Thursday, December 25, 2008

All The Words Of Rabbeinu Moshe Are Of One Mind In All His Writings.

Many argue that Rambam’s Halachik work is completely independent from his philosophic writings. Some point to the title of his philosophic magnum opus, Moreh Hanevuchim – the Guide of the Perplexed – that its intended audience is the “perplexed”, the skeptics. In other words, Rambam really did not subscribe to philosophy but wrote the Guide as an apologetic work to satisfy those who are perplexed by the apparent irrationality of Torah. Those who are therefore not bothered by these issues should refrain from thinking about these things. This position is the official stance of most contemporary Chareidi Yeshivot. In the opposing camp, the argument goes that Rambam presents an exoteric position to the traditional public, the philosophically unsophisticated, and an esoteric position which reflects his “real” belief, to the more advanced thinker. This latter approach to Rambam goes back to his early traditional commentators and was keenly embraced by modern scholars, especially the Leo Strauss School. As I showed in my last two posts, I believe Rambam is a Man of Truth par excellence and says it as he sees it. He may sometimes write in a manner that requires great care and precision to his wording to really understand what he means, and he warns us in his introduction to the Moreh that he may tactically present an intermediate position that is inexact as a teaching method. However, Rambam held that Torah and philosophy are intertwined and interdependent as both present the truth. Not only is the theological component of Torah steeped in philosophy and the sciences but so too is Halacha.

I am reading Professor Menachem Kellner’s excellent Torat Ha’ikkarim and he points me to an interesting observation that he credits Professor Yaakov Blidstein. The last Mishna in the first Perek of Hagigah categorizes the different Halachot. Some are based on a detailed textual prescription while others are based on minimal text metaphorically described as “mountains hanging on a hair”. The Mishna ends by pointing out that all these different categories of Halacha are equally “the body of the Law”. In other words notwithstanding how little or how much textual support a Halacha has, all categories are equally authentic and binding.

The next Mishna, the first of the second Perek, deals with how different Halachot have to be taught. Matters that deal with family issues should not be taught to more than two pupils at once while scientific matters to no more that one pupil. Metaphysics should not be taught to anyone in an explicit manner but rather should be presented in a way that allows the intelligent pupil to develop an understanding on his own. At the end of a long discussion of the reasons for the restrictions, Rambam addresses the placement of this Mishna here and its continuity from the last Mishna.

. והזכיר ענין זה במקום זה לפי שאמר לעיל הן הן גופי תורה, לפיכך הזכיר ענינים שהם יסודות גופי תורה.

He [Rebbi the editor of the Mishna] mentions this subject [sciences and metaphysics – Ma’aseh Breishit and Ma’aseh Merkavah] here because he said [in the earlier] Mishna that “these and these are the body of the Law”. He therefore discusses now those matters that are the foundation [on which] “the body of the Law” [are based].

In other words, Halacha’s basis, its foundation and rationale is science and philosophy. Halacha is based on reality; it does not create its own reality as I have heard it argued many times. A true understanding of Halacha can only come if it is rooted in reality – sciences and philosophy. As Rav Meir Simcha of Dvinsk writes, “all the words of Rabbeinu Moshe are of one mind in all his writings”. There is no disconnect between his philosophical and his Halachik positions in fact they are complementary and interdependent. When one learns a Rambam in Mishne Torah, one has to look for the underlying scientific or philosophical concept to understand him correctly. That was the approach of the great Halachik giants, among them, Rav Meir Simcha and the Rogatchover; they saw the Moreh as the key to understanding Rambam in MT and vice versa.


  1. This goes to show how lacking some darkhai halimmud are. There is often absolutely no attempt to show how the halakha is an expression of hashkafa.

  2. David,
    This observation was made by Prof. Twesrsky in the beginning of the chapter 'law and Philosophy' in his Introduction to the code of Maimonides(around page 350-360). He quotes the abovementioned mishna in Chagigah with Rambam's comment.

  3. Neil, Thank you. As you know we read things and they pass us by until we think of that specific issue ourselves, Then the closest to touch on it sticks.