Wednesday, September 7, 2016

The Rambam and the Rav On Allegory In Bereishis

Rambam, Guide for the Perplexed 2:30:
Consider the difficulty... in the statement that time existed before the creation of the sun! We shall undoubtedly soon remove this difficulty... All things were created together, but were separated from each other successively...
The account of the six days of creation contains, in reference to the creation of man, the statement: “Male and female He created them” (1:27), and concludes with the words: “Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all the host of them” (2:1), and yet the portion which follows describes the creation of Eve from Adam, the tree of life, and the tree of knowledge, the history of the serpent and the events connected therewith, and all this as having taken place after Adam had been placed in the Garden of Eden. All our Sages agree that this took place on the sixth day, and that nothing new was created after the close of the six days. None of the things mentioned above is therefore impossible, because the laws of Nature were then not yet permanently fixed. There are, however, some utterances of our Sages on this subject [which imply a different view]. I will gather them from their different sources and place them before you, and I will refer also to certain things by mere hints, just as has been done by the Sages. You must know that their words, which I am about to quote, are most perfect, most accurate, and clear to those for whom they were said. I will therefore not add long explanations, lest I make their statements plain, and I might thus become “a revealer of secrets,” but I will give them in a certain order, accompanied with a few remarks, which will suffice for readers like you. 
Abarbanel, Commentary to Genesis, p. 10:
The Rambam believed that there were not separate creative acts on six days, but rather everything was created on one day, in a single instant. In the work of Creation, there is mention of “six days” to indicate the different levels of created beings according to their natural hierarchy; not that there were actual days, and nor that there was a chronological sequence to that which was created in the acts of Genesis… This is the view of the Rambam which he considered as one of the major secrets of the Creation. He tried to conceal this view with ingenuity, as can be seen in his words there. But Ralbag went and tattled, revealing his secret, as did Narboni and the other commentators to his work; they uncovered his secret and publicized his view….
Rabbi Yitzchak Arama (1420-1494) in Akeidas Yitzchak, Bereishis, Shaar 3:
The Rav, the Guide, gave the reason for the mention of Days in the Beginning by explaining the statement of the Sages, who said that “all the products of Creation were created in their full form” (Talmud, Chullin 60a); in other words, everything was created at the first instant of creation in their final perfect form. Thus the mention of an order of Creation is not describing the sequence of days; rather, [but the days are simply serving] to differentiate the status of [the elements of creation] and to make known the hierarchy of nature. This was [Rambam’s] major esoteric doctrine concerning Creation as those who are understanding can discern from that chapter (Guide For The Perplexed 2:30) which is devoted to this extraordinary account.

Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, in Maimonides between Philosophy and Halakhah: Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik's Lectures on The Guide Of The Perplexed (ed. Lawrence Kaplan):
Maimonides' view of the original sin is thus allegorical. As he states in Guide 2:30 regarding the dicta of the Sages about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden: "Their allegorical interpretation was clear to those to whom it was addressed, and they [the dicta] are unambiguous." Referring to some of these dicta, which he describes as "amazing," Maimonides further states that "their external meaning is exceptionally incongruous, but ...when you obtain... true understanding, you will admire the wisdom of these parables." (p.187)
Rabbi Moshe Meiselman, in Torah, Chazal and Science:
...The Rambam limits the use of allegory to the Nevi'im. Consequently it may not be invoked with respect to the Creation narrative, which is part of the Chumash... The Rambam took the opening chapters of Bereishis completely literally, albeit neither simplistically nor superficially... Mori veRebbi, ztz"l, never suggested at any stage in his thinking that anything in Sefer Bereishis could be taken allegorically. On the contrary, he insisted that all the narrative be taken in their most literal sense. This was essential because what made the moral lessons in them true was the fact that the events actually occurred precisely as described." (pp. 391, 415, 650)

61 comments:

  1. "Mori veRebbi, ztz"l, never suggested at any stage in his thinking that anything in Sefer Bereishis could be taken allegorically."
    Nothing in your quotation from the Rav contradicts this. The Rav was writing about Rambam's alegorical view, not his own. In order to refute RM's claim, you'd have to quote the Rav expressing his own views on the matter.

