Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Rambam and Sir Isaac Newton - Kindred Souls?

I just finished watching a fascinating Nova segment on DVD, about Sir Isaac Newton that was brought to my attention by my son Alex. Based on the recent deciphering of his private notes and writings a fascinating man is emerging. What is amazing is the fact that although being the greatest scientist ever, having taken us into the modern world almost single handedly, he understood that science and religion were one and worked hand in hand. He secretly believed the Trinity was wrong and that only a Unique God existed. Jesus could not have been more than a man and the whole theology of Christianity as taught by the different churches are wrong. It confirms Rambam’s understanding that through science only can one really get to know about God and His Uniqueness.

What was also fascinating was his interest in alchemy. It is now believed that he was trying to find the occult force that was possibly behind gravity. He could calculate its effects but had no idea what it was composed of. He thought of it as some kind of occult possibly spiritual force. He still believed that these spritual forces were part of nature and science. No wonder astrology and magic were still considered a possibility.

I always was astounded by the Gra who was such a rationalist in his Halachik and textual analysis yet believed that magic was real as he comments in Yoreh Deah attacking Rambam as misguided by the philosophers in denying it. Gra (1720 – 1797) who was almost a contemporary of Newton (1642-1727) probably still believed that magic was a science just like Newton still suspected.

Rambam understood (see Moreh 2:5) Hashamayim Mesaperim Kevod El as literal because Aristoteleian physics understood the stars to be sentient, their will to emulate their perfect Creator being the impetus that made them move in a circular mode. Newton having discovered gravity clearly proved Rambam wrong in this particular case. However he also proved a contemporary of his, Baruch Spinoza ( 1632- 1677) wrong by showing that knowing the physical world leads to God rather than away from Him.

Newton was totally involved in his studies, at least during the earlier and most productive part of his life, shunning all wordly pleasures. He was the paradigm of "Ein divrei Torah miskayemim elo bemi shmeimis atzmo oleiho" - if you follow Rambam in the idea that science and metaphysics are part of Torah.
והעניינות הנקראין פרדס, בכלל התלמוד. (Hil. Talmud Torah 1:14)
That might have helped in his making better choices when subjective judgment was required.

Re the Halacha that a non-Jew may not learn Torah, though I am usually loath to accept things as they seem at first blush without a thorough analysis of the subject, I know I will get comments questioning my post on that basis, so I had a fast look at it. Chasam Sofer (as quoted in Frankel's Rambam Mekoros Vetziyunim) holds that it does not apply to a non-Jew who commits not to worship idols. They may be taught too not only sciences but Torah in general. From what I saw, Newton definitely falls into that category.

44 comments:

  1. >However he also proved a contemporary of his, Baruch Spinoza ( 1632- 1677) wrong by showing that knowing the physical world leads to God rather than away from Him.

    David, do you care to explain what you mean by this?

    ReplyDelete
  2. I had you in mind with this comment and figured i would get your immediate reaction1 :-)

    Newton believed in a God that had will and intelligence as opposed to the God of Aristotles that was an adjunct of nature which is closer to Spinoza's God.

    ReplyDelete
  3. I thought Rambam held that you can't say God has any positive attributes, which would include will or intelligence

    ReplyDelete
  4. I saw some book where the author said it may be more accurate to describe Newton not as the "first scientist," but as the "last magician."

    ReplyDelete
  5. BS - You are 100% right but go back and read my early posts. Will, existence and all those terms just describe what we observe. For us it would be the result of Will. It means that God had choice to create or not to, while Aristotle and Spinoza held that was not the case.

    Some guy - that is an excellent term - apparently so was the Gra - the last rational Jewish one though! :-)

    ReplyDelete
  6. This was truly a remarkable post. I always thought Newton was a christian believer and an eccentric. I appreciate your point about magic and science. It seems as though the Rambam was right about magic almost by accident based upon the knowledge of his times.

    ReplyDelete
  7. >Will, existence and all those terms just describe what we observe

    I don't understand that statement. What do you mean we observe will? Science is about observing cause and effect and what seems to be certain unchanging "laws" of nature. You must make a leap of faith to draw the conclusion of Will or design. I observe will and intelligence in myself and other animals, but nature or existence has no observable Will that I can observe.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Gra (1720 – 1797) who was almost a contemporary of Newton (1642-1727) probably still believed that magic was a science just like Newton still suspected.

    Feel free to hold like the Rambam but your speculation about the gra is way off. His acceptance of spiritual forces in the world was based on a deep understanding of kabbalistic literature (which he spent MUCH of his study time one) coupled with personal mystical experiences (his maggid experiences). Don't try to turn the gra into a rationalist - he wasn't and doing so is no better than those who try to turn the Rambam into a mekubal.

