Friday, May 20, 2011

Yediah And Emunah - Resag On Belief and Demonstration -

I started reading Hanivchar Be’emunot Vede’ot (HBV) by Rav Sa’adyah Gaon (Resag). It is a most rewarding experience which I will try to share as I come across ideas that captivate me. HBV was written in Arabic about two years after Resag wrote his commentary on Sefer Yetzira. Resag’s style is to support everything he proposes, directly from Tanach, quoting and then interpreting verses extensively.  Resag also composed the Tafsir, a translation into Arabic of Tanach, accompanied by a full commentary. Not all the commentary is available but a lot of work is ongoing in reconstructing from where it is quoted by others to complement the extant parts of the commentary. Resag’s interpretations of verses are original and the comments on verses in the HBV are many times complementary to the Pirush, at others novel. 

Note: I want to caution that these posts are written before I had a chance to read the whole sefer. I read it years ago and referred back to chapters and subjects many times in the last few years, but this is the first systematic read in a long time. My comments should therefore be taken with caution and I have a feeling my opinions and understanding of Resag may change as I go along.

Here is a segment in the introduction discussing belief and knowledge. (Translation is mine from Rav Kafieh’s Hebrew translation of the original Arabic).

Know you who are reading this book, May God grant you grace, that the rationale for studying and exploring matters related to our beliefs is to fulfill two goals. One is so that we can verify in actu through [demonstrated] knowledge that which we already know as taught to us by God’s prophets and the second is so that we can refute any that argue against us in matters of our beliefs. God informed us through His prophets, all that we need to know regarding our beliefs, authenticating their prophecy through signs and portents, and thereafter commanded us that we demonstrate [logically for ourselves] these matters and remember them. He also told us that our study and exploration would lead us to verify all that we were told by His messengers giving us assurances that it is impossible for those who argue against us to contradict our religion or those [among us] who have doubts about our beliefs to argue against our beliefs.”     

In the preceding segment, Resag showed that there is a religious obligation to demonstrate for ourselves through logical arguments that which we are commanded to believe and ignore the cautionary warnings of those who worry that speculation may lead to heresy. He now explains that this fear is not only unfounded but shows a lack of confidence that our beliefs are indeed true. If we accept the scriptures and their authors as God’s prophets authenticated by their performance of “signs and portents”, we should feel secure that no one could prove us wrong. I find it interesting that Resag melds the two – co-religionists who have doubts and followers of other religions who argue against our religion – assuring us that should they honestly look for the truth they will find that our beliefs are true and will stand up to all scrutiny. Resag then uses Yeshayahu 44:6-8 in support of his argument which he interprets as follows -

ח  אַל-תִּפְחֲדוּ, וְאַל-תִּרְהוּ--הֲלֹא מֵאָז הִשְׁמַעְתִּיךָ וְהִגַּדְתִּי, וְאַתֶּם עֵדָי; הֲיֵשׁ אֱלוֹהַּ מִבַּלְעָדַי, וְאֵין צוּר בַּל-יָדָעְתִּי.
8 Do not be frightened do not be shaken! Have I not from old predicted to you? I foretold and you are My witnesses. Is there any god then but me? There is no other rock; I know none!

He [Yeshayahu in the name of God] said; do not be afraid from the numbers and strength of your opponents …. Do not be shaken by the essence of their arguments and of their proofs, consider that I predicted to you future occurrences and told[1] you of past happenings…. He then said “you are My witnesses”, referring to the signs, marvels and great portents that they experienced …. He then said, “Is there any god then but me?” meaning that should you at times wonder about some of the past and the future events I shared with you, thinking that they were not so. That fear would be warranted were I not the sole creator, allowing you to wonder whether I knew all the details. However, [that cannot be the case] considering that I am one and alone, My knowledge encompasses everything that I did and will do. He furthermore said, “There is no rock I know not”[2], included in that [word צוּר] are the respected people and the wise amongst them as the word צוּר is used [allegorically] for respected people for example …. He tells us with this that as God knows all wise and respected men and all that they know, it is therefore impossible that they should come up with anything that would disprove your beliefs and laws considering that I [God] know all and I am the one who told you all this. It is from this perspective that we explore and study [logically demonstrate] that which our Creator has told us”.

The argument seems to be circular. God tells us about the past, namely that the world is not eternal, that it was created and the reason we believe that is so, is because He is the sole Creator and therefore knows all! Also, the last sentence requires some clarification; what does he mean by this apparently a priori perspective? However, before dealing with that Resag appears to digress and asks –

“If all religious matters as told to us by God, are demonstrable through correct research and exploration, what is the wisdom of Him informing us through prophecy authenticated by physical rather than rational proofs? The answer is that the Wise One knows that knowledge acquired through study requires a lot of time and had he left it up to us to learn [these truths], we would have remained ignorant for a long time. Indeed, many would never reach a resolution because of their handicaps, some for lack of ability while others would become mired in uncertainty and questions.  For that reason, God relieved us from this responsibility, sending us His messenger informing us [of these truths], showing us unquestionable signs and portents, ones that cannot be denied as it says “you saw that I spoke with you from heaven” (Shemot 20:22). He also spoke with His messenger in front of our eyes, compelling us to believe in him always as it says …. We were therefore required to accept these religious matters and all they encompass immediately, relying on what our senses experienced, compelling us to accept this reliable transmission. We were then commanded to study [these matters] at our own speed until we demonstrate logically to ourselves [these truths].”

