Tuesday, February 22, 2011

New Writings from R. Kook and Assorted Comments, part 3

New Writings from R. Kook and Assorted Comments, part 3

Marc B. Shapiro

Continued from here.
As I have dealt in this post with Maimonides and the Genesis story, it is as good a time as any to mention what I believe it to be an error that is repeated very often. I saw it most recently in Nathan Aviezer’s article “When Torah and Science Collide” (Tradition, Fall 2009). He writes as follows:

Did God create the universe? Seemingly a simple question, with the answer given in the very first verse of the Torah. Not so, writes Rambam (Guide 2:25), asserting that Torah hashkafa does not require one to believe that God created the universe. But what about the first chapter of Bereshit, which clearly states that God did create the universe? Rambam writes that one may interpret this chapter metaphorically, as an allegory that never happened, because “the paths of interpretation are not closed to us.”

What Maimonides actually says in Guide 2:25 is that it is a religious requirement to believe that God created the universe. He goes so far as to say that if it could somehow be proven that God did not create the universe, this would give the lie to miracles and Torah itself. In Maimonides’ words: “If the philosophers would succeed in demonstrating eternity as Aristotle understands it, the Law as a whole would become void.” In other words, Torah Judaism stands or falls on this issue, for acceptance of Aristotle’s view means the end of miracles, prophecy, and Torah. Fortunately for Rambam, he believes that eternity of the universe cannot be proven, because if it could be proven, that would be the end of Torah Judaism.[1]

What else does Maimonides say in this chapter? He says two things. 1. If Plato’s view, that the world was created from eternal matter,[2] were to be proven, then this would not destroy the Torah, and in fact the Torah could be interpreted in accordance with this.[3] 2. Even Aristotelian eternity of the world could be reinterpreted in accordance with the biblical verses, just as the verses that speak of God’s corporeality are reinterpreted. This is the context in which Maimonides says that “the paths of interpretation are not closed to us.” Maimonides then explains that because of this, we do not reject eternity of the world because of the simple meaning of the biblical verses (which could be reinterpreted). Rather, we reject it because 1. It has not been proven (and indeed Maimonides does not think that it can be proven). 2. Eternity of the world destroys the foundation of the Torah.

In truth, Aviezer’s understanding is not unique to him but is shared by many. They all assume that if Aristotelian eternity was proven, Maimonides would then reinterpret the Torah in accordance with this, for he says that he is indeed able to do so. This viewpoint is held by some of the top Maimonides scholars alive today. From greats of previous years who hold this position, I can add R. Elijah Benamozegh:[4]

ומה מאד הפריז על המדה הרמב"ם שכתב במורה (ח"ב פרק כה) שאלו נתבאר הקדמות במופת הגיוני היינו מחויבים לפרש הכתובים באופן שלא יכחישו המופת
Centuries earlier, Ralbag advanced the same (what I believe to be incorrect) viewpoint.[5] See Milhamot ha-Shem 6:2:1:
גם כן אמר שאם היה מתבאר חיוב קדמות העולם מדרך העיון שכבר יוכרח לפרש מה שבא בתורה שיראה חולק עם זה הדעת באופן שיאות אל העיון.
As I mentioned, all Maimonides says is that if eternity is proven, the words of the Torah could be reinterpreted to accord with eternity. But according to Maimonides, there would be no reason for doing so. This is so for if eternity could somehow be proven, that would be the end of Judaism, as it would be the end of both miracles and divine providence and thus no possibility of a revelation of the Torah. Thankfully, Maimonides believes that eternity cannot be proven.

I don’t understand why so many scholars—whose knowledge of Maimonides is much greater than mine— interpret this chapter to mean that Maimonides would accept Aristotelian eternity when he says specifically that he wouldn’t. (Again, I am speaking of the exoteric meaning of Maimonides’ words, not about any esoteric interpretation of Maimonides.) When I challenged a number of these scholars on this point, they all acknowledged that Maimonides doesn’t actually say that he would accept eternity. However, in defense of what they wrote they stated that if eternity really was proven, what choice then would Maimonides have? He would have to reinterpret the Torah to agree with eternity since we can never imagine him rejecting the Torah. In this, I agree with them. Faced with the reality that eternity has been proven, and despite what he says in Guide 2:25, he would be forced to reinterpret the Torah. Of this, I have no doubt, simply because Maimonides was a very religious man and I can’t imagine him living without the Torah. Yet my point is that he does not say this in the Guide. In fact, he says the exact opposite, that the Torah cannot co-exist with eternity.[6]
Since I have mentioned Aviezer’s article, let me discuss some other things he says. Aviezer writes:

