Wednesday, August 26, 2009

How Traditional Judaism Works

It has come to my attention that some people do not actually understand the definition of traditional Judaism. I was having a conversation with someone about what defines traditional Judaism. He was telling me about consensus, a historical consensus. However, when pressed to describe this historical consensus he would not or could not define it or describe anything about it. That means his definition of traditional Judaism being a historical consensus is a meaningless definition since it does not describe anything, at least not for him. This created a desire for me to define what traditional Judaism entails.

On a side note, this is why I think the whole Rabbi Slifkin ban was instituted and why people are so afraid to accept the possibility that Rashi was a corporealist, because there is a lack of understanding of what traditional Judaism entails. Obviously, Judaism in the time of Dovid Hamelech was practiced differently than it is now, but that is ok because times have changed along with halachic decisions. Anyone who says that traditional Judaism has always been the same clearly knows nothing about the subject.

However, there is a big difference in the halachic changes that have been made throughout the generations in traditional Judaism and the breakoffs from traditional Judaism. There are always some basic principles that are kept within traditional Judaism that separates it from other branches of Judaism. The main difference for earlier sectarian sects was the text of the written Torah. The Samaritans and others did not even accept the text of the written Torah. They changed it to follow their beliefs, in our (Judaism's) opinion.

The next breakoffs, the Tzadukim and Karaites, did not believe in an oral tradition. This is where the Pharisees differed from them. Traditional Judaism follows in the steps of the Pharisees. The Pharisees believed that along with the written Torah there was an Oral tradition that explained the words of the Torah. This is where the Mishna, Gemorah and Midrash come from.

This is what traditional Judaism has today, an oral tradition (The Gemara). However, what is this oral tradition manifested as today? Well, we do not seem to paskin directly from the Gemara anymore. This is because there have been many great generations between us and the Gemara as well as many cultural and technological advances. Rabbis still use the Gemara in some ways, but almost every Posek uses Rishonim to back up their decisions. The way to derive halacha in this day and age seems to be by learning the Rishonim, the Rabbis of the middle ages, that comment on the Gemara as well as Achronim, Rabbis that comment on the Gemara and the Rishonim. This is what Rav Moshe Feinstein does in his Iggroes Moshe and this is what most great Rabbis have done for the past several years. Still, this is not the only defining factor, sometimes the idea of tradition (minhagim) comes into play. This is why Ashkenzic Jews do not eat kitniyos (things that look like wheat) on Pesach, even though there is no real halachic basis for this from the Gemara or most Rishonim. There is even a dispute when this Takana (Rabbbinical mandate) was instituted. However, no one is allowed to disagree with the Gemara, not even the Rishonim.

This leads us to the fact that traditional Judaism is a combination of the thoughts of the Rishonim and the traditions (Minhagim) that we have received from our forefathers. This is why Sefardim have their Minhagim that are very different than Ashkenazim. Also, this is why German Jews wait 3 hours between eating meat and milk, people from the Netherlands wait 1 hour and most other Jews wait 5-6 hours. These differences do not alienate these Jews from one another, but allow them all to fit nicely into traditional Judaism.

So, it seems to be that traditional Judaism is a combination of traditions passed on from father to son and Rabbi to student combined with strict halacha that is learned from the Gemara and Rishonim. Yes, the Gemara contained strict halacha, but it also combined that halacha with traditional teachings of its time. So really, the Gemara itself was similar to the Rishonim and current Rabbis in the sense that it created a tradition for its time. This is also why, in the time of Dovid Hamelech, they did not keep halacha in the same way we do now, there were different traditions (minhagim) that existed and a different interpretation of certain laws. There was no such thing as waiting between milk and meat, this tradition was not yet established. However, every generation has to take into account the traditions of the previous generation and maybe add or detract in some ways based on the needs of the community.However, why must we use the previous generations rulings to guide us? Why can't we just look at the Gemara and make our own decisions?