    (Otherwise, nice post)

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    1. And the Rav considered this view unacceptable, but neglected to say so?

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    2. What about the first half of the quote? "The Rambam limits the use of allegory to the Nevi'im. Consequently it may not be invoked with respect to the Creation narrative, which is part of the Chumash... The Rambam took the opening chapters of Bereishis completely literally, albeit neither simplistically nor superficially.." R. Meiselman seems to be disagreeing with the Rav's understanding of the Rambam.

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    3. Of course it's contradictory. The quote from the Rav clearly states that the Rambam held the position that the Garden of Eden story was allegorical. The RMM quote says that "The Rambam limits the use of allegory to the Nevi'im." It doesn't matter whether or not the Rav agreed with the Rambam -- it matters that RMM denies that the Rambam held this position at all.

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    4. I am aware of a story involving a young Rabbi who came to Boston in the days when the Rav was in charge of a few schuls. The first Shabbos the Rabbi was there was Parshat Balak. The Rabbi spoke about he at ton and Rambams and Saadiahs position. Congregants go to Rav complaining about heretical viewpoints. Rav called Rabbi in and started to explain- Rav interrupts Rabbi and states I know wha you believe wouldn't have brought you here if I thought you didn't believe-right away when they complained I knew about what they were thinking. But why did you have to confuse them. Thus, the Rav clearly believed it was an acceptable form of belief to accept some parts of Torah not literally but allegorically-but no sure if he felt worthy of spreading around in Sermons

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    5. "And the Rav considered this view unacceptable, but neglected to say so?"

      First, the Rav could have disagreed with a view, without going so far as to hold it unacceptable. And even if he did find it unacceptable, he didn't need to mention it. Scholars in general will present a view objectively without endorsing or condemning it. I'm not sure if the Rav's lectures on the Guide are in the same personal style as works such as Lonely Man of Faith or Kol Dodi Dofek. The latter are presented as subjective.

      "R. Meiselman seems to be disagreeing with the Rav's understanding of the Rambam."
      So what? He also expressed an opinion as to what the Rav held. Nowhere do I see evidence that the Rav agreed with the Rambam, or whether the Rav allowed for a non-literal interpretation of Beraishis. I'm not defending RM, I'm just saying that RNS's current post is not quite on target as his other posts in this series. There's enough ambiguity and wiggle room for defenders of RM to argue their case.

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  2. I don't have my Friedlander translation of the Moreh handy to see what I can make of the Rambam's view of the esoteric aspect of the creation narrative. I will accept the view of the Abravanel, the Ralbag, and Rav Arama that the Rambam treated the creation days allegorically. However, I fail to understand the idea that the 'days' refer to hierarchial status rather than chronology. According to the Rambam, not only Angels, but the spiritual beings that occupy and 'rotate' the heavenly bodies around the earth, are far superior to man and occupy a higher status. Yet, they were created presumably on the 2nd and 4th days. If the status order is inverted, highest to lowest, why is man after the animals?

    Y. Aharon

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    1. The Friedlander translation is conveniently available here: http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/gfp/

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    2. Dr. Yonatan Grossman spoke about structure of Breishit in the Ymei Iyun Tanach this summer. Great lecture. Like most structures in the Text, the 6 days contain 2 parallel tracks, of 3 days each. Examining this will give you an answer to your question. Additionally, he pointed out that the 10 Ma'amarot mentioned in the Mishna also have a structure, as do the 3 "Bar'ah"s. Each of these has a different point to make regarding Mankind and our role and status in Creation.

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  3. "he insisted that all the narrative be taken in their most literal sense... because what made the moral lessons in them true was the fact that the events actually occurred precisely as described."

