Monday, February 17, 2020

The Slander of "Mockery"

Rabbi Herschel Grossman first came to my attention during the Great Torah/Science Controversy. It created a crisis for charedi rabbinic authority, since, as Rav Aharon Feldman told me, "You've successfully made the Gedolim look like fools." (I sharply protested this, and replied that any degradation to their honor was entirely self-inflicted.) Rav Feldman's nephew, Rabbi Grossman, sought to restore the honor of the Gedolim by arranging for his uncle and other Gedolim to come and speak in Teaneck. (You can watch the result, in which Rav Aharon Shechter disparages myself and anyone who seeks to reconcile Torah and science, in a video that I uploaded at this link.)

Anyway, Rabbi Grossman is now in the public eye for writing a hatchet-job (it can't really be called a critique) on Dr. Marc Shapiro's famous book The Limits of Orthodox Theology: Maimonides' Thirteen Principles Reappraised. This was published in the charedi polemical journal ironically called Dialogue, founded by Rav Feldman and Rabbi Moshe Meiselman. Dr. Shapiro has responded with an excellent take-down of Rabbi Grossman's article, in which he demonstrates how Rabbi Grossman displayed some disturbing shortcomings in ethical behavior (he corresponded with Dr. Shapiro under the pretext of asking him questions about an article that he was writing on the Ikkarim!), as well as completely distorting the purpose and content of Dr. Shapiro's book.

Of particular interest is how Rabbi Grossman accuses Dr. Shapiro of "mocking" several Rishonim and Acharonim. Dr. Shapiro, who was shocked at this accusation, goes through every example cited by Rabbi Grossman, and shows how in each case he was simply stating that which is obviously and clearly true.

For example, R. Grossman points to Dr. Shapiro writing that that Rabbeinu Nissim “puts forth the strange and original position that there is one particular angel before whom prostration is permitted.” Well, yes, that is indeed a strange and original position. And calling something "strange and original" (and worse!) has been done by many widely renowned Torah scholars about the writings of other, even more renowned Torah scholars. Likewise, in each of the cases that R. Grossman cites, there is no "mockery" at all.

So what is going on here? The answer is that when R. Grossman claims that something is "mockery," what he really means is "saying anything at all that lowers the prestige of the authority in question." Even when it is merely drawing attention to the obvious.

I've seen this phenomenon on countless occasions. I have been frequently told that my books "mocked" Chazal, by my pointing out that on three occasions Chazal repeated errant beliefs regarding zoology that were held by the greatest scientists of their era.

Why do these people describe such perfectly reasonable statements as "mockery"? One could suggest that it is because, in their eyes, great Torah scholars are, practically speaking, infallible and all-authoritative. Thus, anything which demonstrates otherwise is a blow to their honor; it is a short distance from that to describing it as "mockery."

But this answer is insufficient. Because the charge of "mockery" is often leveled even with regard to quoting Torah giants' own teachings, in cases where these are uncomfortable teachings that their sycophants would rather be excised from public memory. How on earth is that mockery?!

I think that the real answer as to why these people claim "mockery" is that they don't want to admit, even to themselves, that they are too weak to accept anything that even legitimately reduces the godlike status of their heroes - from which they drawn their own self-esteem. So they describe it as "mockery," in order for their accusation to appear to have merit, and for the other person to appear as the bad guy.

Of course, the innate hypocrisy in all this is that R. Grossman, and the Gedolei Torah that he reveres, end up degrading prestigious Rishonim and Acharonim in vastly worse ways than anything that Dr. Shapiro or myself have ever written. They effectively say that numerous Rishonim and Acharonim taught a view of Chazal that is so fundamentally perverted that it can be described as heretical and should be deleted from their history. Can there be any worse degradation of Torah scholars?!


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210 comments:

  1. Spot-on. Ultimately, these people are trying to claim that Chazal and other great rabbis were perfect and infallible. Which is simply not true.

    We all learned (I hope) at a very young age that no human being is perfect. Even Moses and King David made mistakes - which are clearly recorded in Tanach as object lessons to us all. So it would require incredible arrogance to say that anybody else, regardless of generation, was so perfect as to have never gotten anything wrong.

    To anyone who claims that Chazal never made a mistake, I would just respond by asking "so you think they are better than Moshe Rabbeinu?" I'd love to hear the attempt to rationalize an answer to that question.

    It's not diminishing someone's honor to point out that they are not perfect. It's admitting that they are human beings, not gods.

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    1. "Even Moses and King David made mistakes - which are clearly recorded in Tanach as object lessons to us all."

      But who was it that called them out on their mistakes? Prophets. Not little tiny people like you and me and anyone else on this blog.

      If you were watching a brain surgery and the head surgeon scolded his assistant for the last microscopic cut in the patient's brain which was half a millimeter too far to the left, would you even be able to discern the mistake to even repeat the scolding? Would you have the chutzpah to scold that assistant?

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    2. You are bringing a bad analogy. Clearly, many of the biblical figures were fallible, not infallible. They were mere humans. Even the Patriarchs were humans. Like it or not, the Torah does not try to hide the faults of the patriarchs. They serve as an example to overcome their mistakes and to make contributions to civilization. For example, Abraham lied to save his life when he told the Egyptians that Sarah, his wife, was his sister. Nachmanides would go on to criticize the patriarch for not having enough faith in G-d.

      Another example is when Jacob misled his father Isaac to receive Esau's blessing. Here we see a man lying to his father. King David committed adultery with Bat Sheva in an adulterous relationship, resulting in the murder of her husband and the soldiers with him. If the biblical patriarchs can be human, how much more so are the talmudic sages. Like it or not, Maimonides admits that the sages were wrong in many matters regarding the study of science. People are people, not gods.

      Is it reasonable to read the Bible to be talking about extraordinary people who are totally unrelatable to normal mortals who are not extraordinary? Isn’t reading about superhumans is as efficacious to Greek myths about heroes and fairies?

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    3. @waterman613

      right, so the sins of the characters in Tanach were "microscopic". This is a classic charedi mindset that whatever wrongdoing our ancestors did it always sounds like "they were absolutely perfect but they made a teeny tiny error and Hashem held them extremely accountable". It is this skewed lens that is the every source of the issue that RNS brings up; thanks for presenting it for what it is.

      Also, what do we do now that we don't have prophets? So basically if the charedi rabbinate make any errors (which they do) do we just say "well, we don't have any prophets to call them out on their mistakes, so let's just say that no mistakes were made because whoever attempts to call them out on it are mere teeny little people"?

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    4. Simple question for all of you sophisticates: If the avos were just regular folks like you and me, why do we invoke their merit in prayer thousands of years after their demise?
      And what does the Gemara mean when it states that anyone who says that King David sinned is mistaken? Were the Talmudic sages (gasp) chareidi? And do you really think you understand Tanach better than they did?

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    5. N8ZL, you make excellent points. I would add that if all of the characters' misdeeds in Tanach were "microscopic," how would waterman explain the two exiles? If these sins were nothing in comparison, why did G-d punish a whole nation!

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    6. The Torah is a book of instruction - not only legal, but moral and ethical. Right? We can all get behind that. Therefore, in order to teach us, it is important to show flaws that ordinary people can relate to. Yes, we believe that the Avos and others were on a greater level, and perhaps if we made the errors they made, the effect would not have been as bad. But to minimize it to the point of "microscopic" or "millimeter" is overplaying this.

      Wanna use a doctor analogy? OK - how about someone getting offended or put off by a poor bedside manner. This is something that everyone can see, but if a non-doctor were to interact with the same person with the same attitude, the offense would be minimal. Why? Because the expectations are higher and the situation is different. We do expect more from doctors, but that only makes their mistakes MORE visible, not less!

      And as far as the King David bit about the Gemara saying he didn't sin, have you learned the Abarbanel (Abravanel? doesn't sound as cool) on that? Holy cow does he have a field day with it, including pointing out that the text of Sefer Shmuel seems to argue with the Gemara, as David said "Chatasi"!

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    7. The Babylonian Talmud Bava Batra 116a and Midrash Shir Hashirim Rabbah 1:1 claims that Solomon was righteous as he was, and the Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 56b contends that anyone who thinks that Solomon did wrong is mistaken. The Gemara says that the same applies to David. But is this true?

      True, the majority of people claim that David did no wrong. For example: they will cite the Gemara or the Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 56a, which states that David did no wrong. It explains that David acted properly when he ordered the death Uriah because Bat Sheba was no longer his wife. With this same line of reasoning, we can assume that Moses did not his ability to lead when he lost his temper and hit a rock. But this is not what the Bible states. Don Isaac Abravanel tries to reconcile the apparent contradiction: “Since he repented and received his punishment, with this [punishment] his wrong was atoned.” And yet David is still punished, despite his repentance.

      David's sin with Bat-sheba (or Bat-sheva) and the murder of her husband together with the troops that were with him. His inability to unite the northern tribes and his mistreatment of them. His public census that resulted in the deaths of seventy thousand Israelites, proof that he was not as pious as we like to think. David's court was not playing harps, deep in Torah study. Like it or not, David sinned, probably more than most Jews.

      To call all that a "microscopic" or "millimeter" would be a misnomer.

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    8. Turk Hill. You are way beyond the pail of any normative Judaism.

      You write: "The Babylonian Talmud ... claims that .... But is this true?

      If Chazal don't have their science quite right. And they don't have their morality or hashkafah quite right. Then what exactly do they have right? Maybe a few halachot? Maybe? You're avatar is a pic of the Rambam, but I don't think he would agree with you on much.

      You don't seem to know how to read either. You write:
      "Don Isaac Abravanel ...: “Since he repented and received his punishment, with this [punishment] his wrong was atoned.” And yet David is still punished, despite his repentance."
      You seem to think that after repentance a person need not be punished, even though R' Abarbanel clearly explains the reason with the words "with this [punishment] his wrong was atoned". Repentance is one thing, atonement another. And sometimes both are required.

      You write: David's ..., proof that he was not as pious as we like to think. .... Like it or not, David sinned, probably more than most Jews."
      You are implying that David is in the bottom 50% of Jews when when rated for their performance as Jews. How do you reconcile that with Shabbat 56a that says whoever says that David sinned is mistaken? If you don't want to take that Gemara at its literal interpretation I can understand, ut how do you go from "no sin" to sinning more that most Jews? - and without any attempt at explaining. Clearly you have either not learned enough, not reviewed enough, or not contemplated what you have learned, or ... I'll stop their I guess.

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    9. @waterman613

      Read Rambam's intro to perek cheilek. Not every teaching in the Talmud is meant to be historical fact, rather the sages were either imparting an important (allegorical) teaching or attempting to retroactively insert a then-current pressing issue into the text of Tanakh . If the plain text of the Tanach insinuates David sinned and David himself expresses he sinned, then he sinned. The rabbis many centuries later in the Talmud make their statements based on surrounding environment or on alleogrical teachings. I mean, read the gemara yourself on Shabbat 56a; Rebbi says that "everywhere else it says 'וַיַּעַשׂ הָרַע' but by David it says 'לַעֲשׂוֹת הָרַע'. This is simply not true, for the term 'לַעֲשׂוֹת הָרַע' appears a total of 13 times throughout Tanach. This doesn't mean the chachamim were ignorant of Tanach, chas v'shalom. Rather, these 'contradictions' are hints that this statement isn't meant to be taken literally, and rather that there's either a conceptual message we are to think about or that the rabbis are taking a central idea pertaining to their day and retroactively applying it to stories in Tanakh.


      @Turk Hill

      I strongly disagree with your statement "David sinned, probably more than most Jews". Statements like that will give off the impression that you are inserting your own unfounded opinions into Tanach and chazal, and will undoubtedly cause others to question the level of irrational bias you are inserting into your remarks. While I strongly agree with the notion that pretty much every character in Tanakh made grave errors, to say that they did so "more" than "most" Jews has no support and you should strongly consider rescinding that comment.

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    10. @waterman613

      As I explained previously, the biblical figures were fallible, not infallible. Even the Patriarchs were humans. Like it or not, the Torah does not try to hide the faults of the patriarchs. Similarly, the sages were not immune to infallibility. They were humans, not gods.

      In his 1996 book Maimonides on the “Decline of the Generations” and the Nature of Rabbinic Authority, Menachem Kellner explains that Maimonides did not accept the concept of the “decline of the generations.” The talmudic rabbis were ordinary human beings. In fact, blind acceptance of rabbinical statements only applies to halakhah, but not their opinions on non-halakhic matters. In fact, many early rabbinic views were based on the science of their times; those primitive notions inevitably led them to error, at times. Science has been progressing since ancient times and Maimonides even admits that future generations will understand science better than he does (Guide, 2:24).

      In regards to sin, I am convinced that G-d does not interfere in worldly affairs, nor do I believe in miracles. I also think this is Maimonides' view.

      Whether you and others agree or not, there is something you need to recognize. The world functions according to the laws of nature. One of these laws is that every act has consequences. Whether or not G-d forgives, the consequences do not go away. for example, King David made many mistakes. He was even indirectly responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Israelites when he mistakenly ordered a public census. Others include the adulterous relationship with Bat Sheva and the murder of her husband and the soldiers with him.

      In short, you are wrong. People are punished even after they repent (David also repented), but it was because of the consequences of their acts.

      Yes, Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 56a states that David did no wrong. As does Chronicles (noted to me by Rabbi Marc Shapiro). However, a careful reading of David's life will show that his behavior was not proper. Unless, of course, you think killing thousands of Israelites, adultery, and murder is acceptable for biblical figures.

      PS
      As you probably already know, I am a fan of Maimonides. Hence, the picture. And you are right. I am devoted to rational Judaism.

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    11. I strongly disagree with your statement "David sinned, probably more than most Jews". Statements like that will give off the impression that you are inserting your own unfounded opinions into Tanach and chazal,

      He was both a (mass) murderer and adulterer (while a king).

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    12. You are way beyond the pail of any normative Judaism.

      Can someone explain to me what "normative Judaism" is.

      Although it seems to be that Waterman613's comment is somewhat ironic in a post about a book that is arguing that the ikarim are simply one version of many.

      The charge of "normative Judaism" seems to be a logical fallacy put forward by people that want to say that anything that is not within what "I" consider correct is by definition untrue.

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    13. @Waterman613

      "how do you go from "no sin" to sinning more that most Jews"

      Well, if you think that killing thousands of Israelites, adultery, and murder is
      ok then you have a very big problem! You'd be hard pressed to find a Jew who did as many sins as David today.

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    14. @N8ZL

      If they are "disparaging statements" it is because most people cannot handle the truth and are threatened by it. Like it or not, David was an adulterer. Unless,of course, you think he is exempt from the misdeed? Thus, I do not think it necessary to retract my comments. Saying that David acted improperly however should not be mistaken to mean that all of the biblical figures acted in this same manner. David was the sole exception.

      Yes, we agree that most, if not all of the characters in Tanakh acted improperly. However, do we really want to read about extraordinary people who are totally unlike ordinary humans? Isn’t reading about superhumans is as efficacious to reading Greek mythology about heroes and fairies?

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    15. @Turk Hill

      It seems you did not read some of my above comments. I am not "threatened" by "the truth" that "David was an adulterer" because I agree with that. And I don't see why you'd ask me "However, do we really want to read about extraordinary people who are totally unlike ordinary humans?" for my comments also agree with that sentiment.
      I am expressing objection to how you go beyond Tanakh and chazal and say that he sinned MORE than MOST Jews. Tanakh clearly considers the majority of Israel's kings as extreme sinners, and it's forced to assert that David sinned more than them. And if you say that you meant "most Jews" nowadays, then the comparison is flawed because societal norms nowadays are completely different than they were back then, and I believe sinful behavior should be judged according to those norms, and if you were to stick King David into today's society it would be presumptuous to say that he'd commit the same sin and be a bigger sinner than most of us.
      I would not strongly disagree if you rephrased your comment into "David committed a sin that most Jews in the 21st century don't commit".
      Furthermore, upon his death it says (1-Kings 15:5) :
      "אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה דָוִד אֶת הַיָּשָׁר בְּעֵינֵי יְהֹוָה וְלֹא סָר מִכֹּל אֲשֶׁר צִוָּהוּ כֹּל יְמֵי חַיָּיו רַק בִּדְבַר אוּרִיָּה הַחִתִּי"
      I would find it very difficult to then project your own interpretations that David was worse than most Jews. Who are you to say that if you were to count up all the sins of each Jew, that their scales of guilt would be lighter than that of David haMelech's?

      @Yossi
      If the chronicles of the 21st century came out and recorded that Bibi Netanyahu was guilty of fraud and breach of trust, would you say that he sinned more than most Jews in his time? Or would you say that the chronicles are merely recording government authority figures and don't zero in on normal citizens, who are likely committing far worse sins? How do you know what the millions of other Jews in David's time were committing and what their overall scales of guilt weighed in comparison to his? And how do you reconcile 1-Kings 15:5 (that I cited above) that paints David in an overall positive light, in stark contrast to MOST (and that's an accurate evidence-based "most") of the kings of Israel?

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    16. @Shai

      "If the avos were just regular folks like you and me, why do we invoke their merit in prayer thousands of years after their demise?"
      -Because their pious actions laid the foundation of our nation and religion. Their merit is in no way negated by the sins they committed because normal people can sin and can also achieve tremendously righteous achievements in their lifetime. No one is 100% righteous or 100% evil. That's something we should hopefully recognize by the time we're bar/bat mitzvah.

      "And what does the Gemara mean when it states that anyone who says that King David sinned is mistaken? Were the Talmudic sages (gasp) chareidi?"
      - The same question can be asked to you: "what does Tanakh mean when it expresses David's (and all other characters') sin, how the consequences of David hamelech's actions are delineated throughout the chapters that follow, and how King David himself said he sinned"?
      How can you be comfortable in saying that the Prophet was writing in hyperbole more so than the sages that came hundreds of years later? Please read the Rambam's intro to perek cheilek (in the opening paragraphs about the 3 different types of Jews in regard to how they udnerstand chazal) for a more rational understanding of the intention behind most of Talmudic statements. If you wanna go the extra mile, read Chaim Saiman's book.

      "And do you really think you understand Tanach better than they did?"
      - The rabbis of the Talmud were not pashtanim. This is plain to see for someone who reads commentary to Tanakh and recognizes how the sages of the Talmud were heavily focused on drash (see Rashbam's intro to parshat Vayeshev). Furthermore, the holy sages of the Talmud made their statements based on the surrounding environment and issues of their time. To argue otherwise would uncover a sad reality that people can learn gemara their whole lives and miss the overall greatness of early chazal.

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    20. @N8ZL

      I've deleted earlier comments to condense this new one more to the point (as to avoid confusion).

