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Hanging Corpses and Decomposing Faces
Rabbi Zucker's comments deserve a separate post, firstly because they are substantive, and secondly because he signed his name to them! Here is the first part.
Rabbi Zucker wrote:
I certainly agree that ALL the evidence needs to be weighed. Let us examine the "image of God" issue as Rashi presents it regarding a decomposing body. In order to do so, let us turn to the famous "killelas HaShem taluiy" prohibition against leaving the hanging corpse overnight. The Tosefta in Sanhedrin (9:7) explains that this is because people seeing the body hanging for a prolonged period will associate it with "God's image" and that is a degradation to HaShem. Now, the Rambam, the Ramban, and all the other staunch incorporealists learned that Tosefta as well. Clearly, they understood the Tosefta as teaching that the body is a reflection of the idea of tzellem Elokim, not that it is literally the image of God. Further, please see the gemara in Mo'ed Kattan 15b, which states that an aveil must turn over his bed, because HaShem gave us His image, and we overturned it with our sins. Again, the body is represented as the image of God, and the Rambam learned this gemara as well, as did the Ramban (who quotes it verbatim in his Toras HaAdam). Clearly, these incorporealists learned the gemara as stating that the body of man reflects the idea of tzellem Elokim, not that the body itself is the image of God literally. That being the case, could it not very well be the case -- is it not entirely possible -- that Rashi learned the same way? When he speaks about the decomposing body as losing its characteristic of tzellem Elokim, can it not mean that once the body is unrecognizable as such, it no longer reflects the idea of tzellem Elokim?
I do not agree that Rambam, Ramban etc. understood the Tosefta being based on the idea that the body is a (physical) reflection of the idea of tzellem Elokim. Where do we see any such idea in their writings? That’s the kind of idea that you see in later mekuballim, not in Ramban and certainly not Rambam. There is a much simpler explanation of their understanding. The body HOUSES man’s intellect. That is why it is degrading to see it hanging. Or see the explanation of Rabbi Meir Abulafia that I quoted in the essay. He explains that the reference is to “the form of man’s intellect,” which is modeled after that of God. But Rashi, in that case, simply states that man is “likewise made in the form (dyukno) of his Creator.” Yes, you can fit in one of the above explanations, but you would be fitting it in, not drawing it out.
But in the case of the mourner overturning his bed, we have a much more powerful case. You say that “Clearly, these incorporealists learned the gemara as stating that the body of man reflects the idea of tzellem Elokim.” That is not true at all. They presumably simply explained it to mean that man overturned i.e. corrupted his (non-corporeal) image of God, i.e. his bechirah (or however you want to explain tzelem Elokim), thereby bringing mortality upon himself, and the mourner commemorates that by overturning his bed. But Rashi specifically states that the mourner, by overturning the bed, is commemorating the facial decomposition of the dead, not commemorating man’s corruption of his bechirah. Now, you can insert an extra stage and say that the facial decomposition itself simply reflects the corruption of the bechirah, but that would not only be a classic case of ikkar chassar min hasefer, it would also make Rashi’s statement entirely pointless. It would not be necessary at all to mention the physical decomposition, one can simply say that a dead person has lost his bechirah! So this Rashi does indeed provide a strong argument that Rashi believed in a corporeal God. One can "wriggle out of it," but that is certainly the implication.