Thursday, December 1, 2016

When Bears Clash

You might remember the following hilarious video from way back in 2010 (if you're reading this blog via email subscription, you'll have to go to www.RationalistJudaism.com in order to see it):


The bears (or are they dogs?) are arguing about whether Biblical characters who lived before the giving of the Torah at Sinai should be conforming to Torah law. There are indeed statements in the Talmud about the Avos having "kept the Torah," though these are subject to different interpretations. The video was criticized by Rabbi Yair Hoffman, and I published a response on this site; see too the response by the video's creator.

Over the years, I have accumulated an enormous amount of material on this topic, though I don't know if and when I will ever have the time to put it together; see too Isaiah Gafni, "Rabbinic Historiography and Representations of the Past," in The Cambridge Companion to The Talmud and Rabbinic Literature, and Akiva Weisinger's paper "Pre-Sinaitic Halakhic Observance As Interpreted By Medieval Authorities." Suffice it to say that both the maximalist view (that the Avos and their relatives were aware of the entire Torah, down to the details of disputes between the Shulchan Aruch and the Rama) and the minimalist view (that the Avos followed the will of God as it applied to them, but were not aware of commandments that had yet to be revealed at Sinai) have a long history of support among classical rabbinic authorities.

Should the minimalists mock the maximalists? I don't think that this is a good idea, for a variety of reasons. But I understand why it happens. It often stems from frustration that the maximalists are expecting everyone to accept their approach as the only legitimate approach, despite its inherent implausibility.

There are people who enjoy the intellectual gymnastics required to make pre-Sinai behavior conform with the Torah. There are people who actually seem to want Torah beliefs to be as fabulous, incomprehensible and counter-intuitive as possible. I once heard a wonderful person repeat a claim "from the seforim" that if one were to truly understand the spiritual depths of the trop (cantillation notes) of the Torah, it would be possible to figure out the words from the trop alone. Now, this notion is unreasonable to the extreme. But I received the impression that this person loved the idea precisely because it ran against all logic. The same goes for extreme Midrashim.

The maximalist/minimalist debate regarding the Avos keeping the mitzvos is somewhat related to the rationalist/mystical divide in two ways. One is that the notion of pre-Sinai people having knowledge of the Torah suggests the sort of supernaturally-sourced knowledge that is associated with the mystical school of thought. Another is that the rationalist approach prefers to minimize the extent to which beliefs run counter to reason; it seeks, to use Rambam's words, to harmonize Torah and rational thought as much as possible.

If someone wants to believe that Eisav and Yaakov were dealing with a shaylah in hilchos b'rachos, fine. They should be respectfully allowed to maintain such a belief. But they, in turn, should be sympathetic to those who do not wish to believe such things.

49 comments:

  1. Not to mock anyone, but the gemara itself uses the actions of the Avot to derive halachah -- for Noachides. I don't understand how that famous midrash on the subject can be taken literally.

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    1. I think all the noachide laws are learnt from pasukim prior to Avraham (mostly to Adam) see sanhedrin 56b(actually 56a-60a), Gen Rab 16:16 (on Bresheit 2:15) see rambam quoting chazal - he gave 6 commandments to Adam and one to Noach - see PRK12:1. It should be noted that chazal didn't agree exactly what those 7 laws entailed and there are disagreements on a few of them.

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  2. What was Yaakov studying for 14 years in the Yeshiva of Shem and Ever?

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    1. I must have missed that Possuk.

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    2. He was studying God and His desires for this world. Today there are people who spend twice that amount of time on feminist/LGBTQRXYZ philosophy. Surely 14 years poring over what was then the collective knowledge of God and His presence in the world isn't that long.

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    3. Yes, but he wasn't married at the time and didn't have a father-in- law to support him.

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    4. The Torah, of course, which he knew b'ruach hakodesh, including the parts about Lavan tricking him and his curse killing his beloved Rachel.

