Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Why would a rationalist not consider the pnimiyus haTorah response as most convincing and satisfying?

In the Jewish Blogosphere over the last few days, there have been many discussions about how to approach gemaras in which Chazal seem to contradict modern (but not necessarily contemporary) science. Some of this has been here, some has been at Rationalist Judaism, and some has been at Divrei Chaim.

In a recent post, Chaim B. of Divrei Chaim posed the following question (this is an excerpt):
Problem: you have a gemara which contradicts empirical evidence or common sense.
There can be only three possible solutions:

1) Accept the contradiction as legitimate and conclude that Chazal were wrong.
2) Accept the contradiction as legitimate and conclude that common sense or science is wrong.
3) Explain that Chazal and science are speaking of different aspects of reality and no contradiction exists.

Can someone please explain to me why 'rationally' option #1 is a better solution than option #3?

...

The advanatages of approach #3 are obvious. It preserves emunas chachamim, which given option #1 erodes, yet at the same time gives full legitimacy to scientific inquiry and its conclusions because that is not what Chazal were addressing. You can have your cake and eat it too!

Why in the world would anyone prefer to force a choice between competing truths rather than adopt an approach that acknowledges the truth of both?
In a comment there, I answered:
simply put, different interpretations of gemaras *in general* have greater plausibility than others. and this is a matter of engaging one's sechel to evaluate which is the more likely possibility.

if i see an ibn ezra talk about the number of chambers in the womb allowing a certain number of twins, and i see that his contemporary science matched that, then it stands to reason that he was making use of the science of his time.

if i see a gemara, or mechilta, discuss spontaneous generation, and I know through historical sources that the contemporary scientists also held that belief *as science*, and that Chazal held that "yesh chochma bagoyim taamin," then it is an extremely plausible interpretation that Chazal made use of contemporary science, just as the Geonim, Rishonim, and Acharonim did. Add that to the sudden surfacing of the "pnimiyus" interpretation only when modern scientific discoveries occur, and it *feels* like what is going on is apologetics.

The desire to avoid any conflict as a value also seems to introduce subjectivity into the process of the evaluation. Better to weigh each possibility on its merits, and then see what the repercussions are.
But there is a separate question. I think my preceding answer gave good reason for answer #1 to be a more compelling reading. However, as Chaim B. asked, probably addressed to the points of others, what are we to make of the Gra giving a different answer? Here is a brilliant rabbi who saw answer #3 as more compelling. As he wrote:
Your position leaves you with just two choices, neither one I would like to make:

1) The GR"A, Maharal, Ramchal, etc. were unaware of the approach of the Rishonim you have adopted.

2) The GR"A, Maharal, Ramchal etc. were aware of the approach of the Rishonim but felt the revelation of pnimiyus haTorah offered better answers.

Choice #1 is just about inconceivable with respect to GR"A; choice #2 is exactly what I am saying in my post.
I would reword this question as why do we see fit to dismiss the Gra's choice of the more compelling answer, if he obviously knew of the simple explanation which did not involve pnimiyus haTorah?

I would preface this answer with the statement and realization that some may take disagreement with a broad reading of pnimiyus in the words of Chazal as apikorsus. As such, this could disqualify in those people's eyes all the other valid and intelligent things i may say. Therefore, know that this is my own personal position, but that other frum rationalists do not necessarily agree with me. I speak only for myself.

Why don't I find the "pnimiyus" interpretation as compelling as the straightforward one? I would answer that I do agree that there is a hidden, coded message in some statements from Chazal. The genre of aggadeta is such that we should expect this. And where the aggada makes a statement which is absurd on its face, or seems to be coded, that is is good indication that it is mashal, or contains some pnimiyus. This is in accordance with Rambam in his intro to perek chelek.

At the same time, I would not leap to assume that every gemara is a coded message. When abaye and rava argue about yiush shelo midaas, and their argument makes perfect sense in context on the nigleh level, I would not assume a nistar level. I am simply not compelled to it, and there is no text-internal evidence that such a level exists.

In the case of tannaitic or talmudic sources discussing science, are we compelled towards a mystical explanation? No, because it is not absurd on its face. The audience of such statements were people living in those times, and the statements make perfect sense and were in accord with modern science. Just as i would not assume Aristotle had some secret coded message when he said X, I would not assume Chazal had some secret coded message when they said the same X. It would be quite lucky that the particular coded message just happened to accord with contemporary science. As such, i would see the pnimiyus interpretation as apologetics by some very brilliant talmidei chachamim, whose worldview for certain reasons did not wish to include Chazal making mistakes by adopting contemporary science.

There is a broader point. Pnimiyus is *not* just apologetics. Rather, it is part of a much broader, literary trend. As Shadal notes in his Vikuach, certain medieval meforshim took to reading their philosophical positions into psukim, mishnayot, and gemaras. He labels this "philosophical derash," and points an accusatory finger toward Ibn Ezra, Radak, and Abarbanel. He writes
And the chachmei yisrael also, in order to make the words of this philosophy agree with our Complete Torah, forced and pressed the words of the Torah, Neviim, and the Sages of the Mishnah and the Talmud in order that they say what they did not say and never entered their hearts in {all} their days. And in order to do this they {the chachmei yisrael} brought out the {tools of} derash, remez and mashal {allegory}. And they abandoned the peshat and did not serve it.
I would agree that much if not all of medieval philosophy was nonsense. That brilliant rabbanim were able to read these ideas into pesukim and into gemaras is only a testament to their brilliance, not necessarily to Chazal maintaining this philosophical ideas as well.

