Saturday, November 7, 2020

A Giant Among Rabbis

Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks has passed away.

The loss is absolutely incalculable. Rabbi Sacks was only 72, and still had so much to give. I do not believe that it is an exaggeration to say that he was one of the most important rabbis of our generation. I don't mean that he was the greatest Talmudist or the greatest halachic authority or had the most disciples. I mean that in terms of teaching Judaism, and furthering the national interests of the Jewish People, his accomplishments, qualities and influence were unmatched. He was a leader and teacher and ambassador for the Jewish People in the path of great figures in our history such as Hasdai Ibn Shaprut, Rambam, and Ramban.

It was nearly thirty years ago in 1991, when he was appointed Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, that I (and many others) first heard of him. Back then, I was living in Manchester, and he came to speak on several occasions. He was a masterful orator, and it was clear that his appointment to this prestigious position was superbly appropriate.

Being Chief Rabbi of the UK is not an easy position. It requires delicate maneuvering between diverse communities, including charedim, traditional Orthodox, and non-Orthodox sectors, as well as representing the Jewish community to the outside world. It's impossible to do so without ruffling any feathers, but Rabbi Sacks managed to ruffle very, very few. He spoke at my ultra-charedi former yeshivah, Shaarei Torah, and to non-Jewish audiences with more than a few people who harbored antisemitic attitudes. How many rabbis would be able to speak to both audiences?!

Rabbi Sacks promoted and defended Orthodox Judaism with dignity. He was knighted and appointed to the House of Lords. He was the ambassador of the Jewish people to governments and leaders worldwide - and was amazingly good at it. England is rife with distaste for Jews, but Rabbi Sacks earned enormous great respect. He had great dislike for getting involved with politics, and so when he made a rare exception to criticize Jeremy Corbyn, it had important impact.

Rabbi Sacks authored twenty-five bestselling works on Judaism, as well as translations of the siddur and machzorim. His books are not mere vortlach - they are profound insights, reflective of deep thought. This past Sukkot, I read his essay on Kohelet in Ceremony and Celebration, and it blew me away in how it tied together all the themes of Sukkot with incredible perspectives on human nature. It boggles the mind that he was able to produce so much material of such high quality. 

One of Rabbi Sacks' lesser-known but highly important works is his brilliant essay, "Creativity and Innovation in Halakhah," published in the critically important Orthodox Forum publication Rabbinic Authority and Personal Autonomy (Aaronson 1992). The essay attests to his profound understanding of the halachic process and its application to modern society. I very much hope that it will be made available online, but meanwhile, here is the penultimate paragraph: 

"To my mind the most serious issues confronting contemporary halakhah is not lack of creativity, but the sociological divorce between the centers of pesak - nowadays, largely the yeshivot - and the centers of congregational life. Pesak involves applying Torah in its unchanging totality to Jewish life in its present specificity. A law-interpreter, no less than a law-maker, must have a clear objective understanding of the lives he is called on to instruct. R. Joshua once suggested that Rabban Gamliel's capacity to lead the Jewish community was compromised by his ignorance of the economic conditions in which they lived (Berakhot 28a). The same surely would be true of a posek who was ignorant of their intellectual and cultural circumstances."

On a personal note, I was privileged to spend Pesach together with Rabbi Sacks a few years ago. (Note that his rabbinic beach-wear was much more respectable than mine!). He was incredibly gracious; he was telling my wife about how bad he feels for wives who have to suffer their husband's books being banned, and he added that if we are ever feeling down, we should just write to him and he will call and offer whatever chizzuk he can! He also graciously recorded a blessing for the Biblical Museum of Natural History

Rabbi Sacks' sudden passing from cancer came as a great shock, but it was actually not the first time that he battled this illness. Here is an extract from an article about Rabbi Sacks by Yair Rosenberg that was published in Tablet magazine, several years ago:

"Though he seldom mentions it, Sacks battled cancer twice, once in his 30s, and later in his 50s. Yet unlike many other rabbis and scholars of religion, from Rabbi David Wolpe to James Kugel, who incorporated their bouts with cancer into their theological reflections, Sacks makes no reference to it in his voluminous output. I asked why.

“It’s very simple,” he said. “I saw my late father in his 80s go through four, five major operations. This was not cancer, it was hip replacements and those things. And when you have operations in your 80s, they sap your strength. He got weaker and weaker as the decade passed. He was walking on crutches at my induction—he was alive for my induction, and that was very important to me.”

“Now, my late father, alav ha-shalom, didn’t have much Jewish education, but he had enormous emunah [faith],” Sacks continued. “I used to watch him saying Tehillim in the hospital, and I could see him getting stronger. It seemed to me that his mental attitude was ‘I’m leaving this to Hashem. If he sees that it’s time for me to go, then it’s time for me to go. And if he still needs me to do things here, he’ll look after me.’”

