Thursday, July 02, 2009

rambam's view of ma'aseh braishis and ma'aseh merkava

In a comment to yesterday's post someone mentioned the view of a contemporary Rosh Yeshiva that the Rambam's understanding of ma'aseh Braishis and ma'aseh merkava is erroneous. It is a mistake to think that the approach of this Rosh Yeshiva is a new discovery or a chiddush of "chareidi gedolim" when in fact it has a long history. The Rishonim already took the Rambam to task for interpreting ma'aseh braishis as natural sciences. R' Tzadok haKohen in his discussion of the mitzvah of yichud Hashem in Sefer haZichronos summarizes:

והרמב"ם (פרק ג' וד' מהלכות יסודי התורה) שפירש ענין מעשה בראשית הוא חכמת טבעי הנבראים, מצא בו מבוא תועלת לעבודת השם יתברך לאהבתו ויראתו. ואמנם אם היה זה אמת אצלו אינו אמת לרוב המתעסקים בחכמות אלו, ולא היה ראוי לו לקבוע ידיעת ענינים כאלה בהלכות יסודי התורה שלו כלל, [שהם] דברים שאינם צריכים למאמיני התורה לידיעתם, וכל שכן שהרבה מדבריו אינם אמת כפי דעת חכמיהם היום: והכלל, מה לדברי חכמי אומות העולם עם דברי התורה שמן השמים לעשות דבריהם יסודות לתורה, וכל מה שאסף שם הם מדברי חכמי אומות העולם וראויה להם, שכל חכמתם בחכמה השייכת בעולם הזה וידיעת נבראי העולם הזה מצד טבעם, שהוא כידיעת כל מיני אומניות שאין בזה שייכות לתורה. אבל חכמת מעשה בראשית שזכרו רבותינו ז"ל, שהשיגוה מתוך ספור התורה במעשה בראשית, הוא ידיעת חכמתו יתברך בבריאה זו:

R' Tzadok explains that 1) The Rambam's view that ma'aseh braishis means science is rejected by most of those who study these areas of Torah thought; 2) Knowledge of the type the Rambam provides in Hil Yesodei haTorah regarding the universe has no relevance to those who believe in Torah and should not have been included in his Yad; 3) Much of the knowledge the Rambam records has been proven false by secular scholars. In short: the world of science and philosophy, like all secular disciplines, tells us only about the physical world but not about the theological and mystical secrets which only Torah contains.

R' Tzadok writes earlier in the same chapter regarding ma'aseh merkava:

וכבר מפורסם אצל כל ישראל דברי חז"ל וכל קדושים מחכמי האמת, עניני מעשה מרכבה מה הם. [ואין צורך להשיב כאן על דברי המתפלספים הקדמונים, בפירוש מעשה מרכבה (גם כן) שהוא בהשגת חקירות הפילוסופים בחכמת הטבע ושלאחר הטבע, שכבר תמהו עליהם חכמי הדורות דאם כן כבר נגלו לקטני אומות העולם המסתכלים בספרי חכמיהם, יותר ממה שנתגלה לגדולי הנביאים ברמזים וחידות: ואין צורך להאריך מזה לכשרי ישראל עתה שנתפרסמה חכמת האמת בעולם, מוסכם בפי כל חכמי ישראל האמיתים. וכל הכופר בה הוא מכלל האפיקורסים, וכמו שיתבאר במצות לא תסור, וכמו שכתב בתשובות הב"ח הישנות (סימן ה') דהמלעיג על דברי חכמים ומדבר דופי על חכמת הקבלה, שהיא מקור התורה ועיקרה וכולה יראת שמים, פשיטא דאין לך מזלזל בדברי חכמים גדול מזה שחייב נידוי, עיין שם]:

The Rambam was challenged by earlier authorities, but R' Tzadok adds that with the spread of the study of "chochmas ha'emes" (i.e. mysticism) a consensus has formed among chachmei Yisrael that the Rambam is certainly wrong. Just as in halacha there can arise a consensus of opinion as to what views of Rishonim and Achronim are accepted, so too in the area of hilchos deyos and machshava there can arise a similar consensus. One who denies the truth of mystical teachings is simply mocking the words of Chazal, denigrating fundamental truths of Torah.