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    5. Anonymous, the Chazal cited by Rashi which calculates Ya'akov's age at his arrival in Lavan's house as 77 based on counting back from age 130 at his arrival in Egypt [130 - 39 (Yosef's age then) - 14 (years in Aram prior to Yosef)]. This is compared to the calculation of 63 as Ya'kov's age when he left his parents. The latter is based on Yishma'el's death at age 137 which corresponds to Yitzchok's being 123 and Ya'akov being 63. The age discrepancy of 14 years is then assumed to indicate that Ya'akov tarried for 14 years before setting out for Haran and a wife. The only justification that the sages saw for Ya'akov to contravene his parent's desire for him to find a wife in Haren, and to stay there long enough for Esav's wrath to subside, was Talmud torah. However, there is no need to assume that Yishma'el's death occurred together with Ya'akov's leaving his home. That death could have occurred 14 years earlier, but is mentioned now that Esav, finally recognizing his parents displeasure with his wives, sought out Nevayot, Yishma'el's heir, to take his sister, Machlat, in marriage. So Ya'akov was, indeed, 77 when he set out. Parenthetically, we are allowed to disagree with the sages in matters not pertaining to halacha. As Rashi often states (but not here)," there are many midrashei aggada, but I have come to give the evident meaning (p'shat) of the verses". For those with a mystical bent, a leading kabbalist, Hayyim ibn Attar (the Ohr Hachayim), goes counter to the interpretation of the sages in several verses, and uses the above rationale.

      Y. Aharon

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  3. Eminently reasonable post, R.Slifkin. I would just add one more point. The maximalist position has a lot of support from the language of the passuk (Gen. 26:5)עֵ֕קֶב אֲשֶׁר־שָׁמַ֥ע אַבְרָהָ֖ם בְּקֹלִ֑י וַיִּשְׁמֹר֙ מִשְׁמַרְתִּ֔י מִצְוֹתַ֖י חֻקּוֹתַ֥י וְתוֹרֹתָֽי, which indeed serves as a Talmudic proof-text for the position. While the language of מִצְוֹתַ֖י חֻקּוֹתַ֥י וְתוֹרֹתָֽי can be understood as creating a thematic literary parallel to the subsequent mitzvah obedience of BY, without intimating that Avraham actually adhered to the same legal code, at face value it implies a much more exact and intimate relationship between the future mitzvot and the principles Avraham adhered to. Thus the maximalist position is also supported by the text of the Torah itself. Although, the axiomatic position taken when explicating the above passage is similarly hinges on the mystical/rational dichotomy, so this may just be begging the question.
    R Stefansky

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    1. While this is the proof text used by the Mishnah, tosefta, yerushalmi, Bereisheit Rabba and bavli see Rashbam, Chizkuni, Radak, Ramban, Ibn Ezra, and seforno for what the text means.
      The minimalist also have the proof text of the entire Bereisheit as proof that they did not and actual cases (as noted by chazal) that contradict this notion.

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    2. Rabbi Stefansky, while the verse that you cited is, indeed, the prime source for the notion of the avot keeping the mitzvoth given later to Moshe, it is not conclusive. Chukotai could refer to milah and the akeidah. Mitzvotai could refer to 'lema'an asher yitzaveh et banav lishmor derech Hashem la'asot tzedaka umishpat'. Mishmarti could refer to the commands to leave Haran and to send away Yishma'el.

      In general, we read about instances where the avot didn't keep the later mitzvoth of the torah. Avraham didn't circumcise himself until explicitly commanded at age 99 (the greater merit of metzuva ve'oseh must be weighed against the shame of living for so many years as an 'arel'). Yitzchak didn't follow the sages in not taking another wife after 10 years of marriage (he was married 20 years Rivka gave birth). Ya'akov married 2 sisters against the torah's explicit later prohibition (nor is this a matter where being in or out of Israel makes a difference, or that a vow to Rachel could override a torah prohibition). He also gave the double inheritance to Yosef instead of Reuven.

      Y. Aharon

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    3. "for what the text means"
      A little presumptuous, don't you think? :)
      Furthermore, you still have to deal with the textual parallel - the fact that the language is only used elsewhere wrt mitzvot.

