Friday, May 04, 2007

Torah, Science, Philosophy and Gentiles - The Perspective of a Medieval Thinker.

My friend Rabbi Benzion Buchman brought to my attention a short excerpt from a letter written by R. Yedayah HaPenini to R. Shlomo ben Aderet – the Rashba (1235-1310). The Teshuvah can be found in the Shut Harashba 1:415.

The background of this letter is a quite interesting controversy that broke out in Provence at the time. Provence had become a center of learning where Rambam’s approach to Hashkafah took deep roots. It was in fact a Maimonidean haven that gave out great thinkers and where the works of Rambam were translated and disseminated. At the same time, Jewish immigrants from Muslim Spain who came north escaping the turmoil of the Reconquista (the retaking of Spain from the Muslims by the Christians) were encouraged by local scholars to translate the Arab philosophic literature. Averroes, Avicenna (Ibn Sinna) Al Farabi as well as the Greek philosophies that were translated earlier into Arabic, were now translated into Hebrew and from that eventually into Latin. This great work was the impetus for the great European intellectual development, the Renaissance. The Tibon family, R. Shmuel and his son R. Moshe as well as R. Yaakov Anatoly (R. Shmuel’s son or father in law) and many others were instrumental in that work. Besides being translators these great intellectuals took philosophy seriously and integrated it into Judaism, using it to further Rambam’s work and develop a rational theology that brought great depth into the religious rituals. Great works were written that are classics of Jewish thought. Just to name a few, Malmad Hatalmidim (R. Yaakov Anatoly), Milchamot Hashem (Ralbag), and Yikavu Hamayim (R. Shmuel Tibon), Chibur Hateshuvah (Meiri), Bechinat Olam (R. Yedayah HaPenini) and more. As usual when great people innovate they are always copied by more mediocre ones and a trend developed where Greek philosophy took precedence on Limud Hatorah among these masses. What made things worse is that some of these mediocre scholars began to emulate the approach of the great thinkers in explaining difficult verses in Tanach and sayings of the Rabbis through allegorical interpretations. Some ideas that were heretical were preached in the Batei Midrash on Shabbat. R. Abba Mari approached the Meiri and asked him to join him in banning the reading of Greek philosophers before the age of 25. Meiri and other rabbis of Provence did not feel it appropriate to put out bans and refused to join him. He approached Rashba who was seen as the Gadol Hador and he acquiesced putting out a cherem on whoever learned philosophy before the age of 25. R. Yedayah HaPenini (RYP) wrote the letter to Rashba defending the position of the Provencal Rabbis and explaining the importance and in fact, the deep rooting this approach has in Rabbinic thought going back to the times of the Mishna.

Here is the pertinent excerpt in its original Hebrew with my usual Paraphrase/Translation:

. והוא הפרדס העליון שנכנסו בו חכמי ישראל בשלום ויצאו בשלום. ופירוש שלום, הכנס השגת הדעות העיוניות האמיתיות על אמיתותם עם הסכמתם למה שראוי שיאמן בחוק התורה וזהו עם זריקת הקליפות. ופירוש שלום היציאה הוא תיקון המידות והמעשים שהוא כשייפרד השלם מהתבודדותו להתעסק בצרכי העולם וגם כן אינו נמנע שיעמדו על פתחו קצת מיחידי האומות המוציאים כל זמנם בלימוד ובידיעה אמיתית. כבר זכרו החכמים ז"ל שחסידי אומות העולם יש להם חלק לעולם הבא. ובמה כי אם בידיעת אמתות בבורא הכל.

After discussing the importance of philosophy to Jewish thought, RYP refers to the Gemara (Hagigah) about the four who went into the Pardes (vineyard).

The Pardes refers to the High Vineyard (abstract thought) into which the Chachmei Yisrael entered in peace and exited in peace. The word “peace” in the context of entering means to integrate the philosophic truths with what one has to believe based on the Torah. That includes throwing away the shells. [In modern parlance it would mean uncovering the deep meanings of the Torah (removing the outer shell) and thus showing its compatibility with scientific truths - DG]. The word “peace” in context of exiting means how the now perfected person leaving his meditative isolation to partake in the practical world has perfected his Midot and his actions. [Meditation’s goal is to now, with the greater understanding of God, act in the practical world according to these insights – See the last chapter in MN – DG]. It is also not impossible that some unique gentiles, who spend all their time on learning and true knowledge, will arrive at the same place. The Rabbis already mentioned that Gentile Sages may have a part in Olam Haba. How else can one acquire that if not through knowing the truth about the Creator of the world?

Shabbat Shalom

1 comment:

  1. Hi

    Please consider writing news pieces or an op-ed for Jewrusalem: Israeli Uncensored News. We strive to present different views and opinions while rejecting political correctness. Ideally, we try to make the news "smart and funny." Thus, your input is very welcome.