Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Rambam/Ra'avad on the Corporeality of G-d

Rav Moshe Avigdor Amiel in his sefer "L’Nevochei HaTekufa" writes that there are two different ways that one can come to recognize G-d: 1) Yediya - philosophical speculation; 2) Hakara – intuitive recognition.  Chazal tell us that Avraham was three years old (according to one view) when “hikir es Bor’o,” he recognized his Creator -- it does not say “yada es Bor’o,” but rather hikir,  because Chazal are not speaking of metaphysical knowledge (a three year old is not Aristotle); Chazal speaking of an intuitive grasp.  The philosophers apprehended G-d through yediya, and as a result, they perceived G-d as distant and removed; the prophets apprehended G-d through hakara, and therefore they perceived G-d as close and intertwined with their lives.

Rambam and Ra’avad famously disagree as to whether someone who believes in the corporeality of G-d is an apikores.  The Rambam writes (Hil Teshuvah ch 3) that someone who thinks that G-d has a body or a form is a heretic.  Ra’avad sharply retorts that wiser and greater people than the Rambam have entertained such a belief based on their simple reading of the Biblical text; therefore, it cannot be categorized as heresy.  (The Ra’avad’s response is not a logical argument or based on a sugya of gemara, but rather sounds like a simple appeal to authority – "Rambam, you must be wrong because greater people than yourself thought differently.")  What is the point of disagreement between the two opinions? 

R’ Chaim Brisker is said to have explained that the machlokes revolves around whether there is a din apikores b’shogeg.  The Ra’avad does not mean that one can accept that G-d has a body; he simply is arguing that people who arrive at such a belief inadvertently, based on their mistaken reading of Tanach, cannot be called guilty of willful heresy.  The Rambam, on the other hand, held that “nebech an apikores,” someone who is arrives at wrong beliefs simply out of ignorance, is still an apikores. 

R’ Amiel takes a different approach entirely, and here’s a link to the page for you to see inside and maybe help me understand it.  He sees the Rambam and Ra'avad's disagreement as based on this chiluk between yediya and hakaraFrom the perspective of yediya, when wearing the hat of the philosopher, it is impossible to conceive of any relationship between G-d and bodily form.  However, when you look at things from the perspective of hakarah-intuition, the idea is not foreign at all.  To the contrary, it is precisely the fact that we feel G-d as immanent and present even within our selves, our bodies, that gives rise to hakara! 
If I understand him correctly, what Rav Amiel is suggesting that that the Ra’avad does not mean to defend the idea that c”v G-d has a bodily form.  What he is saying is that G-d can be felt as being immanent in a body, which is a different thing entirely.  If this is correct, I don’t understand why the Ra’avad is so sharply critical of the Rambam, as surely the Rambam would not disagree.  I also don't understand what the Ra’avad means when he argues that those who disagree with the Rambam were led down that road by their reading of “mikra.”  What does that have to do with the intuitive sense of G-d that comes from hakara?  Does  he mean to say that it is the perspective of the prophet, hakara, that the Tanach is built around, as opposed to the perspective of the philosopher, that is what gives rise to this view?  That seems a bit of a stretch…  I just don’t see how it fits the words.  I love Rav Amiel's writing, the chiluk between yediya and hakara is useful in many contexts, but am struggling here with the Rambam/Ra'avad connection.


  1. Admittedly, I did not yet look inside, but I want to better understand: is Rav Amiel saying a VShachanto B'Sochum (in all of us) idea? That Hakara of Hashem stems from "feeling" Hashem in our OWN bodies? I am confused.

  2. meaning...we feel Hashem in our own bodies and then we think that Hashem himself has a body or that his body is our body?...

  3. Anonymous11:40 PM

    Lfi R' Elchonan, that's not the pshat, but rather both believed that nebach an apikoros is an apikoros. They differed if there is a patur ones that someone believes based on mistaken interpretation. Is that due to inherent apikoros (Rambam) or honest mistake (Raavad) so therefore saved by ones.

  4. Jake - I'm confused about the same thing. It's not clear to me.

    The Briskers always like to make it that the Ra'avad really agrees with their whole shtickel torah in the Rambam as well but differed on some side nekudah. Be that as it may, the approach of R' Chaim/E' Elchanan is very, very different than R' Amiel.

  5. Based on my reading of R. Amiel, I take the hakara/yediya distinction as follows:

    Hakara is derived from a tangible frame of reference whereas yediya is derived from a more purely intellectual frame of reference.

    When a person uses hakara to conceive of the Almighty, he uses the tangible frame of reference of man (who is described as being endowed with Tzelem Elokim) and thus may adopt a coporeal vision of Hashem. One who uses yediya does not rely on tangible frames of reference and will thus conceptualize Hashem in non-material form.

  6. Ok, I think R' Chaim's point still remains: so the "people far greater than the Rambam who got this idea from Mikra" (as the Raavad says) were indeed those that proposed God with a bodily form were who, exactly? Philosophers?

  7. I like the way you formulated it Moshe.

    Jake, who the Ra'avad is referring to is a big debate. Did he mean stam people who were mistaken, or was he referring to a real shita that could exist? You have people who have tried to dig up a handful of Rishonim that may have said things like this. Were they really who the Ra'avad had in mind? I don;t think anyone can know for sure.