28 comments:

  1. good for Rav Tzadok haKohen.

    but perhaps there is room for arguing with a kabbalist's take on these matters. for example, Rambam claims that there is no psak in hashkafa, and just perhaps there are others who hold like him. and then one who denies the truth of kabbalah is not mocking Chazal's words, but asserting that this was not Chazal's intent in the first place.

    kt,
    josh

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  2. >>>Rambam claims that there is no psak in hashkafa

    Since when do you pick your own da'as yachid to follow against the consensus of gedolei yisrael? Very strange...

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  3. this is self-referential. if it not a matter of psak, then it is not a matter which can be decides by a consensus over a daas yachid. it is a matter which is either true or false.

    btw, in terms of Maaseh Bereishit, i actually *do* maintain that the Rambam was likely wrong. my guess that it was indeed mysticism, though for various reasons believe that it was a different mysticism than modern kabbalah. IIRC and IIUC, it was *you* who were putting forth the Rambam's position that they knew astrophysics from the Torah and tradition. Which I was facetiously pointing out that by your own established standards, you could not do without being a heretic.

    kt,
    josh

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  4. "Just as in halacha there can arise a consensus of opinion as to what views of Rishonim and Achronim are accepted, so too in the area of hilchos deyos and machshava there can arise a similar consensus"

    The issue can still be what Maash Merkaveh and Maaseh Bereshis is. One can say that there are certain gemeras which are clearly allegorical and mystical but others which are not.

    I don't know the difference exactly, but Rav Dessler and R. Hirsch hold that its possible for Chazal to err in science. So granted, one most interpret certain issues as allegorical because of "Maseh Bereshis", but to say that chazal knew modern science, at least as a general rule against the historical devlopment of science, is an anachronism one perhaps need not say.

    Indeed, Rav Dessler makes the case that the Rambam in the esssay on R. Shumuel Hanagid, that for "Nevhuchim" it's possible to have a individualized approach.

    Bottom line, if it can be shown that if Rav Hirsch and R. Dessler allowed a certain approach, then it would be apologetics, IMHO, to hold that *we* can't hold of the approach(as R. Feldman writes), but still hold of them as an authentic Gadolim. Exactly when did the consensus emerge--after Rav Dessler's death?

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  5. Finally, the broader issue remains how well you can shelter people from fundamental mesorah challenges. For Kiruv has, to my knowledge, never dealt with issues such as Chazal's chronology and other historical issues. Both the Charedi kiruv approach and today's Charedi approach for FFB is to shelter the hamon Am from such knowledge(in accordance with a valid shittah; to be fair there might also be some attempts to deal with these issues, but I'm talking dealing with depth).

    Therefore, in days such as Rav Hirch or Rav Hideshemer, there is no way in the world that they would declare RSRH's own approach as kefirah since the enviornment was more maskilic-friendly. Today, we have the luxury of sheltering people from challenge; that's the crux of the issue. RNS' approach was not for the sheltered yeshivah bachur.

    Forgive me from quoting from a problematic organization, but they lay down a challenge here:

    "The Charedi community cuts its students off from the enlightened world. Rabbi Menachem Man Shach, head of the Ponevich Yeshiva, even forbade his students reading the translated Talmud of Professor Adin Steinsaltz. How much more so the work of [the above group]; if a boy is caught with one of the the [above group's] pamphlets he would find himself thrown out of the study hall.

    This is the question you must present to your cousin: If the "Divine truth" is in the pocket of the Charedi, why are they so afraid to teach their students Biblical criticism, the results of archeological research, and to teach them whether their faith passes the test of reasonable critique?"

    One way of answering such maskilic challenges which are seemingly significant enough to hide from the multitudes, is to allow a broader approach in the Science/Chazal areas.

    I saying this with all due respect, but I'm not sure that **contemporary Gedolim** would use Kabbalah as a means of wholsale rejecting of Rav Hirsch, Rav Dessler on Science/Chazal issues for the less sheltered types, for the reason mentioned above.

