Friday, May 26, 2006

Ahad Ha'am and Rambam - Religion and Intellect - a review of Shilton Hasechel

I have read excerpts and references to Ahad Ha'am's article "Shilton Hasechel" which was written about 100 years ago in honor of the 700th anniversary of Rambam's death, but just yesterday found the whole article on line here http://benyehuda.org/ginzberg/Gnz_079.html (hat tip Jewish Skeptic).

Ahad Ha’am shows his exceptional talent as a writer and a clear thinker. The exposition of Rambam’s theological thought is concise and laid out in such a way that one idea leads to another almost without effort. However, he like many other scholars, misses Rambam’s most important idea which to him is the ultimate goal of a religious man – Imitato Dei. Rambam talks about it in several places in the Moreh and in the Yad but it is in the last chapter of the Moreh where he brings it out with full force. Rambam cannot contain his excitement and his religious fervor comes through his words. The purpose of all the Torah and Mitzvos is to help us find God and understand as much as one can about the results of his actions. That knowledge alone, although it brings a person great satisfaction and guarantees him Olam Haba, is not the end all of religion. The ultimate goal of religion is, once he has developed a true notion of God, to have man imitate God and partake in His creation; get involved productively with the world and its inhabitants. Anybody reading chapter 54 of the third part of the Moreh cannot escape the soaring spirit of Rambam as he writes it. In fact the last five chapters are a must read for any Jew who really wants to get a glimpse of what the real purpose and goal of Torah is. Achad Ha’am missed this completely and as we read on it becomes clear why.

In the next section he discusses the interaction of Rambam the philosopher with Rambam the religious man. Although generally accurate, Achad Ha’am emphasizes Rambam’s need to interpret Pessukim to conform to reality and his philosophy. I see it a little differently. The Torah is telling us how to interpret reality rather then the reverse. It is a lengthy issue that I posted about in the past and I will not attempt to deal with it here.

Ahad Ha’am then addresses the influence of Rambam on Judaism and general philosophy. It is a well presented summary.

Now Ahad Ha’am’s lack of religious feeling comes out. Having rejected religion he could not imagine that the great Rambam, the rational thinker, could see religion as the basis for all beliefs. The idea that Rambam included the belief in the coming of Moshiach as part of the basic tenets of Judaism, the Ikkarim, totally stumped him. Why would that be a goal? Isn’t the purely philosophic and rational exploration of reality and its relation to God the ultimate goal? What has Moshiach got to do with it? He therefore concludes that this proves that Rambam had a strong nationalistic instinct that he was not even aware of. A subconscious inbred sense for the need of a Jewish nation. That could very well be but certainly this is not Rambam’s thinking about Moshiach. Just like he missed the ultimate goal for religion, he missed Rambam’s understanding that Moshiach is no more than a state where mankind is so well developed and adjusted that people are free to engage without distraction in getting to know God and ultimately imitate their Creator. It is generally the case with scholars who try to read Rambam objectively without taking into account the strong underlying religious impetus that was the center of his persona.

With these caveats in mind the article is a worthwhile read and has not lost any of its relevance in the 100 years that passed since its first publication. Ahad Ha’am called the article “Shilton Hasechel”, the rule of the intellect, implying that it overruled Rambam’s religious persona. It is clear that Rambam’s intellect was totally suffused with religion – awe and fear of God.

15 comments:

  1. To make those comments on Ahad Haad, it seems that you have been reading a lot of Ken Seeskin. The emphasis on imitatio Dei and worldly messianism are from Hermann Cohen, whose reading
    of Maimonides has been seminal for 20th century non-metaphysical readings. (In 1900- your reading was yet on the table)

    For a critical evaluation of imitatio Dei in Maimonides see Maimonides' Political Thought: Studies in Ethics, Law, and the Human Ideal, by Howard Kreisel. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1999 or even the seminal book by Leo Strauss, Law and Philosophy where he takes issues with your Hermann Cohen reading.

    Aham Haad was independently reviving Maimonides for the 20th century as standing for rationality, good leadership, and prophetic vision for the future- all pointing to Zionism and the rejection of the non-Maimonidean Lithuanian rabbinic establishment.

    Technician

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  2. I have only read one and a half books by Seeskin.

    I have not read Hermann Cohen thgough I have his book "Dat Hatevunah Mimekorot Hayahadut" and have planned reading it several times without getting around to it. I have read Kreissel although not that particular papaer. I will read it. Leo Strauss I have read a lot of but not that piece. I will try to. Thanks for the references.