It is possible that a Midrash Tanchuma (Chapter 44:2) can answer this question. The Midrash tells us that when G-D was offering the Torah to the Jewish people He asked them who would be their guarantor that they would keep the Torah. They said Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov. G-D said that was not good, because they needed a guarantor themselves. This caused the Jewish people to respond that their children would be their guarantors. Immediately, G-D accepted this idea. From then on, the children of the Jewish people were forever indebted to keep the Torah of their forefathers or suffer the consequences.

This Midrash points out a very important idea, fathers can make commitments that are binding on their sons. This is why traditional Judaism is not just about strict halacha that is learned out from the Torah or even just the Gemara. Every generation can make binding agreements on the subsequent generations. All of the traditions (minhagim) are based on this idea. However, this is why every community has its own traditions and everyone follows their own Rabbi, because these traditions are no longer uniformed throughout the Jewish people, as they were in the times of the Sanhedrin. True, there are some traditions that were accepted by every community, but there are many differences that occurred, because of the diverse situations of every different Jew. The Sefardim created their own traditions while in Spain and that is why many of their halachas are different than the halchas made in Germany and Poland by the  Ashkenazim. Also, the Taymanim (Yemenites) completely follow Rambam, because that is who their tradition is from. It is untenable to claim that there is a uniformed tradition with one set of rules.

With this in mind I think we can explain a couple of things. One is the idea of corporealism and the second is why people who reject the diversity of Judaism and the traditions in Judaism are fools. Firstly, in the time of Rashi there were clearly several Rishonim that held of corporealism. What this actually entails, I will not go into, but the Raavad CLEARLY says (Mishna Torah Hilchos Teshuva 3:7),
 והאומר שיש שם רבון אחד אלא שהוא גוף ובעל תמונה. א"א ולמה קרא לזה מין וכמה גדולים וטובים ממנו הלכו בזו המחשבה לפי מה שראו במקראות ויותר ממה שראו בדברי האגדות המשבשות את הדעות:
(The Rambam states) that whoever says that there is One G-D, but he has a [physical] body and an image [is considered a heretic.] The Raavad says, why is this person called a heretic? There are many great and good people among us that go in this way of thinking because of what they saw in scripture and even more so from what they saw in the words of Aggadita (stories of the Rabbis) that confused the mind.
The Raavad seems to not believe in corporealism, but it is obvious that many of his knowledgeable contemporaries did and he considered them part of Orthodox (Traditional) Judaism. This leads us to believe that at this point in time, aka the Raavad's time, corporealism was an idea that was accepted in traditional Judaism. True, there were disagreements on this issue, but that is the same disagreement as Rav Moshe Feinstein saying a Jew can drink chalov stam (regular milk) and another great Rabbi disagreeing with him, according to the Raavad. According to the Rambam, however, these people were 'beyond the pale" of Orthodox Judaism. Nevertheless, just because there is a disagreement does not mean that one is representing the traditional view of Judaism and the other is not. The fact is that this was an idea that was not yet set in stone in traditional Judaism and either view was ACCEPTABLE. This leads me to believe that since Rashi is unclear on the subject, it is very possible that he believed in corporealism. It is also very possible that he did not. Either way, he would still be within the traditional Judaism of his time period.

The second point of the people who reject the fact that there were several opinions and that there are still several opinions within Judaism needs to be explained. There are people that believe there is only one way to follow traditional Judaism. This is a huge mistake because it denies the fact that there is no communal body that decides on what the tradition should be. The truth is that there are many ways to follow traditional Judaism. There are many different theological, philosophical and general ideas that are within the parameters of traditional Judaism. This does not mean that all or even most paths are correct, but there is definitely more than one. For one person to think their Rabbi is the only way, that is narrow minded and foolish. My last example using the great Rav Moshe Feinstein will be this. How could one person say that following Rav Moshe Feinstein is the only way to be part of traditional Judaism while Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach's halachic capabilities are just as great? Or how could one invalidate Rav Ovadia Yosef?