    That makes NO sense whatsoever. The Bible is full of parables. So (to pick just one) Nathan's parable to David about the rich man and poor man had no moral lesson because it didn't actually happen?

    There goes the Dubno Maggid. Pesach Seder will never be the same.

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  4. Does "his" refer to the Rav's thinking or the RaMBaM's?

    I note that the R' Meiselman quote was assembled from three different and distant pages in his book, which makes me wonder if he's being accurately represented. (I don't have a copy.)

    RM

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  5. Why did you conveniently omit the words of Rambam in MN 1:67 or 3:50 where he treats the accounts of creation as literal, or the opinion of Abarvanel in his commentary to MN 2:31 where he writes that Rambam believed that the account of six days was "כולה לפי הפשט", and his commentary to Genesis pg. 86 where he qualifies his earlier opinion and repeats that claim?
    In "The Rav Thinking Aloud" on Beraishis, R. Soloveitchik strongly condemns allegorical interpretations of the Torah, much in line with R. Meiselman's version of him. Why did you omit any sources from there?
    I am very disappointed.

    R Stefansky

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    1. "Why did you conveniently omit the words of Rambam in MN 1:67 or 3:50 where he treats the accounts of creation as literal,"

      1) Because he doesn't.
      2) For the same reason that I also omitted the explicit statement in 2:29 that "The account of creation given in Scripture is not, as is generally believed, intended to be literal in all its parts." This post is a concise summary of secondary views regarding Rambam, which primarily revolve around his statements in 2:30. I only quoted the part of Rambam which provides the primary source material for the secondary discussion.

      "or the opinion of Abarvanel in his commentary to MN 2:31 where he writes that Rambam believed that the account of six days was "כולה לפי הפשט", and his commentary to Genesis pg. 86 where he qualifies his earlier opinion and repeats that claim?"

      As I wrote in The Challenge Of Creation: Some people have been led astray by Abarbanel’s later comments, where he writes that Rambam “did not compose an [allegorical] interpretation and did not veer from the literal interpretation of the verses as the Torah describes it…” to believe that Abarbanel at this point revised his understanding of Rambam’s position. But considering that on p. 10 he explains Rambam's position on the non-chronological sequence in full, describes it as a secret that was revealed by others, then proceeds to condemn this approach in the harshest terms, it is most unreasonable to think that sixty-seven pages later he decides that Rambam didn't really hold that view at all, without explicitly spelling that out, without stating that there is no need to condemn Rambam for holding such a view, and without stating that everyone else was mistaken in believing him to hold this view and explaining how they misunderstood him — especially since Abarbanel always defends Rambam wherever possible. It is far more reasonable to interpret Abarbanel’s later words as referring to Rambam not allegorizing creation in an Aristotelian manner such as to undermine the concept of creation ex nihilo. This is exactly how Abarbanel ends his sentence above: “…in that the belief in creation ex nihilo is accepted with our nation.”

      "In "The Rav Thinking Aloud" on Beraishis, R. Soloveitchik strongly condemns allegorical interpretations of the Torah, much in line with R. Meiselman's version of him. Why did you omit any sources from there?"

      I don't have that book. I highly doubt that the Rav is condemning *all* allegorical interpretations. Much more likely that, like many Rishonim, he is condemning those that would allegorize parts that have halachic ramifications.