Resag addresses the obvious question first. If these theological truths are demonstrable, and that must be so if there is an obligation to demonstrate these beliefs to ourselves, why then did God present them to us as matters of belief? Why did He not let us work them out on our own?  As Rav Kafieh notes, Rambam in MN 1:34 follows the same line of reasoning and offers a similar answer. If everyone were required to establish philosophical truths starting from scratch, starting as a tabula rasa without even a foreseeable endpoint, most of us would never get to the truth. We are therefore told where our speculation, if performed carefully and thoroughly, will lead us to and commanded to accept these truths at first on Moshe’s say so with the expectation that in time we will demonstrate to ourselves their veracity.

The next question that comes to mind is that we are asked to spend a lifetime following a strict set of rules that cover every aspect of one’s life and work to overcome personal biases with the goal that one speculate towards a foregone conclusion. How is one to know that at the end of the road he will not discover that all this was a lie and a life, nay lives were wasted?

This is where “signs and portents” play their role. They authenticate the prophecy by confirming that the source of the message is God who should know the Truth considering He is the Creator of everything. It gives the seeker a certain amount of psychic comfort and confidence to know that the end goal he is seeking comes from an impeccable source. However, theology dependent on revelation-based belief should only be transitory until the seeker develops personal convictions using logical processes. Because without that a person that uses his God given brains cannot shake off a kernel of doubt. As Rambam says in Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah 8:1  שהמאמין על פי האותות--יש בליבו דופי, שאפשר שייעשה האות בלאט וכישוף
One whose beliefs are based on signs cannot avoid having doubts. Those signs could be a sleight of hand or magic.” Skepticism is healthy.

Although Resag does not spell it out here, but taking into account his understanding of what a reliable demonstration consists of, as discussed elsewhere in HBV, I think that he holds that beliefs have to be tested against reality - if they do not contradict reality, we can accept them as true. That is how I read the end of the first piece I translated above “it is impossible for those who argue against us to contradict our religion or those [among us] who have doubts about our beliefs to argue against our beliefs.” I will talk more about his position on demonstration in the future.

Here again we see Resag aligned pretty much with the thought we see in Rambam.

[1] Resag translates וְהִגַּדְתִּי – literally as I told, not foretold as in JPS translation
[2] Resag translates, וְאֵין צוּר בַּל-יָדָעְתִּי differently then JPS


  1. My feeling is that the Rambam got his focus on knowledge and proof from his Aristotilian leanings. Finding that RSG agrees doesn't surprise me.

  2. Micha

    Seeking the root cause and proof of all propositions from dvar Hashem is the foundation of Talmud Torah. We know all halachot to be true, yet we spend years explaining their root causes. We now all statements of Chumash to be true as well, yet we seek to see the underlying rationale there as well.
    חכמות בחוץ תרנה; ברחבות, תתן קולה: 21 בראש המיות, תקרא בפתחי שערים בעיר, אמריה תאמר: 22 עד-מתי פתים תאהבו פתי ולצים, לצון חמדו להם; וכסילים, ישנאו-דעת: 23 תשובו, לתוכחתי הנה אביעה לכם רוחי; אודיעה דברי אתכם: 24 יען קראתי ותמאנו; נטיתי ידי, ואין מקשיב: 25 ותפרעו כל-עצתי; ותוכחתי, לא אביתם: 26 גם-אני באידכם אשחק; אלעג, בבא פחדכם: 27 בבא כשאוה (כשואה) פחדכם, ואידכם כסופה יאתה; בבא עליכם, צרה וצוקה: 28 אז יקראנני ולא אענה; ישחרנני, ולא ימצאנני: 29 תחת כי-שנאו דעת; ויראת יהוה, לא בחרו:

  3. David

    I agree wholeheatedly with the division of TT into two stages, preliminary based on Otot and mature based upon proof. This is an essential basis of Ralbag as well with his systematic presentation of taryag beginning with Otot in Mitzraim moving through dibrot in principle and extension into mitzvot and concluding with Shema Yisrael Hashem Eloheyna as a Shemiya based upon proof, rather than authority suported by Otot.

  4. R' Sacks,

    Obviously R' Yehudah haLevi and R' Chasdai Crescas strongly disagree about what kind of epistomological foundation one's emunah is supposed to stand.

    BTW, a major problem of citing Mislei is that the book is a self-proclaimed collection of meshalim with no pisgamim given in the text. People coming from different derakhim will see different messages in the same words.

    But where is there anything in that quote about sourcing our emunah on philosophical or scientific proof?


  5. Re RYH and R Crescas
    There is dispute about many things,I suggest we use Talmudic thought skills to measure which position is the best for us to choose? In this process Rambam must win. If he is right in his thought, he has won. If he is wrong, the best argument has still been used as the basis of Emunah. So Rambam has still succeeded.

    Re Mishlei
    I suggest we take the reading of an intelligent, unbiased non Jewish scholar as the basis of what this Mishlei means. I think they will be fairly clear about it, and will acknowledge the Author statement as a good representation of an Am Chacham Vinavon.

  6. First, why do you assume one size fits all?

    Second, we live in a world of thought very influenced by the Kantian revolution. The approach advocated by the Rambam or R' Saadia Gaon (or the Scholasticists or Kalam) isn't all that effective for most of us.

    Let me quote R' Sholom Carmy (Avodah v7n87), "People who throw around big words on these subjects always seem to take for granted things that I don’t.