      "The minimalist also have the proof text of the entire Bereisheit as proof that they did not and actual cases (as noted by chazal) that contradict this notion. "
      Part of the fun is reconciling those cases! (See Ramban you cited). You also can differentiate between asserting that the Avot followed every דרבנן - could the Avot have smartphones? - and asserting they only kept דאורייתא, which resolves some of the inconsistencies.

      R Stefansky

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    4. Y. Aharon,
      Agreed. See Rishonim.

      "Avraham didn't circumcise himself..."
      v. Gri"z al Hatorah.
      "Yitzchak didn't follow the sages..."
      Gemara brings this up Yevamot 64
      ("Ya'akov married 2 sisters..."
      Another response is that the nature of Ishut prior to Sinai was fundamentally different - see e.g. Rambam beg. of hilchot Ishut - and therefore not covered, since the Torah is referring to the post-Sinai institution of marriage. Another avenue is that although the Avot kept the Torah they had the status of Bnei Noach, (v. sefer Prashat Derakhim), and therefore their marriage wasn't a halakhic one which would be forbidden. Also, perhaps they converted and therefore their previous familial relationship was negated.
      Some of these are obviously a little forced, but once the proposition the Avot kept Talmudic halacha is presumed, - which I think is the biggest leap - it is not such a big step to find the loopholes in halacha that would permit their actions. Again, all part of the "intellectual gymnastics" or "Torah Lishmah" depending on your view.)
      Definitely though, the gist of the narratives is that they didn't.

      R Stefansky

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    5. R. Stefansky - presumptuous? I find it amazing that almost no one discusses how most of the rishonim rejected chazal's reading of text - including Ramban who tried to explain it derech chazal (very unique understanding) but felt compelled to also give an explanation - "al derech pshat". If you look there are many of the commentators who felt they could not take chazal literally (also which chazal - there seems to be different versions) see sereidi aish, nefesh haHayim, shu"t Ramo (only Avraham not Yitzchak or Yaakov), Ramban (only in eretz Yisroel), sefet emet, Minhat Asher, da'at zekanim, Shem miShmuel plus all the rishonim (see rambam mishnah torah hilchot melachim 9:1-3) and parts of chazal that reject this notion. My objection is to apparent teaching that this is the only way to learn this pasuk plus all chazal agrees with this version.

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    6. R. Stefansky - Yes the language is the issue and that is why (lefei da'ati) chazal felt they can be (or should be) doresh the pasuk. Please note that these 3 last words comes at the end of Hashem speaking to Yitzchak and also seems unnecessary. But as noted before many rishonim learn it differently - exclusively to what is recorded to Avraham - see chizkuni who does a brilliant job in using tehilim with these same words.

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    7. R. Stefansky - resolving the conflicts is what many commentators do - it just begs the question of what really was chazal up to - remember this is a machloket in chazal. Please note that many conclude that they didn't keep the mitzvot per se but the idea of the mitzvot in their own way or only the aseh, or the essence of the mitzvot - the question why torture oneself into a pretzel for a derash - there is something much more important at stake to chazal at this point in history and unfortunately I think this is missed when taking the literal side of chazal.

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    8. Ruvie, in this thread at least I don't think we disagree, I was just quibbling about your categorical assertion "for what the text means".
      Yes, obviously the the point of Beraishit is not mitzvot. Even the members of Chazal who do understand the Avot as having fulfilled the mitzvot didn't deny this. There can be no clearer source than Rashi's first comment.
      "Please note that these 3 last words comes at the end of Hashem speaking to Yitzchak and also seems unnecessary"
      That was the point of my comment.
      "Please note that many conclude that they didn't keep..."
      I never insinuated differently. In fact, I cited a few sources below that support this. I just commented that when trying to understand the rationale of those who do adhere to the Avot-mitzvot theory, the language of the verse should also be taken into account.
      One last note: " the question why torture oneself into a pretzel for a derash" is one thing. To which that school of thought has its responses. What the primary goal of S. Beraishit, or indeed any biblical narrative is another, one I didn't comment on, and is undoubtedly not simple legalistic mitzvot. I'm not sure why you assume I think differently.