Hopefully, one day, all Jews will be able to accept each other and not feel threatened by another group's way of life. We are all traditional Jews that want to serve G-D, now we have to work on our man-man friendship skills, as childish as that sounds. Once that works out and we can stop the ridiculousness and Chilul Hashems (desecrations of G-D's name) hopefully the Moshiach will come.

As a final point, I would like to add that there are several things that push a group outside of Orthodox (Traditional) Judaism. A group that ignores all previous halachas, Minhagim (Customs) and logical arguments can not be said to be part of Traditional Judaism, rather they would be reformers in line with a non-Orthodox or "Reform" type of Judaism. This is exactly what Reform Judaism is, something that decided previous transmission of the Oral Law is worthless and antiquated. 

(Extra source for people who held of G-D's corporealism:
R' Moshe ben Hasdai Taku -- Ktav Tamim ed. Joseph Dan, pp. 7-27

R' Shlomo Simcha miTroyes -- Sefer Hamaskil

R' Joseph Ashkenazi -- "text published in Scholem, 'New Information'" (no I haven't read it)

Shadal -- Peninei Shadal, 316  )

19 comments:

Chaim B. said...

>>>Firstly, in the times of Rashi there were clearly several Rishonim that held of corporealism.

Name three. All I am aware of is a Ra'avad who make a passing reference to such a view in the context of arguing that it is not kefirah, which may simply mean (and this is how R' Chaim understood the Rambam) that even though such a view is mistaken, it is an understandable error and therefore not indicative of a denial of faith. In terms of other major Rishonim -- Rambam, Sadya Gaon, Ran, Ramban, R' Yonah, R' Bachyei, any of the Ba'alei HaTosfos -- you do not find such a view. To think Rashi held this way would require overwhelming evidence.

>>>the Raavad CLEARLY says that there were several GREAT Rishonim that believed in corporealism.

R' Chaim does not learn the Ra'avad this way, and we have no record of any other views in Rishonim who held this way. The reason people reject this is because in place of the overwhelming evidence that would be required to make the claim that Rashi denied one of the ikkarim there is absolutely no evidence at all.

E-Man said...

I said I have only read the raavad inside. However, I highly doubt Rav Chaim says the Raavad does not mean what he says stright out. Please tell me where this rav Chaim is. The Raavad clearly says that there were greater men than the rambam who held of Corporeality. MEN, plural.

Plus there are records of other Baalei Tosfos holding this view, just ask rav Slifkin where to find them.

One more thing, just because something is an ikkar that the Rambam came up with does not mean it is an ikkar for Rashi. This is especially true since the Rambam lived 150 years after Rashi. This makes this claim of yours "The reason people reject this is because in place of the overwhelming evidence that would be required to make the claim that Rashi denied one of the ikkarim there is absolutely no evidence at all." Kind of absurd. Why does Rashi have to hold of the Ikkarim that the Rambam says?

There is clear evidence that people believed in corporealism, so since Rashi says neither way, and corporealism was CLEARLY part of traditional Judaism, it is incumbent on both sides to prove Rashi either was or was not a corporealist because the evidence is, at best, unclear.

Baruch said...

All I am aware of is a Ra'avad who make a passing reference to such a view in the context of arguing that it is not kefirah
Rabbi Chaim, Dr. Shapiro's Limits and Rabbi Slifkin's Hakirah essay list other references to such a view. I'm not an expert on medievals, but I must admit that I find Dr. Kanarfogel's opinion that the popularity of the anti-corporealist view was probably exaggerated by detractors (that is, the various rishonim quoted by Dr. Shapiro and R' Slifkin) to at least sound convincing. R' Slifkin's essay (which mentions Dr. Kanarfogel's view) is located here:
http://www.hakirah.org/Vol%207%20Slifkin.pdf

In respect to this discussion by E-man and Chaim B., I am unaware of any gedolim who held that Rashi believed that G-d assumes corporeal form; I thus believe it impossible to convince Chaim B. of that view because there's no "Daas Torah" behind it.

chaim b. said...