[Stephen J.] Gould was preceded in this approach by Galileo, who is credited with the famous aphorism: “The Bible teaches us how to go to heaven, whereas science teaches us how the heavens go.” (I can’t believe that Galileo really said these words because, while snappy in English, they make no sense in Latin or Italian.)
I don’t know on what basis Aviezer insists that these words don’t make sense in Latin or Italian. If someone said them in Latin or Italian, why shouldn’t they make sense? In fact, the original text is Italian, and is found in Galileo’s “Letter to Grand Duchess Christina.” In it, Galileo writes:

I would say here something that was heard from an ecclesiastic of the most eminent degree [Cardinal Baronius]: 'That the intention of the Holy Ghost is to teach us how one goes to heaven, not how heaven goes.'[7]

Here is the original Italian, and one can indeed see that the words are snappy:

“Io qui direi che quello che intesi da persona ecclesiastica, costituita in eminentissimo grado, ciò è l’intenzione delle Spirito Santo essere d’insegnarci come si vadia al cielo, e non come vadia il cielo.”

Even Pope John Paul II adapted this saying, in a passage that looks like it could have been written by R. Hirsch,[8] R. Kook, or R Natan Slifkin:

The Bible itself speaks to us of the origin of the universe and its make-up, not in order to provide us with a scientific treatise, but in order to state the correct relationships of man with God and with the universe. Sacred scripture wishes simply to declare that the world was created by God, and in order to teach this truth it expresses itself in the terms of the cosmology in use at the time of the writer. The Sacred Book likewise wishes to tell men that the world was not created as the seat of the gods, as was taught by other cosmogonies and cosmologies, but was rather created for the service of man and the glory of God. Any other teaching about the origin and make-up of the universe is alien to the intentions of the Bible, which does not wish to teach how heaven was made but how one goes to heaven.[9]

Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, whose prolific writing continues to astound, has recently said the same thing: “There is a difference between science and religion. Science is about explanation. Religion is about interpretation. The Bible simply isn't interested in how the universe came into being.”[10] R. Chaim Navon put the matter as follow[11]:

התורה אינה מתעניינת במידע מדעי, אלא בערכים רוחניים. לא כך כך אכפת לתורה מנוסחאות מדעיות; אכפת לה הרבה יותר מדרכי התנהגותו של האדם, מאורחות חייו ובעיקר מעבודתו של האדם את בוראו. משום כך, לא כל כך חשוב לדעת האם האדם היה שייך פעם לעולם החיות; מה שחשוב באמת הוא האם האדם הצליח להיחלץ משם.

In other words, the Torah has nothing to tell us when it comes to science. Therefore, there can be no such thing as a conflict between Torah and science.[12] With such an approach, all of the reconciliations between science and the Book of Genesis (e.g., a “day” is really an eon, the dinosaurs are from prior worlds, etc.), which for awhile were popular in Orthodoxy, are really missing the point. The old apologetics assumed that the Torah was in accord with science, and was even teaching scientific truths. It was just that we had to read the text differently than it had been read until now. Yet as with R. Kook, from Sacks’ and Navon’s perspective the creation story is a myth, namely, a tale designed to impart cosmic truths.[13] Although this position has been argued most forcefully by Slifkin, and has found a very receptive audience at synagogues (as I can attest, having tag-teamed with Slifkin as scholars-in-residence), are there any high schools that teach the Creation story in this fashion?

Returning to Aviezer, he writes:

But what about the geocentric theory of the solar system? Wasn’t that scientific theory universally believed for nearly 1500 years, until finally shown by Copernicus and Galileo to be wrong and then replaced by the very different heliocentric theory? The answer is “no!” The geocentric theory was not a scientific theory at all; it was pure theology, unsupported by any scientific evidence. The theory was universally accepted for over a millennium on religious grounds alone. The beliefs of the Church demanded that man’s place must be at the center of the universe.

This is completely incorrect. First of all, the Ptolemaic system of geocentrism was as much science as the Copernican system, and had nothing to do with theology.[14] Secondly, geocentrism long predates the second-century Ptolemy. Aristotle himself was a geocentrist, and in Aristotle’s view, the most important part of the world is not the center! “For the medieval mind, under the influence of Aristotle, the earth as the center of the world was not a position of honor. On the contrary, as Prof. Lovejoy put it, it was ‘the place farthest removed from the Empyrean, the bottom of creation, to which its dregs and baser elements sank. The actual center, indeed, was Hell; in the spatial sense, the medieval world was literally diabolocentric.’”[15]

Aviezer “blames” geocentrism on the Church, and yet Maimonides (and every other Jewish and Islamic thinker of his day) was a geocentrist. Maimonides also had a strong anti-anthropocentric view, as he did not regard man as the central purpose of the universe. This view of Maimonides was an important source for Norman Lamm in his famous article “The Religious Implications of Extraterrestrial Life.” [16] Only those who are convinced that they are the center of the universe would be troubled by the discovery of other inhabited worlds, and that is why Maimonides’ outlook came in so handy for Lamm.

