Tuesday, July 31, 2007


I will be going to Eretz Yisrael the day after tomorrow for about 10 days. I will be back August 12. I am not planning to post during this time unless an irrepressible inspiration comes over me.

I take this occasion to thank the readers. I hope I have given some of you food for thought.
I especially thank those who commented and helped me clarify my thoughts.

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Reward and Punishment and Natural Law

Over Shabbat, I was learning a very difficult (to me) Rambam in Hilchot Teshuvah. I have had difficulty with it for years to the point that for a while I used to skip the first half of this Perek whenever I read Hilchot Teshuvah. As I was planning to learn with my young friend this Shabbat afternoon (never made it that far) I decided to confront it one more time and I hit pay dirt. (Lets not exaggerate – I made some headway!)

Here is the Rambam in question: (Hil. Teshuvah 3:1-4)

כל אחד ואחד מבני האדם, יש לו זכייות ועוונות: מי שזכייותיו יתרות על עוונותיו, צדיק; ומי שעוונותיו יתרות על זכייותיו, רשע; מחצה למחצה, בינוני.
ב וכן המדינה--אם היו זכייות כל יושביה מרובות על עוונותיהם, הרי זו צדקת; ואם היו עוונותיהם מרובין, הרי זו רשעה. וכן כל העולם כולו.
ג [ב] אדם שעוונותיו מרובין על זכייותיו--מיד הוא מת ברשעו, שנאמר "על רוב עוונך" (ירמיהו ל,יד; ירמיהו ל,טו; הושע ט,ז). וכן מדינה שעוונותיה מרובין--מיד היא אובדת, שנאמר "זעקת סדום ועמורה כי רבה" (בראשית יח,כ). וכן כל העולם כולו, אם היו עוונותיהם מרובין--מיד הן נשחתין, שנאמר "וירא ה', כי רבה רעת האדם" (בראשית ו,ה).
ד ושיקול זה אינו לפי מניין הזכייות והעוונות, אלא לפי גודלן: יש זכות שהיא כנגד כמה עוונות, שנאמר "יען נמצא בו דבר טוב" (מלכים א יד,יג); ויש עוון שהוא כנגד כמה זכייות, שנאמר "וחוטא אחד, יאבד טובה הרבה" (קוהלת ט,יח). ואין שוקלין אלא בדעתו של אל דעות, והוא היודע היאך עורכין הזכייות כנגד העוונות.

Every human being has merits and sins. One whose merits are greater than his sins is a Tzaddik (righteous) and whoever his sins are greater than his merits is a Rasha (evil). 50-50 he is a Beinoni (average? Literally: in the middle.) So too a nation – if the sum total of the merits of all its inhabitants is greater than their sins, the nation is righteous. If on the other hand their sins are more numerous, it is an evil nation. The same goes for the whole world.

A person whose sins are greater than his merits – dies immediately because of his evilness as it says “because of your many sins”. So too a nation whose sins are greater is lost at once as it says, “the cry of Sodom and Amora grew”. The same applies to the whole world; if their sins are more numerous they are destroyed at once, as it says, “God saw that men’s evilness was great”.

This weighing is not done by the number of merits and sins but according to their magnitude. One merit may outweigh many sins as it says, “Because a good thing was found in him”. There is also one sin that outweighs many merits as it says, “One sinner and much good is lost”. They only weigh based on the knowledge of the Lord of knowledge. He is the only one who knows how merits against sins are valued.

In our regular upbringing (if we are FFB) and subsequent learning, we generally think of merits and sins in the context of Mitzvot. At least that is my first reaction. So when I read this Halacha my rational self questions the relationship of my Chilul Shabbat or eating Chazir for example with the destruction of a nation. Whatever approach I try I end up with an apologetic sounding argument and it rings hollow. The Mashgiach in Yeshiva belaboring this Halacha in his Schmuessen still rings in my ears and my reaction of complete disavowal feels very real even today (maybe more so as I know more.) So this Shabbat I noticed something that I had missed all along. Rambam uses the words כל אחד ואחד מבני האדם which clearly is talking about humankind in general, not in a Jewish context only. Slowly this Halacha started to make sense. Let me explain.

Reward and Punishment is an essentially natural phenomenon in our world. To put it in simple terms, our actions are consequential. All biological entities that have a brain of sorts, including man, use it to act independently for survival. Man’s uniqueness is his ability to think and analyze the consequence of his actions. Acting with long-term survival in mind is not always the same as acting for the short term. There is also more to it. Man has the ability to act morally and ethically even if it runs counter to his individual survival interests. He can take into consideration the other members of his family, nation and world. Reward and Punishment is the result or the consequence of how he acted. In those situations where man acts overwhelmingly only with his short term interests in mind, ignoring the ethical, moral and longer term outlook, destruction is set in motion. Once things start moving in a certain direction it is much harder to reverse course. Sometimes it is too late and nothing will stop the outcome.

Rambam in MN 3:17 tells us clearly that Reward and Punishment is the outcome of whether we act morally and ethically based on natural law.

That God will reward the obedient individual for all his pious and righteous actions, although no direct commandment was given to him through a prophet and that is punished for all evil acts, although they have not been prohibited by a prophet[1], this being forbidden by the inborn disposition- I refer to the prohibition against wrongdoing and injustice.

I bring your attention to the words “inborn disposition”. Rambam is telling us that there is a natural sense in man where he knows if something is ethical or not. The seven Noachide Laws were legislated by early man to formalize this “inborn disposition”. The problem is that man has a hard time seeing how his actions are going to work out. Are his actions going to bring about the desired effect? That is why the valuation of man’s actions is left to God. From a practical perspective, man has to act to the best of his abilities in accordance with his sense of right and wrong. He then hopes that his assessment was correct and things will work out as planned. This is where true Bitachon comes into play.

I believe I now understand this Halacha well. The problem is that Halacha 10 through 13 (numbering based on Mechon – Mamre Kafih edition) is much more difficult to understand and I am still not there.

[1] Rambam is saying that right and wrong can be determined even without revelation not that revelation does not support it.

The Longing of a Betrothed.

I think this is a very thought provoking article in Azure


H The author loses me in the last part as I am no Israeli literature maven. The last few paragraphs especially the one about the Temple is interesting.

It reminds me of Professor Leibowitz comment: Moshiach that arrived is no longer Moshiach!

Maybe that is what Rabbi (see comments) Hillel meant when he said Ein Mashiach LeYisrael.

I wonder what you think about it?

Friday, July 27, 2007

Science vs Chazal? Ra'avad vs Rambam. An interesting case and a lesson.

One of the enjoyable things that one encounters when learning Mishne Torah, are the sharp comments Ra’avad makes when he disagrees with Rambam. For whatever reason, whether it was customary for scholars to use sharp language when disagreeing or that Ra’avad wanted to bring Rambam down a peg for ideological reasons[1], they show that he had a sharp wit and a good sense of humor. While learning Hilchot Kilayim I came across one of the most explicit and, to my mind, interesting ones that shed light on the reality the Rishonim confronted when dealing with texts and their reaction. I will not go into the minute details of the Halacha just enough so that the exchange can be understood.

If one plants grain or vegetables in a vineyard, one draws a circle of 16 Amot around the grain and all vines within that circle are forbidden and must be destroyed. The Mishna in Kilayim 5:5 however gives the number of vines in the forbidden area. It says that if the vines are spaced at four or five Amot intervals a total of 45 trees will have to be destroyed. The Rishonim could not make headway on this Mishna. How could there be the same 45 trees whether they are spaced four or five Amot apart? In addition what is the meaning of giving the number of trees?

In an uncharacteristic long Pirush Hamishna Rambam explains that as in a spacing of five Amot the edge of the circle would pass beyond the last tree inside it and there will be exactly four or less Amot between the circle and the next tree. The next tree or trees are therefore also included in the prohibited batch as a vineyard includes space to work the vines which is four Amot. As the circle is expanded to the additional vines, 45 vines are included. (In the printed Mishnayot Rambam’s drawings are included.) Thus the Mishna was teaching us that one has to add any vine that is within 4 Amot from the circle. In fact that is what Rambam rules in MT.
רמב"ם הלכות כלאים פרק ו הלכה

במה דברים אמורים כשהיה בין שפתי העיגול הזה ובין שורות הגפנים שחוצה לו יותר על ארבע אמות, אבל אם היה ביניהם ארבע אמות מצומצמות או פחות רואין את העיגול כאילו הגיע לשורה הסמוכה לו וכאילו רוחב העיגול ארבעים אמה ורואין כל גפן שתפול בתוך עיגול זה של ארבעים אמה הרי היא מתקדשת

(I am too lazy to translate so those who have difficulty with the Hebrew trust me that is what he says). There is no need to discuss the 45 trees in the Halacha as it is incidental.

Rambam ends his discussion in Pirush Hamishna with the following comment:

וביארנו טעם כל זה. וכבר נתבארו עניני הלכה זו כולם בעז"ה. התבונן בהם היטיב, לפי שכשנשאל עליה רב מרבני התלמוד היתה תשובתו אחרי גמגום, ויש בדבר דקדוקין הרבה ואחרי כן יסייעו מן השמים ונצוה לפרשהו לכם.
We explained all the reasons [of this Mishna] and this Halacha was clarified with the help of God. Contemplate them [these halachot] well because when one of the Talmudic experts was asked to explain it his answer was obfuscating and there are many questions with his approach. [I am not sure how to translate the last few words so here is my best guess.]Thereafter heaven helped and we were ordered to explain it to you.

Ra’avad did not see the Pirush Hamishna. All he had is the Mishna and Rambam’s ruling about the additional four Amot that reach the next row of vines.

+/השגת הראב"דא"א כל מ"ש בכאן אין לו שרש בגמרא ולא בתוספתא ולא השכל מורה וחוץ לעיגול שלשים ושתים אמה למה יאסור כלל וחיי ראשי לולא כי מלאכה גדולה עשה באסיפתו דברי הגמרא והירושלמי והתוספתא הייתי מאסף עליו אסיפת עם וזקניו וחכמיו כי שנה עלינו הלשונות והמליצות וסבב פני השמועות לפנים אחרים וענינים שונים

All that he wrote here has no basis in Gemara or Tosefta nor does it make logical sense. Why should it be prohibited outside the circle that has a 32 Amot diameter? [IOW if the Halacha is that vines within a 16 Amot radius are prohibited why add on more?] By my head, if not for the fact [if I did not feel bad for him] that he put in a lot of work gathering the words of the Gemara, Yerushalmi and Tosefta, I would bring together a gathering of people and their elders and scholars [to protest!]. For he has changed the language and the euphemisms [Rambam does not repeat the Mishnayot verbatim] thus distorting their meaning into different directions. [Ra'avad proceeds to give his explanation of the Mishna].

