Thursday, July 23, 2009

Considering Ibn Ezra and the Secret of the 12 Pesukim

There is a famous comment of Ibn Ezra that I almost don't have to bother explaining. Devarim begins:

א אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים, אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר מֹשֶׁה אֶל-כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּעֵבֶר, הַיַּרְדֵּן: בַּמִּדְבָּר בָּעֲרָבָה מוֹל סוּף בֵּין-פָּארָן וּבֵין-תֹּפֶל, וְלָבָן וַחֲצֵרֹת--וְדִי זָהָב.1 These are the words which Moses spoke unto all Israel beyond the Jordan; in the wilderness, in the Arabah, over against Suph, between Paran and Tophel, and Laban, and Hazeroth, and Di-zahab.

and Ibn Ezra comments:
וכן פירוש: ככל אשר צוה ה' אותו אליהם בעבר הירדן במדבר בערבה ואם תבין סוד (השרים) [צ"ל השנים] עשר, גם ויכתוב משה,
והכנעני אז בארץ,

בהר ה' יראה
גם והנה ערשו ערש ברזל תכיר האמת.
What is this secret?

Rabbi Shmuel Matot explains (though what follows is a combination of my own thoughts and a summary) what should be the readily apparent explanation: That he is referencing the last twelve psukim in sefer Devarim, which he asserts were written later by another hand (Yehoshua). And there is basis for this in a gemara in the first perek of Bava Batra, in which Rabbi Yehudah, or alternatively Rabbi Nechemiah, asserted that the last eight pesukim in sefer Devarim were written by Yehoshua. And the opposing position in that gemara was that Moshe wrote it with tears {and according to one explanation, Yehoshua afterwards with ink}.

Thus, that gemara in Bava Batra 15a:
The Master has said: Joshua wrote the book which bears his name and the last eight verses of the Pentateuch. This statement is in agreement with the authority who says that eight verses in the Torah were written by Joshua, as it has been taught: [It is written], So Moses the servant of the Lord died there. Now is it possible that Moses being dead could have written the words, 'Moses died there'? The truth is, however, that up to this point Moses wrote, from this point Joshua wrote. This is the opinion of R. Judah, or, according to others, of R. Nehemiah. Said R. Simeon to him: Can [we imagine the] scroll of the Law being short of one word, and is it not written, Take this book of the Law? No; what we must say is that up to this point the Holy One, blessed be He, dictated and Moses repeated and wrote, and from this point God dictated and Moses wrote with tears, as it says of another occasion, Then Baruch answered them, He pronounced all these words to me with his mouth, and I wrote them with ink in the book.
And so Ibn Ezra maintains that the last twelve pesukim were written by Yehoshua, as he explains in his commentary in Zos Habracha. And the same to various other pesukim. In this case, why give all these signs of where it was, when his audience was right before him. And I would add that Ever HaYarden means Trans-Jordan, which appears to assume a listener who is in Eretz Yisrael, for whom where Moshe was standing was over the Jordan river. And so Ibn Ezra is saying that this pasuk was also written by Yehoshua.

Now, this appears to be at odds with what we find in Sanhedrin, in perek chelek. In Sanhedrin 99a:
Another [Baraitha] taught: Because he hath despised the word of the Lord — this refers to him who maintains that the Torah is not from Heaven. And even if he asserts that the whole Torah is from Heaven, excepting a particular verse, which [he maintains] was not uttered by God but by Moses himself, he is included in 'because he hath despised the word of the Lord.' And even if he admits that the whole Torah is from Heaven, excepting a single point, a particular ad majus deduction or a certain gezerah shawah, — he is still included in 'because he hath despised the word of the Lord'.
I think it is possible to make a distinction. Namely, this brayta is modifying the denial of Torah min hashamayim. This now includes {at least under 'despised the word of the LORD'} also one who denied any aspect of Torah min hashamayim. But perhaps the problem with such a denial is that this is an assertion that Moshe made up Mitzvot. Thus, even saying that Moshe wrote it not miPi hagevurah is a problem. As is saying that a specific kal vachomer or gezera shava is not min hashamayim, but someone's own innovation.