    I have picked up on this Ramabam imitato dei starting at Sefer Hamitzvos through Hilchos deos especially where he quotes the mah hu af hu including Kadosh in it as being Beinoni through the Moreh on Nikrat Hatzur to the end of it in 3:54.(and I probably missed afew more. it speaks to me because otherwise we are left with no real reason for yedias Hashem other than a narcissistic Olam Haba. My friend R. Benny Buchman claims the letter Rambma wrote to Ibn Tibon about his daily schedule, shows Rambam at the end of his life practicing this Imitato Dei.

    I was going to write it in the post but I got distracted. Prof. Leibowitz in one of his writtings explains Kohelet as all questions with the last possuk "Sof dovor hakol Nishma' being the only answer. I see the same with the whole Rambam from his Milat Haigayon to Pirush hamishna, sefer hamitzvot, yad and moreh being all questions answered in that last perek.

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  3. I have only read one and a half books by Seeskin.

    I have not read Hermann Cohen thgough I have his book "Dat Hatevunah Mimekorot Hayahadut" and have planned reading it several times without getting around to it. I have read Kreissel although not that particular papaer. I will read it. Leo Strauss I have read a lot of but not that piece. I will try to. Thanks for the references.

    I have picked up on this Ramabam imitato dei starting at Sefer Hamitzvos through Hilchos deos especially where he quotes the mah hu af hu including Kadosh in it as being Beinoni through the Moreh on Nikrat Hatzur to the end of it in 3:54.(and I probably missed afew more. it speaks to me because otherwise we are left with no real reason for yedias Hashem other than a narcissistic Olam Haba. My friend R. Benny Buchman claims the letter Rambma wrote to Ibn Tibon about his daily schedule, shows Rambam at the end of his life practicing this Imitato Dei.

    I was going to write it in the post but I got distracted. Prof. Leibowitz in one of his writtings explains Kohelet as all questions with the last possuk "Sof dovor hakol Nishma' being the only answer. I see the same with the whole Rambam from his Milat Haigayon to Pirush hamishna, sefer hamitzvot, yad and moreh being all questions answered in that last perek.

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  4. jewishskeptic5/26/2006 4:32 PM

    David G.
    Great post on Achad Ha-am's Shilton Ha-sechel.
    I want to make myself clear.
    I do consider the Rambam to be the greatest Jewish philosooherthat ever lived.משכמו ומעלה!
    Strictly speaking,he was more of a theologian since he accepted as an axiom that torah is mi-shamayim.

    The problem I have with his thinking is the same as A.H.'s
    I quote:-

    וההכרח הפנימי הזה עשׂה נפלאות. ביגיעה עצומה המציא הרמב"ם דרכים שונים ומשונים לפירוש התורה ובאומנות רבה מצא סמוכים לפירושיו במלים ומאמרים נפרדים המפוזרים במקרא ובתלמוד, עד שהגיע לבסוף לעשׂות את הדת למה שהיא צריכה להיות לפי אמונתו.

    והנה לא פה המקום לבאר בפרטות דרכי-הפירוש של הרמב"ם, אשר לנו בזמן הזה אינם עוד אלא כעין "מצבת זכרון", המעידה על רפיון כוחה של "המלה הכתובה" במקום שכוח חי בנפש עומד כנגדה ודורש ממנה לעשׂות "הן" שלה "לאו" ו"לאו" שלה "הן". כוח נפשי כזה הביא את הרמב"ם להפוך "אלהים חיים" של תורת משה למושׂג פלוסופי מופשט, שאין בו כלום זולתי סכום של שלילות שונות; לעשׂות את ה"צדיק" של היהדות לפלוסוף שזכה ל"שׂכל הנקנה", את "העולם הבא" שבתלמוד – לדביקות השׂכל הנקנה ב"שׂכל הפועל", את ה"כּרֵת" שבתורה – להפסד הצורה בהפּרד החומר, וכן הלאה, הכל בהסכם להאמת הפלוספית שלו, בלי שום שנוי
    That in essence is what I think.
    But I do consider him a giant,
    ממשה עד משה לא קם כמשה!

