Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Rambam- Yesodei HaTorah- Chapter 9 Halacha 1: No Prophet Can Alter The Torah and G-D's Knowledge of the Future

 דבר ברור ומפורש בתורה שהיא מצוה עומדת לעולם ולעולמי עולמים אין לה לא שינוי ולא גרעון ולא תוספת שנאמר את כל הדבר אשר אנכי מצוה אתכם אותו תשמרון לעשות לא תוסף עליו ולא תגרע ממנו. ונאמר והנגלות לנו ולבנינו עד עולם לעשות את כל דברי התורה הזאת. הא למדת שכל דברי תורה מצווין אנו לעשותן עד עולם. וכן הוא אומר חוקת עולם לדורותיכם. ונאמר לא בשמים היא. הא למדת שאין נביא רשאי לחדש דבר מעתה. לפיכך אם יעמוד איש בין מן האומות בין מישראל ויעשה אות ומופת ויאמר שה' שלחו להוסיף מצוה או לגרוע מצוה או לפרש במצוה מן המצות פירוש שלא שמענו ממשה. או שאמר שאותן המצות שנצטוו בהן ישראל אינן לעולם ולדורי דורות אלא מצות לפי זמן היו. הרי זה נביא שקר שהרי בא להכחיש נבואתו של משה. ומיתתו בחנק על שהזיד לדבר בשם ה' אשר לא צוהו. שהוא ברוך שמו צוה למשה שהמצוה הזאת לנו ולבנינו עד עולם ולא איש אל ויכזב: 

It is a clear [idea] in the Torah that it (the Torah) is a [conglomeration] of commandment[s] that were established to last forever. It is not [meant] to have any changes, deletions, or additions, as it says (Devarim 13:1), "Everything I command you, be careful to do it. You shall neither add to it, nor subtract from it." It also says (Devarim 29:28), " But the revealed things are for us and our children forever: that we must fulfill all the words of this Torah." This is to teach us that all of the words of the Torah are commands for us to perform, forever. It also says (Vayikra 23:14), "An eternal statute throughout your generations." 
It also says (Devarim 30:12), "It is not in heaven." This teaches us that the prophet does not have permission to [reveal a] new [law that was not revealed previously.] Therefore, if a prophet arises from among the men of Israel or from among the nations and performs signs and wonders and then says that G-D sent him to add a commandment, to delete a commandment, to explain one of the existing commandments in a way that was not heard from Moshe, or he says the commandments that Israel were commanded to follow were not meant for the generations, but only for a specific time, this [person] is a false prophet because he is coming to contradict the prophecy of Moshe! His death penalty is strangulation because he [falsely claimed] to be speaking in the name of G-D, but he was not really commanded [by G-D.] For, [G-D] commanded Moshe that this testament (the Torah) was for us and our children for eternity and [G-D] is not like a man, who lies.    

The Rambam here is introducing us to the idea that once the Torah was given to Moshe, that is the final draft of the Torah. G-D was working on the Torah and was "tweaking it" until he finally gave it to Moshe and the Jews at Mount Sinai. However, once G-D gave the Torah, that was it. There was no more alterations, G-D wanted the Torah that was handed over to be the final draft. Any further alterations were unnecessary. Therefore, if a prophet comes and says, "G-D wanted to tweak the Torah a little more," we call him or her a liar. The reason is because the Torah was given and it is "no longer in heaven!" Man was given the perfect code.

How do we know this code was perfect and no future alterations are necessary? For starters, it was given to us by G-D. If G-D is perfect and omniscient then the code he gave us must apply for all time.  

This brings me to an interesting and very important discussion, does G-D know the future and if he does, how can there be free will?

This has been a personal struggle for me and I believe I have a decent explanation. However, first let me state the dilemma clearly. The problem is this: If G-D knows what a person will do, then how does that person have free will to perform that action? Is the person not forced into performing that action because G-D already knows it will occur?

There are three main sources to discuss if you are interested in the rationalist approach to G-D's foreknowledge. The statements made by Rabbi Akiva, the Rambam and the Ralbag. Let's start with Rabbi Akiva. 