Rosh (Rabbeinu Asher Ben Yechiel) came to Toledo, Spain from Germany in the 1300’s bringing with him the learning of the ba’alei hatosafot which included Rabbeinu Shimshon of Sens. Much was written about this Mishna especially by the latter in his Pirush on the Mishna. Here he had a Mesora from his Rebbis (including Ra’avad) and Rambam’s ruling but this time also his Pirush Hamishna (Rashba a friend and contemporary of Rosh had it translated. Rosh met him on his way to Spain and spent two weeks with him. What wouldn’t I give to have been a fly on the wall when this meeting occurred!) What does a seeker of the truth who is out of his depth do? (Rosh had no secular education. Furthermore, Northern Europe in those days was far behind Southern Europe especially Spain.) He asks an expert to look into it and report back. He therefore asked R. Yisrael ben Yosef (of the Yisraeli family who were known mathematicians? I am also not sure the name quoted here is correct.) to figure this out and tell him who is right.

כסף משנה הלכות כלאים פרק ו הלכה ב

ומצאתי כתוב ששאל הרא"ש את ה"ר ישראל שהיה חכם בחכמות על דברי מי יש לסמוך והשיב לו כלשון הזה. אדוני ומרי תרב גדולתך כגודל כשרון פעולתך. עיינתי בפירוש משנת הנוטע ירק בכרם להר"מ ז"ל וראיתי כי הפליא עצה הגדיל תושיה בפירושה אבל נראה לי לפי עניות דעתי כי האריך בה הרבה והלשון אינו מחוור כפי הצורך כי נראה סתירה בדבריו למי שאינו מעיין בהם עיון דק. אבל כלם נכוחים למבין. והענין אין לנטות ממנו ימין ושמאל

. והנה פירשתים לפי דעתו ולא חדשתי בה כלום מלבי אלא קיצור הלשון ותיקונו
זהו מה שהבנתי מפירוש משנה זו מדברי רמז"ל והן הן הדברים שנאמרו למשה בסיני. ואל יתפתה אדוני ומורי במ"ש רבינו שמשון ז"ל בפירוש משנה זו ואל תשגיח עליו כלל כי חוץ מכבודו הוא שבוש נטוי על קו תוהו ואבני בוהו לא זה הדרך ולא זו העיר. ומה שכתב בשם חכמי המדות הוא אמת. ומ"ש ז"ל כי ברבוע שארכו יותר על רחבו אין על דבריהם הוכחה. יש ויש. ומה שכתב ליתיה להאי כללא, איתיה על כל פנים. ויהי כנהר שלומך ויעמוד לעד זרעך ושמך, כחפצך וכחפץ צעיר תלמידיך נוגה חסדיך, ישראל בר יוסף נ"ע

I looked into Rambam’s Pirush on this Mishna and I saw that he had marvelous insights and shows great power [of intellect] in its explanation. At first blush they are hard to understand as he elaborates too much to the point he appears to contradict himself to someone who does not pay great detailed attention. However once understood one sees that he is correct. One may not stray left or right from his approach. [R. Yisrael then explains Rambam and finishes as follows:]

I explained the Mishna as I understood him [Rambam] and I have not added a single idea to what he said. Those are the words that Moshe received at Sinai. Do not be distracted my master with the words of Rabbeinu Shimshon explaining this Mishna. Do not pay attention to his words at all as they do not bring him honor. They are a mistake, resting on a vacuous line [of thought?] and nonsensical foundations [literally stones]. That is neither the way nor the city! What he wrote based on the Mathematicians is correct. [Apparently RS quoted Pi]. As to his claim that in a rectangle there is no proof that Pi applies, there sure is such proof. [To explain the Mishna apparently (I did not delve into it but assume) RS tried to argue that the ratio between a circle and a square is different!) His argument that it does not apply to a rectangle is incorrect. It does!

Here we have a fascinating situation. Ra’avad missed Rambam’s point completely and understandably as he did not have the Pirush Hamishna. Not seeing the brilliant insight he called him a gatherer! It is a put down saying that he has no original ideas and sometimes errs in understanding the texts! (Where was the Brisker Rav?!)

R. Shimshon was aware of Pi but as he could not understand the Mishna according to it, imagined a disagreement between Chazal and science on a basic mathematical theory. He found himself pushed into a corner and came up with the absurdity that Pi is not universal.

Rosh who was steeped in the Franco – German school of the Ba’alei Hatosafot, could not ignore his Mesora but at the same time felt compelled to find the truth. He asks help and gets it. When he writes his Pirush on Mishna he quotes the words of R. Yisrael. Truth is the ultimate arbiter!

Another important point is that people have a habit jumping to conclusions when they think they understand a Chazal and seemingly it disagrees with science or reality. Is it possible that the saying of Chazal had another meaning that was lost over time? Rambam clearly did rediscover the true meaning of this Mishna as he himself attributes it to God’s help. No one before him understood it and it was lost in the tribulations of Galut. In the upcoming Hakirah there is an article that does a similar thing with a different Gemara. Once you read it, a Gemara that was a thorn in the gut of all Meforshim, becomes clear like day.

As an aside, Rosh was not a great fan of secular knowledge. He did not accept Rambam’s philosophy and weltanschauung but when it came to truth he had no problem looking into the secular sciences and accepting reality. Not only in this case but also in general he asked members of the Yisraeli family to teach him the basic sciences that he lacked.

Shabbat Shalom.

[1] See his sharp comment in the introduction to MT.

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Can there be a Halachik consensus on Hashkafah? Part 3 conclusion - Does Menashe get Olam Haba?

I have so far analyzed two of the cases where Rambam makes his statement that there is no Halachik determination on an argument where there is no practical outcome. The first argument dealt with how to interpret an observation and the second was an argument about an action attributed to God. The third time Rambam makes this statement is in Sanhedrin 10:4, which chronologically is between the two cases above. I arbitrarily decided to leave it for last because I had an intuition that it would work out better in our discussion. I hope I was right.

The Mishna starts with a statement that all Jews have a part in Olam Haba. Rambam as an introduction to the Mishna goes through a lengthy discussion about how to interpret Aggadah followed by a definition of what are Olam Haba, Techyat Hametim, Gan Eden and the 13 Ikkarim. He explains that Olam Haba is a natural result of the understanding and knowledge that man attains during his lifetime. The level of Olam Haba is commensurate with how much and how deeply one has acquired correct opinions. Therefore a Jew that has acquired correct opinions even if only by acceptance rather than full understanding already has a certain insight that is Olam Haba – a perfected Nefesh. The word Nefesh is traditionally translated as soul or spirit. It is not exactly correct. Rambam in his Eight Chapters describes it as what we call the total array of functions a human mind performs. I say human because animals too have a mind of sorts which they use for their survival. They even have freedom of choice, communication skills and other capabilities. What differentiates the human “Nefesh” from other animals is its ability to abstract, conceptualize and act beyond survival only. Man has the potential to behave ethically and morally even if it is against what he perceives as his immediate survival needs. Acting morally and ethically is a step in the direction of acquiring correct opinions and a knowledge of God which is the highest level of abstract thought. It shows an understanding that there is something more than just physical existence. That insight and understanding is Olam Haba. I am just scratching the surface here of an issue that is quite lengthy and complicated and ultimately impossible to totally grasp. It is also a very personal and individual experience which is difficult to share with others.

The Mishna then continues by listing certain things which a person who believes in or acts in certain ways, indicate that he is on the wrong path and has not even perfected his “Nefesh” at the most basic level thus may not experience Olam Haba. (It is interesting to note that the word Chelek, as in Chelek Le’olam Haba, connotes partaking rather than receiving. It is something out there that one can partake in. Also see R. Chaim Volozhiner in his Ruach Chaim on Avot that the reading Le’olam as opposed to Be’olam connotes a current state rather than a future one.)After listing a series of those negative things (which deserves a post of its own comparing the listing in the Mishna with the one in Rambam in Hilchot Teshuvah), the Mishna lists individual people and groups of people who have not acquired Olam Haba. Some of those listed generated arguments among the Rabbis.

Rambam explains that the reason the individuals were listed, Yerovam, Ahab, Menashe etc… was because of their great intellectual achievements and in spite of that they had not acquired the necessary understanding that allows the experience of Olam Haba. In other words it is teaching us that by examining the history of these people we will learn why they failed and thus learn how to avoid the same error. When the Rabbis argue whether Menashe has acquired Olam Haba they are arguing whether at some point he acquired correct opinions. Another way of putting it is whether the Teshuvah that he reputedly did, the opinions that he developed in that process, were correct or not. The Rabbis are therefore arguing whether a certain opinion is correct or not. The other arguments in the Mishna are analogous. It is on these arguments that Rambam says, “I already mentioned several times that any argument between sages which does not depend on an action, when it only establishes an opinion, there is no place for a determining the Halacha like one of the sides”.

Here we are clearly dealing with a matter of philosophical understanding and Rambam is telling us that a variety of opinions are acceptable. But before we jump to conclusions lets take a little closer look at one of our cases, the case of Menashe. When the Chachamim said that he does not partake in Olam Haba Rabbi Yehudah argued with them basing his argument on the interpretation of a text. It was not something he pulled from his own repertoire. In the case of the sin offerings which we discussed in my last post on the subject, Rambam noted that the argument was interpreting a text too - והם נחלקו בראיות ולמידות מפסוקים. The argument in Sotah also revolves around reconciling reality with a text. In other words the arguments that we cannot arrive at a Halachik determination all revolve around reliable and traditional sources. At least one part of the discussion has to be rooted on reliable sources. Jewish theology is really a point of view that we have when analyzing and interpreting our existence. As many of these interpretations cannot be empirically proven, as scientific theory can, because they try to explain, from a theological perspective, scientific facts. There are therefore certain conditions required before anyone can just make them up. First one has to see if the theory developed has a basis in the texts that we hold sacred because we accept them as revelatory, Tanach. They may also not disagree with reality. When we are confronted with a reality that we cannot find in those texts, we have to make sure that our interpretation does not clash with other interpretations that are based on the texts. Our Rabbis did that and all theological opinions in Chazal meet these criteria. Rambam makes that point many times in his writing. Here is one that stands out. In his discussion about Divine Providence Rambam makes the following statement: (MN 3:17)

I will show you [first] what has been literally expressed on this subject in our prophetical books, and generally accepted by the multitude of our scholars. I will then give the opinion of some of our later day scholars, and lastly, I will explain my own belief.

And then when he presents his own opinion he states:

My opinion on this principle of Divine Providence I will now explain to you. In the principle which I now proceed to expound, I do not rely on the conclusion to which demonstration has led me, but on what has clearly appeared as the intention of the book of God, and the writings of our Prophets. The principle which I accept contains fewer incongruities[1], and is nearer to intellectual reasoning than the opinions mentioned before.

What is interesting is that he has no problem disagreeing with the earlier Rabbis as long as he can base his opinion on the “writings of our Prophets” in other words interpretation of revelatory opinions. In our Mishna Menashe is the cautionary note. After all he is the one the Rabbis say was proficient in Derashot Shel Dofi, faulty interpretations (DH?).

The common ground of all three cases where Rambam voiced his opinion is that they all are text related. Sotah was a trial at reconciling reality with a text; Sin Offerings was also explaining textual obligations and our Mishna interpreting reality based on textual analysis.

Conclusion: Philosophical theories have to be rooted in text and developed by competent authorities who have the vast knowledge to do that. Interpreting revelation is not up to every Tom, Dick and Harry. We however are allowed to choose an opinion developed by such authorities that fits best with our honest understanding. What makes an opinion reliable? I believe it has to go through a kind of peer review. A great person who develops an idea presents it to the community of learned men who then, over time, take it apart until it is accepted as a legitimate position.