Returning to Maimonides and creation, I want to call attention to a very interesting article by R Meir Triebitz. It appears in Reshimu, vol. 1 no. 2 (2008), the journal of the so-called Hashkafa Circle. See here.

As explained in the preface to the first volume, this “Circle” aims to fill a gap in haredi yeshiva education by focusing on the classics of medieval Jewish philosophy which are pretty much ignored in contemporary haredi society. We thus have a situation where great talmudists and halakhists ignore major themes of Jewish philosophy, which were dealt with at length by the medieval sages. When there are theological discussions in haredi literature, they invariably reflect a very conservative position, often at variance with the major rishonim. I already touched on this issue in my conclusion to The Limits of Orthodox Theology, and if Triebitz and his group are successful this situation could be reversed.
However, they won’t be successful for the simple reason that the outlook of the medieval Jewish philosophers is opposed in so many ways to haredi ideology that it will never become part of the haredi curriculum. In fact, I don’t think it is possible to be a serious student of medieval Jewish philosophy and at the same time identify with any of the regnant haredi worldviews. (You might dress the part and send your children to haredi schools, but that is not the same thing as identifying with a worldview.) This is so for many reasons, primary of which is that medieval Jewish philosophy is about the search for truth. The papal model of haredi society, where the quest for truth is subordinated to the dictates of the religious authority figure, is diametrically opposed to what our great medieval philosophers taught.
Furthermore, the haredi notion that contemporary gedolim can sit in judgment of the views of the Rambam and other greats, and determine that their views are no longer “acceptable”, will be rejected out of hand by all followers of the philosophic tradition. It is therefore not surprising that when Artscroll was presented with a plan to publish Maimonides’ Guide in English, the response was a resounding no, with the explanation given that the Guide should not be found in a haredi home.[17]

Until now, three issues of Reshimu have been published, all available on its website, and it is refreshing to see haredi writers grappling with important philosophical problems. While in many cases the writers are unaware of basic academic studies in these areas, and the journals could be edited in a better fashion (eliminating typos and stylistic problems), there is a great deal to learn from some of the essays. This is especially the case for Rabbi Triebitz, who because of his wide-ranging knowledge and keen insight deserves to be better known. I encourage all to read his articles and those who have time can also watch numerous videos of his shiurim here.

In his article referred to above, Triebitz offers a commentary on Guide 2:13, where Maimonides discusses the various views of creation. It is a very challenging essay which, unless I have overlooked an academic article, presents a new perspective, not an easy task in Maimonidean scholarship. In this essay Triebitz takes his place with the esoteric readers of Maimonides. He concludes that Maimonides does not really believe in creation ex nihilo, since for Maimonides this is a mental concept, not a scientific fact. From a scientific perspective, Maimonides adopts Aristotle’s view of the eternity of the world, but this is not something that could be communicated to the non-sophisticated reader. However, those who grasp what Maimonides is saying will realize that “Creation ex nihilo is not a contending theory of creation . . . but rather a product of man’s thought which introduces a dimension other than the objective physical world pictured by Aristotelian physics.” (p. 145)

Needless to say, this approach of Triebitz also turns Maimonides' fourth principle, which insists on creation ex nihilo (including the creation of time), into a “necessary belief.” Here is another selection from the essay:

Rambam is therefore intimating that in order to posit God’s complete incorporeality it is necessary to extend the physical world ad infinitum. Since physical infinity is impossible, it is time which must be infinite. Monotheism demands eternity. Law and ethics, however, are based upon Divine free will and Divine free will in turn demands creation ex nihilo. Since creation ex nihilo, as Rambam has already pointed out, cannot have taken place at any time, it cannot be a theory of creation. The antinomy between eternity theories, particularly Aristotle’s, and the irreducible creation ex nihilo is in fact no other than the dichotomy between ontology and ethics (p. 161).

Triebitz returns to Maimonides and creation in Reshimu vol. 1 no. 3 (2009) and once again explains that in his opinion Maimonides doesn’t really believe in creation ex nihilo.
As a consequence, while Rambam’s discussion of creation begins by asserting that the opinion of Torat Moshe is that the world was created by God ex nihilo, by the time that discussion concludes eighteen chapters later (II. 30), he makes the subtle point, casually dropped as if merely incidental, that one of the terms referring to creation in the Torah (qinyan, qeil qoneh) itself “tends toward the road of the belief in . . . eternity” (71b/358). To the astute ear honed to his method of paradoxical exposition, the underlying thrust is clear: He begins with the assertion he believes to be obvious and most fundamental—namely, creatio ex nihilo—after which, following long diversions, he introduces the contrary premise—creatio continua aeterna—by which time the less aware, less initiated reader will likely not notice the subtle discrepancy and the controversial nuance therein entailed: that creation ex nihilo is not creation in time, chiddush nifla. (p. 82)[18]

I now want to return to the Creation story, and how some have argued that it should not be taken literally. I dealt with this in my previous posts and received some e-mails by people referring to other sources that say so, including R. Gedaliah Nadel. I am grateful for all the e-mails, but the reason I didn’t mention these sources, including R. Nadel, is because all of these sources are well known. Since I was not trying to write a comprehensive study of approaches to creation, I didn’t see any need to cite them. In general, my posts here are not like my articles or books, in that I am trying to call attention to interesting ideas and texts, rather than producing complete studies of any topic.

