Thursday, June 15, 2006

Yes, Virgina, there is more to Judaism than the Rambam's rationalism: on segulos, darkei emori, and psak

Yesterday my wife on her blog began discussing a certain segulah for fertility and easy childbirth. Neither my wife nor I are inclined to engage in these type mystical practices, but as I pointed out to her and she later quoted, the segulah in question is actually referred to by a rishon, R’ Bachye, in his peirush al hatorah (P’ Titzaveh). I am therefore amused at the comments on another blog which referenced my wife’s discussion where posters claim this segulah is are assur because of darkei emori, violations of the ikkarei emunah, avodah zarah, etc. Well, Virginia, this may come as a shock, but there are rishonim other than the Rambam and views of Judaism other than what you read in Moreh Nevuchim. There are actually Rishonim who take account of more than ‘midah, mishkal, u’minyan’ (i.e. the empirical evidence) and are willing to deal with super-rational considerations. I actually find the wholesale dismissal of a rishon as an oveid avodah zarah or in violation of ikkarei emunah at least as problematic as being a fool and thinking a red ruby helps you irrespective of other schar v’onesh considerations. Call me naive, but I think it is safe to assume the rishonim were not violating or encouraging avodah zarah. I also think just because you dig up a tosefta cited nowhere in shas and have a kasha from there on a rishon it does not de facto means that shita is rejected from the world of psak. Point of fact: many times we pasken like shitos rishonim despite kashes that need to be worked out. Do we reject Rashi every time Tosfos asks kashes on him even when we do not have a good defense? Then there is the claim that R’ Bachye would never accept segulos in our day when such claims can be empirically disproven. This is nothing more than pure speculation arrived at by imposing one’s rationalist world view on others. R’ Bachye was comfortable dealing with mysticism; he obviously rejected the pure rationa/empirical view of the Rambam in his time and there is no evidence to assume he would accept such a view if he lived in ours. Historical what-ifs are poor evidence. With respect to psak, can one say that R’ Bachye is rejected? In fact, quite the opposite would seem to be the case. By the references in achronim and poskim even through our own times to segulos, the inescapable conclusion is that these ideas are very much a legitimate part of tradition. In O.C. siman 605 the Bais Yosef quotes both the Ramban and Rashba as dismissing the practice of kapparos as darkei emori. The Tur questions the logic of the minhag. Yet, the Rama maintains that since the minhag has been adopted by geonei ashkenaz, it is part of tradition and must not be tampered with. Of course, poskim write that reliance on kapparos thinking a chicken is a real substitute for oneself or as a repalcement for tshuvah is absurd and not part of any mesorah. I have no doubt the same is true of segulos. As I wrote, the segulah itself is not the problem, the problem is the attitude it engenders. We live in a society where segulos become a quick fix substitute for more meaningful avodas Hashem and where they lead to completely incorrect philosophies of hashgacha and schar v’onesh, creating a mockery of authentic Judaism. But please, Virginia, open your eyes and you will discover that there is a whole world of tradition and practice outside the narrow confines of rationalism and empiricism. You may not personally adopt those practices (I don't either - I don't think they were meant for us), but pause before dismissing rishonim, achronim, and tzadikim as kofrim, ovdei avodah zarah, or even just plain fools. There might just be more to reality than what meets the eye.

28 comments:

  1. If you think that's bad, see this website.

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  2. I have seen this site once before when they had a whole attack on the ba'al hatanya. I guess the Rambam will be a meilitz yosher on them (though they probably have problems with that concept too).

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  3. Gil: I saw that site from the link one of the commentators left in response to your Darkei Emori post. Is it possible that these people face the same problem of too much time on their hands as attributed to the person starting the ruby gemach? I think many buy the red threads and bracelets that contain them because they enjoy making a statement by what they wear. (And if Madonna does it, it must be cool, right?;-)) Just as those plastic molded bracelets that started off all yellow for Armstrong's cause began a fad, so too, in the Jewish world, the bracelets are a type of fad. And everyone has their own intnetion in wearing one: some believe it will protect them from ayin hara, some believe it will help them get married, and some believe it will help them conceive. Are they being foolish in pinning hopes on a piece of string? Most likely. But I would not equate their folly with avoda zara.

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  4. You make an excellent point.

    But what, really, is one to do if one really is convinced that there is a matter of avoda zara at stake? How can they be true to the Torah if they don't espouse that position?

    In fact, this is the dilemma which causes a great deal of the intolerance that exists. How can a Satmarer not shout bloody murder about Israel? How can a so-called Torah Only person not scream against a Yeshiva University? In all these cases, people think great cosmic damage is being done by those who think and act incorrectly and that they are required to make a machaah. What is the solution?