    "The people who keep insisting that it’s necessary to prove things about G-d, including His existence, seem to take it for granted that devising these proofs is identical with knowing G-d.

    "Now if I know a human being personally the last thing I’d do, except as a purely intellectual exercise, is prove his or her existence."

    And, via R' Gil Student, here is a similar sentiment by Louis Jabobs (We Have Reason to Believe, pp. 25-26, 28-30)

    "Since Kant, these proofs [of God's existence] have been heavily assailed…. Many theologians, nowadays, accept the validity of these refutations and admit that there can be no proof of God in the sense that there can be no proof of a mathematical formula… But they go on to remark that we can be convinced of a thing beyond of a shadow of a doubt by means other than that of mathematical proof. There is no such proof, for instance, of the existence of other human beings beside ourselves, yet we are convinced that they do exist… In other words a distinction must be drawn between proof and conviction — proof is one of the ways to conviction but there are other ways, too…"


  7. I would like to scrutinize the examples of "the existence of other humans" or "knowing someone personally" that you are proposing in the name of R Carmy and Louis Jacobs.

    The significance of these examples seems to arise from the particular significance of our relationships to people. We feel that we "must" have knowledge of other people. Is this really true?

    In fact, there is no greater reason to believe we know other people than anything else in the world. Our lives are filled with examples of people we thought we knew, but in fact, did not exist. The person we thought we knew was actually a figment of our imaginations.

    The same is true of our gods. Were the ancient Ovdei Avodah Zara not equally convinced that they had relationships with their gods? How do we explain the phenomenon of Avraham Avinu? Surely he was taught about personal relations with his peoples gods, yet he broke free through his inquiry.

    Am I missing something in the sense in which you present awareness of people as a significant illustration of conviction?

  8. Sorry I missed the question about one size fitting all.

    This too requires some scrutiny. Were there many ways by which the Jewish people were allowed to hold the conviction that the Torah was given at Sinai?

  9. The debate you're trying to engage in is old. You might not personally be drawn to the derakhim of R' Yehudah haLevi, R' Yosef Albo, R' Chasdai Crescas, or R' JB Soloveitchik -- all of whom downplay the role of theological proof. But do you really think you can summarily dismiss their worldview with an argument that trivial?

    I dedicated a number of posts to this topic, as did R' Student. Why not start there?

    See my category Faith and Proof.


  10. I responded to the argument I was given. You are certainly welcome to present whatever understanding you have from whatever other thinkers you have read.I would only gain from this. I think what I said stands on its own merit, until shown otherwise, whether you call it trivial is your business.

  11. You're opening a can of worms that doesn't fit in a comment chain.

    I pointed you to where I posted on the subject. You could choose to chase that link and reply to what I wrote already. Or we could just leave sleeping dogs lie.

    However, intellectual honesty does require admitting to oneself that a position backed by such noted baalei mesorah, as well as being the general view of most secular western philosophers since Kant must have more merit than your summary dismissal accorded it. That if you think RYBS's approach to epistomology (or Rav Nachman's) could be tossed off with one line, you should actually withhold comment until you read more.


  12. That sounds like a very interesting invitation, I look forward to reading what you said and commenting.

    For your part perhaps less of the metacommentary on what others should and should not say and more dealing with the discussion at hand?

  13. As I wrote twice before, I don't think the debate you're asking for can fit in this format.

    I instead just pointed out how many thinkers actually hold of alternatives to the epistomology you're advocating as being the One True Torah Perspective.


  14. I did not advocate any one true torah perspective. I just asked a question, which was not answered. Were there a variety of acceptable rationals that the Torah gave for accepting that the Torah was given at Sinai?

    Nor did I ask for a debate,it is a discussion I am looking for. I was asked a question that I enjoyed and I answered it. Of course I would appreciate answers to my questions as well.

  15. The Torah gives only one reason to believe -- because the nation experienced the events in Shemos through Bamidbar. Nothing about proofs or any other way of reinforcing, millenia later, that we actually did.

    To me it looks like HQBK is saying that we will believe because He planted the idea among us through those events. Not that we should ground our belief in those events, but that in practice we will -- and did.

    As for debate.. You wrote "Seeking the root cause and proof of all propositions from dvar Hashem is the foundation of Talmud Torah." But many lomedei Torah didn't agree. I'm saying that R' Saadia Gaon and the Rambam take this position either because of the Aristotilian worldview which places emphasis on knowledge and proof, or that is shares a common cause -- whatever it was in their makeup or zeitgeist which lead to their using Aristo to frame the Torah led to this emphasis on knowledge proof. It is not "the foundation", it is at most one possible foundation.

    And, as I wrote elsewhere, Kant showed it to be a shaky foundation, and I don't believe most people rely on it either. Proofs tend to be used to justify beliefs after the fact, more than being used as cause to adopt them.

    And I also wrote there why I believe that's so -- because proofs rests on postulates / givens, which themselves are only accepted by those whose worldview is aligned with them. A proof is a complex structure atop principles accepted due to experience. IMHO, and I'm far from alone, it's shakier than simply basing one's emunah directly on experience itself.


  16. According to Hilchot Talmud Torah. If a child, learning the story of the giving of the Torah, were to ask his Rebbi how it is that the event at Sinai so long ago, is a basis for him, today, to believe in Nvuat Moshe. Would the Rebbi be obligated to answer again and again until the student felt satisfied that he understood?