Yet since people are obviously interested in this topic, and took the time to send me the sources, let me thank you by citing a source that has never been referred to in all of the discussions of creation and biblical literalism. It is R. Shlomo Zalman Shag’s Imrei Shlomo, published in Frankfurt in 1866. (I have transliterated his last name as "Shag", since that is how the Harvard catalog has it.) Here is the title page, where you can see that he identifies himself as a student of R. Isaac of Volozhin.

Worthy of note is that among the subscribers one finds, right next to each other on the list, R. Marcus Lehmann, Abraham Geiger, and Ludwig Philipson.

On p. 5 Shag refers to the trees in the Garden of Eden and the snake and says that it is obvious that none of this can be taken literally:
ואם נקח הפרשה הזאת במאזני השכל, ונפלס את הדברים נראה בעליל שהוא רק דברי רמז וחידה, וכפשוטו לא יכנסו כלל בגדר השכל.

On page 10 he explains how the snake represents the evil inclination, an identification pretty standard among the medievals, and he beautifully explains the connection between the two:

והנחש הוא היצר הרע והתאוה . . . היצה"ר נמשל לנחש מה הנחש כשהולך להזיק אינו ברעש ובהלה רק זוחל על הארץ בלחש ומזיק כן הוא היצר הוא בא לאדם בעצה ותחבולה ומראה עצמו כאוהב עד שיפתה, ואח"כ רובץ על צווארי בני אדם כנחש הסובב על הדבר מכל צדדיו.

On p. 21 he even understands the Tower of Babel in non-literal fashion:

ונאמר לראות את העיר ואת המגדל. את העיר זו יושבי העיר כמו העיר ננוה, העיר שושן, הכונה הוא על יושביה, והמגדל הוא המעשים שעשו, נגד רצון השי"ת, כי הם היו מתגאים לעשות להם שם בארץ. והשי"ת שונא גאים ומשפיל אותם, לכן ויפץ ה' אותם משם על פני כל הארץ.
There have been many understandings of the Tower of Babel, and I don’t want to go into that now, but let me at least mention one of the strangest interpretations out there. R. Menachem Tziyoni (fifteenth century), in his commentary on the episode, claims that the Tower was actually a flying object[19]:

והמגדל הוא הפורח באויר אשר ראו בשמים

At least this is how Tziyoni is usually understood. Yet it is possible that it is not to be taken literally, and I found a post that says precisely this. See here.

Pre-modern man had many stories of those who were able to rise above the ground, either by flying or being transported by God. We find this in Jewish literature as well. See, for example, Bereishit Rabbah 44:8 which focuses on the words in Gen. 15:5 ויוצא אותו החוצה. What does it mean that God brought Abraham outside? The Midrash first quotes R. Joshua in the name of R. Levi:"Did he then lead him forth outside of the world . . . It means, however, that He showed him the streets of heaven." In response to this R. Judah b. R. Simeon said in the name of R. Johanan: "He lifted him up above the vault of heaven." Seen in context, as a response to R. Joshua’s explanation, it seems to me that R. Judah b. R. Simeon’s statement must be understood literally. In other words, Abraham was literally transported into the Heavens. See Etz Yosef ad loc: ס"ל דהחוצה כמשמעו שהוא ממש חוץ לעולם

The most famous example of human flight in Jewish literature is that of Jesus. As described in Toledot Yeshu, Jesus was able to use God’s holy name in order to fly, and was brought down by Judas Iscariot who could also fly and defiled Jesus (which caused Jesus to lose his special powers). According to one tradition, he defiled Jesus by urinating on him, but another version has him engaging in homosexual sex while in the air, which in context certainly means rape.

וטנפו במשכב זכור . . . שטנפו במשכב זכור וכיון שטנפו ונפל הזרע על יש"ו הרשע נטמאו שניהם ונפלו לארץ שניהם כאחד

Incidentally, according to Toldot Yeshu this explains why Judas Iscariot is so hated in Christianity:

וכל חכמי הגוים יודעים סוד זה וכופרין אותו ומקללים ומחרימים יהודה אסקריוטו

See Samuel Krauss, Das Leben Jesu nach Juedischen Quellen (Berlin, 1902), pp. 48, 74.