      Like it or not, David probably sinned more than most Jews, unless of course, you think killing thousands of Israelites, adultery, and murder is the same as a Jew who eats non-kosher foods today. I don't know too many Jews who wound up killing thousands of Israelites. Do you?

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    21. @Turk Hill

      Why is it that the verse in 1-King 15:5 does not cite "killing thousands of Israelites" as one of King David's sins that he should be held accountable in his lifetime? I think this is an important conversation. Since you're bringing it up, please provide the occasions in Tanach you are referring to where he killed thousands of Jews.

      you said "killing thousands of Israelites, adultery, and murder", but it would seem that #1 should be included in #3 if it was such a severe sin.

      I am not saying that murder and eating non-kosher is the same. I am saying that if David lived in our time, who are you to say that he would have committed the same sin in a world where murder is less common than back then? And who are you to say that current-day Jews would not have been as quick to commit murder if we were in King David's time? And how do you know how many Jews in King David's time committed murder? Where does it say that King David sinned more than most Jews?

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    22. רַק בִּדְבַר אוּרִיָּה הַחִתִּי

      Like murder and adultery?

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    23. @N8ZL

      David was partly responsible for the murder of tens of thousands of Israelites following his ordering a census (II Samuel 24:9). Following his adulterous relationship with Bat Sheva he ordered the murder of her husband and the soldiers with him.

      The biblical book Chronicles suppressed the truth contained in the earlier biblical books; they retold the earlier-told tales in a manner that erased some of the mistakes made by biblical heroes, such as King David’s adultery and murder of Bathsheba’s husband.

      Yes, I agree with you that had David lived today he probably would have never committed these crimes. And Jews alive today, if put in his positions in the past could do the same, if not worse than him. Who knows. But the fact is that David did do those crimes, so much so, that the Zohar later claimed that he will not be resurrected in the resurrection of the dead. Unlike the Zohar, I do not hold David in much contempt (David repented). But given the nature of his crimes, it appears that he sinned more than most Jews alive today.

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    24. @Yossi

      All you did was quote the pasuk I cited with a vague question. Please elaborate and also address the points I raised.

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    25. @Turk Hill

      Ok I'm happy you quoted me those two stories. I was beginning to think I missed something.

      I would like you to look at your own words: You casually evolve from "killing thousands of Israelites" to "partly responsible for the murder of tens of thousands of Israelites". Two very different statements. Furthermore, if you read the story carefully, there is no "murder of tens of thousands"; a more accurate statement would be "the death of tens of thousands" because it was due to pestilence. And this story is not recounted as one of his major sins that defined him, like that of Uriah.
      Then, regarding Uriah, you go from "murder" to "ordered the murder", also two very different things. And more than that. Again, Uriah was not "murdered", he was killed in war. Indeed, David specifically told Yoav to place him in the front-lines, but he did not tell Yoav or anyone else to "murder" him.
      I'm not saying that David was justified for this, and that's clear from the words of Tanakh. Rather, I'm trying to show you how your words are both inconsistent between comments, and their vagueness imply something that goes beyond the text, thereby painting David in a much more negative light than he deserves. You can go ahead and quote me the Zohar (of whose veracity is questionable), but that's ludicrous when the very words of the Tanakh (from the verse in 1-King 15:5 which you conveniently didn't comment on!!!) do no such thing. And next time please provide the source for the Zohar.

      The biblical book of the Chronicles doesn't "suppress the truth", for the purpose of the book of Chronicles wasn't the same as that of the earlier books. Earlier books' primary purpose was to provide a moral guide to its readers, and therefore makes it a point to recount their errors and sins for us to learn from. The book of Chronicles was, as its title implies, a mere chronicle that detailed the geneology of Israel with the goal of leading up to David, and critical events that related to the monarchy of Judah. But I can definitely see the rationale behind your comment regarding chronicles, so I won't get sidetracked too much. I am just letting you know that Chronicles isn't an iron clad point of support.

      Again, saying that King David "sinned more than most Jews alive today" is not a fair statement since we are living in a different world. And if you want to argue that he sinned more than most Jews in his day, I don't know if that would bear weight when you take into account the rampant idolatry that plagued the vast majority of kings and the overall Israelite populace.
      You are justified to say "King David committed a sin that most Jews nowadays don't commit" but to insinuate that his scales of guilt were heavier than most Jews in his time or in our time would be conjecture

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    26. @N8ZL

      I agree with what you wrote. To be clear, David was partly responsible for the deaths of tens of thousands of Israelites when he held a public census that prompted his enemies to ambush Israelite soldiers, resulting in a plague from the aftermath. He should not have made it known publicly. And you are right to say that David ordered Uriah to be sent to the front lines. The reason I hold him partly accountable (since Uriah died in the war) is that he deliberately ordered him to be sent away. But you are correct to note the difference. I won't quote the Zohar since I do not recall the source, but it is there, somewhere. I also do not think the Zohar has much validity. In regards to the biblical book of Chronicles, I find that Chronicles often side-steps the misdeeds of the biblical patriarchs. Perhaps this is due to the nature of a chronicle?

      Be it as it may, my intention was not to belittle David in any way but to show what the Torah actually says. It seems to run contrary to Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 56a which states that David did no wrong. In any event, it seems that David did more wrong than our most celebrated patriarchs. Maybe that is better wording than to say "most Jews." In due course, our disagreements seem trivial compared to how much we really agree!

      Thank you for writing and let me know what you think.

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    27. @N8ZL
      Furthermore, upon his death it says (1-Kings 15:5) :
      "אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה דָוִד אֶת הַיָּשָׁר בְּעֵינֵי יְהֹוָה וְלֹא סָר מִכֹּל אֲשֶׁר צִוָּהוּ כֹּל יְמֵי חַיָּיו רַק בִּדְבַר אוּרִיָּה הַחִתִּי"


      It doesn't matter what else David did after the incident with Uriah the Hitite, this incident will always be a blot on his reputation.

      You read the pasuk as exonerating David HaMelech - for his exemplary behaviour after the events with Uriah. The pasuk can be just as legitimately read as saying notwithstanding everything that David HaMelech did, he will still known for his conduct against Uriah.

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    28. @Yossi

      I'm not disagreeing that the sin with Batsheva/Uriah was a blot on his reputation; no man is saved from error or sin. I'm commenting on the suggestion that "David sinned MORE than MOST Jews".

      I think you are misunderstanding this pasuk. You said "You read the pasuk as exonerating David HaMelech - for his exemplary behaviour after the events with Uriah"
      Um no. This pasuk comes long after the death of David hamelech and even Shlomo hamelech. It's a summary verse on his entire life, it is NOT a description of what he did "after the events with Uriah". The purpose of the pasuk was to contrast Yeravam with David. Concerning Yeravam it says in verse 4 "וַיֵּ֕לֶךְ בְּכָל־חַטֹּ֥אות אָבִ֖יו אֲשֶׁר־עָשָֹ֣ה לְפָנָ֑יו וְלֹא־הָיָ֨ה לְבָב֚וֹ שָׁלֵם֙ עִם־יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהָ֔יו כִּלְבַ֖ב דָּוִ֥ד אָבִֽיו". After mentioning David's (yes) overall "exemplary" life, it then reiterates the greatness of David in our quoted verse, and mentions his only flaw with Uriah.
      Your comment makes me worry you are not well versed in Tanach. But I will give you the benefit of the doubt, and therefore I assume you are aware that many, if not most, of the kings of Israel are described as "וַיַּ֥עַשׂ הָרַ֖ע בְּעֵינֵ֣י יְהֹוָ֑ה כְּכֹ֥ל אֲשֶׁר־עָשֹ֖וּ אֲבֹתָֽיו". Putting this into perspective would make it very hard to really push the suggestion that "David sinned MORE than MOST Jews" (for more detail, see my thread with Turk Hill)

      Oh, and please support your claim that King David was a "mass murderer"!!

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    29. @Turk Hill

      I commend your comments. I'm glad to see we are on the same page, which I think we always were.

      Regarding the chronicles, R Menachem Leibtag suggests that the entire purpose of the chronicles was ultimately to relate to the Temple, for it was written in a period of time that the Temple was in ruins or wasn't being properly used. I read somewhere else that it was written in a period of time that the nation of Israel needed inspiration (which would also fit in to R Leibtag's suggestion) and in order to give them a sense of optimism, certain negative stories were not included. I do not see Chronicles as an attempt to erase the stories of the past, but rather an attempt to address the issues of the (then) present.

      I agree that the words of the Tanakh "seem to run contrary to Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 56a which states that David did no wrong". I don't see that as much of an issue when you consider that many, if not most, of Talmudic statements are not meant to be literalized. The comment about "David not sinning" needs to be read within the context of the gemara beforehand and afterward, which contains multiple statements of "Whoever says 'so and so' sinned, they are mistaken". Included in that list are Reuven and the sons of Eli, which again would be very hard to explain away.
      If you want my coles notes of how I'd reconcile these statements of the gemara with the words of Tanach, here are a few approaches:
      (1) The gemara never says David did no wrong. Rather that "someone who says" he did wrong "is mistaken". Therefore, what I think the statement could mean is that the person who makes this comment is misguided in some (albeit small) way, but that David (and everyone else on the list) nevertheless sinned.
      (2) This is an allegorical statement and therefore shouldn't present a strong disproof against the Tanakh (read the gemara until the end of 56b regarding Yoshiyahu and it becomes clear that this entire discussion is aggadeta)
      (3) Even if this comment was meant to be taken literally, it is one rabbinic opinion, and in now way needs to be viewed as normative Judaism

      "it seems that David did more wrong than our most celebrated patriarchs"
      From the stories we are given in Tanakh, it seems this is so. And a foreshadowing of this is made clear when the nation asked for a king and Shmuel told them what a king would be inclined to do to them (1-Shmuel ch8).

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    30. @N8ZL

      Yes, we agree. I think you are correct about the gemara. It could be allegorical or a rabbinical opinion. I also think that R Menachem's thoughts suffice well. Though there are probably several more reasons as to why the Chronicles seemingly leaves out the sins of the patriarchs. In any event, I like your foreshadowing of Samuel. I think to better understand David we need to understand Samuel and his warning to Israel not to live under a king.

      All in all, I am delighted to see that you concur that the patriarchs and sages' were humans who could make mistakes. This does not necessary imply that the sages were wrong in everything, they could be wrong in non-halakhic matters but not in rabbinical statements to halakhah.

      So, yes, I think that we are in agreement.

      Delete
  2. A more comprehensive critique of Dr Shapiro's book can be found at https://judaismreclaimed.com/ (Rabbi Phillips's fascinating book contains two chapters on this subject).

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    1. It's not comprehensive at all. And it suffers from the same narrowness of thought that R. Grossman's critique suffers from. Rabbi Phillips cannot accept the notion that there could have been great Rishonim who had a corporeal view of God - even though there are explicit attestations to that effect. It's a pity, because there is much of value in the rest of Rabbi Philips' book.

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    2. There are not specific attestations. Vague ones at the most.

      To date, not a single Rishon has been identified and named who holds a corporeal view of God. Rav Moshe Toku said he heard or something like that.

      And its worth noting that not every Jew who wrote in the middle ages was a Rishon. Then, like now, plenty of mediocracy about.

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    3. Some of the sources he challenges Marc Shapiro on look very convincing. Admittedly I did not check everything. Shapiro indicated on his blog comments that he will be responding to Phillips. I am looking forward to seeing which points of the critique he will address and how he goes about it as I do not think it will be as straightforward as his rebuttal of Grossman.

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    4. Ten bucks says "AndyCohen" is a Herschel Goldwasser

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    5. "Rav Moshe Toku said he heard or something like that" False. YOU heard, or something like that. Don't attribute your sloppiness to others.

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    6. Sigh. Here we go again.

      The Tosafist R. Moshe Taku asserts that God sometimes takes on human form, and considers it heretical to deny that He is able to do so (as Rambam does). Rabbi Isaiah ben Elijah of Trani (known as Riaz, 1235-1300, grandson of Rid) speaks of scholars who believed in a corporeal God. He notes that they do not believe that He is made of flesh and blood, but rather that He is made of a more ethereal substance, in gigantic human form. While he disputes this view of God, he argues that those who possess this belief cannot be termed heretics, since even some of the holy Sages of the Talmud possessed this belief. Ra’avad famously disputes Rambam’s categorization of corporealists as heretics, stating that “greater and better people than Rambam” were corporealists. Rambam himself writes that he met someone rated as a great Torah scholar who had serious doubts concerning God’s incorporeality, and adds that he met others who insisted that God is corporeal and that it is heretical to believe otherwise. R. Shmuel ben Mordechai of Marseilles claims that the majority of Torah scholars in northern France were magshimim. Ramban, writing to the Torah scholars of France, expresses his dismay at reports that these scholars condemned Rambam’s Sefer HaMadda for its denial that God possesses any form or image. He argues with them that Scriptural and Aggadic references to God’s form should not be taken literally.

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    7. If we read your content, you seem actually to be agreeing with the smiley comment above who says no rishon teaches that. He claims there is no actual rishon who explains a shitta of corporealism, and all that you do is cite reports of other scholars who say that 'we heard.'..'that others might have held that way.'..and this is sufficient basis to reject Rambam's well-defined, extremely detailed Principles of Faith!!

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    8. Rabbi Slifkin, why are you completely ignoring the substance of Rabbi Grossman's arguments? It seems you are doing exactly what you accuse others of, namely, avoiding strong arguments by pontificating on religious ideological positions.

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    9. Because Dr. Shapiro is perfectly capable of responding to the substance (and has started to do so).

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    10. "and this is sufficient basis to reject Rambam's well-defined, extremely detailed Principles of Faith!!"

      You still misunderstand. Nobody is saying that because Rishonim were corporealists, therefore we can be corporealists. We are simply pointing out that there were people, acknowledged as great Torah scholars, who were corporealists. Which people such as R. Grossman and R. Philips and others are incapable of accepting.

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    11. Why do they keep repeating the same tired debunked claim, precious? It burns in my earses! R' Moshe Taku was a Rishom (not some nobody either). And he even has a name.

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    12. AndyCohen: In case you have not seen it, here's my comment from below:

      Regarding the book by Phillips, I agree with Slifkin.

      If anything, Grossman's review is more comprehensive, as he tries to critique multiple chapters (albeit in a malicious and amateurish fashion).

      Phillips is more sophisticated and polite, and some of his points may be stronger than Grossman's (though generally not convincing to me).

      However, he only deals with ONE chapter (and only a few points within that chapter). What about the rest of the book and its range of sources, which Rabbi Yitzchak Blau characterized as "astounding" and Rabbi Blau's assessment that "Shapiro succeeds at proving his essential thesis"? (Blau DOES take issue with other aspects of the book).

      As for Phillips' other chapter, he critiques what he perceived to be Shapiro's agenda, but is not a critique of the book's CONTENT.

      Rather, it is an attempt to give readers the "proper methodology of Torah theology."

      He does so by quoting Gil Student and Rav Hirsch (but not Shapiro).

      I agree with Slifkin that there are many good things about the Phillips book, in that they expose readers to sources they might not otherwise have the opportunity to think about.

      But the Phillips' "critique" of the Shapiro book is not at all comprehensive, nor is it fair or balanced.

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    13. Natan,

      Where is the Rav Moshe Taku? MS quoted him as 'hearing from others', not that he holds it.

      Again, please name rishonim that clearly held this.

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    14. Another poser, MS wrote no such thing. It's in Kesav Tamim, Kirchheim ed. pp. 70s and 80s.

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    15. Wait, didn't Rav Moshe Taku say Binyomin was a werewolf?

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  3. This is so strange. Rabbi Grossman spends page after page demonstrating with precise logic that Shapiro's scholarship is shoddy and misleading. Why dont you link to his review? He barely mentions the issue of 'mocking' and only in passing. He is defending the Rambam from Shapiro, who wants to have "Rambam's Principles reappraised". Shapiro falsely claims that many Rishonim felt that "Rambam's Principles were wrong. I would have thought that as the champion of rational thinking you would want to support the defense of the Rambam from these false amd misleading charges! Could it be merely that any relative of Rav Aharon Feldman must be an enemy of yours? Sad.

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    1. "defending the Rambam from Shapiro." A perfect microcosm of Grossman's gross errors. Shapiro does not attack the Rambam at all, but you would know that if you actually read the book. Chances are you didn't read Grossman either if you think he demonstrates anything with "precise logic."

      I detailed the following examples of his poor arguments in a comment on the seforimblog as follows: Grossman writes: “Nothing shows more clearly that the Rambam based his Principles upon the Talmud than the fact that in Hilchos Teshuvah, 18 he lists the various heretics under three classifications: min, apikores and kofer baTorah, all of whom lose their share in the World to Come.” This sentence doesn’t mean much and the following sentences don’t really explain how “nothing shows [this] more clearly than the fact that…” It seems that Grossman thinks that since the Gem. in Rosh Hashanah uses the same terms as Rambam (min, kofer, apikores) that means the Rambam DERIVED his definitions of them (negating various ikkarim) from the Gemara. However, the Gemara (as far as what Grossman documents) provides NO definitions of these terms nor does it even hint to that they are. How then does “nothing show more clearly etc.?” I just don’t see the logic in the argument.
      Next: Grossman takes issue with Shapiro’s implication (real or imagined) that the MB derived from the Rambam’s ikkarim that someone who denies the Resurrection of the Dead may not be a prayer leader. Grossman instead points to the following Tur: A prayer leader who skips two or three words does not have to go back to say them, except for one who does not mention “the Resurrection of the Dead,” for perhaps he is a disbeliever [kofer] in the Resurrection of the Dead, and [the blessing] “Who rebuilds Jerusalem,” for perhaps he does not believe in the Coming of the Mashiach.
      Again, this seems a non-sequitur. How does this prove that one who denies the Resurrection of the Dead is pasul to be a chazan? On the contrary – even though we suspect he might not believe in it, we have him say the words over – instead of simply removing him from the post. Saying the words seems to be enough. These are just two examples of the unclear (or more likely errant) arguments he makes.

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    2. Supposedly, the Grossman defenders want a pure, substance based conversation. I bet not one of them engages my above argument on the merits.

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  4. I think the mockery issue is partially related to the choice of words that Dr. Shapiro (and you, at times) use. For example, "strange" has a critical flavor to it. "Unusual" would have been far less so.

