Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Those who "Think They Are Sages of Israel, While in Reality They Are the Greatest Fools Among Men".

Rambam wrote the Ma’amar Techyat Hametim – Treatise regarding Resurrection of the Dead – in the latter years of his life, in response to criticism of his treatment of the issue in Mishne Torah. He writes with an underlying tone of frustration and annoyance directed at the more learned of his audience who do not seem to get it. He introduces the treatise by explaining that he felt the need to write about philosophical issues in his Halachik compositions (Chiburim). Here are his words in the Hebrew translation followed by my English paraphrase/translation. (The English will be based on the Sheilat edition while I cut and pasted the Ibn Tibon one which explains the slight differences).

וכאשר נחלצנו לזה, ראינו שאינו מן הדין לדון למה שנרצה, רצוני לומר לבאר

ולקרב סעיפי הדת ולהניח שורשיו נעזבים שלא אבארם ולא אישיר אמיתותם. וכל

שכן שכבר פגשנו אדם שהיה נחשב שהיה מחכמי ישראל, וחי השם יודע היה דרך משא

ומתן במלחמתה של תורה לפי מחשבתו מנעוריו, והוא היה מסופק אם השם גשם, בעל

עין יד ורגל בני מעיים, כמו שבא בפסוקים, או אינו גוף. אמנם אחרים שפגשתי

מאנשי קצת ארצות, פסקו לגמרי שהוא גוף, והחזיקו לכופר מי שהיה מאמין

חילופו, וקראוהו מין ואפיקורוס. והבינו דרשות רבות על פשוטיהן. וכיוצא בזה

שמעתי על קצת אנשים שלא ראיתי.

וכאשר ידעתי באלו האובדים לגמרי שהם מוקצים, וחושבים שהם חכמי ישראל,

והם הם הסכלים שבבני אדם ויותר תועי דרך מהבהמה. וכבר נתמלא מוחם

משיגעונות הנשים הזקנות, ודמיונם הנפסדות כעיוורים וכנשים, ראינו שצריך

לנו לבאר בחיבורינו התלמודיים עיקרים תוריים על צד הסיפור לא על צד הביא

ראיה. כי הבאת הראיה על השורשים ההם צריך למהירות בחכמות רבות, לא ידעו

התלמודיים דבר מהם, כמו שבארנו במורה הנבוכים.

ובחרנו להיות האמיתות

מקובלות אצל ההמון לפחות

As we got ready to do this, [write Halachik books] we realized that it is not proper and will not fulfill our goal if we were to organize and gather the branches of the religion while ignoring the principles [literally – roots], leaving them unexplained and incorrect. This became more so when we met a person considered to be one of the sages of Yisrael, who I swear knew the arguments of the Law, according to his understanding of them, but was unsure whether God is corporeal, having eyes, hands, feet and intestines as is the plain reading in the verses or not. Furthermore, I met others from several countries who decided that God is corporeal and anyone that denies it is a Kofer labeling him a Min and Apikores. They read the Aggadot in Massechet Berachot literally. I heard similar things about others I have not met. These are complete losers [Rambam means this literally. Their soul is lost] who mature thinking they are sages of Israel, while in reality they are the greatest fools among men, misdirected worse than animals, their heads filled with oldwife tales and mistaken imaginings of children and women. We therefore felt that there is a need to include in our Talmudic compositions, theological principles of Torah in a decision format without proofs. For to bring proofs regarding these principles [and understanding them], requires familiarity with many different types of knowledge that Talmudic scholars know nothing about, as we explained in the Moreh Hanevuchim. We therefore chose to [at least make sure] that these truths be known [and accepted] to the masses.

This is a fascinating preamble. Rambam sees the Talmudic scholars, the supposed sages, as being responsible for hindering the masses from accepting basic principles. He certainly talks plainly seeing them as less worthy than animals! Rambam comes to the rescue of the masses by including these principles in a format that can be understood by all, within the corpus of Law that he has prepared. That work will be used by all and therefore all will know the Truth. The scholars who think they know their own truth may ignore and disagree but will no longer keep it from the masses! Rambam foresaw the future. It was the Talmudic scholars of his and the following generation(s), who tried to eradicate Rambam’s work by having it burned. It is the masses led by the real sages, those that understood Rambam that saved it.

Rambam then continues to list some of the theological principles that he inserted in his Halachik compositions in a decision format without elaborating the underlying proofs so that –

וזכרנו בו ג"כ כל העניינים עיקרים התוריים והתלמודיים, וכיוננו בזה שיהיו

אלה הנקראים תלמידי חכמים, או חכמים, או גאונים, או כמו שתקראם, בונים את

סעיפיהם על שרשים תלמודיים, ותהיה תורתם סדורה על פיהם, ותלמודם במסילה


וכל זה נבנה על עיקרים תוריים, ולא ישליכו ידיעת השם אחרי גוום, אבל

ישימו השתדלותם הגדול וזריזותם על מה שישלימם ויקרבם אצל בוראם, לא על מה

שיביא בהם השלמות אצל ההמון

We also mentioned all the principles found in the Torah and Talmud. Our purpose was so that those that are called Talmidei Chachamim, Chachamim or Geonim or whatever other name title they may have, should build their branches on Talmudic principles. That way their Torah will be organized and their learning will be set on the correct path. Having built all this on Torah principles, they will not leave the knowledge of God behind their back, but will put their efforts on matters that will perfect them and bring them close to their Creator and not to things that will make them look good to the masses.