    ReplyDelete
  9. I observe will and intelligence in myself and other animals, but nature or existence has no observable Will that I can observe.

    Have you ever read Schopenhauer or Nietzsche? Will is THE essential component of inteligence and it is impossible to create a working model of inteligence without the existance of will. This does not say anything about the nature of God (Whose existence Nietzsche rejected) but it does presupose that will exists as a generic force in the world.

    ReplyDelete
  10. Chardal, That comment about the Gra was written with you in mind and you did not disppoint me. :-)

    I know how the Gra felt and that is why i am baffled at the contrast of the3 great rationalist when it comes to texts and the great mystic when it comes to thought.

    I personally reject ALL mysticism though I accept that Gedolim vetovim Mimeni - using the CI interpretation of Ra'avad - hold otherwise. If you would ask me the truth about how I feel I would tell you they are mistaken. I know i have who to rely upon as does the other camp. i belive with all my heart that Moshiach will only come when Umala'ah Haaretz Deah et Hashem and that will be when mysticism is rejected. (see what you made me do? )

    BS - Chardal's answer is correct. You have also made my point . That is the difference between Rambam and judism and those who do not have religion. revelation is the key here and i will write about it. I also wrote a lot about it in my article that will appear in Hakirah soon. i hope you will read and enjoy it. See my post about proofs - it was a preamble to the next installment in how I think in these areas.

    ReplyDelete
  11. JF

    >It seems as though the Rambam was right about magic almost by accident based upon the knowledge of his times

    I posted earlier about the contrast in understanding magnetism between Rambam and Ramban. I don't have time to look for it now but it was not long ago. Also read the article by R.Benny Buchman on Hakirah.org titled Lomo lo yereisem. it is in vol 2 available on line. It is an eye opener.

    ReplyDelete
  12. I know how the Gra felt and that is why i am baffled at the contrast of the3 great rationalist when it comes to texts and the great mystic when it comes to thought.

    In the Gra's own words: "Kabbalah begins where philosophy ends"

    i belive with all my heart that Moshiach will only come when Umala'ah Haaretz Deah et Hashem and that will be when mysticism is rejected.

    I thought belief was a christian concept and we only have yediah. ;)

    ReplyDelete
  13. >I thought belief was a christian concept and we only have yediah. ;)

    Touche :-)

    ReplyDelete
  14. Hub Ich a fragger6/13/2006 12:51 PM

    Do you mean to imply that those who practice magic such as a machasefa are sentenced to death because they are practicing science?

    ReplyDelete
  15. >Do you mean to imply that those who practice magic such as a machasefa are sentenced to death because they are practicing science?

    No you missed the whole point! Magic is bunk but in the middle ages they thought it was a scientific fact but was prohibited by the Torah because we Jews depend on HKBH. That was Ramban et al. Rambam intuited it that magic is nonsense and understood that that is why it was forbidden because it was Sheker.

    Gra did not accept rambam's approach but went with Ramban. That was the point of my post.

    With all due respect to Chardal who is trying to make me a believer, I cannot for the life of me understand how a person in our century can still believe in magic, kabbakah, spirituality and all the other nonsense. But as i said earlier am not the smartest person!

    ReplyDelete
  16. Hub Ich a fragger6/13/2006 2:47 PM

    I think you missed my point.
    .
    If there is nothing to magic why would the Torah decree the death penalty. (Please don't say because it is sheker)

    ReplyDelete
  17. >Please don't say because it is sheker

    Why not?

    see quote from letter to Marseilles by Rambam:

    וזו היא שאבדה מלכותנו והחריבה בית מקדשנו והאריכה גלותינו והגיעתנו עד הלום. שאבותינו חטאו ואינם, לפי שמצאו ספרים רבים באלה הדברים של דברי החוזים בכוכבים, שדברים אלו הם עיקר עבודה זרה, כמו שביארנו בהלכות עבודה זרה, טעו ונהו אחריהן, ודימו שהם חכמות מפוארות ויש בהן תועלת גדולה, ולא נתעסקו בלמידת מלחמה ולא בכיבוש ארצות, אלא דמו שאותן הדברים יועילו להם.
    ולפיכך קראו אותם הנביאים סכלים ואווילים.
    ודאי סכלים ואווילים היו, ואחרי התוהו אשר לא יועילו הלכו.

    If this is what it brought about why is it so difficult to understand that a practitioner deserves the death penalty?

