Thursday, November 22, 2007

A Clarification -

I was taken to task by Anonymous in a comment on the last post for saying that “I can see how some would prefer the alternate one – Ramban’s Derech and its different evolutions imagining that they address the jarring difference between it and contemporary scientific knowledge”. A’s argues “if the science of the Ramban was wrong how can you understand that some would prefer this Derech of thought. The Ramban himself would have probably changed his philosophy if he knew the science of our times. The people who follow the science of the Ramban are just plain Tipshim and fools.”

I have to admit that I basically agree with A. I was treading carefully out of respect for Ramban who was a great thinker and one of our greatest Rishonim with the possible exception of the other Rabbeinu Moshe. Although I do not exactly understand how they did it, some of the great people I have enormous regard and respect for, including among others R. Meir Simcha, Rav Kook and even to an extent RYBS, accepted many of Ramban’s positions. I therefore cannot but remain respectful and hope that one day I will understand what they understood and allowed them to accept Ramban’s views.

I however agree that those who follow Ramban’s views blindly, without trying to understand him in a way that does not conflict with reality, are fools. Unfortunately there are many such fools nowadays even among our supposed leaders.


  1. very correct ; very brave
    shabbat shalom

  2. The broader question is why the Ramban's view (as typefied by his position on the laws of nature) ultimately prevailed?

    I have real difficulty believing that the Ramban's views were the result of the ignorance that prevailed in Christian Europe, or lack of exposure to the same sources as the Rambam. My sense is that he started with the premise that nothing can exist without the direct will of Hashem, and gradually built out his argument. I am frequently astounded by the audacity and depth of his thought in his commentary, but also stunned when I see what are transparently apologistic attempts to justify ideas that are clearly predicated on his opposition to the Rambam (like allegorical readings of any part of the Torah) or philosophical thought. (Leaving aside of course his acceptance of the Aristotlean paradigm of matter and form in briat haolam and the tripartite soul.)

    Also, I am not convinced that the Ramban's views are entirely representative of the Spanish Kabbalists. Azriel of Gerona (who lived at the same time as the Ramban) actually employs the natural order and the rules of physics (ie that reality is three-dimensional) to demonstrate the need for the sefirot (or at least that there is an intermediate set of forces between the utterly unknowable divine will and the universe).

  3. Steve,

    I do not see the difference between Rambam's will setting in place the laws of nature and ramban's Will controlling his nature - the stars and their spirits. It is only a sifferent understanding of science. The clearest proof is the Ramban's understanding of magnetism as spiritual and the Rambam's in contrast in MN2:12 argues it must be physical as it loses effect at a distance. They just had a different outlook on the world.
    Science and philosophy in those days were completely intertwined and empiricism did was not yet widespread.

    BTW R. Azriel was a chaver of Ramban. The pirush on shir hashirim in Kitvei haramban is by him attributed to ramban erroneously. See his pirush on 3:9. The daring there is incredible - Rambam had difficulty with R. Eliezer being a Platonist while he took it for granted! With all that knowledge of the greeks they still refused to accept a non spirirual nature because the greeks did not explain away all their problems. They did know the same thing Rambam did but came to different conclusions. this did not stop there. Abravanel much later still had difficulty with pure rationalism.

    All this died with modern science. it had a crisis in the 16th century with tycho brahe and copernicus - in steps Maharal and tries to resolve it in a variation of Ramban. That approach lost out with modern science though in traditional circles it is the main machshava (R. hutner et al).

  4. I am not sure that the differences are that inconsequential: the question is where the boundaries can be drawn between science (philosophy in the context of the times) and religion. Viewed from a broader perspective, the Rambam establishes the point of overlap between belief in God (ie a universal understanding of a creator), philosophy and religion (fortunately for us, Judaism). His influence on European thought is not only the result of the conviction that reason and faith could be reconciled, but that philosophy and religion could co-exist as systems of thought with no inherent contradictions. Of course, they serve different purposes, but ultimately share the foundation of the process of rational thought.

    The Ramban's view is not simply a less sophisticated understanding of the signfigance of science, but more that it is an impediment to understanding the truth of the Torah - acknowledging the universal diminishes the primacy of the particular.

    Again, I find the Ramban's peirush to be so obviously the product of genius, that I can't imagine him not have strong ideological (hashkafah could work too) for his position on science and philosophy.

    Not entirely clear to me which peirush you are directing me to? Is it the Shir HaShirim peirush that should be attributed to Azriel or something else?

    Also, not entirely certain you've answered my question here: we all know that Kabbalah (or something approximating anti-rationalism) won but why did the Rambam lose?

  5. >The Ramban's view is not simply a less sophisticated understanding of the signfigance of science

    Correct. His science, which is based on philosophy as how things *ought to be* believes that there is a world out there of spirirual entities that represent the gradual transition from non- physicality to physicality.

    >that I can't imagine him not have strong ideological (hashkafah could work too) for his position on science and philosophy.

    Again correct. It is just a hashkafah based on a position that nowadays is known to be false (except for the few diehards)

    >Is it the Shir HaShirim peirush that should be attributed to Azriel ?


    >we all know that Kabbalah (or something approximating anti-rationalism) won but why did the Rambam lose?

    I believe I alluded to it in the post. I should have made it clearer and will probably write more about it. Kabbalah as understood by the masses and also by some of our thinkers (I controlled myself not using an adjective on the latter) operates in a separate realm that is connected but outside the physical. One can manipulate God and make Him change His mind. It therefore removes responsibility and the concept of actions being a cause and results being a consequence thereof is ignored. If I steal from the IRS and am caught, I have to do Teshuva - give tzedakka , say tehilim, go to a Tzaddik who will pray for me and change the gzar din,pay more attention to davening especially the yehi ratzon on parnassa with the shem "deus carnosa" (fat goddes in Spanish) [dikornissa]during barech aleinu and birkat kohanim, walk around the table seven times before kiddush etc... and all will turn out well so that I can repeat the stealing again. That is much easier than Rambam's teshuva in the beginning of hilchot Ta'anyot where I would have to work on my greed its causes both psychological and practical (such as spending on things I dont really need and cannot afford).

    Both Rambam and Ramban agreed on the concept of responsibility. However Ramban's derech allowed for this "touchy feely and comfortable" development which appeals to people. I am convinced that if Ramban knew where his thinking went over time he would be shocked and mortified!

    There is an excellent book by R. Jose Faur In the Shadow of History that addresses some of these issues.

  6. Ramban's other haver was Yonah Gerondi, who wrote the sefer Sha'arei Teshuvah. Gerondi was deeply opposed to the Rambam (as I am certain you are aware), and his emphasis was more on refining character than obtaining what we might call psychological self-awareness and refining the consciousness. I would conjecture that he would be appalled by a system as morally bankrupt as the one you describe.