It states in the name of Rabbi Akiva in Pirkei Avos (Ethics of our fathers, 3:15), "All is foreseen, and freedom of choice is granted." This does not help us understand anything. It is a simple statement that allows us to say that we have freedom of choice, but G-D knows everything. It seems like a contradiction, but it isn't and we must take Rabbi Akiva's word for it. This is a very unsatisfying answer. 

The Rambam gives us a little more, but not much. He bases his opinion on his approach to divine attributes (found in The Guide section 1 chapters 51-68). Basically, the Rambam says G-D's foreknowledge does not remove our freedom from our choices (See The Guide section 3 chapter 20). The reason for this is because we don't understand the idea of G-D Knowing something. G-D does not have features that are knowable. We do not have the ability to understand any attributes of G-D, therefore, we can not understand why His knowledge of events does not contradict our free will, but it does not. This answer is more detailed than Rabbi Akiva's, but it is still very unsatisfying.

The Ralbag's answer is intriguing, because he has such a unique approach to G-D's foreknowledge. He explains (In section 3 of The Wars of The Lord) that G-D does not know the future, because the future has not yet occurred, but G-D knows all of the possible outcomes based on different decisions that a person can make.

All three of these answers are difficult to take. Rabbi Akiva does not give any explanations as to why or how his statement is believable. The Rambam gives an explanation that would disallow any type of logic in Judaism, because if we can't really understand anything about G-D how can we truly understand what he said or passed down to us? Finally, the Ralbags approach would take away too much power from G-D. For, if G-D does not know the future, how can His Torah be relevant for all generations and unchangeable, like the Rambam says it is (Granted the Ralbag goes on to explain this difficulty, but the answers are still unsatisfying)?

I think the following approach makes the most sense. All of these previous approaches either lacked a way of explaining something or were the best effort for the thinking of their time. However, if we understand that space and time are finite and G-D exists outside of the finite universe, then we can understand that G-D knows everything that has occurred and everything that will occur. It is similar to watching a movie for the second time, just because I know what is going to happen in the movie, does that make the choices of the person in the movie any less of a choice? Also, it must be that G-D knows all future events in order for the Rambam's approach to be valid, because, as I stated earlier, if G-D did not know the future how could the Torah be unalterable? Obviously, the Torah would need to adjust as reality changed. However, with our approach, using a superficial understanding of space and time, we can somewhat understand how G-D's knowledge of the future works. 

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Rambam-Mishna Torah Yisodei Hatora Chapter 8 Mishna 3: Why a Prophet's Miracles Do Not Prove Anything

לפיכך אם עמד הנביא ועשה אותות ומופתים גדולים ובקש להכחיש נבואתו של משה רבינו אין שומעין לו ואנו יודעין בבאור שאותן האותות בלט וכשוף הן. לפי שנבואת משה רבינו אינה על פי האותות כדי שנערוך אותות זה לאותות זה. אלא בעינינו ראינוה ובאזנינו שמענוה כמו ששמע הוא. הא למה הדבר דומה לעדים שהעידו לאדם על דבר שראה בעיניו שאינו כמו שראה שאינו שומע להן אלא יודע בודאי שהן עדי שקר. לפיכך אמרה תורה שאם בא האות והמופת לא תשמע אל דברי הנביא ההוא. שהרי זה בא אליך באות ומופת להכחיש מה שראית בעיניך והואיל ואין אנו מאמינים במופת אלא מפני המצות שצונו משה היאך נקבל מאות זה שבא להכחיש נבואתו של משה שראינו וששמענו:

Therefore, if a prophet arises and performs great wonders and miracles and tries to contradict the prophecy of Moshe, our teacher, we do not listen to him and we know with certainty that those wonders [were performed with] trickery and magic. For, the prophecy of Moshe, our teacher, was not [based] on the signs [he performed] so we could compare this sign to another [prophet's] sign. Rather, we saw with our eyes and heard with our ears like [Moshe] heard. This [prophet that is giving a prophecy that contradicts Moshe's prophecy] is similar to witnesses that testify to a man concerning something that he saw with his own eyes, [but they claim to have] seen something different than what this man saw and different from what this man heard, therefore, this man knows with certainty that these are false witnesses. Therefore, the Torah says that if a false prophet comes with signs and wonders, you should not listen to his words, because this [false prophet] is bringing you signs and wonders to contradict something that you have seen with your own eyes. And since we only believe in wonders because of the commandments that Moshe commanded us, how can we accept this sign that is being brought to contradict the prophecy of Moshe that we saw and we heard?  