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  6. >>>if it can be shown that if Rav Hirsch and R. Dessler allowed a certain approach, then it would be apologetics, IMHO, to hold that *we* can't hold of the approach(as R. Feldman writes), but still hold of them as an authentic Gadolim.

    I do not understand this point. The Chachamim paskened against R' Eliezer and held machshirei milah is not doche Shabbos -- does that make R' Eliezer less of a gaon, or even a mechalal Shabbos? I think not.

    I'm not sure how the issue of whether Chazal can err in science relates to the question of what ma'aseh merkava is, and I would like to keep to the topic.

    >>>If the "Divine truth" is in the pocket of the Charedi, why are they so afraid to teach their students Biblical criticism,

    Question: R' Ahron Soloveitchik in a Torah u'Mada lecture (published in his "Logic of the Heart, Logic of the Mind") strongly argued that the permissability of studying secular wisdom does not apply to Biblical criticism. If truth is in the pocket of modern orthodoxy, why are they afraid?

    The answer is everyone, chareidi and modern orthodox, are bound by the issur of not studying minus.
    What does this have to do with ma'aseh merkava? Sorry, with all due respect, you are losing me.

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  7. I don't understand. Why are you presenting it as some kind of frum thing that Rambam erred in his understanding of MB/MM? I don't know of anybody today who truly believes that MB/MM are about Greek physics and metaphysics! The only ones I know who still ascribe authority to Rambam on this point are Chabad.

    The other thing that I don't understand (and I may have misunderstood you here) is that you seem to jump from saying that something is a general consensus amongst later authorities to saying that it is categorically forbidden to hold like earlier authorities. Is that what you are saying?

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  8. Since when is quoting a R' Tzadok a "frum thing"? And who said anything about "categorically forbidden"? Am I losing it?

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  9. "I do not understand this point. The Chachamim paskened against R' Eliezer and held machshirei milah is not doche Shabbos -- does that make R' Eliezer less of a gaon, or even a mechalal Shabbos? I think not."

    True, but you have to explain when the consensus emerged according to Rav Feldman. Sometimes after R. Dessler, and after R. Shmuel Kamenetski gave his haskamah?

    Also it doesn't make RSRH less of a gaon, but it does make him wrong "on
    in matters which determine our basic approach to Torah she b’al peh which is the domain of the poskim (recognized decisors of halacha) of the Jewish people.", to paraphrase Rav Aharon Feldman.

    I don't have a problem with that, but I would simply note that the Yeshivah world is not embracing Hirsch in a significant way. You may say, "ein hacha nami" as we say by their rejecting TIDE, and the same for the philosophical opinions of the Rambam, etc, but I'm just noting the irony of bringing RSRH when he says a nice vort on symbolism etc and calling him the "Architect for Modern Torah Judaism" as R. Klugman notes on the cover of his book, and then turning around and saying he was wrong in a significany way.

    I understand if you see no conflict in this.

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  10. "I'm not sure how the issue of whether Chazal can err in science relates to the question of what ma'aseh merkava is, and I would like to keep to the topic."

    I certainly respect your right to direct the discussion as you see fit. The one who drew the relationship, however, was R. Feldman , whom you quoted! Thus, MB is related to RSRH on Chazal/Science because the former is used to reject RSRH as well.

    I do agree that there is an issue with what the mekkubalim held was MB, but I'm suggesting that it is not a broad reason to reject R. Avroham ben Harambam and RSRH, as R. Feldman held. Perhaps certain MB gemeras are allegorical, but one can still have an approach, that in general, does not come across as historical anachronism(see Chazon Ish in Emunah Ubitachon Fifth Perek how he understands the development of science which can strike people as anachronistic; you are welcome to do a post cogently explainig his shittah there).

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  11. I only quoted this R' Tzadok because you quoted R' Feldman yesterday and this one nekudah was similar. I am sticking to this one nekudah.