As Morris Goldstein has noted, the second century Acts of Peter describes how Simon Magus flew over Rome, astounding all the onlookers. But Peter, through his prayer to God, was able to force Simon down, a crash landing that caused him to break his leg.[20]

Samael (Satan) can also fly, at least so we are told in the Targum to Job 28:7: סמאל דפרח היך עופא

This should not surprising as according to Isaiah 6:2 the Seraphim fly (with wings), and Hagigah 16a tells us that both angels and demons fly (also with wings).

Midrashic texts speak of two Egyptian magicians who created wings for themselves that enabled them to fly.[21] Rabbinic sources also tell us that Balaam knew how to fly.[22]

With reference to Jesus, it is interesting to note that many Jews actually believed that he performed wonders. However, they attributed it to his knowledge of God’s holy name. Why didn’t they simply assume that all the stories about him were fiction, as modern Jews do? I think the answer is that since all of their neighbors believed the stories, and the miracles Jesus performed are said to have been done before crowds of people, many Jews therefore assumed that these tales must be historically accurate.

In general, it is a common pre-modern assumption that if a group of people, even a group from generations ago, claimed to have witnessed something, that this is a sign that it indeed took place. Today, however, we know how false this argument is. We can cite many examples of mass delusion, not to mention the fact that stories of what people in previous generations witnessed are not actually examples of many people testifying to something, but of one person, the writer, claiming as much.

The stories of Jesus that are found in Toldot Yeshu do not appear in the Talmud, but there are other stories of him found there. However, these stories place Jesus a good 150 years before he actually lived. I say this because the Talmud identifies Jesus as a student of R. Joshua ben Perahyah, who lived circa 120 BCE. In Nahmanides’ disputation, paragraphs 22, 57, he points out that the Christians are wrong on their dates. (R. Judah Halevi, Kuzari 3:65 mentions that Jesus was the student of R. Joshua ben Perahyah and says nothing about the chronological problem. The standard Hebrew edition of the Kuzari is censored [self-censored?], but the reference to Jesus can be seen in the original Arabic published in Kafih’s edition, and also in Hirschfeld’s English translation.)

Others, such as R. Jehiel of Paris in his debate, used the chronological discrepancy to argue not that the Christians are wrong on their dates, but that the Jesus of the Talmud is not Jesus of Nazareth. I used to think that no one actually believed this, but resorted to this argument because it was a good way to deflect the Christian attacks that the Talmud defamed Jesus. However, I recently saw that Tosafot ha-Rosh, Sotah 47a, in a completely non-apologetic comment, assumes that the Talmud refers to two different men named Jesus. See also Meiri, Seder ha-Kabbalah, ed. Havlin (Jerusalem-Cleveland, 1992), pp. 69-70, and especially Havlin’s lengthy note. This was also Rabbenu Tam’s opinion, although it has been censored out of our Talmud. Take a look at Shabbat 104b, Tosafot s.v. Ben Stada in the Bomberg Venice 1520 edition, and compare to the standard Vilna edition.


Why does the Babylonian Talmud identify Jesus as a student of R. Joshua ben Perahyah if Jesus lived more than a century later? I think the answer is obvious, namely, that the Talmud had very little knowledge of who Jesus was, and thus did not know when to date him.[23] In fact, the famous story of R. Joshua ben Perahyah pushing Jesus away (Sanhedrin 107b, found in the Soncino translation) is actually a later development of an earlier story that is found in the Jerusalem Talmud. The Jerusalem Talmud's version does not mention Jesus.[24]
This raises the question of the Talmud as a source of history, which is too large to go into here. But I do want to call attention to what R. Hershel Schachter states in a recent shiur, which I am sure will be surprising to many. The shiur ("Jewish Heritage Tour of Italy, part 2) can be found here.

Beginning at minute 66 R. Schachter acknowledges that the Talmud can err in matters of history. In support of this viewpoint, he cites R. Zerahyah ha-Levi (the Baal ha-Maor) at the beginning of Rosh ha-Shanah and R. Solomon Luria to Sanhedrin 52b. Here is an excerpt:

Today you have people [who] are considered Orthodox and they say [that] the Gemara made a mistake in history. There are a lot of people like that. . . . This is an ongoing debate. Just seventy years ago, before the Second World War, some of the rabbanim in Europe wrote in their seforim [that] it’s a well known fact that the bayit sheni was much more than 420 years. There is 150 years missing there. . . . We are used to this already. When Rabbenu Azariah min ha-Edomim (De Rossi) came out with his sefer Meor Einayim . . . and he said that maybe the chachmei ha-Gemara were wrong in history . . . many rabbanim were so upset they wanted to make a herem against him. I think they did make a herem; I am not sure. . . . Today, everybody is used to this. We assume that the Gemara is not necessarily expert on history, The Gemara can make mistakes in history. Today it’s not assumed to be apikorsus to say [this]. . . . If Azariah De Rossi would have printed his sefer today, no one would have been so excited about it.