Baruch, forget da'as torah and just answer my question: name three rishonim. If this is such an established shita, you would think you can come up with three names of "great" rishonim off the top of your head, no? The fact that you have to resort to remarks about da'as torah rather than offer any arguments of facts is telling.

>>>corporealism was CLEARLY part of traditional Judaism

Says who? If your definition of mainstream Judaism means that which is held by a significant number of mainstream Rishonim, then you have not offered a shred of evidence to substantiate this.

R' Chaim is quoted in a number of places; easiest to find in in Mamarim of R' Elchanan, vol 1, "shibush ha'deyos".

You misquote the Ra'avad as well -- he says great men "erred". The point of the Ra'avad is that given that even wise men have made such an error, the error of simple folk is understandable and therefore does not qualify as a denial of faith.

E-Man said...

Chaim B. Baruch told you that if you would like to see the rishonim that hold of this view go to the website that quotes them. HE GAVE U THE LINK!!

Just to comment on the fact that you said that the Raavad said they erred. Either u didn't read my post, did not understand it or are simply ignoring it. So I will explain one last time.

The Raavad clearly says these GREAT MEN are part of traditional Judaism. He may disagree with them, but he clearly holds they are part of traditional Judaism. Now, this is like Rav Moshe disagreeing with Rav Shlomo Zalman, he may disagree, but they would both consider each other in the category of traditional Judaism.

I did not misquote the Raavad, that was a lie. He calls them great men. If u think that is a misquote then u have not read the Raavad.

chaim b. said...

More on the Ra'avad: 1
1) The girsa of the Sefer haIkkarim in the Ra'avad (see KS"M) does not have any reference to important people actually believing in the corporeality of G-d.

2) R' Ahron Soloveitchik quotes his uncle that "rabim mimenu" in the Ra'avad is like the expression "ish mimenu". It means nobody!

3) R' Ahron adds "chas v'shalom" to think the Ra'avad believed in the corporeality of G-d. He also quotes the same R' Chaim I cited above.

Now, I'm not sure in the "rationalist" velt if R' Ahron Soloveitchik's view carries any weight considering he was a YU Rosh Yeshiva or whether he is also part of the big da'as Torah conspiracy designed to obscure the truth, but I'll leave that to others to decide.

chaim b. said...

Since when does "great men" = Rishonim? It may mean philosophers, it may mean thinkers. We have no record of Rishonim who hold this way. Names please!

>>>these GREAT MEN are part of traditional Judaism

Nope. He says if you make the same mistake these great men did you are not an apikores. That is not the same as saying this is the view of traditional Judaism.

E-Man said...

"R' Ahron adds "chas v'shalom" to think the Ra'avad believed in the corporeality of G-d. He also quotes the same R' Chaim I cited above."

NO ONE CLAIMED THIS! What are you talking about? Obviously the Raavad does not hold of this, he says it is wrong. I am saying that the Raavad clearly says that there were Great Men of His Generation or previous generations that held this. I am sure this is not referring to non-Jewish philosophers because he is referring to halacha. Why would he care about halacha of non-Jews or people that do not follow halacha???

Also, YOU ARE MISSING THE POINT! The Raavad is talking about GREAT MEN of his generation, if you want to use someone else's interpretation go right ahead. However, it seems like GREAT MEN, refers to Religious Jews that the Raavad considered within traditional Judaism. he disagreed with their opinion, but that is similar to the Rama arguing with the SHulchan Orach. Do you think that the Rama thought Rav Yosef Cairo was not part of traditional Judaism??? That is absurd. True, the Raavad disagreed, but he still says they were GREAT MEN, just like I am sure the Rama would say Rav Yosef Cairo was a GREAT MAN, but would still disagree with his opinion.