And Shadal makes the point elsewhere in his Vikuach that kabbalists do the same. Even if an idea was a later kabbalistic innovation, you will find some kabbalistic rabbi rereading and reinterpreting earlier sources as if Chazal were maintaining this position as well. If one agrees to the early origin of these kabbalistic ideas (for Chazal were kabbalists, and the Zohar is not a forgery and was authored by a Tanna), then such readings are possible though not compulsory. Meanwhile, Shadal felt that Chazal's theology differed from the kabbalists and that these reinterpretations of Rabbinic texts were a corruption of the thought and intent of Chazal. Regardless, these "pnimiyus" readings of Talmudic texts surely serve a purpose, which is bolstering kabbalistic thought and placing it firmly as an old and established tradition.

The Gra and other kabbalists worked in an intellectual environment where such pnimiyus readings were regular, and encouraged. It was part of the standard methodology, and was therefore a ready tool to be utilized when encountering a newly "problematic" gemara, where Chazal's statements about science are not in accord with what we know about modern science.

A rationalist will naturally be extremely wary of such readings, realizing the possibility of retrojecting modern values onto ancient texts. Better tools, to his mind, will be text-internal evidence. What picture do we get from the gemara itself, and how this and other gemaras make use of this language and these concepts? And what can we get from an analysis of history? What ideas were available to them at this time in history? That can yield the peshat in the gemara, rather than derash, which may well be our own wishful thinking.

50 comments:

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>But there is a separate question. I think my preceding answer gave good reason for answer #1 to be a more compelling reading. However, as Chaim B. asked, probably addressed to the points of others, what are we to make of the Gra giving a different answer? Here is a brilliant rabbi who saw answer #3 as more compelling.

While that's an interesting question -- one which absolutely demands an answer outside the confines of polemic -- how come no one taking that sort of view as a baseline asks the question the other way, eg, why did the Rambam not give such an answer?-- as if those authorities aren't authoritative to the extent where it is a problem simply to depart from their view, as it seems to be to depart from the view of the Gaon, et al.

joshwaxman said...

i agree.
though i've seen terutzim for that as well, on the divrei chaim thread, not that i've found them compelling...

kt,
josh

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

I guess it's like a hilkhasa kebasrai thing. "We" are heirs to the tradition of the Gra, Maharal, R. Akiva Eger and whatever else the yeshivishe chulent chooses to be heirs to at the moment. In fact, Chaim basically said as such to me when I pointed out that the answer to another question of his is that the Gra et al felt that Chazal were correct in their science, rather than it being an objective fact. The reason they didn't give any other answers was because they felt their understanding of Chazal was the correct one. So Chaim said something like, yes, well if you're part of the tradition of the Gra and Maharal and R. Akiva Eger than it's not a question of dismissing them like they think this but I think that. He's right in that respect.

Shadal, by the way, elsewhere makes the point that Chazal often do this -- with Tanakh. He was a big believer in the asmachta approach, although he sometimes justified the halakhah on the basis of peshat, as you are wont to do, but he was, as you know, very, very different from Haksav vehakabbalah and the Malbim. For some reason Shadal felt it was fine for Chazal and they had their reasons, etc. etc. but he doesn't feel it's so fine for rishonim and, chalilah, acharonim to do read their own ideas into other texts (except for maybe Rashi, who he also justifies as departing from peshat because of reasons which were valid for him).

Yosef Greenberg said...

So you're saying that much of the Ibn Ezra, Radak, and Abarbanel is pure nonsense?

Slightly off topic: Was the Shada"l an Apikorus, since he claimed that Chumash Devarim was authored by Moshe?
(According to Shadal's Wikipedia page.)

I'm assuming that the Torah's divinity is a universal ikkar.

מֹשאל רפאל said...

When you see the GR"A take Chazal very seriously in a matter of Science, understand his program. The GR"A's vision was that Science and Torah must be one body. He was very aware of the lack of our understanding of this unity. He urged his Talmidim to develop it, and study the Chochmot. When you see the GR"A make a statement about Metziut/Science based on Torah, he is after this unity. He was also open to understanding Torah in view of Science. Take his square-earth hypothesis mentioned in earlier posts here. I assume that today he would say that the four corners are Scandinavia, South Africa, South-East Asia, and North-East Siberia.

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Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>Slightly off topic: Was the Shada"l an Apikorus, since he claimed that Chumash Devarim was authored by Moshe? (According to Shadal's Wikipedia page.)

Huh? He did no such thing, and I don't see anything about it on the Wikipedia page.

מֹשאל רפאל said...

I think the summary of you post is that we must be intellectually honest. We must respect the truth more than any Gadol. The GR"A would have agreed.

גילוי said...

Question for the kahal:

The Rambam describes Maaseh Breishit basically as (astro)physics in Hilchot Yesodei haTorah, and in Moreh Nevuchim he makes it clear that he believes that Maaseh Breishit is a mesorah from the nevi'im.

In light of modern science, which direction do you think the Rambam would take that? That the science of Chazal is wrong and therefore Maaseh Breishit isn't science, or that he would find something that connects the two in a non-literal way, as Kabbalah does?

joshwaxman said...

"So you're saying that much of the Ibn Ezra, Radak, and Abarbanel is pure nonsense?"

yes, absolutely. just as the sources brought down in Gilyonei Hashas dismiss Rambam in Yesodei HaTorah as being untrue, since it was based on foreign ideas and science. (in that case, of a round earth.)

while Torah UMaddah is wonderful in its various applications, this does seem to be its flaw: where the maddah is nonsense, the resulting Torah UMaddah is nonsense as well. Garbage in, garbage out. For example, when Chizkuni relates contemporary science to a pasuk in Shir Hashirim in terms of a recommendation for having male children, he is acting very modern, and we should perhaps take our cue from him. But the science is false, and does not equal the science at the time Shir Hashirim was composed, and so certainly this was never the intent of the pasuk.