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    2. "1) Because he doesn't."
      He actually does, albeit כלאחר יד. Now, it is easily discarded, since Rambam was not focusing primarily on dealing with the account, but a treatment of Rambam's opinion is incomplete without reference. But if your intention was only 2:30 then fine.
      "It is far more reasonable to interpret Abarbanel’s later words as referring to Rambam not allegorizing creation in an Aristotelian manner such as to undermine the concept of creation ex nihilo."
      You seem to have not seen what Abarvanel actually says. He is quite clear. Here is what he says:
      ושכל מה שנזכר במעשה ששת הימים מבריאת שמים וארץ והנמצאים כלם ובריאת האדם ואשתו עד סוף פרשת ויכלו אין בהם משל כלל כי היה אצלו הכל כפשוטו ולכן תראה שבאותו פ"ל ח"ב בכל מה שביאר הרב במלאכת ששת הימים לא עשה פירוש צוריי ולא רמז כלל אבל עשה בהפך כי הוא השתדל השתדלות נמרץ לקיים אמונת החדוש המוחלט וקבל הפסוקי' כלם כפי פשוטיהם
      Why he doesn't address more explicitly his reversal is a fine question, and even if it couldn't be answered I don't know why you would distort his clear reversal, especially considering that this is the opinion he clearly maintains in the MN. Choosing only one citation from Abarbanel and ignoring how he actually explains MN is extremely intellectually dishonest.
      Furthermore, he actually does preface his explanation of pg. 86 by revisited his earlier condemnation and continues:
      וראשונה אלמד זכות על הרב. He also didn't offer a full retraction of his condemnation since he does hold that Rambam thought elements of the Garden of Eden - not the six days! - are allegorical, and he maintains his condemnation for this.

      "I highly doubt that the Rav is condemning *all* allegorical interpretations"
      Unfortunately, I do not have the book in front of me now to produce a quote, but IIRC he condemns even those allegories of narrative portions such as the Garden of Eden.
      R Stefansky

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    3. I have seen Abarbanel's words and I stand by what I wrote. It is unreasonable to the extreme to posit that Abarbanel is retracting his claim that "Rambam tried to conceal this view with ingenuity, as can be seen in his words there. But Ralbag went and tattled, revealing his secret, as did Narboni and the other commentators to his work; they uncovered his secret and publicized his view…." What are you claiming - that now he thinks that Ralbag and Narboni DIDN'T do that?!

      Anyway, even you admit that he does hold that Rambam thought elements of the Garden of Eden are allegorical, which suffices for the point of this post.

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    4. He never retracted his understading that Ralbag and Narboni publicized what, in their opinion, was a secret.
      I am not positing anything; it is not an opinion of mine, just a clear and unambiguous statement of Abarvanel. Either way, fun a kasha shtarbt men nisht. You seem unwilling to address what he actually says, or what he wrote in MN, preferring to distort it because of a secondary difficulty.
      But you are right, the point of your post is correct on the general opinion of Abravanel.
      R Stefansky

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    5. I just found this quote online from a book review of The Rav Thinking Aloud by Israel Drazin. I cannot vouch for its accuracy, although perhaps one of your readers who is in possession of the book can:
      "Anyone who entertains in his mind that any part of the Torah is an allegory is undermining one of the yesodei emunah"

      R Stefansky

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    6. "You seem unwilling to address what he actually says, or what he wrote in MN, preferring to distort it because of a secondary difficulty. "

      Actually I think that's what you're doing! I guess we differ in what to see as primary.

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    7. First, The Rav Thinking Aloud series is not by Israel Drazin but by David Holzer.

      Second, the title of the series says it all: It is the Rav thinking around, recorded (without his knowledge, and certainly without his knowledge that they would be published), and presented verbatim. As many have pointed out, you simply can't compare what he says in that series to lectures and books that he painstakingly worked out. This is not to say that the books are untrue, or that the Rav didn't really believe what he says in them, or that the books aren't valuable. But if you have a somewhat vague, unprecise, and/or unclear statement in them opposed to one in his other writings, well, you know which one wins out.

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    8. @Nachum: The review is by Drazin and can be found here: http://www.thejewisheye.com/dh_ravthink.html.

      @R Stefansky: The Rav's also is quoted by Drazin as saying "The very moment a person begins to ask questions, he forfeits his faith. Faith means not only to believe, but not to ask any questions."

