Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Ibn Ezra, Rambam and the Karaites

R' Kasher in Torah Shelemah - addenda to Parshas Shemos -attempts to prove that the Ibn Ezra to Sefer Shemos ((Pirush HaAruch)-the long recension)) was written by his students[1a]. He cites a proof the fact that this commentary cites information from Karaim [1] that already have a source in Chazal and that it is unlikely that the IE (who was no friend to the Karaites) should have done this. See there at length.

In the verse that discusses the prohibition of eating חלב (certain fats) the Ibn Ezra records an extensive debate that he had with a Karaite. Basically he forces the Karaite to agree that Anan's maxim חיפוש במקרא הרבה is simply insufficient and that in the end even the Karaites must accept the Kabbalah of the Rabbis.

It seems logical to suggest that the Ibn Ezra purposely chose to cite from Karaite scholars explanations that originate in Chazal. This way he could emphasize that even the Karaite Gedolim essentially agree with the interpretations of Rabbinates.

In an article in the Sefer Zikaron L' Zecher R' Yitzchok Nissim, R' Nachum Eliezer Rabinowitz (better known for his commentary on the Rambam the Yad Peshuta) discusses one of the more perplexing issues that students of the Yad come across. The Rambam consistently cites reasons for halachos that are different from those given by the Talmud (e.g. Muktzeh,Kiddush HaChodesh,etc.). Rabinowitz's explanation is that the Rambam left out the reasons of the Talmud because the scholar is assumed to know them already and rather chose to add his own explanations to resolve other unseen difficulties in the text See there at length.

I find this interpretation difficult. First, the Rambam writes in his letter to R' Pinchas Dayan that he never added in anything from his own pilpul unless it is designated by a יראה לי. What Rabinowitz describes certainly sounds like Pilpul to me. Second, the Rambam writes in his Introduction to the Yad that in writing the Yad he intended to write a complete digest - so one should not have to pick up any sfer besides for this one [2]. He certainly could not have left out large amounts of information as Rabinowitz posits. Third, in most cases the Rambam does supply the standard Talmudic reason.

R' Zevin in his review of R' Kasher's "Ha'Rambam V'haMechilta D' Rashbi" [4] mentions that a "popular view that the Rambam ignores Chazal's exegesis and creates his own instead" has now been disproven. This is because now it is clear that the Rambam used this lost Mechilta as a source for many Halachos (Kasher counts more then one hundred). This being the case we cannot rule out the possibility that the Rambam had access to other Midrashei Chazal that we might not know of.

Particularly interesting is R' Chaim Tchernowitz (Rav Tsair)'s explanation in Toledot HaPosekim [5]. He refers us to the aforementioned letter to Pinchas Dayan in which the Rambam writes that "he purposely chose to leave the names of the Tannoim out of the Yad in order to refute the Karaites - because they say that your Kabbalah is from only a few Talmidei Chachomim (Yechidim)..." [6] Noting a definite Anti-Karaite intent in the Rambam, Rav Tsair proceeds to demonstrate that in many of the Halachot in which the Rambam expands on Chazal's explanation or provides his own explanation - there is a parallel polemical passage against these Halcahot in the Karaite works. This is not a panacea and does not answer all the problematic passages but it remains a fascinating starting point.

See also the post "On the Main Line" on Karaism I and II.

The Radbaz has several interesting Teshuvos on Karaim in one of which he describes his conversations with the leaders of the Bnei Mikra.

[1a] I recall that one of the editions of Tzefunot contained an article arguing for this point based on a signature in one of the manuscripts.

[1] For example, he cites the Karaite Yefet Ben Ali forty-two times in his commentary of the minor prophets. See Wikipedia- Karaites "Though he opposed Karaism, the Rabbinic commentator Abraham Ibn Ezra regularly quoted Karaite commentators, particularly Yefet ben Ali, to the degree that a legend exists among some Karaites that Ibn Ezra was ben Ali's student."

[2] But see the letter to R' Pinchas Dayan mentioned previously and also the Maharitz Chajes's heated defense in Tifferet L' Moshe (his polemic against Shadal - The Yeshuos Yaakov's Haskamah is also worth reading.).

[4] Interestingly, R' Avraham Ben HaGra had already divined the Mechilta's existence in Rav Peolim. See also R' Mordechai Gifters review in the YU journal Talpiot and R' Kasher's response.