E-Man said...

I implore u to check out the website that Baruch referred u to.

Chaim B. said...

>>>that is similar to the Rama arguing with the SHulchan Orach.

Ikkarei emunah by definition are those areas in which there is no machlokes.

The Sefer haIkkarim spells this out in his opening. He writes that you cannot count belief in moshiach as an ikkar because the amora Hillel did not share that belief.

Who cares? The amorah Hillel is just a "yesh omrim", or a view that was once accepted but which we now have decided to reject? What is the whole kashe?

The answer is that ikkarim do not work that way. There is no room for a "yesh omrim" or a shita that was once accepted but which we now have decided to reject. Either such a shita never existed or the point in question is not one of the ikkarim.

Sorry, I do not have time or patience to read articles by academics. If you have a Rishon you would like to point to, I will bl"n try to take a look. All the examples Dr. Shapiro cites are speculative readings of sources. There is no clear and unequivocal statement found in a major Rishonim which says it is permissible to believe "G-d has a body". There are clear and unequivocal statement that he does not and that such a belief is minus.

Baruch said...

Baruch, forget da'as torah
I was referring to a specific aspect of the conversation with that which you are now going away from a little bit (Rashi's belief or nonbelief in corporealism), but I'll discuss these other topics you've brought up.

just answer my question: name three rishonim.
I can't. Actually, if I'd lived in any time period proceeding the
19th century, I couldn't have named one.

If this is such an established shita, you would think you can come up with three names of "great" rishonim off the top of your head, no?
I never said it was "such an established shita." Actually, my comment above indicated that I'd probably agree with Dr. Kanarfogel, who feels that how established it was was exaggerated by rishonim. But that being said, even though we don't have much in the way of written record from the rishonim themselves, we do have quite a bit in the way of records from those who weren't on their side. But then, we don't really have much in the way of rishonim on mechitza heights either..

We have no record of Rishonim who hold this way
Sure we do: R' Moshe ben Hasdai Taku the Tosafist.

E-Man said...

The Raavad clearly says it is not minus so what are u gonna say to him??

Alson does that mean believing in the coming of moshiach according to the sefer ikkarim is not an ikkar?

Baruch said...

Sorry, I do not have time or patience to read articles by academics...All the examples Dr. Shapiro cites are speculative readings of sources.
Have you read, in its entirety, Limits of Orthodox Theology?

Baruch said...

If not, why did you say all his examples are speculative?

If so, why did you say "all I am aware of is a Ra'avad who make a passing reference to such a view in the context of arguing that it is not kefirah." There's quite a bit more than that Raavad.

E-Man said...

Chaim, I am sitting next to a guy who is learning the sefer ikkarim inside and he said that wikipedia is wrong and that G-D's corporeality is not an ikkar of faith. I will be getting u the marei makomos of all the people who believe in G-d's corporeality and where you can find it.

Baruch said...

E-man:
I'm taking this all from Dr. Shapiro's book and the topic is obviously more nuanced than simply looking at these sources would indicate, but here they are. There are obviously many other sources like the Raivad who testify to this view being held by others:

R' Moshe ben Hasdai Taku -- Ktav Tamim ed. Joseph Dan, pp. 7-27

R' Shlomo Simcha miTroyes -- Sefer Hamaskil

R' Joseph Ashkenazi -- "text published in Scholem, 'New Information'" (no I haven't read it)

Shadal -- Peninei Shadal, 316

E-Man said...

I am declaring Baruch the winner of this debate. Mainly because he provided all the facts.

E-Man said...

Another, place where this guy is proven wrong and he lacks the graciousness to admit it.

jew i joe said...

Great article, and even better exchange afterwards. Just goes on to show how "unbendable" many people are in the face of information contradicting their own works views!

But what does "traditional" mean outside of academic circles? When someone at a JCC says "I'm traditional" I'd he referring to s level of observance or a philosophical outlook?