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My Latest Mistake
I made a big mistake with the Rashi article that I published in Hakirah.
Not that I think that my conclusion was wrong. When I published the article, I was taking a huge risk - after all, I have only seen a tiny fraction of Rashi's extensive writings, and someone could have easily found a Rashi that would blatantly refute my conclusion. Yet, while there are those such as Rabbi Zucker who feel that my article is demonstrably wrong, I don't feel that it is has been disproved or even weakened in the slightest.
My mistake was in choosing Hakirah as the journal in which to publish it, instead of a regular academic journal. Hakirah is a very fine journal, aimed a rationalist Orthodox audience, but "rationalist" is a relative term, and besides, since it is available for free online, it reaches a much wider readership than its target audience.
I had thought that since Marc Shapiro's book (listing all those who disputed Rambam's principles) is old news, and given Raavad's statement that "greater and better people" than Rambam were corporealists, and since the Tosafist R. Moshe Taku was a known corporealist, then even if people did not like or disputed my conclusion, they would not be appalled at the very idea of a Rishon such as Rashi being a corporealist.
In this, I was utterly wrong.
Many people were absolutely horrified. Some bookstores in Brooklyn had to remove Hakirah from their shelves. A letter in Hakirah, from a very intelligent and educated person, stated that he found the notion to be "absolutely incredible." Of course, it is possible for someone to legitimately disagree with my conclusions, and to consider it to be gravely in error, but the reaction was clearly something far beyond that, and besides, most of those who reacted strongly didn't even have any alleged disproofs of my arguments. It was the very idea of a Rishon such as Rashi being a corporealist that they could not accept.
But where did I miscalculate?
It might be that although people are aware of Shapiro's sources, and the statement of Raavad, and the position of R. Moshe Taku, they are only aware of it in a very detached, remote sense. It's kind of like how a smoker feels about the evidence that smoking causes cancer - he is sort of intellectually aware of it, but doesn't really feel it to be true, and he is genuinely surprised when he is diagnosed with cancer. People don't take Raavad's testimony seriously, and R. Moshe Taku is too obscure a figure to care about. When the idea of a Rishon being a corporealist is actually starkly presented as being genuinely the case, they find it hard to come to terms with it. The notion of what they consider to be a spiritual giant of inconceivable greatness and brilliance, having a belief that they consider false and heretical, is understandably hard to stomach.
Someone else had a different take on it. They claimed that if I had said that a different Rishon was a corporealist, or even that an Amora was a corporealist, people would not have minded so much. But Rashi is such a beloved figure, whose words are pored over by everyone since they are children, that they cannot abide the thought of his being a corporealist.
There are other factors, too. Many people follow Rambam and feel that if someone is a corporealist, they lose their portion in the World-to-Come. They feel that a corporealist has failed as a Jew, certainly as a Torah scholar, and it is obviously inconceivable to say that about Rashi (which I agree with). S. pointed out that most people today view corporealism not merely as wrong, but also as foolish, and they can't imagine a great person subscribing to such a view.
Whatever the reason, many people were very offended by the article. And, as one Rosh Yeshivah communicated to me, this harms my cause with regard to the issues over which the controversy over my books occurred. Convincing people of the legitimacy of the rationalist approach vis-a-vis creation and Talmudic science will be much harder when the person most visibly identified with that approach takes other positions that are much harder for people to stomach.
Thus, I made a mistake. Hopefully I will learn from it.