For a hasidic perspective on this matter, which is very much in line with modern approaches to Aggadah, see R. Shlomo of Radomsk, Niflaot ha-Tiferet Shlomo (Petrokov, 1923), nos. 73-74. R. Shlomo stresses that when the Talmud tells a story, it does not matter if the facts are contradicted by other talmudic stories, because what is important is not the story itself, which need not be historically accurate, but rather the lesson to be instilled.

ובזה יש ליישב פליאה גדולה אשר יש לשאול, מה זה שמצאנו בכל הש"ס ומדרשים מסופרים מעשיות ומופתים מתנאים ואמוראים בשינוי נוסחאות מאד, זה יאמר כן היה המעשה, וזה יאמר כן . . . דאין אנו דנין על החומר, רק על הצורה, ולפי הצורה המוכנת בענין הזה, באופן זה מספרים חז"ל את המעשה והסיפור, וממ"נ אם להלל ולשבח ולפאר את התנא, או בהיפוך לגנות הרשע, הלא הצורה מוכנת לכ"א . . . ואם להשיג מטרת ותכלית ענין הנרצה בהסיפור הזה לעורר רושם ורעיון להשומע להבין דברי תורה ולעורר אמונת השגחה וכחן וגבורתן של הצדיקים, ג"כ האיכא, ומאי איכפת לן אם החומר מונע, החומר בטל לגבי הצורה, לכן אין נ"מ בין אופן זה לנוסחא אחרת כי הכל תורת אמת.

Returning to the subject of Jesus and R. Joshua ben Perahyah, I think readers might find another text interesting. It is by the kabbalist R. Moses Valle, who was an older colleague of R. Moses Hayyim Luzzatto in Padua. (Although Luzzatto was the leader of their circle, and Valle was thus subservient to him, I don’t know if it correct for the title page to describe Valle as a “student” of Ramhal. I grant that even Italian texts describe Valle as such. See R. Mordechai Samuel Ghirondi, Toledot Gedolei Yisrael [Trieste, 1853], p. 230.)




Without seeing the actual text, I don't think people will believe me if I tell them what he writes, so here is the relevant page from Sefer ha-Likutim p. 242.



According to Valle, Jesus was meant to be Mashiach ben Joseph, but the needless hatred of the Jewish people prevented him from assuming this role. This is such a strange passage that I am impressed that the editor did not censor it prior to publication. For discussion of it, see here.

Interestingly, R. Abraham Abulafia appears to also have identified Jesus as Messiah ben Joseph. See Moshe Idel, Studies in Ecstatic Kabbalah (Albany, 1988), p. 53.

To be continued.



[1] I have explained Rambam according to the exoteric meaning, which is the level that Aviezer is arguing on. Aviezer makes no reference to a possible esoteric teaching.
[2] In the recently published The Rav Thinking Aloud on the Parsha: Sefer Bereishis, p. 8, the Rav misspoke and referred to this conception as the Aristotelian theory.
[3] Thus, I believe that both Rabad in his hassagah to Hilkhot Teshuvah 3:7 and also Kafih in his commentary ad loc., are mistaken in thinking that Maimonides, in listing different types of heretics, is referring here to one who believes in creation from eternal matter. When Maimonides writes about one who does not believe that God is ראשון וצור לכל he is not referring to time but causation. In fact, this formulation of Maimonides is also in accord with Aristotle’s view (that is, how Aristotle was understood by the medievals) that the world is both eternal and ontologically dependant on God. Nowhere in the Mishneh Torah does Maimonides affirm creation, ex nihilo or otherwise. This was recognized by R. Jacob Emden who sees the Mishneh Torah as more radical in this regard than the Guide. See Mitpahat Sefarim (Lvov, 1870) pp. 64-65 (where he also accuses Ibn Ezra of believing in eternity). See also Emden, Otzar ha-Tov (in Birat Migdal Oz [Zhitomir, 1874], p. 22a, who writes, regarding Maimonides’ use in the Mishneh Torah of a proof that assumes the world’s eternity:

לו ידעו הרבנים התלמודיים בפלוסופיא לא היה [!] שותקים לו בכאן

The Maharal, Netivot Olam,p. 224, writes:

והנה בנה עיקר ראייתו על התנועה הנצחית וזהו הפך האמונה שאין אנו מודים בזאת ההנחה. וא"כ כבר נפל הבנין בכללו