    ו [ד] הרב שלימד ולא הבינו התלמידים, לא יכעוס עליהם וירגז, אלא חוזר ושונה הדבר אפילו כמה פעמים, עד שיבינו עומק ההלכה. וכן לא יאמר התלמיד הבנתי, והוא לא הבין, אלא חוזר ושואל, אפילו כמה פעמים. ואם כעס עליו רבו, ורגז--יאמר לו: רבי, תורה היא, וללמוד אני צריך; ודעתי קצרה.

  17. R.JS: "According to Hilchot Talmud Torah. ...
    לא יאמר התלמיד הבנתי, והוא לא הבין

    The student's seeking of הבנה (as opposed to an undifferentiated 'conviction') is only possible in a רס"ג type of world. Elsewhere, the pursuit of הבנה is a taboo which is lied about, with the outcome that most תלמידים are ensnared in double-binds. This double-binding is the desired "success" of the educational system.

  18. Havanah is important. Both in halakhah and in aggadita. I'm saying that havanah follows after one is being convinced. I do not believe proofs convince, and am inclined to the opinion of those rishonim who divorce the concept of emunah being about such proofs.

    In other words - experience leads to belief, leads to further study and comprehension of more details. Which, as both RYBS and Chassidim note (R' Nachman extemely so), stands in dialectic tension to ahavah and yir'ah. The philosopher's G-d, the Rambam's G-d of negative attributes, is a conception of Deity that one cannot grow an emotional bond to. It's too abstract and austere.

    And in fact, the Rambam has to redefine ahavas Hashem to be about something other than the commonplace concept of love. Quoting Yesodei haTorah 2:2:

    וְהֵיאַךְ הִיא הַדֶּרֶךְ לְאַהֲבָתוֹ וְיִרְאָתוֹ? בְּשָׁעָה שֶׁיִּתְבּוֹנֵן הָאָדָם בְּמַעֲשָׂיו וּבְרוּאָיו הַנִּפְלָאִים הַגְּדוֹלִים, וְיִרְאֶה מֵהֶם חָכְמָתוֹ שְׁאֵין לָהּ עֵרֶךְ וְלֹא קֵץ, מִיָּד הוּא אוֹהֵב וּמְשַׁבֵּחַ וּמְפָאֵר וּמִתְאַוֶּה תַּאֲוָה גְּדוֹלָה לֵידַע הַשֵּׁם הַגָּדוֹל. כְּמוֹ שֶׁאָמַר דָּוִיד "צָמְאָה נַפְשִׁי, לֵא-לֹקים לְאֵ-ל חָי" (תהילים מב,ג).

    To the Rambam, one doesn't so much love G-d as thirst to know more about Him. G-d is so Transcendent in the Rambam's conception that there is no dialectic with Immanence.

    BTW, that quote in Hil' TT is just that in hilkhos Talmud Torah. Emunah is hilkhos Yesodei haTorah.

    (I'm not sure whether the Rambam would put learning aggadita into hilkhos Talmud Torah altogether. As in the halakhah you cite, "עד שיבינו עומק ההלכה". I have a suspicion that the Rambam would split aggadita into Yesodei haTorah (theology) and Dei'os (values/mussar), and limit the particular mitzvah of learning Torah to the study of halakhah.)

  19. This issue of Sinai, is a good source to answer whether Rambam would put Agadita, and inyanei Emunah generally, into the category of TT.

    Consider the fact that the depiction of Sinai of the written Torah, is itself part of a Halacha.

    א משה רבנו--לא האמינו בו ישראל, מפני האותות שעשה: שהמאמין על פי האותות--יש בליבו דופי, שאפשר שייעשה האות בלאט וכישוף. אלא כל האותות שעשה במדבר, לפי הצורך עשאן--לא להביא ראיה על הנבואה: צרך להשקיע את המצריים, קרע את הים והצלילם בו. צרכנו למזון, הוריד לנו את המן. צמאו, בקע להם את האבן. כפרו בו עדת קורח, בלעה אותם הארץ. וכן, שאר כל האותות.

    ב ובמה האמינו בו, במעמד הר סיניי: שעינינו ראו, ולא זר, ואוזנינו שמעו, ולא אחר--האש והקולות והלפידים. והוא ניגש אל הערפל, והקול מדבר אליו; ואנו שומעים: משה, משה--לך אמור להם כך וכך. וכן הוא אומר "פנים בפנים, דיבר ה' עימכם" (דברים ה,ד), ונאמר "לא את אבותינו, כרת ה' את הברית הזאת" (דברים ה,ג).

    ג ומניין שבמעמד הר סיניי לבדו, היא הראיה לנבואתו שהיא אמת שאין בו דופי--שנאמר "הנה אנוכי בא אליך בעב הענן, בעבור ישמע העם בדברי עימך, וגם בך יאמינו לעולם" (שמות יט,ט): מכלל שקודם דבר זה, לא האמינו בו נאמנות שהיא עומדת לעולם, אלא נאמנות שיש אחריה הרהור ומחשבה.

    ד [ב] נמצאו אלו ששולח להם, הם העדים על נבואתו שהיא אמת, ואינו צריך לעשות להם אות: שהם והוא אחד בדבר, כשני עדים שראו דבר אחד ביחד--שכל אחד מהם עד לחברו שהוא אומר אמת, ואין אחד מהם צריך להביא ראיה לחברו. כך משה רבנו--כל ישראל עדים לו אחר מעמד הר סיניי, ואינו צריך לעשות להם אות.