IIUC, Rav Gedalia Nadel makes the same point about Ramban and others interpreting Bereishit as referring to the four elements.

kt,
josh

Chaim B. said...

>>>The Gra and other kabbalists worked in an intellectual environment where such pnimiyus readings were regular, and encouraged.

Josh, the Rambam and others worked in an environment where philosophical rationalism was encouraged, hence creating a bias in the opposite direction.

We have no way to recapture the "true" historical meaning of Chazal and I would argue that historical meaning is irrelevant to our practice of Judaism. You are asking the wrong question.

The "correct" interpretation of halacha or hashkafa is based on a consensus of readers (i.e. chachmei hador) who choose to view a text in a given way. In that respect Mississippi Fred accurately summarized my opinion: the consensus of the majority of chachamim whose mesorah we follow do not see Torah through the lens of rationalism.

Natan Slifkin said...

Excuse me. There is something called pashut peshat. I don't see how anyone in their right mind can deny that the pashut peshat in this Gemara is that Rebbi conceded that the Chachmei Yisrael erred. And that is how those closest to them in time interpreted it. If you want to read it otherwise, the onus of proof is on YOU. It's just not accurate to say that each side is equally biased.

Historical meaning may well be irrelevant to our practice of Judaism. But it is very relevant to historical meaning, which is what we are discussing. What did they actually mean?

The "correct" interpretation, in terms of what we should do, of halacha is based on contemporary authorities who choose to view a text in a given way. But that has nothing to do with the historically correct meaning.

If it makes you good to think that there is a hidden meaning, or it's good chinnuch for your kids, fine. But surely our discussion is about the emes of what the Gemara actually means. After all, you asked why anyone would want to avoid the mystical interpretation, and our answer is that, as surprising as it may seem, we are actually interested to find out what Chazal meant to say. Not what modern authorities want us to think they ought to have meant.

Chaim B. said...

Huh? I am not a historian and don't really care what the historical meaning of the text is. All i care about is halacha and what it means to me.

>>>The "correct" interpretation, in terms of what we should do, of halacha is based on contemporary authorities who choose to view a text in a given way

Are you conceding that speaking halachically we should be bound to read the text as most contemporaty gedolim do, irrespective of historical meaning? I wish you would have said that earlier.

Yosef Greenberg said...

Chaim: I tend to agree with your view but R' Natan has a point here.

Were not talking history when we try to figure out what they meant. Chazal had a message for us in their words and we're trying to figure out what they wanted to tell us; regardless of what halachah tells us.

Natan Slifkin said...

Are you conceding that speaking halachically we should be bound to read the text as most contemporaty gedolim do

Let me clarify. If I was paskening from a source, I would want to try to figure out what that source meant. If I am relying on a canonized halachah, say in the Gemara, which is based on the Gemara's understanding of the Mishnah, then I would do so regardless of whether I think the Gemara has or has not understood the Mishnah correctly.

If you want to rely on contemporary poskim's understanding of sources even if you think that they have misunderstood them, well, that's your perogative. But don't ask why other people would prefer to interpret the sources in the way that they were meant!

Ariella said...

"But don't ask why other people would prefer to interpret the sources in the way that they were meant!"
The reason Chaim's post included a reference to the literary theory of Deconstruction is that the goal of uncovering "the way that they were meant" may be impossible to attain. What is possible to to find meaning, but that meaning cannot be known to be what was originally intended. What was intended is a matter of speculation, but still, it is not the only way to find meaning.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Let me just interject and say that I think the idea that we are not interesting in the historically correct meaning, ie, what Chazal intended to say, is a radical departure from the tradition, and is in fact identical with postmodernist reading, and is the view of how to read the Bible according to Prof. James Kugel. I say this not to discredit his view, which is as much a matter of opinion as mine is.

I think the Rishonim and most Acharonim would have looked at you like you were from Mars if you suggested that we are not interested in the intended meaning in divrei Chazal, whether in terms of halacha or hashkafah. I think that is all they were interested in. The reason why they do not always arrive at what likely is the intended meaning has more to do with the different kind of historical consciousness they possessed. The collective we have a different grasp of things like anachronism, and that's why, in my opinion, Chaim feels he has to specifically reject the desire to discern the original intent. I think that Chaim's historical consciousness was developed in the 20th century, like mine was, and both of us know full well that if the halakhic system as it is presently constituted were to be compared rigorously in every respect with the original intent of the words of Chazal as best we can discern what that is, we would arrive at several problematic areas. Thus, the luxury possessed by the earlier authorities due to their different historical sense, is not available to us and requires some kind of reconciliation or harmonization.

Please don't misunderstand me; I am not judging anyone, past or present. But this is what I see.

As for the question of whether we even can uncover the original, intended meaning, truly we cannot succeed completely, but we can certainly succeed somewhat using tools which are available to us.

Natan Slifkin said...

the goal of uncovering "the way that they were meant" may be impossible to attain.

There are certainly ways of assessing which meaning is MORE likely to be what was meant. The literal translation/ pashut peshat is a good place to start.

Ariella said...

But you contradict yourself, then. If one is only approximating, then one has still not arrived at this ONE (hey, you constantly are using all caps, so I will do so here) meaning. Doesn't close only count in horseshoes? For an absolute position, such as you are positing, coming closer -- and that only according the standards you defined for yourself -- does not get you the cigar

yitzi7 said...

Natan -- if that makes you happy -- fine by me.

But once you go ahead & say that major figures such as the GR"A were biased -- than you have to be honest enough to admit that the Rambam was just as (if not more so) "biased" by the philosophy of his time.

I say more so, because the GR"A had the benefit of knowing how great the Rambam was, knowing what he said, & still rejecting it in favor of a pniymius approach.