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  5. JS, I understand exactly where you are coming from and I used to have struggle with this. However I realized that he had a macro outlook on Judaism. You pick it up first when he discusses the need to change people slowly from a mode of thinking where you have to bribe the gods with offerings until the realization that God does not require that. If you think about it there is still that need just look around at the community but things have changed a lot. He broaches this idea several times and then at the end of the Yad at the end of shoftim where he describes how monotheism has spread. One sees that he understands that the Torah needs to address the different stages of development and was never meant to be read other than what it meant for each stage. He therefore undertook to explain it for the stage we were at, at his time. It is incumbent on each generation to do the same. It is irrelevant what the Torah meant at the time of the first temple because it spoke to the people of that time. Now it speaks to us and we have to read accordingly. Nevuah shene'emrah ledorot nichteva. Halacha on the other does not cahnge. it is the constant against which this whole process is taking place. I hope I made myself clear. i am going to post eventually with proper citations and clearer but i have a feeling you know what references I am thinking of. shabbat Shalom.

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  6. jewishskeptic5/28/2006 5:20 PM

    D.G.
    I am trying hard to understand you.
    But something escapes me.
    Could you please explain clearly the following:
    1) On what basis do you differentiate between Torah she'bi'Chtav-"and was never meant to be read other than what it meant for each stage"- & The Halacha-"Halacha on the other does not cahnge."?
    What Halachic precedent can you quote for such a chidush?

    2)The impression I have is that you are a very religious man(orth-semicharedi). So forgive me if I write thatthis in itself is 'minut' & least smacks with ריח של כפירה.

    To say that the Tanach was meant to be understood differently at different times & stages of the people- wasn't thatwhat Chistianity said!They based their theology on that! Are you familiar with their theology? Have you read the New Testament?
    Didn't Reform Judaism say this?
    Isn't all this כפירה!
    The Rambam would certainly not approve of such misinterpretation of his thought.
    Finally, can you give sound reason why the Torah is to be understood differently by each generation BUT NOT THE HALACHAH? WHY?!

    ולא באתי ח"ו לקנטר אלא להבין ולהשכיל.
    אשמח לקבל תשובה

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  7. JS:

    Re 1 : The Torah has got two components the praxis - which is the Halacha and the Machshava part which is what keeping Halacha is meant to help you learn. That second part is a process that will take until "Umalah Ha'aretz de'ah et hashem". Tanach is full of"Rak habamot lo saru" and so on. It is self evident that the process was moving along in a typical erratic way. You cannot believe that the meaning of halacha for a Jew who was still practicing Bamot would have the same meaning that it has for a Jew nowadays. (Although sometimes I wonder with all the superstitions, kabbalah et al that we have.)

    Re 2: I am a religious/ practicing Jew though I do not belong to any camp. I believe that there are only two groups of Jews those who practice, and those who do not yet. Theiologically I have a very clear understanding of wghat the Torah expects ideally from a Jew. It is to be rational about his theology, understand that there is the physical world that man understands and there is the metaphysical realm which man can only infer about. Metaphysics has only one entity that cannot be understood and that is HKBH, that we cannot realate to other than through His traces "Achorav".

    Re Halacha it is totally self evolving according to the rules laid down by Batei Dinim going back to Moshe through the end of Bayit Sheni and finally after sealing of Talmud. Since then rules pof psak have been established by consensus more or less which we follow. Machshava was never established . See Rambam Pirush Hamishna, Shavuot Perek 1 Mishna 4 et al. I believe that is intentional. I am in the middle of a post on the subject with Mare'h Mekomot.

    I am not the only person in the religious community that thinks this way. I have Chaverim that I leran with who have similar ideas though with some variation. There are others I have found unfortunately Echad Me'ir Ushnayim Mimishpacha.It is the travesty of the Yeshivot in our times (I am not sure what happened pre Shoah)that these issues are not addressed and distorted. Not knowing is not an excuse as it is abdication of responsibility.

    My own personal view is that most Klal Ysroel bizmaneinu are tinokot shenishbu and their religion smacks of Kefira. It is one of those twists in the history of people which I hope will redirect itself in time, see Meshech Chochma on Veaf gam Zot Be'eretz O'yevehem for an interesting take.

    Reform and Conservative Judaism, is in the other cam the non practicing one, and have abbandoned halacha. Unfortunately without halacha they lost the background against which the Jewish drama is playing itself out. They have acertain impact but eventually some will return to praxis the others will be lost to Judaism. It seems to me you are in EY, if you want to see what I am talking about interact with the reform and conservativew here. i do and it is heartbreaking!