      R Stefansky

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    9. The Lubavitcher Rebbe (Likkutei Sichos, Vol. 5) answers that Avos were obligated to keep the Seven Noachide Laws, and the later mitzvos they would receive at Sinai were in the category of "hiddurim". Ya'akov had already promised to marry Rachel, and even a Noachide is obligated not to engage in deceit and must keep his word.
      So, once he married Leah, he was still obligated to marry Rachel, as he was bound more by the Noachide requirement of being honest and keeping his word, more than the "hiddur" of not marrying two sisters, which would only come into effect after Mattan Torah.

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  4. "There are people who enjoy the intellectual gymnastics required to make pre-Sinai behavior conform with the Torah."
    I would add, and believe that it constitutes Torah study lishmah, as it is conceptually understood by the more mystical thought.

    There may also be a middle ground. It is possible to distinguish between asserting that the historical Avraham observed the mitzvot, and reading it into the manner in which the Torah chose to convey the narrative. To wit, asserting that the portrayed actions of the Avot are in concordance with the behavior mandated by the future mitzvot. This is based on the assumption that the entire Torah can be used as a source for Halakha, including the narrative portions, and thus the Torah's portrayal of the Avot would accord with it. Indeed, some halakhot are indeed derived from said portions.

    R Stefansky

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    1. I think chazal rejected the notion that you can learn any halachot from the stories of pre-sinai: see mishnah chulin 7:6, Negaiim 7:1 and Rambam al haMishnah chulin 7:6. After all:
      “Nitnah Torah V’nitchadsha Halacha.”

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    2. Nope. Negaim just states that the mandate of the Torah wasn't in effect until after Matan Torah. The mishnah in Chullin just records a historical dispute regarding the date of the prohibition of Gid Hanasheh, and Rambam is dealing with the theological-historical rationale for observing mitzvot.
      None of these deal with the exegetical question about whether or not we can derive halacha from the pre-Sinai portions of the Torah, and in fact R. Yehuda's opinion in Chullin explicitly supports this claim, and there is no evidence that on these grounds the Sages disagreed with him. (Rambam's contention is not about deriving halacha from verses pre-sinai, but whether we require that it be derived from verses which were given at Sinai - which acc. to him incl. the entire Torah, even the pre-Sinai narrative portions - or mitzvot which were historically commanded prior to Sinai suffice to be binding as Torah).
      There are countless instances where halacha is derived from pre-Sinaic portions. E.g. that the day begins at night, and also v. TB Berakhot 26b, Yevamot 64a, Bava Metzia 93b, Chullin 16a, TY Moed Katan 1:7, Beraishit Rabbah 76:7, Avot Dr"N B Ch. 1, Kallah 1:1 - these come to mind offhand, and there are more.
      There is however a dispute recorded in TY Moed Katan 3:5, BR 100:7, Devarim Rabba 9:1, Tanchuma Vayechi 18 et al wrt this, and Rambam Avel 1:1 seems to rule that we don't.

      R Stefansky

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    3. The Mishnah in Negaim that bright spots that appear on the skin before matan torah are pure (like on a gentile) - which means the law of impurity were not effect prior to matan torah (therefore the law would not have applied to the avot who keep the torah kula) therefore no mitzva can be had.