    ה וזה הוא שאמר לו הקדוש ברוך הוא בתחילת נבואתו, בעת שנתן לו האותות לעשותן במצריים, ואמר לו "ושמעו, לקולך" (שמות ג,יח): ידע משה רבנו שהמאמין על פי האותות, יש בליבו דופי ומהרהר ומחשב, והיה נשמט מלילך, ואמר "והן לא יאמינו לי" (שמות ד,א)--עד שהודיעו הקדוש ברוך הוא, שאלו האותות אינן אלא עד שייצאו ממצריים; ואחר שייצאו ויעמדו על ההר הזה, יסתלק ההרהור שמהרהרין אחריך, שאני נותן לך כאן אות שיידעו שאני שלחתיך באמת מבתחילה, ולא יישאר בליבן הרהור. והוא שהכתוב אומר "וזה לך האות, כי אנוכי שלחתיך: בהוציאך את העם, ממצריים, תעבדון את האלוהים, על ההר הזה" (שמות ג,יב).

    ו נמצאת אומר, שכל נביא שיעמוד אחר משה רבנו, אין אנו מאמינין בו מפני האות לבדו, כדי שנאמר אם יעשה אות נשמע לו לכל מה שיאמר; אלא מפני המצוה שציוונו משה בתורה, ואמר אם נתן אות, "אליו, תשמעון" (דברים יח,טו): כמו שציוונו לחתוך הדבר על פי שני עדים, ואף על פי שאין אנו יודעין אם אמת העידו אם שקר; כך מצוה לשמוע מזה הנביא, אם האות אמת או בכישוף ולאט.

    ז [ג] לפיכך אם עמד נביא ועשה אותות ומופתים גדולים, וביקש להכחיש נבואתו של משה רבנו--אין שומעין לו; ואנו יודעין בייחוד שאותן האותות בלאט וכישוף הן, לפי שנבואת משה רבנו אינה על פי האותות כדי שנערוך אותות זה לאותות זה, אלא בעינינו ראינוה ובאוזנינו שמענוה, כמו ששמע הוא.

    In order to establish the Omek halacha of determining a Navi Sheker, one must universalize the basis of the Emunah that Nvuat Moshe was unique and see that denying Neviim who contradict Moshe, follows from our Emunah in Moshe established at Sinai.

    But it is not only this piece of chumash and this emunah which must be so universalized. Havana leads step by step, to the Universal Chochma of Hashem that you quote as the basis of Ahava. Note that all inyanei Emunah, are in fact part of TT. They are in fact the root causes that TT seeks on its way to Ahava.

    יג [י] עד אימתיי חייב אדם ללמוד תורה--עד יום מותו, שנאמר "ופן יסורו מלבבך, כול, ימי חייך" (דברים ד,ט); וכל זמן שלא יעסוק בלימוד, הוא שוכח. [יא] וחייב לשלש את זמן למידתו: שליש בתורה שבכתב; ושליש בתורה שבעל פה; ושליש יבין וישכיל אחרית דבר מראשיתו, ויוציא דבר מדבר, וידמה דבר לדבר, וידין במידות שהתורה נדרשת בהן עד שיידע היאך הוא עיקר המידות והיאך יוציא האסור והמותר וכיוצא בהן מדברים שלמד מפי השמועה--ועניין זה, הוא הנקרא תלמוד.

  20. יד [יב] כיצד: היה בעל אומנות--יהיה עוסק במלאכה שלוש שעות ביום, ובתורה תשע: אותן התשע--קורא בשלוש מהן, בתורה שבכתב; ובשלוש, בתורה שבעל פה; ובשלוש, מתבונן בדעתו להבין דבר מדבר. ודברי קבלה, בכלל תורה שבכתב הן; ופירושן, בכלל תורה שבעל פה; והעניינות הנקראין פרדס, בכלל התלמוד.

  21. Notice that this too is in Yesodei haTorah, not Talmud Torah.

    Also, contrary to what I've been saying about the Rambam and proofs rather than experience, the Rambam sounds almost Kuzari-like in YhT 8, the pereq you quoted. How do we know? Because we were there.

    Of course, the Kuzari's "we were there" doesn't work too well in a generation when most Jews don't actually believe the historicity of that. It's not any less true; it's just made invoking knowledge-by-tradition a very hard way to convince people.


  22. Yesodei Torah as inyanei Pardes is Talmud.

  23. Insofar as Kuzari that brings us back to Davids post. Sefardim such as Resag and Rambamists generally such as Ralbag saw a series of logical levels beginning with an "Otot"stage and moving toward a mature demonstrative stage.

  24. R. Micha and RJS,

    Very interesting and instructive exchange. To summarize , R. Micha understands Rambam as a pure Aristotelian who requires us to develop "proofs" for God's existence. Kant having shown that to be undoable and that being the accepted wisdom of our time we must accept the approach of R. Chasdai Crescas, Kuzari et al that knowing God is emotional and experiential based on internal convictions and the mitzvot are there to reinforce that. RJS agrees that "proofs" are required and in fact they are the purpose of all Mitzvot for us to develop our minds so that we can succeed in that process. He at the same time rejects or ignores Kant.

    I on the other hand hold that Rambam is not a pure Aristotelian and he does not expect us the "prove from scratch" the existence of God. I understand that he holds that we have to accept God's existence based on our forefathers and the Torah and then spend the rest of our lives developing arguments based on our reality to confirm that including the attributes we confer on Him such as existence, will, omnipotence, unity et al. We begin this voyage knowing full well that we will never reach that ultimate goal because "Ki lo Yre'ani adam vachai" but along the way we will learn His derachim through understanding His creations and know how to act in accordance with His will.