Your claim that there is an objective "pashut Peshat" just shows YOUR bias. many times in Torah (Shebichsav & Ba'al Peh) the "Pashut Peshat" is NOT the "Real" Peshat (or at least not any more "real" than the deaper Peshat.)

More fundamentally -- traditional Orthodox Judaism IS defined by how the Chachmei HaMesora understand the sources. Again, while I have no problem with your approach, I would expect someone as intelectually honest as you to realize that what you are writing here really IS radical from an Orthodox approach -- & you are now expressing what you never fully did in your books -- and exactly what the rabbanim were afraid of.

Chaim B. said...

>>>I think that Chaim's historical consciousness was developed in the 20th century, like mine was, and both of us know full well that if the halakhic system as it is presently constituted were to be compared rigorously in every respect with the original intent of the words of Chazal as best we can discern what that is, we would arrive at several problematic areas. Thus, the luxury possessed by the earlier authorities due to their different historical sense, is not available to us and requires some kind of reconciliation or harmonization

Agree 100%. No one before our time would be concered with the meta-issues of reading and interpretation that we are grappling with.

>>>The literal translation/ pashut peshat is a good place to start.

But a poor place to stop. When it comes to halacha, do you think Chazal's reading of the Torah was identical with the way it was understood by the Jewish people who received it at Sinai? Whether they thought the "pshat" was a Rashbam-like approach or even something different, they understood that this is irrelevant so far as the halachic process.

Are you choosing to read as a halachist or a historian?

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Ariella, re you talking to me or Natan?

"Close" does not only count in horseshoes. There always must be an element of self-doubt and caution when positing an intended meaning in someone else's words, but there is a wide gap between putting a shtreimel on Avraham Avinu and at least recognizing that it is an anachronism (where you and Chaim seem to be) and also between that and the willingness to look at depictions of Arameans and Canaanite herdsmen from 4000 years ago (hypothetically) and positing that such is still more likely, as opposed to saying we don't know which is more likley, so it may as well be the shtreimel.

I realize that we are also talking about authorities, but the point is that here it's not the Gra vs a professor at JTS, it's great rabbinic authorities on all sides. A way to be muchrach is to see which is more likely!

(Sorry about my terrible analogy, but I am sitting here with a baby on my lap with Baby Einstein playing and typing with one hand; in short, I can't think so well at the moment! More perfect analogies will have to wait for me.)

joshwaxman said...

the following is my own (=josh waxman's) off the cuff response. Rabbi Slifkin may have a different one.

"But once you go ahead & say that major figures such as the GR"A were biased -- than you have to be honest enough to admit that the Rambam was just as (if not more so) "biased" by the philosophy of his time."

You don't have to be biased in any direction to read the gemara in the straightforward way. And Rambam was not the only Rishon we are talking about here.

"I say more so, because the GR"A had the benefit of knowing how great the Rambam was, knowing what he said, & still rejecting it in favor of a pniymius approach."
And the Rambam and all the Rishonim, you are saying, did not know how great the Gra was? Well, naturally. But they did not know the greatness of those who held the pnimiyus interpretation? Or was it that there was not really anyone holding the pnimiyus interpretation? what kind of "masorah" is it, then?

"More fundamentally -- traditional Orthodox Judaism IS defined by how the Chachmei HaMesora understand the sources"
But if you get to write out of the masorah those who hold positions contrary to the ones you want to maintain, and say that they are not part of our Beis Medrash, then what is this masorah?
besides the fact that he is following his rabbeim in this approach.

kt,
josh

Chaim B. said...

>>>but there is a wide gap between putting a shtreimel on Avraham Avinu and at least recognizing that it is an anachronism

Mississippi, but when Chazal derive a derasha from a pasuk, which at least some (most?) rishonim understand to mean the derash in inherent in the pasuk, isn't that an anachronistic reading? Do we really need to think "an eye for an eye" was not taken literally by the generation who received the Torah to accept Chazal's reading as "true"?

yitzi7 said...

Josh -- you are missing the point (I say all this with respect & appreciation for your bringing up this discussion).

Maybe some are limiting who is in "our Bais Medrash." But I AM NOT. I welcome in all the rationalist Rishonim & value their view as a legit Torah position.

YOU, on the other hand, REJECT the GR"A (or Maharal or whomever) as a LESS AUTHENTIC, LESS REAL, Jewish approach.

(And yes, there certainly WAS the pniymius approach back then -- as even Rashi brings down once in a while -- example -- on "Ani Veho"

And I don't get it -- you are being circular -- you yourself asked the question -- the GR"A couldn't read in a straightforward way? The great Pashtan the GR"A?)

So the Rishonim can favor one way or another. But traditional Orthodox Jewish Mesorah does not allow us to REJECT the GR"A (or whomever. Yes I know he was an Acharon).

If all you are doing is explaining why you personally slightly favor one approach -- fine with me. But Natan seems to be saying, & you seemed to be explaining why you feel your approach is MORE authentic & the GR"A approach not so.

And you have not satisfactorily answered that -- except by saying there is a "Pashut Peshat." But that is circular because the GR"A knew there was a Pashut Peshat & he still understood differently. It all comes down to you taking as a given that rationalist approach is better. You have asked the question & not given an answer -- WHY?

I have to run now & probably wont get back until after Shabbos -- but am interested in your further clarification.

Chaim B. said...

>>>But they did not know the greatness of those who held the pnimiyus interpretation? Or was it that there was not really anyone holding the pnimiyus interpretation? what kind of "masorah" is it, then?

Let's not be blind to historical reality. No, the Rambam was not likely to say a pshat involving sefiros because his worldview did not encompass such an idea, but then again, the Rambam in Yad probably never had gavra/cheftza distinctions in mind. Our ways of reading text has changed over time. Which approaches become canonized as "tradition" has nothing to do with which approach comes cloesest to "true" or "original" meaning and everything to do with communal consensus by chachmei hador.