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    9. "Anyone who entertains in his mind that any part of the Torah is an allegory is undermining one of the yesodei emunah"
      איוב לא היה ולא נברא

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    10. Rabbi Slifkin,

      I believe the Rambam's son condemns (in his Milchamos Hashem) people who allegorize the whole history of Avraham and Sarah (implying that these figures didn't exist). I don't think halacha is the only thing off limits. It seems that the basic storyline of our people is off limits too.

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  6. R. Stefansky:

    Setting aside your questions about the post, I'd like to understand by your reference to 3:50. I assume that your refer to the statement:

    "It is one of the fundamental principles of the Law that the Universe has been created ex nihilo, and that of the human race, one individual being, Adam, was created."

    The problem with taking at face value that it is a fundamental principle that Adam was created first is that he famously states in 3:25: "WE do not reject the Eternity of the Universe, because certain passages in Scripture confirm the Creation; for such passages are not more numerous than those in which God is represented as a corporeal being; nor is it impossible or difficult to find for them a suitable interpretation. We might have explained them in the same manner as we did in respect to the Incorporeality of God. We should perhaps have had an easier task in showing that the Scriptural passages referred to are in harmony with the theory of the Eternity of the Universe if we accepted the latter, than we had in explaining the anthropomorphisms in the Bible when we rejected the idea that God is corporeal."

    Without resorting to any esoteric reading, what he is saying is that it is important to establish the believe in Providence and that this is established by story of God's creation of the world. The reason that the creation of one man helps here is because the opposing theory would be an infinite series of parents and ancestors going back infinitely in time. Just as the Rambam establishes that he could accept an uncreated world with Providence (Plato's eternal universe) if there were actual evidence of the same, it would do no violence at all to the purpose of the Torah to say that that live and then Man emerged at some time earlier than 5000 years ago. The narrative still fulfills its purpose in teaching and convincing the people of Creation and Providence and thus "Every narrative in the Law serves a certain purpose in connexion with religious teaching. It either helps to establish a principle of faith...".

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    1. David, having now read the Friedlander translation of the relevant citations from the Moreh, I would surmise that the Rambam accepted the literal understanding of the creation days. He expressed the opinion in both 1:67 and 2:30 that those days did not function according to the 'natural' laws that have operated since then. Since he also stated in 2:29 that not all parts of the creation narrative are literally true, that would leave Gen. 2, the story of Adam in the garden as the allegorical part. He may be alluding to such allegory with his statement in 2:23, based on the sages, that there is a hidden meaning to the verses. The approach championed by Rav Nadel that I alluded to earlier is suggested by the Rambam's statement in 2:23 that it is proper to examine the text for such meanings using scientific knowledge as well as that of torah.

      Your citation from 3:30 "that of the human race, one individual being, Adam, was created" appears to be taken to mean that Adam was the first human. I don't believe that the phrasing - if Friedlander is to be believed, implies that. If it did, then a more direct phrasing would have been appropriate like the use of the term 'first'. Instead, I read it as asserting that Adam's creation was special (also Eve) and not like the birth of all other men, i.e., he wasn't taking a stance on whether Adam was truly the first human.

      Y. Aharon

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    2. @ Y. Aharon - Rambam - Guide for the Perplexed Chapter L : “It is one of the fundamental principles of the Law that the Universe has been created ex nihilo, and that of the human race, one individual being, Adam, was created. As the time which elapsed from Adam to Moses was not more than about two thousand five hundred years,....

      Sure seems like Rambam is writing one human was created about 2,500 years before Moshe. Why do you think that according to Rambam there was a human existing before that ?

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    3. ACJA, I don't maintain that the Rambam believed that Adam wasn't the first human. After all, he didn't know of any archeological evidence of the antiquity of mankind. It's just that the language, as translated from the Arabic by Friedlander, doesn't state that Adam was the first - only that his creation was unique. Adam lived less than 2400 years prior to Moshe's birth according to the biblical reckoning. We now know that humans existed for many millennia prior to the biblical Adam and were widespread. It's just a point of interest that the Rambam's translated statement is consistent with that knowledge.