What if one asserts that specific pesukim were divinely inspired, and were thus not said by Moshe or Yehoshua mipi atzmo, but were specifically sanctioned and commanded by God Himself? That Yehoshua wrote it, but that it has the status of Torah? Not necessarily would the brayta then consider Rabbi Yehuda, or Rabbi Nechemiah, do be terrible kofrim. Perhaps.

Also, perhaps Rabbi Yehuda's assertion, about the very end, rather than scattered verses in the middle, does not undermine the Divine source of Torah as much.

Meanwhile, Ibn Ezra saw this precedent of Rabbi Yehuda and thought that he was entitled to say the same, about various scattered pesukim throughout Chumash. Meanwhile, the halacha was not like Rabbi Yehuda but rather like Rabbi Shimon.

Some other commentators kvetch Ibn Ezra's words in order to make his intent something else, so as to distance him from this sevarah. R' Shmuel Motot says that Hashem will/should multiply their reward.

Some interesting ideas here. First, that Ibn Ezra maintained his "heretical" position in part because Rabbi Yehuda the Tanna led the way. Secondly, that one can "pasken" matters of hashkafa. Thirdly, that while it may have been OK for Rabbi Yehuda to maintain this, it no longer is permitted and such nowadays (or in medieval times) was heretical. Fourthly, that misreading a source (Ibn Ezra) is a reaction that some have to this uncomfortable statement. And finally, that such an apologetic interpretation and creative reinterpretation is a good thing. I don't know that I agree to all these ideas, but they are present here.

I think that Ibn Ezra maintained what he did not only because he saw precedent but because he thought it was true. And if indeed true, then charges of heresy should drop. One cannot pasken hashkafah, and perhaps ikkarei emunah. Well, perhaps one could, but the effect is only for how those who are already maaminim should regard the kofrim, but not necessarily as something the kofrim will take to heart, since they regard the tenet as not heresy but truth. Still, Ibn Ezra knew it was a controversial position, which is why he write this cryptically. Also, there is a danger in this creative reinterpretation to protect an author or a reader from heresy. Besides weakening our fealty to the truth and encouraging apologetics as seriously intended thought, it reinforces the idea that Chazal, or the Rishonim, must have thought precisely like us. Because otherwise, what we think now would be at odds with them, and thus be illegitimate. Thus, if Chazal believed in sheidim we must as well, and if we don't and want to remain Torah-true, Chazal must have meant sheidim metaphorically. And then we do not even consider that certain approaches and modes of thought were particular to their time, and that to some degree we can differ from Chazal, or from Rishonim.


thanbo said...

Two issues with the Braita in Sanhedrin that lead me to believe we don't actually take it as dispositive, or even on its own terms:

1) The braita talks about Torah min Hashamayim. Not about who the transcriber was. So sure, Yehoshua could have written the last 12 verses, as long as we understand that they were revealed from Heaven, and we would not be in violation of the ideas in the Braita.

2) Kal vachomer - yet we generally hold that kal vachomer, unlike gezera shava and the other rules, is something that CAN be applied without a tradition, no? So the braita already doesn't agree with general psak on the psak process.

0) I thought a lot of people (including rabbis/poskim) believed that Devarim was Moshe's words as ratified by Hashem, which explains the stylistic and halachic differences with the rest of the Torah, without venturing too far into JEPDR. So what does that do to "min hashamayim"? Is it "min hashamayim" because the content was ratified by, and probably originated in, Heaven?

Anonymous said...

I really believe that if a person believes that if G-d told someone to write a verse, it doesn't matter who G-d told.

Joshua, Jeremiah... many aspects of Biblical Criticism can be deflected by having later prophets be told, by G-d, what to write down, and then have Ezra, with G-d's help, but them all together into the Torah.

According to this, the entire Torah is the Word of G-d, just not entirely "as dictated to Moshe Rabbeinu", although ALL of it is dictation taken by A PROPHET at some point in Jewish history.


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