The Rambam here bases this Mishna on a foundation of his philosophy. The Rambam believes that there is no such thing as an unnatural event that occurs in this world, except for those things that G-D built into creation to be unnatural. This is found in the Rambam's explanation on the Mishna in Avos (Perek 5) that speaks about the ten things that were created on the eve of Sabbath. Over there, the Rambam says that all miracles and wonders are within the realm of the natural. 

With this in mind, we can understand his stance that a prophet producing a miracle proves nothing, because this miracle is within the realm of nature. However, the Torah, G-D and Moshe's prophecy are supernatural and thus, "untouchable" by any subsequent prophet. Every miracle is a natural phenomenon and thus can not be used to overrule something supernatural that is experienced with the senses. This is why we believe in miracles only because of Moshe's prophecy, because that is what brought the supernatural into this world. Without Moshe speaking to G-D and the Jewish people witnessing it, we would not believe that anything is supernatural. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Rambam Yesodei HaTorah Chapter 8 Halacha 2- Why There Was No Need For Moshe To Provide Miracles For People To Believe Him

נמצאו אלו ששולח להן הם העדים על נבואתו שהיא אמת ואינו צריך לעשות להן אות אחר. שהם והוא עדים בדבר כשני עדים שראו דבר אחד ביחד שכל אחד מהן עד לחבירו שהוא אומר אמת ואין אחד מהן צריך להביא ראיה לחבירו. כך משה רבינו כל ישראל עדים לו אחר מעמד הר סיני ואינו צריך לעשות להם אות. וזהו שאמר לו הקב"ה בתחילת נבואתו בעת שנתן לו האותות לעשותן במצרים ואמר לו ושמעו לקולך. ידע משה רבינו שהמאמין על פי האותות יש בלבבו דופי ומהרהר ומחשב והיה נשמט מלילך ואמר והן לא יאמינו לי. עד שהודיעו הקב"ה שאלו האותות אינן אלא עד שיצאו ממצרים ואחר שיצאו ויעמדו על ההר הזה יסתלק הרהור שמהרהרין אחריך שאני נותן לך כאן אות שידעו שאני שלחתיך באמת מתחילה ולא ישאר בלבם הרהור. והוא שהכתוב אומר וזה לך האות כי אנכי שלחתיך בהוציאך את העם ממצרים תעבדון את האלהים על ההר הזה. נמצאת אומר שכל נביא שיעמוד אחר משה רבינו אין אנו מאמינים בו מפני האות לבדו כדי שנאמר אם יעשה אות נשמע לו לכל מה שיאמר. אלא מפני המצוה שצוה משה בתורה ואמר אם נתן אות אליו תשמעון. כמו שצונו לחתוך הדבר על פי שנים עדים ואע"פ שאין אנו יודעין אם העידו אמת אם שקר. כך מצוה לשמוע מזה הנביא אע"פ שאין אנו יודעים אם האות אמת או בכישוף ולט:

We find that [the Jewish people] that [Moshe] was sent to, they were witnesses to his prophecy that it was truth and[, thus, Moshe] did not need to perform another sign for them. For [the Jewish people and Moshe] were witnesses [for his prophecy] similar to two witnesses that see an occurrence together, that both of them are witnesses that the other is speaking the truth and neither of them have to bring proof to each other. Therefore, with regards to Moshe our teacher, all of the Jewish people were witnesses for him after the events of Mt. Sinai and he did not need to perform a sign for them. 