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  8. > Metaphysics has only one entity that cannot be understood and that is HKBH

    Clkarification:
    Metaphysics comprises only one entity, and that entity cannot be understood and that is HKBH...

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  9. jewishskeptic5/28/2006 8:25 PM

    DG
    I am sorry to say that I don't feel I got a clear answer from you to my questions.
    To quote you:
    "It is irrelevant what the Torah meant at the time of the first temple because it spoke to the people of that time. Now it speaks to us and we have to read accordingly."

    This is exactly what Reform claims!
    Halacha is based on the acceptance
    of historical facts-yetsiat mitsraim,shabbat,the Fstivals,etc.

    Now,if you start saying:-

    Now it speaks to us and we have to read accordingly."-the Halachah loses all its foundation & it becomes a meaningless praxis for whatever reason.
    If the Torah is to be understood as in your above statement,then why can't the Halacha also be understood in the same way?
    What's good for the goose is good for the gander.
    You can not separate the Halacha from its underpinning,like a known blogger is trying to do.
    MAKING HALACHA A RELIGION!
    Which reminds me of an anecdote told of Gershom Sholem telling Y.Leibovits "you don't believe in God but you believe in Halachah"(to which Leibovits retorted "you don't believe in neither")
    Of course,one is entitled to make his own interpretion & make up his own religion,but it woudn't be the religion known by our forefathers & they woudn't consider it bona fide Judaism.

    As you probably gathered,I am not an observantJew, though I learned for many years in a chareidi Litvishe yeshivah in the U.S.
    I live now in Israel but am not really Israeli.
    I take a great interest in what's going on,in especially the dati-chareidi world.I hate the hypocrisy.
    Even though I don't believe in its theology,still,like smeone once said "The shull that I don't go to I want it to be authentic"!

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  10. >If the Torah is to be understood as in your above statement,then why can't the Halacha also be understood in the same way?

    Because Halacha is based on Moshe Vegam becha ya'aminu leolam" see Yesoidei hatorah chapter 8.

    The Litvishe Yeshivos have introduced a totally false theology that aggadah and halacha are equally unchangeable. That is false and misleading which led to the creation of the greatest canard of them all - Da'as Torah.
    Rambam in his intro to mishna spends a lot of time explaining that halacha cannot change outside the Beis Din system and a prophet has no say in it after Moshe. I wrote an article in Hakirah that discusses this whole issue from a theological aspect http://hakirah.org/Vol%201%20Guttman.pdf

    Hashkafa is clearly an evolving process. Not that Chas Vechalila it changes intrinsically. The goal is one Yedias Hashem correctly and that has only one explanation which is the same throughout history but humans are unable to get there all at once. it takes a long process of evolution to bring all Jews to that point. That is Moshiach as the Rabbis say if all Jews kept one Shabbos properly, i.e. understood God as the Unique Creator, which Shabbos stands for, that would be Moshiach.


    The process is driven by Kyum hamitzvos. The meaning of the mitzvah changes with every stage of development, not the practice per se. That is why many mitzvos have no reason given but one has to try and unsersatnd it as it pertains to his stage of development. That is what I meant with the Torah had a different meaning to a tanach Jew and a contemporay.

    Meshech Chochma explains that Shabbos when given in Sinai was seen as reminding of Creation. People in Midbar were Ochlei man so they had no concept of work. That is why the Torah uses that as reason for Shabbos.

    When they were about to enter Israel, Moshe repeats the same Mitzva and uses freedom from slavery and rest as the reason. Entering Israel and beginning to work the land, Shabbos took on a new meaning.

    I hope I made it clearer.

    I would be interested in understanding what led you to your conclusions. If you so wish we can correspond offline and confidentially. You can email me and I will respond. I do not believe in prosletyzing.I am interested in how others see the problems with our community. I have very strong opinions that I want to verify. It is also a reason I started this blog, to learn and clarify things to myself but also to interact with different points of view. Minach umina'i Itbarera Shemaytsa. (Paraphrase from memory)

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  11. Oh yes, Leibovitz, he saved my soul. I found him when I was in trouble. I understand him, read him but he has not understood Rambam all the way. He stopped too early.

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  12. jewishskeptic5/28/2006 9:12 PM

    >" If you so wish we can correspond offline and confidentially. You can email me and I will respond

    Great.But I don't have your e-mail address.
    Gee,it's 4am!

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  13. david.guttman@verizon.net

    it is on my profile

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