    >>>Also it doesn't make RSRH less of a gaon, but it does make him wrong "on
    in matters which determine our basic approach to Torah she b’al peh which is the domain of the poskim (recognized decisors of halacha) of the Jewish people.", to paraphrase Rav Aharon Feldman.

    And according to R' Tzadok the Rambam was wrong about some pretty basic stuff as well.

    >>>True, but you have to explain when the consensus emerged according to Rav Feldman. Sometimes after R. Dessler, and after R. Shmuel Kamenetski gave his haskamah?

    What does a consensus about the meaning of MB have to do with haskamos by R' Kaminetzky? Sorry, but I think you are reading too much into what I wrote.

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  12. "The answer is everyone, chareidi and modern orthodox, are bound by the issur of not studying minus. What does this have to do with ma'aseh merkava? Sorry, with all due respect, you are losing me."

    Again, I respect you right to limit the discussion, but I belive it is very related to banning Slifkin's books, as I indicated.

    Out of respect for this, I will not quote directly from any alluded to non-Orthodox sources which indeed discusses the Rambam in Avodah Zarah as well.

    However, I will just say that Rabbi Slifkin can tell you that what I hinted at is relevant to the need for discussing Science and Torah(R. M Salomon alluded to groups I mentioned at the Siyum Hashas, as did R. Aharon Feldman in his letter, R. Belsky's haskamah, and R. Shalom Kamenetsky and the R. Yaakov Segal discussion, ayin sham).

    The logic is that you are putting more pressure on what one is required to belive(this concept itself was mentioned by a different gadol in some people needing to go easy on contemporary segulos, but that is a different subject).

    If I can make the argument that there is a shas hadchak, then the "non-yeshivish" shittios on Science become more of a necessity. You may say that I am not a poseik to do that, and I agree! Just mentioning the point.

    As far as the Rambam in Avodah Zarah, the Rambam himself says that there are answers but "mpnei shdato shel adam ketzara etc."; AND he wrote the Moreh Nevuchim.

    He did NOT say, let's learn Chiddushei HaGrach on the Rambam to shelter ourselves(another anachronism :) ) , but wrote the Moreh; I am simply applying R. Slifkin's discussion of "Teku" in preface to Mysterious Creatures to a broader issue. In other words, Rambam is not talking about *Orthodoxy's* response as a whole( as he wrote the Moreh Nevuchim !).

    Also there is the issue of *kiruv*. How you prove Torah in a rigorous way without going into the opposition in depth? Is truly intellectualy rigorous kiruv not a stirah m'neih u'beih to the Rambam in Avodah Zarah? Ala mai, present kiruv as closer to " emunah peshtah", and I have no problem with it.

    None of the above is intended to give a heter do go against the Horaah of the Rambam(see R. Yehuda Parnes' discussion in TUM journal), but rather to say that these ssues are related to the Science Torah issue in a broad and very fundamental way.

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  13. Anonymous10:20 PM

    "One who denies the truth of mystical teachings is simply mocking the words of Chazal, denigrating fundamental truths of Torah."

    But if the teachings that are first known from e.g. the Zohar are not maamrei Chazal from nineteen centuries ago, but only the work of gifted and imaginative darshanim of seven or eight centuries ago, you have overstated the matter a drop.

    And how would kavod Torah be affected if esoteric anachronism is being passed off as maamrei Chazal? Might that be construed as mocking?

    Anavut is called for on both sides.

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  14. I hope R. Chaim B. will forgive me if I've gone far afield by focusing on the Rambam in Avodah Zarah(I was trying to explain the relevance of my argument on the need for *appropriate* leniency on the Science Torah issue, which I have seen no one address).

    I just would like to add a reference related to the Teshuvas Habach on Kabbalah, and that is a "maaseh Rav" from R. Shlomo Zalman Aurbach, as quoted in Hanaoch Teller's biograhy.

    At a wedding of a bachur whose Rav hailed from an obscure sect of Sephardim, he insited on being an eid instead of Mesader Kiddushin, and he let the Rav of this group be the Mesader Kiddushin instead, a bigger kibbud.