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    1. seeing that earlier authorities use much harsher language than "strange" in regards to their predecessors or contemporaries, there should be no problem here. The current mentality in many right-wing communities is that anything below neutral should not be said in relation to chazal. It's this mentality that is the issue, and it's based on a twisted underlying mindset regarding how we view 'gedolim' or chazal in general

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  5. No, actually these people believe that Moshe Rabbeinu, and the Avot as well, were in fact perfect and infallible. I used to see a parashat hashavua sheet in a shul in NY, that every week would present some apparent failing of one of the protagonists of the week. Then, without fail, the third paragraph would begin "This is mystifying..." (as it's simply not possible that x could have done something wrong/made a mistake/acted in inappropriate fashion/etc.). Then it would proceed with the most twisted pretzel logic (or abandon logic altogether and rely on midrash) to explain that the action was really not improper at all, and our faith in our forebears' infallibility is therefore restored.

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  6. What do you mean "godLIKE status"? "DIVINE status" is the total truth! The Haredim are polytheists!

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  7. "Because the charge of "mockery" is often leveled even with regard to quoting Torah giants' own teachings, in cases where these are uncomfortable teachings that their sycophants would rather be excised from public memory. How on earth is that mockery?!"

    It is mockery because the critic holds up the teaching --which indeed seems obviously incorrect or absurd on its face--in the most uncharitable light. The critic immediately assumes the teaching is in fact utterly mistaken and never gives the scholar the benefit of the doubt--never tries to make coherent sense out of it.
    The critic's approach is mockery of the scholar because it implies that no serious scholar would ever make such an obvious mistake, even though it can be shown that no mistake has actually been made.

    If the critic actually respected this Torah giant's scholarship, as Grossman does, he would have instead make some kind of effort to make sense of it, as Grossman did. And Grossman succeeded to make sense of it without any deep theories or convoluted logic.
    Judge for yourselves:
    https://drive.google.com/file/d/15ScxO3GwO98ZrbgO1NOl_r5U3rLuMdYW/view
    The fact that it was so easy for Grossman to vindicate these Torah giants leads one to suspect that Shapiro was quite happy to give the false impression that they made obvious mistakes and were inferior scholars.
    Therein lies the mockery.

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    1. Does not taking Arbabanel "seriously" give the impression that he wasn't a "serious" scholar? How about if I wrote, for example, that R' Moshe Feinstein was an "esteemed halachic pontificator" but not a "rabbinic authority" (see TCS by R' Meiselman, p. 656 with note 25, about Abarbanel), would that be trivializing him?

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    2. Dovid Kornreich is accusing *other* people of reading things uncharitably?! He ran a blog for ten years which did exactly that!

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    3. Okay, shooting the messenger when you don't like the message... glad to see you aren't disputing the point that such treatment by Dr. Shapiro constitutes a subtle form of mockery.
      And yes, Rabbi Dr. Slifkin, I read your posts uncharitably--and deservedly so. But I don't think Dr. Shapiro is justified in doing the same to Torah giants. I hope you can get beyond your ego and see the difference.

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    4. Kornreich, you really have no response?

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    5. I'll respond after you acknowledge that my point about Dr. Shapiro's mockery and disrespect is valid, or explain why it is invalid.
      Don't keep hijacking the discussion at hand.

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    6. Sure, it's disrespectful. However, as you explained several times on the Seforimblog, disrespectful for a traditionalist can be perfectly acceptable to an academic. Nevertheless, sure, I don't really care, if it'll make you happy, Shapiro's comments were worse (although again, you haven't actually cited them). Now, what do you say about R' Meiselman's comment, especially considering that it was written by a traditionalist?

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    7. @Dovid Kornreich

      "If the critic actually respected this Torah giant's scholarship, as Grossman does, he would have instead made some kind of effort to make sense of it, as Grossman did"

      That would only apply if you held that there is one myopic view within orthodoxy, which isn't the case. You insinuate the same rationale when you say "The critic immediately assumes the teaching is in fact utterly mistaken" without even suggesting that the critic merely views the scholar's statement as non-absolute or non-normative, thereby opening the door for constructive criticism.

      Many narrow-minded orthodox Jews believe their way is the "emes" and everyone else is beneath that ideal, and needs to fit into that mindset or "make sense" of that hashkafa. Sorry but that's garbage. I can still respect a chacham's scholarship without urging myself to make sense of his statements.

      Furthermore, why is it that early chazal use disparaging remarks toward their predecessors or contemporaries and this isn't addressed? Why is it okay for them to do it? Some will likely say that these were Torah giants and we are ant-like in comparison to them, but that's a cop-out and skirts the question. (The Rogatchover was known to rip out pages of Talmud and he died less than 100 years ago; was he committing a mockery, or was it okay because he was an immense talmid chacham?) Others will say that really these disparaging remarks were deep-down immense compliments (I literally have heard this absurd rationale before) and this is idiotic nonsense. So who exactly created this mindset that non-neutral statements are a mockery of chazal no matter who says it?

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    8. How is Shapiro's comments disparaging? Here is a lot worst:

      “There are many people greater and superior to him [Maimonides] who adhere to such a belief [that G-d has a body like humans] on the basis of what they have seen in verses of Scripture and even in the words of those aggadot which corrupt right opinion about religious matters.” — Rabad

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    9. This is fascinating. The world of Rabbi Dovid Kornreich is divided into Good Guys and Bad Guys. When Good Guys say something, even if it seems strange, incorrect, and/or goes against all normative rabbinic thought, one should make all efforts to interpret it charitably. But when Bad Guys say something, even it could easily be read as perfectly reasonable and fine, one should interpret it uncharitably.

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    10. To Shlomo:
      After checking the reference to the Abarbanel in Rav Meiselman's book (page 656) I can see that you quoted it ("He was unable to take the Abarbanel seriously") out of context and omitted the crucial footnote which makes all the difference.
      You are claiming that Rav Meiselman was giving the impression that Rav Y.B. Soloveitchik did not consider the Abarbanel a "serious scholar" and is "trivializing" him. Those are your words.

      Now let's read the entire paragraph with the footnotes:

      "The chachmei haMesorah, of whom he spoke continually, were those
      talmidei chachamim upon whom we rely for the transmission of the halachic
      Mesorah. Thus he was unable to take the Abarbanel seriously because he did
      not perceive him as one of the chachmei haMesorah.25 Only someone whose
      views on the Talmud were considered authoritative could be taken seriously
      in other areas as well. Only he was deserving of membership in the exclusive
      club of the chachmei haMesorah.26 He often said that his grandfather, Reb
      Chaim, would not accept someone as an expert in Kabbalah unless he was
      also an expert in Shas.27

      25 The Abarbanel was known as a commentator on Tanach but not on the Talmud. He was accorded
      great respect by the chachmei haMesorah throughout the centuries (see the Kesef Mishneh on
      Hilchos Brachos 3:8 and the Beis Yosef, Orach Chayim 168:10), but there is an important difference
      between respect and authority. For Mori veRebbi, ztz”l, the Abarbanel was an esteemed thinker and
      commentator, but not a rabbinic authority.
      26 Certain works such as Chovos HaLevavos came to be accepted even though their authors
      were not well known, but these were brought into the Mesorah by other scholars noted for their
      expertise in Talmud.
      27 The Arizal, for example, was a disciple/colleague of Rav Betzalel Ashkenazi and contributed
      to the Shitah Mekubetzes. Similarly, Rav Chaim Vital was a posek and dayan."


      Now I honestly cannot see how Rav Meiselman is implying that the Abarbanel was not a "serious scholar". The very opposite is the truth.
      Claiming the Abarbanel was never considered a rabbinic authority is not in any way implying he was not a serious scholar and is not trivializing his contribution to Jewish scholarship.
      For an analogy, you would seem to think Alan Dershowitz is not being considered a serious legal scholar and his contribution to the legal field is being trivialized if someone points out that he was never appointed as a judge on the Supreme Court.
      No-one I know thinks that way and I'm quite surprised that you seem to.


      To N8ZL:
      You seem to be trading in stereotypes. Please read Rabbi Grossman's review (or read it again with an unbiased mind) before making further comments.

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    11. The problem is that R Meiselman writes without a qualifier of any kind, that his uncle could not take Abarbanel "seriously." What if Shapiro would write that he cannot take R Shach "seriously," and he explained in a footnote that he was "an esteemed Rosh yeshiva" but not a posek or a philosopher. I'm sure the usual suspects would howl that the language is disrespectful. If R Meiselman wants to say he didn't take him as an authority, that would be one thing. But to say that he could not take him "seriously?" That's a chutzpah. Replace Abarbanel with a more "Chareidi" figure and you'll grasp the problem immediately.

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    12. @Dovid K

      Your original words that I commented on mirror R Grossman's opening paragraphs where he says that "A talmid chochom sits... with the clear assumption that the earlier commentators were fluent in every part of the Talmud and understood it better than he does. If a difficulty or inconsistency in the words of the earlier authorities presents itself, the talmid chochom assumes that the fault is with him, the student, not with the master, and that it is incumbent upon him to make every effort to justify the words of the master".
      This statement of R Grossman is conveniently left without a footnote and is rather ironic because he stated in the previous opening paragraph that "because of the scholarly reputation of their authors, especially if they are Orthodox Jews, they are often accepted by the Torah observant public in unquestioned faith". So to R Grossman the problematic "unquestioned faith" only belongs to the camp of Jews that listen to modern Torah scholars and is of dire concern, but when it comes to R Grossman himself unequivocally dictating an unsourced definition of a talmid chacham it must be accepted with "unquestioned faith"? Please let me know if you recognize the hypocrisy here. I'm not saying that modern orthodox Torah scholars' statements should not be questioned, they definitely should; but the questioning should equally apply to the right-wing orthodox school of thought too, yes even the gedolim. Would you agree?

      Furthermore, anyone who considers every word of chazal in the Talmud as literal is unfortunately not understanding Talmud. I'm assuming you have read Rambam's introduction to perek cheilek regarding the 3 types of Jews who read words of chazal. Based on that general understanding, if chazal appear to be "mistaken" then it is not incumbent upon me to make sense of what they say and that I am the flawed one, but rather to recognize that their statement was likely (like many of their statements) aimed to be allegorical/metaphorical in nature.
      And R Grossman further unabashedly takes issue with the notion that chazal would make statements " for personal, historical or political reasons". He says that "these judgments are often made without proof", but when it comes to providing proof for the opposing claim, to literalize everything in the Talmud and imply chazal were not motivated by their surrounding environment, the right-wing camp also falls short.

      Would you like me to offer my critique on the next 47 pages of the article? I'd imagine not. Suffice it to say, the opening two paragraphs already lay the tone for R Grossman's entire hashkafic mindset that he bases his critique on. Please feel free to highlight instances in his article that suggest otherwise.

      Look, I'm obviously not going to shift your hashkafic mindset. The main point I'm trying to make is that it's not your way or the highway, which is the message being insinuated by your comments and R Grossman's remarks in his article. We're both biased, but my bias doesn't shut the door to the idea that there is another school of valid orthodox thought, however incorrect and misguided I believe it to be. Can you say the same?

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    13. To Shlomo:
      So now you are saying the language is disrepectful even though the content is in no way disparaging the character or trivializing the scholarship of the Abarbanel. (Unlike what Dr. Shaprio does routinely to his subjects.) I'll accept that as a valid criticism.
      And I did run your thought experiment and replaced the Abarbanel with the Ramchal. I didn't have your reaction. I can understand that Rav Soloveitchik is a towering Torah luminary and he is a unique position to judge that the Ramchal's views lack rabbinic authority. It may have been an indelicate way to put it, but nothing more than that.
      I hope we can now get past this issue and focus on substance.


      To N8ZL:
      I seriously don't get where you see R. Grossman taking a "my way or the highway" approach. He is merely pointing out that the stance of academic scholars towards the rabbinic subjects and rabbinic scholarship is fundamentally at odds with the classic stance of lomdei Torah who were products of the classic beis midrash of many centuries.
       R. Grossman doesn't need to cite sources to this because frankly, anyone who has been raised in a classic beis midrash setting (i.e. his audience) knows exactly what he's talking about. He's not asking his readers to take it on faith because he assumes they know it themselves from their own experience.
      But I suspect this won't satisfy you so I'll provide the best source for you--Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg. He writes:ורגיל אני לפרש מה שמנו חז"ל בפרקי אבות פ"ו מ"ה בין מ"ח דברים שהתורה נקנית בהם: פלפול התלמידים ואמונת חכמים.
      ולכאורה הם סותרים זה את זה. ובכלל מה שייך אמונת חכמים לקנין התורה?
      אבל זהו הדבר: אם אינם מאמינים בחכמים, אז עוברים על דבריהם בקלות דעת וביהירות של שטות, לומר בזחיחות הדעת: הם לא הבינו, ונמצא שאין אדם יגע כלל להתעמק ולהעמיד דבריהם ז"ל.
      וסוף הדבר מתברר שאנחנו טעינו ולא הם.
      ולכן מדרכי החכמה הוא להאמין שהם לא טעו, ח"ו, ורק אנחנו קצרי ראות ומעוטי דעת.
      אבל להאמין סתם ולא להוגיע את המוח בעיון ובמחשבה, אלא לומר סתם: הם ידעו ויכולים אנחנו לסמוך עליהם בלא מחשבה - ג"כ לא נכון.
      אלא צריך לפלפל בסתירה ובספיקות כאלו היו אנשים משלנו, ועל ידי זה באים להעמקה יתירה ולחדירה עיונית.
      נמצא ששתי המידות יחד, אמונת חכמים ופלפול עד קצה האחרון, מביאים לקנין התורה."  

      To be continued...

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    14. Continued from previous comment responding to N8ZL:

      I'm using the terms "lomdei Torah" and "classic beis midrash" because I'm trying to avoid the term "talmid chochom". I'm starting to realize that this may be the thing which is triggering your objections.
      Perhaps you feel that R. Grossman, and the chareidi camp in general, has no right to dictate what the stance of a "talmid chochom" vis-a-vis Chazal and Rishonim ought to be. But I assure you that this is a misunderstanding. R. Grossman is being purely descriptive and not prescriptive here.
      People in the chareidi world are simply not exposed to any another type of talmid chochom--products of more modern botei midrash who synthesize academic approaches to Chazal and rishonim with classic ones.

      And I'll tell you frankly, I don't know how such a synthesis can work since the two approaches are in such diametric conflict. So you'll excuse my credulity about claims that such talmidei chachomim actually exist.

      Let me give you an example from one of my favorite topics: Chazal and Science.

      Let's say you are a very learned-G-d fearing "talmid chochom" in the modern Orthodox/Dati Leumi world and people come to you about allowing organ donations from people who are deemed "brain dead".
      It is literally a matter of life and death on both sides of the question. Is cutting off life support to harvest the vital organs murder? Is allowing all the vital organs to fail wrongfully depriving someone else of life-saving treatment?

      The classic approach to the sheiloh involves making an assumption of the basic correctness of the understanding of Chazal and rishonim on the issue of defining death. One's classic training in the beis midrash will dictate that he attempt to "translate" those pre-modern understandings into modern medical terminology and preserve the core definition.

      The modern/academic approach makes no such assumption and will proceed without feeling bound by the halachic definitions of death and precedents that are based on pre-modern awareness of human physiology.
      His academic training informs him that Chazal and rishonim were simply ignorant of the relevant facts about death and he will have to go pretty much on his own. He needs to resort to invoking "meta-halachic principles" and "Jewish values" in order to arrive at the correct ethical decision from a "Talmudic point of view".

      Suffice to say that these two approaches cannot be harmonized. If he takes the second path, he may be still be a great talmudic scholar, but a classic talmid chochom he is not.
      Again, I trying only trying to be descriptive and not prescriptive.

      Delete
    15. Dovid, are you sure that you want to refer to "the basic correctness of the understanding of Chazal and rishonim"? After all, Rabbi Meiselman is perfectly ready to state that all the Rishonim were wrong, when it suits him to do so.

      Delete
    16. And, if you want to take an example from Torah and science, there are plenty of Torah scholars - from Rav Lampronti through to today - who do *not* assume the basic correctness of either Chazal or the Rishonim with regard to spontaneous generation. So are they not "classic talmidei chachomim"?

      Delete
    17. @Dovid K

      The "my way or the highway" comment relates to the unanimous unequivocal definition of an orthodox Jewish academic scholar or a talmid chacham that R Grossman describes. It also relates to the "classic" lomed Torah you speak of, which implies there is only one way.

      Regarding R Weinberg's quote. Please provide the exact source for the comment so I can read it in context (I would imagine you agree that context of statements is important). I think the critical issue here is what element of "emunat chachamim" the mishnah in pirkei avot is discussing. Does it refer to halakhic/legal statements made by earlier rabbis, or even to their position on non-Torah matters? Reading the mishnah carefully, especially considering that R Weinberg attaches his comment of "emunat chachamim" to "pilpul talmidim", strongly suggests that the "emunah" we speak of here is regarding their authority in halacha, not on aggadic statements nor their stance on science or the wordly matters that they, and many of the current "lomdei Torah", are separate from.
      Furthermore, if "emunat chachamim" means that whatever they said is "true", that in no way means that it need be taken literally. If you argue that even aggadic statements should be literalized, like Yakov and Yosef learning about eglah arufah or that God held the mountain over our heads at Sinai, then your opinion is not in line with Rambam's stance expressed in perek cheilek. You are entitled to believe that Moshe was 10 amot tall, regardless of how irrational and ludicrous it sounds, but to insinuate that this approach should be adopted by all Jews is where you'd be in the wrong.
      Therefore, "emunat chachamim" does not mean that their non-legal comments need to be taken literally. I agree, we shouldn't rush to say that "they were mistaken", but rather that they weren't actually trying to state a historical fact or a real scientific piece of knowledge. And while the respectful approach is to not immediately claim they were mistaken, that doesn't mean we must believe that they could never have made mistakes.

      I get the feeling that you believe that everything chazal said was absolute and that the surrounding environment had no part in their statements (R Grossman definitely does). Did chazal not go out of their way to change Jewish practice to negate the views of the sadducees? To opine that chazal did not take the outer environment into their decisions is ignorant. To suggest that the influence of christianity had no part to play in chazal's statements would be ahistorical. The same holds true for science; chazal in those times were influenced by what the science of their time held, and the greatness of chazal is that they would have no issue with the notion that if the science changed, then so would their stance.
      When it comes to organ donation, I don't know much about it. But if a rabbi from the Talmud was resurrected and recognized his earlier understanding of science was flawed, would he preserve his pride and let someone die so that his original mistaken stance remain supported, or would he be brave enough to say he was wrong and save someones life?

      So getting back to "emunat chachamim". It doesn't necessarily mean that everything they said was right. Rather it means that everything they said had a purpose, and that their statements were borne out of an understanding of what was best for Jewish practice in their generation based on their surrounding world. Following in their footsteps doesn't mean that we literalize everything they say, but that we too remain sensitive to the world around us and consider it a critical factor in making decisions regarding Jewish practice.

