Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Ralbag On How to Observe Judaism

I am going to take two quotes from the Ralbag and just point out how amazingly beautiful his words are. He says (In his introduction to the WARS of the Lord),

"It is evident, as Maimonides (may his name be blessed) has said, that we must believe what reason has determined to be true. If the literal sense of the Torah differs from reason, it is necessary to interpret those passages in accordance with with the demands of reason (Guide 2:25)...... It is, therefore, evident that if reason causes us to affirm doctrines that are incompatible with the literal sense of Scripture, we are not prohibited by the Torah to pronounce the truth of these matters, for reason is not incompatible with the true understanding of the Torah. The Torah is not a law that forces us to believe false ideas; rather it leads us to the truth to the extent that is possible, as we have explained in the beginning of out commentary on the Torah (Ralbag commentary on the Torah 2a)."

Here the Ralbag, quoting the Rambam, tells us that the Torah must abide by reason. It therefore is incumbent upon us to understand the Torah in light of reason. If something is nonsensical through its literal meaning then that must not be the true meaning of the text and it must then be interpreted in a way that conforms to reason.

However, at the end of the Ralbag's first book in the Wars of the Lord he qualifies his statements. He says,

"Adherence to reason is not permitted if it contradicts religious faith; indeed, if there is such a contradiction, it is necessary to attribute this lack of agreement to our own inadequacy.... We, too, behave accordingly if we see that religion requires a different view from the one our reason has affirmed."

So there are two situations that the Ralbag is telling us: 1) Reason should be used to understand the Torah in the correct way, even if that means the literal understanding of the verse is not the correct understanding and 2) When our reason contradicts the Torah and no alternative explanation is sufficient then we must disregard our reason and accept the Torah.

I think the proper understanding of the Ralbag is as followed. There are certain aspects of life that are unexplainable through reason, those being G-D's existence and his ability to create miracles that are clearly non-natural occurrences. However, unless a prophet tells us that something is not natural, or G-D Himself tells us something is non-natural, then we should believe our reason. The Ralbag, Rambam and several others have the opinion that G-D does everything as close to natural as possible. This is why they would explain all types of occurrences through nature, except the miracles that are clearly outside of nature. However, even the events that are seemingly outside of the natural possibilities are still kept as close to nature as possible.

So the Ralbag, Rambam and countless others are under the impression that one should view the world through reason. Reasonable ideas should be at the forefront of a persons view of this world. One should not think that some great Rabbi walked on water or flew around the world, this is illogical and hence unnecessary to believe. Black magic is also something that seems to defy logic and belief in it is not a core of Judaism, therefore, it should not be believed in.

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