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.