    ReplyDelete
  18. With all due respect to Chardal who is trying to make me a believer

    I am not so presumptuous! :)

    cannot for the life of me understand how a person in our century can still believe in magic, kabbakah, spirituality and all the other nonsense

    Your first mistake is that you lump it all together. I am sure you have studied enough to know that this is not fair to the many deep thinkers of this very century who held of kabbalah.

    ReplyDelete
  19. Hub Ich a fragger6/13/2006 3:17 PM

    David,

    Not bad.

    One more thing, if you will. Thought has its limitations. Kaballah or mysticism can in many cases fill those voids. Why do you find that amiss?

    ReplyDelete
  20. >I am sure you have studied enough to know that this is not fair to the many deep thinkers of this very century who held of kabbalah.

    That is why I am saying it with such trepidation. I don't consider myself a deep thinker at all. There are many things I don't understand but I usually get a sense or a picture of what they are trying to say. I have read much in the area of kabbalah and at one point thought i undestood what it was about but as time went on, and i got older i realized I had no idea at all. When I ask mevinim specific questions I dont get a word they say. usually I find out they don't know either although they think they do.Maybe I have only met second class people. I dont think so. I really am convinced that ultimately it is a fantasy. But like I said Gedolim Vetovim...

    ReplyDelete
  21. Have you read the Ish Shalom book yet??

    ReplyDelete
  22. >One more thing, if you will. Thought has its limitations. Kaballah or mysticism can in many cases fill those voids. Why do you find that amiss?

    The limitation part you are right about. What makes you think that there is a remedy? By making up fantasies will it make it true? how will that expand the limits of knowledge?

    ReplyDelete
  23. Chardal,

    Not yet. i ordered it but have not yet received it.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Hub Ich a fragger6/13/2006 4:17 PM

    Making up fantasies is not quite synonymous with Kabalah (Although the fish stuff is fishy). Kabalah has its place even in halacha. The biggest threat kabalh poses is when it in itself becomes an end.

    ReplyDelete
  25. >Kabalah has its place even in halacha. The biggest threat kabalh poses is when it in itself becomes an end.

    The fact that it is found in halacha does not legitimize it. If you read my posts you should get the picture that I believe these great people were mistaken in their beliefs based on erroneous information.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Hub Ich a Fragger6/13/2006 10:09 PM

    You realize that list of mistaken people contains Reb Moshe Feinstein.

    ReplyDelete
  27. >You realize that list of mistaken people contains Reb Moshe Feinstein

    I do not dispute it. But what is your source that R, MF believed in Kabbalah? Just because he paskened according to some Kabbalah minhagim? No proof - because it probably fit his shita on precedence.

    BTW bizman hazeh there is no psak that one has to accept whether it is CI,RMF or any other great possek. If someone is honest with himself and considers himself competent in the subject (within certain constraints) and comes to a different conclusion based on sources, different than any possek, or if one has a possek that one feels confident relying on in a certain halacha, as long as it does not violate a Talmudical ruling,one need not follow a RMF, CI, or anyone. If that is in halacha lema'aseh how much more in machshavah as long a sone keeps within the bounds of TMS, Metzius Hashem ve yichudo etc..

    ReplyDelete
  28. Hub Ich a fragger6/14/2006 11:43 AM

    David,

    In the Igros Moshe RMF writes the cutoff point for kabalstic entries into halacha (I think he says Arizal).
    .
    In the spirit of honesty, if one feels he has come to a different conclusion than that of the major poskim based on other sources, he needs some introspection as to the fact that someone more educated differs. In this instance, the question is whether or not Kabalah has any real place in halacha or Judaism.

    You make a strong argument. However, some of your points are
    A) Not congruent with our traditions (which you feel were sabotaged). Not relying on Mesorah is tricky.
    B) Different from not just religious leaders but intellectual giants as well. This is not simply a “Typical Machloket”. I say this because you didn’t bring any major posek or thinker into your corner.

    Cheers

    ReplyDelete
  29. I say this because you didn’t bring any major posek or thinker into your corner.

    He has the Rambam (and probably the Ralbag and the Meiri as well).

    I do not doubt that these rishonim would consider segments of kabbalah to be kefira. (as the mekubalim view the Rambam's conception of hashgacha)

    ReplyDelete
  30. Fragger , Chardal is correct. There also some acharonim. if you are interested i have the Milchamos Hashem (not Ralbag) by Rav Kafieh's grandfather on PDF. I van email it to you it is all about abbalah being kefirah. R.Yehudah De Modena wrote a whole book proving that Zohar is fake. It is an old story and i am just picking sides. Chardal of course is trying to make me change my mind while I enjoy his challenges.Quoting Rambam end of Meilah:(tongue in cheek)
    וכל זמן שהיו רודפין אותו בתשובות השקר שעורכין לפי קוצר דעת האדם, היה מוסיף דבקה בתורה, שנאמר "טפלו עליי שקר, זדים; אני, בכל לב אצור פיקודיך" (תהילים קיט,סט), ונאמר שם בעניין "כל מצוותיך, אמונה; שקר רדפוני, עוזרני" (תהילים קיט,פו).

