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.     


Anonymous said...

He expanded that article into a full book, I'm surprised you've never heard of it. It's called "The Limits of Orthodox Theology."

E-Man said...

I have heard of the book, but this is the first time I have read his ideas inside.

Anonymous said...

A belief becoming widespread hardly refutes its being a violation of a central tenet, e.g. idolatry was widespread in Israel in the days of the prophets - does that mean worshipping the Baal is an acceptable form of Judaism?