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  5. I don't mean to be sarcastic, but isn't the solution obvious? - Eilu v'eilu! Bais Shamai had to live with Bais Hillel (yes, I know the gemara on the stabbing, but that is not representitive) even though issues with ramifications for issurei kareis divided their halachic outlook. Its time people woke up and realized that 70 panim l'torah, some very different than others. While one must choose one approach l'ma'aseh, intellectually one should be open to exploring and appreciating the many strands of thought out there. History (or the hand of hashgacha working through it) has the final say. Some people want either chocolate or vanilla Judaism, and one of the two flavors is THE truth. My approach is Baskin Robbins Judaism - 31 flavors, free samples of everything, and it all tastes great. I only draw the line at rejecting mesorah and torah, which is by definition forsaking the system for something else.

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  6. I agree with you! But like I said, here we are talking about what people honestly think is avoda zara. Is the proper approach to go along with the kelal or dissent? In Eliyahu's time only a small body of the people dissented. Should they have said elu ve-elu? (Come to think of it--maybe they did. It seems only Eliyahu truly protested.)

    The point is that even if great chachamim and great rabbanim accept or even encourage things, how does a person who really is convinced that the worst thing in the world is happening accept it? Rememeber what Menashe Ha-melekh said regarding the allure of avoda zara in his time? Who is to say that similar horrible practices are not today or hundreds of years ago as alluring, whether Zionism or red bendeles (according to those who cannot tolerate it)? If so, then it can be explained how great chachamim tolerated or encouraged things.

    IIRC Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai tended to argue about matters of a degree of less severity than avoda zara.

    That said, I think you make a compelling case for lowering one's temperature. But how does one persuade one who thinks the entire world is oved avoda zara mamash, and worse, is codifying it be-shem Hashem? How does one reach such a person with a message of moderation?

    Of course I don't except an answer. If any of us knew that we could sell the secret in bottles and make a lot of money.

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  7. I have the same problem as S. but i am not as tolerant as he is. I also have difficulty with the compromise. The issue is not so much the concepts and ideas that bother me because as long as it does not translate lema'aseh its ok. Unfortunately, the attraction of mystical ideas to people is that they can walk around the table friday night seven times and that is similar to confession(Lehavdil?)and is matir kol dovor ho'ossur as long there is no segula attached to it. It warps the thinking of people and your insistence not to do it lema'aseh is like blowing in the wind - it cannot be stopped.

    Personally I try to expunge anything that smacks of Kabbalah from my praxis.I say try because it is hard and against my ingrained habits and also i am not learned enough to know that some of the things I do are from that source. i find new ones in the most hidden places - so insidious is the infestation.

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  8. S. and Chaim, one more thing. It takes a long time not to feel guilty about getting rid of emunos tefeilos. The first reaction is just like you, Chaim, how can rishonim be wrong? How can I say they are Ovdei AZ c"V?

    Rashba's teshuva on the amulet in the shape of a lion is indicative. He was matir it only because he thought it worked. otherwise he would had agreed it is darkei emori. Looking back it probably was darchei emori never mind his psak.

    What I am getting at is we need to turn the table and make those who indulge in these practices feel guilty and put the burden of proof on them. The Rishonim did not tell us to do these things, they were just matir them, (not always but most of the time).

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  9. >>>The point is that even if great chachamim and great rabbanim accept or even encourage things, how does a person who really is convinced that the worst thing in the world is happening accept it?

    When great chachamim and rabbanim are all against you, its time to do a reality check. When you divorce yourself from everything except your own narrow POV, then you are asking for trouble. I don't know how to persuade people - maybe by writing blog posting? : )

    >>>IIRC Bet Hillel and Bet Shammai tended to argue about matters of a degree of less severity than avoda zara.

    I was thinking of the first mishna in yevamos - nafka mina for mamzeirus.

    David,
    >>>What I am getting at is we need to turn the table and make those who indulge in these practices feel guilty and put the burden of proof on them.

    Why? They are entitled to their POV as long as it conforms with an existing mesorah. You may not like it, but there are traditions in Judaism that accept the mysterious and magical. No one has to feel guilty or prove themselves to me - only to G-d.

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  10. >When great chachamim and rabbanim are all against you, its time to do a reality check.

    Is this directed towards Satmarers? What about to the Satmar Rav?

    >I was thinking of the first mishna in yevamos - nafka mina for mamzeirus.

    I thought of that too. But go prove that it ever affected an actual case. On the other hand, who knows? Maybe when it did the swords came out, that one time?