“And I adopted exactly that attitude. So on both occasions I felt, if this is the time Hashem needs me up there, thank you very much indeed for my time down here; I’ve enjoyed every day and feel very blessed. And if he wants me to stay and there’s still work for me to do, then he is going to be part of the refu’ah [healing] and I put my trust in him. So there was no test of faith at any point—just these simple moments at which to say, ‘b’yado afkid ruchi’ [‘In his hand, I place my soul’]. That was my thought. And since we say that every day in Adon Olam, I didn’t feel the need to write a book about it. It was for me not a theological dilemma at all.”

“I had faith,” said Sacks, “full stop.”

Our nation was blessed to have had such a rare gem. Rabbi Sacks' many works will be inspiring and educating both Jews and non-Jews for centuries to come. He will be sorely missed. 


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77 comments:

  1. Beautifully said.
    I loved his covenant and conversations on Whatsapp.
    Am Yisrael lost a gem.
    He passed away on shabbos like many tzaddikim.
    May his memory be a blessing.
    BDE馃様

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  2. Chareidim stopped feeling associated with him when he wrote his book and he was declared a heretic. The same applies to the current Chief Rabbi Mirvis altough he wasnt declared a heretic however he co authored a book with a reform organisation Keshet.

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    1. He was not a heretic. His fault lies in the fact, that in a animated video, Sacks said he supports a Palestinian state and no one said anything. But write a book and the Charedim declared him a heretic. One wonders why they said nothing about his support for a Palestinian state? Maybe those Chareidim want a Pal state too. One wonders.

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    2. https://rabbisacks.org/bds/

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    3. Mouthing support for a Palestinian State is conventional thinking, one which has to be said to be accepted in conventional circles. It's unfortunate.

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    4. Perhaps, but it destroyed any admiration for him. He knew better but apparently pandered to polite, PC, Jewish society.

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    5. I don't understand. Is supporting a palestinian state a crime or heresy or something?

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    6. Support for a Palestinian state is a belief that a Palestinian state would be helpful to the world, not a religious belief. You may disagree, you may think the opposite would occur. But that does not impact his personality and integrity. Even according to your position, he is at most misguided.

      Heresy is a lot more serious. But one of the leaders of the opposition to his book told me that he thinks he is not personally a heretic, although the book is terribly heretical. He clearly distinguished between the person and the book.

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    7. In the most simple terms, they are our enemy. They teach their children to hate us and have a bizarre history of their ancient country being from the river to the sea. There is no guarantee that any Palestinian state will be peaceful. Just look a Gaza area and the odious Hamas. Any Rabbi worth anything knows that this land is ours. To be fair, Shas wanted to give East Jlem away and of course various rabbis along with government were parties in the expulsion of Gush Katif. Such rabbis and their ilk are traitors to the Jewish people and do not take seriously and or believe in Godl

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    8. They are the enemies of Israel, not the enemies of God; they teach their children to hate us, and we teach our children to hate them. People who identify today as palestinians indeed used to live from the river to the sea, and the fact that they never had a country is irrelevant, since Israel refuses to be their country; indeed there is no guarantee that any palestinian state will be peaceful, which is why it doesn't exist right now. But it's not a reason to actively destroy any chance of it to happen; any jew knows God gave the land to Abraham, but he had to buy even a place for burial, and did not act as the place was his. Any jew also knows He took it from us and only gave us back some of it through the UNO in 1948. At the same time He gave the second half to the arab inhabitants. We do not know for how long.
      And now we only have three options:
      1/Learn to live peacefully with them in a unified state.
      2/Let them have their state and deal with it.
      3/Rule over them forcefully, and gradually become what we loathe most.
      I prefer 1, but I can understand those who think it's so much less feasible than 2. However, 3 is unacceptable for any God-fearing jew.

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    9. @Unknown, yes, I agree. I watched Trump Card last night and Dinesh D'Souza showed that in the streets of Iran, murals read, "Death to America, Death to Israel." The muslims are not a peaceful lot, and Islam is not a peaceful religion at all. It is either us or them. We cannot share Israel with Palestinians. Period.

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    10. @Jew Well, Anyone who is an enemy of Israel is an enemy of G-d's. IMHO, I think peace with a two-state solution is almost irreconcilable, so I prefer the 1st choice, so long as Arabs are not the majority. It can maybe work if they are the minority. Not the majority.

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  3. Well said. He was indeed a giant. His death leaves a gaping void among us. Yehi Zichro Baruch.

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  4. The first ever orthodox rabbi to quote 10 secular/other religion's sources, for every Jewish source.