      And by the way, I would tweak your last comment: "If he takes the second path, he may be still be a great talmudic scholar, but a charedi talmid chochom he is not."

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    18. To Curious:
      I don't see where Rav Meiselman states or even implies that "all the rishonim were wrong". Regarding the problem of lice, he prefaced his interpretation (on pages 305-307) with the acknowledgment that it is guesswork--he is not claiming his approach is definitive and all others are wrong.
      He mentions constantly that whenever rishonim and major achronim were faced with observable facts, they offered novel approaches to understanding Chazal. He is following the classic methodology of talmidei chachomim throughout the ages.
      Rav Meiselman actually builds his approach on the fact that the Rambam distinguished between lice and fleas by employing a halachic definition of "parah veravah" which is not the ordinary meaning. (pages 316-317) Once that avenue was opened by the Rambam, Rav Meiselman proceeds to build a halachic definition of spontaneous generation by which to understand the sugya from a new angle. In other words, he is working with the basic correctness of Chazal and rishonim regarding the underlying principles at work.

      Of course, no academic scholar of Talmud would even bother doing any of this in order to vindicate Chazal's permissive ruling of killing lice on Shabbos.

      Rav Lampronti's views on Torah and Science are far from clear. Writers in the Torah and Science genre are prone to selectively cite Rav Lampronti's entry on "Tzeidah" to make their point. From what I've seen, only Rav Meiselman provides a thorough discussion of his view from multiple additional entries like "Chokrim", "Nikkur" and "Klayos Yoatzos" taking up 15 pages and an Appendix.
      So yes, Rav Lampronti is an exception which proves the rule.

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    19. Kornreich - "I did run your thought experiment and replaced the Abarbanel with the Ramchal. I didn't have your reaction." Either you're being intellectually dishonest, or Tomo guys are even more mufka from the mainstream than I thought. Aint no way that a contemporary rabbi (even one more widely accepted than R' Soloveitchik) can get away with stating that the Ramchal lacks Rabbinic authority. It's delusional to think otherwise. By the way, did R' Soloveitchik think that? I figured R' Meiselman would have some creative way to get out of that conclusion.

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    20. To N8ZL:
      The context for Rav Weinberg's statement is here:
      (שו"ת שרידי אש חלק א סימן קיג עמוד שלז)
      It seems you aren't willing to address my statements squarely and again, would rather twist them into constructing some kind of a stereotype.
      I never suggested we should take every aggadic teaching of Chazal said literally nor did I say everything every member of Chazal ever said on every topic was correct. This is not an honest way of conducting a conversation.

      I made a proposition: The classic approach to understanding Chazal and rishonim among lomdei Torah for centuries has been what Rav Weinberg and R. Grossman describe. You may find an outlier or two along the way, but they don't prove anything. I'm also proposing that the modern academic approach to Chazal and rishonim are diametricaly opposed to this classic approach and therefore loses its right to claim to be an authentic expositor of traditional Jewish thought. It's simply not the traditional approach to Torah study--and therefore it is unacceptable for people who are committed to upholding Jewish tradition. That's all R. Grossman was saying.

      I see that you personally find much merit in the academic approach and think that it deserves to be respected and not dismissed by chareidim. You aren't committed to upholding Jewish tradition like the chareidim are? Fine with me--it's your life. But I'm not interested in your personal preferences.
      I'm interested to know if you agree with the proposition that the academic approach to Chazal and rishonim is not how lomdei Torah have learned Torah for many centuries. And if not, why not.
      Please address the proposition as stated.

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    21. @Dovid K

      Thanks for your response. I’ll post my comments in two parts.

      When I said "If you argue that even aggadic statements should be literalized" I was addressing "someone who" and not "you David Kornreich", and I was referencing R Grossman's words.
      R Grossman says at the beginning of his article that "If a difficulty or inconsistency in the words of the earlier authorities presents itself, the talmid chochom assumes that the fault is with him, the student, not with the master".
      He makes this statement without qualification, without discussion that earlier statements of "the master" on many occasions did not have to (and often should not ) be taken literally, hence why I brought up the point about aggadic statements.
      Based on that, I don't think anyone has any requirement to "make sense" of Talmudic statements that in fact make no sense and are at odds with modern day knowledge or even at odds with the pshat of Tanakh, and rather recognize that they were allegorical.
      You yourself refused to state that "everything every member of Chazal ever said on every topic was correct". Indeed, chazal can be wrong, and definitely in matters of science when the science back then was different. So when it comes to matters of science, contrary to R Grossman's carte blanche definition of a talmid chacham, we also do not need to make sense of early chazal if it conflicts with modern day science.

      When it comes to Shapiro and the Rambam, this is a different discussion than aggadeta and scientific knowledge.
      For now, I will only address R Grossman's words on this matter that "it is incumbent upon him (the student) to make every effort to justify the words of the master"
      We have no how much time Shapiro spent in attempting to "justify the words" of the Rambam. I imagine he has dedicated years analyzing all of Rambam's works and the other early authorities of his time, in addition to the gemaras associated with the Rambam's thoughts.
      You do not need to be a "classic lomed Torah" to commit countless hours to studying Jewish literature. Again, if you have a myopic view of what a "classic" beit midrash should be, and what a "classic" rav should be, then most of your statements may be coming from those far-from-unanimous beliefs.
      Therefore, if Shapiro spent years "making sense" of the Rambam and concluded that it didn't make sense as something belonging to normative Judaism, he doesn't need to include all those initial thoughts in his book. You yourself insinuated that chazal can be wrong, and if Shapiro felt the Rambam was wrong he felt justified in publishing a book about it.

      "You may find an outlier or two along the way"
      How are we to tell who is the outlier? The whole point of Shapiro's book is that the 13 principles were in of themselves an "outlier", irrespective of its popular acceptance. Who are you to say that R Weinberg's approach is normative? Is it because the current right-wing rabbinate and their followers adopts it?

      "authentic expositor of traditional Jewish thought. It's simply not the traditional approach"
      Again, I would need more "proof" (as you would call it) that R Grossman's (and presumably your) approach is unanimously considered "traditional Jewish thought" and that any other approach cannot be adopted. My whole point is that R Grossman's view of a "classic talmid chacham" is not unanimous; merely quoting me a R Weinberg is only showing me that such an approach exists, not that it is the sole way of seeing it.

      .....

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    22. @Dovid K

      Part 2

      "You aren't committed to upholding Jewish tradition like the chareidim are?"
      Definitely not certain aspects of tradition that they deem is unchangeable or that their misguidance is hindering their realization that those elements can evolve within an orthodox framework. While charedim are very careful to uphold halakha, I strongly feel that the majority of them have a shallow view of chazal's genius and if anything I'd be attempting to bolster the traditional views of chazal.

      "I'm interested to know if you agree with the proposition that the academic approach to Chazal and rishonim is not how lomdei Torah have learned Torah for many centuries."
      If the current charedi yeshiva system is your opinion of how "lomdei Torah have learned Torah for many centuries" then of course the academic approach is different, for I feel it is more dedicated to getting to the origins and truths of Jewish thought without the confounding variable of severe bias. The fact that it's "different" doesn't mean it's bad (was the Rambam's approach loyal to earlier Jewish tradition? What about the Ibn Ezra? Rabbi Hirsch? What about the chassidic movement?)
      Therefore, I truly believe the "academic approach" should be incorporated within the orthodox world, but that it needs to be curbed, especially if it would
      threaten Jewish practice/halakha.
      For me, the central area that the academic approach should be adopted is towards Tanakh. When it comes to gemara, the academic approach is very suitable and should be applied when it comes to historical matters and metaphorical teachings, and wouldn't do well within sugyot that are meant to be halakhic.
      Both the academic approach and the charedi kollel approach (that you deem "classic") have their place in Judaism, but both have their dangers. The former needs to be weighed carefully so that it does not impinge on Jewish practice, while the latter needs to be concerned that it does not fall into ignorance / unintelligence with regard to Tanakh and early chazal.

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    23. To Shlomo:
      It seems you are so convinced you are right that you can't even grant that someone else can be genuine in opposing your view. How narrow-minded.

      To N8ZL:
      Trying to argue with you is like trying to nail jello to the wall.
      I give up. You win.

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    24. @Kornreich

      Sure thing. But I'm not being evasive, nor was my last statement a point of argument, but an opinion. An opinion of which you asked for, as you asked "please address the proposition as stated". I addressed it and you failed to respond. That's not me being jello, that's you putting down the hammer because it's getting too heavy for you. I worry there's not enough mezuzahs in your house, lol!

      If you would like me to spell out my response (in the last paragraph) in bullet points, I can do that too. It often happens that people of certain mindsets can better understand things that way. Until then, you are merely proving the point that individuals like R Grossman and those who adopt a similar approach to Judaism either don't have the capability to see things beyond their bias or don't possess the intellectual capacity to have a rational discussion within orthodoxy.

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  8. I didn't see anywhere in R. Grossman's review where he called for any uncomfortable teachings to be erased or excised from public memory. What kind of slander is this?

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    Replies
    1. @Kornreich

      This isn't slander, but rather a miscommunication stemming likely from a poor education in grammar on the accuser's (your) end. RNS said that R Grossman and the gedolim "effectively say " . To EFFECTIVELY say something is not to OFFICIALLY say something. The fact that you say "I didn't see anywhere... where he called for..." is effectively indicating that your English is not up to par. You could use some more academics in your life!

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  9. This seems to be a trend in academic response to criticism. Rather than defend the issues, malign the messenger. What's funnier is how often they turn around and project their flaws on their opponents and accuse them of this exact tactic (see above).

    We all get it. Traditionalists talk with a certain reverence about Gedolei Torah, because they consider the Torah holy and those who devote their lives to it deserving of respect, whether or not they're infallible (those who think traditionalists never ask stiros and kashyos, or argue in psak, on previous authorities have apparently never been in a Beis Medrash. They just do so in a certain reverential tone.)

    Academics have a different view of the Torah, and therefore talk about it and its masters in a different tone. Great. Done.

    Grossman is a traditionalist. He was writing for traditionalists. So he pointed out to his audience that Shapiro is not one and therefore writes differently. A perfectly true, legitimate, and relevant observation.

    Does anybody have anything to say on the 30 - 40 actual critiques Grossman wrote, or since we don't like the word 'mock', we're free to ignore them?

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    Replies
    1. See my comment above.

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    2. "This seems to be a trend in academic response to criticism. Rather than defend the issues, malign the messenger."

      Amazing that you've picked up on this! You must have read thousands of journal articles across multiple disciplines to pick up on that trend!
      How do you even have time to sleep, let alone to learn?
      Will you be documenting your findings?
      Where?

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    3. "Does anybody have anything to say on the 30 - 40 actual critiques Grossman wrote, or since we don't like the word 'mock', we're free to ignore them?"

      Yes!
      Someone HAS started to do that!
      His name is Marc Shapiro.
      Here.
      (Read what HE wrote.)

      https://seforimblog.com/2020/02/cemeteries-and-response-to-criticism/

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    4. 1. Case in point, thanks

      2. So far his "response" consists of exactly two things: a) Paragraph after paragraph of kvetching about being slandered for 'mocking', and b) insisting that he never said Rambam was wrong, but rather he just said that others have said that Rambam was wrong. Grossman's entire article was devoted toward demonstrating that in several dozen cases at least, Shapiro misquoted and misinterpreted sources in order to establish his thesis; thus far not one of his contentions has been addressed or even acknowledged. So we're still waiting...

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    5. I see a lot of substance in Shapiro's post. Substance: He addresses the actual premise of his book, showing how Grossman got it wrong. Substance: he discusses if it would even be possible to write a book described by Grossman.
      Substance: he documents various figures who said the ikkarim weren’t necessarily accepted. Substance: he documents the uses of the word “strange.” I could go on. But even better, you could actually read the post in good faith.
      Furthermore, if you really cared for a substantive discussion why do you have nothing to say to my very substantive points above, showing that Grossman's argument are either very opaque or just wrong? Could it be that you don't actually care about the substance and are just using it as a means to discredit Shapiro?

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    6. Yes yes, you've said that already. Point is that when an article is written about the claim that your book was irresponsible or dishonest in the building of its thesis, and brings tens of instances to demonstrate that claim, then you have only begun to 'respond' to that critique when you actually acknowledge that claim, and demonstrate why you don't think it is true. Getting all a dither about 'mock', and documenting the word strange is at best a side point and at worst an intentional distraction.


      Grossman cites about forty instances in Shapiro's book where he misrepresented or terribly misunderstood source material which were crucial to his conclusions. Which means the very legitimacy of the book and of the author are under scrutiny. Thus far, here and in seforim blog there are well over a hundred comments from people who don't even seem to be aware of that fact. Which demonstrates how effective the tactic of discrediting and disparaging - as opposed to addressing the issues - actually is.


      If Shapiro has what to respond, let him do so. So far he hasn't even acknowledged the article's main claims, let alone addressed them.


      About you're two actual critiques: I'll be glad to discuss substance with you, and I hope to post shortly in that regard. But let's first agree that other than your two examples, which you only even felt the need to dig up in response to my post, nobody else - not Shapiro, not Slifkin, and certainly not any of the dozens of sycophants who are now absolutely positive that Grossman's article is stupid and Shapiro is vindicated ("after all Grossman said 'mock'! QED!") - has felt the need to justify the cases of apparent intellectual indiscretion, but rather resort to a default setting of faux scandalized indignation in order to shut up the opposition. Which is telling.

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    7. Shapiro appears to working through the article page by page. His first post addresses the first four pages, and the first "substantive" point Grossman makes (as far as I can tell) is on page 5. He shows how Grossman makes a very basic error in reading his book before that, but I presume his next post will start from the specific examples (pg. 5 and on). Furthermore, his unethical mode of assembling his article is certainly worthy of inclusion. You're making an absurd demand of Shapiro that he should respond to all detailed points in a single post. He first deals with the overarching issues as well he should.

      I didn't "dig up" those two cases. I actually find the article as a whole subpar (I would avoid such offensive descriptions as "stupid") and those were two handy examples to cite in a comment which it seemed no one would pay attention to anyway.

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    8. The only reply I got from the Grossman defenders (on the Seforimblog) was that *I* mangled the translation of the Tur! Of course, anyone who is following would see that I didn't translate the Tur at all, and merely cited Grossman's translation. Once that was pointed out, the defender decided that the "mangled translation" wasn't relevant to the matter at hand anyway.

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    9. Here's another point: Grossman writes: Shapiro describes [Ran] as another dissenter from the Rambam’s view that one is forbidden to prostrate oneself before angels. Yet, in the same cited Derashah, a few paragraphs later, Ran explains why service to angels is likened to idolatry, in full agreement with the Rambam: “You shall not bow down to their gods nor worship them.” Because I think that the source of idolatry was because they thought that the angels and heavenly forces have power to benefit or to harm if we can access their wills. However, the error which caused this...
      Firstly, I don't get Grossman's point. The Rambam doesn't make an exception in what he considers idolatry and the Ran does. That's a big distinction. Secondly, what more information does he see in the Ran than what the Gem. in Rosh Hashanah (24b, that includes malachei hashareis in Shemos 20:4) teaches? Shapiro himself agrees (limits p. 78) that all later authorities agree that we are to worship God alone. The only question is whether we may worship others as intermediaries between us and him. How does Grossman address Shapiro's view at all? To be clear, I am not responding to Grossman's arguments; I am saying that it's hard to discern his argument altogether.

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    10. Sorry, I realized that citing Grossman is insufficient to make the conversation clear, because his presentation is unclear. The reason Shapiro considers the Ran opposed to the Rambam is that he has the "strange" idea that Metatron is unique among the angels as one that we may bow to. (I don't know Grossman doesn't make that clear in the text. He mentions it in the footnote, but even then not as clearly as he should have.)

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    11. The only reply I got from the Grossman defenders (on the Seforimblog) was that *I* mangled the translation of the Tur!

      You seem like a reasonably intelligent and intellectually honest person so I'm assuming this was an innocent oversight. The only reply??

      Actually, over there your interlocutor explained how Grossman was completely correct, and forced you to admit that it was only your unfamiliarity with the sugya that made you suggest otherwise, thus downgrading your critique to a complaint that Grossman didn't express himself clearly enough for a layman to understand.

      I don't know how to do links and stuff, but in the interest of keeping the debate honest, I'm sure you'll link up the relevant comments from seforimblog, so anyone reading this exchange can read them. Or they can go over there themselves and take a look.

      I'll try to get to your other points as well.

      As for your confidence that Shapiro's long winded complaints about side issues is really just the beginning of a comprehensive step by step response to all of Grossman's actual points - I guess we'll have to wait and see. (If so, whew!, that's gonna be a lot of writing! 'Mock' gets 6 - 7 paragraphs, can't wait to see what actual analysis of complex sources, their context and ramifications gets.) I assume you'll be man enough to own these comments if in the end he just nitpicks a couple more side points and them claims to have 'tired' of the discussion...

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    12. Actually, you're wrong, I said nothing nothing of the sort. And what I actually said was after looking it up I think Grossman made even more mistakes than I had thought originally. Why don't you have a go at defending Grossman yourself? You have nothing substantive to say? You complain about Shapiro and really have nothing, nothing of substance but pointing fingers. You claim you would "post shortly" on the substance. It's a day later and still nothing....

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    13. For a guy who harps on substance, you sure lack it. I left three very substantive points above, while you said NOTHING substantive in all comments.
      Now, I assume you're going to seize on the timing and wording of my comments on seforimblog to avoid having to actually litigate the issue here. So to be clear: at first I said that I am trying to judge whether the article makes sense on its own terms. Then I wrote, as I said above, that after actually looking up the sources, I think he was even more mistaken. Now, can you actually reply to the substance as you keep saying you're going to do?

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    14. I noticed you've chosen not to link up the discussion to allow readers to judge for themselves.

      I'm sorry it's been taking me some time to post my reply. I work two jobs and moonlight as a lomeid Torah (or, as we used to say in the vernacular: 'I have a life'), so this just has to take a backseat. But here goes.

      So you've had a week to come up with some responses to Grossman's demonstrations of Shapiro's intellectual sloppiness, and instead you've found three cases where [you feel] Grossman didn't express himself clearly enough. Maybe Dialogue should hire you as an editor; at any rate Shapiro seems to on his own...