    The knowledge we seek is a negative one, in other words we are trying to understand what God is NOT through His world which is all we know and which is the closest we can get to Him. That dialectic of knowing and not knowing is humbling and explains why Moshe is anav mikol adam - he had the highest level of that kind of understanding.

    Rambam does not accept experiential and emotional knowledge. It is suspect based on immagination and not reality. Understanding what one cannot know is reality while fooling oneself with imaginary concepts is Sheker.


  25. 1. I do not think Aristotle, as understood by the Islamic thinkers favored by Rambam, demanded proofs from scratch either. He too holds that one must begin with such opinions as exist in mankind, seeking the best.

    2. Rambam thought there were a spectrum of logical methods acceptable, in accord with the talmud torah ability of the student, techilat limudo to advanced. These methods begin with Sinai as an observable event and end with the higgayon of Aristotle as understood in milot haahigayon and intro to MN.

  26. I think that in a sense the central philosophical dilemma in Judaism is not theological, but that of akrasia. (Why people do the wrong things.)

    The Rambam appears to follow the shitah that Aristo blamed bad decisions on bad opinions. I think this shows through in his naming "hilkhos dei'os", his discussion of what we today call "middos" words that literally mean "laws of opinions".

    Therefore, to the Rambam, the essence is to know, to minimize the room for error in opinion. Emunah is thus based on philosophical proof from first principals. And it's yedi'ah that gets one into olam haba, that forms by connection by which one obtains hashgachah peratis, etc... The Rambam's goal is a kind of deveiqus to HQBH, but one based on knowing about Him, not relating to Him. (Or in contrast to Litta and Germany, where the goal of halakhah is seen in terms of remaking oneself morally, whether phrased in terms of middos or of yosher.)

    Even in halachic process, I would argue the Rambam gives more emphasis to the original intent of a mishnah or maamar in the gemara than would other rishonim. E.g. if the gemara's peshat in a mishnah appears to be a stretch, Rashi on the mishnah will try to justify the stretch. Whereas the Rambam is more likely to minimize the chiddush of the gemara and his Peirush haMishnayos is not likely to give the gemara's explanation in favor of something more straightforward. Halakhah as science rather than Rashi's (or Tosafos's, or the Tur's or the Rosh's or the Mordechai's or the Raavad's or...) halakhah as process of legal development.


  27. David could you explain how your understanding of Rambam's attitude to proofs accords with perek עא of first part of MN?

  28. Micha

    Why do you divide remaking yourself and acting out of an emerging awareness of chochma into two different things?

    If one acts out of an awareness of Chochma, is one not remaking the basis of ones action? Wouldnt such a person be remade as a consequence?

  29. >David could you explain how your understanding of Rambam's attitude to proofs accords with perek עא of first part of MN?

    Rambam in 1:71 debunks the argument from intelligent design. IOW those who prove the existence of God based on the world having to have a creator.

    I don't want to get into literary proofs from MN as that would be a book but one point: It is clear that Rambam did not believe that one can prove the existence of God irrefutably (I believe he does prove the existence of a Godlike entity but that is another discussion) because he brings more than one proof - from non-contingency , from first cause, first mover and others. An irrefutable proof does not require a second one or a third one.

    Also see MN 2:2 hakdamha where before proving he makes a statemetn that is an eye opener. Also see his arguments against Aristo's eternal universe in MN 2:15 which can be used re Rambam too. Vehadevarim Aruchim...

    Re Sinai and matan torah, I have a lot to say and disagree with your take on it and its purpose. I will write about it as time permits.

  30. I mentioned the word "akrasia" for a reason, even if that reason got lost by the time I got there...

    My emphasis about Litvish and Yekkish derakhim is that they define self-completion in ethical, moral, and personal refinement terms. Even Litvaks, with their/our emphasis on learning, expect the immersion in learning to cause a character change by the miqvah-like experience of learning -- not by the knowledge. See the opening chapters of Nefesh haChaim cheileq 4. (Yes, that really is an unline copy of NhC that those words link to!) This is how R' Chaim Volozhiner emphasizes the lishmah experience rather than the knowledge gained. Something the Rambam's approach wouldn't allow for -- the more you know of G-d, the greater your soul (nefesh qetanah is his term for the souls of the hoi palloi who never get beyond the iqarim).

    So, why did I end up only discussing "intellectual deveiqus" in my previous comment rather than "intellectual sheleimus" as well? Particularly since I prepared to say something about akrasia and the Rambam's placing the knowledge in terms of avoiding stupid decisions?

    See the end of the Moreh for how the Rambam ranks life's decisions. The lowest level of human perfection is fiscal, then health and temperament, then moral, and highest -- intellectual. The Rambam requires that moral and intellectual perfection be intimately linked in order to explain the role of morality in Torah. One isn't intellectual in order to achieve moral and ethical perfection, one is moral and ethical because only by that similitude to G-d can you complete your knowledge of Him. Quoting Friedlander's translation of 3:54: The fourth kind of perfection is the true perfection of man: the possession of the highest, intellectual faculties; the possession of such notions which lead to true metaphysical opinions as regards God. With this perfection man has obtained his final object; it gives him true human perfection; it remains to him alone; it gives him immortality, and on its account he is called man.

