Thursday, May 29, 2008


This morning is a bit depressing. First, I read David Guttman's latest (I am not linking to it because frankly I don't feel like getting into a discussion on this):
Rambam understands that even the suggestion that the cosmos is controlled by “spirits” and therefore these spirits have an impact on how things are in our world is forbidden. It is nonsense and lies and whoever believes that is a fool. When we try to understand how the cosmos works, we can explain it as a physical phenomenon or as a spiritual one. Starting from a standpoint that there is no such thing as “spiritual” or non-physical powers, one is forced to look for explanations that can be proven empirically. It is the belief in “spirituality” which is the greatest obstacle in the scientific understanding of our world. It is much easier to explain things by attributing phenomena to “spiritual” powers.

Contrast this to, say, the Ramchal in "Derech Hashem" who basically says that every natural phenomenon is controlled by an angel (a "non-physical" being). I don't want to rehash this, but short of some serious kvetching, I cannot see these two opinions reconcile. They cannot both be right.

On another note, some commenter on Hirhurim afterlife thread mentioned that the phrase "Na'aseh Adam" in the Torah clearly implies a Heavenly Court:
It's quite clear from the Torah- right from the start- that there's a heavenly Court. ("Na'aseh Adam" etc.) Why wouldn't righteous neshamot go there?

(Not sure if this counts, but the New Testament takes it for granted. That's still hundreds of years after the era of Tanach, but it would seem to indicate that it was a common belief among Jews then.)
I don't know if he means that the New Testament takes the idea of a Heavenly Court for granted in general, or because of the phrase "Na'aseh Adam". I think it is ironic, because that phase had always been used by Christians to "prove" the notion of the Trinity - who else can the Bible mean when it says "Let us make man"? And it is further ironic that the same phrase is used by anti-religious people to "prove" that this language is a vestige of polytheism.


Anonymous B. Spinoza said...

why do you find this depressing?

May 29, 2008 9:25 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Mostly because the notion of Orthodox Judaism rests on the notion of the Mesorah.

This is just another example of the fact that the Mesorah is a "many fractured thing". Guttman fails to admit that Rambam's views were not really accepted by the majority of Jewish sages and seem to contradict much of Chazal. He believes that his interpretation of the Rambam is what "real Judaism" is meant to be. Just like Lubavitchers believe that theirs is the "real Judaism"

May 29, 2008 9:39 AM  
Blogger הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

Oh, and Litvishers understand the 'real' Rambam. I think Guttman has a good understanding, because you have to really have read ALL the Rambams' works to fully understand what he's saying at any given place (as opposed to just the mishne torah).

May 30, 2008 12:36 AM  
Blogger evanstonjew said...

I went over this with Rabbi Guttman more than once in my comments on his blog this past year. I believe he does acknowledge both that many if not the majority of good Jews/commentators did not accept the Rambam's views, and that there are maamarei chazal and pesukim all over tanach that contradict the Rambam. He frequently presents the many alternative opinions under the general heading of the Ramban's approach.

I think he feels that SINCE the Rambam is true, even if most Jews disagreed it is irrelevant. He rejects outright the idea of Scholem and others that what shelomei amunei yisroal, the family of the faithful as it were believe is what constitutes Judaism. He also believes that SINCE the Rambam is true, all ostensibly contradictory sentences in chazal and tanach must be read as metaphorical. He has no problem in saying the vast majority of Orthodox Jews are guilty of idolatory.

He doesn't seem to worry that defending the Rambam by citing the Rambam might lead to a circularity that is unacceptable. (I once heard the line that all arguments in theology are circular,it all depends on the size of the circle.)

The above is my impression. Since Rabbi Gutman is activly writing his blog he is readily available and happy to explain his views.

May 30, 2008 9:51 AM  
Blogger Miri said...

REgarding the contradiction between the Rambam and the Ramchal, I'd like to say two things:
1) Isn't it possible at least in theory that they are both right, thusly - all the scientific empirically proven natural phenomenon are in fact controlled by "spirits" - but that it is unhealthy for us to believe in them?
2)The fact that two truths contradict each other doesn't necessarily in any way lessen their "truthiness." I think anyone with a healthy respect for the nature of truth will agree that it's capable of being a leetle more complicated than simple contradictions.

June 01, 2008 4:59 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Miri, regarding point one, I don't think it is a question of "believing". The ramchal clearly states that this is how the world is run - why would it be unhealthy for us to believe it. Rambam seems to say, according to Guttman, that there is no such thing as 'non-physical' spirits.

Regarding point two, you have to be specific. Sometimes truth is pretty simple, and the people that overcomplicate truths are motivated to do so by ulterior motives.

June 01, 2008 6:43 PM  
Blogger Miri said...

Regarding point 1, it isn't a very strong possibility, it was just a thought of how you might possibly be able to reconcile the two truths if you really wanted to. I don't really care enough about the fact that these two rabbis are contradicting each other to bother with a better reconciliation.

Regarding point two; it is best not to complicate a simple truth. However neither one of these truths is particularly simple, and reconciling them to each other involves a complication resembling a contortionist acrobat playing Twister. Isn't it simpler to say that in fact contradictory truths co-exist all the time, and that this is in fact a very natural state of being? It would take a much longer comment to explain exactly why the concept of contradictory truths seems to me to be something natural and not at all problematic. Maybe I'll have to write a post of my own on it...

June 02, 2008 8:09 AM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...


Yes - it would be a good discussion for a post.

I frankly am having a hard time understanding what you're talking about when you say contradictory truths are natural. Perhaps an example...

June 02, 2008 8:15 AM  
Blogger Miri said...

As far as I have been able to see, man himself is the best example. Humanity is nothing if not a bevy of walking contradictions. That we hurt most those that we love most...that we believe in things and yet do the opposite... that we are capable of harboring beliefs that should cancel each other out. These of course are not the best examples. I wanted to work in something about irony, but I have yet to find a truly satisfactory definition. I'm still working the theory out, but I'll let you know as soon as I do....

June 02, 2008 12:16 PM  
Blogger e-kvetcher said...

Miri, thanks for following up, but once again, I am talking about the notion of contradictory truths. And by truths I am not talking about something very ambiguous. I am talking about basic correspondence to reality. Does something work the way we say it works would be one example of a truth. Granted, there could be a situation where due to an imperfect understanding we may be seeing something that seems contradictory, but only because we don't fully understand it, but that is different than saying two truths are contradictory.

June 02, 2008 12:31 PM  
Blogger Miri said...

It's a metaphor though. If contradictory things can exist in more ephemeral realms, why not in actual reality? but you're right, I haven't given you anything substantiated enough. Again, the theory needs work. I will try to get back to you with something more concrete. At some point.

June 02, 2008 12:38 PM  

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