      For your 3 'critiques':

      1. Shapiro claims that Rambam invented the concept of the ikarim ('muskal rishon', he calls it); he did not base them on a textual source from chazal.  The fact that Rambam employs chazal's terminology and classification system indicates that he didn't invent them, but rather this is what he understands to be chazal's position. Which means that Shapiro is wrong (and that he is certainly dead wrong when he claims that Rambam actually invented the classification system itself!). You may disagree with Rambam's understanding of the sugya and claim it's weak source, but that'll be your thesis, not Shapiro's. Feel free to write your own book.

      2. As your interlocutor on seforimblog pointed out, MB has its source in Yerushalmi via Tur, not Rambam as Shapiro claims. So Shapiro is wrong again. You may disagree with Tur and MB in how to learn the Sugya (which is what your conversation there subsequently devolved into), but that doesn't make Shapiro right.

      (Totally as an aside - your question of why it would be enough for the shatz to just say the words does not appear to be terribly troubling. Presumably public affirmation of the doctrines should be enough to assuage our concerns that he might be a closet heretic, especially in this case where the whole concern is only because of his apparent refusal to affirm them. Once we don't suspect him anymore, there's obviously no problem with him leading the service. But that is neither here nor there for the present discussion.)

      3. Shapiro says that Ran holds that one may prostrate before angels, and therefore must disagree with 5th principle. Grossman points out that Ran specifically prohibits one to prostrate before angels, so Shapiro is wrong. V'su lo midi.

      That Ran has an unusual understanding of Matatron's status which somehow makes the principle inapplicable to him is merely a nuanced discussion of application, something that every sugya in the world contains dozens of. It doesn't change the fact that Shapiro was wrong (more probably - dishonest) to count Ran as a dissenter from the principle being an ikkur. Which is the subject of the discussion.

      (The question of Matatron's unique status is not something I would spend to much time trying to understand, as the Gemara in Chagiga attributes Acher's going off the derech to its unfathomability. At any rate, knowledge of the relevant literature may have made the Ran's position to seem somewhat less, er, strange than it might appear at first glance).   

      I apologize that due to time constraints I will not be able to continue this conversation. I guess we'll just sit back and see if Shapiro comes through on his pledge to issue a rebuttal to Grossman's actual critiques. I will allow you the last word.  

      Delete
    15. Setting aside your condescension:
      Anyone can look at seforimblog themselves. I don’t need to trouble myself because of your misrepresentations.

      These three examples were short and easy to write about. I didn’t see merit in almost any of the article’s arguments.

      Thank you for your response – I thought perhaps I was missing something. The answer to all my questions is that Grossman’s argument can be summed up as: ich halt. Nothing is actually compelling on its own, in which case his/your allegations of Shapiro’s misreading or misrepresenting are totally untrue. You disagree; that’s the extent of your quarrel.

      According to Grossman “nothing shows more clearly that the Rambam based his Princples upon the Talmud” than the fact that he uses Chazal’s terminology? Well, I guess nothing shows it. The Talmud gives no hint to the Principles other than the broad categories in which to place those who deny them. It’s not a “weak” source, it’s actually not a source at all. Sorry, no “misreading” here.

      Next: You completely misrepresent my conversation on seforimblog. Grossman cites the Yerushalmi (in a “mangled” form according to his defender Frummie on Seforimblog) and then states “Obviously, the ruling of Mishnah Berurah is not an “invention” based on
      the Rambam.” Nothing obvious about it, and it actually doesn’t follow. (If you want to prove that from the Taz and YY, go ahead write your own article.) No “misreading” here.

      Lastly, you write: “Grossman points out that Ran specifically prohibits one to prostrate before angels, so Shapiro is wrong.” The Gem. in Rosh Hashanah is nearly explicit that prostrating before angels is prohibited. Also, the Ran cites that Gemara immediately after giving his view of Metatron, so if you were right then Grossman wouldn’t have had to look so many pages later for the Ran’s different discussion about how the mistake of idolatry started. In fact the Ran immediately uses his chiddush with Metatron to answer how Yehoshua was allowed to bow to an angel (because otherwise it would be forbidden). Why in the world did Grossman skip over that entire discussion and then cite the later less related discussion? K’nirah, Grossman thought that the Ran’s description of idolatry somehow refutes Shapiro. This sort of wooly thinking is typical of the rest of the article. Regarding your point (as opposed to Grossman’s), Shapiro can easily argue that the Rambam would consider the Metatron exception idolatry. In fact, he almost definitely does, since his ikkarim prohibits serving angels and he gives no exception. Sorry, no “misreading” here.

      Very good idea to cut and run once someone calls your bluff on “substance.”

      After having gone through it, I don’t think the article deserves Shapiro’s response, although he will likely give it.

      Delete
    16. Boy, it's not fun when you pull the old "I"ll let you take the last word" trick [a trick I invented] and the other guy doesn't take it [also a trick I invented.] I've been there, brother, I've been there...

      Keep up the muckraking tho, Goldwasser can use a few good men to help out. Poor guy's getting the heck beat out of him. If it wasn't for Shmuli Philips swooping in to distract the baying hounds, he'd be down for the count.

      Delete
    17. DF I often don't agree with you, but it's nice to be comrade in arms for a change. BTW, why do you keep calling him Goldwasser? Is that intentional?

      Delete
    18. Whoops! No, that was just my carelessness. I meant Grossman indeed. Thanks for the correction.

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  10. Having read through parts of your book regarding the medical and scientific beliefs of the Talmudists, I would say that as a reader I felt that the general tone had a condescending feel.

    My feeling is that if you had greater respect for the holiness of the Talmudists, you would have worded things differently.

    You could have presented your arguments with more respect. Why can't you at least admit that things could have been worded better? Are you incapable of a mistake?

    "Mocking" doesn't refer only to what is expressively stated. It can apply also to the way things are worded. Flipping through some of the pages, I felt that a degree of respect for our histories great Talmudists was lacking.

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    1. Here we go again, the notorious "tone" issue. In fourteen years, nobody has ever been able to offer examples - it always turns out to be the approach that they object to, not the tone. You can be the first!

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  11. Regarding the book by Phillips, I agree with Slifkin.

    If anything, Grossman's review is more comprehensive, as he tries to critique multiple chapters (albeit in a malicious and amateurish fashion).

    Phillips is more sophisticated and polite, and some of his points may be stronger than Grossman's (though generally not convincing to me).

    However, he only deals with ONE chapter (and only a few points within that chapter). What about the rest of the book and its range of sources, which Rabbi Yitzchak Blau characterized as "astounding" and Rabbi Blau's assessment that "Shapiro succeeds at proving his essential thesis"? (Blau DOES take issue with other aspects of the book).

    As for Phillips' other chapter, he critiques what he perceived to be Shapiro's agenda, but is not a critique of the book's CONTENT.

    Rather, it is an attempt to give readers the "proper methodology of Torah theology."

    He does so by quoting Gil Student and Rav Hirsch (but not Shapiro).

    I agree with Slifkin that there are many good things about the Phillips book, in that they expose readers to sources they might not otherwise have the opportunity to think about.

    But the Phillips' "critique" of the Shapiro book is not at all comprehensive, nor is it fair or balanced.


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  12. No objective person - a goy, shall we say - would ever describe Shapiro's work as "mocking." Nor would any such person use the new term Grossman's defenders are pivoting to here, "disrespectful." This entire debate, such as it were, is merely a variation on Truman's line when someone told him, concerning his political opponents, to "Give 'em Hell!" He responded, "I don't give anyone hell. I tell the truth, and they think its hell."

    "Give em hell" Shapiro is doing exactly the same thing.

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  13. 2 points:
    1. based on having read marc shapiro's defense against the accusation of "mocking", it is clear to me that he is indeed mocking. the reason that shapiro doesn't realize this himself is because he has a poor grasp of the significant distinctions between engaging in torah study (which involves engaging with the divine) and the academic study of jewish texts (which is no different than any other "soft" academic pursuit). he demonstrates this point of ignorance further by claiming that there are many academics who are also "talmidie chachamim", which is manifestly untrue. a talmid chacham is someone who as engaged with the torah to the point that in some small way he has learned to think like g-d (hence his insights are considered "divrei elokim chaim"). an academic is by definition someone who dispassionately engages with the text, but always remains detached from it.

    2. the "corporealists" among the rishonim (who's views are pretty mainstream among the later mekubalim) did not believe that g-d had any physical manifestations, but rather that he could be described by various characteristics, which RMBM considered the same as describing g-d in corpreal terms (which is why he described them as magshimim). this is self evident from the fact that RMBM only accuses them of hagshama but not of denying g-d's unity, which any true corporealist must do (since all physical things are divisible). this is a complex topic way above the level of a blog, but it needed to be pointed out that there was never a stream of thought in judaism (chazal, rishonim, kabalists, etc.) who thought of g-d in actual physical terms. the entire controversy was over non physical traits (such as rachum, chanun, etc.) that RMBM and his co-philosophers considered akin to physicality, and they therefore described those who accepted such thinking as magshimim. this is discussed among the later commentaries (such as maharal, malbim, and similar) who justify the alternative to RMBM's view.

    a neighbor from RBS

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    1. 1. You don't give any examples whatsoever of "mocking." You are correct that academics are detached, but this does not ipso facto mean that they are mocking!

      2. The Tosafist R. Moshe Taku asserts that God sometimes takes on human form, and considers it heretical to deny that He is able to do so (as Rambam does). Rabbi Isaiah ben Elijah of Trani (known as Riaz, 1235-1300, grandson of Rid) speaks of scholars who believed in a corporeal God. He notes that they do not believe that He is made of flesh and blood, but rather that He is made of a more ethereal substance, in gigantic human form. While he disputes this view of God, he argues that those who possess this belief cannot be termed heretics, since even some of the holy Sages of the Talmud possessed this belief. Ra’avad famously disputes Rambam’s categorization of corporealists as heretics, stating that “greater and better people than Rambam” were corporealists. Rambam himself writes that he met someone rated as a great Torah scholar who had serious doubts concerning God’s incorporeality, and adds that he met others who insisted that God is corporeal and that it is heretical to believe otherwise. R. Shmuel ben Mordechai of Marseilles claims that the majority of Torah scholars in northern France were magshimim. Ramban, writing to the Torah scholars of France, expresses his dismay at reports that these scholars condemned Rambam’s Sefer HaMadda for its denial that God possesses any form or image. He argues with them that Scriptural and Aggadic references to God’s form should not be taken literally.

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    2. 1. the mockery is self evident, and yes it is implicit in the academic approach. if someone can't see it, that is simply because they are committed to the academic approach.
      2. yes, anyone who has done even cursory reading is well aware of these statements. but if one takes the time to actually study the issue, he quickly realizes that that the rishonim use physical form as stand in for character traits such as rachum etc. the reason that they do so, is because that is precisely the point being debated: is describing g-d as having a trait akin to claiming that he is ensconced in physicality. this is a deep topic which ought not be discussed, and can not be done justice in this type of format. but since it was brought up, i just wan't to make this important point in case there are novices on this blog unfamiliar with this issue.
      as i pointed out in my original comment, since all physical things can be divided, even a very junior grade philosopher would realize that attributing physical properties to g-d is to deny his unity. since there is no trend in jewish thought that denies g-d's unity (even RMBM did not accuse his opponents of doing so) clearly there was no trend that actually ascribed physical properties to g-d. they didn't mean that terminology literally.

      a neighbor from RBS

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    3. 1. Thanks for proving the point of this post so perfectly! You can't illustrate a single example of "mocking." Because what you call mocking is simply not treating them as infallible.

      2. Er, no, your apologetics do not remotely fit with what the Rishonim actually write. Riaz notes that the corporealists do not believe that He is made of flesh and blood, but rather that He is made of a more ethereal substance, in gigantic human form. There's simply no way to claim that he is actually referring to them referring to character traits. Likewise Ramban and the others. And note that these people were trying to be Dan LeKaf Zechus on the magshimim - they would certainly have said "but they were only referring to character traits" if that was actually case! What you are doing is typical charedi revisionism to make earlier sources more palatable. You probably also believe that Chazal's description of the sun going behind the sky at night is not literal.

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    4. I would add that you are mistaken that the corporealists only argued on G-d's characteristics. Surprising as it may sound, many corporealists felt that G-d took human form, as Rabbi Slifkin correctly explained in the comment above. Needless to say, the Zohar teaches the strange doctrine of the Sefirot, “numbers,” or ten divine entities (or emanations), the lowest being the shekhinah (malkhut). Remarkably, the Zohar explicitly explains these kabbalistic sefirot "ten parts of G-d" in anthropomorphic terms, claiming that the sole purpose of a Jew is to somehow, mystically fit all the pieces of G-d together like a puzzle. They also say that the all-powerful deity, G-d needs human help. That G-d is somehow incapable of doing this Himself is a) absurd and b) ridiculous. This is not only a perfect example of sympathetic magic, but it is also a perfect example of so-called rabbis believing that G-d is corporeal and divisible, and in need to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

      Additionally, Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim (author of Mesora.org) says that some parts of the Tanya is heresy. For example, the Tanya claims that G-d has “parts,” which stands in violation of Isaiah, 40:25: “To what shall your equate Me that I should be similar?”

      These are some of the many examples that we could bring to show that the Zohar and Tanya felt that G-d possess "parts." To see more examples, see Mesora.org where Rabbi Chaim exposes the Tanya for what it is, a wafer.

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    5. I'm just trying to wrap my head around this but I can't manage to understand. According to Rambam, the Ikkarim are the basis of all Judaism (even Shapiro agrees to that). According to Rambam, denial of any one of the Principles, means that one is removed completely from Klal Yisrael. You, Dr. Slifkin claim in every platform that you follow the Rambam, meaning that you accept his definition of Judaism. And here you are repeating over and overthe notion that there are other options and opinions, and the third Principle can be denied! Please explain where you stand - enquiring minds want to know!

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    6. @Anonymous

      What is your source for the definition of a "talmid chacham" and an "academic" and how on earth can you boldly claim that an academic undoubtedly must be detached from the text? It sounds to me that YOUR definition of an academic cannot shtim with YOUR definition of a talmid chacham. But it seems your dictionary is flawed.

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    7. " a talmid chacham is someone who as engaged with the torah to the point that in some small way he has learned to think like g-d". More evidence that Haredim elevate Rabbis to the status of minor gods.

      Delete
    8. RNS,
      again i will reiterate that it is both dangerous and wrong to be discussing this topic in this type of format. i am doing so only because there may be uninitiated people who read this blog, and will come away with the mistaken impression that there is (or at least once was) a legitimate stream in jewish thinking that believes in a corporeal g-d.
      you state:
      "Riaz notes that the corporealists do not believe that He is made of flesh and blood, but rather that He is made of a more ethereal substance, in gigantic human form. There's simply no way to claim that he is actually referring to them referring to character traits"

      this is an excellent example of why people should avoid making pronouncements regarding subjects that they are not experts in, be it science, history, or in this case kabala. צורת האדם (human form) in kabalistic terminology NEVER refers to anything physical, even when used regarding people. it is a term for the "image" of the human soul, and is also used metaphorically to refer to g-d as the soul of the creation. likewise "ethereal substance" is commonly used in the kabalistic literature to refer to things that exist only as a concept. i'm not trying to explain kabalistic concepts, and nothing i have written would even remotely do them justice. i'm only writing this so that the uninitiated reader should realize that the "magshimim" did not ever imagine that there was anything remotely physical in their concept of g-d.

      Delete
    9. "You, Dr. Slifkin claim in every platform that you follow the Rambam, meaning that you accept his definition of Judaism." Nope, I never ever claim that.

      Delete
    10. "Duh" clearly no evidence will ever suffice for you. I will just point out that if Riaz meant what you claim he meant, he would have worded it very differently.

      Delete
    11. Walter, remember the distinction between "we can believe it" and "it's true that someone indeed said it." A Tosafist who holds an opinion that does not fit with the Ikkarim, given that the Ikkarim had not been codified as such (or the school of using them had not gained universal acceptance), is totally allowed to say his opinion without having US claim that he is a kofer.

      It is totally kefirah for us today, however, as we DO accept the Ikkarim.

      [and it in no way denigrates the Rishon for us to acknowledge that he may indeed have said that contra-Ikkar statement since, as we just pointed out, that was not the feeling of universal Judaism at that time. For a Rav today to hold such a view would be rather alarming.]

      [And the idea of Judaism and its fundamental tenets of faith "evolving" is a topic way beyond the scope of this comment and certainly beyond my expertise...]

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  14. Some serious hock going down here!! It's been a while since slifkin and Kornreich butted heads. Someone bring some popcornso we can enjoy the show!!

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  15. I wholeheartedly echo Rabbi Slifkin's statement of "Sigh. Here we go again."

    For a review of the entire "dialogue" years ago on the issue of corporealism, please see the following links:

    http://www.hakirah.org/Vol%207%20Slifkin.pdf – Rabbi Slifkin’s article in Hakirah
    http://www.hakirah.org/Vol%209%20Zucker.pdf – Rabbi Zucker’s response to Rabbi Slifkin’s article
    http://www.hakirah.org/Vol%209%20Slifkin2.pdf – Rabbi Slifkin’s rejoinder to Rabbi Zucker
    http://corporealismdiscussion.com/slifkin.pdf - Rabbi Zucker’s rejoinder to Rabbi Slifkin
    http://www.zootorah.com/RationalistJudaism/ZuckerClosingStatement.pdf - Rabbi Slifkin’s closing statement

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    1. Rabbi Zucker, would you admit today that Rashi was indeed, a corporealist?

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    2. Thank you, Rabbi Zucker.
      In truth, the goal Phillips chapter was not to discuss Jewish views of corporeality. Had that been his goal, his focus would have been on your enlightening and comprehensive exchanges with Rabbi Slifkin.

      Rather, his purpose was to attack and discredit Prof Shapiro, with what he wrote about corporeality being the stick he would hit him with.

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    3. If I can point out, the previous chapter (available on the sample section of my website) DOES deal with corporeality in its own right. The critique chapter I was motivated to write after hearing people quoting Prof Shapiro's conclusions re corporealism without being aware of the complexities, counter-evidence and opposing academic views that I cite in the chapter.

      I did not focus on the subsequent chapters of "The Limits" as I thought that the sources were in general more accurately presented and enjoyed reading them.

      I did cite the debate between R Slifkin and R Zucker in a footnote, but I also tried to bring new arguments and sources to the table, as I hope my post below shows. The full chapter is still available on my website www.JudaismReclaimed.com

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    4. Rabbi Phillips, where in your book do you discuss Prof Shapiro's view of corporealism?

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    5. Turk Hill - I don't think I understand the premise behind your question. There has been no new information or evidence about this matter since the exchange that Rabbi Slifkin and I had years ago, and therefore my position remains as expressed in the articles I wrote.

