Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Why GH and I care how God is perceived?

Why is it so important to have a proper apprehension of God? Just believe that there is a God and who cares if He is a body or is not, has emotions or does not, has attributes or does not? Here is Rambam in 3:51:

Those, however, who think of God, and frequently mention His name, without any correct notion of Him, but merely following some imagination, or some theory received from another person, are, in my opinion, like those who remain outside the palace and distant from it. They do not mention the name of God in truth, nor do they reflect on it. That which they imagine and mention does not correspond to any being in existence: it is a thing invented by their imagination, as has been shown by us in our discussion on the Divine Attributes (Part 1. chap. 1.). The true worship of God is only possible when correct notions of Him have previously been conceived.

GH has posted that God does not exist in the sense the word “exist” is understood. He is correct and any one who disagrees with him is one of those Rambam refers to in the above quote. It is not only Rambam who believes so but every single Rishon does from R.Saadya Gaon to Kuzari, Ramban, and down to all the Mekubalim.

Rambam insists that even children have to be dissuaded from attributing any physicality or action to God, which includes comparing His existence to our see Moreh 1:35 and my post "Can we "know" that God exists? - Definitions" . The argument among the Rishonim is only to what degree is the transgression that one commits when one does attribute such to God. Rambam considers such a person a Min while Ravad does not. That it is erroneous, no one argues.

Where Rambam allows room to wiggle, where he allows for unsophisticated people to remain with an erroneous notion is when discussing God’s attributes, His creations, providence and how He runs His world, His will and knowledge. He does not say that anyone thinking differently in those areas is right, because Rambam does not doubt for a second that his understanding in those areas is correct, he just allows for deviant ideas and does not instruct us to change them in others. But when it comes to the basics, God’s corporeality and existence, he insists that any deviation be corrected. No wonder GH is a Godol!


  1. That's all well and good, but the reasons why Rambam felt that way, which had to do with his perception of the world through the lens of the philosophy of Aristotle (as communicated by the Arabic translators), are pretty much irrelevant nowadays (it's been a long time since I heard the music of the spheres). Today, the notion of metaphysical knowledge predicated on natural/physical assumptions is a horse of a completely different color (color being an accident of matter).

  2. Greg, see my post here http://yediah.blogspot.com/2006/02/relevance-of-rambams-philosophy_11.html#links

    I believe that Rambam was only showing us how to relate theologically to science. The details are irrelevant. The questions of Who and how and hwy Creation came into being does not change when Science moves along. God's transcendence and whther we can know Him has not been affected whether Aristotles was right or wrong in his concept of physics. Rambam himself warns us that Aristotle was right only from the moon down while anything above is only conjecture.

  3. The Rambam is swell, and I am a fan, but Marc Shapiro has shown that there were Rishonim, and kabbalists, who disagreed with him on this point.

    As a side point: There are also covers of significant seforim which featured pictures of God in the design.

  4. As Marc Shapiro wrote here:

    Re. anthropomorphism, I devote many pages to it. R. Moses Taku did not
    make up his views, however strange they appear today. He must have
    received them from his teachers. He stresses that Hazal agreed with
    him. The thrust of his argument is that nowhere do Hazal deny that God
    has a form. On the contrary, they are explicit over and over again that
    God does have a form, and that man is created in this form, and there
    are even halakhot which depend on this. In the book I explain all this.
    There is also the view of one of Rash's descendants, R. Solomon Simhah
    of Troyes, that God is identical with the air (he refers to ha-Avir
    Barukh hu u-Varukh Shemo) and that there s a whole in the firmament
    enablling us to see the sun which is actually God's essence -- certainly
    a strange view. I discuss what the German and French sages believed,
    and although matters are not entirely clear, there is no doubt that many
    of them rejected the third principle. For example, while many of them
    did not believe that God had a body, they did believe that he "moved,"
    "rested" etc (a violation of the principle). In R. Abraham Maimonides'
    words, they were heretics without realizing it.

    All this is a complicated story and I am glad I will have the opportunity
    to set out my arguments at greater length in a book-length study. The
    title is (provisionally) Maimonides' Thirteen Principles and the Limits
    of Orthodox Theology

    Marc Shapiro

  5. Moreover the Raavid, who agreed with the Rambam, that God has no body was nonetheless of the opinion that the Rambam was wrong in criticizing those who believed in God having a body.

  6. I know about Moshe taku and The air guy. I read his piece. Marc Shapiro is correct that there were such opinions and the Ravad was referring to them in his commwent ihn hil Teshuva. There are many weird opinions out there but one has to be selective and chose the ones that make sense. Moshe Taku's theology never made into the books. Marc is doing a service bringing to the attention of people variants. We are talking seriously about how we need to relate theologically to God. Rambam's approach is the mainstream of all the thinkers among Rishonim with slight variations.

  7. Interestingly, Rav Yakov Weinberg referred to Hashem almost exclusively as "Kaveyochol". He would phrase things as "Davening to Kaveyochol" etc....

    Seems to be a similar intent...