    He explained afterwards that that Rav was part of an obscure group of Jews who rejected the authority of the Zohar, and therefore had a sheilah if the Rav was passul l'eidus(perhaps as discussed by the Teshuvas Habach). However, he did not want to embarrass the Rav, so he himself became the eid, the lesser Kibbud, and let the Rav be the Mesader Kiddushin!

    The issue of the precise nature of the Zohar's written authorship discussed in the above comment is perhaps a separate issue from *rejecting* Kabbalah as a part of Torah S'hbal Peh(I've heard a similar argument made), but I'm not an expert on that(and is not relevant to this thread :) )

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  15. Since when is quoting a R' Tzadok a "frum thing"?

    You began your post by saying that "It is a mistake to think that the approach of this Rosh Yeshiva is a new discovery or a chiddush of chareidi gedolim" - I was pointing out that nobody thinks that it's a chiddush of charedi gedolim!

    And who said anything about "categorically forbidden"?

    Well, what ARE you saying? That you have a right to follow that view? Nobody is disputing that. When you quote/paraphrase R. Tzadok that "One who denies the truth of mystical teachings is simply mocking the words of Chazal, denigrating fundamental truths of Torah", do you agree with him or not?

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  16. see Rambam Pirush Hamishna beginning of the second perek in Hagigah. It is clear that he understands the prohibition of thinking about subjects that can bring about Minus is only when one lacks proper preparation i.e. is not well informed about the sciences or philosophical discourse.

    If you read Hilchot Avodah Zara 2:3 in this context it becomes clear that he objects to Hirhurei Halev without proper information.

    Re Rambam's not passkening on matters that have no practical import does not extend to Ikarei Enunah such as Yichud, nevuah etc... however within each ikar there may be a broad spectrum of what exactly it means as they generally have quite a wide latitude . There can therefore be no psak in that either.

    I have a real problem with your position that if something is accepted by "klal yisroel" whatever that means exactly (Chassidim, yeshivish, dati leumi, Chabad etc.... etc...?) is true and cannot be deviated from. I think the way I phrased my disagreement is self explanatory.

    Shabbat Shalom.

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  17. N.S. - R' Tzadok is talking about rejecting kabbalah, not about whether it is "categorically prohibited" to believe in MB like the Rambam.

    David G. - see the Torah u'Mada Journal I think vol 2/3 where this issue is discussed by R' Parnes, R' Carmy, and others. Please advise if you have a mareh makom to an acharon that allows for the study of minus based on the criteria of "having proper preparation" alone, because I am not aware of such a shita existing.

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  18. I quote:

    Just as in halacha there can arise a consensus of opinion as to what views of Rishonim and Achronim are accepted, so too in the area of hilchos deyos and machshava there can arise a similar consensus. One who denies the truth of mystical teachings is simply mocking the words of Chazal, denigrating fundamental truths of Torah

    What does "deny the truth of mystical teachings" refer to? Does this or does this not mean that it is categorically forbidden to deny whatever teachings are referred to? Do you endorse this view? How does the transition from a general consensus to something that is binding on every Jew work?

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  19. >Please advise if you have a mareh makom to an acharon that allows for the study of minus based on the criteria of "having proper preparation" alone

    Do you think that Rav Dessler knew Kant from learning Torah after all Hafoch ba Vehafoch Ba dekula Bah? Kant is maybe not minus?

    R. Chaim there is something wrong with your hiluch hamachshavah and the need to put on blinders. You are a bright Talmid Chacham and it does not behoove you to spout simplistic stuff like this.

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  20. >>>Does this or does this not mean that it is categorically forbidden to deny whatever teachings are referred to?

    His lashon is "mal'ig al divrei chachamim" - sounds like it means mocking, denying the authority or authenticity of their views.

    >>>Do you endorse this view?

    It is a tshuvos haBaCH quoted by R' Tzadok and ShadesOf added that R' Shlmomo Zalman was choshesh for it and you want to know if I endorse it? It doesn't need my endorsement!

    >>>How does the transition from a general consensus to something that is binding on every Jew work?

    Don't know, but I can point to a similar phenomenon: the Shu'T Chasam Sofer regarding denying one of the Rambam's ikkarim. The kkarim may have been in flux at one point, but no more.

