Thursday, May 25, 2006

Ethical behavior and Halacha - Chumros v.s. Midos.

When Rambam came to Cairo from Spain via North Africa, he threatened the position of the Gaon Rabbi Samuel Ben Eli in Baghdad, as he very rapidly became the foremost Halachik scholar in the Middle East. A fierce controversy broke out because Rambam ruled that one could travel on rivers on Shabbos even though Rav Hai Gaon had prohibited it because of Issur Techumim. This led to an open war where people took each of the sides and the arguments spilled into theological and political issues with many letters exchanged between the two parties.

In a letter to a pupil of his in Aleppo, who asked him how to respond to the RSBE who apparently sent the pupil a scathing letter attacking him on a ruling and appointment he had made, Rambam advises him to refrain from counterattacking and further comments, and I translate:

“What you were bothered that he insulted you in writing – that should not be held against him. Who gets hit and does not yell? You know that you damaged him a lot, destroyed his pride, blunted his arrows, for without you the Rosh Galut would have been in his hands like a dove in the claws of a vulture and he would have shamed him on the issue of the Get and others. (DG: Apparently the Gaon had a disagreement with the Rosh Galut and Rambam’s pupil supported him). You cannot expect of someone who has been damaged by you to love you and praise you. There is no purpose in your asking where is their fear of Heaven (Yira’as Shamayim)? Because he and those who are like him, fear of Heaven consists of no more than being meticulous with Chumrot, while proper Midos is not considered by them fear of Heaven. They will also not be careful with their language as real Yre’eim are. Most religious people who have these positions of power, when something threatens their power, their fear (Yre’atam) disappear. Don’t expect everyone to be like Hanina Ben Dossa or Pinchas Ben Yair A’H and not all who have not reached that level can be considered as lacking fear of Heaven.”

Apparently people never change. We are talking about Rambam’s opinion of a person seen as one of the “Gedolei Hador” if not the”Godol Hador”at his time as Rambam points out earlier in the letter.


  1. Most religious people who have these positions of power, when something threatens their power, their fear (Yre’atam) disappear.

    Wow. Fascinating observation, not only about religion but also politics. I think you can see this effect in some of the scandals that have popped up recently. People whose position is threatened by scandal always try to cover it up, claiming "it would be devastating for the community if it came out," when really it would only be devastating for their own authority. They claim they are protecting the "community" when really they are only protecting their own behind.

  2. Wow, kohelet was right, there is nothing new under the sun!!

  3. What a great site, how do you build such a cool site, its excellent.

  4. I find some information here.