[This idea is backed up by the conversation between G-D and Moshe by the burning bush, specifically] this that G-D said to [Moshe] at the beginning of his prophecy, at the time [G-D] was giving [Moshe] the signs that he was to perform in Egypt: And G-D said (Shemos 3:18), "They will listen to your voice." Moshe, our teacher, knew that one who believes because of a sign has fault, suspicion and suspect in his heart. [Therefore, Moshe tried to] abandon [the idea] of going and he said (Shemos 4:1), "They will not believe me." 

[Moshe pursued this course] until G-D made it known [by telling Moshe,] that these signs will only last until the [Jewish people] left Egypt. [However,] after [the Jewish people] will leave and they will stand at this mountain (Mt. Sinai) I (G-D) will remove the suspicion that they suspected after you (Moshe) for I will give you a sign here that it will be known that I sent you, in truth, from the beginning and there will not remain in their hearts any suspicion. This is what the verse [means] when it says (3:12), "This will be for you a sign that I sent you, when you take out the [Jewish] nation from Egypt you will worship G-D on this mountain."     

[The only sign that removes all doubts is that the Jewish people saw G-D speak to Moshe with their own eyes, therefore,] you will find the statement that every prophet that arose (or will arise) after Moshe, our teacher, we do not believe in him (or her) solely because of the sign [he or she performs. The reason for this is] because it would be said that if he (or she) performs a sign then we will listen to him (or her) for everything that he (or she) says. However, [the reason we believe this prophet is] because of the commandment that Moshe commanded in the Torah and said (Devarim 18:15), If a sign is given, "to him you shall listen." 

[This can be] compared to the commandment that we make a judgement by the word of two witnesses, even though we do not know if their testimony is true or false. Similarly, it is a commandment to listen to this prophet [that has a sign] even though we do not know if it is a true sign or magic and trickery." 

The Rambam here is trying to clarify his position as to how valid prophecy is and how it can be utilized. In this halacha, the Rambam is setting up the reason as to why no prophet could ever come to nullify or permanently alter the prophecy of Moshe. His point, although subtle, is that the only prophecy that can be determined to be true by others is the prophecy of Moshe. All other prophets can be lying. This is why all future prophets depend upon Moshe's prophecy and can not contradict his prophecy. This is how the Rambam can immediately brush off any claims of the Muslims or Christians.

I find the Rambam's point of view refreshing for several reasons. Mainly, the Rambam does not believe in mysticism and this idea shines through in this chapter of his Mishna Torah. The idea that one should be suspicious of anything that can not be seen with your own eyes is lacking in most circles. Only in the scientific community, and even then it is not constant, are people only swayed by empirical and reproducible evidence. An argument from authority without any tangible evidence is, according to the Rambam, inherently flawed. The sole reason that we believe Judaism is the correct religion is, simply put, because of the witnessed events at Mount Sinai. Without that single event, according to the Rambam, we would not be obligated to follow Judaism or even believe in G-D.

This point can not be over stated or overemphasized. People who claim to have prophecy or special powers and do not even produce a sign are certainly to be ignored. For, even if they had a sign we can not be sure they are telling the truth. With this as a foundation for Judaism, I think, people would stop making arguments from authority and be more open to intelligent discussions.    

Friday, November 15, 2013

Giving a Get (Document of Divorce) In Jewish Law

I saw this discussion over on daattorah.blogspot.com and I felt I needed to comment:

Disappointed in HNNovember 7, 2013 at 1:56 PM DT --
I realize it must be difficult to answer these all day, I should have been more brief and specific in order not to confuse. I read R' Dovid Feinstein's letter, it doesn't answer question -- a very simple question, is it halachically legitimate to use a get as leverage in a divorce proceeding. I.e., "I will not give you this get unless and until I get what I want." I did happen to read your brother's lengthy letter regarding the fact that ma'us u'lai is not a strong enough reason to "force" a get. Again, I refer to R' Sternbuch's teshuva that clearly indicated that the husband "should" give a get in that scenario. But, again, I've been lengthy...