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    6. This comment has been removed by the author.

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    7. Chapters 9 and 10. 9 is currently available on my book's website (www.judaismreclaimed.com). I also discuss corporeality more generally in chapter 8 which is available on the sample subject of the website. There are other related chapters too which are cross-referenced.

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  16. In his The Limits of Orthodox Theology: Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles Reappraised, Rabbi Marc B. Shapiro explains how not all rabbis of Judaism accepted Maimonides' 13 fundamentals even though most rabbis insist that all Jews need to believe in all of them today, despite the dispute in the past.

    Today Judaism is seemingly under attack by science and evolution, even though many wise Jews had no quarrel with science. As a response, many hereidi and ultra-Orthodox Jews, feeling that their personal world-view was threatened by science and the Reform movement, resorted to the infallibility of the sages, even in matters of science. However, Maimonides and many others admitted that the sages were human and could be wrong in matters of science. Yes, Chazal could be wrong. Is this an attack of Judaism? No, because only G-d alone is infallible.

    In short, Dr. Marc Shapiro's book does not "mock" Chazal. Shapiro respects Chazal and their many decisions. But people need to recognize that Chazal, as well as the Patriarchs were humans and were not immune to infallibility.

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  17. https://www.hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14301&st=&pgnum=11&hilite=

    According to Chazon ish (in the context of R. Tikochinski's work on the dateline) calling strange something that all the rishonim agree to is elbon hatorah.

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    1. It's a good thing then that Shapiro did nothing of the sort.

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    2. Good thing it wasn't something all rishonim agree to then!

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    3. I should add that R. Tikochinski himself said nearly all Rishonim agreed with him (that dateline is 180 degrees from Jerusalem) and he was calling strange the view of Baal Hamor and Kuzari (that it is 90 degrees from Jerusalem).


      It was to this that the Chazon Ish called Elbon Hatorah.

      I believe but cannot prove the the Chazon Ish considered calling even the view of one Rishon as strange an Elbon Hatorah.

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  18. Things like this controversy makes me think that the big divide in Judaism isn't mystics vs. rationalists so much as moderns and pre-moderns, in terms not just of science, but scholarship in general.

    Modern scholarship is dispassionate, evidence-based, without preconceptions (at least in theory, although the postmoderns would disagree), sceptical and unwilling to accord automatic respect to people or ideas whereas the traditional world view is faith-based, ideally based on love and awe for the material studied and earlier scholars, credulous (at least to certain types of material and certain types of authors) and supposed to give certain answers. It is very difficult to 'translate' from one to the other.

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    1. @Daniel Saunders

      What classifies something as "passionate" or "dispassionate"? And what about traditional (as you put it) commentaries that are a far cry from "according automatic respect" when many of their comments are quite harsh at times?

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  19. R Slifkin. You have labelled my critique narrow-minded. I would like to point out that your brief mentioning of R Taku (etc) does not in any way engage with what I’ve written in that chapter. I also cite the writings of R Taku and spend several pages addressing his views and why I believe they did not receive proper treatment in The Limits of Orthodox Theology.

    In short, I cite the approach of Professor Joseph Dan who is not just “one academic opinion” but considered the leading voice on the matter having studied, written on and published the only version of Ktav Tamim* to have appeared in the last 150 years (“The Limits” quotes Prof Dan approvingly elsewhere). He also wrote extensively on the opinions of medieval Jewish scholars and, not being an observant Jew, cannot be dismissed as ideologically driven as you imply concerning me. Dan writes that:

    "He [R’ Taku] insists on the literal acceptance of the prophets' descriptions of their visions as well as the anthropomorphic references to God in talmudic-midrashic literature. He does not do so because of his belief in the literal veracity of these descriptions; he only insists that they represent the maximum that can be conveyed concerning God's essence and appearance, and that any further inquiry cannot lead to valid conclusions. God chose to reveal to us in the scriptures whatever is found in them: man should be satisfied with that, and ask no more questions. It is not that Rabbi Moses Taku believed in an anthropomorphic God; most probably, he did not.”

    Again, I go into this much more in the book (this chapter is on my website) but this approach understands that God is not limited by our thoughts and our imagination.

    It is actually very similar to the writings of R Hirsch on the subject of anthropomorphism. That since even the mind of the mature philosopher knows no more about God than a young child we should pull back from philosophising about God and just take the Torah at face value. R Hirsch did not believe in a physical deity but was supremely concerned that by over-philosophising and abstracting God (as he accused Rambam of) one ends up losing touch with the personality of God and becomes unable to have a meaningful relationship with Him.

    Both you and Prof Shapiro are entitled to dispute this approach. I do feel however that in a book quoting so many sources on the matter Prof Dan deserves a mention. And I do not think that bringing up such opinions should be considered “narrow-minded”


    *I assume for the purposes of my book that the version of the Ktav Tamim we have is authentic. Dan raises several concerns on this point such as the fact that a book which condemns so many Rabbinic scholars does not seem to have been quoted or noticed in any contemporary books or letters – and that the person who “discovered” it in the Paris library had a certain history.

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    1. Prof. Dan definitely deserved a mention as a contrary read. However, like he argues with regard to R. Taku, he also claims several other explicitly corporeal texts are nothing of the kind. So, for example, possibly the most corporeal Jewish texts is Shiur Koma, which describes the measurements of God's body. Maimonides declared this an incredible heresy.

      Joseph Dan argues that this, too, should be read in a very radical way - that the measurements are so fantastical as to give the reader the sense that he has no idea what God's measurements are or could be, that indeed, God is incorporeal.

      What I am saying is, Prof. Dan has a certain read of these texts that have a pattern.

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    2. Shmuli Philips: Prof. Dan's take on R. Moshe Taku is very strange; I don't why you present it in your book as the "definitive" explanation. I also don't understand how you can possibly claim that there were never any corporealists, in light of the following: Rabbi Isaiah ben Elijah of Trani (known as Riaz, 1235-1300, grandson of Rid) speaks of scholars who believed in a corporeal God. He notes that they do not believe that He is made of flesh and blood, but rather that He is made of a more ethereal substance, in gigantic human form. While he disputes this view of God, he argues that those who possess this belief cannot be termed heretics, since even some of the holy Sages of the Talmud possessed this belief. Ra’avad famously disputes Rambam’s categorization of corporealists as heretics, stating that “greater and better people than Rambam” were corporealists. Rambam himself writes that he met someone rated as a great Torah scholar who had serious doubts concerning God’s incorporeality, and adds that he met others who insisted that God is corporeal and that it is heretical to believe otherwise. R. Shmuel ben Mordechai of Marseilles claims that the majority of Torah scholars in northern France were magshimim. Ramban, writing to the Torah scholars of France, expresses his dismay at reports that these scholars condemned Rambam’s Sefer HaMadda for its denial that God possesses any form or image. He argues with them that Scriptural and Aggadic references to God’s form should not be taken literally.

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    3. I’m not sure it’s fair to say I present Prof Dan as the “definitive” explanation. I criticise Prof Shapiro for omitting Dan’s opinion as a leading academic on the subject R Taku. This is a notable omission on the part of Prof Shapiro and, as I argue, fits a greater pattern.


      I answer your questions in the continuation of my discussion of Prof Dan’s approach. Ra’avad’s comment regarding the rabim vetovim having been “led astray by what they saw in the aggadot” becomes very interesting in light of Dan’s comment (quoted above) that “He [R’ Taku] insists on the literal acceptance of the prophets' descriptions of their visions as well as the anthropomorphic references to God in talmudic-midrashic literature. He does not do so because of his belief in the literal veracity of these descriptions…”

      Prof Dan’s interpretation is also consistent with R Hirsch’s approach to anthropomorphism (see comment above) that endorses taking the texts at face value because we cannot comprehend God anyway. R Hirsch openly sides with the non-Maimonidean Rishonim on these theological matters and understands his approach to be based on their positions. While R Hirsch falls short of calling Rambam’s position heretical he is highly critical of Rambam’s approach which he strongly implies is not authentically Jewish. Yet I doubt anyone would suggest that R Hirsch believed in a physical deity.

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    4. Even if - purely for the sake of argument alone - Shapiro (and RNS) misread every single source, it would just beg the question of why anyone would write in a way susceptible of misreading. The answer is, b/c its not simple. And that, by itself alone, already proves Shapiro's point, does it not?

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    5. Shmuli, have you ever actually learned Ksav Tamim?

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    6. DF: A large proportion of the sources cited by Prof Shapiro are aggadic or mystical. WHY these texts were written in an allegorical non-literal fashion is a discussion for another time. But I’m certainly not making any original claim by pointing out that one should be extremely cautious about rendering these sources literally – and without appropriate accompanying explanatory context as in “The Limits of Orthodox Theology”. I have a whole chapter documenting approaches of the Rishonim etc to interpreting aggadah. Regarding mystical sources, no less than Professor Gershom Scholem wrote things like:

      “The world of the Sefiroth is the hidden world of language, the world of the divine names.”
      “The limbs of the human body…are nothing but images of a certain spiritual mode of existence…the Divine Being Himself cannot be expressed. All that can be expressed are His symbols.”

      Again, Prof Shapiro is entitled to dispute this, but I argue that it is a crucial context which his readers deserve to be made aware of before he draws conclusions from his literal quotations of aggadic and mystical sources.

      R Slifkin: I have read through significant passages of it but I wouldn’t say I’ve studied it in detail. For that reason I would not challenge Prof Shapiro based on my own reading, but rather for omitting the opinion of Professor Dan, the leading academic voice on R Taku. As I note, part of a certain pattern of omissions.

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    7. R. Phillips,

      How can you read these passages by R. Moshe Taku and think he was not really a corporealist?

      רבי משה בן חסדאי תקו. כתב תמים (קירכהיים), 82-3:
      והנה אינם יודעים כיצד ברא יש וממשות מאין אבל הם יודעים ענין והויה של בורא עד שצריכים לומר מה שכתבו קראי כשהקב"ה ירד ליתן את התורה וגם כשמתראה ומדנר עם נביאים ברא צורות ונקראים עם שם ה' ושכחו הפסוק [ישעיה מב,ח] וכבודי לאחר לא אתן תהלתי לפסילים, לומר מי שהוא אומר שנותן כבודו לפסילים. וגם זה אומרים כדי לקיים סברים והרהורים שלהם, גוזרים על הבורא כך יש לו להיות, וכמה משפילים ומבזים את עצמם. ומי שהוא שומע דבריהם וחושב אותם ממש מבדה בדעתו.
      כיצד נמצא בצלמים של עץ ואבן בכסף וזהב, וכבר פטרו מן הדין עובדי זרות שיכולים לומר שעבדו הבורא הנמצא בכל. וכיצד הוא נמצא במקום הטנופת ובבטן בני אדם בהמות וחיות, ובסברתם החיצונים מביאים לכל אלו ההרהורים המכוערים עד שמוציאים את גי בני אדם מחלקו של הקב"ה, ואפילו היהודים שיראת השם עליהם וקשים עליהם טועים אחריהם ואמרים כיון שהם חכמים בדברים אחרים ומתקיימו חכמתם ומאמרם גם בזה הדבר נאמין להם וטועים רוב העולם וכ"ש בני אדם שאין בם ריח התורה...
      כי זו הדת החדש וחכמתם החדשה מקרוב באו, ואמרו מה שראו הנביאים הם צורות הברואים. ומיום שדבר לאדם הראשון וברא במאמרו עולם החזקנוהו הבורא ולא בראוי וכן לנח לאברהם יצחק ויעקב וכן על ידי הנביאים במקום שנאמר ה', החזקנוהו הבורא ולא בראוי, וכן מדברי רבותינו התנאים ואמוראים, ובלשונם שקראוהו רחמנא, הקב"ה, שכינה הכבוד לשון כולם הוא הבורא ולא הבראוי ובמסכת תענית (כה,א) ר"א בן פדת דחיקא ליה וגו' ניחא לך דאפכיה לעלמא מרישא אפשר דמיתלד בשעתא דמזוני. וכן אם צורה מדברת לנביאים וליראי שמים אומרת שהיא תברא העולם, וכן האידנא מאי קא עביד קב"ה עסוק בפלגש (גיטין ו) וכן אלעזר בני וכו' פרה בת שתים (במדבר רבה יט,ז) וכן מכולהו רבנן אמר משמייהו לבד מרבי מאיר ששימש את אחר וכו' מאיר בני כך אומר (חגיגה טז) וכן גבי אם בהרת קדמה (ב"מ פו) וכן מאגדה שרבי אלעזר קליר עשה פיוטו "וכן יושב עוטה אורה, וחוצב מפיו תלמוד תורה", ובכולן אנו מחזיין שהוא בורא ולא בראוי ועל כרחן מי שמאמין בזה צריך לכפור בזה, וטוב לנו לכפור בחדשים מקרוב באו מדברי תורה ודברי רבותינו שכולם הם דברי אלהים חיים.

      רבי משה בן חסדאי תקו. כתב תמים (קירכהיים), 85:
      כי לפי דעת החיצונה וסברתם שכתבנו למעלה צריך לכפור מה שדרשו רבותינו...ולדבריהם שאין בו זיזה וניעה ולא דבור וכי כל דברי תורה ודברי רבותינו משל וחידה, חלילה לכל בעל נפש להכניס גופו להיות מאמין להם, למעט כבוד יוצרנו ולכפור בגדולתו, מה שהודיעונו רבותינו. עוד הם כתבו "כי יושב על כסא רם ונשא מתחלה היה אפשר לו בלא כסא ועתה יצטרך לכסא? ועוד כל מי שיושב על כסא הכסא עודף סביבו ואין לומר כן לבורא שכתוב בו הלא את השמים ואת הארץ אני מלא." אילו דברים של גידוף הם שאינו צריך לכסא, ושכח מה שאמר מלאך אלהים רבי אליעזר קליר "נוראות נושאות והם נשואות עם כסא," וכופר בתפלה שתיקנו אנשי כה"ג "לאל אשר שבת...ביום השביעי נתעלה וישב על כסא כבודו", ובראש השנה פ"ד [לב,ב] ובאבות דרבי נתן (פרק א ד"ה כיצד נברא) "בששי מה היו אומרים השם מלך גאות לבש (תהלים צג,א), גמר את מעשים ונתעלה וישב על כסא מלכותו ברומו של עולם," הרי שברא את העולם וישב על כסא כבודו ולא שברא צורות והושיב על כסאו, כי אותה צורה לא בראת העולם, ודברים של גידוף הם.

      In the passages above, R. Moshe is clearly arguing that God most definitely is corporeal, literally sits on a throne and ascends to heaven, not necessarily omnipresent (which is corporeality), and literally appears to the prophets.

      Also, to what and who is he responding so harshly if he really is non-corporealist after all?

      See this from Maharam Alashkar (cited in Shapiro's book)-
      רבי משה אלשקר. שו"ת מהר"ם אלשקר (1834), ס' קיז, נז,א:
      וכמה אמונות רעות מתפשטות באומותנו כמו ההגשמה שהיו מגשימים בפרהסיא הגדולים בחכמת התלמוד בצרפת ובכמה מקומות...

      And guess where R. Moshe Taku, Rashi, Rashbam, R. Shlomo Simcha of Troyes and the rest of the corporealists are from? France.

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    8. @Boruch Add Nachmanides to your list of corporealists. Regarding omnipresent, there are Jews, wise Jews, such as ibn Ezra and Maimonides, and especially Gersonides, felt that G-d does not know all the details per se. G-d is transcendental. Contrary, many scholars think that G-d knows all. ibn Ezra writes: “for it is the truth that the All (namely, G-d) knows every particular (only) in a general manner, but not in a particular manner.” My rabbis says this may mean that G-d knows the laws of nature that he created but not humans individuals.

      I think that Ralbag, for sure, held this view, as did many others. And they may be right. I agree that G-d has no body and is one.

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    9. Or, to put it differently, some scholars felt that G-d only knows generalities, the laws of nature that G-d created or formed – but G-d does not know details; G-d does not know people as individuals. G-d knows the generalities (the human species) but not the particular (the man). Thus, the commonly-held notion that G-d is all-knowing may not be true. Or at least this is the case according to the Ralbag.

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    10. Shmuli, I'm not talking about aggadic or pseudo-aggadic sources. I'm talking about the Rishonim. If even their words are capable of being misread - and we don't know whether Shapiro misread them or you did - then it shows the matter is deliberately opaque. And that means that the subject of God's corporeality or lack thereof was not thought of as an open and shut matter. And THAT, in turn, proves Shapiro's point.

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    11. BORUCH:
      If I can rephrase your question: How can Prof. Dan read these passages by R. Moshe Taku and think he was not really a corporealist?
      Dan writes:
      "He [R’ Taku] insists on the literal acceptance of the prophets' descriptions of their visions as well as the anthropomorphic references to God in talmudic-midrashic literature. He does not do so because of his belief in the literal veracity of these descriptions; he only insists that they represent the maximum that can be conveyed concerning God's essence and appearance, and that any further inquiry cannot lead to valid conclusions. God chose to reveal to us in the scriptures whatever is found in them: man should be satisfied with that, and ask no more questions. It is not that Rabbi Moses Taku believed in an anthropomorphic God; most probably, he did not.”

      If I can point out, Prof Dan spent his life’s work studying and analysing the views of medieval Jewish scholars. In particular, Dan is considered a leading scholar regarding R Taku as I explain above. He was well aware of the passages you quote yet he believed that there was more to it than a literal reading. Prof Shapiro is certainly entitled to dispute Prof Dan’s opinions. But not to cite such a leading academic opinion in a book so full of sources – and then to call R Taku’s views the “most significant” evidence of corporealist views strikes me as odd.

      YOU ASK: Also, to what and who is he responding so harshly if he really is non-corporealist after all?

      R Taku writes: “They issue a decree to the Creator as to how He must be. By doing so they are degrading themselves” and “The Almighty is not confined in space or time, but He is also not confined to our limited idea of what He consists of”.

      In short, according to this argument, R Taku believed that the human mind is totally incapable of comprehending God. Using Maimonidean-Aristotelian rationalism to create doctrines of divinity necessary limits God to our own logic and conceptions. Therefore we must limit ourselves to relating to God in the way that He revealed Himself to us in the biblical texts – and not try to impose clever interpretations on them based on our own rational conclusions.

      An additional dimension is added by R Hirsch who endorses taking biblical texts at face value because we cannot comprehend God anyway, and that philosophising over God’s essence threatens our ability to relate to Him meaningfully. R Hirsch openly sides with the non-Maimonidean Rishonim on these theological matters and understands his approach to be based on their positions. While R Hirsch falls short of calling Rambam’s position heretical he is highly critical of Rambam’s approach which he strongly implies is not authentically Jewish. Yet I doubt anyone would suggest that R Hirsch believed in a physical deity.