Chaim B. said...

I'm just echoing Yitzi7, but for the sake of clarity, here is a thought experiment: you are convinced that most Rishonim learned a sugya in hilchos Shabbos a certain way and come to a halachic conclusion on that basis. However, the GRA, R' Akiva Eiger, and the Mishna Berura, all of whom say the same Rishonim you did, pasken against your conclusion. Do you stick to your guns and risk chilul Shabbos against their conclusion, or do you live with the question of how they understood the Rishonim and practically follow their psak? Unless you have very broad halachic shoulders, for all practical purposes I think the latter is the obvious answer.

Obviously, if your rebbe told you that your conclusion is correct and you personally behave that way, kol tuv. But that's not the issue -- the issue is when you write your handbook for hilchos shabbos, do you include your view as the ikkar because you are convinced you are right, or do you include the Mishna Berura as the mainstream view and then footnote your kashes and mention your rebbe as a "yeish omrim"?

Ariella said...

To clarify for MFM, I was addressing Slifkin's shift from arriving at the truth to coming closer to it. He said "But that has nothing to do with the historically correct meaning." and further down in the comment, "But don't ask why other people would prefer to interpret the sources in the way that they were meant!" And an earlier comment, "But surely our discussion is about the emes of what the Gemara actually means," makes it even more explicit that he is positing a single identifiable truth here -- not an approximation of it.
(And I don't excuse you, MFM, I'm doing this while preparing for Shabbos, making challah from scratch, etc. Men are so incompetent when it comes to multi-tasking ;-))

I am a student of TaNaCh, not Gemara, but I can tell you that there are difference in pshat. For example, \ plain pshat -- the approach of Ibn Ezra -- differs from pshuto shel mikra -- Rashi's general approach. When learning different interpretations, we are not necessarily arriving at THE historical truth. We have in Shmuel a listing of David's wives that include Egla. She had not been introduced beforehand, yet is given extra prominence with her description. Consequently, Chazal identify her as Michal, identifying Egla as a term of affection (like Shimshon's reference to Eglasi). Other commentators stick to the plain textual meaning and say she must be another wife named Egla. There are difficulties with each interpretations. But historically either there was another wife named Egla or there wasn't, right. We are not positing parallel universes springing into being here. But there is more going on her than an identification of historical fact; that is not all that pshat is about.

joshwaxman said...

"But I AM NOT. I welcome in all the rationalist Rishonim & value their view as a legit Torah position."
no. because in this instance, it is not a matter of the Gra alongside the Rambam and all the rest of Rishonim (where the Gra is an extra pnimiyus interpretation). it is the Gra, and therefore DISMISS the Rambam and all the Rishonim. At issue is NOT taking their view as a legitimate Torah position. And in general, discarding rationalism in favor of mysticism.

"And yes, there certainly WAS the pniymius approach back then -- as even Rashi brings down once in a while -- example -- on "Ani Veho""
But was there a pnimiyus approach on this gemara? If you want to discuss that Rashi, we can perhaps do it in a different post.

"you yourself asked the question -- the GR"A couldn't read in a straightforward way? The great Pashtan the GR"A?"
And I myself answered the question. That within his intellectual framework, a different method was considered optimal. He was a kabbalist, and kabbalists do this. Just like the medieval pashtanim who read pnimiyus of philosophy into psukim and Chazal.

"So the Rishonim can favor one way or another. But traditional Orthodox Jewish Mesorah does not allow us to REJECT the GR"A (or whomever. Yes I know he was an Acharon)."
That is a very frum thing to say. I don't know that it is correct. Of course we can reject the Gra. (My school of thought -- and i have basis -- is that we only cannot argue on Amoraim, but even Rishonim are fair game. But that is beside the point.)

Of course we can reject the Gra, because there are competing traditions here, one of mysticism and one of rationalism. And that for sociological reasons, many people tend towards mysticism does not delegitimize the rationalist approach. Especially as we have Acharonim and our own rabbeim to follow.

"But Natan seems to be saying, & you seemed to be explaining why you feel your approach is MORE authentic & the GR"A approach not so."
I can only speak for myself, but yes, personally I do feel that my approach is more authentic, which is a good part of why I maintain it. Would this be a good time to plug Shadal's Vikuach? Here is the first perek. But it not be good to take the conversation off course.

But Chaim B. seems to be arguing that the Gra's approach is more authentic as Masorah. Do you not agree with that reading of him? You can't stick your head in the middle of an ongoing argument and assume that people are arguing with you rather than with whom they are arguing.

"You have asked the question & not given an answer -- WHY?"
I gave my answer pretty clearly in the main post. That you do not see that as an answer may be as a result of your approach as opposed to a flaw in my delivery.

kt,
josh

joshwaxman said...

chaim b:
have you ever read maaneh leIgros? i think it is available online...

kt,
josh

Yosef Greenberg said...

My school of thought -- and i have basis -- is that we only cannot argue on Amoraim, but even Rishonim are fair game.

It stops there?

joshwaxman said...

"It stops there?"
yes. in which direction are you asking about?

have a great shabbos.
josh

Yosef Greenberg said...

To clarify: Why can't you, according to your opinion, argue with an Amora if you think he misunderstood a drasha in a posuk?

In your quest for the truth, don't some terutzim that the Gemara sometimes answers for stiros sound patently untrue, real dochuk?

I find many peshatim in the Gemara to be one that had the Gemara not said them, I would've laughed them off.