Rambam does not sanction a free for all!

[1] Pines and Friedlander translate “less disgraceful”.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

What is happening to us?

In today's Ha'aretz Gideon Levy writes this piece http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/884512.html

A quote:

Haredim or Arabs - they are sons and daughters of this land. There are no democratic means to prevent them from becoming a larger portion of society in the future. Campaigns to reduce the birthrate are no less outrageous than the concepts of population transfer and ethnic cleansing.

Has he lost all perspective? Is it time the Chareidim did some soul searching why they are hated so much to the point that they are put in the same category as Arabs when it comes to a place in Eretz Israel? Or am I blaming the victim?

I just feel that unless we introspect, blaming the others instead of seeing what we bring to the table, we are lost!

ודבר זה, דרך מדרכי התשובה הוא: שבזמן שתבוא צרה ויזעקו לה ויריעו, יידעו הכול שבגלל מעשיהם הרעים הרע להן--ככתוב "עוונותיכם, הטו אלה" (ירמיהו ה,כה) לכם, וזה הוא שיגרום להם להסיר הצרה מעליהם.
ג אבל אם לא יזעקו, ולא יריעו, אלא יאמרו דבר זה ממנהג העולם אירע לנו, וצרה זו נקרוא נקרית--הרי זו דרך אכזרייות, וגורמת להם להידבק במעשיהם הרעים, ותוסיף הצרה וצרות אחרות

I am just flabbergasted and feel great pain!

The article does go on to offer a solution where the secular need to introspect and do something about it rather than blaming others. Shouldn't we learn from this?

Can there be a Halachik consensus on Hashkafah? Part 2 - Goat Sin Offerings

In my last post, we analyzed Rambam’s statement that where there is no practical consequence arising from different opinions, there is no place for a Halachik determination on which is correct, in the context of the Mishna in Sotah. There we were dealing with different ways of interpreting an observation. I will now address the case in Massechet Shevuot 1:4.

The Mishna is dealing with the Korbanei Chatat, the sin offerings that we bring on Yom Tov and Rosh Chodesh. Being that they are offerings that are brought from public funds, they must be for forgiveness for the sins of the many. As every person that sins by accident has to bring his own sin offering, these must address those sins that a private person cannot bring one for himself, for whatever reason. The Mishna reports an argument between Tannaim about which specific case of accidental entry into the Beit Hamikdash while unclean or eating and/or touching Kodoshim while unclean is covered by which Korban. Here again, Rambam makes a similar statement with a small variation:

פירוש המשנה לרמב"ם מסכת שבועות פרק א משנה ד

ומחלוקת זו אין לומר בה הלכה כדברי פלוני, לפי שהוא דבר מסור לה' יתרומם ויתהדר, והם נחלקו בראיות ולמידות מפסוקים שאין מקום זה מתאים להזכיר בו דרכי למודם בהם. וכבר ביארנו שכל סברא מן הסברות שאין בה מעשה מן המעשים שנחלקו בה חכמים לא נאמר בה הלכה כפלוני.

On this argument one cannot say the Halacha is like one of the sides as it is something that is given over to HKBH. The Rabbis were arguing about the interpretation of certain verses, the detail of which do not belong here (i.e. the type of work the Pirush Hamishna is - DG).We already clarified that any concept that does not have an action attached to it and where the sages argue, there was no decision according to whom the Halacha is set. (I am not sure whether to read Ne’emar which is the way I translated or Nomar which would mean “we” would not say. The latter would be Rambam the first would be the Rabbis. I opt for my translation as it fits my thinking. I am curious how the original Arabic reads. Anyone that has R. Kafih’s Arabic/Hebrew edition and reads Arabic please help.)

This case is a variation of the first one. Where the other case was dealing with an explanation of an observation, here we are dealing with interpretation of Pessukim - verses – that deal with reasons why we are our doing a mitzvah. It will not change how we do it other than our understanding of why we do it. Rambam added reasoning in this case which we did not find in the earlier, nor will we find in the third case. He added לפי שהוא דבר מסור לה' יתרומם ויתהדר - as it is something that is given over to HKBH. The simple interpretation of these words would be that God is the One who forgives. It is not an action that we do but is up to Him to forgive. But so was the case of the Sotah. Sickness and death was after all not a natural result of drinking plain water with some ink (words) dissolved in it. So too, is the knowledge whether the husband sinned or the woman had merits something that belongs in the realm of God. Why did Rambam chose to add this here?

I suggest that there is a deeper meaning here. Rambam is referring to the reasons for doing the Mitzvah. The Torah is not explicit about why these offerings are required. It does not give a specific reason for the mitzvah. Although the rabbis find it necessary to find a reason, ultimately, we do not know, nor can we ever know, why we are doing this mitzvah. Only God knows. In other words, the Mishna is teaching us how we should approach Mitzvot that the Torah does not give a reason for doing them. We should go back to the text and try to find a reason in the way it was written. If there is only one possibility, accept it. If there is more than one reason, all may be viable. Chose one that fits with your understanding but do not dismiss the others. That is what the rabbis did. They could not bring it to the Sanhedrin because it had no practical implication but they still put in a lot of effort to find a reason for the mitzvah. All Mitzvot have a rational explanation why they are to be done. It is up to us to find a reason for those that are not explicit. It is a necessary component of how a mitzvah should be performed. We may find more than one reason but as it is something that belongs to HKBH we may not say only one is correct. This approach fits very well with the famous Rambam at the end of Me’ilah.
[ח] ראוי לאדם להתבונן במשפטי התורה הקדושה, ולידע סוף עניינם כפי כוחו.
A person should meditate about the laws of the Holy Torah and try to understand their concepts with all his abilities.
(I plan to get into Ta’amei Hamitzvot soon and deal with this Rambam at length).

Interestingly Rambam does decide this argument in Hilchot Shegagot 11:9. Several commentators note that without giving a good explanation why he does it in view of his statement in Pirush Hamishna. Some want to say he has changed his mind from the time he wrote the Pirush. I personally do not buy this common argument as he kept on editing the Pirush throughout his life changing it with newly developed ideas. This having been repeated three times he would not have missed it had he changed his mind. The puzzle remains to be solved.

So far, we have Rambam applying this rule that where there is no practical consequence, the rabbis did not rule like either party, to arguments about interpretations of observations and interpretation of texts / reason for doing a Mitzvah. In the next post on this subject, we will deal with the Mishna in Sanhedrin. Hopefully at that point we will get a picture of where this rule can be applied and where are its limitations, if any.

To be continued.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Can there be a Halachik consensus on Hashkafah? Part 1 - Testing Waters!

Matt at http://kankanchadash.blogspot.com/2007/07/no-psak-in-philosophy.html discusses whether there can be a Halchik decision in an argument on a matter of Aggadah or as he terms it philosophy. One of my favorite and most admired bloggers, R. Chaim B. of the http://divreichaim.blogspot.com argues and asks why not accept the Chachmei Mesora on something that we cannot verify ourselves. I believe this requires much deeper investigation. First let us go back to the source; Rambam in Pirush Hamishna who repeats this statement 3 times. As this will be a long subject, I will break it up into several posts.

In Sotah 3:3, the Mishna discusses whether it is possible that a guilty woman should not deteriorate immediately after drinking the waters. Ben Azai holds that it is possible for a guilty woman to have her sentence suspended for some time if she has learned Torah. He therefore holds that one must teach his daughter Torah so that in case she has to drink the waters and nothing happens for a while, she can assume that it is thanks to her learning! [This deserves a post on its own! Rambam has a quite novel way of reading this Mishna (see Rashi and Tosafot) and the consequences are fascinating. I will not digress here and leave this for another occasion]. Rabbi Shimon argues that it is impossible that a guilty woman is not punished immediately. If that were the case, the water test would be fallible and women who were innocent would be looked at with suspicion even if they came through unscathed. Rebbi says that although it may take some time, even those that have a good deed that delays death, it eventually comes and is traceable to the drinking of the waters.

Commenting on this argument Rambam says “I already told you, not only once[1], that if the Chachamim argue on a Hashkafah and an opinion that does not have an action as its goal, one cannot say that the Halacha is like one of the parties.”

Here we have the following situation. A woman knows that she is guilty. She is terrified when she is asked to drink the waters. She musters up the courage, closes her eyes and swallows the water expecting to never open them again. But lo and behold – nothing happened. She is elated and tells her cronies that this whole thing is a joke! This gets out and the rabbis have to deal with it to defend the practice and the deterrence effect. One can argue R. Shimon’s position that the woman had illusions or one can argue the Ben Azai way and say that death will eventually come. (Pretty safe bet – we all die and it is always earlier than we thought we should!). Rebbi says that the guilty woman will deteriorate slowly until she dies. The type of death will be such that one will connect it with the water drinking.

The argument is how to explain an observation. There are multiple choices and Rambam tells us that one cannot say the Halacha is like one of them. However in Hilchot Sotah chapter 3:20, Rambam quotes Rebbi!

[כ] סוטה שהיה לה זכות תלמוד תורה--אף על פי שאינה מצווה על תלמוד תורה--הרי זו תולה לה, ואינה מתה לשעתה; אלא נימוקת והולכת, וחולאים כבדים באין עליה עד שתמות אחר שנה או שתיים או שלוש, לפי זכותה--והיא מתה בצביית בטן, ובנפילת אברין

A Sotah that had the Zchut of Talmud Torah – although she is not commanded to learn Torah – her sentence is suspended and for the time being does not die.
She slowly deteriorates, she gets very sick until she dies in a year, two or three, according to her Zchut. She dies with a swollen belly and deteriorating lower body parts.

Let us put this Halacha in context. Rambam earlier (Halacha 16)describes the whole process and the effects. If the woman is innocent, nothing happens. If she is guilty, she immediately starts to fall apart with a specific symptom where her belly swells and her lower body parts deteriorate. That is the theory. In practice, not always did the expected outcome happen. The first explanation is that the husband is himself guilty of fornication. If he ever transgressed in his lifetime, the test will not work. In fact, (Halacha 18) if he insists on going through with the test, he is sinning greatly as he causes others to doubt the efficacy of the test. At some point in time, as straying husbands became common, the test was abolished. It had lost its deterrence. After all this, having put the burden on the husband and him being innocent, there still is the possibility that nothing happens to the guilty woman because she has the Zchut of Torah learning. Rambam saw the Mishna as giving enough loopholes to explain why we note that it does not always work as expected. To make that work, we need to put the onus on both – the husband and the wife. That way the deterrent remains. The whole concept of testing a Sotah is a deterrent to the Rambam. He chooses Rebbi’s explanation for explaining the times the results are not as expected. The connection to the act remains. (See Tosafot Yom Tov here for a similar understanding.)

To decide a Halacha there is a procedure. The Rabbis gather into a Sanhedrin and the question is put to them. They deliberate, vote and the majority rules. Rambam is telling us that this is only applicable to practical matters that involve actions. The ruling is enforceable and measurable. Where there is nothing more than explanations for observations, although these explanations strengthen the underlying act, they have no place in a Sanhedrin. One can therefore not enforce an opinion that has no practical applications. Does that mean that all such opinions are correct? I do not think so but I will leave that to our final discussion after we have analyzed the other two cases where Rambam repeats this statement.