    Yes, he could afford the best "how to give a good speech" trainers and had a beautiful melodious voice, but let's stop all the gadolotary and chareidi style fawning. He sent his children to non Jewish schools. A bit of perspective and balance, please.

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    1. Huh, Sent his kids to non-jewish schools?
      Anyone out there know any info or clarification regarding this disturbing claim?

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    2. Idk if it is true, but when he was mentioned as a possible Chief Rabbi, that claim was brought up. Maybe it is not true, and maybe it does not disqualify him from the job. But it is not a new claim

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    3. Enough lashon harah. 1. It is prohibited to accept the lashon harah. 2. Even if true, the Talmud states, "if you see a scholar sin at night, do not suspect him in the morning, for he certainly repented" (Blessings, 19a). 3. It may have been permitted, like the Talmud states that those in the house of Rabbi Gamliel were allowed to study Greek wisdom because they were involved in governmental affairs (First Gate, 83a).

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    4. Nonsense. His children went to Jewish schools. Perhaps this buffoon considers universities as non-Jewish schools, then he would be correct.

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    5. Reuven's and Mizrachi's lashon harah about Rabbi Sacks was also untrue. I wrote to Rabbi Sacks and he explained that he did believe in the Creation story. Thus, Reuven's and Mizrachi should retract their statements.

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  5. So sad and so sudden. He was so unique. Baruch Dayan HaEmet

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  6. Baruch HaDayan emet.
    Rabbi Sacks was a very important thinker and writer. His activities have reached a very, very large group of the Western world's active Jews.

    He will be missed.

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  7. What an awful year 2020. First was the Chinese virus. Then the riots. Biden won. And now the sad passing of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. Rabbi Sacks was the former chief rabbi of the English Commonwealth. He was the author of more than thirty books and penned numerous essays on different subjects. His new book “Judaism’s Life-Changing Ideas,” has many life lessons that are inspiring.

    I was privileged to to write Rabbi Sacks and he responded gleefully. Reuven's and Mizrachi's disparaging statements about Rabbi Sacks was disheartening, and I knew their accusations were untrue, since I wrote Rabbi Sacks myself. The accusation was that Rabbi Sacks did not believe in the creation story. As I said previously, this was untrue.

    Lord Sack’s contribution did not only help the Jewish community but the non-Jewish ones as well. He was a member of the British government and contributed much to society and Judaism. He was a true gem. Rabbi Sacks will be greatly missed.

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    1. And your favorite restaurant was closed for some months, and you needed to eat oatmeal instead.

      And how about the Trump recession? That also happened in the past year.

      Yoizel der leitz

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    2. @YdL, Sean Connery also passed away. He was a great actor and I will always remember him as Indiana Jone's farther.

      Trump had it made. We had the best economy ever. The China plague disrupted that.

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    3. Turk Hill,
      Let me try to set the record straight about R.Sacks,zt'l, my Rabbi, and the creation story. I have no idea what Reuven and Mizrachi said. If they said he denied Divine creation,that would be incorrect, indeed that would be heresy. However, R.Sack's position on the creation STORY, is that it is myth. With which I heartily concur, as do most of the readers of this blog.

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    4. @Unknown, I could agree with that. I think that the Torah story about creation was a parable designed to emphasize the importance of doing science. Maimonides writes that whenever the Torah differs from science, the Torah must be interpreted according to science (i.e., we read it allegorically). Maimonides also felt that the "Garden of Eden" story was a parable. What I meant to say was that Reuven and Mizrachi's criticism of Rabbi Sacks was that Rabbi Sacks did not believe in Adam and Eve as real people. (See his debate with Richard Dawkins where he says that there might not have been an actual Eve). When I wrote to Rabbi Sacks about this he told me that he did believe that Adam and Eve were real people. I'm not disputing your claim (since he was your rabbi, you would know his views better than me). Perhaps he meant that Adam and Eve were real people but that the story about them in Genesis was a parable?

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    5. Turk, I think you might want to look at your question to R. Sacks and his answer again. The closest R. Sacks would have said Adam and Eve were real people, is that the Biblical story had them as archetypal early humans.
      Cheers,
      mb

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  8. His major life achievement was in his role as ambassador of the Jewish people to the outside world. I didn't see much trailblazing and innovation in his theology; he just packaged it really, really well. A master orator and communicator for sure.

    I got the distinct feeling that his eagerness to have Orthodox Judaism be respected by the non-Jewish world drove him to compromise on many critical theological issues.
    See his debate with Richard Dawkins where Rabbi Sacks is constantly pandering to Dawkins and bending over backwards not to be considered anti-science by Dawkins.
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roFdPHdhgKQ&ab_channel=johnnycrossan

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    1. @Dovid Kornreich, I saw the debate where he told Dawkins that there might not have been an actual Eve, for example. However, I wrote Rabbi Sacks myself and he assured me that he did, in fact, believe that Adam and Eve were real people. Whether or not he felt the story about them in the Bible was a parable, some who knew him said this was his view. But it is not unorthodox, for Maimonides also felt the creation story was only a parable.