    On a different note... I think the essence of 1:71 is the Rambam explaining that in order to prove there is a G-d, one has to prove it given that the universe had a beginning as well as either (1) disproving that the universe is eternally old or (2) proving that even if it were true that the universe were eternally old, there sill must be a G-d. And then explains that he does #2 in the Moreh not because he believes in Eternity but because this way the result is more sure in the mind of the reader.


  31. RJS agrees that "proofs" are required and in fact they are the purpose of all Mitzvot for us to develop our minds so that we can succeed in that process.

    What I said was that all inyanim of Torah ultimately find their root cause in inyanei pardes. The proof that God exists is a stage in this process of reducing all torah to inyani pardes. It is not the end of it.

    I am curious how what I said leads to the conclusion that proof of Gods existence is the final objective of Mitzvot?

  32. Micha

    There is intrinsic value in knowing His wisdom, only conditional in application to action. To know that it follows from His justice that one should give די צרכו to an עני is to know something eternally true for all time. To calculate and apply this knowledge in particular action to a given עני is valuable insofar as one is in a circumstance that materially needs such action. We actually pray this circumstance be near non existent. Yet, the talmud torah will forever be inspiring and true.

  33. I think you just inverted the order, though. According to Aristo, the Rambam, and to a lesser extent R' Saadia Gaon, the goal is knowledge. That's the highest perfection. IOW, you speak about knowing G-d in order to know how one should give tzedaqah. The Rambam would have you give an ani "dei machsero" in order to emulate and thereby better unerstand the Creator.

    This is why to him, emunah is knowing things philosophically, ahavas Hashem is wanting to know more about Him philosophically, etc...


  34. RJS,

    I did not say "final" just a purpose. We are saying the same thing.

  35. Not at all Micha. I am agreeing that the highest expression of being a mind knowing Hashem is recognizing the eternal wisdom by which a lawful order maintains generations of the human part of His Creation.

    Human functioning as an expression of self recognition of man's role as an instrument of that ideal is a material application, and less significant derivitive of that knowledge. Calculating ones own circumstance in ones personal material sphere, is a further material application and even less significant.

    If it were not for the reality of His lawful system, the extensions of recognition could not exist and would have no meaning. Yet, as stages of human development, a person cannot really be said to know His Chochma, until he has learned to act in his own daled amot, in application of mitzva.

  36. עשה מלאכיו רוחות; משרתיו, אש להט:
    5 יסד-ארץ על-מכוניה; בל-תמוט, עולם ועד:
    6 תהום כלבוש כסיתו; על-הרים, יעמדו-מים:
    7 מן-גערתך ינוסון; מן-קול רעמך, יחפזון:
    8 יעלו הרים ירדו בקעות; אל-מקום, זה יסדת להם:
    9 גבול-שמת בל-יעברון; בל-ישובון, לכסות הארץ:
    10 המשלח מעינים בנחלים; בין הרים, יהלכון:
    11 ישקו כל-חיתו שדי; ישברו פראים צמאם:
    12 עליהם עוף-השמים ישכון; מבין עפאים, יתנו-קול:
    13 משקה הרים מעליותיו; מפרי מעשיך, תשבע הארץ:
    14 מצמיח חציר לבהמה, ועשב לעבדת האדם; להוציא לחם, מן-הארץ:

  37. Rav Yoni,

    You lost me.

    You wrote "There is intrinsic value in knowing His wisdom, only conditional in application to action."

    I replied that while this notion is valid, it isn't consistent with the Rambam, who gives the value of knowing about Him as the ultimate aim. Not conditional but quite the reverse -- that application to action only has value in its aiding knowledge!

    Where in this last reply do you show that the Rambam sees life in terms of moral or ethical accomplishment?

    Getting back to the post, I'm claiming that it's because the Rambam sees the goal of life in terms of mastering theology that he has to understand emunah in terms of philosophy.

    And, that this whole notion that the perfected soul is one that knows the most about G-d is Aristotilian, and thus comes from one of R' Saadia Gaon's primary sources.

    Third, I objected to the our host's assumption that philosophical proof is better yedi'ah. While the Rambam and R' Saadia Gaon clearly believed this, it's inconsistent with many other rishonim and more modern secular philosophies. As an assumption, it has to be questioned and itself justified.


  38. R. Micha,

    >Getting back to the post, I'm claiming that it's because the Rambam sees the goal of life in terms of mastering theology that he has to understand emunah in terms of philosophy.

    This is one of my problems with the understanding of many of Rambam's followers. Rambam in the last chapter of MN clearly explains that all Yediah is for the sake of action, so that one knows how to emulate God. It is consistent with the last halacha in Hilchot Teshuvah. Philosophical knowledge without doing is incomplete.

    I accept your comment about other Rishonim and Acharonim disagreeing with Rambam and it is also the accepted theory in today's world. My opinion is, and that is my personal bias, that it is at the root of the many problems and inconsistencies we see in Jewish life today. Until we return to the Rambam's approach of putting sechel i.e. Yediah at the forefront - with all its human limitations - we will continue on this sliding slope. The limitations are there and must be accepted but the path must be followed - lo alecha hamelacha ligmor. It is the search as hopeless as it may seem - that strengthens us and helps us think correctly.

    I may be a pessimist and too critical but as I said it is my personal conviction.

  39. I quoted where in the last chapter of the Moreh he says that knowledge of truth vs falsehood is a higher perfection than that of temperament or morality. So I could use help seeing how you read the chapter as clearly saying otherwise.