      The mishnah in chulim is more interesting - its not just a dispute on the date - its that gid hanasheh is only halacha in bereisheit that is never stated again in the torah (as oppose to brit milah) - the tana kama and the mishnah rejects learning gid hanasheh from yaakov story (in a very strong way)and states this happened at sinai and only placed here (the prohibition). R. Yehuda is rejected totally - for there is no reason to say that we can't learn it from the Yaakov story in general- the tanna kama (and chazal)felt it broke the rules on how to learn mitzvot from the torah. see tosefta hullin 7:8-9 which compares it to aver min hachai which was giving to noachides in bresheit. see also peshachim 119b and Gen rabbah 84:21 which states Yaakov can marry two wives since it was never prohibited pre - sinai. See also as you stated Yerushalmi Moed Katan 3:5, Bavli Yoma 28a, GenRab 100:7 - claiming one does not learning halakha from actions of the patriachs (although there seems to be contradiction to divorcing one's wife after 10 years on no children which I think is source from the Avot). I will try to look up your sources but wonder if they are asmachtas and not the real deal - all mitzvot except for gid haneshah have post matan torah source, I think. Matan Torah establishes the mitzvot even those that were given to Avot prior - like Brit Milah are not derived from the Avot even though commanded by Hashem. It doesn't mean you can't learn acts of Hesed from Avraham or even Hashem - just the source of our doing a mitzvah is matan torah.

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    4. R. Stefansky - Perhaps we are talking on different issues and pass each other. There are many depictions of the Avot keeping the mitzvot while at the same time there are many contrary statements in chazal that reject the Avot keeping mitzvot (except those directly commanded like brit milah)prior to matan torah - this seems more of a philosophical debate rather than an historical one of what did they do.The mishnah in Negaim and Chulin show they were not subject to these mitzvot. This probably explains why many commentators reinterpret Chazal to say they kept the asehs only, they kept the essence of tefilin but did not have actual tefilin, only Avraham keep them, they kept what why intuit, they kept some not all (after all how did they do machazit hashekel) etc. This does not prevent chazal using asmachtas (some of your sorces like Avot and tefillah are asmachtas) from pasukim in bereisheit. My issue is presenting only one side of this issue and ignoring a plethora of evidence contradicting it. For me the mishnah in Hulin is a key in rejecting learning from the Avot because of the uniqueness of gi dhanashae.

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    5. Rabbi Stefansky, to add Gid Hanashe to your list of mitzvoth whose origin is pre-Sinaitic. Do you know of anyone claiming that this issur is not d'oraita? Yet, it only occurs in the story of Ya'akov's fight with the angel in Bereishit, "therefore the b'nei Yisrael shall (or will) not eat the sciatic nerve...".

      I would quibble with your characterization of the start of the halachic day with the night as being pre-Sinaitic. While this is the conventional understanding of the repeated phrase in Gen. I, "vayehi erev, vayehi boker, yom __", i.e. that the 'day' began with the previous night, it is not the more evident understanding of that phraseology according to the Rashbam. He translate the phrase as, "and there was evening and then morning (to complete) day __",i.e., the day which began with light ends when the new light appears. As evidence that the biblical day is daylight followed by night, he notes that this is explicitly the case with korbonot. He also adduces the verses, "on the 14thd day of the (first) month at night shall you eat matzot until the night of the 21st day". The night here follows the day. Similarly, "On the ninth (day) of the (7th) month at night shall you afflict yourselves (by fasting)". The night here, again, follows the day. Of course, the Rashbam does not intend to overthrow basic calendrical halacha that regulates Shabbat as well as yom tov. In fact, he derives those time requirements from the latter verse (the next one, actually), "..from evening to evening shall you observe your Sabbaths". This is presumed to include both Shabbat and yom tov, i.e., that the requirement to cease work starts in the prior evening and last until the evening at the end of the Sabbath. If so, then the night preceding the day convention is Sinaitic.

      Y. Aharon

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    6. "to add Gid Hanashe"
      That was the Mishna in Chullin I am discussing with Ruvie.