Daas Torah November 7, 2013 at 2:08 PM
I haven't found any teshuva which says that it is not legitimate. Furthermore often the husband is simply trying to gain that which is his according to the halacha - do you consider that illegitimate also? Again the issue is whether it is halachically or morally wrong to use the get as leverage for what you think you deserve. The answer seems to be no. BTW this applies also to a wife refusing to accept a get which Rav Eliashiv doesn't seem to think is immoral

Daas TorahNovember 7, 2013 at 2:35 PM
There should be demands which are unacceptable - but I haven't seen any discussion of what constitutes an unacceptable demand.

Disappointed in HNNovember 7, 2013 at 3:04 PM
My personal feeling, which seems to have some support from halacha, is that any husband who sits down with his to'ein and says ok, let's talk division of assets and custody and when I'm satisfied I'll give her a get, is a pretty bad guy...

---End of discussion---

Now, I think the point that Disappointed makes is a very important one. Can or should a Get ever be used as leverage for a man to receive what he wants, especially when halacha says he should receive it, but the woman won't let him have it? I am clearly no expert, but I have learned Maseches Gittin and hilchos Gittin, so I do feel like I can share my opinion.

The idea that one can use a Get as leverage is clearly a perversion of Judaism, plain and simple. The only time a man can withhold a Get is if he believes the marriage can be saved and he wants to remain married to the woman. Otherwise, halacha dictates that a Get must be given.

For example, if a woman cheats on her husband and there are not two witnesses to convict her, but the husband saw her cheating or knows from some other source, he must give her a Get. Now, one might think he is allowed to withhold a Get in this situation to cause her to suffer like he has because of her cheating, but the Gemara is clear that he must divorce her, aka give her a Get. Once a man is no longer going to live with his wife as man and wife he is supposed to, according to halacha, give her a Get. In a situation where he knows she cheated he is forbidden to live with her as husband and wife and must, therefore, give her a Get.

The question here is not whether we can force him or not and if that forced Get would be kosher or not. That is a technical and ridiculous question. The fact of the matter is, if someone is withholding a Get after a civil divorce where it is clear they will never live as husband and wife again that person is not following halacha. It is as if they are eating non-kosher, desecrating shabbos, having illicit relations, etc... Why do I compare it to the three big sins? Well, these cases where a man is withholding a Get become very public. Therefore, this is a pubic sin, not to mention a Chilul Hashem. We know that if a person is holding a gun to your head in public and says eat that cheeseburger, the Rambam is clear that one must give up his or her life and not eat that cheeseburger. Why? Because we know the reason the gun holder is doing that is specifically to cause the Jew to desecrate the commandments in front of an audience. Here too, the husband is desecrating G-D's name in public. He is transgressing more than just being "bitul an aaseh" (Not doing a positive commandment), but he is causing pain to the woman.

Even if you want to claim that the woman caused him pain, that does not make it ok for the man to cause pain to the woman. There is no revenge claus in the Torah, I am sorry, but there is not. Even if the woman was horrible to the man, the Get is not something that should or even can be used by the husband, according to Jewish law. Only a wicked or misguided person would use a Get as leverage.

Recently, someone wrote a post about withholding a Get if the woman makes false claims against the husband in order to receive full custody of the child. This is a classic case of two wrongs do not make a right. Just because the woman is clearly evil does not mean the man should demean and degrade himself to go down to her level. She obviously does not fear G-D or care about His commandments. However, a G-D fearing man needs to follow halacha and do what is right. One must have faith in G-D and His laws. Should I cheat in business because everyone else is doing it? Should I lie because I will then get what I want? Should I kill because then I will receive benefit? If you answered no to these questions why would you withhold a Get? If you answered yes to these questions you are not really an orthodox Jew, so do what you want.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Rambam-Yisodei HaTorah-Perek 8 Halacha 1: The Basis For Jewish Belief

