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Corporealism Redux, part I
I would like to respond to Levi Notik's well-written response to my article.
I believe the entire approach underlying this proof suffers from a gross methodological error. The mistake is to assume that we can prove anything from what Rashi didn’t say. There are, theoretically, an infinite number of possibilities as to why Rashi declined to make a particular comment. I will admit that it is interesting to try to understand why Rashi went to lengths to negate anthropomorphic expressions employed in reference to God in certain cases, while he neglected to do so in other cases. But this question, as fascinating as it is, cannot properly serve as a proof for what Rashi held in any positive sense.
We cannot conclusively prove something from what Rashi didn't say. But, amongst the infinite number of possibilities as to why he didn't say something, there are possibilities that are more reasonable and possibilities that are less reasonable. And those explanations that are more straightforward and less complex are more likely to be correct.
I would like to give a mashal (it can be nitpicked, but please take the point!) Suppose one were to pick up a new book about rabbis, and one were to find that all the rabbis who are deceased have ztz"l written after their names, but the Lubavitcher Rebbe does not have that written after his name. There are an infinite number of possibilities as to why. It is possible, but extremely unlikely, that the author wrote zatzal and that when he wasn't watching, someone came to his computer and erased it. It is possible that he was never told that the Rebbe died. It is more likely, however, that he is meshichist Chabad. If we see that the book is introduced with a quote from Tanya, this makes it even more likely.
Thus, I must firmly disagree with Levi's assessment, but simultaneously to stress that what I am talking about is not "proof" in the absolute sense but rather arguments. And from the fact that Rashi takes pains to stress non-literalness in certain instances, the glaring omission in other types of cases makes it likely that he interpreted them literally.
R. Slifkin made the point in the beginning of his article that the onus is actually on those who claim that Rashi was a “non-corporealist” given, as the Ramban points out, the widespread belief in France in the corporeality of God.
That is not what I said. What I said was that ACCORDING to the testimony of Ramban AND R. Shmuel ben Mordechai of Marseilles regarding the prevalence of this view in France, the onus of proof would PERHAPS be upon one claiming that Rashi was not a corporealist. I really dislike it when people quote me inaccurately!
Given Rabbi Kanarfogel's clarification of R. Shmuel ben Mordechai's statement, I don't think that it's possible to conclude either way regarding whether corporealism was prevalent or not. Given this, I don't think that one can have a starting assumption that Rashi was either corporealist nor non-corporealist. Before bringing any arguments, one must simply say that we don't know.
Firstly, it is a tremendous mistake to simply take a historical figure, perform a cursory review of the generally accepted beliefs during his time, and apply that popular outlook to the individual in question.
Actually I would say that it is perfectly valid to say that a person is likely to share the beliefs of his intellectual community. It is perfectly valid to say that a person in Kiryat Sefer is likely to be charedi and that a person in 12th century Spain is likely to value philosophy.
This is even truer for Rashi who was a giant among the Rishonim. The Rishonim are famous for obstinately refusing to follow the prevailing winds. This is in fact the hallmark of the great Rishonim, who guarded the true mesorah without regard for popular opinion.
This forum is not the Yated. What do you mean that Rashi was a "giant"? You can't make such a broad statement without qualifying it. In his breadth of knowledge? Grammatical skills? Philosophical sophistication?
And what do you mean about the Rishonim being famous for refusing to follow popular opinion? Why do you think that most of the early Sephardic Rishonim greatly valued philosophy, poetry, and literature? Do you think that it is mere coincidence that these were the values of Greco-Muslim culture? Besides, we are talking about "popular opinion" amongst Torah scholars, not the illiterate masses.
Secondly, even it were true that Rashi believed God is corporeal, it would still be a preposterous exaggeration/misnomer to, therefore, refer to Rashi as a “corporealist.” The term implies an “ism,” e.g. Rashi subscribed to corporealism. Can anyone seriously believe that, though in all of his comments throughout the Torah, the Neviim, the Kesuvim, or the Talmud Rashi never openly tells that he believes that God is physical, that, nonetheless Rashi is a corporealist? Clearly, even if Rashi did have some sort of physical conception of God, it must not have formed any essential part of his philosophical system such that we could refer to him as a “corporealist.”
Rashi does not teach any sort of philosophical system! The Sefardic Rishonim presented philosophical systems. Rashi did not. He was a French commentator. I brought dozens of his comments from across his commentary which fit well with the notion that he had a corporeal view of God. One would not expect him to write an essay on it; it's just not his style.
If Rashi were a corporealist, which would mean he subscribed to corporealism, then we would expect Rashi to battle the non-believers head on.
That's very strange. Above you were insisting that we can't prove anything from what Rashi DOESN'T say. Now you are doing exactly that!
In any case, the opposite is true. Given that many verses in the Torah give the impression of corporealism, and many people at the time believed as such, then if Rashi were opposed to this view, we would expect him to explain that these verses should not be understood that way, especially since he does so with many other verses that he feels are being grievously misunderstood if interpreted according to their plain meaning.
Throughout the wealth of Rishonic works that make up the core of our Torah
She’beal Peh, we see unanimity regarding the belief in God’s absolute incorporeality.
Absolutely wrong. Have you read all the sources in Shapiro's book? Have you forgotten about Raavad's statement that “greater and better people than Rambam” were corporealists? The reason why we have far more WRITINGS against corporealism than in favor of it is that the anti-corporealists were from Sepharadic lands where there was an emphasis on studying and writing philosophy. To speak about "unanimity" regarding incorporealism means that you are simply avoiding the facts.
Do you really think that R. Avraham ben HaRambam would laud Rashi’s fundamental philosophy was that God is physical? ...And, on the contrary, it is near impossible to imagine that someone who R. Avraham ben HaRambam spoke highly of was a “corporealist.”
Where does he laud his "fundamental philosophy"? Besides, he never met him! I already explained why Rashi's position on this is not something that would emerge unless one were actively studying all of his comments in light of this question.
I will continue my response in another post. Meanwhile, I will make the observation that you appear to be very strongly ideologically biased against the idea that Rashi was a corporealist, as well as ignoring much of the evidence regarding theological attitudes of the Rishonim. The idea that Rishonim were all intellectual giants in every domain, that they were unanimous in their agreement with Rambam's principles, that they were a basically homogenous group, that they were not at all affected by the surrounding culture, is a viewpoint that is prevalent in the Orthodox world, but it is not supported by historical evidence!