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    2. Rav Sacks held his ground in the discussion with Dawkins. Consider the possibility that Rav Sacks was putting forth a truly held position. Dawkins Made some excellent points, but because of his ignorance of Judaism history and holy books could not really take on the Rav when it mattered most. ACJA

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    3. Lol, Dovid Kornreich, you know that deep down you are fervently glad that it was R. Sacks against Dawkins and not R. Meiselman. R. Meiselman can't even address the simple question of "was there an age of dinosaurs"?

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    4. Turk Hill:
      You are proving my point. He felt pressured to compromise in his beliefs in order to gain the respect of Dawkins.
      You can't say "Adam and Eve were real people" and then say the Adam and Eve of the Bible is a parable.

      And Rambam Moreh III 50 says it is a cornerstone of Jewish faith that Adam of the Bible was the first human being and was not the result of any evolutionary process.

      Amused:
      Nice try at "distract and divert" tactics. It won't take the focus off Rabbi Sacks' unfortunate decision to compromise Jewish theology for the sake of being respected by outsiders.

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    5. Rabbi Meiselman would say "I don't know" about the age of dinosaurs. Not because he is unaware of bones, he is very aware of bones, but because the Torah contradicts the geological evidence. And he takes the Torah seriously. So "I don't know" is perfectly acceptable. Which is also why it's a mistake for a Torah-believer to debate a virulent atheist such as Dawkins. There can be no debate with people who hold completely different values. Like debating about the value of Bitcoin with a newly discovered indigenous tribe that had never seen modern civilization.

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    6. ACJA, If Dawkins was more familiar with the Bible and Talmud, do you think he could take on Rabbi Sacks? I think Rabbi Sacks would still come out on top.

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    7. €TH I think Dawkins could better respond. It is like when a Muslim tells me something about Koran. I am sometimes unable to respond since I don’t know the Koran, it’s language and all the commentary. IMHO Rav Sacks did not portray the diversity of opinions within Orthodox Judaism. ACJA

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    8. @happy if you only discuss with people with like views how will you be exposed to potentially new information and thus update your beliefs ? ACJA

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    9. ACJA, I agree, but a debate is the wrong forum. I can learn enough of Dawkin's execrable views without debating him.

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    10. @Dovid Kornreich, if you don't have a better alternative to suggest, and especially if your own rabbi would make a fool of himself under such circumstances, don't criticize Rav Sacks.

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    11. @Amused, the better alternative is not to debate someone who doesn't share your basic epistemology.
      But I'm curious, why do you think it is better to compromise theological beliefs of one's religion than to be ridiculed for them?
      I can certainly criticize Rav Sacks for having the wrong priorities in deciding to debate scientists.

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    12. @ACJA, I disagree. Rabbi Sacks held the best position to defend Judaism from an atheist, the rationalist position.

      @Lucky, Contrary to the view of Rabbi Meiselman, Maimonides wrote that if a scientific claim is true, then we read the passage allegorically. Thus, science helps us interpret the Torah. We might also say that Rambam took Torah seriously enough when he wrote this.

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    13. @Dovid Kornreich, Maimonides wrote for two audiences. One needs to read the entire Guide to understands his true view. Rambam felt that the Garden of Eden story was a parable, like Rabbi Sacks. Also, Rabbi Sacks did not compromise his beliefs. When I wrote to Rabbi Sacks, he replied that in the heat of a very demanding debate, he did not feel comfortable exposing his true view (like Maimonides) to Dawkins who would not accept nor understand and only ridicule holy truths. Rabbi Sacks informed me that he was following the well-established precedent of Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, when he explained the rite of the Parah Adumah to a Roman (see Tanhuma, Hukkat, 8; see also Yerushalmi Berakhot 9:1; Yerushalmi Shabbat 3:3; Yerushalmi Betzah 2:5; Yerushalmi Sanhedrin 1:2).

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    14. TH, wrong, the Rambam didn't write about science nor did he know what science was. As I explained in our other discussion.

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    15. @Lucky, I disagree. Maimonides was a doctor, rationalist, and philosopher. He accepted the investigative scientific methodology of Aristotle (who was a scientist), and the Aristotelian premise of the investigative scientific study of the universe which led to the birth of science. Science owes its foundations to Greek telos theory.