משה רבינו לא האמינו בו ישראל מפני האותות שעשה. שהמאמין על פי האותות יש בלבו דופי שאפשר שיעשה האות בלט וכשוף. אלא כל האותות שעשה משה במדבר לפי הצורך עשאם. לא להביא ראיה על הנבואה. היה צריך להשקיע את המצריים קרע את הים והצלילן בתוכו. צרכנו למזון הוריד לנו את המן. צמאו בקע להן את האבן. כפרו בו עדת קרח בלעה אותן הארץ. וכן שאר כל האותות. ובמה האמינו בו במעמד הר סיני שעינינו ראו ולא זר ואזנינו שמעו ולא אחר האש והקולות והלפידים והוא נגש אל הערפל והקול מדבר אליו ואנו שומעים משה משה לך אמור להן כך וכך. וכן הוא אומר פנים בפנים דבר ה' עמכם. ונאמר לא את אבותינו כרת ה' את הברית הזאת. ומנין שמעמד הר סיני לבדו היא הראיה לנבואתו שהיא אמת שאין בו דופי שנאמר הנה אנכי בא אליך בעב הענן בעבור ישמע העם בדברי עמך וגם בך יאמינו לעולם. מכלל שקודם דבר זה לא האמינו בו נאמנות שהיא עומדת לעולם אלא נאמנות שיש אחריה הרהור ומחשבה:

The Jews did not believe in Moshe, our teacher, because of the signs he performed. For one who believes [in anything] because of signs has a blemish in his heart since it is possible that a sign was done through trickery and magic (and this person's faith is reliant on a fallacy). Rather, all the signs that Moshe performed in the desert were done out of necessity. [They were] not done to bring proof [as to the validity] of his prophecy. It was necessary to drown the Egyptians, so the sea was split and they were dunked in it. We (the Jews) needed sustenance so the manna was brought down [from the sky] for us. They (the Jews) were thirsty so the stone was split [and water came forth] for them. The congregation of Korach rebelled against [Moshe] so the earth swallowed them. And so too by all the other signs (miracles). 

What is the reason we believe in [Moshe's prophecies? Because of] the events at Mt. Sinai that our eyes saw them and not a strangers [eyes] and our ears heard them and not another's [ears. These events were] the fire, the sounds (thunder, voices?), the lightning, and then [Moshe] approached the fog and the voice [of G-D] spoke to him and we heard "Moshe, Moshe, go and say to them such and such." And so he said, "Face to face G-D spoke with you." And so it says (devarim 5:3), "G-D did not make this covenant with our fathers."

From where [do we know] that the events at Mt. Sinai, in and of themselves, are a proof to [Moshe's] prophecy that [we should believe] it has no faults? For it says (Exodus 19:9), "Behold, I am coming to you in the thick cloud in order that the nation will hear when I speak to you and also that they will believe in you forever." This implies that before this [event, the Jewish people] did not have a belief in [Moshe] that would last forever, rather it was a belief that was speculation and apprehension.             

This idea that the Rambam brings down is of critical importance. Signs, wonders and miracles are completely WORTHLESS when it comes to having a belief in anything. Jesus stood on water, the Baal Shem Tov flew across the world, and so on. These "miracles" have nothing to do with a JEWISH belief in G-D. The ONLY reason a Jew should believe in G-D is because of eyewitness proof. Just like I know my parents exist because I am an eyewitness, or I know president Obama exists because other people have told me he does and I see him on television. This is the Jewish belief in G-D, it is not some she said he said confusion, it is based on actually witnessed events. 

This is the basis for the Rambam's belief in G-D, that this event at Mt. Sinai actually happened. It isn't something that occurred in a dream or was verified through "miracles," it was based on an event in reality that can be substantiated. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Autopsies In Halacha

Since I am a pathology resident, I do a fair amount of autopsies (50 are required to graduate). Therefore, it was incumbent upon me as an orthodox Jew to look into the legal challenges with this subject. I have become accustomed to ask my questions to Rabbi Tendler, but since I was reading through the Nishmat Avraham and I found this paragraph I thought I would share:

and here are the sources:
The previous pages of the Nishmat Avraham go through why it is forbidden to perform an autopsy on a deceased Jew. He quotes one opinion that it is allowed for learning medicine, but firmly brushes that opinion aside and says it is irrelevant since most opinions say it is forbidden. He goes on to say how even if the person himself, let alone his family, requests an autopsy or donates the body to science since they do not have ownership over their body their words are meaningless and an autopsy may not be performed.