A great Shabbos to you too, Josh.

joshwaxman said...

in theory, yes.

however, i learned (from one of my rabbeim) separately that we have a principle of ravina and rav ashi as sof horaah, such that the halacha crystallizes at that point, but we have no such restriction encoded in halacha for later semantic distinctions. (and thus we see, e.g., that Rambam argued on all the Geonim when he found an old gemara that said differently; we see Rif differ from Geonim; we see the Gra and other Acharonim argue on Rishonim.) And we see the approach of the Brisker Rav was also to understand the gemara, if need be against everyone, but to understand the *gemara*.

The idea seems to be that at the closing of the Talmud, the halacha crystallized and became binding, and it is then a matter of everyone after -- the Geonim, Rishonim, and Acharonim, despite different names and honor accorded -- to determine just what that crystallized halacha was.

i would indeed be much more reluctant to argue on Amoraim, but if I was truly convinced they set halacha incorrectly, indeed, according to Rav Schachter's words here (did I link to them? it is about following a Torah of truth), I should take that more extreme step. but this is a bigger step, it would seem. i am talking with multiple personalities, from two different pieces of guidance, in different scenarios.

In my own experience, I do not find the words of the Amoraim farfetched. Where it initially seems so, it is not the Amoraim who are speaking, but the Savoraim, who are post- Ravina and Rav Ashi. Ant the actual words of the named Amoraim make a lot of sense. Have you ever done any mechkar? Here is an example with Yona and the goldfish. All these investigations have only led me to appreciate the genius and sensitivity to text of the Amoraim even more.

While there is a good question about how to apply these principles and how far to apply them, they still seem to me to be correct.

shabbat shalom,
josh

Yosef Greenberg said...

I see.

I don't really understand you distinction in a rationalist sense. Why should chasimas hatalmud create this distinction? On one hand, you have chasimas hatalmud; on the other, Rav Schachters words. Who wins? Can you claim that you would give more value to understand the Gemara's words? Shouldn't all text get vigorous shakedowns for the truth equally, in a sense?

In short, what rationalism is there for chasimas hatalmud? (What you call a 'bigger step'. Shouldn't all steps be equal?)

Also: You need some firm backing to say on a Gemara that it was added later by the Savoraim. You can't just go ahead and say that on any "mistaken" Gemara. It gets too easy. And wrong.

Good Shabbos

joshwaxman said...

there are two different assertions in play, the "weaker" one in which one may argue up to the Amoraim because this is the proper approach for every competent posek, and the "stronger" one in different circumstances.

i will address the weaker one here.

this is not necessarily a rationalist perspective. after all, it seems like the Gra held by it as well, in arguing against Rishonim. rather, it is an understanding of klalei horaah. just as some have "daas Torah" that one cannot argue against, here we have a seeming halachic statement in the gemara setting the boundaries of dispute. The Tannaim darshened pesukim to come up with theories of halacha; the Amoraim for the most part interpreted Mishnayos and Braysos and could not argue with them of their own innovation; and all generations subsequent to Ravina and Rav Ashi are restricted to understanding "the" pesak halacha as codified by Ravina and Rav Ashi.

You want to attack that from a rationalist perspective. Perhaps one could, and in that context, we might apply (or perhaps misapply) Rav Schachter about the "orthodox approach."

In terms of saying that something was added by Savoraim, it is not just a reaction to seeing something "wrong" in the gemara. rather, it is based on stylistic arguments. for example, there is no "amar leih" back and forth. and there is often a language switch. as well as a specific systematic approach to try to cover all scenarios. i would recognize a setama well before there is any difficulty, and often when there is no difficulty.

kt,
josh

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I would agree that much if not all of medieval philosophy was nonsense.

I find this comment to be outrageous, unless you are specifically referring to medieval scientific theories when you say "medieval philosophy". Much of the content of medieval philosophy is very significant and still quite relevant.

joshwaxman said...

"I find this comment to be outrageous..."

:)
no, alas, i mean medieval philosophy. i probably should add that i consider modern philosophy to similarly be nonsense and a waste of time. and even if modern philosophy is not nonsense, I don't consider modern applications of philosophy to Tanach and Chazal to be true, but rather absurd. I presumably differ from the Rav in that regard.

of course, that is my opinion. you are free to differ.

shabbat shalom,
josh

Yosef Greenberg said...

I understand that you are basically agreeing with what I said before. Different assertions don't seem to work from a rationalist perceptive. (It makes sense to say here that according to a *true* rationalist, there should be no concept of Daas Torah.)

--

I have noticed these differences in Gemara syntax. However, I sometimes do see 'amar leih' being used in a conversation when at one point it cuts off, then start again. Should I assume that the middle part was added by the Savoraim. (It might sometimes kill the flow; ie. be impossible.)

Sorry about pulling this OT, but is there a sefer somewhere that explains this (sytax reading) of the Gemara? In other words, is there a dikduk sefer for the Gemara.

Good Shabbos

joshwaxman said...

well, i'm not so sure that Daas Torah is not a modern concept...

there is a sefer called "grammar for gemara." but i think what you are asking is in terms of a pattern of distinguishing these layers. i am not sure. it would be nice, especially if it separated it by color. i developed my own intuition by reading many articles and taking several courses in academic talmud.

an interjection in the middle of a discussion is indeed possible, but it depends on the particular gemara. for example, mar zutra's proof about naghei vs. leilei, part of a series. i'd first want to check if other girsaot with the amar lei exist, who the personalities are (Rav Pappa is an especially problematic one). it also pays to check Hebraism vs. Aramaisms, such as she- vs. di; and whether the anonymous statement matches the idea put forth by a named Amora in another sugya.

It might be a nice series of posts, or a sefer. But sorry, I don't know of one.

Good Shabbos,
Josh

Natan Slifkin said...

I am starting to find this surreal.

I am not saying that the Gra is ch"v outside of Judaism. I am saying that I find the approach taken by EVERY SINGLE rishon and quite a lot of Acharonim (many of whom were doubtless familiar with the Gra's approach and yet rejected it!) to be much more convincing.