      Finally, I'm always up for bashing the French but I don't think R Taku was one of that lot :-)



      DF: I disagree with your premise. There are numerous reasons why the words of someone writing centuries ago may be opaque to you especially if they are discussing esoteric matters. Have you read, for example, the introduction to Moreh Nevuchim? And does the fact that you find these rishonim’s words opaque necessarily mean that their immediate audience did not understand them more clearly as intended?

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    12. “Using Maimonidean-Aristotelian rationalism to create doctrines of divinity necessary limits G-d to our own logic and conceptions.“

      This is not so. Maimonides is clear when he writes that we cannot comprehend nor understand G-d in any way. In fact, Rabbi Micah Goodman writes that we cannot even speak or praise G-d; we can only refer to Him by silence. In fact, it is impossible to know G-d’s essence or anything about G-d. We cannot even know what G-d is doing. At beat we can know what G-d is not, and that G-d has no body and is one.

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    13. R. Phillips,

      My mistake- R. Taku was not French. But the point is that it was not uncommon that there be corporealists in the lands of Ashkenaz, as a nice handful of rabbis testify, and therefore little reason to reinterpret R. Taku if he so adamantly asserts what he's asserting.

      R. Taku makes it very clear that God could take upon spatial characteristics, and fit (צמצום) within קומת האדם. He says that God could ascend and descend as well as contract Himself within the Cherubim, as it says in Exodus 25:22-- he cites this Midrash Tanchuma, Vayakhel 7,1:
      And Bezalel made the ark (Exodus 37,1). You do not find Bezalel’s name associated with any vessel made for the Sanctuary other than the ark. All the other work and all the other implements were made at his suggestion and upon his advice. Why did he make an exception in the work of the ark by doing it himself? Because it was to be a shade for the Holy One, blessed be He, in which He would contract His Divine Presence. That is why He called Bezalel to make a shade for the Holy One, blessed He, between the cherubim, as it is said: And there I will meet with thee, and I will speak with thee from between the two cherubim (Exodus 25,22).
      A similar and revealing passage is found in Vayikra 29,4.

      This is not meant metaphorically, not by R. Taku or the Midrash-- comapare passage above with this from Genesis Rabbah 4,4:
      The Samaritan said to R. Meir, Is it possible that he himself, concerning whom it is written “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth” (Jer. 23,24) was speaking with Moses from between the poles of the ark?
      Rabbi Meir responded: Bring to me large mirrors. Now look at yourself in what is brought; your reflection in large! R. Meir said to him, bring me small mirrors – and he brought small mirrors. R. Meir said, look at yourself in what is brought, your reflection is small! R. Meir said to him, See how if you can change yourself whenever you want, and you are flesh and blood, how much more he who spoke and the universe came into existence, blessed is He! And so when He wishes to be “Do I not fill the heavens and the earth” (Jer. 23,24) he is, and when he wishes he spoke with Moses from between the poles of the ark he does. R. Chanina b. Isei said: Sometimes the universe and its fullness are not strong enough for the glory of His divinity, and at other times He speaks with man from between the hairs of his head. This is written: “Then Hashem answered Job out of the whirlwind (se'arah)” (Job 38,1) but read instead “from between the hairs (sa'arot) of his head.”

      R. Taku says over and over that to deny God's ability to take on spatial characteristics is to deny the words of our Sages.

      When Joseph Dan says that R. Taku "most probably" did not believe in anthropomorphism, it has to be that he means that R. Taku did not believe in the kind of anthropomorphism found in Canaanite religion or Greek mythology. But Dan could not deny that R. Taku believes that God could contract himself or a part of himself and take form at will. R. Taku says explicitly:

      Delete
    14. "They do not know how He creates something from nothing, but they know the essence of the Creator, so much that so that when it’s written in Scripture that God descended to give the Torah or that He appeared to the prophets, it means that He created [separate] forms and called them by His Name! And they forgot about the verse, “I will not yield My glory to another, nor My renown to idols [false images]” (Isaiah 42,8)." (p. 83).

      Meaning, He would not call false images by His name! So whatever it was that appeared to the prophets must have been at least a part or an extension of God Himself. Compare this with the statement of R. Shlomo Simcha of Troyes in his Sefer haMaskil, published in "The Air, Blessed Be He", by Gad Freudenthal, Daat 34 (1994), 89-90:
      כי ודאי אין להש"י דמות וצורה עומדת. ומה שנגלה ליחזקאל ולישעיה לא נגלה אליהם בדמות אמתית עומדת, אלא בדמות שהוא לפי שעה [על ידי רוח הנפרד] ובאספקלריא שאינה מאירה היו רואים ולא היו יכולין לכוין להשיג אמתת עצמותו והמראה ההיא לא היתה אלא לפי צורך השעה כי ודאי אין להש"י דמות וצורה עומדת...
      מה בין רוח נפרד למלאך? שהמלאך קיים כל זמן שהפעולה שהוא ממונה עליה קיימת, ורוח נפרד אין מציאותו אלא לצורך השעה לעשות שליחותו ואחרי כן הוא חוזר למקומו. ומהו רוח נפרד ? משל למלך חכם אשר לבו מחשב וכליותיו יועצות ומעיו הומות ועיניו רואות ואזניו שומעות וחוטמו מריח וחכו מטעים ופיו מדבר וידיו ממשמשות ואצבעותיו קורצות ורגליו הולכות: לפעמים כל האיברים האלה פועלים פעולותיהם כלם יחדו ולפעמים האחד מהם פועל ועושה צרכו. ככה להבדיל בין מלך מלכי המלכים הקב"ה ובין מלכי בשר ודם מלך מלכי המלכים הקב"ה הוא בכל והכל בו ורוחו נמצא בכל מקום במעלה ובמטה ובתוך הארץ ולמעלה מן השמים ובכל אשר יחפוץ לעשות ילך הרוח הנמצא במקום הפעולה ויעשה מה שלבו חפץ וישוב שם במקומו. וזהו יד י"י האמורה בכל מקום. כי מאחר שאין אני רואה שום תמונה זולתי קול אף אם תשוב אלינו ברחמים לא אכיר מדת ההפרש שיש בין הקול היוצא ממך לקול היוצא מהרוח הנפרד ממך.

      This too may not be anthropomorphism in the classical sense, as Dan might say, but this is definitely not incorporeal.

      R. Taku did not believe God was incorporeal in the way the Greeks and Maimonides did. It had to have been more similar to R. Shlomo Simcha than to Rambam, that there is at least an extension of God Himself that could have spatial characteristics at will, which is enough to call R. Moshe Taku a corporealist. Perhaps not enough to say anthropomorphism, but even more definite is that this statement from Dan alone is not enough to say R. Taku believed God to be incorporeal.

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    15. "He [R’ Taku] insists on the literal acceptance of the prophets' descriptions of their visions as well as the anthropomorphic references to God in talmudic-midrashic literature. He does not do so because of his belief in the literal veracity of these descriptions; he only insists that they represent the maximum that can be conveyed concerning God's essence and appearance, and that any further inquiry cannot lead to valid conclusions. God chose to reveal to us in the scriptures whatever is found in them: man should be satisfied with that, and ask no more questions. It is not that Rabbi Moses Taku believed in an anthropomorphic God; most probably, he did not.”

      When you bring examples of R Taku insisting on a literal acceptance of these descriptions of God and then say that therefore – even according to Prof Dan - R Taku must have accepted some form of corporealism you are failing to engage with what Dan actually says. That this literal acceptance does NOT reflect his belief in their literal veracity but rather God’s will that we should relate to Him in this manner. His outspoken criticism of Rambam and other is for what he believes to be not following God’s will in how to relate to Him. Instead replacing God’s will with their own limiting rational speculations.

      Bringing texts in which R Taku insists on literal acceptance of prophetic or Rabbinic texts does not support your argument because that is not the point in contention. The point is whether this acceptance reflected his true beliefs or, as Dan argues, the manner through which he believed God wanted us to relate to Him.

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    16. R. Taku does not only say that God *could* take on spatial characteristics. He is also adamant that God is spatially located in some places and NOT in others.

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    17. @Rabbi Slifkin, I agree that G-d is everywhere.

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    18. R. Taku was sadly mistaken there.

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    19. I will add that the Maimonidean - Aaristotelian rationalism is not limited to pure speculations. Although it is impossible to know anything about G-d, we should not that G-d has no body and is one, meaning that G-d should not take any form nor contract Himself. This is heresy, for Rambam writes that G-d cannot change. As rabbi Slifkin correctly said, R. Taku and Rashi can say it,
      but we cannot.

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    20. R. Phillips,

      Does Dan bring any evidence for this claim? Otherwise it is a classic argument from authority. There is nothing in Ktav Tamim that even remotely indicates "he only insists that they represent the maximum that can be conveyed concerning God's essence and appearance." And if there is, please provide the relevant passages or any in depth scholarly analysis.

      Perhaps this is a larger theme of the theology of scholars of that region, but do you or Dan have any concrete example where seeming corporealists in that time and place who argue that ferociously for literalism and still don't really "believe in the literal veracity" of their literal interpretations.

      We have plenty of attestations that there indeed were scholars in lands of Ashkenaz that were corporealists. Are there any that say that they were not really corporealists after all, and they were just anti-Maimonidean rationalism which gave God logical limits. Also, to say that God has no limit or a limit we humans "can't comprehend" on grounds of logic and metaphysics is itself an absurdity. Corporeality is really one step away from that.

      There are a handful of Ashkenazi rishonim that clearly believed the earth is literally flat, as this is what the Gemara teaches in several places, and they do not give the Greek Ptolemaic system much thought. So if they are outright rejecting Greek philosophy, why shouldn't we assume that they also rejected the conclusions of that school of thought like incorporeality, and instead, like flat earth, took the Talmudic anthropomorphism seriously? We also know that in Ashkenaz it was popular to take aggadah and midrash literally.

      I do not see how this assertion from Dan can be taken seriously given all the above. This perhaps is why Shapiro did not bring down Dan's indefensible interpretation.

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    21. I think Prof Dan's interpretation is based on statements by R Taku concerning rationalist theologians such as:

      “they are issuing decrees to the Creator as to how He must be. By doing so they are degrading themselves”

      ie it is not valid to philosophise in this area - just take what the text says and move on.

      And: "The Almighty is not confined in space or time, but He is also not confined to our limited idea of what he consists of"

      I am not suggesting that everyone must bow to Dan's authority, I am suggesting that a/THE leading academic scholar in the field should be cited among so many other sources, even if Prof Shapiro then chooses to explain why he is disputing his claim.

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    22. "The Almighty is not confined in space or time, but He is also not confined to our limited idea of what he consists of"

      On what page can I find these words?

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  20. I'll take Herschel Krustofski over Herschel Grossman any day ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And I will take either of them over Herschel Goldwasser any day.

      Delete
  21. Shmuli Phillips: I wrote that your purpose was not to write about Jewish views of corporeality, but to discredit Prof Shapiro, with corporeality only being the stick you would hit him with. Had you wanted to write about Jewish views on corporeality, and recent Orthodox surveys on the topic, you would have analyzed the discussion between Rabbis Zucker and Slifkin. Instead, your focus was to point out Prof SHapiro's shortcomings.

    You responded that you DID write about corporeality and that you ALSO wanted to discredit Prof Shapiro's views, but only about corporeality. You also said that you did mention the Zucker exchange, but only in a footnote.

    The reason you did not discuss the remainder of the book is because you "thought that the sources were in general more accurately presented and enjoyed reading them"?

    So the corporeality chapter is an aberration to what is otherwise a book whose source presentation was generally accurate?

    Well why didn't you say that anywhere in your critique, which had almost NOTHING good to say about the book whatsoever?

    You ARE talking about someone whose living depends on his professional reputation.

    Why didn't you say in the book something like: "Shapiro is generally accurate in his presentation of sources, but I was disappointed to see that his chapter on corporeality was an exception"?

    Instead we have a section titled: The Limits of Superficially Presented Sources."

    And there, as in your subsequent chapter, you assign to him malicious intent: Shapiro makes further flawed efforts ... this being part of his greater attempt to challenge the binding nature of Jewish beliefs."

    Not to step on the minefield of what is "mocking" and what is not, I leave it up to any objective reader to judge whether the approach used by Phillips in this section is mocking or not. Personally, I think it not only mocks, but misrepresents him.

    You write that Shapiro presents the "possibility" of "figurative interpretation" as being "A radical Maimonidean innovation."

    Rabbi Phillips, as you have a law degree and I do not, I leave it up to you to explain why putting such ridiculous words into the mouth of a professional scholar like Prof Shapiro is anything short of libelous.

    Where in Shapiro's book does he say this (you don't give a source)?

    Chapter 10, your second chapter on the book is called "Critique of The Limits of Orthodox Theology II" Then, in small font, "The proper method of Orthodox Theology."

    You start that chapter saying:

    "The previous chapter highlighted repeated patterns of misrepresentation of sources in the opening chapters of Marc Shapiro's The Limits of Orthodox Theology."

    You "highlighted repeated patterns of misrepresentation of sources in the opening chapters"?

    Oh, really?

    I will leave it up to the reader whether you, in fact, showed "repeated patterns."

    And I will also leave it up to the reader to determine how many of the instances you questioned were "misrepresentations," but you most definitely did not discuss anything other than ONE chapter.

    So, why, in a sentence about misrepresentation do you misrepresent your own book?

    And not only that.

    Why, in two chapters about misrepresentation, do you misrepresent your own assessment, which is that you thought that in the rest of Shapiro's book, "that the sources were in general more accurately presented"?

    Instead you engage in a full frontal attack, tearing down another person and assigning to him the worst of motives?

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    1. “So the corporeality chapter is an aberration to what is otherwise a book whose source presentation was generally accurate? Well why didn't you say that anywhere in your critique, which had almost NOTHING good to say about the book whatsoever?”

      I think it is rather generous to call 38 pages out of the 118 pages presenting sources an aberration. Especially when they deal with the opening ikkarim and thus set the tone for the book. But yes, those were the 38 pages within which I specifically challenged Prof Shapiro’s presentation of sources. As for the rest of the book I challenged (in the subsequent chapter) the broader implications which Prof Shapiro sought to draw from the sources he presented rather than the sources themselves. As I make clear in the book, this second critique is not my own Chiddush – it was the subject of an essay by R Gil Student and before that noted by R’ Tzvi Hirsch Chajes centuries ago.



      “And I will also leave it up to the reader to determine how many of the instances you questioned were "misrepresentations," but you most definitely did not discuss anything other than ONE chapter.”

      Look again more carefully. I critique the first two chapters (not including the intro) out of the nine which present sources concerning the ikkarim. The subheading of the chapter clearly limits the scope of my discussion. In fact it is in that chapter on Unity that you overlook that one of the most potent examples I bring can be found. The quotation of a single line from R Moshe Cordovero, ignoring his lengthy explanation as to why his statement does not compromise the Unity of God. How the Sefirot exist only in the eye of the beholder not in God’s actual existence. (Look at how Prof Shapiro presents it on p40 and then look at the original here https://www.sefaria.org.il/Pardes_Rimonim.4.4?lang=he).



      "You write that Shapiro presents the "possibility" of "figurative interpretation" as being "A radical Maimonidean innovation." Where in Shapiro's book does he say this (you don't give a source)?"

      Pp48-49. Please note that I do not write “radical Maimonidean innovation” in quotation marks in my book as it is not a direct quote. It is my description of Prof Shapiro’s view rather than a quote. (He writes that this is the view of Maimonides’ and his followers – ignoring the fact that the earlier Geonim I cite in the chapter take the same approach. He then states that there is “little doubt” that this is incorrect.)

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    2. Hello.
      If I mischaracterized what you wrote, then I appreciate your taking the time to correct me. That's what honest intellectual discussion is all about.

      Let's go step by step.

      I am not sure where I mischaracterized your comment, so I will need your help.

      You said above "I did not focus on the subsequent chapters of "The Limits" as I thought that the sources were in general more accurately presented and enjoyed reading them."

      I quoted you correctly and not out of context.
      No?

      Or are we quibbling over what's considered the rest of the book? (My copy shows 162 pages of text, plus five pages of artwork depicting A PHYSICAL G_d (!), plus a 34 page bibliography, etc).

      In any event, if I now understand you, whatever that "rest" is, it's not enough to warrant any positive mention in your book and in no way characterizes your feeling about the book, nor would it be a basis for limmud zechut as regards to other interpretations by its author.

      Here is what you wrote in footnote 26: "While we may be willing to follow Ra'avad's charitable lead in forgiving those who are unaware of the esoteric meanings of Aggadic passages and therefore understand them at face value, it is hard to extend this generosity to Shapiro, who ahs in the past boldly proposed reading whole swathes of the book of Bereishit metaphorically."

      Fine. If you say so. I just wanted to make that clear.

      You then say that the second chapter was not your chiddush, but that of others. And therefore what?

      You objected when I wrote that you misrepresented your own book when you wrote in chapter 10, "The previous chapter highlighted repeated patterns of misrepresentation of sources in the opening chapters of Marc Shapiro's The Limits of Orthodox Theology."

      OK.
      I looked real hard at chapter 9. I looked at all the footnotes. Perhaps I missed some. Where are the footnotes referencing "the opening chapters" (plural, let alone "repeated patterns of misrepresentation" in the opening chapters (plural)?

      I did see ONE footnote to ONE thing that was said in chapter 2. And that qualifies as your having knocked out that entire chapter and demonstrated a "repeated pattern" there?

      And thank you for telling us that when you wrote "opening chapters," you meant starting from chapter 2, not starting from chapter 1 (which I suppose is not one of the "opening chapters." Silly me for having thought so.

      Regarding the last paragraph. You are correct. I was quoting you. That's why I used quotation marks.

      Please point me to the WORDS that SHAPIRO wrote that led YOU to CHARACTERIZE his thoughts with those WORDS. (I read the pages you pointed me to and I haven't a clue what he said there that would lead you to characterize his thinking in that way.)

      Rabbi Phillip: As I wrote in another comment above, I think your book has some nice things about it and I said what they were, despite my very negative assessment of what you wrote in these chapters. I'm sure you're a wonderful and well-meaning fellow and I wish you the best. I encourage everyone here to purchase your book for the sake of the positive things contained within it. And I hope you continue to produce more books of value.

      Hatzlacha Rabba.
      I have said all I intend to say here about this topic.
      Kol Tuv.