    :-)

    ReplyDelete
  31. jewishskeptic6/14/2006 3:08 PM

    >"I personally reject ALL mysticism though I accept that Gedolim vetovim Mimeni - using the CI interpretation of Ra'avad - hold otherwise. If you would ask me the truth about how I feel I would tell you they are mistaken. I know i have who to rely upon as does the other camp. i belive with all my heart that Moshiach will only come when Umala'ah Haaretz Deah et Hashem and that will be when mysticism is rejected. (see what you made me do? )"

    I presume you include the Hechalot literature & all the other pre Zoharic mystic lit.
    This would also have to include mysticism found in the Talmud.
    Including Rava(I think it was he or maybe another amora) who created a calf by the 'sefer yersirah(probably not the same that we have.But who knows?)
    That would make that amora an 'oved avodah zarah!...
    You can find many mystics amongst Tana'm & Amoraim,let alone in Geonic times & later.
    How can you accept their psakim as divinely inspired & at the same time say they were ovdei avodah zarah.And if not avodah zarah mammash,than at least 'avak shel a.z,according to you!
    This doesnt make sense.
    You are cutting down the tree you are sitting on!!!

    ReplyDelete
  32. JS see below item by item

    >I presume you include the Hechalot literature & all the other pre Zoharic mystic lit.

    Yes

    >This would also have to include mysticism found in the Talmud.

    Yes as Rambam would say Da'as Yochid. See his comments on R.Eliezer Hagodol!

    >Including Rava(I think it was he or maybe another amora) who created a calf by the 'sefer yersirah(probably not the same that we have.But who knows?)
    That would make that amora an 'oved avodah zarah!...

    Correcrt. Probably be shogeg but unless we can find a metaphorical explanation yes.

    >You can find many mystics amongst Tana'm & Amoraim,let alone in Geonic times & later.
    How can you accept their psakim as divinely inspired

    There are no divinely inspired psakim. Nevuah has no place in halacha. See intro to Zeraim by Rambam long discussion.

    >& at the same time say they were ovdei avodah zarah.

    Although I would not be so vocal i would say they were mistaken in their thinking. What do you think R.Yochanan meant when he said "Hani Bavlo'i dedoru be'arah dechashucha."

    >And if not avodah zarah mammash,than at least 'avak shel a.z,according to you!

    You see you found a way of making it more palaltable . You are 100% right.

    >This doesnt make sense.
    You are cutting down the tree you are sitting on!!!

    What tree? My tree is the Etz Chaim which is the Torah which is Emess. That some of the greatest interpreters were mistaken sometimes especially when it came to deios - why not. It does not take away their samchut in a halacha that does not depend on mistical stuff.

    Do you wash negel vasser 3 times? i don't. I wash once in a Keli for Tefillah as paskened that Netila letfila is a chyuv. Do I say a bracha or divrei torah before netila, sure. See Rambam Hilchos tefilah on The brachot one has to make when he gets up before washing hands.

    I am trying to make you understand that Kol Hamossif gore'a. By lumping everything under one rubric, Masora, much damage to yiddishkeit has been done. I will post about it it is a halachik rambam on Bal Tossif. One has to clearly differentiate what is halocho, minhag, chumra etc... otherwise one destroys the Torah.

    ReplyDelete
  33. David,

    I think you missed my point. Its not so much that if Reb Moshe says it then its gotta be (Which is not such a bad thing) its more that you cannot simply discount Kaballah as Avodah Zara if so many individuals INTELLECTUALLY superior to you (Including Rava) do not steer clear from it. Even if you do, as you say, know of a FEW poskim you have to wonder why they are in such a small minority.

    I agree with you your logic partially. Kaballah as an ends may lead to Avak (Thanks JS) Avodah Zara. Not that it is Avoda Zara. At this juncture do you prohibit it, use it, or just close your eyes and hope it runs away. You feel not only is it prohibited because of precautionary measures but that it is AZ.