    Anyway, my point was specifically about how to move someone who is convinced that they own the emes and that they MUST be intolerant of divergant viewpoints?

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  11. >No one has to feel guilty or prove themselves to me - only to G-d.

    You misunderstood - i was not talking about feeling guilty towards others but internally. It is hard to stand up and say my understanding is correct and I rely on Rambam even against my traditional familial minhag. And I believe that a bar da'as has to do that.

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  12. >>>Anyway, my point was specifically about how to move someone who is convinced that they own the emes and that they MUST be intolerant of divergant viewpoints?

    Agreed. I have no solution - daven for mashiach (and daven we can all agree on who he is when he gets here). Re: leaders who think they have a monopoly on truth are gufa the problem. The intolerance gows exponentially as it filters down through the ranks.

    David,
    >>>It is hard to stand up and say my understanding is correct and I rely on Rambam even against my traditional familial minhag. And I believe that a bar da'as has to do that.

    Why does your decision to follow the Rambam trump family minhag? Isn't that exactly the point of Rama in O.C. 605 that I quoted - objections of darkei emori do not trump the established minhagei asheknaz?

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  13. >Anyway, my point was specifically about how to move someone who is convinced that they own the emes and that they MUST be intolerant of divergant viewpoints?

    I guess you were talking about me :-)

    It is hard to be semi-passionate. Rambam in Mamrim re the children of the Minim who are considered tinkos Shenishbu is the concept that has to be promulgated. At worse an opposing shita follower is a tinok shenishba and needs to be treated well.

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  14. DG:

    >At worse an opposing shita follower is a tinok shenishba and needs to be treated well.


    I find it somewhat amusing that you will call someone who disagrees with you a tinok shenishba. After all, maybe you are wrong and you are the tinok shenishba.

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  15. >After all, maybe you are wrong and you are the tinok shenishba.

    Don't you know that the term is always by definition mutual? :-)

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  16. jeffrey smith9:49 PM

    David G said:
    Personally I try to expunge anything that smacks of Kabbalah from my praxis.I say try because it is hard and against my ingrained habits and also i am not learned enough to know that some of the things I do are from that source. i find new ones in the most hidden places - so insidious is the infestation.

    ---
    Then, David, I assume you don't ever use the siddur? There's not a paragraph that can't be linked to Kabbalah. (Trust me, I've perseverated on this sort of thing for over thirty years.)

    It's not an insidious infestation: Kabbalah is simply the mystical, spiritualized dimension of the teaching of the Sages. (Nor is it what is taught at the KRC or many pop books.) Go and study it.

    If you're trying to weed out what you consider superstitious practices like the ruby business, I have no argument with you. But the Holy One, blessed be He, [BTW, that's a name especially linked to Tiferet, so you want to avoid that one] is transcendent; He is the Ancient of Days [Keter; strike that one from your list] who is beyond all categories of thought, and therefore is beyond reason; He is the Divine Presence [oops, that's Malkuth--strike that one, and Chai Olamim and Elyon and a few others for the same reason] that is to be found everywhere and anytime. And therefore to think you can be entirely rational in your religion is itself a piece of irrationality.

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  17. >Then, David, I assume you don't ever use the siddur? There's not a paragraph that can't be linked to Kabbalah. (Trust me, I've perseverated on this sort of thing for over thirty years.)

    Don't I know it! I tried to memorize Rambam's Tefila as found in Sefer Ahava in R.Kafih's edition.:-) Seriously it is a problem especially Girsa deyankusa. But one cannot be always perfect and consistent:-)

    >Go and study it.

    Oh I did and thought like you for a while until I realized "Tachlis hayediah leydah Shei'no yodeah" and that is the meaning of Anava, which Moshe had and that is why Utemunas Hashem Yabit. Mekubalim don't have that Midah by definition.

    All those attributes you quote in there with the "words" attached to them have no more meaning than what the human imagination has about HKBH.

    Remember , an ex smoker is worse than a non smoker! Shana Upirash that is me when it comes to mysticism.

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  18. > Chai Olamim

    Careful! that is Chei Olamim. Chai is Kefirah.

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  19. David G, I don't think you responded to this question:
    Why does your decision to follow the Rambam trump family minhag? Isn't that exactly the point of Rama in O.C. 605 that I quoted - objections of darkei emori do not trump the established minhagei asheknaz?

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  20. Chaim B. I don't understand the problem. Rashba brought down in BY says that it was minhag poshut in his town, Barcellona I guess, and he still decided to stop it. He had no problem changing. The fact Remo did not yesh al mi lismoch - Rashba.