      Y. Aharon

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    4. In Beit Habechirah 2:2, the Rambam refers to him as "Adam HaRishon."

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    5. MK, I don't mean to push my observation about the Rambam's view of Adam vs. possibly prior humans since it is based only on a translation by Friedlander. However, the phrase 'Adam Harishon' used by the Rambam in Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Bet Habechira 2:1 can be viewed as a merely conventional way of referring to the biblical Adam vs man.

      Y. Aharon

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    6. David, my intention was the quote you cited, and the subsequent discussion where he traces the genealogy of man, seemingly understanding Genesis 1-11 to be historical truth.
      I certainly agree that had contemporary evidence been presented to Rambam, he probably would have revised his understanding of certain passukim, since the gates of interpretation are never shut. And yes, it would still inculcate a principle of truth.
      Nevertheless, there are two important points to note:
      1) If we are trying to ascertain how Rambam did understand Genesis, - and not if alive today would he allow, or even support, an allegorical interpretation - then prima facie there is no reason not to take what he says in 3:50 (and 1:67) at face value and assume he did take that part of the creation narrative literally, as Y. Aharon wrote.
      2) Whether or not you do choose to understand Rambam this way, it behooves one who wishes to present or study Rambam's views on Genesis not to ignore what he writes in either 1:67 or 3:50. (I am less concerned with Beit HaBechira 2 since the MT is not always the most accurate representation of Rambam's philosophical stances).

      I personally am inclined to think that Rambam's personal views here were more esoteric, since he indicates in 2:30 that he will deliberately obscure what he himself thinks. And even though he seems to be taking the passukim as historical truth in 1:67 or 3:50, in both instances it was simply economical to treat the passukim on their own terms, i.e. when elucidating a word or explaining which principle a narrative serves to teach, without touching on if they are indeed historical truth. What I think is evident though, especially from 2:30, is that Rambam allowed a literal understanding of the creation days, as opposed to other views that he rejected and sought to eliminate.

      R Stefansky

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    7. Y. Aharon
      I'm not entirely certain how authoritative Friedlander's translation is - I'm pretty sure it's not taken that seriously, but I'll need Prof. Kaplan's confirmation of this -, and Ibn Tibbon, Pines, and Prof. Schwartz all translate that at first a single human was created.

      R Stefansky

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    8. @ Y. Aharon And what would you say to MK ? And what would you say if humans over 2500 years before Moshe are about the same as humans 2500 years before Moshe ? IMHO it appears to me you are obfuscating Rambam.

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  7. Just to add my two cents, and my thanks to you, rabbi Slifkin, for detailing some of the different positions on Bereshis.It's very informative, and to my view, illustrates the difficulty the gedolim had in understanding that piece. It sounds as if they didn't mean to limit or restrict what we would think, but, as Rav Soloveitchik said in his title, were thinking out loud. It's a pity that opinions on this, as on other issues, has ossified. Thanks again.

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  8. In all fairness, this book of the Rav's lectures was just released, so it's not like Meiselman could have taken it into account. But there's more than enough of the Rav that's been long available that it's a moot point, not to mention that the Rambam's stuff is very moot.

    Also, the track record of some of the Rav's students dismissing anything of his they see as "krum" (all the philosophy, the modernity, etc.) and unimportant goes way, way back. I remember jokes being made about it in YU right after the Rav passed away- but even more so, the Rav himself complained about it in the 70's!

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    1. It is just not RMM - it is to a great extent much of RIETS where many of its current leaders despite having been excellent students and were students in the Ravs shiur have turned their backs on the Rav-see eg Dr Tovah Lichtenstein's article in Traditionfrom about four years ago. Thus, in America since about 1984 very few musmachim have followed the Ravs approach from RIETS.

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  9. Here's my problem with the issue: Rav Meiselman is not a stupid man. He can read and he must know others can as well. If so he must also know that anyone can double check his sources. So what was he thinking when he willfully distorted the position of the Rav, ztl?