    As for problems and inconsistencies in today's Jewish life... I think it comes from no one thinking about what they're trying to accomplish in life altogether. (Why do you think Yeshivos gravitate toward Brisk, which doesn't require invoking meaning, only halakhic categories?) When your observance is mitzvos anashim meilumadah and your hashkafah isn't much beyond what Morah Miriam taught you in pre-1A, how could you possibly have a consistent model of Torah or goal for your behavior?

    IOW, it's not because of the abandonment of Scholasticism for modern philosophies as the abandonment for non-thought and the divorce from inspiration altogether. Even if you don't make life all about philosophical knowledge, some kind of theology is still a necessary precondition. The less one has, the less he can aim for a particular goal, the more observance is defined by social acceptability.


  40. The prophet does not content himself with explaining that the knowledge of God is the highest kind of perfection;

    p. 397

    for if this only had been his intention, he would have said, "But in this let him who glorieth glory, that he understandeth and knoweth me," and would have stopped there; or he would have said, "that he understandeth and knoweth me that I am One," or, "that I have not any likeness," or, "that there is none like me," or a similar phrase. He says, however, that man can only glory in the knowledge of God and in the knowledge of His ways and attributes, which are His actions, as we have shown (Part 1. liv.) in expounding the passage, "Show me now thy ways" (Exod. xxxviii. 13). We are thus told in this passage that the Divine acts which ought to be known, and ought to serve as a guide for our actions, are, ḥesed, "loving-kindness," mishpat, "judgment," and ẓedakah, "righteousness." Another very important lesson is taught by the additional phrase, "in the earth." It implies a fundamental principle of the Law; it rejects the theory of those who boldly assert that God's providence does not extend below the sphere of the moon, and that the earth with its contents is abandoned, that "the Lord hath forsaken the earth" (Ez. viii. 12). It teaches, as has been taught by the greatest of all wise men in the words, "The earth is the Lord's" (Exod. ix. 29), that His providence extends to the earth in accordance with its nature, in the same manner as it controls the heavens in accordance with their nature. This is expressed in the words, "That I am the Lord which exercise loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth." The prophet thus, in conclusion, says, "For in these things I delight, saith the Lord," i.e., My object [in saying this] is that you shall practise loving-kindness, judgment, and righteousness in the earth. In a similar manner we have shown (Part I. liv.) that the object of the enumeration of God's thirteen attributes is the lesson that we should acquire similar attributes and act accordingly. 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. We have explained this many times in this treatise.

  41. R. Micha,

    The problem I see is why is it that people have become so thoughtless? I believe it is because the more mystical and emotional approaches to religion lead people to see it as being in service of the religious/observant person and not as Avodah. That promotes action for action's sake rather than action for self improvement sake. The Brisker derech in fact would be helpful because it promotes logical thought over plain ritual. unfortunately for it to work we would have to change the rest of the religious man's thinking.

    Please note that I am talking about the impact of the different derachim on the plain person. the gedolim who followed each derech had a much deeper understanding which is lost on their talmidim.

  42. This is the Rambam's Negative Theology (note the reference to 1:54), that one can't know G-d, one can only know His Actions. And so, the Rambam concludes, as you quote, "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."

    Knowledge of how G-d acts is the highest goal, and necessarily will cause you to act similarly. Thus, neviim enjoin us ethically rather than giving philosophical treatises. But he does not say the highest goal is the emulation itself, and in fact, quite the reverse.

    Ve'im lav hakhi, how do the two quotes of 3:54 jibe?


  43. People have become thoughtless because modern western zeitgeist is about instant gratification. Not setting up life goals and working toward them over decades.

    If what you were saying were true, Chassidus and Mussar never would have survived.

    As I wrote before, I disagree with the assumption that people are cerebrally motivated.


  44. R. Micha,

    I think you are reading into Rambam what he does not say. I do not see any contradiction. To know how to act properly one must understand God's actions and emulate them. These two things are interconnected - knowledge and actions - and are the goal. Knowledge without actions is deficient. Action without knowledge is wrong.

    Chassidus has not survived in its original form or intent but in a distorted and empty emulation of actions without any content - at least amongst the masses. The same can be said about mussar pointing to the deficiencies in that way of teaching. people are not cerebral because it is not expected of them to be. they are cerebral when it comes to self preservation and satisfaction!

  45. What you say fits what you quoted. My take fits both what you quoted, and what I did. I therefore believe I captured the Rambam's point in the chapter more accurately.

    The Rambam calls knowledge a higher perfection than temperament and ethics. You're saying it's all one thing. I don't see how that's sustainable.


  46. One more thing R. Micha, you discuss earlier why Rambam named Hilchot De'ot. The first mitzvah listed is Vehalachat bidrachav which without De'ah is impossible. All the halachot follow from that as he makes clear in the first chapter of those halachot.

  47. I agree with Micha regarding the priority of thought over action in Rambam. As we see from the Rambam you cite David.

    Another very important lesson is taught by the additional phrase, "in the earth." It implies a fundamental principle of the Law; it rejects the theory of those who boldly assert that God's providence does not extend below the sphere of the moon, and that the earth with its contents is abandoned, that "the Lord hath forsaken the earth"

    Rambam speaks of man, insofar as man has a material body and is limited by material conditions of residing in the Earthly system. In this condition of being a body on Earth, certain needs arise, that a mind that operates through a body cannot ignore. This does not change the priority of theoretical thought over practical thought and action, both during our time of residence on earth and beyond.