      Furthermore, Maimonides said it was insufficient to just study the Torah. He said that in order to truly understand the Torah, one needs to study the natural sciences, such as history, philosophy, sociology, metaphysics, physics, archeology, etc. Maimonides said, “The only path to knowing G-d is through science—and for that reason the Bible opens with a description of the creation.” (See Gerald Schroeder, The Science of G-d, at vi, 17.)

      As it turns out, science is a tool which aids us in interpreting the Torah.

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    16. @TH "@ACJA, I disagree. Rabbi Sacks held the best position to defend Judaism from an atheist, the rationalist position." "Non-rationalistic" Judaism and "rationalistic" Judaism can both resort to the same apologetic tactics at whim. The constant refrain that that the Tenach needs be molded to suit the science of the day rings hollow and is a weak apologetic INHO.

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    17. TH, Aristotle wasn't a scientist, and didn't know any science. His pitiful excuse for "science" was philosophical speculation, and most of it was nonsense. He thought there were four elements. He denied there was such thing as a vacuum. He thought the sun and the moon were alive.

      ACJA, bravo, you are correct again. It's amazing that a hardcore, blaspheming, apostate atheist is the most correct person on this forum, rather than the poor, confused, nominally observant Jews who call themselves "rationalists".

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    18. @ACJA, I disagree. The two positions are totally distinct. The "Non-rationalistic" theologian says that the Bible is correct and interprets science to fit the Bible. A philosophical approach (and this is Maimonides and rationalist Judaism) looks at science being correct and interprets the Bible to fit into science. Thus, for example, Maimonides wrote that if a scientific claim is true, then we read the passage allegorically.

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    19. TH your representation of the Rambam lacks nuance. He didn't look at all "science" (as you call it) as being correct, it depends. For example, even though the consensus of "science" in his time was that the world existed eternally, he felt that we would nevertheless believe our Tradition, that the world was Created. In that case, he refused to reinterpret the Bible to fit the "science" of his time. Also, he believed in the literal future Raising of the Dead, even though that is extremely against the "science" of his time and the passages dealing with it are even easier to reinterpret.

      However, it is true that he as well as other Rishonim claimed that if something the Torah says doesn't make sense, we reinterpret Torah. But this wasn't necessarily limited to the "Rationalists", it was sometimes practiced by "Anti-Rationalists" as well. For example, the notoriously Anti-Rationalist Rabbi Elijah of Vilna famously reinterpreted a statement of the Talmud dealing with the time of nightfall, because of his own observation of the nighttime sky.

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    20. @Amused:
      Still waiting for your reply to my question at the end of November 11--don't disappear into the woodwork.

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    21. Lucky,

      1. I disagree. Aristotle was an empiricist, and Maimonides accepted much of his thinking. For example, Maimonides agreed with Aristotle that what made people "virtuous" was using their reason. More importantly, Athens built science. The birth of science began with the notion of Greek telos.

      2. Although most medieval authorities felt that the spheres were alive, Rambam rejected the view of the Sages, that the spheres produce “mighty and fearful sounds.” He agreed with Aristotle who said that the spheres made no sound.

      3. True, Maimonides did not defer and wrote that he rejects Aristotle’s view of the eternity of the universe, some scholars point out that Maimonides generally accepts Aristotle’s views. Maimonides wrote:

      "We do not reject the Eternity of the Universe because certain passages in Scripture confirm Creation; for such passages are not more numerous than those in which G-d is represented as a corporal being; nor is it impossible or difficult to find for them a suitable interpretation. We might have explained them in the same manner as we did in respect to the Incorporeality of G-d. We should perhaps have had an easier task in showing that the Scriptural passages referred to are in harmony with the theory of the Eternity of the Universe if we accepted the latter, than we had in explaining the anthropomorphisms in the Bible when we rejected the idea that G-d is corporeal."

      He did not reject Aristotle's view "because the Bible begs to differ," rather because Aristotle’s position was as of yet unproven (GP, at 2:25.) Thus, he acknowledged that if Aristotle’s theory were proven, “the whole literal teaching of Scripture would be rejected (meaning, we read it allegorically), and we should be forced to other opinions.” (Id.)

      4. Lastly, Maimonides did not believe in the resurrection the way most people thought, or to put it differently, he did not view it literally. Maimonides viewed the soul as "pure intellect," that would "bask in His glory for all eternity." Maimonides understood "resurrection" to be eternal spiritual life. Thus, he felt that the intellect of people (and not the soul) lives after them.

      I agree with your second paragraph though, entirely.

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    22. TH,
      He did not reject Aristotle's view "because the Bible begs to differ," rather because Aristotle’s position was as of yet unproven

      This is absolutely wrong, he gives both reasons. He is beyond clear that Aristotle's understanding is utterly incompatible with the Torah, because it removes the possibility of real miracles. So too and even more so, blind trust in the science of today removes all possibility of real miracles.