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    1. He was probably thinking that the audience for his book(s) aren't the type to check sources.

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  10. So what was he thinking when he willfully distorted the position of the Rav, ztl?

    I suppose he was thinking that confirmation bias will lead most people on his side to welcome whatever he says, regardless of whether it's actually, you know, true.

    For many (most?) people, it's all about scoring points.

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    1. But it's a lousy strategy. It's like moving your queen to a place where a pawn could capture it and hoping the other guy won't notice. It's not like he can say "Well you don't understand what RYBS said".

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    2. I suspect he can say just that to most of his audience, actually.

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  11. If RYBS did say that "saying parts of the Torah are allegorical undermines the faith", then one has to very carefully qualify the word "allegory." Obviously great swathes of the Torah are not literal, both in mitzvah and in narrative. We don't run around with a bloody bedsheet to prove virginity, nor do we actually name the child of the yovom by the dead man's name, nor do we actually practice an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. Likewise, many understand Ballam's donkey and Jacob's battle with the Ish to be a dream sequence. So clearly much of the Torah is universally not regarded as LITERAL.

    The word "allegory" is the problem. Maybe RYBS had in mind people who say the commandments re tefillin and mezuzah were only metaphorical. To say that, plausible though it may sound, would indeed uproot fundamentals of the faith, because then all traditional interpretations would be called into question. If so, that would have no application to the account of creation in Beraishis.

    In any event, this whole post revolves around whether or not R. Meiselman is honest or broad enough in his learning. On the actual issue of Genesis itself, there are galaxies of voices holding the Beraishis account to be allegorical. So clearly any view claiming such a belief beyond the pale should simply be rejected and ignored.

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    1. DF: as I pointed out above, another quotation is this one:

      "The very moment a person begins to ask questions, he forfeits his faith. Faith means not only to believe, but not to ask any questions."

      So, while you are correct, I don't think it's worth the time to try to parse that other sentence.

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    2. I think it is extremely difficult to parse this sentence without any context.

      There are some things that we CANNOT KNOW in the scientific, logical, concrete, sense. The sense that comes from direct observation or scientific proof over and over again. We cannot know whether the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai. We cannot know whether G-d exists. We cannot know whether Moshe spoke directly with G-d. These things must be taken on faith. Perhaps the Rav was speaking about these types of questions, about things that cannot be known.

      On the other hand, there are many things that can be known. We know the universe is much older than 6,000 years old. We know that evolution occurs in nature. We know that the earth orbits the sun, that day and night are caused by the earth's rotation even though the Torah says "the sun rose" rather than "the earth spun".

      Could the person most associated with Torah u'Maddah possibly say that questions about things that can be known forfeit our faith?

      Faith that can be disrupted by science is not faith at all. It is simple fear of the unknown.

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  12. "and Jacob's battle with the Ish to be a dream sequence."

    How did a dream cause Jacob to limp?

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    1. I heard many years ago, in the name of R. Avraham ben HaRambam's commentary to the Torah, that in the throes of an intense dream people often writhe around, and it was in such violent movements that he injured his thigh.

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    2. "Gen32: 33 Therefore the children of Israel eat not the sinew of the thigh-vein which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day; because he touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh, even in the sinew of the thigh-vein."
      We dont eat sinew because of an allegory ? And Yakov's thigh was touched in a allegory ? And a place is named after an allegory ?Mythologists have a name for this sort of story - Etiological Myth.

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    3. "How did a dream cause Jacob to limp?"

      Ramban Gen. 18:1 asks this and disagrees strongly w Rambam.

      So 1- DF quotes Rambam correctly. 2- It's a dispute betweem Rambam and Ramban.