      "I would quibble with your characterization..."
      True, but on multiple occasions the Gemara does cite is as a source. For a different reason I believe that this example is not as demostrative as the others: It may simply be a גילוי מילתא on the delineation of a day.
      R Stefansky

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    7. Ruvie-
      "The Mishnah in Negaim that bright spots that appear on the skin before matan torah are pure (like on a gentile) - which means the law of impurity were not effect prior to matan torah...."
      You're missing the point. Of course they weren't in effect. No one claimed they were. R. Slifkin didn't cite such an opinion and neither did I. That's not the question.Therefore Negaim is irrelevant to the current discussion. The debate is whether or not we can learn anything from verses that appear pre-Sinai, i.e. until P. Yitro, (w/the exclusion of such obvious mitzvot such as Milah, Pesach, etc.). Wrt this, there are countless instances that Chazal do.
      "Matan Torah establishes the mitzvot even those that were given to Avot prior - like Brit Milah are not derived from the Avot even though commanded by Hashem. It doesn't mean you can't learn acts of Hesed from Avraham or even Hashem - just the source of our doing a mitzvah is matan torah."
      Just so you know - this is the opinion of the Rambam who contended that the theological-historical origin of mitzvot must be Matan Torah. Other Rishonim disagreed, and maintained that certain mitzvot may have pre-Sinnaic origins.
      "(some of your sorces like Avot and tefillah are asmachtas)". Avot Dr"n is debatable, but Tefillah is not. There is a clear opinion in the Gemara that it isn't. Even the one who argues does so for a different(!) reason.
      "For me the mishnah in Hulin is a key in rejecting learning from the Avot because of the uniqueness of gi dhanashae."
      You're conflating asserting the Avot kept the mitzvot historically - which we presume they didn't-, and whether or not, exegeticallly, we can derive mitzvot from them. Which we do.
      See beg. of this comment.
      "Perhaps we are talking on different issues and pass each other."
      Yes. Re-read my contention carefully.
      R Stefansky

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    8. R. Stefansky - Thank you for clarifying (and perhaps my reading you incorrectly). I was referring to learning Taryag mitzvot from the actions of the avot. Your issue - learning from pasukim in bereisheit even though they didn't keep the mitzvot is different ballgame. Since all torah is divine why can't you learn anything from anywhere in chumash (we know chazal didn't apply that to nach)? Which begs the question on the mishnah in chulin that refuses to do that in a regular derash way. I would think chazal could have learnt many more mitzvot from the avot and the text in bereisheit but decided not to - why? "lasot tzedek u'mishpat" a commandment to Avraham and his next generations should have yielded many halakhot but did not is interesting. Hulin shows a part of chazal that refrains from using the text to learn a taryag begs the question - is there an understanding in chazal not use the chumash that discusses the avot for mitzvot - because the avot did not keep it or if they did why didn't we see more derashot from R. Akiva who can learn from the tagiim halakhot let alone from the milim or pasukim?

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  5. "There are people who actually seem to want Torah beliefs to be as fabulous, incomprehensible and counter-intuitive as possible... But I received the impression that this person loved the idea precisely because it ran against all logic...the rationalist approach prefers to minimize the extent to which beliefs run counter to reason; it seeks, to use Rambam's words, to harmonize Torah and rational thought as much as possible."

    Compare with the Alter of Kelm: 

    "I will tell you this. I can point to an idea in one of Rambam's responsa that is a central support of our yeshiva . He writes: With all our might we will attempt to bring Torah matters in synch with rational thought. Wherever we find this impossible, we will concede that the Torah matter belongs to the meta-rational. I have seen amongst Torah personalities those whose goal is to take all of Torah  past and future and turn it into the inexplicable. They wish for everything to be foreign to rational thought. Rambam mocks them, and rejects them. " (Kisvei HaSaba v'Talmidav MiKelm, pg. 100;  Tenuas HaMussar,Vol. 2, translation by R. Adlerstein in "A Torah Rationalist's Manifesto", Cross Currents, 2/24/05)

    To round things out, RYA wrote "Emunah Peshutah - Response to a Reader" on Cross Currents  a few days later. Also,  see his "The Yeshiva Bochur YouTube and its Discontents"(11/25/10) discussing this video and R. Hoffman's response.

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  6. RS writes "One is that the notion of pre-Sinai people having knowledge of the Torah suggests the sort of supernaturally-sourced knowledge that is associated with the mystical school of thought. Another is that the rationalist approach prefers to minimize the extent to which beliefs run counter to reason; it seeks, to use Rambam's words, to harmonize Torah and rational thought as much as possible."