[5] Rav Tsair's knowledge of Karaite seforim stands him in good stead. He also notes Anti-Karaite polemics in the Sheiltos D' R' Achai and Halachot Gedolos as well as other seforim.

[6] See also the Chakira article on Dealing with Religious Dissenters.


Lion of Zion said...

"Rabinowitz's explanation is that the Rambam left out the reasons of the Talmud because the scholar is assumed to know them already . . . . I find this interpretation difficult."

also because the rambam didn't write the mishne torah for scholars.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Appropos nothing in particular, it is worth noting that the first trouble Nachman Krochmal encountered was due to the discovery of a correspondence between him and a Karaite hakham.

Anonymous said...

~In YHWH's Name We Will Do and Succeed~

>"In the verse that discusses the prohibition of eating חלב (certain fats) the Ibn Ezra records an extensive debate that he had with a Karaite. Basically he forces the Karaite to agree that Anan's maxim חיפוש במקרא הרבה is simply insufficient and that in the end even the Karaites must accept the Kabbalah of the Rabbis."

Sorry, there's every reason to conclude this is a snippet of misleading mendacious Rabbinic propaganda. I wagger the exact opposite happened, namely the Qaraite forced Ibn `Ezra to hear why the "Kabbalah of the Rabbis" is fictitious and made up by the the Ge'onim.

>"This way he could emphasize that even the Karaite Gedolim essentially agree with the interpretations of Rabbinates."

To those who know a thing or two about Qaraite thelogy and hermineutics, this wildly hyperbolic claim is much less of a sensational revelation than it seems to the uninitiated.
In reality, some Qaraite Gedolim were wiling to except exegetical truth -- according to Pshat alone -- even from Rabbinates. This however didn't mean that the Qaraite sages accepted most Rabbinic interrpretations.

Wolf2191 said...

I really did not mean my post to appear as a polemic and I am sorry you took it as such. I was simply proposing a theory on what the Ibn Ezra might have meant.

As far as the Chelev thing, Look it up inside. You can judge for yourself.

I have never heard that the Karaites believed that tehe Talmud was "made up by the the Ge'onim". Can you elaborate?

Anonymous said...

Shavu`a Tov Wolf2191.

I from my end had no intention to open up a mahloqet or polemical debate. All I wanted was to rebut certain claims for the benefit of the readership.

I fail to grasp what you mean by looking up the Helev matter "inside". What am I missing?

When I claimed the "Kabbalah of the Rabbis" is fictitious and made up by the Ge'onim, I should've been more clear. What I implied and am saying is that the Ge'onim invented the "oral" Law's Chain of Transmission which was later copied by the Rambam into his preface to Mishneh Torah. This is fact.

Wolf2191 said...

Shavu'a Tov to you as well!

I don't think I have much of a readership but I appreciate the thought.

I meant you could look up the actual debate between the Ibn Ezra and the anonymous Karaite yourself in the Ibn Ezra's commentary to the appropriate verse and judge for yourself.

The point you make about the Chain of Transmission must be vey old. The Rambam I quote refers to it.

The Wikipedia article doesn't mention the point you say.

I thought the Karaites refused to accept the Mishna as a whole. I have never heard of a claim that the Geonim invented parts of it.
Can you elaborate a bit more?

Anonymous said...

The fact that the Rambam wrote in his preface to Mishneh Torah the "oral" Law's Chain of Transmission is old as the time that has elapsed since he wrote it. That's a given of Jewish history.
This Chain of Transmission alleges for example that 70 Elders transmitted the "oral" Law to Eli the High Priest, notwithstanding the fact he couldn't have even been born by the time these Elders passed away. Yet this isn't the only comical problem with this Chain.

Wikipedia shouldn't always be trusted and whatever you read there must be taken with a grain of salt. Almost anyone and their mother can go in and edit any entry there, so it's a dubious tool for research. One Qaraite once spotted some lies written about a convert to Qaraite Judaism known as Yosef Yaron and this ultimately resulted in the entry on him being deleted.

It eludes me how you've construed anything I've said this far as claiming that the Ge'onim invented parts of the Mishna.
Of course, Qaraites reject the Mishna's supposed divinity and authoritative status.

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