To be continued.

Shabbat Shalom

[1] BTW this is the first time he tells us this in Pirush Hamishna which is his first major work

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Everything is in the hands of Heaven - Dealing with contradictions between reason (Torah) and the sayings of the Rabbis.

Continuing with my Translation /paraphrase /in Italics) and comments (in brackets) of Rambam’s responsa to R. Ovadyah the Proselyte:

שו"ת הרמב"ם סימן תלו

(לר' עובדיה גר צדק). שאלה על הכל בידי שמים חוץ מיראת שמים +ברכות ל"ג ב' וש"נ.+ תשובה על מה שאמרת אתה כי כל מעשה [בני] האדם אינם בגזירה מלפני הבורא יתעלה הוא האמת שאין בו דופי ולפיכך נותנים לו שכר אם הלך בדרך טובה ונפרעין ממנו אם הלך בדרך רעה וכל מעשה בני האדם בכלל יראת שמים הם וסוף כל דבר ודבר ממעשה בני האדם בא לידי מצוה או עבירה וזה שאמרו רז"ל הכל בידי שמים במנהגו של עולם ותולדותיו וטבעו כגון מיני אילנות וחיות ונפשות ומדעות וגלגלים ומלאכים הכל בידי שמים, וכבר הרחבנו בפי' מסכת אבות ענין זה והבאנו ראיות. וכן בתחלת החבור הגדול אשר חברנו בכל המצות. וכל המניח דברים שביארנו שהם בנויים על יסודי עולם והולך ומחפש בהגדה מן ההגדות או במדרש מן המדרשים או מדברי אחד הגאונים ז"ל עד שימצא מלה אחת ישיב בה על דברינו שהם דברי דעת ותבונה אינו אלא מאבד עצמו לדעת ודי לו מה שעשה בנפשו. וזה שאמ' לך רבך בת פלוני לפלוני וממון של פלוני לפלוני אם גזרה השוה בכל היא זאת והדברים כפשוטן. למה נאמ' בתורה פן ימות במלחמה ואיש אחר יקחנה ואיש אחר יחללנו. וכי יש בעולם בעל דעה יסתפק לו דבר זה אחר מה שכתוב בתורה. אלא כך ראוי למי שהוא מבין ולבו נכון לטול דרך האמת שישים ענין זה המפורש בתורה עיקר ויסוד שלא יהרוס בנין ויתד התקועה אשר לא תמוט וכשימצא פסוק מדברי הנביאים או דבר מדברי רז"ל חולק על עיקר זה וסותר ענין זה ידרוש ויבקש בעין לבו עד שיבין דברי הנביא או החכם אם יצאו דבריהם מכוונים בענין המפורש בתורה הרי מוטב ואם לאו יאמר דברי הנביא הזה או דברי חכם זה איני יודע אותם. ודברים שבגו הם ואינם על פשוטיהם. וזה שאמ' החכם בתו של פלוני לפלוני דרך שכר או דרך פורענות הוא זה. שאם זה האיש או זאת האשה עשו מצוה שראוי ליתן שכרה בהם זיווג יפה ומשובח הקב"ה מזווגן זה לזה. וכן אם ראוי ליפרע מהם בזיווג שיהיה בו קטטה ומלחמה תמיד מזוגן. וזה כענין שאמרו רז"ל +ירושלמי קדושין פ"ג הי"ד, בראשית רבה פ' ס"ה אות ב'+ אפילו ממזר אחד בסוף העולם וממזרת אחת בסוף העולם הקב"ה מביאן ומזווגן זה לזה ואין דבר זה השוה לכל אלא לאלו שנתחייבו או שזכו כמו שישר בעיני אלהים יתעלה. וכל אלו הדברים הם בנויים על מה שפירשנו בפירוש משנת אבות +שם, ועי' שמנה פרקים פ"ח+ כמו שהבנת. וחכם גדול אתה ולב מבין יש לך שהבנת הדברים וידעת דרך הישרה. וכתב משה ב"ר מימון זצ"ל

Regarding your question on the meaning of the Gemara Berachot 33b, which states that everything is in the hands of heaven except the fear of heaven [the classical understanding is that everything is out of our hands. That being the case where is our freedom of choice? See Rashi and compare to what follows.]

Your statement that all men’s deeds are not an edict from God is undeniably true. That is why man is rewarded for walking in the good paths and is punished for walking in evil paths. ALL that man does is included in fear of heaven. After all, EVERYTHING A MAN DOES LEADS TO EITHER A MITZVAH (good deed) OR AN AVEIRAH (a transgression). [Man’s actions are consequential and they will bring about either good or evil]. When the Rabbis say that everything is in the hands of Heaven they refer to natural events and species such as trees, animals, other sentient things[1], sciences[2], the spheres and angels. All are in the hands of Heaven as I have already explained at length with proofs in my Pirush Hamishna on Avot (4:22) and at the beginning of my opus (Hilchot De’ot) that I wrote on all the Mitzvot. ANYONE THAT IGNORES THE THINGS WE EXPLAINED THAT ARE BUILT ON FOUNDATIONS OF REALITY [literally foundations of the world or eternity] AND SEARCHES FOR A HAGGADIC, A MIDRASHIC STATEMENT OR OF ONE OF THE GEONIM UNTIL HE FINDS ONE WORD THAT CONTRADICTS OUR WORDS, WHICH ARE RATIONAL AND INTELLIGENT, IS COMMITTING SUICIDE AND WOE TO HIS SOUL!

Regarding your Rebbi’s quote you from the Gemara in Sotah 2a, which states “the daughter of x is to marry y” or “the money of x will go to y” [in other words things are preordained]. If one were to take these quotes literally why does the Torah say (Devarim 20:5) [a soldier may not go to war in his first year of marriage because] he may die in the war and another will take her [his wife]? [A soldier may not go to war if he owns a new vineyard] lest another man take it? How can a rational person question this after reading these verses? This is the true path for someone who has understanding and a straight mind: He must see the Torah as the root and unshakable foundation, as the strong and deeply embedded nail that cannot be uprooted. WHEN HE FINDS A VERSE IN THE NEVIIM OR A SAYING OF THE RABBIS THAT CONTRADICTS THIS [Torah] STATEMENT, HE SHOULD TRY TO UNDERSTAND WHAT EXACTLY THESE PROPHETS OR RABBIS HAD IN MIND. IF HE FINDS THAT THEY AGREE WITH THE CLEAR TORAH STATEMENT, FINE. HOWEVER IF NOT LET HIM SAY THE HE DOES NOT UNDERSTAND THE WORDS OF THIS PROPHET OR RABBI and there must be something else that he cannot grasp in those words. The quoted saying “the daughter of x is to marry y’ is talking about reward and punishment. If this man or woman acted in a way that deserves a good match, HKBH brings them together. On the other hand, if they deserve to live in perpetual fight and war, HKBH matches them. It is comparable to the Rabbi’s saying (Yerushalmi Kiddushin 3:14) that even a mamzer at the end of the world and a female mamzer at the other find each other as HKBH brings them together. It is dependent on the state of the person and what they deserve in the eyes of God. All these things are built on my Pirush on the Mishna of Avot (see above and Eight Chapters chapter 8) as you understood. You are a great scholar and possess a wise heart as you understood these things and found the straight path on your own.
So wrote Moshe the son of Rav Maimon ZTL.

The statement about how to treat apparent contradictions between rational thought (the Torah) and statements in prophets, Chazal and other respected Rabbis, is totally ignored nowadays. In fact, reason and reality are seen as Kefirah (blasphemy) while fantasy is supposedly divine. Rambam teaches us otherwise.

Postscript: Saying that HKBH brings couples together and the subject of reward and punishment in Rambam’s worldview is a fascinating discussion and I write about it in my upcoming Hakirah article on Divine Providence.

[1] See R. Shailat’s comment. All sentient things use their senses for survival which is natural and predictable. Man may choose to do so or to transcend that.
[2] Rambam saw knowledge as a corpus of information that is out there and that man taps into it through his brain. This is a long and interesting discussion.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Consequential actions - Reward and Punishment.

Hilchot Teshuvah in Rambam is a fascinating subject to learn. It is one of the places where we see the great Halachist and philosopher confront and blend smoothly the two components of Judaism: Thought and Practice. I have started learning it with two remarkable young men (teenagers) Shabbat afternoon and it is a great experience where I am forced to present it in a rational and cogent way. So I plan to post whenever I come up with a new insight.

ט [ד] אף על פי שהתשובה מכפרת על הכול, ועצמו של יום הכיפורים מכפר--יש עבירות שהן מתכפרין בשעתן, ויש עבירות שאין מתכפרין אלא לאחר זמן. כיצד: עבר אדם על מצות עשה שאין בה כרת, ועשה תשובה--אינו זז משם עד שמוחלין לו מיד, ובאלו נאמר "שובו בנים שובבים, ארפא משובותיכם" (ירמיהו ג,כב).
י עבר על מצות לא תעשה שאין בה כרת ולא מיתת בית דין, ועשה תשובה--תשובה תולה ויום הכיפורים מכפר, ובאלו נאמר "כי ביום הזה יכפר עליכם" (ויקרא טז,ל).
יא עבר על כרתות ומיתות בית דין, ועשה תשובה--תשובה ויום הכיפורים תולין, וייסורין הבאין עליו גומרין לו הכפרה, ולעולם אין מתכפר לו כפרה גמורה, עד שיבואו עליו ייסורין; ובאלו נאמר "ופקדתי בשבט, פשעם; ובנגעים עוונם" (תהילים פט,לג).
יב במה דברים אמורים, בשלא חילל את השם בעת שעבר. אבל המחלל את השם--אף על פי שעשה תשובה והגיע יום הכיפורים והוא עומד בתשובתו ובאו עליו ייסורין, אינו מתכפר לו כפרה גמורה עד שימות, אלא תשובה ויום הכיפורים וייסורין שלושתן תולין ומיתה מכפרת, שנאמר "ונגלה באוזניי, ה' צבאות: אם יכופר העוון הזה לכם, עד תמותון" (ישעיהו כב,יד).

(Hilchot Teshuvah 1:9-12)

I will translate/paraphrase (italicized) and intersperse with my comment and how I understood it (regular lettering in brackets).

Before I approach the text, I would like to preface it with a short discussion of the meaning of the word Kapparah in this context. Traditionally it is translated as forgiveness but it has a deeper meaning. We believe that our actions are consequential and every thing we do triggers a chain of events. Sometimes those events are beneficial at others counter productive and destructive. The magnitude of the consequences is what sets the relative value of our actions. In other words, certain actions that will bring a great change for the good or evil will be considered a great Mitzvah or a great Aveirah respectively. Punishment assigned to a transgression in the Torah is seen as a deterrent. The type of punishment the Torah metes out for a transgression represents the value it assigns to it based on the consequences it triggers; the greater the potential consequence, the greater the deterrent needed thus the greater the punishment. Forgiveness in a classical sense is hard to understand. Repentance may prevent one to repeat an Aveirah. What does it do to the consequences that were already triggered? How does repentance and forgiveness stop that? I believe that the word Kapparah refers to that. Its translation is to wipe away, in other words to wipe away the consequences of one’s action. The Torah is aware that no amount of repentance can stop something that is put in motion. However in certain situations as the perpetrator removes himself things tend to peter out by themselves. In other cases, they cannot be stopped but not repeating is a great step forward. At others, the removal of the perpetrator is the only thing that removes responsibility. He is no longer here to take responsibility. There cannot be full Kapparah – wiping away – of the act until things have run their course. (In some cases, the consequences may appear in later generations but that is another discussion).