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    3. Thanks for your kind comments and I appreciate you having taken the time to discuss this. I think most of our disagreements here are pretty minor (what I call the opening chapters start after the intro whereas you include the intro; much of the chapter on unity discusses kaballistic metaphor which is covered in my chapter - as well as the R Cordovero quote of course).

      I hope you enjoy the rest of the book. Kol Tuv, Shmuli

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    4. Rabbi Phillips: If you "think most of our disagreements here are pretty minor," then there is either something wrong with my writing or with your reading.

      That was most definitely and absolutely NOT how I felt.

      Please don't read too much into my being polite and generous.

      As for what I wrote about the rest of your book, please consider that I may have been dropping a (too subtle) hint regarding how to publicly relate to other people's books, even those that have parts one does not like.

      And also as a hint as to how to relate to human beings who write books (parts of which) one does not like.

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  22. Shmuli Philips - having read Sholomo's Motion, and your reply brief, I have to say I think he's gotten the better of you here, Counselor.

    I'm sure your book is good, though. Then again, it does help to have a comic foil like Goldwasser's as a comparator. (I hasten to add that my favorable opinion of yours and unfavorable opinion of his is manifestly unfair, and based entirely on what the crowd here and at Seforim are saying. See that? The benefits of a good lawyer.)

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    1. Thanks. Though I'm not entirely sure I follow. Did you get a chance to look up the sources that I challenge in the original?

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    2. I have not, because, I frankly confess, God's corporeality or lack thereof is not my bag. I personally find Judaism a lot better off when God is left out of it. את אותי עזבו וכו

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  23. Perhaps the difference is obvious, as you yourself state- calling attention to what is obvious (read, negative aspects). Neither you nor Shapiro have ever expended any energy in calling attention to the many positive and inspiring aspects of those gedolim you write about (which are also obvious). That single-mindedness is a choice, and I fully agree that it appears your main purpose is to mock.

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    1. There is a paradigm problem with your comment Joseph.
      You think that a more academic presentation of Chazal is to demean and lower them.
      Rationalist think that the elevation of Chazal to infallible status done by certain sectors of Orthodox society is demeaning and inaccurate and, further, that to have a proper and honest respect for Chazal requires presenting them and their teachings more accurately and honestly.
      Both sides have huge respect for Chazal. They disagree on what constitutes 'giving honour'.

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    2. So what? That is not their purpose in writing. Their issues are not to write biographies of Chazal or rabbanim, in which they would have the good as well as the "bad." Their issues are specific issues which may bump up against things that have been said by Chazal or more recent rabbanim. And while I have not read Dr. Shapiro's book, so I cannot speak about that firsthand, Rabbi Slifkin's stuff ALWAYS is respectful toward the Rabbi/Sage whose view is being discussed, and he almost always has disclaimers saying that this in no way denigrates or renders irrelevant the Rabbi/Sage. If every time he wanted to bring up the view of a rabbi which did not fit with science, he would spend a page talking about the rabbi's learning and chessed and legacy, his books would be five times as long!

      Anyway, if as you say, the positive aspects of the rabbanim are "obvious," they require less discussion...

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  24. I saw that some of the posts here suggest that Rabbinic scholars in France were corporealists, based upon statements of Ramban, Rambam, Riaz, and some others. A reading of each of these Rishonim in the original and in full context does not bear this out; rather, they are referring to the laity, not the Rabbinic scholars.
    I invite readers to see what I wrote about this, including citations of the original sources, here: http://corporealismdiscussion.com/slifkin.pdf - especially pages 9-23.

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    1. Amazing how there was such a disconnect between the rabbis and the laity! And the rabbis never saw a need to do anything about it?
      What a strained argument. But only to be expected from someone for whom it is fundamentally inconceivable that any great rabbi could have a view that he considers false, ridiculous and sacrilegious.

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    2. What you write here doesn't align with your article. It seems in your article that you allow that the recipients of Ramban's letter were a handful of unimportant rabbis. Not exactly the same as laity. Furthermore, aren't you disputing Maharam Alshakar's read of the letter?

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    3. Exchait - Skipping over the ad hominem attack... If I understand your point correctly, you are saying that one can correctly infer the position of Rabbinic scholars of a given community or country regarding a specific topic by knowing the position of the laity of that area regarding the same topic. I don't believe that that follows logically. A number of modern day examples indeed suggest otherwise. In terms of your question about the Rabbis not seeing a need to do anything about it, please see the letters of Ramban quoted in my article cited above, wherein Ramban tried to do just that.

      Fozziebear (from the comment posted below) - please note that Rashi in Shemos 24:10 is citing VaYikra Rabbah; Rashi himself did not originate the line to which I think you refer. The incorporealists (such as Rambam, Ramban, etc.) also accepted VaYikra Rabbah as being correct, and therefore must have understood it to be metaphorical. Rashi's citing that source is likewise not an indication of a position of corporeality.

      Delete
    4. Hmmm - I appreciate your comment. My article referred to 3 divisions of people in medieval France: the Rabbinic elite (those that we popularly call "Rishonim"), the "regular" communal Rabbis, who are akin to today's shul Rabbis - community leaders, but not those we refer to as "Rishonim," and the common folk - the laity. You are correct in pointing out that I should have been more precise in my comment here. The argument that Rashi could have been a corporealist since his colleagues were corporealists would be relevant only with regard to the Rabbinic elite, not with regard to the "regular" shul Rabbis. It was in that sense that I lumped together the laity and the "regular" shul Rabbis. I should have been more precise.

      In writing what I did in my article about this point, I believe I was consistent with what Dr. Ephraim Kanarfogel would later write in his book, The Intellectual History and Rabbinic Culture of Medieval Ashkenaz (page 527):

      "Perhaps there were members of the second-level intelligentsia in Ashkenaz -- who qualified as rabbinic scholars of some ability or note but were not represented by, and did not contribute to, the writings of the Tosafists -- who believed in radical anthropomorphism, if not in the position advocated by R. Moses Taku... To be sure, there may also have been a degree of simple or crude anthropomorphism present within the less-educated and less-learned strata of Ashkenazic society. Alas, the paucity of sources that record popular religious belief in medieval Ashkenaz does not allow us at this time to assess the situation in this part of Ashkenazic society in more concrete terms."

      My point about Maharam al-Ashkar was just to say that he himself stated that he had no direct knowledge of corporealist Rabbinic elite scholars in France; he wrote explicitly that he was making an assumption from what he inferred from Ramban's letter. I highlighted in my article that one cannot adduce evidence of the existence of corporealist Rabbinic elite from a statement of Maharam that he himself says is based upon assumption rather than fact.

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    5. R' Zucker, but if it's good enough for Maharam why isn't that good enough for us? Granted that's not much of an argument to an academic, but seeing as the academic world seems mostly convinced anyway, such a proof is generally good enough for the traditionalist. Do you have any counter argument that would impress a traditionalist? Shtait mefurash in the Maharam azoi!

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    6. Hmmm - I'm not sure I understand the point you are making here. What is "shtait mefurash in the Maharam" is that he did not have knowledge of whom Ramban addressed in his letters, and that he - Maharam - just assumed that they were some of the Rabbinic elite of France. To adduce from this assumption of Maharam evidence that there must have been corporealists among the Rabbinic elite in France, and to draw conclusions from that "evidence" about Rashi, is, I believe, an argument that doesn't hold.

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    7. The Maharam assumes from the letter that the addressees were some of the rabbinic elite in France. In the yeshiva world we take the major Acharonim's assumptions as fact unless it is refuted by compelling evidence. Ergo, the addressees who, according to the Ramban, believed in corporealism, were Rabbinic elite in France who were corporealists. What am I missing?

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    8. Hmmm - I think we may just wind up agreeing to disagree here. Still, I will try to take one more shot at this. (As an aside, I don't think that there is a monolithic view in the yeshiva world about taking "major Acharonim's" assumptions to be fact). I would restate what I said in earlier comments as follows:

      Maharam did not state as fact that Ramban was writing to any of the French Rabbinic elite. He stated that he was making an assumption about that. An assumption is not a fact; it is an assumption, and Maharam himself presented it as such.

      I believe that Maharam himself would agree with the sentence I just wrote above.

      As I said, we may just need to agree to disagree...

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    9. So, you're being choleik on the Maharam's assumption? Let's get that clear. Also, based on what evidence?

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    10. Hmmm - please see my article, linked above, on page 17, footnote 90. There, I cited a teshuvah of Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam who states as a fact that the Rabbis of France were "kesheirim." With that in mind, we have the stated assumption of an Acharon (Maharam) versus the stated fact of a Rishon (Rabbeinu Avraham ben HaRambam). I think you would agree on how the yeshiva world views a disagreement between the stated fact of a Rishon versus the stated assumption of an Acharon. This also answers your question about what evidence there is...

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    11. I saw your note. Your read seems like a drey, when all he says is that they "french Rabbis were keisheirim." But thanks for clarifying that you're arguing on the Maharam.

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  25. And you should all read Rashi shemot 24:10
    Corporeal or what???

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    1. I agree that Rashi was a corporealists.

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    2. I'll go with "what???"

      I don't see anything in his comments there that are any more corporeal than the pasuk. If we say the pasuk is not literal (as we all do) there's no reason not to say the same thing about what Rashi says there.

      Unless you meant to say a different pasuk?

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    3. I just meant it was fun watching Rashi (and others) become a pretzel getting out of this one.

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  26. There have been a number of comments asking me to clarify my earlier post about Professor Joseph Dan’s interpretation of R’ Taku’s Ktav Tamim, in which he does not consider R' Taku's writings to reflect belief in the proposition that God has physical form or attributes. I have posted on the subject this evening here https://www.facebook.com/groups/JudaismReclaimed/ with a link back to this discussion.

    Other comments here refer to suggestions that Rashi held corporealist beliefs. The chapter of my book which addresses allegations of such beliefs being evident from aggadic, mysticaland medieval works(made by Prof Shapiro in The Limits of Orthodox Theology) has been made freely available at www.JudaismReclaimed.com).

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  27. I know that absence of evidence is not evidence of absence, but I find it passing strange that there's no definitive statement in the תלמוד about God's (in)corporeality. The משנה was largely written/edited in an era when the dominant cultures (Greek and Roman) were clearly corporealists. If חז’’ל of the era thought this very idea to be blasphemous when applied to השם, you'd think there's be some mention in מסכת ע’’ז or the like.

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    1. Interesting point. Though the Mishna primarily discusses controversial or unknown points (see for example Rambam's commentary to Mishna, Menachot chap. 4). In light of Josephus's descriptions of the philosophical sophistication of common Jewish belief in his era (Contra Apionem, Book 2) it could be argued that it wasn't necessary for these ideas to be transcribed into the Mishna.

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    2. Right and the Greeks were so unsophisticated that they had to write loads of books about philosophy

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    3. Those who wrote books of philosophy were removed from and scornful of the wider pagan culture. In fact this is Josephus's whole point in Contra Apionem Book 2. He contrasts the way in which Jewish sophisticated religious teachings, such as our total inability to comprehend God's omnipotent and omniscient essence, spread beyond the elite with the state of Greek society and the enormous gulf between the philosophers and masses.

      (Yet Prof Shapiro takes one line from this book out of context and declares Josephus to have been corporealist)

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    4. And the Messiah is such a key concept that they didn't need to mention it in the Torah.

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  28. Anyone who says that Charedim (or any other group) believes that the people in Tanach are infallible is setting up a straw man argument and makes his/her own argument based on such a smear job. No group of people believes this. The Tanach is very explicit about this and so is Chazal and anyone who says otherwise contradicts both.

    Anyone who says that a group of people thinks that the people in Tanach are infallible is unable to distinguish between a false belief in their utter perfection and a valid belief that they deserve unwaivering reverence because their greatness is not grasped by today's standards. Nobody believes that they were perfect. Everybody believes that they made mistakes. The only argument is how we understand those mistakes. Those who fancy themselves rationalists think that the ancients were like us (or rather, less endowed than us in most ways), while Charedim et. al recognize that the ancients were far superior.

    Even though parents are not perfect, it's ridiculous to think that their 5 year old boy can accurately judge their actions in most cases. The 5 year old is their to learn from his parents, not judge them.

    So too we are supposed to learn from the ancients and from chazal. And as for their mistakes, we learn from them what the Torah, and the authors of Nach, and what Chazal tell us about those mistakes. But anyone who thinks that the Tanach and Chazal told us about their mistakes for the purpose of judging them is saying that the Torah, and the authors of NaCh, and Chazal, were tellers of loshon hara.

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    1. Sounds like what you are saying has a circular logic to it. The wise man knows Chazal is smarter than he; the unwise man thinks Chazal as unwise as he. But isn’t the unwise man the one who needs to learn, and the wise man the one who doesn’t? It’s weird sounding to me, how you think.

      I think that rabbis today stress the idea that we cannot question the wisdom of Chazal in order to insulate themselves from being scrutinized along the same lines. It’s not about rabbis of the past needing respect - it’s about rabbis of the present demanding it. What do you think?

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    2. And could it not be that the Talmud was recording their mistakes so we could judge them, learn from their mistakes?

      Also, many Charedim do say the sages or patriarchs were infallible. However, this category is few nowadays.

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    3. @Anonymous

      I think that you could be right in a few cases, but this is certainly not an accurate representation of the majority of rabbinic community today. I think the main reason most people feel that the sages were infallible is that they feel that G-d is speaking through or directing that sages’ revelation. Rationalist generally understand that the patriarchs, as well as the sages, were human and that they were not immune to infallibility. It does not matter much to them since they don’t feel threatened by science.

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    4. Anonymous, you wrote:

      "Sounds like what you are saying has a circular logic to it."
      No circular logic here. If you'd like to demonstrate it, I"m ready to hear.

      What you wrote: "But isn’t the unwise man the one who needs to learn, and the wise man the one who doesn’t?" is not true at all. The wise man certainly needs to learn. Were Chazal not obligated in talmud Torah also? Everybody needs to learn. The argument is centered on how to learn from the errors of the people in Tanach and of chazal and if our reverence for them should be diminished by the fact that they made some errors. Those who think that they are like us automatically think less of them. Those who understand that their greatness (and therefore the true nature of their errors) is beyond our understanding do not have their revernece for them diminished.

      Tanna d'Vey Eliyahu Rabbah (25) says:
      כל אחד ואחד מישראל ח לומר מתי יגיעו מעשי למעשה אבותי אברהם יצחק ויעקב

      You wrote: "I think that rabbis today stress the idea that we cannot question the wisdom of Chazal in order to insulate themselves from being scrutinized along the same lines."
      I'm not saying this doesn't happen anywhere, but I wasn't and am not talking about the Rabbi of this or that shul. When it comes to g'dolei Torah, we simply have no understanding of their greatness, and they do not "avoid scrutiny" - they are beyond caring what you think of them. It's analogous to an engineer who has built a bridge; the engineer can explain to a lay person much about what went into its design; but only long hours and days and years of learning engineering will enable that lay person to actually design any bridge by him or herself; and if you doubt the engineer's calculations before you go to engineering school, that engineer will not care - it's ridiculous to think you know better just because you look through the engineering text books or read "Popular Mechanics". So too, a person who has not spent many many years of learning Torah (gemara, halacha, and hashkafah) without being distracted by modern methods of learning (such as science etc.) can actually say what the ratzon HaShem is as expressed through the Torah. Even the Rambam who may support the learning of science does agree that such learning comes AFTER a proper Torah education that has not been affected by non-Jewish thought.

      You wrote: "It’s not about rabbis of the past needing respect - it’s about rabbis of the present demanding it. What do you think?"
      I'd say it this way: "It's not about the Rabbis of the past needing your respect - they don't. It's about us needing for our sake to respect the Rabbis of the past."

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    5. Do rationalists really say that the people in Tanach were less than us? That the Torah and the Navi recount their stories in order for us to judge them? For real?

      Now that's a straw man argument.

      I think that rationalists understand that the Torah tells us stories of great people (who were greater than we) who made mistakes so that we can learn from those mistakes. And so that we can learn what the proper behavior is - michlal lav atta shome'a hein or something like that. And perhaps to allow us a measure of comfort for those times when we ourselves fail, that we are STILL in good company, for all those great people who we aspire to be like ALSO failed once or twice.

      It seems that those who argue with this position and feel that the personalities in Tanach did not sin lose out on these aspects of teaching and ability to relate.

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    6. The most charitable I would say is that everyone actually agrees on the fact and even the degree of the sinning and fallibility of people in Tanach, but those to the right of the rationalists fear the slippery slope of overly humanizing (which could lead to believing that they were no greater than we, Ch"V) while rationalists are capable of having complex ideas and are able to avoid the slippery slope.

      Similarly, a problem, I admit, is that ideas put forth by rationalists ("The world is not 6000 years old but the Torah is still true and is trying to teach us something") is then taken by the less educated and more negative agenda driven ("They said the Torah is not accurate and therefore it is all lies and politics and can be discarded").

      So there is a slippery slope but educated rationalists have cleats on their shoes.

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  29. "Those who think that they are like us automatically think less of them." This is not true. The sages are always well-respected, even when they make mistakes. For example, Moses erred when he lost his temple and hit a rock, losing his ability to lead, and yet, we still hold him in high esteem, so much so, that he was the only one to speak to G-d directly (all other prophecies either took place in dreams or visions). On the contrary, if anything, those who say the sages never erred place them on the same pedestal of G-d since G-d never errs.

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  30. @waterman613

    Actually, the Rambam considered it to be a mitzvah to study science. He also stressed the need to study non-Jews, such as Aristotle.

    @Yosef R

    In regards to the Torah informing us about the age of the universe in ways that are not real science, an argument could be made that the Torah intended to speak about creation in more scientific terms but due to the lacking perception of primitive (recently emancipated) slaves, the Torah had to deal with their world-view at the time. Another argument is that it is a parable and was never intended to be taken literally. The rabbis wrote volumes of imaginative Midrash but only sanctioned the reading of the more rational translation of Onkelos once a week and the Hebrew Bible twice. The rabbis never sanctioned Midrash in this way, meaning, that the rabbis understood Midrash correctly. That is, that Midrashim is not meant to be taken literally, rather, they are parables designed to teach people about proper behavior. People need to mine Midrash to learn about moral lessons. But they are not true happenings, while untrue, they are still true in a sense, by the lessons they teach. Similarly, most of the Torah and biblical stories are parables (Rambam, Guide 2:48). Thus, rationalism does not lead to a slippery slope since, as you mentioned earlier, we have complex ideas and "cheats", and I think the methods cited above constitutes as one of them.

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The Black and White Problem

The charedi community has a tendency to extreme black-and-white thinking. Biblical figures are either holy righteous people whose spiritual ...