      Secondly, in claiming Aristotle was unproven, he rejected the consensus of the "science" of his time who felt it was proven. Similarly, I could reject the consensus of science on evolution if I feel it isn't proven to my satisfaction.

      You are absolutely wrong that Maimonides denied literal Resurrection. Clearly, you never saw his treatise on Resurrection. If you can read Hebrew, here it is https://www.yutorah.org/download.cfm?materialID=539516
      He has very, very harsh words about those who claim that about him.

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    23. @Turk Hill
      Point 4 is blatantly false.
      Rambam wrote 诪讗诪专 转讞讬讬转 讛诪转讬诐 to refute your point.
      People were conflating Olam Haba which is for all eternity and 转讞讬讬转 讛诪转讬诐 were people will die thereafter. You seem to be doing the same. When it comes to Rambam people seem to have no issue saying Rambam meant something when he clearly writes a whole long essay to refute that claim.

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    24. @Dovid Kornreich, "the better alternative is not to debate someone who doesn't share your basic epistemology." What a cop-out. Not something that Rambam or Ramban would ever have said. You can debate the epistemology. Besides, what epistemology makes it impossible to discuss whether or not dinosaurs lived at the same time as people? And as for your claim about "compromising theology" - it would be a pretty poor religion if it's "compromising theology" to address basic facts.

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    25. @TH Rambam views on resurrection I think are debated. Based on my limited study Rambam seems to defend an actual physical resurrection even if it is not permanent. Otherwise what is the meanings in Tenach, Talmud ? A spiritual resurrection seems to make makes no sense since the Soul does not die or does it ? Maybe RNS can clarify.All this talk reminds me of the question of how many angles on a pin ? How can any POV ever be shown to be the correct view ? ACJA

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    26. Basic facts. There can be no debate if there is no agreement on what constitutes a basic fact. To RMM, the Torah's narrative of Creation and Miracles is a basic fact. It is a more basic fact than the fact that dinosaurs existed. Any evidence of dinosaurs must be squared with the Torah, or handwaved away. To Richard Dawkins, Torah isn't a fact at all, it's nothing. So how can there be a debate? I believe Rabbi Slifkin himself called these type of debates futile.

      Rabbi Sacks masterfully avoided saying that the Torah was telling us any facts, as he said it was all about the "why" not the "what", so there was no friction with the scientific facts at all. Thus the debate was much more focused on philosophy.

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    27. @Lucky, I disagree. Maimonides did not believe in miracles the way most people did. More importantly, the Rambam did not attempt to refute the Aristotelians but to show that their arguments were not decisively demonstrated, as can be shown clearly in his “Parable of the Island,”  (Guide, 2:17). In fact, Rambam clearly writes that he does not favor creation “because the Bible told me so,” rather because there is no definitive proof on either side. Indeed, he writes that it would have been easier to reinterpret the Torah here than to refute all of the anthropomorphisms in the Bible, in which there are many. He explains:
      Know that our shunning the affirmation of the eternity of the world is not due to a text figuring in the Torah according to which the world has been produced in time. For the texts indicating that the world has been produced in time are not more numerous than those indicating that the deity is a body. Nor are the gates of figurative interpretation shut in our faces or impossible of access to us regarding the subject of the creation of the world in time. For we could interpret them as figurative, as we have done when denying His corporeality. Perhaps this would even be much easier to do: we should be very able to give a figurative interpretation of those texts and to affirm as true the eternity of the world, just as we have given a figurative interpretation of those other texts and have denied that He, may He be exalted, is a body. (Guide, 2:25)

      Thus, Rambam wrote that if Aristotle's position were proven, “the whole literal teaching of Scripture would be rejected, and we should be forced to other opinions.” As for evolution, I think he would have accepted it. 

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    28. @Lucky, Talmid, and ACJA

      Again, Maimonides did not understand resurrection literally. Maimonides viewed the soul as "pure intellect," and viewed "resurrection" as eternal spiritual life. Remember that Maimonides wrote for two audiences. One needs to read the entire Guide, not a "limited study" to know his true view. Maimonides called these untrue statements, which he wrote for the masses in the Guide “essential truths.” Thus, almost half of the "thirteen principles of Judaism" were penned for the masses, only the first five about G-d should be accepted literally (See Menachem Kellner). Even if he wrote the book on resurrection, and this is doubtful, this was an essential truth for the masses. 

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    29. TH, Kellner's authorship of Kellner's books is far more doubtful than the Rambam's authorship of 诪讗诪专 转讞讬讬转 讛诪转讬诐. Whatever Kellner wrote was for two (or three, or four) audiences. Even if Kellner wrote such books, it was "essential" for one of his audiences, he never meant it as truth.