Now we are ready to deal with the text[1].

9. Although repentance forgives for all [sins] as does Yom Kippur, some sins are forgiven [wiped away] immediately, others after a time. How is that? If a person transgresses on a positive commandment that does not have the punishment of Caret and he repents, he is forgiven immediately as it says: Return backsliding children, I will heal your backsliding.

[Generally, not performing positive commandments is not punishable as deterrence is not applicable. Inaction may be detrimental but the consequences are neither something measurable nor inevitable. Thus, repentance is seen as the end and no consequences are expected further. They are forgiven immediately. (Note the word Mochalin instead of Mechaperim – there is no need for wiping away – just forgiving).

Some positive commandments if not kept interfere with the person’s development. It prevents him from growing in awareness of God. The consequence is Caret; the part of the person that gets in touch with divinity, what we call soul dies without reaching its potential. These also affect others such as family, friends and so on. Immediate forgiveness cannot happen. Immediate forgiveness is not an option until; all the consequences have run their course as we will see further.]

10. If a person transgresses a negative commandment that is not punishable by either Caret or the death penalty by a Beit Din, repentance suspends [I understand that to mean that in cases where the perpetrators’ active participation affects the outcome, his stopping now, reduces the effects] and Yom Kippur forgives. [Wipes out – in other words the consequences have a short duration]. As it says, “for on this day shall atonement be made for you.”

[I have to admit that I still need to work on how to understand how YK, a set date, can stop consequences. In the same vein, I have to address the problem of the Azazel goat forgiving even without repentance on certain transgressions as discussed in an earlier Halacha. I plan to talk about this in a separate post; in the meantime see MN 3:46.]

11. If a person transgresses [sins] that have Caret or death penalty and repents – repentance and Yom Kippur suspends and the sufferings that he endures complete the forgiveness [wiping off]. That person is not forgiven until he suffers. [As I understand it, once an act has triggered a consequence it cannot be stopped. Repetition can be avoided but one cannot pull back an effect that is already in the making. That person must therefore first suffer the consequences of his act. Based on the severity of the punishment, this type of sin must have triggered effects that cannot be stopped.] On these, it is said “then will I visit their transgression with the rod and their iniquity with strokes”. [The proof text is telling. David’s children sin, their actions have destructive consequences, but ultimately David’s dynasty will prevail.]

12. All this applies when there was no Chilul Hashem. [Profanation of God’s name occurs when there are spectators to the transgressions and they are therefore presumably influenced.] However, one who profanes God’s name, even after repenting, Yom Kippur has arrived while he is in a state of repentance and he is suffering the consequences of his actions, his sin is not wiped away completely until he dies. [The influence on others can never be wiped away with his personal repentance. After death, there is no further responsibility.] For Chilul Hashem the three, repentance, Yom Kippur and suffering suspends [as explained before no further new consequences as he repented but those already in motion cannot be stopped] and death brings total forgiveness as it says: “And the LORD of hosts revealed Himself in mine ears: Surely this iniquity shall not be expiated by you till ye die”.

This reading of Rambam fits with his general understanding of reward and punishment and they would be too many to quote here. Just a short quote from his introduction to Perek Chelek which I will not translate (now, maybe in another post):

פירוש המשנה לרמב"ם מסכת סנהדרין פרק י משנה א

וכל מי ששקע בתענוגות הגופניות והזניח את האמת והעדיף את השוא נכרת מאותו השגב, וישאר חומר מוכרת בלבד, וכבר ביאר הנביא שהעולם הבא אינו נישג בחושים הגופניים והוא אמרו עין לא ראתה אלהים זולתיך יעשה למחכה לו, ואמרו בפירוש דבר זה כל הנביאים כולם לא נתנבאו אלא לימות המשיח אבל העולם הבא עין לא ראתה אלהים זולתיך. אלב ההבטחות והפכן האמורים בתורה ענינן כמו שאבאר לך, וכך הוא, שהוא אומר לך אם תקיים את המצות הללו אעזרך על קיומן והשלמות בהן, ואסלק מעליך כל המעצורים לפי שאי אפשר לאדם לעבוד [את ה'] לא חולה ולא רעב ולא צמא ולא במצב של מלחמה, ולכן הבטיח בהסרת כל אלה ושיהיו בריאים ושלוים כדי שתשלם להם הידיעה ויזכו לחיי העולם הבא. נמצא שאין תכלית התורה שתדשן האדמה ויאריכו ימים ויבריאו הגופות, אלא ייעזרו על קיומה בכל הדברים הללו. וכן אם עברו יהיה עונשם שיבואו עליהם כל אותם המעצורים עד שלא יוכלו לעשות טוב וכמו שאמר תחת אשר לא עבדת את ה' וכו'. וכאשר תתבונן התבוננות נפלאה זו תמצא שהוא כאלו אמר אם עשית מקצת אלו המצות באהבה וחריצות אעזרך על כולם בהסירי מעליך כל העוצרים והמעכבים, ואם הזנחת מהם מקצתם מתוך זלזול אביא עליך מעכבים שיעכבוך מכולם עד שלא תשיג שלמות ולא קיום, וזהו ענין אמרם עליהם השלום שכר מצוה מצוה ושכר עברה עברה.

[1] This Halacha is almost verbatim the Gemara Yoma 86a.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Amen Phenomenon in Jewish Action - A Disgraceful Trojan Horse!

The last issue of Jewish Action has an article by Gael Hammer – The Amen Phenomenon. My first reaction was oh no! Even the Jewish Action is in on the superstitious bandwagon. The last bastion of semi normal rationality has fallen!

I told myself that I was just as bigoted as any fundamentalist was and that I am jumping to conclusions before giving the article the benefit of the doubt. I then started reading and though I do not agree with several ideas in it, I had the pleasant feeling that the author was trying to explain in a rational fashion a practice that started off as a superstition. After all if, God could allow Korbanot as a way of redirecting a practice from idolatry to Avodat Hashem, why not Berachot. The Amen clubs are a real disgrace and take a Mitzvah and make out of it a superstition, an amulet, and here this author is suggesting how to change the mindset and bring it back to its original intent – praising God.

The author explains how this creates a community, allows women to make the minimum of 100 blessings Halacha requires of us and expanding into Tefilah as a group. It also sounded like the Berachot we are talking about are the Birchot hashachar which women have to say anyway. So why not say it in public and have one answer Amen to her colleagues’ Bracha?

Then, to my great chagrin, I get to the end of the article and the postscript. “Rosh Chodesh Me-Ga-Esh suppers have now been celebrated in Sydney Australia and may soon be held in Melbourne”. Me-Ga-Esh suppers? From prayer to parties!? What is going on here?

Now I read a little note: “When bread is not served at a meal, certain foods and their blessings are given precedence”. Nu – We want to have wives who know the Halachot so why not? I imagined a Rav would be using the opportunity to go over the Halachot of precedence- which are quite complicated and I usually get very confused. (They say that in Hungary Rabbanim used to test prospective bridegrooms for their daughters if they were erudite enough by offering a combination of different foods and watching how they navigated the treacherous shoals of precedence in Berachot. I would never have made it!).

That would be great. The infamous note however continues: “Traditionally [whose tradition Bila’am Harasha who Balak believed that Asher tevarech Mevorach?] each blessing also represents a particular request or prayer. ME – Mezonot represent the prayer for parnassah or adequate income; G-Geffen represents the prayer for Shidduchim, or those needing to find spouses;” I stop here as the note continues with this blasphemy. I thought the subject was Birchot Hanehenin where one must ask permission of God who owns everything before partaking in His world. Where does Segulot and superstition come in?

This article is a Trojan horse. Instead of trying to purify an unclean practice, it is trying to subvert and profane a beautiful Mitzvah and obligation.

Hashem Yerachem. What happened to the Jewish Action? I already cancelled my subscription to the Jewish Observer for its intolerance and stupidity; do I have to do the same for the Jewish Action? My wife loves the recipes! Please tell me it was just a mistake and retract.

Rambam the Greek?

Rambam was accused over the generations for having been influenced by the Greeks especially Aristotle. Ramban in his disagreements with Rambam alludes to that many times. One of the most famous such accuser is Gra in Yoreh Deah 179 where he disagrees with Rambam’s stand on amulets.

As I was rereading an article that I just finished for the upcoming issue of Hakirah on Divine Providence, I realized that I was staring at a fascinating comment of Rambam that turns the table on his accusers. It also gives an insight of his intellectual honesty and fearlessness in disagreeing with anything that went against rational thought.

In his discussions on providence in MN 3:17 he presents five different opinions. The first two are the opinions of the Atomists, a school of Greek philosophers and Aristotle. Although he agrees with Aristotle on some of his ideas, he feels that it goes against Jewish theology. He then presents the opinions of the Ash’aryyah, school of Muslim philosophers who believed that everything is predestined and nothing happens without God’s minute involvement. Nothing happens by chance or choice. They are therefore forced to deny reward and punishment and see God as whimsical and ultimately unjust.

The next group is the Mu’tazilites who believes that man has freedom of choice and God is just but His ways are so deep and beyond our understanding. When we see a righteous man that suffers, we have to accept it as justice. We just do not know how it is just. We assume that God will reward him in the world to come. Sometimes one suffers so that he can get a greater reward in afterlife. If that sounds familiar, it is. In fact, I believe that this opinion is mainstream Judaism nowadays. Rambam in fact quotes the Gemara in Berachot that discusses the idea of afflictions of love, Yissurim Shel Ahavah, and suggests that it is a similar thinking but says that we cannot find it in the Torah.

But they contain an additional doctrine which is not found in the text of the Torah namely the doctrine of "afflictions of love," as taught by some of our Sages. According to this doctrine, it is possible that a person suffer misfortunes without having previously committed any sin, in order that his future reward may be greater. This is also the teaching of the Mu’tazilites. But there is no text in the Torah expressing this notion.

He also suggests that some of the Geonim, probably referring to R. Sa’adyah Gaon and Rav Hay Gaon, were influenced by that school in their philosophic thought.

When Rambam presents his own ideas, he prefaces them with the following statement:

My opinion on this principle of Divine Providence I will now explain to you. In the principle which I now proceed to expound, I do not rely on the conclusion to which demonstration has led me, but on what has clearly appeared as the intention of the book of God, and the writings of our Prophets.

His opinion will not be based on the Greek or Muslim philosophers, not even on rabbinical writings, but purely on Torah and the writings of the prophets!

Rambam dedicates 2 chapters, 3:22 and 23, to showing where he got his ideas. I hope to write my next article on that subject.