    Does the 'rationalist approach' ever allow "supernaturally-sourced knowledge" ( which I assume includes prophecy by prophets, scientific secrets hidden in the Torah/Talmud or supernaturally-sourced knowledge somehow revealed to certain Rabbis...) ? If the answer is yes, what does it mean to minimize it ? What gives anybody the right to claim the minimum should be XYZ and not ABC ?

    ANONACJA

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  7. Perhaps one can adopt a middle position that Chazal were making use of literary license to convey a point. That is to say, the historical Yaakov and Eisave may or may not have been arguing over a sugiya but that is irrelevant. Chazla wanted to compare the Yaakov type vs. the Eisav type.

    Parenthetically, I have noticed that Rabbi Slifkin and others take a literalist view of aggadic statements. This is typical of scientific-minded people. As Rav Soloveichik says, the halachic man loos at a sunrise and sees the optimal time to daven Shacharit. He looks at a bubbling pool and tries to determine if it can be a kosher mikva. However, I submit that baalei aggada have a literary bent. Perhaps this is one of the reasons why Rav Soloveichik told Rav Lichtnestein to study Literature rather than Mathematics as he wanted.

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    1. did you reverse the Literature and Mathematics ?
      KT
      Joel Rich

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  8. "There are people who enjoy the intellectual gymnastics required to make pre-Sinai behavior conform with the Torah. There are people who actually seem to want Torah beliefs to be as fabulous, incomprehensible and counter-intuitive as possible." There are also people who enjoy the intellectual gymnastics required to make modern science conform with the Torah. This in many instances is even more incomprehensible and counter intuitive

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    1. Indeed. That's why I don't like the Aviezer/Schroeder approach.

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  9. R. Slifkin - I think framing the issue as maximalist/minimalist and rationalist vs mystical misses a key point of this debate In chazal (its not a monolithic viewpoint as many presume). Perhaps chazal were struggling of how to frame the Avot as models for the Jewish people if they didn't keep the whole Torah. The Torah and its mitzvot are suppose to create a higher moral and more ethical human being that is "Or laGoyim". How can our Avot pre-sinai be our role morals if they didn't keep the mitzvot (interestingly, chazal refuses to learn any halachot from the Avot)? so we see even pre-chazal (mishnah and midrash) but post biblical books depicting Avraham and others in keeping certain mitzvot not recorded in the the torah - it begs the question of also looking at the times and context of what was occurring in Jewish society (when this was written)- other sects of what you need to believe or do to be a good Jew or person. This also may have influence the late addition of Avraham keeping even "erev tavshilim". Unfortunately, teaching this in the simple way - since we teach our children Rashi - creates problems of belief when they become adults. Framing the issue correctly should be a consideration in how we teach our children - deeper meanings than the current contrasts is advisable. Hamavin Yavin.

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  10. > I received the impression that this person loved the idea precisely because it ran against all logic.

    I don't at all understand that attitude intuitively. Why do people find things they don't understand amazing? I think it's amazing when we can explain things that at first seem weird or bizarre. There's something really satisfying about the, "Oh, *that's* how it works" moment.

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    1. I made that point (that people davka like irrationality in the Torah) several years ago here, and RNS then copied it to make a separate post about it. The idea is that if the Torah's commandments were mere prescriptions as to how to have a good life, it would take all the magic out of it. It would just be a generic "be a good person" programme with a few minor little twists. But when it goes against all common sense, you feel as though you're privy to some sort of special club, with mystical practices that only you and a few select others are privy to. It breeds a certain espirt d'corps that prosaic commands cannot.

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    2. I understand that, intellectually. But I've never experienced it.

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    3. DF, we do have special arbitrary-sounding practices, like korbanot and kosher animals and a number of others. If only people could identify with the "mystical" commands that are actually in the Torah, rather than inventing new and different ones...

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    4. Interestingly enough, it was the early Christian theologians who held that the truth of Christianity is proven davka because it is so irrational. Judaism certainly reject that. (Yoram Hazony discusses this in his excellent book "The Philosophy of Jewish Scripture" which follows directly in the path of "Rationalist Judaism".