Others are saying that they reject the approach taken by EVERY SINGLE rishon and a lot of Acharonim. And, as is well known, a lot of senior rabbonim in the charedi world even consider that this view has been "paskened" to be kefirah, r"l.

And then Yitzi7 claims that he is being inclusive, and welcomes the Rishonim's pshat as legitimate, and doesn't understand why I am being exclusive and rejecting the Gra!

Look, everyone has their own way of understanding the sugya, which means accepting the interpretation of some authorities and rejecting that of others. Personally I think that I am being more inclusive - I am including authorities from all eras (Geonim, Rishonim, and Acharonim), and those who approach I reject, I am not saying that their pshat is kefirah!

One more point. With regard to the claim that since the Gra knew Rambam and still rejected him, and therefore his view is claimed to be more authoritative, wouldn't that mean that someone who knew the Gra's view and yet rejected that would be even more authoritative? And yet there are plenty of Acharonim who reject the Gra's approach and follow the pashut peshat of the Gemara, as also taken by the Rishonim. Furthermore, the claim that this approach to the Gemara is only taken by those with a rationalist bias is clearly false, in light of the fact that mekuballim such as the Chavos Yair and Ben Ish Chai STILL interpreted this Gemara k'pshuto. So I can point to mystics who still accepted that this Gemara shows Chazal to have scientifically erred, but you can't point to rationalists who say that it must be understood via pnimiyus!

yitzi7 said...

Caveat: If this post & this discussion was meant to discuss this Gemara ONLY -- then ignore everything below.

Natan (& Josh) -- are you starting with the rationalist position as a "given" -- and then just showing that this position has plenty of support in traditional Jewish thought?

OR -- are you looking at both options (which we will call "rationalist" & "pniymiyus") and deciding that objectively you find rationalism more authentic?

I thought Josh was trying to explain to us why the position he was taking is the latter (which explained why he didn't prefer the pniymiyus approach which had the benefit of saving Emunas Chachamim among other things -- this was -- at least partially -- the point of the original post).

If that is the case you have been unsuccesful. (But you have been succesful in explaining the former option).

To further explain -- when it comes to the first chapters of Beraishis you feel free to completely reject what is the "Pashut Peshat" the basic simple reading of the verses -- in favor of a more rationalist reading.

But when it comes to this Gemara all of a sudden you cry "Pashut Peshat!" "Simple reading as understood by those earlier to the time it was said!" Why -- for the obvious reason -- you want to preserve the rationalist approach.

You have very good reason to read each the way you do. No argument from me.

My argument is that you consider that "unbiased" -- I find that laughable -- as proven by how you chose to read each source.

As I now see Josh basically agrees when he writes "Just like the medieval pashtanim who read pnimiyus of philosophy into psukim and Chazal."
To which I add -- "Just like Rabbi Natan Slifkin, may he live & be well, based on his scientific background finds the need to reject the simple reading of Beraishis, despite his call for pashut peshat when it fits this way of thinking."


It is clear from the above that you only find the GR"A approach "biased" because of his time & place (as opposed to Rambam) -- because of your specific scientific bias and leanings.

(And the Rambam only wants to have that bias because to explain the Torah otherwise makes the Torah look foolish -- but the pniymiyus approach takes care of that problem -- as pointed out in the original post by Chaim B.)

Again, all this is fine -- but I want to go back to the original argument -- which I thought was why an objective "outsider" would/should not take the GR"A approach.

To which the answer was that

a "rationalist will naturally be extremely wary of such readings, realizing the possibility of retrojecting modern values onto ancient texts" and "Pnimiyus is *not* just apologetics. Rather, it is part of a much broader, literary trend"

This is all fine in explaining the rationalist position -- but not why this position is objectively better than the pniymiyus one. Because rationalism itself can be argued to be part of a broader trend to limit the supernatural.

And if " Better tools, to his mind, will be text-internal evidence." why are these tools not used with the first chapters of Beraishis?

The answer to me seems clear -- that it is because of our own "bias" towards a scientific.

Rationalism is a "given" (or at least a "starting point") -- everything else follows from that.

yitzi7 said...

I realize that above I mix together Josh & Natan -- it seemed to me that they both agreed which each others comments, explanations, & positions. If not I apologize.

To some of Josh's other points -- YES Chaim B. DOES seem to say his approach is more authentic Mesorah -- but he has the GR"A on his side -- "Philosophy Ha'Arura etc." With regard to rejecting pniymiyus I just have Josh Waxman & Natan Slifkin. Natan claims that he has Rishonim & Acharonim who explain rationalist -- but he doesn't have any Acharonim who claim the entire pniymiyus approach (as taken by classic Rishonim & Acharonim) is biased.

Josh writes: "And that for sociological reasons, many people tend towards mysticism does not delegitimize the rationalist approach. Especially as we have Acharonim and our own rabbeim to follow."

Again -- of course, go ahead. But that just explains why you think your approach is more authentic -- but NOT why objectively it can be proven as such.

yitzi7 said...

Natan -- what do you mean by "Every Single Rishon' -- with regards to this specific Gemara? Or the approach in general?

In any case, you are clearly wrong about both.

Also -- Natan -- in your comments here & elsewhere -- you keep on showing the attitude you do when you write on your (very interesting) blog

"First of all, R' Chaim's approach is very much atypical. The standard approach in the non-rationalist camp is to deny that historically there was a strong rationalist approach and that most Rishonim explained this Gemara k'pshuto."

I love your work & sympathize with your plight -- but you gotta stop arguing with everyone as if they were "senior Charedi Gedolim" -- they -- as I have heard you point out -- have many reasons why they said as they did -- & some may not even mean it. But I thought we could get argue/discuss/debate the topic on its merits without having to keep going back to the tired old MO/RW political discussions.

