Monday, May 05, 2008

The Authenticity of Kabbalah pt xv

Shadal continues his Vikuach al Chochmat haKabbalah. (See previous segment.) In response to Rambam's blasting of kabbalistic concepts, the author suggests this was due to his being influenced by philosophy. The guest disagrees and notes that that one cannot say the same for Rav Saadia Gaon. Then he notes how Masaot Binyamin calls a belief of a certain nation foolishness, when that belief is extremely close to gilgul. This proves that gilgul was not a traditional Jewish belief. The text of the Vikuach follows:

I answered him: There is not from all this any proof at all against the earliness of the wisdom of kabbalah, for the Rambam z"l because of the spirit of philosophy, filled his heart to deny, via the estimation of his thoughts, many things which were received {mekubalim} and established in the nation. And what do you want? Does he not also deny the existence of demons {shedim}, whose existence is well-known in the words of our Rabbis, z"l; and he denies the existence of magic, whose existence in well-known in the Torah itself.

The guest: The Rambam does not deny, forfend, that which is in the Torah, but rather explains its words in a way which agrees with the intellect. For still, the Torah does not explain to us explicitly if there is actual substance in magic, or whether it is only stratagems and trickery.

But let us set aside the Rambam. Is there not Rabbenu Saadia? Do not tell me that he denied because of the estimation of his own thoughts that which came to him as tradition {kabbalat} of the nation. For there is none like him, faithful for all the words of our teachers z"l. If so, admit to me that since he mocks the belief in gilgul, there is no doubt that the matter was clear to he that this was not a received tradition faith in the nation.

And no, go please, I will take you to another place, where you will see from it that the belief in gilgul was not established in our nation of old, but rather it was well known by them that this thought was nullified.

Do you not know Rabbi Binyamin, the author of the Masaot {=Masaot Binyamin, from Rabbi Binyamin bar Yonah of Toledo ?} who was older than the Rambam, and was not a philosopher, but rather was a man upright with his God and with the traditions {kabalat} of his fathers. And now, take to me his Masaot, and I will show you his words.

And I took the sefer Masaot of Rabbi Binyamin, and the man read before me like these words:

"And close to them about 10 mils is a certain nation which fights with the residents of Sidon, and this nation is called Durziin (*), and they are called Paganos heretics, and they lack faith and religion, and they are steeped in sexual impropriety, with the father taking his daughter, etc.; and their belief is that they say that the soul, at the time it leaves the body of a good person, enters into the body of a small child who is born at that time that the soul leaves his body. And if he is a wicked person, it enters into the body of a dog or into the body of an animal. This is their foolish way." End quote.

And the man {=the guest} added and said to me: And if the belief in gilgul was a traditional one in the nation in the days of Rabbi Binyamin, how would he swell his heart to call the beliefs on those nations foolishness, which are only slightly distant from the opinions of the kabbalists?

(*) The Sage Rabbi Avraham Ashaer in his edition and insights to the Masaot of Rabbi Binyamin that the intent is on the Drusii.

{J: If this means the Druse, then here is some more information about the Druse religion and transmigration of souls. But that book says the Druse differ from the Manicheans by not holding that souls transmigrate into the souls of animals. According to this work, this is also true; and Rabbi Binyamin confused these people with the inhabitants of Khandy (Ceylon):
It is interesting to note in this connection that Benjamin of Tudela calls the inhabitants of Khandy (Ceylon) by the same name as the people around Sidon—Druzes. He was probably impressed by the similarity of belief in transmigration among the two peoples and concluded that they must have been the same.
Those people do belief in transmigration of souls into the bodies of animals.

Or perhaps he meant the Druids? I don't know. Tzarich Iyun. Regardless, the guest's point is a valid one.

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