The only time an autopsy may be performed is when it will somehow save a life. (Most, if not all, autopsies are not done to save lives.)

The reason I find this specific paragraph intriguing is because the law in the Shulchan Orech (Yoreh Deah 349:1) which all of this is derived from equates a Jewish corpse and a non-Jewish corpse. Why then are there so many special rules by a Jewish corpse, but a non-Jewish corpse can so easily be used?

I have not looked through all of the sources since I am limited with my referencing materials. However, using Hebrewbooks.org I was able to find a good Shulchan Orech, Yoreh Deah that had many commentaries. There, I was able to find the Pischei Teshuva on this halacha (Yoreh Deah 349:1) which gives a foundation to the seemingly lenient opinion by non-Jews, but the much stricter opinion by Jews. It says that the prohibition that one may not benefit from a Jewish corpse is biblical, but not benefiting from a non-Jewish corpse is only rabbinically prohibited.

This actually helps explain HOW one could be allowed to perform an autopsy on a non-Jewish corpse when there is minimal reason and a Jewish corpse would need a maximal amount of reason, but I still need to understand WHY it should be that one is biblically prohibited and one is only rabbinically prohibited. I hope to translate one or both of Rav Moshe Feinstein's Responsa on this subject in the coming days.   

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Dogmas In Judaism, Specifically The Incorporeality of G-D

I was reading through "The Torah U~Madda Journal" from 1993 and I found a fascinating article written by Marc Shapiro. He was responding to an article written by Rabbi Yehuda Parnes in the inaugural issue (1989). Rabbi Parnes suggested that it is forbidden to study heresy, which he explains is "areas that spark and arouse ideas which are antithetical to the tenets of our faith." Rabbi Parnes then went on to clarify as to what he meant by "tenets of our faith" by stating "areas that may undermine the yod gimel ikkarei emunah (the Rambam's 13 principles of faith)." Marc Shapiro then goes on and systematically shows why these principles are not real dogmas of Judaism by revealing that there is much argument on the Rambam from other great Jewish thinkers with regards to these thirteen principles. Therefore, anyone who claims the thirteen principles as dogma are excluding many Rishonim and Achronim from Judaism. In essence, Shapiro proves that these thirteen principles should not be the litmus test for what is heresy.

The most interesting example of Shapiro's analysis is by the Rambam's third principle of faith, the incorporeality of G-D. Shapiro claims that "anthropomorphic views were widespread among both masses and scholars, especially among Ashkenazic Jews." I find this fascinating for several reasons. First, I will bring down a nearly exhaustive list of sources proving that many scholars did, in fact, hold of this view. I believe this is necessary because of all the lies and denials of certain historical facts that some in the orthodox Jewish world claim because of their unease with this truth. They would rather deny the existence of these opinions than deal with them intellectually. Therefore, I am stating all of the sources from Shapiro's research.