    My question is being it is a sfeka de'oraisa why aren't you machmir? You will argue that did not remo know that? Of course he did but so did Rashba know about the minhag Vatikin(BTW that is loshon of Remo not minhagei ashkenaz - that is a little different) so I am machmir in sofek AZ and meikil in Minhag Vatikin.

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  21. The Rama is the posek acharon here, so we follow the Rama against the reasoning of the Rashba. You mean any time there is a machlokes rishonim on a d'oraysa issue you are machmir irrespective of how the later poskim have decided the issue?

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  22. We are talking about a specific case where on one side you have a minhag (Mefukfak according to most Rishonim) and on the other you have darchei emori, plus it goes against my understanding of Yesodos hadas,should I even have a hava amina to do it? Isn't that Mitzvas anoshim Melumodo?

    Fortunately in Halocho we do not have such type of mitzvos only in minhagim. I have no idea why Remo said what he said. Would I consider someone who does it as over on Darkei emori? Probably not as i would assume he is doing it because he thought it was a mitzvah without a machsheves AZ. I would look at him as a little naive.

    It is this mindless type of understanding psak that alienates thinking people from Torah and should be avoided.

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  23. Baruch Horowitz10:35 PM

    I think that an inappropriate use of segulos can have a deleterious effect on the emunah of rational people. I am aware of a backlash against kabbalah-even among frum Jews- during recent years which is partially a result of the above phenomenon. Some of these people are expressing genuine sentiments, and I therefore feel that when writing about or advertising segulos, one should emphasize that they do not take the place of mainstream ways of Avodas Hashem.

    The theoretical knowledge contained in sifrei kabbalah, as well the practical application of segulos are part of our mesorah because the source of the general concepts are either in the gemora, the Zohar Hakadosh or in subsequent sifrei kabbalah. Even if one does not practice these segulos, nevertheless, respecting them shows respect towards both the seforim which speak about them, as well as to the ruchaniyos-related sentiments of those who practice them.

    In the past thousand years of Jewish history, there existed both the rational approach of Rav Saadiah Gaon, the Rambam and others, as well as the mystical approach, and the approach of emunah peshuta, as exemplified by the Chassedi Ashkenaz, the Arizal, and by chassidus. Rationality per se is not a contradiction to mysticism; thus, the Rambam in Hilchos Meilah states that a person should not reject a deeper meaning to Torah just because one doesn't understand it.

    There is a big difference between believing in the words of chazal regarding ayin horah, for example, and being superstitious or abusing segulos . The approach to ayin horah of Rav Dessler, for example, has depth On the other hand, the way which some people relate to segulos can cause others to think that the concept of ayin harah is similar(chas v'asholem) to the superstitious customs of other ancient religions and cultures.

    So perhaps certain rational types should indeed respect the segulos brought in mainstream sources, but not engage in them.

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  24. Baruch Horowitz,

    It is the lukewarm approach that you advocate that is the problem. I will not go into the discussion of Zohar but I am adamant that Kabolas Ari and some of his predecessor as most of his followers, had no masorah but created one. They admiy themselves that much of their ideas were new revelations. The masora they created is questionable to my mind and is the cause of musch of the distortions we experience nowadays. Rav Dessler trying to rationalize it did not help.

    There is going to come a time that we, as klal Yisroel, will have to take a position or we will lose our "Ki hi chochmaschem ubinaschem" which is one of the most important avodos of klal yisroel as a nation -Kiddush Shem Shamayim.

    Look how far the distortions in your explanation of rambam Meilah goes. He had no Hava Amina that Kabbalah is the sitrei torah he was referring to. He was referring to his Prokim in Moreh dealing with rotzon, Yediah etc. There he was specifically talking about finding ta'amim for Chukim and if you look at Hil Temurah you will see that he is referring to doing these mitzvos and finding a reason so that they have a hashpa'ah on the doer. I started writinng a little about it and will do more BN. It is time that people take a stand and stop this nonsense of made up masorahs. The proof is to the innovvator and that has not been proven yet to anybody's satisfaction.

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  25. >There he was specifically talking about finding ta'amim for Chukim

    I refer to Meilah not Moreh.

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  26. Anonymous12:07 PM

    Tzadikim in Peltz! You think you're higher than all the tzadikim that you mention?! They didn't know what they were talking about?! "Kabolas Ari and some of his predecessor as most of his followers, had no masorah" Every word you say and write will come back at you when Moshiach is nisgaleh! All you do is make makhloikes between Yidden! Look at the words you have written, have some boosha, and do some real teshuvah! I wish you a peaceful and meaningful Shabbos.

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