There is tremendous depth in this statement of Rambam and it has implications on many issues in Jewish theology. It is how one interprets the observations one makes about day-to-day life that is at the heart of Jewish thought. It is a constant balance and dialectics between reality and how one understands it.

Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Status of a Proselyte - A descendant of Avraham.

Some of the most touching letters of the Rambam are the ones he wrote to R. Ovadyah the Proselyte. The letters are printed in R. Shailat’s edition of the Rambam letters page 233 and in the Blau edition Responsa #s 293,436,448.

שו"ת הרמב"ם סימן רצג

שאלות ששאל ר' עובדיה גר צדק מרבינו משה זצ"ל ותשובותיו.

אמר משה ב"ר מימון מבני גלות ירושלם אשר בספרד זצ"ל. הגיע אלינו שאלות מרנא ורבנא עובדיה המשכיל המבין גר הצדק ישלם יי פעלו ותהי משכרתו שלימה מעם יי אלהי ישראל אשר בא לחסות תחת כנפיו. שאלת על עסקי הברכות והתפלות בינך לבין עצמך או אם תתפלל בצבור היש לך לומר אלהינו ואלהי אבותינו ואשר קדשנו במצותיו וצונו ואשר הבדילנו ואשר בחר בנו ושהנחלת את אבותינו ושהוצאתנו מארץ מצרים ושעשה נסים לאבותינו וכל כיוצא באלה הענינים. יש לך לומר הכל כתקנם ואל תשנה דבר אלא כמו שיתפלל ויברך כל אזרח מישראל כך ראוי לך לברך ולהתפלל בין שהתפללת יחידי בין שהיית שליח צבור. ועיקר הדבר שאברהם אבינו הוא שלמד כל העם והשכילם והודיעם דת האמת וייחודו של הקב"ה ובעט בע"ז והפר עבודתה והכניס רבים תחת כנפי השכינה ולמדם והורם וצוה בניו ובני ביתו אחריו לשמור דרך ה' כמו שכתו' בתורה +בראשית י"ח י"ט+ כי ידעתיו למען אשר יצוה את בניו ואת ביתו אחריו ושמרו דרך ה' וגו'. לפיכך כל מי שיתגייר עד סוף כל הדורות וכל המיחד שמו של הקב"ה כמו שהוא כתוב בתורה תלמידו של אברהם אבינו ע"ה ובני ביתו הם כולם והוא החזיר אותם למוטב כשם שהחזיר את אנשי דורו בפיו ובלמודו כך החזיר כל העתידים להתגייר בצואתו שצוה את בניו ואת בני ביתו אחריו. נמצא אברהם אבינו ע"ה הוא אב לזרעו הכשרים ההולכים בדרכיו ואב לתלמידיו וכל גר שיתגייר. לפיכך יש לך לאמר אלהינו ואלהי אבותינו שאברהם ע"ה הוא אביך ויש לך לומר שהנחלת את אבותינו שלאברהם נתנה הארץ שנ' +בראשית י"ג י"ז, א"ן+ קום התהלך בארץ לארכה ולרחבה כי לך אתננה. אבל שהוצאתנו ממצרים או שעשית נסים לאבותינו אם רצית לשנות ולומר שהוצאת את ישראל ממצרים ושעשית נסים עם ישראל אמור. ואם לא שנית אין בכך הפסד כלום מאחר שנכנסת תחת כנפי השכינה ונלוית אליו אין כאן הפרש בינינו ובינך. וכל הנסים שנעשו כאלו לנו ולך נעשו. הרי הוא אומר בישעיה +ישעי' נ"ו ג'+ ואל יאמר בן הנכר הנלוה אל ה' לאמר הבדל הבדילני /יבדילני/ ה' מעל עמו וגו', אין שום הפרש כלל בינינו ובינך לכל דבר. ודאי יש לך לברך אשר בחר בנו ואשר נתן לנו ואשר הנחילנו ואשר הבדילנו. שכבר בחר בך הבורא יתעלה והבדילך מן האומות ונתן לך התורה שהתורה לנו ולגרים שנ' +במד' ט"ו ט"ו+ הקהל חוקה אחת לכם ולגר הגר חוקת עולם לדורותיכם ככם כגר יהיה לפני י"י. תורה אחת ומשפט אחד יהיה לכם ולגר הגר אתכם. ודע כי אבותינו שיצאו ממצרים רובם עובדי ע"ז היו במצרים נתערבו בגוים ולמדו מעשיהם עד ששלח הקב"ה משה רבינו ע"ה רבן של כל הנביאים והבדילנו מן העמים והכניסנו תחת כנפי השכינה לנו ולכל הגרים ושם לכולנו חוקה אחת. ואל יהא יחוסך קל בעיניך אם אנו מתיחסים לאברהם יצחק ויעקב אתה מתיחס למי שאמר והיה העולם. וכך מפורש בישעיה +ישעי' מ"ד ה'+ זה יאמר לי"י אני וזה יקרא בשם יעקב וגו'. וכל מה שאמרנו לך בענין הברכות שלא תשנה כבר ראיה לזה ממסכת בכורים
. הנה נתברר לך שיש לך לומר אשר נשבע י"י לאבותינו לתת לנו. ושאברהם אב לך ולנו ולכל הצדיקים ללכת בדרכיו והוא הדין לשאר הברכות והתפלות שלא תשנה כלום. וכתב משה ב"ר מימון זצ"ל

Paraphrase/Translation of some parts that I thought were very poignant. I have posted above the full responsa in Hebrew.

A list of [answers to] questions that R. Ovadyah Ger Tzeddek asked of Rabbeinu Moshe:

So says Moshe the son of Maimon, from among the exiles of Jerusalem in Spain:

We received the questions of our master and teacher Ovadyah, the one who knows and understands, the true proselyte, may God pay him for his deed and may he receive the full reward from Hashem the God of Israel under whose wings he came to shelter (as per Ruth 2:12).

When saying certain blessings and prayers, public or private, you asked if you could say Our God the God of “our” ancestors, who sanctified “us” in His Mitzvot and commanded “us”, who separated “us”, who chose “us”, who gave to “our” ancestors, who took “us” out of Egypt, who made miracles to “our” ancestors and other such similar statements. [The question is if he can refer to the ancestors as his, even though he does not descend from them, nor was he or his ancestors chosen etc…].

You say it exactly like every other Jew does and do not change anything.

You should say it exactly like every other Jew whether you are praying privately or acting as the Shaliach Tzibur. The reason is that Avraham taught the people the true Law, the unity of God and rebelled against idolatry by disrupting their [the gods] service. He also brought many under the wings of the Shechinah [HKBH] teaching and commanding his children and his household to follow in the ways of God as it says in Breishis 18:19… For this reason for all times, anyone that converts and who also recognizes the unique God as described in the Torah is considered a pupil of Avraham as are his household. For it is Avraham who brought them and all future proselytes back to God when he commanded his family and household [to follow in God’s ways] just like he brought back the people of his generation with his personal teachings. Avraham is therefore the father of all his righteous descendants who follow in his ways, as he is the father of his pupils and every proselyte.

[Rambam is saying that without Avraham there would be no Judaism and the knowledge of God. It is his inspiration and service of God that is the source of our theology.]

You should therefore say “our” God the God of “our fathers” as Avraham is your father and you can say, “the land you bequeathed “our forefathers” as he was given the land as it says in Breishit 13:17 Get up and walk the length and breadth of the land…

You should not look down upon your genealogy (Yichus) for if we are descended from Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov you can trace yourself to the One who said the world should come into existence… [A proselytes' father is HKBH!]

In summary, do not change anything in your prayers,

So wrote Moshe the son of Rav Maimon Z’L.

This Teshuvah is consistent with Rambam’s explanation of idolatry in the first chapter of Hilchot Avodah Zara where he describes Avraham as the one who was the catalyst that started Monotheism and is seen as responsible for where it developed with time.

What comes through is the love and admiration Rambam has for this Ger Tzeddek. I will be posting excerpts of two other letters to the same proselyte in the near future which are an inspiration as Rambam’s humanity and feelings come through loud and clear.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Judaism for our Time - Rambam Revisited.

Here is a segment of Technician’s presentation with my comments in brackets and Italics.

Blogger- But wait – all this stuff is still dogmatically medieval and incorrect science.

Answer- even Maimonides limited knowledge to what was epistemologically provable and therefore the metaphysical aspects of science and God’s essence are unknowable. We only know God’s existence through his actions in the material world, not his essence or the scientific proofs for creation. It is already a non-dogmatic position of a liberal theist.

[Rambam repeatedly states in MN that humans are limited to know only what is in our material world. That is why he says that Aristotle is reliable only on what he says about things below the sphere of the moon (in medieval parlance the physical world – other spheres were of a different nature according to them). All else is speculation and is based on what makes more sense logically or apprehended through revelation. There is no empirical evidence in metaphysics. As God by definition is non-physical, all we know is that there is such an entity. If we want to understand anything about that Entity all we can do is extrapolate from what we perceive as His actions. It gives us a framework to relate to Him but has no relationship to His real essence. Even Creation from nothing is based on revelation rather than empirical proof. If Rambam would have insisted, like many other thinkers before, during and after his time, including today that the words of Tanach have to be read literally notwithstanding reality, he would have been a dogmatic theist.]

Blogger – no this is still medieval. You cannot prove God and science works without God.

Premise 1- we acknowledge that Hume formally disproved the proofs for God.

[By showing that there is no causality, the argument for the existence of a First Cause based on the impossibility of indefinite sequences of cause and effect fell to the wayside. His understanding that we know things only based on our senses and experience, does not allow speculating about the existence of an Entity outside our sensory experience even if a non-contingent entity was logically necessary.]

Then, in the Enlightenment - Voltaire, Thomas Paine, and Diderot destroyed them in public. Only a tyro or a charlatan would take the permission to deceive by ignoring Hume.

Premise 2 – Leibniz and others reformulated the arguments without the medieval elements. Then, Kant formulated a moral argument.

P3 – Nihilists, materialists, and positivists in Germany socially destroyed the arguments again.

[There are different schools of how to understand empirical knowledge. The discussion centers on Kant who argued that “synthetic a priori” propositions for Metaphysics are impossible. A synthetic a priori proposition is one whose predicate concept is not contained in its subject concept. For example, the statement “all bachelors are happy” versus the statement “all bachelors are single”. In the latter single is contained in the word bachelor – bachelor means single – while in the first “happy” and “bachelor” have two different meanings and must be proven to be true. (I thank answers.com for these definitions.) As Metaphysics is not something we can experience with our senses, we therefore can never empirically prove any statement we make about it. As the FC, argument for God is outside things we can sense it is therefore according to Kant’s understanding a nonsensical argument. (For examples of this position read bloggers XGH and Knowledge Problems). Kant however introduced the idea of a humanistic moral and ethical order based on Reason and independent of God.]

P4 - At the turn of the 20th century, Hermann Cohen reformulated the arguments as postulates of reason. It is not proof but a logical postulate to avoid the other approach of P3- the nihilists and materialists. We accept God as the giving reason and moral order to creation; Man’s role is to hear the moral call from God and act to make the world a better place.