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    5. @G*3: Do you like Bell's theorem? Maybe then you have experienced it. I'm also not sure that "running against all logic" and "don't understand" are synonyms. As DF says, the key is that you understand something that *appears* to run against all logic, but is actually correct (in their view).

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  11. Yaakov married two sisters....hence he did not practice all the mitzvos (this is one explanation why Rachel died). but then again - "Im lovon garti"- garti's gematria is 613. So there are various ways of looking at this. The avos, by the way, were clearly bnai noach halachically.
    But in the larger context, who says that the Avos knew about events that will happen? Respecting and doing the mitzvos has nothing to do with history. It strains credulity to believe that Yaakov-for example- knew about the prohibition of "gid hanoshe",when it is his own story that brought on this prohibition. Similarly, "mechiyas amolek" (the erasing of Amalek) only happened after Amalek attacked the Israelites. If Amalek would have kept to their own,we would not have this mitzvah.
    MItzvos is one thing-history is another.

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    1. Even more than that - if Avraham knew that he wouldn't really be sacrificing Yitzchak, it really pretty much eliminates the whole merit of the Akeidah.

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    2. Rav Zevin, in his סיפורי חסידים on Parshas Vayishlach, brings a story about the Ba'al Shem Tov. The Ba'al Shem Tov went into a gentile's house to discuss some matter. When the Ba'al Shem Tov exited the house, he was very happy. His students asked him what was the source of his being so pleased. The Ba'al Shem Tov said that the gentile's house was full of icons of avodah zarah, and, because it is considered so offensive, it is forbidden to contemplate words of Torah in their presence. The Ba'al Shem Tov said that he was able to control himself and not think Torah thoughts while in the gentile's house.
      A student of the Ba'al Shem Tov elucidated: Rashi brings the Midrash עם לבן גרתי, ותרי"ג מצוות שמרתי. How can Ya'akov keep all the mitzvos in Lavan's house? There are numerous agricultural laws that don't apply in chutz l'aretz.
      So the Ba'al Shem Tov story gives us another way of explaining it: since Lavan's house contained idols, Ya'akov Avinu was careful not to contemplate Torah while in their presence. And this respect for the words of Torah are considered as if he kept all the mitzvos.

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    3. Amalek wasn't born yet.

      No obligation to . . . whatever . . .

      Also, basic rule of foreseeing the future: does not apply to the future. (Rule of Torah, as well as rule of literature.)

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  12. R' Natan, it's not a question of mocking the 'maximalists' (or the sages) despite the implausibility of that position and the existence of textual counter examples, but of educational methodology. Do we really want to instill in students the idea that the avot observed all the mitzvoth as supposedly alluded to in the text? Sooner or later many will reexamine the verses and come to a different conclusion. Others will simply declare the idea irrational once they reach the point of independent thought. It's one thing to teach some midrashim to children, it's another to convey the idea that Judaism consists of much that is implausible or irrational, once the students are of a sufficient age to think for themselves. Nor does the 'minimalist' position convey a less respectful attitude towards the avot. After all, we presumably don't downgrade women for not observing the time-bound positive mitzvoth. The avot had far greater reason not to observe such mitzvoth.

    Y. Aharon

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  13. Wow, that video was enormously clever, and spot on! It actually made me laugh out loud. I can't believe I had never seen it before now.

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  14. It's funny, just in that week's parsha (i.e. when it was posted) we were reading that Avraham Aviynu observed the Torah with the chukos, and not just Torah but the safeguards=mid'Rabonom.

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  15. A wise man once said... coexistence is difficult. The Mystics tend to see the Rationalists as being heretics and Rationalists tend to see the Mystics as being idiots.

    But he never said we shouldn't try to play nice.

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  16. I would think that through prophecy Avos knew everything on the level of Headlines. If needed, they could keep clicking on the links deeper and deeper to get to the details, but there was not much need. It’s like I know how to drive a car and can learn about carburetor, etc., but why bother?

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