      Denying literal miracles, or claiming that the Rambam denied literal miracles, or that he was even willing to entertain such, is what I term "not taking Torah seriously". Back to the point at hand, it's futile for someone who takes Torah seriously to engage in a debate with someone who denies it. There is a basic, irreconcilable disagreement if one can determine facts from the Torah, something the disbeliever will never agree to.

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    30. Turk Hill
      You can repeat your theory on Rambam many times over but it will still stay false. Marc Shapiro concedes in his book that resurrection is one of the only principles no one has ever argued on.
      The book on resurrection was definitely written by Rambam.
      This was accepted by Rabbi Kafih who was the biggest expert in the writings of Rambam and he has translated it from the manuscript. You can say what you like on Rambam based on your theory. (in fact I have seen some studies arguing that rambam didn't believe in God! (sic) based on this theory) Your views are clear heresy according to Rambam.I can also say about your view that it was penned for people you associate with but you don't really believe it!

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    31. Oh, by the way TH, even if the Rambam himself entertained heresies such as that there were no miracles or will be no Resurrection, we, the Traditionalist Jews, wouldn't listen to him. Our faith in the Torah isn't dependent on the Rambam.

      It is overwhelmingly clear from our Tradition (including countless "Rationalist" rabbis such as the Ralbag, Abarbanel, Rabbi Saadia, Rabbi Albo) that there were indeed miracles of the Exodus and the Desert, and that there will indeed be a miraculous resurrection. This is the reason why they burned the Rambam's books, because they, just like you and Menachem Kellner, thought the books contained heresies denying such cornerstones of our Torah. And the only reason we accept the Rambam as an authority is because we think he did accept them. Otherwise, he would be no better than any reform rabbi, and we would happily burn his books again.

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    32. @Lucky, Let me reiterate, Rambam did not deny resurrection or miracles but understood them differently from the general population. Rambam understood miracles as unusual, but natural events and resurrection took a backseat in spiritual form. Just as he rejects a literal reading of scripture, preferring to read most of the biblical stories as parables, so here, he reads supernatural events like the messianic age like current times except that Jews will be free. 

      You may call this heresy. Indeed, many did and they burned his books which led, inexorably, to the burning of the Talmud. One rabbi later regretted burning Rambam's books. If you want to burn them again, you're free to do so, I can't stop you. 

      PS Yosef Albo (15th century) felt that resurrection was non-physical.

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    33. @Talmid, Rambam definitely did not write that book, or at the very least this is an essential truth, a thing he felt he needed to write. His biggest expert, Kellner, agrees with me that Rambam probably did not view the resurrection literally. The Shem Tov ben Yosef Shem Tov agreed. He said that the book was a forgery, saying that Rambam “did not believe in a physical resurrection.”
       
      And Rambam was absolutely religious. He was an observant Jew with rational ideas which the general population could not accept because they lacked his intelligence. Indeed he was called The Great Eagle because flew above all others.

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    34. TH, again, if he denied literal miracles and literal resurrection it is heresy, and his books deserved to be burnt. Thankfully, the vast majority of our rabbis decided that he did accept those literally, which is why the Rambam is considered an authority today, rather than an apostate. There is no proof from Shem Tov, who is indeed one of those sages attacking the Rambam.

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    35. TH, you are once again incorrect, ALbo says resurrection is physical (Ikarrim 4:35). But it is useless debating this with somebody who obviously can't even read Hebrew. Kellner is as much an expert in Rambam as Wellhausen is an expert in the Bible. But as I said before, if Kellner is right, the Rambam was an apostate C"V.

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    36. Lucky, Why do you take issue with Rambam if he did not view the concept of resurrection or miracles literally? Don't you explain some biblical stories as parables? 

      The vast majority of rabbis also decided the Zohar (a book which contains many heretical statements and denies the unity of G-d) is holy. 

      PS And Kellner is the biggest expert on Rambam. 

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    37. TH, Don't you explain some biblical stories as parables?

      Good question. The short answer is that we have something called a Tradition, that limits the type of interpretations we can make. For example, most of the laws of the Torah are literal, and cannot be reinterpreted. Some of them are definitely not, "an eye for an eye" being the ur-example.

      As you say, there is room to interpret some stories of the Bible non-literally. For example, some parts of the Genesis narrative, such as the Eve and the Serpent, have traditionally had many different interpretations, some literal, some not. For many narratives in the Later Prophets, we have no definite tradition and they are open to interpretation. One famous example is the beginning of Hosea. But others are absolutely literal according to our Tradition. The Patriarchs were literal people. The bondage in Egypt literally happened. The Exodus along with the Miracles literally happened as stated. The 40-year sojourn in the Desert was a literal occurrence. All of these things literally happened according to our Tradition, and there is no room for reinterpretation.