It is only surreal because you can't get out of that mindset.

joshwaxman said...

wow, you wrote a lot. i don't think i am going to have time to respond to all that you have written, nor do I think it would be to any avail.

however, i would seriously doubt that RABBI Slifkin agrees with me in every point. you should certainly not conflate the two of us.

"Chaim B. DOES seem to say his approach is more authentic Mesorah -- but he has the GR"A on his side -- "Philosophy Ha'Arura etc." With regard to rejecting pniymiyus I just have Josh Waxman & Natan Slifkin"
Not that this really has so much to do with the topic at hand, but it really annoys me when people strip others of their semicha because they disagree with this. i argued against this when people were doing this with Rabbi Schorr, because of his actions in opposing Lipa, despite the fact that I disagreed with his actions.

For the record, it is Rabbi Natan Slifkin. And not that I care so much in general, except for the way that you are using it, but I have semicha as well. If I am not mistaken, Chaim B. also has semicha. He can confirm this if he wishes.

In terms of text-internal evidence and Bereishit, and speaking for myself, see here where I argue based on text-internal evidence (but NOT because of scientific evidence) that Adam and Chava are allegorical. And see here where, because of lack of text-internal evidence, I argue against the story of Noach being metaphorical.

In terms of the six days of creation, since (IIRC) other non-literal explanations preceded contrary evidence; and since there are - to say the least - difficulties in the text between Bereshit 1 and 2 (which could be cast as text-internal); and since outside creation stories such as from the ANE can be seen as providing a contrast, I think that there is quite possibly room for a legitimate non-literal interpretation.

If there is not, then the Torah is sheker, chas veshalom. But if so, so be it.

Again, I am only speaking for myself.

kol tuv,
josh

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

There are too many things for me to respond to now (not that I'm claiming that anyone was waiting for my responses with baited breath), but I would just point out that the idea that "we" actualyl accept as the root of our mesorah such figures as the Maharal, the Gra, R. Akiva Eger, etc. is kind of nonsense. Rather, the mesorah which "we" accept is an amalgamation of their views and approaches. We accept/ don't reject the Gra, yet I don't see "us" getting within daleth amoth of his contention that you must know the seven chochmos in order to even understand a little Torah. I don't see "us" spending any time making textual inquiries, or making Yerushalmi a major area of focus. R. Akiva Eger viewed Mendelssohn's German translation good enough and authoritative enough to positively cite it, something I once pointed out, and R. Yitzchak Adlerstein in turn responded that in time and with hindsight we have seen that his approach on Mendelssohn was wrong. If we go through all the Acharonim we can find many things "we" accept and many we reject. If all this means is that "we" have rabbeim who gave over their synthesis of a certain canon, and some of the rishonim and acharonim either aren't in the canon, or aspects of their approaches were not synthesized by our rabbeim, then I will agree with you. This, then, is truly "our" dillemma and why those of us who find that so-and-so isn't in their Beis Midrash are not lying, and they can correctly maintain that it is not part of their mesorah. However, I would remind once again that it is not so that the Gra per se is part of their mesorah. Rather, whatever views and teachings of the Gra that their rabbeim and maybe their rebbe's rabbeim accepted as worthy of transmission is part of their mesorah. The authority of your rebbe, frankly, is not the authority of the Gra, so I would remind people not to hold up their rebbe's hashkafah and say that it's the Gra's hashkafah, or it's the Maharal's hashkafah or whatever.

yitzi7 said...

I also have Semicha (& as opposed to Rabbi Slifkin & yourself actually serve as a Rabbi of a Shul & a community) -- but would never "demand" the honor not in person & not online. I always thought the good thing about the Internet was that we could discuss the ideas without pulling rank.

And I say to you what I said in my last comment to Rabbi Slfkin -- stop arguing/debating with a defensive chip on your shoulder. I didn't intend to take away anyones Semicha -- I wrote "Rabbi Natan Slifkin" in the comment previous to the one you quoted. And I didn't know you had Semicha & I think I read your Blog before you had Semicha.

So chill -- I like both Rabbi Slikin & Rabbi Waxman's work -- learned plenty of insightful stuff from both of you (& quoted in your names). But you are still both wrong here :-)

joshwaxman said...

i agree about "pulling rank," and as such do not typically do so. it just seemed from your comment that you were using the pattern of FirstName LastName in a denigrating manner, and so thought it would be appropriate to mention. i suppose i read it wrong.

indeed, a large part of this discussion is whether the ideas should stand on their merits or whether one must yield to an appeal to authority. (of the Gra; or of modern Gedolim.)

kt,
josh

Natan Slifkin said...

Sorry, I missed this thread for a few days. With regard to the following claim:

Natan -- what do you mean by "Every Single Rishon' -- with regards to this specific Gemara? Or the approach in general?
In any case, you are clearly wrong about both.


I meant with regard to this specific Gemara. And I stand by what I said. Every single Rishon that I haev seen - and I think I have seen them all - interprets it as referring to physical astronomy, not pnimiyus. And barring Rabbeinu Tam, all take it as meaning that Chachmei Yisrael were wrong.

Natan Slifkin said...

With regard to rejecting pniymiyus I just have Josh Waxman & Natan Slifkin. Natan claims that he has Rishonim & Acharonim who explain rationalist -- but he doesn't have any Acharonim who claim the entire pniymiyus approach (as taken by classic Rishonim & Acharonim) is biased.

I have the Rishonim who did not invoke pnimiyos. You claim that this doesn't count because they didn't know about it. I claim that it does count. Furthermore, with regard to Pesachim 94b, there were many Acharonim who were aware of the pnimiyus approach yet did not explain the Gemara that way.

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