Not So Poshut
There was a furious debate in the comment thread of the previous post centering around one "Poshiter Yid" who put forth a decidedly anti-rationalist view and attacked other views as being heretical. Like some others, I suspect that he might be somebody pretending to have such views in order to study the response or be entertained by it. However, I have certainly heard similar views from many people, so we might as well take him at his word.
As I see it, there were a number of problems with the discussion on the previous thread. One was that many people were completely misunderstanding Poshiter Yid's position. He wasn't out to deny man's moral responsibility for his actions; only to say that ultimately, what happens in the world is entirely directed by God. Another problem is that both Poshiter Yid and many of his opponents assumed that their view is the only authentic Jewish view. In reality, both are rooted in hundreds of years of Jewish tradition, as diametrically opposed as they are. And they are rooted in such fundamentally divergent worldviews as to make debate futile.
Still, I would like to clear up some misconceptions that Poshiter Yid has regarding the limits of Orthodox theology.
Ok, I'm willing to hear this. What would the Rambam and Ramban say? I'm pretty confident they both held from hashgacha pratis as well as klalis. Wasn't it the Vilna Gao who said "If Hashem is not involved with the movement of a single blade of grass, I wish not to live."?
First of all, it's funny to try and prove Rambam's views from a statement by the Vilna Gaon. The former was a rationalist, the latter was a mystic.
Rambam held that hashgachah is solely a function of the intellect, and that most people thus do not merit it. Furthermore, he held that hashgachah is more of a function of how a person relates to the world, rather than God manipulating events for his benefit. In general, Rambam held that the world functions according to the laws of cause-and-effect that God set up, and that it is the goal of man to understand these laws and improve his life accordingly. This is diametrically opposed to the mystical view that these laws are just a disguise and have no real validity.
Someone helpfully quoted Rambam:
"There are sects among mankind who maintain that Divine providence controls all the matters of this world… that when a leaf falls from a tree, He decreed that it would fall…. This approach is far-removed from the intellect."
To which Poshiter Yid responded:
I maintain my position. The last line quoted above is enough to strengthen my belief even more. WHOSE intellect? We are nothing but specks of dust, who have the chutzpah to use our "intellect" to decide what's true and what isn't?
That's a very fair approach and one with a long history in Judaism. It certainly justifies someone wanting to take an anti-rationalist approach. However, it would behoove Poshiter Yid to acknowledge that this is indeed Rambam's approach, and thus to be cautious about dismissing it as outside of Jewish tradition.
Since when does it have to make sense to us? Does the Para Adumah make sense? So let's throw that by the wayside, too! It's not about what makes sense to us. Tefillin make no sense either.
It's certainly true that God's commandments do not HAVE to make sense to us. However, Rambam holds that they certainly for the most part should and do make sense to us. See my post "Rambam on Reasons for Mitzvos". Rambam also held that God's ways should make sense to us. (Personally I think that the rationalist approach is on very thin ice here. But this is nevertheless Rambam's view.)
And yes, God can make a square circle, too. How? Because squares, circles, and all of geometry and physics are natural laws, which He can manipulate, bend and break according to His will.
Again, Rambam disagrees. He says that God cannot do the categorically impossible. A person can legitimately disagree with this. But they should not claim that such a view does not exist in Jewish tradition.
Jack M., disdainful of Prof. Kellner's suggestion that "most of the evil from which we suffer is the result of human stupidity and cupidity; the fires were started by stupid kids literally playing with fire, but they spread so disastrously because too many people were concerned with everything but fire prevention and fire fighting," responded sarcastically:
Right. And the First and Second Temples were destroyed because of poor political decisions and inferior military training.
Ironically, this is exactly what Rambam implies. In his letter to the community of Marseilles, he writes as follows (and thanks to Prof. Kaplan for reminding me of where to find it):
This is why our kingdom was lost and our Temple was destroyed and why we were brought to this; for our fathers sinned and are no more because they found many books dealing with these themes of the star gazers, these things being the root of idolatry, as we have made clear in Laws Concerning Idolatry. They erred and were drawn after them, imagining them to be glorious science and to be of great utility. They did not busy themselves with the art of war or with the conquest of lands, but imagined that those studies would help them. Therefore the prophets called them “fools and dolts” (Jer. 4:22).
My goal on this website is not to try to obliterate the non-rationalist viewpoint. Rather, it is to save the rationalist viewpoint from extinction by showing that it has a long tradition. But aspiring rationalists should also acknowledge that the non-rationalist approach also has a long tradition.
(With regard to those who requested additional voting categories - I want to keep things simple. "Emes" and "Kefira" are simply catchphrases for thumbs-up and thumbs-down.)