Saturday, July 18, 2009

Does the Rambam Think Believing in Creation Ex Aliquo (Creation of the World From a Primordial Matter) Makes You a Heretic?

I was learning through some of the Rambam's Hilchos Teshuva and something caught my attention. In perek 3 halacha 7 of Hilchos Teshuva the Rambam lists five types of people that are considered heretics. He says,

"There are five types of people that are called heretics: One who says that there is no G-D and there is no guide (for the world); One who says there is a guide (for the world), but there are two or more; One who says that there is one G-D, but He has a physical body and an image; Also, one who says that He (G-D) is not the only first one and former of everything; Also, one who worships another 'G-D' in order that it act as an intermediary between this man and the Lord of the world. All five of these people are heretics."

It would seem from this statement in the Rambam, that anyone who says that G-D is not the only first one and former of everything, that he believes that anyone who believes in creation Ex Aliquo is a heretic. Creation Ex Aliquo is the belief that there was a primordial matter that had no shape or form that G-D used to create everything. This idea was first brought forth by the Greek philosopher Plato.

The Raavad here says that the Rambam is talking about the philosopher in the following Medrash Rabbah (1:9). The Medrash says,

"A certain philosopher asked Raban Gamliel, 'Your G-D is indeed a great former, but he found good materials which assisted Him, tohu, vohu, darkness, wind, water and the deep. Rabban Gamliel replied, May your spirit blow away! With regards to all of them it is written that they were created." The rest of the Medrash goes into the different verses throughout Tanach that prove all of these six things were created.

The commentator on the Rambam that most clearly points out that he thinks the Rambam is saying that believing in creation Ex Aliquo makes one a heretic is the Lechem Mishna on this Rambam. He explicitly says that if someone believes in creation Ex Aquila then they are in the Rambam's category of a heretic.

However, I saw in the sefer likutim in the back of the Rambam Frankel, in the name of the Rada, that the Rambam clearly states (The Guide for the Perplexed 2:25) that if one found a proof for creation Ex Aliquo that it could be read into the pasukim. The Rada seems to think that the Rambam and Raavad are arguing here and not agreeing like the Lechem Mishna says. The Raavad would call a person that believes in creation Ex Aliquo a heretic, but the Rambam would not. He is referring to something else when he says, "Also, one who says that He (G-D) is not the only first one and former of everything."

Indeed, the Rambam does say that creation Ex Aliquo, Plato's view, is a possibility if one wants to believe in Judaism. He even says in The Guide for the Perplexed(2:25),

"If, however, we accepted the Eternity of the Universe in accordance with the second of the theories which we have expounded above (ch. xxiii.), and assumed, with Plato, that the heavens are likewise transient, we should not be in opposition to the fundamental principles of our religion; this theory would not imply the rejection of miracles, but, on the contrary, would admit them as possible. The Scriptural text might have been explained accordingly, and many expressions might have been found in the Bible and in other writings that would confirm and support this theory."

By the Rambam's own admission, if a person believes in Plato's idea of creation, Ex Aliquo, then they are not rejecting the fundamental principles of the religion. So why would the Rambam call this man a heretic? If the Lechem Mishna is right, what is the Rambam saying?

In light of this I think we can correctly understand the Rambam in the following way. The Rambam is saying that someone who believes in Aristotle's philosophy, that the world has always existed in its current state, would be considered a heretic. In fact, the Rambam even says in The Guide for the Perplexed(2:25),

"If we were to accept the Eternity of the Universe as taught by Aristotle, that everything in the Universe is the result of fixed laws, that Nature does not change, and that there is nothing supernatural, we should necessarily be in opposition to the foundation of our religion, we should disbelieve all miracles and signs, and certainly reject all hopes and fears derived from Scripture, unless the miracles are also explained figuratively. The Allegorists amongst the Mohammedans have done this, and have thereby arrived at absurd conclusions."

This seems like a reasonable understanding of the Rambam since Aristotle believed in a single G-D that is not physical. However, Aristotle believes that the universe is eternal and that there was no creation. The Rambam believes that if someone denies creation then they are a heretic. However, a person can believe in creation Ex Nihilo or creation Ex Aliquo. This seems to be the correct understanding of the Rambam.

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