    >>>Do you think that Rav Dessler knew Kant from learning Torah after all Hafoch ba Vehafoch Ba dekula Bah? Kant is maybe not minus?

    I'm not sure I would in fact put Kant in the same boat as Biblical criticism, but what are you driving at -- you think there is no issur of learning minus, or you think everyone has R' Dessler's genius? The first assumption is halachically wrong, the second does not reflect reality.

    R' Ahron Soloveitchik was a bright guy and thought Bible criticism was off limits, R' Parnes is a bright guy and thought there are limits to intellectual inquiry -- and these are YU Roshei Yeshiva!

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  21. See R. Carmy's "maaseh Rav" with the Rav on pg. 48- 49 here:

    http://www.yutorah.org/_shiurim/TU3_Carmy.pdf

    See as well R. Parnes' response here(pg 96) that:

    "If R. Carmy claims the right to freely study divrei kefirah based on his experience with the Rav, he is certainly conducting himself within halakhic bounds. But, at the same time, I can vigorously maintain that such conduct is inconsistent with the hora'ah of the Rambam in Hilkhot Avodah Zarah".

    http://www.yutorah.org/_shiurim/TU3_Parnes.pdf

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  22. What I am driving at is that free inquiry may not be stifled however each person has to know how far he can go. Those who cannot do it on their own, and I consider myself one of those, must choose one ba'al machshavah and follow him. I choose Rambam because I believe his derech can be understood with today's science. But telling me that existential questions are not for me would insure my rebellion and create an internal rift as described by Rabbeinu Moshe in his intro to MN.

    Re biblical criticism, I have no problem with the issue and it does not evoke any interest in me other than in passing. Those it bothers should also adopt a figure that can show them the way such as RDZ Hoffman , rav Breuer etc...

    The Chazon Ish argues that nowadays seforim are our Rebbis. We should find a thinker who has knowledge and deals with the issue that bothers them and follow them until one can go off on their own.

    Telling people that inquiry is forbidden insinuates that the Torah has what to hide C"V and cannot stand up to open minded criticism. It is in my mind an insult to Toras Hashem!

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  23. OK - please tell me after all that what in my post you take issue with, because it doesn't seem like you are disagreeing with anything I have said. Which is not a bad thing : )

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  24. Problem # 1 -

    One who denies the truth of mystical teachings is simply mocking the words of Chazal, denigrating fundamental truths of Torah.

    I do not accept that. I can accept that one who believes in mysticism may not be an apikores. One who does not certainly does not mock Chazal. There were some among the Tanaim and amoraim who were mystics just as there were some who were not.

    >The Rambam's view that ma'aseh braishis means science is rejected by most of those who study these areas of Torah thought;

    Though I would like to see RZ inside but if you have interpreted him correctly I do not see why I have to accept that. I understand Rambam's position and agree with it.

    >Knowledge of the type the Rambam provides in Hil Yesodei haTorah regarding the universe has no relevance to those who believe in Torah and should not have been included in his Yad;

    That is totally wrong and I find it extremely relevant as did others (e.g. Rav Kook in his letter to R. Ze'ev Yavetz).

    basically I disagree with most of your post which passels anyone that does not agree with you and those you choose to follow.

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  25. Sorry I just see you posted R. Zadok on Ma'aseh Breishis. He does accept that it was relevant to rambam but is no longer. I don't see that he clarifies why not. Be it as it may though I enjoy some of R. Zadok's thought I am not bound by it.

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  26. Rav Elchonon In his Koveitz Shiurim piece on studying Minus says that the Drashos HaRan gave the only correct pshat possible in the Rambam on MB. It wasn't astrophysics!
    Everything has two layers to it. Physical and metaphysical. MB is the metaphysics behind the science we observe in the physical world.

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  27. It's in Chelek 2 Siman 47:13.
    The Drashos HaRan is how Rav Elchonon deflects one of the criticisms the Gra leveled against the Rambam. So it's not just a chareidi apologetic attempt to make the Rambam more kosher.

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