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  13. As I mentioned in my Preface to my edition to the Rav's lectures on the Guide, my book only contains the first course, about 2/3 of the notes. I was thinking as my next project, editing and publishing as a separate unit the Lectures on Guide 1:2, the Garden of Eden story, about a third of the second course. An interesting side point is that the Rav prefaces his lectures on the subject by assigning readings from Augustine, found in An Augustine Synthesis. But relevant to the subject at hand, yesterday I was going through the lecture notes and came across the following statement. "The entire account of the creation of man is an allegory for the Rambam," followed by the references to the same passages from Guide 2:30. The Rav continues and explains what is the allegorical meaning of the creation of man and woman and their eating of the tree of knowledge according to the Rambam.

    As for David Holzer, his interview with the Rav, in the volume on Genesis, about the Rambam's view regarding Abraham's encounter with the angels in Genesis 18 shows how thoroughly he failed to understand the Rav's point, despite the repeated attempts of the Rav to explain it to him. This is not the only place where Holzer misunderstands the Rav.


    Lawrence Kaplan

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    1. "I would rather be reported by my bitterest enemy among philosophers than a friend innocent of philosophy." -- Bertrand Russell

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  14. I believe that the story of creation and that much of the Torah is allegorical. The opinions of sincere and brilliant seekers turns me on. What does it turn me on to? The fact that I am here at my dining room table, reading these opinions. That I exist in this moment in a tiny speck on this planet called Vancouver. That if I had never been born, everything in the universe would be different. That if there were no story of creation, there probably would be no Shabbat. That Shabbat is the greatest gift to our species that is imaginable. That I don't care who thinks Torah should be taken literally. That I feel gratitude, love even, for those who study and share their opinions.

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  15. Even if it happened, Genesis is an alegory. The important thing is the message. RAMBAM thought the three wise men was a dream as well. Professor Aaron Vecht lectured about Genesis and Geology in the Sixties.
    Unfortunately not some simpletons are fundamentalists. So what's new?

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    1. The 'three wise men' are in the baby jesus story, but since the important thing is the message it may not matter anyway.

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    2. Also there is a big difference between a dream/vision and allegory.

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    3. Actually, there weren't three wise men in that story - only three gifts. The only three wise men I know about are the ones who form a Beit Din or in Berakhot 57b. :)

      R Stefansky

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    4. I am not advocating looking into the story.

      But they are generally referred to as 'three wise men' or 'three kings'.

      Delete
  16. Am I the only one who realizes that the Abarbanels and the Akeidahs explanation of the Rambam is absolutely against an evolutionary process?

    Abarbanel : "The Rambam believed that there were not separate creative acts on six days, but rather everything was created on one day, in a single instant."

    And the Akeidah : "The Rav, the Guide, gave the reason for the mention of Days in the Beginning by explaining the statement of the Sages, who said that “all the products of Creation were created in their full form” (Talmud, Chullin 60a); in other words, everything was created at the first instant of creation in their final perfect form."

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    1. Yes. They didn't know about evolution back then. This idea of a single instant of creation was presumably influenced by the philosophy of his day.

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    2. Or it was based on Kabalah "secrets of Torah" as the meforshei HaRambam say.

      Incidentally this "single instant of creation" is precisely the 'Big Bang Theory'. So maybe hold off on what they didnt know about back then.

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    3. @ George Like who ? Or maybe it was influenced by how the Rabbis interpreted the Torah or has a mesorah for.

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    4. Also, evolution doesn't require changing the laws of nature, which is what the Rambam was objecting to. Lots of people were "created" after Maaseh Breishis, but through the natural process of having children.

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  17. Rabbi Slifkin,

    Thank you for this fascinating discussion. What's really been demonstrated here is that these great authorities (Rambam, Abarbanel, the Rav) - all wrote things and then later contradicted themselves. These authors wrote with subtlety and at times obfuscation, and their true intent is a matter of debate. While you can argue vehemently for your interpretation, we should keep in mind that others may read these ambiguous sources differently.

    Daniel Shain

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    Replies
    1. But then they , e.g. Rabbi Meiselman, should have the humility to express their views more tentatively.

      Lawrence Kaplan

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