Monday, August 08, 2011

Must a Corporealist Always Be Considered a Min According To Rambam?

I just read a very interesting article by Professor Harry Wolfson A”H  in a collection of his articles translated into Hebrew published by Magnes Press entitled Hamachshava Hayehudit Bi’yemei Habeinay’m (page 283). This article, “The uniqueness of God and His transcendence in Rambam’s thought” (the article was English in its original and I am sure my translation of the Hebrew title is not exactly its original title) discusses the opening halachot of the Mishne Torah (MT) in the first chapter of Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah. Wolfson shows how Rambam was subtly addressing concepts that were prevalent at his time in the writings of different Muslim and Christian philosophers and theologians. That is not the focus of this post but rather an issue he discusses within the context of the article.

Rambam explains God’s absolute uniqueness as meaning that God cannot be compared with any other existent and that is one of the central Halachot in that chapter which then elicits quite a bit of discussion and clarifications.  One Rambam argument is that perfect uniqueness negates corporeality for if God is corporeal even if uniquely so, He would still be comparable to another corporeal entity. Therefore when we declare in Shema that God is One we are saying that God is unique in an absolute uniqueness that cannot be compared to anything else that exists. The understanding of this is according to Rambam the positive commandment of Yichud Hashem as he explains in Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah 1:4

והואיל ואינו גוף, לא יארעו מאורעות הגופות כדי שיהא נחלק ונפרד מאחר; לפיכך אי אפשר שיהיה אלא אחד.  וידיעת דבר זה--מצות עשה, שנאמר "ה' אלוהינו, ה' אחד"

Being that He is not corporeal, the accidents that occur in a body do not occur to Him that would allow for Him to be divided and separated from another. Therefore He must be One only. Knowing this is a positive commandment as it says “Hashem is our God, Hashem is One”.

In Sefer Hamitzvot, Rambam counts this commandment as the second Mitzvat Asseh - positive commandment. Based on this proposition Rambam then rules in Hilchot Teshuvah 3:7 listing amongst the 5 people considered Minim;

והאומר שיש שם מנהיג, אבל הם שניים או יתר; והאומר שיש שם ריבון אחד, אלא שהוא גוף ובעל תמונה
One who says that there is a Leader, but there are two or more; and one who says that there is one Lord but He has a body and an image [is a Min].

Three questions come to mind about the meaning of the word האומר – one who says - in this context.  

1.      Does it mean that only one who says so, namely is convinced rationally that it is so is considered a Min or even one of the masses who is just going along with the simplistic understanding of things? Wolfson presents the question even more incisively. Let us take the proposition that God has a body, what would be the status of a simple person who cannot conceive of anything “existing” without it having substance. Existence without substance is not something we can recognize with our senses but requires a lot of philosophical training to really appreciate such a possibility. Would a simple person who could not conceive existence without substance but still maintains that God is unique, also be considered a Min?

2.      When Rambam says that one who says that there is a leader but there are more than one is a Min, does he include someone who believes that God has external attributes? Most people would have trouble grasping what Rambam demonstrates that God with accidental attributes is synonymous with Him having substance. Would a person who cannot conceive of such a concept and believes that God has attributes but at the same time has no substance, be considered a Min? Or is a Min only one who is convinced of that philosophically, namely “says so”?

3.      Finally, in Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah 1:8 Rambam quotes three verses as textual proof that God has no body. One of them
ונאמר "ואל מי תדמיוני, ואשווה" (ישעיהו מ,כה); ואילו היה גוף, היה דומה לשאר גופים
The [prophet] says: “to whom can you liken Me, to whom can I compare?” If He were a body, He would be likened to other bodies. 
Rambam ties God’s unity and incorporeality together; because the prophet says that He is incomparable to other existents, therefore He cannot be corporeal like they are.  This is a philosophical argument that Rambam superimposes on the text to prove that God is not corporeal. Let us say that a person argues that God has a body but it is unique and exclusive to God. Does not that too meet the criteria of incomparability? Would such a person be a Min? 

In this post I will discuss Wolfson’s resolution to the first question leaving his answer to the other two for upcoming posts.

In sefer Hamitzvot Asseh 2, Rambam starts by saying, היא הציווי שנצטווינו להאמין בייחודthe commandment is to believe in uniqueness. The verse that he uses as the source for this Mitzvah is שמע ישראל ה' אלוקינו ה' אחד. He then subtly changes the presentation of the mitzvah by saying

וקוראים למצווה זו גם 'מלכות שמים' כי אומרים כדי לקבל עליו על מלכות שמים, כלומר ההודאה בייחוד והאמונה בו           
This Mitzvah is also referred to as “rule of Heaven” as they [the Rabbis] say “to accept upon himself the rule of Heaven” namely the acknowledgement in unity and the belief in Him.