That the Guide is actually a theologically more conservative work than the Mishneh Torah has recently been argued by Charles Manekin, “Possible Sources of Maimonides’ Theological Conservatism in His Later Writings,” in Jay M. Harris, Maimonides After 800 Years (Cambridge, 2007), pp. 207-230. One should not forget that the Maimonidean controversy was precipitated by the Mishneh Torah, in particular Sefer ha-Mada, not the Guide.
[4] See the passage quoted from him in Yitzhak Shouraqui, Masoret be-Idan ha-Moderni (Tel Aviv, 2009), p. 34. On p. 44, Benamozegh writes that Ralbag, R. Hasdai Crescas, and R. Nissim did not believe in creation. What he means is that Ralbag did not believe in creation ex nihilo. Crescas did not really believe in creation at all, seeing the universe as eternal, that is, eternally created by God. This means eternal ontological dependence of all existence on the Creator. However, Crescas does believe that our world, as opposed to the universe as a whole, was created at a certain instant. See Warren Zev Harvey, Physics and Metaphysics in Hasdai Crescas (Amsterdam, 1998), pp. 18-19. As I pointed out in Limits, both Ralbag and Crescas stand in opposition to Maimonides’ Fourth Principle. Yet I am unaware of R. Nissim expressing a radical view regarding creation. Does anyone know what he is referring to?
[5] R. Judah Alfakhar also seems to make this error. See Kovetz Teshuvot ha-Rambam ve-Iggerotav (Leipzig, 1859), vol. 3, p. 1b.
[6] I thank Lawrence Kaplan for discussing this matter with me, although this should not imply that he agrees with what I have written.
[7] See here.
[8] Here is what Hirsch writes in Collected Writings, vol. 7, p. 57 (cited by Slifkin, here):

Jewish scholarship has never regarded the Bible as a textbook for physical or even abstract doctrines. In its view the main emphasis of the Bible is always on the ethical and social structure and development of life on earth; that is, on the observance of laws through which the momentous events of our nation’s history are converted from abstract truths into concrete convictions. That is why Jewish scholarship regards the Bible as speaking consistently in “human language;” the Bible does not describe things in terms of objective truths known only to God, but in terms of human understanding, which is, after all, the basis for human language and expression
[9] See here.
[10] See here.
[11] See here.
[12] On this issue, I find mid-twentieth-century Orthodox reconciliations of Torah and science very interesting in that the authors do not seem to be looking over their shoulders, worried about the reaction of the more literalist segment of Orthodoxy. R. Joseph Hertz’s essays following the book of Genesis in his edition of the Pentateuch are a good example of this. Another is R. Samuel Rosenblatt, Our Heritage (New York, 1940), pp. 174-181, in essays entitled “How the World Came Into Being” and “The Garden of Eden, Fact or Fiction.” You can see the essays here, or below.


While reading Rosenblatt’s essays, ask yourself if they could be published in an Orthodox newspaper or shul bulletin today. Note in particular Rosenblatt’s assumption that the Torah makes use of "theories about the nature of the physical world and the details of its generation that were current at the time the Bible was written.” Also relevant to the general issue are his essays on Noah and the Flood, and the Tower of Babel.
[13] For more on “myth”, see my earlier post.

There I wrote:

While in the popular mind myth often is identical with fairy tale, this is not how scholars understand myths. For them, myths communicate cosmic truths in non-historical story form, and they are not synonymous with legends. My dictionary explains myth as “a usually traditional story of ostensibly historical events that serves to unfold part of the world view of a people or explain a practice, belief, or natural phenomenon.”

S. of On the Main Line called my attention to Shadal’s letter in Iggerot Shadal, p. 661, where he speaks about the religious value of “illusions,” that is, matters that are not factual, but nevertheless have great religious value. In this letter we see Shadal, the great opponent of Maimonides, nevertheless adopting his own version of “necessary truths.”

שאין הריליגיאון חביבה לא-ל בשביל אמתתה, רק בשביל תועלתה בתקון המדות, ועל כן אין צורך שיהיו כל דבריה אמתיים, ושאין לנו עכ"ז להרחיק א-להיותה, ושאין להרחיק מהא-ל הגדת דברים בלתי אמתיים כי להגיד כח מעשה בראשית לבשר ודם א"א, ולא יתכן קיום החברה והצלחת האדם בידיעת האמת, אלא באיללוזיון, כי כן הטבע (אשר הוא בלא ספק רצון הא-ל) מרמה אותנו בענינים הרבה.

[14] Rather than refer to any number of books on the history of astronomy, here is what the Wikipedia entry on “Geocentric Model” has to say:

Adherence to the geocentric model stemmed largely from several important observations. First of all, if the Earth did move, then one ought to be able to observe the shifting of the fixed stars due to stellar parallax. In short, if the earth was moving the shapes of the constellations should change considerably over the course of a year. If they did not appear to move, the stars are either much further away than the Sun and the planets than previously conceived, making their motion undetectable, or in reality they are not moving at all. Because the stars were actually much further away than Greek astronomers postulated (making movement extremely subtle), stellar parallax was not detected until the 19th century. Therefore, the Greeks chose the simpler of the two explanations. The lack of any observable parallax was considered a fatal flaw of any non-geocentric theory. Another observation used in favor of the geocentric model at the time was the apparent consistency of Venus' luminosity, thus implying that it is usually about the same distance from Earth, which is more consistent with geocentrism than heliocentrism. In reality, that is because the loss of light caused by its phases compensates for the increase in apparent size caused by its varying distance from Earth. Once again, Aristotle's objections of heliocentrism utilized his ideas concerning the natural tendency of earth-like objects. The natural state of heavy earth-like objects is to tend towards the center of the earth and to not move unless forced by an outside object. It was also believed by some that if the Earth rotated on its axis, the air and objects in it (such as birds or clouds) would be left behind.
[15] Norman Lamm, “The Religious Implications of Extraterrestrial Life,” Tradition 7 (Winter 1965) pp. 27-28.
[16] A more academic version of this article appeared in JQR 55 (Jan. 1965), and some points in it were subjected to strong criticism by Harry Wolfson, ibid., 56 (Jan. 1966). Lamm told me that he felt it was a great honor for a young scholar like himself to be criticized by Wolfson. Similar sentiments have been expressed by students who were criticized in class by the Rav and Saul Lieberman.
[17] See here and here (note how the mention of R. [David] Feinstein has been removed from the first source).
[18] One reader asked me if there are traditional sources that speak of God creating things in the world after the initial creation. As a matter of fact, Isaiah 65:17 reads: “For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth; and the former things shall not be remembered, nor come into mind.” A midrash quoted in R. Kasher’s Torah Shelemah, vol. 1, p. 123, reads as follows:

באותה שעה [כשעברו את הים] ברא להם הקב"ה ארץ חדשה כמו בבריאת העולם בששת ימי בראשית.

These two sources are cited by R. Judah Leib Zlotnick, “Bereishit” bi-Melitzah ha-Ivrit (Jerusalem, 1938), p. 27.
[19] Interestingly, R. Jonathan Eybschuetz, Tiferet Yehonatan, parashat Noah (p. 11a in the standard edition), claims that the builders of the tower were trying to make it so high that they could then launch a spaceship from it that would reach the moon (or perhaps I should say “the sphere of the moon”). This would then become their new home!

וזה היה כונת דור הפלגה ג"כ שבקשו לקבוע מושבם בכדור ירחי ששם יהיו נצולים ממבול וחשבו לעשות ע"י ספינה הנ"ל אפס כיצד יגביהו אותו הספינה למעלה מאויר העכור ולזה חשבו לבנות מגדל גבוה כל כך עד למעלה האויר ההוא ומשם יוכלו להשתמש בספינה הנ"ל לשוט באויר עד כדור הירחי.

[20] See Goldstein, Jesus in the Jewish Tradition (New York, 1950), p. 302 n. 34.
[21] See Louis Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, vol. 3, p. 28.
[22] See Targum Ps.-Jonathan, Numbers 31:8, Zohar, vol. 3, pp. 194a-194b, Ginzberg, Legends, vol. 6, p. 144.
[23] For more on R. Joshua and Jesus, see Markham Judah Geller, "Joshua B. Perahyah and Jesus of Nazareth: Two Rabbinic Magicians” (unpublished doctoral dissertation, Brandeis University, 1974).
[24] See Peter Schäfer, Jesus in the Talmud (Princeton, 2007), ch. 3. Some readers might also enjoy Herb Basser's lecture, "How Reliable are the Talmudic Teachings on Jesus," available here.

The original version of Sanhedrin, which mentions Jesus, is not found in the Artscroll edition. In other words, the Artscroll Talmud, including the Hebrew version, is still a censored, and thus defective, edition. I find this quite amazing. Is there a valid reason why Artscroll has not returned the Talmud to its pristine text? Speaking of internal censorship, here is another amazing example. Gittin 57a has a reference to Jesus, and this is preserved in the Munich manuscript and other uncensored mss. (and recorded in the Soncino translation). Here is a copy of the Munich manuscript. Look three lines above the large word אתרנגול


It states that Jesus was raised from the dead through incantations: אסקי' לישו בנגיד'. In the standard text this has been altered to read, instead of Jesus, לפושעי ישראל. Now here is a copy of Meir S. Feldblum’s Dikdukei Soferim on Gittin. See how he wouldn’t even record what the Munich edition stated, and instead advises the reader to examine Hashmatot ha-Shas!


This book was published in 1966 and he was afraid to give us the reading in the Munich ms., yet Rabbinovicz in nineteenth-century Germany has no problem giving us the correct reading in the earlier mentioned story from Sanhedrin (as well as in the other talmudic passages where Jesus is mentioned). Does Feldblum's action make any sense? I wonder if some future historian will be led to mistakenly conclude that anti-Semitism was more of a problem in 1966 America than nineteenth-century Germany. Fortunately, last year a new edition of Dikdukei Soferim on Gittin was published. Here is the relevant page where we are told what the Munich ms. really says.

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