      Your example from the Zohar is a proof to what I'm saying. There are no traditional Rabbis who simultaneously believe the Zohar makes heretical statements, and yet still think it is authentic and holy. They either try to explain or handwave those statements, or, much less commonly, they indeed dismiss the Zohar as an unholy forgery based on those alleged heresies.

      PS I am a bigger expert on the Rambam than Kellner.

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    38. Great answer. I agree with it. I would add that it seemed that tradition teaches the idea that there are demons, for example. Contrary to popular belief that there are demons, Rambam felt that demons did not exist. It is possible that he is correct. I think he is. Therefore, it is also possible that Rambam's view on the resurrection is also correct. Remember that this does not deny the resurrection, only physical resurrection, which is very problematic from a rationalist point of view. But if we agree with Maimonides that resurrection is spiritual, the difficulty is removed.

      PS Really? You're a bigger expert than Kellner!? For some reason that's hard for me to believe that without some form of evidence.

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    39. TH, you bring up a good point about demons. I would say that it is included in my previous response, that there are areas of the Torah that are traditionally open to interpretation. In my opinion, the statements of the Talmud and Midrash dealing with demons are of such a nature, and are open to interpretation. Certainly I am not aware of any tradition that the belief in demons is a core aspect of Judaism, even among those who do believe in them.

      Not so with Resurrection, which traditionally has been taken to be a literal and very important part of Judaism, just like the miracles of Exodus. In fact, Albo explains one of the reasons it is so important is because it is an affirmation of God's ability to perform real miracles.

      PS I am the biggest expert on Rambam in the world.

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    40. TH, I would like to correct what I said before, that demons aren't an essential part of Judaism even to those who believe in them. RambaN implies that since denial of demons and magic stems from a Aristotelian perspective of an unchanging world, it can lead to a denial of Miracles as well. Thus, it would seem from him that denial/reinterpretation of demons is equivalent to denying the rest of the Torah.

      However, I think the Rambam and other "Rationalists" successfully defended themselves against this charge, affirming and buttressing their traditional belief in miracles of the Torah, while still retaining their philosophical outlook. Which is why the Rambam was accepted as an authority even by the RambaN and other demon/magic-believers, rather than an apostate.

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    41. Like Ralbag, Rambam held many unusual, but rational views. Maimonides did not view the resurrection or miracles literally, for example. (Although Ralbag did believe in resurrection literally but not miracles). You are confusing this concept with the totally alien concept of denying the resurrection, which the Rambam did not do.

      PS Your problem is that your expertise is not "big" enough. It needs to be "bigger."

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    42. TH, why am I wasting my time with you? I disagree with your understanding of the Rambam and Ralbag. And so do ALL of my Rabbis. You asked a question, doesn't the Rambam take Torah seriously, yet he denies miracles? I said, no, God forbid, he most definitely does not. To me, you and Menachem Kellner are no better than the crazy preacher on the subway who tries to convince me that the Prophet Isaiah believed in Jesus.

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    43. Whether or not Rambam believed resurrection literally does not delute the Torah at all. In fact, it could be argued that resurrection is not in the Torah (although I believe it is). And Rambam was absolutely religious. He was an observant Jew with rational ideas. To me, you and "your rabbis" are no better than the Jesus fanatic proclaiming that Jesus really did "walk on water" even tho that is quite impossible. The world generally (or always) works according to the laws of nature. To Aristotle, the idea that Jesus could turn water into wine is absurd. And I never asked such a question. Where are you getting that from?

      PS If this is a waste of your time then why are you here?

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    44. TH, well, if you reject my Rabbis, you reject my whole Tradition, and there is nothing left to discuss. As I said before, there can be no debate when the basic facts aren't agreed upon. The basic fact for me is that my Tradition is reliable. You/Kellner apparently don't agree. So there is no room for debate. Have a good evening!

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    45. Let's just agree to disagree. My rabbi agrees with me and yours with you. My tradition also agrees with me. Have a nice day!

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  9. He was a great man, and a public figure. Any public figure, from Maimonides to RA Steinman, will face criticism from different segments of the spectrum. Sometimes the criticism might even be right. But it doesn't change the greatness of the man himself, who must contend with issues that the critics don't. It's part of the job, and - private moments of frustration aside - the men themselves understand this.

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  10. Perhaps instead of commenting, every reader of this blog could read a book of Rabbi Sacks z"l.
    If you don't like what you know about him, give him another chance.
    If you do, then go drink again from his wisdom.
    转诇诪讬讚讬 讞讻诪讬诐 诪专讘讬诐 砖诇讜诐 讘注讜诇诐
    let us make this come true in his case and in his memory.

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