Here is the list:
1) Raavad Hil. Teshuva 3:7. This is the correct version of the gloss; see David Kaufman, Geschichte der Attributenlehre in der Judischen Religonsphilosophie des Mittelalters (Gotha, 1877), 487-88. See also Isadore Twersky, Rabad of Posquieres (Cambridge, 1962), 282ff (There are more for this source, but I think these two should suffice.)
2) Ketav Tamim of R. Moses b. Hasdai Taku, a Tosafist.
3) Bernard Septimus, Hispano Jewish Culture in Transition (Cambridge, 1982) 79 writes, "It seems likely that the views of Moses b. Hasdai do approximate a significant body of Franco-German opinion." See also D. Kaufmann, op. cit., 484ff; Isaiah Sonne, 'A Scrutiny of the Charges of Forgery against Maimonides' 'Letter on Resurrection,'" Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research 21 (1952): 110-16.
4) Ha-Emunah ha-Ramah (Frankfurt, 1853) 47, 91. Abraham ibn Daud reports masses of Jews believe G-D to be a material being.
5) Yedaiah Bedershi writes how it is well known that the belief in G-D's corporeality was spread throughout virtually all of Israel in "previous generations (i.e. before Maimonides was able to reverse matters.) She'elot u-Teshuvot ha-Rashba (Lvov, 1811), #418 (p. 47b). 
6) R. David Abudarham testifies that Jews held this view in Abudarham ha-Shalem.
7) The anonymous author of Ma'amar Hasekhel testifies to this fact as well.
8) R. Isaac ben Yedaiah testifies to this fact as well. See M. Saperstein op. cit., 185-86
9) R. Moses of Salerno testifies to this fact as well. See J. L. Teicher, op. cit., 84-85
10) R. Shem Tov ben Joseph ibn shem Tov (The well known commentator on the guide.) testifies to this fact as well. Commentary to Maimonides' introduction to the Guide (p. 10a in the standard edition)
11) R. Moses Nahmanides speaks about anthropomorphism being accepted by scholars. A. Lichtenberg, op. cit., III, 9d; Kitvei Ramban, ed. Chavel (Jerusalem, 1963), I, 345.
12) R. David Kimhi speaks about anthropomorphism being accepted by scholars. Lichtenberg, ibid., III, 3c.
13) R. Abraham Maimonides speaks about anthropomorphism being accepted by scholars. ibid., 16ff.
14) R. Solomon ben Meshullam da Piera speaks about anthropomorphism being accepted by scholars. See the poems published by Hayyim Brody, Yedi'ot ha-Makhon le-Heker ha-Shirah ha-Ivrit 4 (1938): 102., ibid 34. See also ibid., 91 for another defense of the anthropomorphists and Ozar Nehmad 2 (1857): 85.
15) R. Samuel Sapurto speaks about anthropomorphism being accepted by scholars. See Kerem Hemed 5 (1841): 12. See also Sapurtos letter published in Ginze Nistarot 4 (1878): 44ff.
16) R. Shem Tov Falaquera speaks about anthropomorphism being accepted by scholars. See his letter in A. Lichtenberg op. cit., III, 23 ff. The letter is anonymous, but there are reasons to assume it is Falaquera, see Heinrich Graetz, Geschichte der Juden (Leipzig, 1863), VII, 474.
17) R. Isaac ben Latif speaks about anthropomorphism being accepted by scholars. See He-Haluz 7 (1865): 91-92.
18) R. Moses Alashkar speaks about anthropomorphism being accepted by scholars. She'elot u-Teshuvot Maharam Alashkar (Jerusalem, 1988), #117 (p. 312).

Now, the reason I find this so intriguing is for the simple fact that I have never heard the thirteen principles of faith challenged so forcefully. It was only recently that I was finally made aware that many people disagreed with the Rambam in these matters. Furthermore, I had no idea there were so many sources for such a widespread belief in the corporeality of G-D. However, the idea that people would believe in G-D being corporeal makes perfect sense, especially with the caveat that most of these people were Ashkenazim.

I am a big believer in the idea that local cultures influenced Judaism everywhere it went. Clothes, types of food and other regional customs in Judaism are, in my mind, reflective of local customs. Jews were clearly influenced by which communities they moved into. Nowadays, we can still see how eastern European dress is still being worn by those people who refuse to accept this idea. Therefore, it is logical to think that Jews that were heavily influenced by Christian culture, the Ashkenazim, probably believed in a corporeal G-D just like their Christian neighbors. However, the Sefardim, who were surrounded by Muslims, most likely rejected the idea of a corporeal G-D because that idea is rejected by Muslim culture.

However, after Rambam came out with his wildly popular Mishna Torah, this immense work was able to stamp out almost all thought of a corporeal G-D. Rambam's influence was not confined to just the idea of G-D's corporeality, but to all halacha and Jewish thought, as can be seen today. Almost all orthodox Jews know the thirteen principles of faith, they are printed in almost every siddur. The Rambam was one of the main sources for the final laws of the Shulchan Orech, the main law book for orthodox Jews. The Rambam's influence is probably greater than that of any other Medieval commentator, but we must remember, that does not make any idea that he considered wrong heresy. I think Shapiro does an excellent job of explaining this idea.