[Avodah] Mesorah

Micha Berger micha at aishdas.org
Tue Jan 8 10:27:28 PST 2013

On Fri, Dec 28, 2012 at 10:14:59AM -0500, David Riceman wrote:
> What's extraordinary is your second clause:
>> I argue with the belief that the Rambam realized he was doing so, and
>> thought it was okay to do so.

But the notion that the Rambam's unification of Mesorah with his
Aristo-Neo-Platonism ended up distorting the mesorah to the point
of breaking it is far from my chiddush.

Unlike most machloqesin, this is a case where the debate isn't
whether A or B is correct. Invoking eilu va'eilu becomes non-trivial
when the machloqes is wheere one side says A is true, and the other
side says it's not only untrue, it's not divrei E-lokim chaim.

In 2009 I quoted RSRH on the subject, from the 18th of his 19 Letters
    The age gave birth to a man [R' Drachman's footnote: Maimonides], a
    mind, who, the product of uncomprehended Judaism and Arabic science,
    was obliged to reconcile the strife which raged in his own breast
    in his own manner, and who, by proclaiming it to the world, became
    the guide of all in whom the same conflict existed.

    This great man to whom, and to whom alone, we owe the preservation
    of practical Judaism to our time, is responsible because he sought
    to reconcile Judaism with the difficulties which confronted it
    from without instead of developing it creatively from within, for
    all the good and the evil which bless and afflict the heritage of
    the father. His peculiar mental tendency was Arabic-Greek, and his
    conception of the purpose of life the same. He entered into Judaism
    from without, bringing with him opinions of whose truth he had
    convinced himself from extraneous sources and he reconciled. For him,
    too, self-perfecting through the knowledge of truth was the highest
    aim, the practical he deemed subordinate. For him knowledge of God was
    the end, not the means; hence he devoted his intellectual powers to
    speculations upon the essence of Deity, and sought to bind Judaism
    to the results of his speculative investigations as to postulates
    of science or faith. The Mizvoth became for him merely ladders,
    necessary only to conduct to knowledge or to protect against
    error, this latter often only the temporary and limited error of
    polytheism. Mishpatim became only rules of prudence, Mitzvoth as well;
    Chukkim rules of health, teaching right feeling, defending against the
    transitory errors of the time; Edoth ordinances, designed to promote
    philosophical concepts; all this having no foundation in the eternal
    essence of things, not resulting from their eternal demand on me,
    or from my eternal purpose and task, no eternal symbolizing of an
    unchangeable idea, and not inclusive enough to form a basis for the
    totality of the commandments.

    He, the great systematic orderer of the practical results of the
    Talmud, gives expression in the last part of his philosophic work
    to opinions concerning the meaning and purpose of the commandments
    which, taking the very practical results codified by himself as the
    contents of the commandments, are utterly untenable cast no real
    light upon them and cannot go hand in hand with them in practice,
    in life, and in science...

And I summarized then:
> What then is RSRH's complaint? That the Rambam was too Aristotelian,
> and it led him to study Judaism from the outside, casting upon it the
> Hellenic philosopher's priority of knowledge rather than morality.

According to RSRH, the Rambam stood on the hashkafic outside looking in,
and distorted Chazal into saying things in concert with Greek thought
that are in truth dissonant to all versions of the Torah worldview.

(I am particularly bothered by this placing of intellect front and
center -- the point so central to the Rambam it's in both the opening
and closing peraqim of the Moreh. Reducing "vehalakhta bidrakhav" and
"his'haleikh lefanai" to handmaidens of abstract philosophical knowledge
is quite alien to me and to the way anyone else reads Chazal.)

I am voicing my agreement with the belief of many rishonim and acharonim
that the Rambam's reinterpretation of many pieces of aggadita are
distortions of the original. I just added that there is every indication
that the Rambam himself would be against such distortion; that he
explained Chazal as he was sure they must have meant.

The Rambam didn't take license to invent new peshatim in the Torah that
argue against Chazal, even according to those who say that de facto he
did do such inventing. Therefore (to go back to the top of the thread)
I objected to R/D Shinnar invoking the Rambam as telling us this is the
correct approach when science and mesorah point to different answers.

Tir'u baTov!

Micha Berger             Good decisions come from experience;
micha at aishdas.org        Experience comes from bad decisions.
http://www.aishdas.org                - Djoha, from a Sepharadi fable
Fax: (270) 514-1507

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