Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Maharal Against Philosophers Continued

In this previous post I translated and discussed the beginning of the Maharal's discussion about what he thought about philosophers. I translated the beginning of his second introduction to Gevuros Hashem. Now I will continue to translate it and discuss his ideas.

"There are those from the believers of Israel that try to explain the wonders and miracles that happen in this world with their minds and their knowledge. The reason they use their own knowledge to explain the miracles is because the miracles do not make sense to them according to their understanding of the natural world. This inability to comprehend miracles through their own knowledge causes them to explain the miracles in a way that I (the Maharal) will mention. Still, these people do deserve credit in some respect, because they do not say that there is a lack in the doer (G-D) of the miracles, because this is not the case at all. Only, according to their minds and knowledge they think that it is not proper that the true actor (G-D), that created an order among the creations in that they are created correctly and truthfully, should change the basis for existence. That these Jewish philosophers say that if He would change the nature of the world then nothing that He created would be stable. This is all to their merit (the Jewish philosophers)."

The Maharal begins his disproof of the Jewish philosophers with respect. This shows just how great the Maharal was and how righteous he was. A man that can start a disproof with such nice words and pleasing language has amazing characteristics. He gives credit to the philosophers for using their knowledge, not to disprove G-D's existence, but rather to incorporate G-D's existence and actions into their lives. This is the proper way to act, if your knowledge and G-D's existence conflict with one another, you change your knowledge in order that you can also believe in G-D's existence.

The Maharal continues:
"However, in another aspect there is no merit to them, excluding the reason that their explanations are not correct according to intelligence and knowledge since their proofs and evidence are not correct and their congregation strays from the truth and correct path. They confuse the text (of the Bible) and give explanations for the occurrence of the miracles, that they come to teach us about the actions of G-D. This is why we call them signs and proofs, because they are signs and proofs for the actions of G-D, the awesome one. This reason is without merit and weakens the signs and proofs (of G-D) because the core reason why G-D brought the miracles to Earth was to reinforce our belief in Him."

The Maharal here is telling us where the philosophers got it wrong. It seems like he is explaining the philosophers as believing in an allegorical explanation of the text of the Bible. This diminishes the greatness of G-D because it takes away from His power. Also, this idea completely removes the idea of why G-D brought the miracles to Earth, to reveal His power on Earth. It is interesting to note that the Maharal seems to only go against philosophers that believe in an allegorical explantion of the miracles.

The Maharal continues:
"Now, returning to our original intent for mentioning the philosophers that we have not properly addressed, that we need to know how to answer a heretic. This is referring to the philosophers that say that everything comes from the intelligent order that emanates from the eternality of the world. This means that nothing deviates from this natural order and everything has its nature that it is accustomed to follow. The problem is that since everything comes from this intelligent order and is obligated to follow this nature because of the eternality of the world and cannot veer from this nature, this idea disallows any change in the world that would violate the intelligent order. This means that even a fly's wing cannot be elongated! The reason for this is that since the world has a certain nature that it follows because of the obligation that is found to exist within the world, if any change would come to the world on account of miracles then there would be a change in the order and nature of the world. According to this philosopher's knowledge we never find a change in nature because of the inherent obligation that exists within the order of the world. Therefore, the signs and proofs that change nature are not possible because everything needs to follow the obligatory order without any additions, negations or changes. On the main idea of his words (the Jewish philosopher), that the world is obligatory and therefore it must be that the world has no beginning making it eternal, will be answered in its place."

Here the Maharal is disclosing the general theory of Aristotle on the creation and existence of the world. I am not sure which Jewish philosopher that the Maharal is referring to. Perhaps he understands this as the Rambam's point of view. However, perhaps it is someone else. Either way, the Maharal is revealing which view he believes is incompatible with miracles.

The Maharal continues:
"Furthermore, according to the philosopher, how can it be that anything can come from anything? Nature dictates that anything can not come from anything, but rather only one thing can come from a specific thing. If this is true, then how could blood come from water? Behold, we can bring a proof from a type of object related to another object that is not in its type that the natural actions of something act according to its nature and its customs that are in the natural world, but its spiritual actions act according to its spirituality. There is a difference between them (the natural actions vs the spiritual actions). Natural actions occur in time and therefore every natural action needs to occur in a certain amount of time. However, an action that is not from nature does not need to occur in time. This difference is because of the fact that nature uses physical power and all physical power needs to occur in a certain amount of time. However, spiritual actions occur without taking up time, because these actions do not use physical power and therefore do not take up time. Therefore, in one moment the water was changed into blood since it was an act of G-D's will and His will changed the physicality and the spirituality in one moment. This is not a natural action that it occurred in time and that it needed to be prepared physically, but rather it was the word of G-D and the heavens did this action, with the breath of His mouth all of his legions acted. This was a spiritual act that did not require any physical preparation. Therefore, there should be no question of "But not all physical material is prepared to accept the form (of any other physical material) and therefore it would need preparation, so how was the water able to turn into blood?" This is not a question to one that understands this idea because physical material only needs preparation to accept another form if we are dealing with nature."

The Maharal is explaining how he views the nature of miracles. The problem exists that nature does not allow for miracles, however, miracles actually occur. How can this be? He explains that a physical medium, like water, does not need to be able to physically turn into blood. Although, through nature this is an impossibility, through spiritual intervention this occurs. Spiritual intervention occurs outside of time and this is how water is able to turn into blood. In this manner, G-D changes the physical properties of water through spiritual means and not physical means.