The underlying theme here is that those learning Torah without knowing the fundamental theological principles are like the Emperor wearing imaginary clothes. The masses respect them for their great erudition while they in reality are empty shells. (Rav Sheilat in his notes contends that when Rambam uses the words Talmudic he is referring also to Halachik principles. I think he has a point. However, I would add, that as anyone who has analyzed Rambam’s Halachik works knows, the underlying Halachik and theological/philosophic principles of any Halacha are one. They are interdependent and entwined.)

Rambam then retells all the letters and criticisms he received on the subject of his treatment of Techyat Hametim after the publication of the Mishne Torah (MT) and his various responses. Before Rambam deals with the meat of this treatise, he makes a very important statement –

ומהנה אתחיל בזיכרון זה המאמר: דע אתה המעיין שכונתנו בזה המאמר היא לבאר

מה שנאמינהו בזאת הפינה אשר נפלו בו דברים בין התלמידים, והיא תחיית

המתים. ואין בזה המאמר דבר נוסף כולל על כל מה שאמרנוהו בפירוש המשנה

והחבור, אבל יש בו כפל עניינים והארכה המונית ותוספת ביאור יבינוהו הנשים

והסכלים לא זולת זה

I will now begin this treatise. Know that our goal in this treatise is to clarify our belief in this cornerstone that is the subject of discussion among the students namely Techyat Hametim [Resurrection of the Dead]. There will be nothing in the treatise that we have not already said in the Pirush Hamishna and the composition (MT). The Treatise contains repetitions, expansion for the masses and additional clarifications so that it can be understood by women and the fools, nothing more.

This statement is extremely important in understanding the Treatise, so important that Rambam repeats it several times at key points, making sure that we keep this in mind. In my next post I will define exactly how Rambam defines what the masses must know and how theological matters have to be presented to them.


  1. > . וכל

    שכן שכבר פגשנו אדם שהיה נחשב שהיה מחכמי ישראל, וחי השם יודע היה דרך משא

    ומתן במלחמתה של תורה לפי מחשבתו מנעוריו, והוא היה מסופק אם השם גשם, בעל

    עין יד ורגל בני מעיים, כמו שבא בפסוקים, או אינו גוף.

    Some say he had in mind Rashi who died in 1104,100 yrs before Rambam died.
    I think I wrote you a long time ago the following:
    There were scholars who claimed that "Maamar Tchiyat Hametim" is a can find it in the very long introduction to the maamar in "Rambam mahadurah laam".
    All my books are now in storage so all my quotes are from memory.
    He writes that in 1940 there was a famous scholar (memory fails me),who wrote an article in a Hebrew scholary journal "Hziyuf hagadol shel hameah ha'13".
    His reasoning was IIRC,that the earliest copies of it was in Hebrew,not in Arabic,like his other maamarim,that it was translated into Arabic & then again into Hebrew.& that's the copy we have.
    He claims it was written by one of Rambam's followers who wanted to clear Rambam of heresy charges,& why he listed it as the last Ikkar,instead in the top.
    Why Rambam is so offended by the accusation,the emotional tone unlike his other writngs,that his reasoning is vey weak.

    Now years ago in Canada,I met a Judaic Studies prof,on a sabbatical from Ben Gurion Univ.
    (his name is on the tip of my tongue,I should certainly remember it,since I had quite a few discussions with him,but that's what age & infirmaties can do to your brain.
    Anyhow you mentioned him a few times in your posts as one who edited the 'melamed hatalmidim" or is it "malmed hatalmidim",either makes sense & IIR "livyat chen".

    This Prof. told me that an original Arabic manuscript has lately been found.I doubt very much whether it's the original man.
    Do you know anything about the above?

  2. y. you mean Howard Kreissel.

    I know about the possibility of it being a forgery though I think I understand what he is trying to say. It does not mean so much but the Rishonim took the letter seriously. Plus there are some great gems in it.

    I dont think he meant Rashi. He never mentions him but his son does many times with great respect and not only halachikally. rashi was not a corporealist but closer to Rambam than to Ramban re mysticism too. It is amazing how strongly anti corporealist he was notwhistanding the society and culture he lived in. I will write about this at some point in time.

  3. Some say he had in mind Rashi

    Who says this?

    rashi was not a corporealist

    On what grounds do you say this?

  4. In general Rashi says the same thing as the Rambam from what I have seen.