    I BTW whole heartedly agree that Kabbalah is a dangerous tool. I think the bigger problem is that it is a peripheral and should be treated as such. Too often all these little “tools” become the main thrust of Judaism i.e. chasidism

    ReplyDelete
  34. jewishskeptic6/14/2006 5:21 PM

    >"There are no divinely inspired psakim. Nevuah has no place in halacha. See intro to Zeraim by Rambam long discussion"

    I wrote "divinely inspired",not nevuah.
    There is a difference. The Chazal distinguish between them.E.g. they say that 'sifrei emet' were written by Ruach Hakodesh(not nevuah).
    Why do religious people abide by the Halachah? Because they believe that the posek,besides being learned,is a pious person guided by Hashem to give the right psak;not just because he is a 'baki ve'oker harim'. Otherwise, any goy who received a ph.d. in rabbinics,could pasken a shai'le...But this has never been entertained.The story of R.Meir 'she'achal tocho vezarak klipato'of Acher,is just an isolated anecdote.
    Therefore, הדרא קושיא לדוכתיה how can a posek,who is a oved a.z. whether beshogeg or bemezid be guided by God?!
    I realy don't comprehend it!

    ReplyDelete
  35. Fragger, I disagree. It is not for a comment. I will write about it or if you want you can email me and i will try to answer. I try to be careful what I post so it takes time. in emails I can be more free.

    JS, Ruach Hakodesh has no place in Psak notwhistanding the Ra'avad's comments about Elyahu visiting his Beth Midrash and the Geonim saying Kach Hirinu min hashamayim. The poeople who trust psak because it is divine are wrong. there is a CI who argues that and he has created a monster and that is a separate long discussion.

    Psak has rules that have to be followed. A Goy cannot pasken because halacha does not allow it. One cannot pasken without being also a metzuveh veosseh which a goy is not.

    Acher was no exception. He was according to halacha. For a very thorough discussion of all thsi Maharatz Chayes has done a thorough job in Toras Haneviim and other essays in Kol Sifrei Maharatz Chajes.

    Be it as it may, the zkeinim who joined Nadav Veavihu in misunderstanding God and anthropomorphising Him at Har Sinai, continued to be the same who received Torah from Moshe and transmitted further until they died. N & A shortly but the Zkeinim after almost 40 years in thsi parsha by the Miseonenim.

    Many sects existed in Klal Ysroel who were wrong but their practitioners as long as they continued practicing, were considered Shlomei Emunei Ysroel.

    ReplyDelete
  36. What do you think R.Yochanan meant when he said "Hani Bavlo'i dedoru be'arah dechashucha."

    Your only problem is that most of mystical thought seemed to eminate from Eretz Yisrael (I love it when EY and mysticism meet! Now you see why I am a talmid of Rav Kook) :)

    ReplyDelete
  37. >Your only problem is that most of mystical thought seemed to eminate from Eretz Yisrael

    Don't exagerate some not all. Most came from Bavel.

    A friend of mine who attends Prof Elman's serires on Zoroastrisms tells me that h claims Rabbi Yochanan an expert in that area. I did not get the details but i am sure a paper will soon be forthcoming.

    ReplyDelete
  38. Rabbi Akiva
    Rabbi Shimeon Bar Yochai
    Rabbi Yossi

    the only one I can think of from Bavel is Rabba bar bar Channa.

    ReplyDelete
  39. Come on! Abaye with his Amra li Em, I forgot who says about the shedim in the fields Friday night, and on and on.

    In fact Raba Bar Bar Chana's is more metaphorical than mystical.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Chardal,

    Did you just say the only amora from Bavel was Rabbah Bar Bar Channa?

    ReplyDelete
  41. No Fragger, the only amora who was mystical.

    ReplyDelete
  42. >Rabbi Akiva

    Pardes is not mystical but philosophy and theology including metaphysics.

    >Rabbi Shimeon Bar Yochai - in Zohar I am not sure where in Mishna or Barita you refer to

    Rabbi Yossi - Again are you referring to Zohar?

    ReplyDelete
  43. What a pity my dear brother, David guttman that after so muh investmant in such distinguished Yeshivas you went off the path of truth in such a tragic fashion. Somehow you developed that abominable trait, "false pride" (Gavah in Hebrew), and now you think you're bigger then your shoes and can criticise the Rambam, who's stature in comparisan to modern man is stagering. It's like a flee judging and elephant!! What you found my dear lost friend is the "Evil Inclination" in your so called "real world". Unortunately or more correctly fortunately I am not permitted to read your opinion since you may very well be consideres an "appostate

    ReplyDelete
  44. Sorry for the typeing errors, but I think you well get the gist of my comment herei, Reb David. May the Holy One, may His Great Name be Blessed, speedily return you to the fold, the path of truth!! Hashem's Holy Torah. Please make it fast, since all Tsaddikim say Mashiach is just moments away. I am not a prophet nor son of a prophet, but please don't risk your Olam Ha Bah, my beloved brother!!!

    ReplyDelete