[Avodah] Kabbala at Odds with Torah

Micha Berger micha at aishdas.org
Wed Jan 30 12:59:44 PST 2013

On Wed, Jan 30, 2013 at 03:26:23PM -0500, I forwarded from RMBC:
: In light of your recent comments on my earlier essay against
: Kabbala, I invite you and your readers to read my latest
: essay "The Flaws of Zohar" in the current Jewishtimes:
: http://www.mesora.org/jewishtimes444.pdf

Before we get there, I want to share thoughts I already had collected
recently on the topic.

The assumption that the Rambam had the last word in theology was
very wrong. Moreso than R' Yehudah haLevi (who preceded him)? Or R'
Chasdai Crescas or Rabbeinu Yonah? You presume your conclusion with that
assertion. Besides, the Leshem's entire project is showing the unity of
[his understanding of] the Gra's qabbalah and ideas in the Moreh.

Second, one should really see the Gra's 10 Kelalim
<http://www.hashkafacircle.com/Asarah_Klalim.pdf>. The first explains
that all of Qabbalah is not a description of Atzmuso yisbarakh, but of His
Ratzon to be Meitiv. Thus, all this talk of sephiros and partzufim are no
more problematic than the Rambam's notion of attributes that describe how
Hashem's actions appear to us or R' Saadia Gaon's concept of attributes
of Hashem's relationship with us in contrast with those of Hashem Himself.

Third: Li nir'eh, Qabbalah is like lomdus. Even what wasn't revealed
explicitly, it's a theory that succeeds in explaining what we already
know. I don't think the Rambam had very many if any of these Brisker
chiluqim in mind when he wrote the Yad. But R' Chaim did succeed in
providing a theory that more elegently describes and explains the Rambam's

Similarly, Qabbalah got more complicated over time. But each step
succeeded in getting accepted to the extent that it explained and gave
meaning to things known al pi nigleh.

(And from this perspecive, the question of whether Rashby wrote the
Zohar, something from which grew the Zohar, an oral tradition that
became the Zohar, or etc... is secondary.)

Fourth... It's all a bunch of metaphor used to stretch how much theology
we can understand by use of analogy. See the Gra's comments at the
beginning of Idra Rabba, and the letter by R' Avraham Simcha citing R'
Chaim Volozhiner saying something similar besheim both the Gra and
the Ramchal. (Found in the intro to Seifer haKelalim, Friedlaner ed
pg 236.) But then, you can't learn much Ramchal and not see this;
arguably explaining Qabbalah's mashal to nimshal is his central theme.

Fifth, this whole debate was played out quite well between R'
Yichaya el-Qafeh (the first "R Kapach") in his Milkhamoth Hashem
and R' Dovid Cohen "the Nazir" in his Emunat Hashem.

Sixth, I mentioned the overlap the Leshem works with between Qabbalah
and the Rambam. There are Neoplatonic elements in the Rambam -- Yesodei
haTorah 2:5, Moreh Nevuchim 3:51, and his identification of Cause and
Agens (ie G-d as Maker / Borei / Yotzeir vs G-d as Emanator / Mamtzi)
in MN 3:49. It is also in his explanation of prophecy. (And as I wrote in
the past, I think it has to do with Ibn Rushd (Averroes) including parts
of Plotinus's Enneads in his translation of Aristotle's Metaphysics,
and that's what the Rambam had in front of him.)

Still, the Rambam was far from the final word on Jewish Thought. The Vilna
Gaon attacks his rejection of sheidim, kishuf, astrology, etc... Rav
Hirsch (letter #18) considers the Rambam's emphasis of knowledge over
ethics to be indicative of the latter's embracing of Greek Thought to the
extent of distorting the Torah. Rav Yehudah haLevi, the Raavad, Rabbeinu
Yonah, the Ramban, Rav Chasdai Crescas.... most rishonim rejected the
Aristotelian approach of R' Saadia and the Rambam.

So, when looking at the hashkafah of the majority of shomerei Shabbos
and the acharonim and rishonim they follow, perhaps citations of the
Rambam aren't a sufficient yardstick. And perhaps we should be using
their givens to judge whether the Rambam shaved off too many maamerei
Chazal to fit his philosophical bent.

Last, there is the overlap of halakhah and hashkafah -- defining
apiqursus, meenus and kefirah. When challenging the opinion of the
vast majority of poseqim about whether an opinion they consider true
by saying it's not only false, but heretical, halachic process must
also be met.

These last two points bring us to the thread titled "Mesorah",
and my post at
And a blog post which I have been working at on-and-off since.
Hopefully to be completed soon.

Tir'u baTov!

Micha Berger             "I think, therefore I am." - Renne Descartes
micha at aishdas.org        "I am thought about, therefore I am -
http://www.aishdas.org   my existence depends upon the thought of a
Fax: (270) 514-1507      Supreme Being Who thinks me." - R' SR Hirsch

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