The Maharal continues:
"Philosophers, who go after nature, disregard the miracles because of this (that through nature one form can not accept another form). This we (the Maharal) admit, that through nature the miracles are impossible. However, through the spiritual actions all the miracles are possible. This is because the lower world that is governed by nature also has a connection to the world that is governed by spirituality and it is from this connection that miracles occur. This causes miracles to occur through what connects this world and the spiritual world. Therefore, miracles only occur through the Jewish people like we will explain later. All of this is because of the connection that the Jewish people have with the spiritual world and therefore miracles occur for them."

Here the Maharal discusses a major idea in his works, the Jewish people are the connection between the physical world and the spiritual world. As the connection between these two worlds the Jewish people are the conduits which are able to accept the miracles that G-D performs. Miracles can only occur through spirituality and therefore only the people that are connected to the spiritual world can attain this miracles. Therefore, it makes sense, according to the Maharal, that the Jewish people are able to receive miracles.

The Maharal continues:
"Now, this that we said 'How is it possible that we can form something from anything else, because it is impossible through nature,' is possible not through nature (it is possible through spiritual acts). Also, when we said that the world's existence is obligatory, it is from G-D. If its path is not according to the order of nature then this thing is a change from the order only according to His will. We therefore say that everything goes according to G-D's will."

The philosophy of the Maharal seems to be that G-D's will is the obligatory nature of the world. Only His will can guide the nature of the world. This is in contrast to the philosophers that believe that the natural order of the world is the obligatory nature of the world.

The Maharal continues:
"Even according to the knowledge of the one who believes in the eternality of the world and that everything goes according to the obligatory order, even though this idea is definitely wrong, according to his own knowledge he is wrong. This is because anyone who says that the miracles come from G-D is unable to say that they come from the intelligent order (and this is in fact what the Jewish philosophers try to do)."

Here the Maharal points out the inconsistencies within the ideas of Jewish philosophers that believe in the eternality of the world. If you say that miracles come from G-D it is impossible to believe that the natural order is the obligatory order of the world since miracles are in stark contrast to this idea. Miracles require one to believe that G-D's will is the only obligatory order of the world otherwise, miracles would be impossible.

Read the next part here.


SJ said...

read my blog XD

E-Man said...

Seriously? Did you want to go down this path again? Please, the way to get people to visit your sit is to make comments that actually say something, not just read my blog.

SJ said...

Did you really have to get one of your friends to respond to me on my blog instead of responding yourself?

E-Man said...

I actually didn't. I never told anyone to visit your site and say anything. Why would I need to respond? I just gave you some advice on how to actually get people to come to your blog.

The Leader, Garnel Ironheart said...


One of the difficulties with the Maharal attacking philosophers is that he engages in philosophy himself. Therefore a better description would be those philosophers who rely on rationalism to explain everything wihtout accepting that some things are beyong that kind of explanation.

With all apologies to folks like Rav Sliffkin, there are limits to rational explanations of Torah. The Mabul was not a rational, understandble event. The creation of the world cannot be completely understood on a rational basis. The gap between what happened and how much of it we can comprehend is where God lives. I think that perhaps the Maharal was worried that philosophers were trying to close that gap, leaving God nowhere to be.

E-Man said...

Thank you for getting the discussion back on track.

The reason I put the title as Maharal against philosophers is because he himself says that. He refers to them as philosophers. However, as the post shows, he is referring to the philosophers that believe in the eternality of the world according to Aristotle.

The interesting idea here is that you see that you really can ascribe a rational approach to Judaism even according to Maharal. However, it requires a new definition. The Maharal here shows that there is more than just physical nature, there is also spiritual nature. If we incorporate the spiritual nature into the physical nature then everything can be rationally explained.

I don't think the Maharal was against using a rational approach, he was just against the philosophers' description of how nature works. He agrees that there is a permanent nature, but that this nature is not the only thing controlling the world. In essence, the Maharal describes a world that is controlled through nature, but also allows for miracles to occur.

He does agree that there are some unchangeable rules. Like, I think the Maharal would agree that miracles do not occur for non-Jews, since he says that miracles only occur through the spiritual nature of the world and that can only effect the Jews since they are the connection between the spiritual world and the physical world.

In the end of the day a completely rational approach to Judaism that means that nature is the ultimate description of the world is untenable. Even the Rambam or Ralbag believe in miracles, only the miracles are kept as close as possible to the regular nature. A completely rational approach would mean that miracles are impossible, like Aristotle. This, I don't think anyone says, except the Rambam according to Pines or Strauss who i think, along with many others, do not actually understand the Rambam.

E-Man said...

Garnel, I would disagree with you and say it is possible to explain the Mabul in a rational way, just look at my post on my other blog, the black sea flood. That is a possible explanation, no? However, the creation of the world is clearly a miracle according to even the rational thinkers, Rambam and Ralbag. So, yes I would agree with you there. Anyone who tries to ascribe a real rationale to the creation of the world is extremely hard pressed to still believe in Judaism.

SJ said...

In any case E-man, if you would like to have a response to my post on you show up as a guestpost on my blog, then send it to me in an email and i'll put it up unedited.

I will make counterpoints though in the comments section.

My email is

E-Man said...

No. its ok.