P5 – as a Jew and former reform seminary student, Cohen formulates his approach using Maimonides and not Aquinas. Maimonides in the 20th century automatically means through the lens of Cohen. Leibowitz, Soloveitchik, Leo Baeck, Ken Seeskin, and most others formulate their approaches to Maimonides using Cohen.

Conclusion – When we say Maimonides we are already non-dogmatic and use this as shorthand for a general approach. Especially, since we are more concerned with fighting superstition and creating a moral order than with epistemology.

[Herman Cohen and other neo Kantians put religion in a separate category. They argued that, although God is unknowable, man can develop ethics and morality from his surroundings and that in itself, that thinking and activity, is the God that religion is proposing. It is not something that needs to be proven empirically but is a way of thinking. It presents Judaism as a humanistic and ethical religion rather than a God centered one.

Religious thinkers of that school led by RYBS went one-step further. Agreeing that God is unknowable, they however accept revelation and the existence of a personal God based on that. RYBS emphasized man’s duality and dialectical makeup. The creative and independent coupled with the subservient to God make up the complete religious persona. The contemplative and passive observer becomes the active creative person that acts based on his understanding and experience of God. If one reads Rambam carefully one sees this dual approach where man is nothing while at the same time acts emulating God. It is only when emulating God that man “experiences” Him. It is that experience through emulating God that is the ultimate human goal and perfection. The scientific and rational man who uses this developed ability to create and mold his surroundings is also the religious man that “experiences” the Creator

The question that comes up, is this not subjective? Technician addresses this in his further presentation with my comments coming up soon.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Man Atoning for God!

In my last post I talked about the Korban of Rosh Chodesh being singled out as
Being to Hashem. Over Shabbat, I happened to read a chapter in a book by David Hartman, Misinai leZion, and it referred me to Halachik Man by RYBS. On page 107 of the Lawrence Kaplan translation, the Rav says as follows:

When a Jew goes outside and beholds the pale moon casting its delicate strands of light into empty reaches of the world, he recites a blessing…. He contemplates this spectacle of the waxing and waning of the moon and sees in it a symbol of defectiveness and renewal. Just as the moon is “defective” and then “renewed” so creation is “defective” and will be “renewed”, “replenished”….

Man is obliged to perfect what his Creator “impaired”. Resh Lakish said: Why is the new moon goat offering different, in that [the phrase] “a sin offering unto the Lord” is used in connection with it [whereas ordinarily the phrase “a sin offering” is used without the additional “unto the Lord”}? Because the Holy One, blessed be He, said: This goat shall be atonement for my diminishing the moon [i.e. it is as if the moon offering is not “unto the Lord” but “on behalf of the Lord”]. The Jewish people bring a sacrifice to atone as it were for the Holy One, blessed be He, for not having completed the work of creation. The Creator of the world diminished the image and stature of creation in order to leave something for man, the work of his hands, to do, in order to adorn man with the crown of creator and maker.

What is fascinating about the Rav’s take is that we do God’s work by atoning for Him! Not only are we granted the mission to perfect and improve the world, we atone for God demanding this from us! We connect with God, in a sense becoming God’s surrogate, His Shaliach. Connecting is not enough, we also have to emulate Him and create, perfecting what he has not finished. Intellectual cognition is not enough. We are required to take that search for God into the realm of action and practical deeds. The Rav had no doubt the beautiful last chapter in MN in mind when he wrote this.

The object of the above passage is therefore to declare, that the perfection, in which man can truly glory, is attained by him when he has acquired--as far as this is possible for man--the knowledge of God, the knowledge of His Providence, and of the manner in which it influences His creatures in their production and continued existence. Having acquired this knowledge he will then be determined always to seek loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness, and thus to imitate the ways of God.” (MN 3:54)

I repeat this constantly because it belies the popular belief that Rambam saw intellectual perfection as the ultimate goal. Here we see that only when acting on that intellectual insight does man gain real perfection. In Halachik parlance it is the "Ma’aseh Hamitzvah”.

Shavua Tov.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Moon Worship?

This week reading there is an interesting verse that has created a lot of controversy because of an interpretation the Rabbis give it.

טו וּשְׂעִיר עִזִּים אֶחָד לְחַטָּאת, לַיהוָה, עַל-עֹלַת הַתָּמִיד יֵעָשֶׂה, וְנִסְכּוֹ. {ס}

15 And one he-goat for a sin offering unto the LORD; it shall be offered beside the continual burnt offering, and the drink offering thereof.

The problem is that it is the only time that a sin offering is referred to as to Hashem. The Rabbis in Chulin 60b, Shevuot 9a and Breishit Rabah (in the popular editions- not in Theodor-Albeck) explain:

אמר רבי פנחס בכל הקרבנות כתיב שעיר עזים אחד חטאת ובראש חדש כתיב שעיר עזים חטאת לה' אמר הקב"ה הביאו כפרה עלי שמיעטתי את הירח

In all offerings it says one goat as a sin offering while for Rosh Chodesh (the new moon) it says a goat offering to God? HKBH said bring an offering to me (for me?), for I (because I?) made the moon smaller.

Technical note: I copied the Midrash version. In the Bavli the author of this is Resh Lakish, not Rav Pinchas. The regular Bavli editions leave out the word Alai however the more reliable Munich MS as quoted in Dikdukei Soferim on Chulin 60b has it.

The traditional explanation of this Chazal, as translated in the two parentheses with question marks, is that God asks us to bring an offering as forgiveness (for God!) for having made the moon smaller. It is one of the most difficult Chazal and over the generations much has been written about it. (For those of a poetic bend please see the Sforno here.)

Rambam in MN 3:46 addresses the issue without quoting the Chazal:

I will here call your attention to a very remarkable thing, although it does not seem at first thought to belong to our subject. It is only the goat brought on New moon as a sin offering that the law calls "a sin-offering unto the Lord" (Num. xxviii. 15). The sin-offerings brought on the three festivals (ibid. vers. 22, 30; xxix. 5, 11, etc.) are not called so, nor are any other sin-offerings. The reason thereof is, according to my opinion, undoubtedly this: The additional offerings brought by the congregation at certain periods were all burnt offerings; only "one kid of goats to make atonement" was offered on every one of these exceptional days. The latter was eaten [by the priests], whilst the burnt offerings were entirely consumed by fire, and are called "an offering made by fire unto the Lord." The phrases "a sin-offering unto the Lord" and "a peace-offering unto the Lord" do not occur in the law, because these were eaten by man; but even those sin-offerings that were entirely burnt (Lev. iv. 12, 21) cannot be called "an offering made by fire unto the Lord," as will be explained in the course of this chapter. It is therefore impossible that the goats which are eaten [by the priests], and are not entirely burnt, should be called "sin-offerings unto the Lord." But as it was found that the kid offered on New moon might be mistaken as an offering brought to the moon, in the manner of the Egyptians, who sacrificed to the moon on the days of New moon, it was distinctly stated that this goat is offered in obedience to God's command, and not in honor of the moon. This fear did not apply to the sin-offerings on the Festivals, or to any other sin offering, because they were not offered on the days of New moon, or on any other day marked out by Nature, but on such days as were selected by the Divine Will. Not so the days of New moon; they are not fixed by the Law [but by Nature]. On the New moon the idolaters sacrificed to the moon, in the same manner as they sacrificed to the sun when it rose and set in certain particular degrees. This is described in the works [mentioned above]. On this account the extraordinary phrase "A sin-offering unto the Lord" is exceptionally introduced in reference to the goat brought on New moon, in order to remove the idolatrous ideas that were still lingering in the sorely diseased hearts. Note this exception likewise.

Meiri in his Chibur Hateshuvah (Ma’amar 2 Chapter 13 – page 545) ties this Rambam into this Chazal and explains it the way I translated it, emphasizing that the offering is to God and not the moon which was the custom of the time. This reading also supports Rambam’s understanding that Korbanot are to deflect from idol service.

Rambam’s explanation that the reason a sin offering is not referred to as to God because it is eaten is also interesting. The idea that an offering may be eaten is in itself a very Jewish idea. The Gemara Zevachim 116a brings an opinion of Rabbis that until the Jews all offerings were burnt offerings. The gods were jealous; they would not allow man to partake in their food. The idea of offerings in Judaism is not to bribe God but to worship Him. It is an Avodah. It is man giving and God accepting graciously. Avodah as one of the three pillars that the world stands on at the beginning of Pirkei Avot is Avodat Hakorbanot according to Pirush Hamishna.

For a comprehensive overview of this see Rabbeinu Bachya on this verse.

Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Rambam's Thought in Our Times. Part 1 - Tecnician's Summary.

Technician has posted further on Rambam’s theology in context of contemporary thought. As I have done before here are his comments in their original format. I will address and expand with my own ideas where and as I see fit in coming posts. I think I understand most of what he wrote and time will tell if I really do. In the meantime, those of you who understand, agree or disagree let us hear from you.

Blogger- But wait – all this stuff is still dogmatically medieval and incorrect science.

Answer- even Maimonides limited knowledge to what was epistemologically provable and therefore the metaphysical aspects of science and God’s essence are unknowable. We only know God’s existence through his actions in the material world, not his essence or the scientific proofs for creation. It is already a non-dogmatic position of a liberal theist.

Blogger – no this is still medieval. You cannot prove God and science works without God.

Premise 1- we acknowledge that Hume formally disproved the proofs for God. Then, in the Enlightenment - Voltaire, Thomas Paine, and Diderot destroyed them in public. Only a tyro or a charlatan would take the permission to deceive by ignoring Hume.

Premise 2 – Leibnitz and others reformulated the arguments without the medieval elements. Then, Kant formulated a moral argument.

P3 – Nihilists, materialists, and positivists in Germany socially destroyed the arguments again.

P4 - At the turn of the 20th century, Hermann Cohen reformulated the arguments as postulates of reason. It is not proof but a logical postulate to avoid the other approach of P3- the nihilists and materialists. We accept God as the giving reason and moral order to creation; Man’s role is to hear the moral call from God and act to make the world a better place.

P5 – as a Jew and former reform seminary student, Cohen formulates his approach using Maimonides and not Aquinas. Maimonides in the 20th century automatically means through the lens of Cohen. Leibowitz, Soloveitchik, Leo Baeck, Ken Seeskin, and most others formulate their approaches to Maimonides using Cohen.

Conclusion – When we say Maimonides we are already non-dogmatic and use this as shorthand for a general approach. Especially, since we are more concerned with fighting superstition and creating a moral order than with epistemology.

Blogger- Isn’t epistemology the most question so that you do not delude yourself into a false religion?

Answer: No, at this point it is already a choice among sophisticated liberal theologies. And saying that one is a Maimonidean already is shorthand for denying the dogmatic approach. And if you do not have answers, then aren’t you as dogmatic as those claiming Mesora?

P1 – Herman Cohen as above is my starting point

P2 - Bertrand Russell et al created an Anglo tradition of philosophy shorn of the social sciences and focusing on logic and verification. Cohen is wrong. All German philosophy is just misguided mysticism. Laws of science are only verified induction without proof.

