and not the other when both are equally meaningless.

      Agree, which is why I said above that the distinction is whether or not he claims revelation of a new permanent halacha from God, not whose position he speaks of. If he claims a new permanent halacha from God, he is a false prophet. If he claims support for a Sevara, then it is simply ignored.

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    3. "I don't believe that this is exactly the Rambam's conception. A false prophet is one who claims prophecy, but is lying as best we can tell by the rules. Thus, if one makes a false prediction, it is still possible that he is not a false prophet if the prediction was one of doom. In that case, we assume Teshuva might have averted the decree, and we do not deem him a false prophet."

      That's what I meant when I wrote "barring teshuva" in parentheses. The point is that the status of navi sheker is not halachic or mystical - it is simply when we have proof that someone made a false prophecy.

      "Correct, and this is, in my opinion, because of Rambam's principle that there are no new revelations of permanent halachos."

      I agree.

      "And Peshat of Tanur Shel Achnai implies that this could happen (although this is almost certainly a parable by the Rambam's rules)."

      This would depend on how you understand that entire Gemara. But it is certainly a possibility, and indeed, one of R' Amram Gaon's explanations is (Berachos 19a):
      שלא היתה הכונה אלא לנסות את החכמים אם יניחו הקבלה שבידם והגמרא שבפיהם בשביל בת קול ואם לאו ודומה למה שכתב כי מנסה ה' אלהיכם אתכם והנה נודע עם כל זאת בירור קבלתם

      "I think that you have it reversed, but I agree that both are possible so that neither is deemed a false prophet...
      Agree, which is why I said above that the distinction is whether or not he claims revelation of a new permanent halacha from God, not whose position he speaks of. If he claims a new permanent halacha from God, he is a false prophet. If he claims support for a Sevara, then it is simply ignored."

      I was under the impression that Lawrence Kaplan was distinguishing between whose position he speaks of, namely that if he speaks of his own position he is a navi sheker whereas if he speaks of someone else's position we merely don't listen to him. That's how I understood his emphasis of the words "MY" and "ANOTHER SAGE'S". I guess you are disagreeing with him (or I am misunderstanding him). However, the advantage of Lawrence's distinction is that it avoids the problem of the later words of the Rambam that I quoted in which he explicitly says that if someone claims that God told him that a certain person's din is correct, the claimer is put to death as a navi sheker. I don't think your distinction addresses this issue.

      (By the way, how do you do italics? It looks a lot neater than my putting all of your statements in quotation marks.)

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    4. Just to summarize the differences between the three of us:

      There are four types of prophets:

      1) One who based on a prophecy is mechadesh a new halacha/mitzva

      2) One who based on a prophecy claims that a certain sage's halachic position on an issue is correct

      3) One who based on a prophecy claims that his halachic position is correct

      4) One who makes any halachic statement/argument but not based on prophecy

      We all agree that the first person is a navi sheker - the Rambam says so explicitly. We all agree that the fourth person is judged as a regular non-prophet scholar - the Rambam says so explicitly. The point of divergence is in regards to the second and third persons. Lawrence Kaplan states that #2 is a navi sheker while #3 is אין שומעין לו, the distinction being that #3 is primarily acting as a scholar and just using prophecy to support his scholarly claim whereas #2 is relying entirely on prophecy. David Ohsie states that neither #2 nor #3 is a navi sheker because a navi sheker is only someone who introduces an entirely new idea with no scholarly basis. First Last states that both #2 and #3 fall under the category of navi sheker, because if neither is a navi sheker (David Ohsie) then the Rambam's later statement has no one to refer to and if #2 is a navi sheker but #3 is not (Lawrence Kaplan) then we are making an unnecessary (and unsourced) chiluk between two cases with the same underlying rationale (לא בשמים היא).

      This is my attempt at a summary of the last few comments. If anyone feels that this is not an accurate portrayal, please correct me.

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    5. I was under the impression that Lawrence Kaplan was distinguishing between whose position he speaks of, namely that if he speaks of his own position he is a navi sheker whereas if he speaks of someone else's position we merely don't listen to him. That's how I understood his emphasis of the words "MY" and "ANOTHER SAGE'S". I guess you are disagreeing with him (or I am misunderstanding him). However, the advantage of Lawrence's distinction is that it avoids the problem of the later words of the Rambam that I quoted in which he explicitly says that if someone claims that God told him that a certain person's din is correct, the claimer is put to death as a navi sheker.

      Yes, I was arguing, but you are right when I read the language again that it doesn't fit as well as I thought when I read it before. So I withdraw to some degree my suggestion.

      (By the way, how do you do italics? It looks a lot neater than my putting all of your statements in quotation marks.)

      <i> thing that you want to italicize </i>

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    6. I was under the impression that Lawrence Kaplan was distinguishing between whose position he speaks of, namely that if he speaks of his own position he is a navi sheker whereas if he speaks of someone else's position we merely don't listen to him. That's how I understood his emphasis of the words "MY" and "ANOTHER SAGE'S". I guess you are disagreeing with him (or I am misunderstanding him). However, the advantage of Lawrence's distinction is that it avoids the problem of the later words of the Rambam that I quoted in which he explicitly says that if someone claims that God told him that a certain person's din is correct, the claimer is put to death as a navi sheker.

      Yes, I was arguing, but you are right when I read the language again that it doesn't fit as well as I thought when I read it before. So I withdraw to some degree my suggestion.

      (By the way, how do you do italics? It looks a lot neater than my putting all of your statements in quotation marks.)

      <i> thing that you want to italicize </i>

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    7. David Ohsie states that neither #2 nor #3 is a navi sheker because a navi sheker is only someone who introduces an entirely new idea with no scholarly basis.

      Your summary is correct, but having had time to reread the text, I withdraw my suggestion. It doesn't really fit.

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