Rambam moved from belief to acknowledgement. At the beginning of each section of Halachot in MT, Rambam lists all the Mitzvot that underlie the rules that will be discussed in that section and they are supposed to parallel and be traced back to Sefer Hamitzvot[1].  At the beginning of Hilchot Yesodei Hatorah he lists this Mitzvah as לייחדו[2] – literally to make Him unique. What exactly does he mean with that? Wolfson suggests that Rambam is thinking of the Midrash Shir Hashirim 7:11 (and from there this entered into the daily prayer book) ומיחדים שמו שתי פעמים ואומרים שמע ישראל ה' אלוהינו ה' אחד They declaim His uniqueness twice [daily] by saying Shema … Thus not only is it a requirement that one believe in the uniqueness of God but also one has to declaim acknowledgement of that uniqueness. Halacha takes a theological Mitzvah and turns it into a practical performance; belief becomes a declaration.

Halacha is not satisfied with a positive commandment. It also establishes a negative commandment, the first negative commandment in Rambam’s count -

היא האזהרה שהוזהרנו מלהאמין אלוהות לזולתו יתעלה
It [the commandment] is that we were forbidden to believe that anyone else is a deity.

Here too when the Mitzvah is listed at the beginning of these halachot Rambam changes it slightly to give it a practical performance format –

שלא יעלה[3] במחשבה שיש שם אלוה זולתי ה
One should not bring to mind that there is a deity besides God.

Again, believing is changed to” bringing to mind”, a willful act rather than a simple belief. This is further confirmed as the Halacha describes this prohibition (idem 1:6) -

וכל המעלה על דעתו שיש שם אלוה אחר, חוץ מזה--עובר בלא תעשה, שנאמר "לא יהיה לך אלוהים אחרים, על פניי.
 Anyone that brings to mind that there is another god in addition to this One – transgresses the negative commandment, “you should not have other gods upon my face” …

But what does “bringing to mind” entail? In Hilchot Avodah Zara 2:6 the detailed description of how this prohibition is transgressed

כל המודה בעבודה זרה, שהיא אמת--אף על פי שלא עבדה, הרי זה מחרף ומגדף את השם הנכבד והנורא
One who acknowledges an Avodah Zara (idol) that it is true, even if he has not worshipped it, he reviles and curses the glorious and fearsome Name [God].

Rambam then adds- ואחד העובד עבודה זרה, ואחד המגדף את השם whether someone worships an idol or curses the Name … Clearly the two prohibitions are similar both in their context and their action so much so that acknowledging more than one god is seen as cursing Him. Considering that the prohibition of cursing God is only transgressed once one declaims the curse

 אין המגדף חייב סקילה, עד שיפרש את השם המיוחד של ארבע אותיות שהוא אלף דלת נון יוד, ויברך אותו בשם מן השמות שאינן נמחקים

One may therefore assume that acknowledging an idol is done by declamation too. A declarative acknowledgement of an idol as true is the practical transgression of “bringing to mind” that there is more than one God so by extension when Rambam said והאומר שיש שם מנהיג, אבל הם שניים או יתר – a Min is “one who says that there is a Leader, but there are two or more” he is only considered a Min if he says so – if he makes a declarative acknowledgement of a plurality of gods. Thus someone who cannot conceive that God has no substance, that such an entity could “exist”, but maintains that God is unique, however contradictory that position is logically , he is not a Min; he is just a misguided simple unsophisticated Jew. [4]

[1] See the introduction to Sefer Hamitzvot where Rambam explains that the work is a preparation for his upcoming Mishne Torah as a way to insure he does not skip over a Mitzvah. Having done that, he again lists all the Mitzvot at the beginning of Mishne Torah and again at the beginning of each Sefer and again at the beginning of each section of Halachot.  
[2] See also the listing at the beginning of MT where he lists the Mitzvah as
לייחדו, שנאמר "ה' אלוהינו, ה' אחד
[3] יעלה can be translated “come” to mind or “enter” the mind which would have a passive connotation or “bring” to mind which is active . However when the Halacha is described Rambam uses וכל המעלה which must be translated anyone who “brings” to mind making it clear that יעלה is meant in its active connotation.
[4] I refer the reader to Hakirah 11 page 232 where Professor Menachem Kellner seems to have missed this Wolfson article. See further Hakirah 10 page 135 in Rabbi Buchman’s article where he seems to have arrived at a similar conclusion as Wolfson from another perspective.