P3 – Everyone from Einstein to Copleston wrote responses to this new approach. Einstein “God does not play dice with the universe” Conclusion – There is no formal proof on each side and it is acceptable to choose either. Tayku

P4 Read the debate of Copleston and Russell. Copleston makes argument from causality, moral order, and the need for a synthetic a-priori, pace Kant and Cohen. Russell rejecting Kant’s denies the need for any of the three.

P5 Russell is a strong agnostic knowing that he cannot prove his position, and follows Occam’s razor. Copleston is a weak agnostic choosing to return to Kant.

P6. Neither position is dogmatic, irrational, or relying on tradition. To follow, Kant, the Neo-Thomists, or Neo- Maimonides is a liberal non-dogmatic approach. The debate turns over the ability to accept a synthetic a priori- in this case causality.

P7 Russell’s position also undercuts science because without a synthetic a priori, then laws of science are only induction not real laws like in Newtonian physics. Yet, on the engineering level every day we work as if Newton is true.

Conclusion- it is acceptable to work with religion and Maimonides even if no proofs or laws.

Conclusion – Maimonides is more useful than Copleston or other defenses of metaphysics because of his rational Judaism.

I am sorry if that was not clear and it seemed that accepting Maimonides was dogmatic. My beloved Soloveitchik, Leibowitz and Faur and others are already within the limits of Kantian thought.

Blogger: What of Dennett, Harris, Dawkins and all the other skeptics?

P1 – In the last 25 years evangelicals and Yeshivish Jews take the permission to deceive and write dogmatic non-liberal proofs for God. Most of these are based on false dichotomies, the God of the gaps, if I find a fault with science then religion is true, or bad versions of the medieval arguments. In all of them they write as if Hume never wrote.

P2 – Scientists and atheists are mad at this and respond by rejecting religion entirely.

Conclusion – Blogger only knows P5. Maimonides is red flag of dogmatism with pre-determined conclusion. Blogger naively speaks about science as if it too could not be disproved, not by atheists but by philosophers of science.

Great and Small Things - Torah, Halacha and Metaphysics.

Livyat Chen by R. Levi ben Avraham (henceforth RLBA) continues to amaze me. There is almost no page without a surprising interpretation or idea. Here is another excerpt Paraphrased/translated as usual (in Italics) with my comments in brackets.

The word Torah is applied in most cases, to the rules of proper behavior and improvement of habits. It is similar to “Torat Ha’adam” law of man or “Torat Habayit”, law of the domicile. [In other words Torah needs a qualifier – what kind of Torah? Without one, it could refer to many things but most of the time to rules of behavior and habits]. It is therefore used for practical law such as knowledge of the Talmud. [Because the Talmud contains rules of behavior, it is called Torah].

The reason those who know [only] the Talmud are called “Talmidei Chachamim” – pupils of the wise, as opposed to Chachamim – the wise – because the subjects they know are “small matters”. [He is referring to the Gemara in Sukkah 28a brought down in Rambam Yesodei Hatorah 4:13 –

ולחם ובשר זה, הוא לידע ביאור האסור והמותר וכיוצא בהן משאר המצוות. ואף על פי שדברים אלו, דבר קטן קראו אותם חכמים, שהרי אמרו חכמים דבר גדול מעשה מרכבה, ודבר קטן הוויה דאביי ורבא

`Bread and meat', is the study of what is permitted, what is forbidden, and other commandments. These matters were called small matters by the Sages, as they have said, "Mystical and esoteric speculation is a big matter, whereas the debates of Abaye and Rava are small matters".]

[As their knowledge is limited to the small things which are the discussions of Abaye and Rava - Talmudic discourse - they are called “Talmidei” Chachamim.]

Another reason is the Talmud. [A play on the word Talmud – Talmid]. Those who know the “great things” are called the true Chachamim – the wise. [“Great things” – davar Gadol - is metaphysics as per the Gemara in the quote above].

RLBA brings further proof to his understanding from the Gemara in Berachot 57b, which refers to R. Eliezer, R. Ishmael and R. Akivah[1] as Chachamim and to Ben Azai, Ben Zoma and Acher as Talmidei Chachamim. The Gemara in Kiddushin 49b similarly says that if one says he betroths a woman on condition that he is a Talmid, he does not have to be as learned as Ben Zoma and Ben Azai. Just knowing how to answer anything one asks him about in learning suffices. If one says I betroth this woman on condition that I am a Chacham, we do not require him to be like R. Akivah as long as he can answer any question he is asked in wisdom (Chochma).

[RLBA is referring to the Gemara where four went into the orchard, R. Akivah, Ben Azai, Ben Zoma and Acher. All except R. Akivah were damaged. RLBA understands that to mean that they remained Halachist but never graduated to advanced metaphysics. The ones like R. Akivah who were successful in metaphysical speculation are referred to as Chachamim while those that remained with Halacha only as Talmidei Chachamim].

In other contexts, the word Torah refers to philosophy. Thus the Gemara Shabbat 145b states; Why are the Talmidei Chachamim of Bavel notable in their dress? Because they are not Bnei Torah. [Rashi explains that they wear extravagant clothing to garner respect. Their gravitas is not enough.] RLBA understands the Gemara as saying that since they lack philosophical knowledge they are therefore unrefined. They therefore require external accoutrements to garner respect.

[A perfected person is one that is fully integrated. The Mitzvot and the halachot that deal with them are meant to make us into perfect people that will then try to emulate and serve God. Knowing Halachot only is “a small thing”. In fact, Rambam ends that Halacha I quoted earlier:

אף על פי כן, ראויין הן להקדימן: שהן מיישבין דעתו של אדם תחילה, ועוד שהן הטובה הגדולה שהשפיע הקדוש ברוך הוא ליישוב העולם הזה, כדי לנחול חיי העולם הבא. ואפשר שיידעם הכול--גדול וקטן, איש ואישה, בעל לב רחב ובעל לב קצר.

Nevertheless, it is still fitting to study them [the arguments of Abaye and Rava] first, because they settle a man's mind. Furthermore, they are the great good which God gave to this world, by which we can inherit life in the World to Come. It is possible for everyone - adults, children, men, women, those who are narrow-minded and those who are not - to know these matters.

Learning Halacha with the intention to “settle a man’s mind” is the correct thing to do as long as one keeps in mind it is only a stepping-stone.

Why have we not such people anymore? Why have become robots and automatons? I wonder.

[1] In our edition the third person is Rebbi but the Tikkunei Soferim reads R. Akivah.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Rambam's religion -Man serves God by emulating Him.

Finally, Technician takes us to Rambam: [again my comments in brackets]


P1 – There is a fixed Aristotelian natural order. God at the minimum is Aristotle’s first cause.

P2 – this natural order is the best of all possible worlds.

P3 – we see that the natural order is ethical.

[Rambam holds that the universe as we know it has a logic and system to it. Even what we may perceive as random is in reality orderly. We do not really know everything about science. Eventually humanity may, and at that time, we will understand that everything is orderly, logical and is the best way things could be. Thus as everything observable and that we know is contingent (dependent on each other) there must be one non-contingent entity. That entity we call God. As everything is perfect, meaning that it is here for eternity at least from now on (a parte post), that Entity, the First Cause (“First” does not mean temporal but hierarchical), the Non-Contingent Entity, must be perfect too. Perfection or what we call “good” is existence, “very good – Tov Me’od” is eternal existence, while Evil is destruction of existence or non-existence. If we look at our existence in a Macro, we see that everything is self-perpetuating. Even calamities and tragedies, they affect the individual of a group or species, but ultimately helps the whole to survive and sometimes even thrive. Looking at the natural order, we can therefore learn from it how to be “good”, how to partake in that system that ensures eternity and existence. Existence is the ethics we see in nature. That translates into actions that emulate God, the non-contingent, First Cause, the cause of everything that we now understand as ethical. Which leads us to the next three premises:]

P4 – this ethic is labeled “God’s attributes of Action”.

P5 – acting ethically imitates God – meaning the attributes of action in the natural order.

P6 – Our goal is to create a virtuous society based on reason.

P7 According to Ibn Tibon, Radak, Shem Tov, Herman Cohen, and even Isadore Twersky – this is for creating a virtuous society through ethics not ritual. Ritual Mitzvot are for the betterment of society – tikkun haguf – tikkun hamedinah- not to imitate God.

[If we can learn from the natural order what is the purpose of the Mitzvot? Why revelation if we can learn everything from observing the natural order? The answer is that we need to live in a society that allows man to spend time on studying and understanding his surroundings. We need a society that allows one to live without spending all his time on physical survival. The Mitzvot that deal with societal issues have as a goal to create that perfect society that will allow for man to focus on understanding the sciences and thus know God’s actions and thus how to emulate Him. Man being a material entity has urges and preferences. To properly judge and translate into action, the observations about the natural and ethical order, man has to control those urges otherwise he will be misled and act selfishly and narcissistically. His natural urges will make him do self-righteous things as long as they satisfy his own personal preferences. He may see objectivity where there is subjectivity. This may affect his interaction with society too working against this perfect society that is so necessary. Therefore, Mitzvot are there to bring discipline, train us in self-control, thinking of the other, acting beyond immediate self-gratification and also to remind us to think about God and existence. Mitzvot have no intrinsic value other than to train us. According to this school of thought, there are other ways of reaching the goal of emulating God, Torah and Mitzvot being one and we believe the best.]

P8– Meiri, Soloveitchik, Fox, Hartman and other Halachik thinkers connect the Mitzvot to intimating [imitating] God.

[This school agrees with the basic premises of the Tibon school, however goes one-step beyond arguing that Mitzvot, being revelatory and from God, are also a blueprint of how to translate what we learn from the natural order of the universe into human action. The Mitzvot start out as training tools. Once we understand them properly, we then realize that they are also in complete agreement with the ethical natural order. They are therefore the blueprint for how to emulate God. ]

Conclusion1 - therefore the epicureans are wrong about the world as random science, Sa’adyah is wrong because Mitzvot have a this worldly reward, religious ethics that are not natural are wrong.

Conclusion2: Mitzvot are the means to create a virtuous society.

Conclusion3: Providence is part of the natural order.

[I have written and will expand and write much more about P7, P8 and the conclusions over time as they are at the core of Judaism as I see it. ]

Personal note: The approach to religion Rambam teaches us, and there are many variations that developed over time based on his way of thinking, makes Judaism stand out from the religions of our contemporary society. Most of the religions I know, including some Jewish even orthodox schools of thought, have as their goal to make man live better materially and psychically. They see religion and ultimately God in the service of man. Rambam teaches us that man is here to serve God by emulating Him and partaking with Him in creation and existence. By doing that man will come as close as humanly possible to understand God. It is this process of melding with the eternal and becoming one with it that we become immortal. That immortality is Olam Haba which is Yediat Hashem. It is a personal experience which is why it cannot be understood and shared with anyone else. (See Hilchot Teshuvah chapters 8 through 10 with this in mind and it will be a “revelation”.) In this context, man is both a small entity among many with the ability to become an integral part of existence and eternity. Not only can he be an integral part but also an important player in that great scheme of things. To me that is an exhilarating thought and a worthwhile endeavor. It gives meaning to life.

I thank Technician for his contribution. I believe he has presented a cogent and clear description of the different approaches to religion.