Saturday, August 23, 2008

Some notes on Marc Shapiro's "Studies in Maimonides and his Interpreters"

There is a fascinating responsa in the Aderet's Maaneh Eliyahu [1a], in which he starts out to answer a difficult Rambam (the omission of the law of kashering a glass vessel). He first creates a brilliant pilpul to explain the omission, but then he quickly points out that this was obviously not the Rambam's intention and that this is obviously a textual error.

Similarly, R' Zevin[1] in many places makes light of the Roshei Yeshivot who out of fear of "originality" like to "blame" their chiddushim on the Rambam. And the Seridei Eish[2] has many times differentiated between the methodology of the historical Rambam [3] and the Rambam of the yeshivos.

It is the purpose of the first essay of the book to demonstrate that the historical Rambam did, in fact, make mistakes, phrase statements inaccurately, etc. and that a critical student needs to keep these options in mind when studying Rambam. I believe that Prof. Shapiro has proved his thesis admirably.

Here are several notes relating to various topics mentioned in the book:

1- Pg. XI Shapiro leaves it to the reader to judge whether the attacks of the "Roim" crossed the line into "jealousy and hate". I refer the reader to Toledot Mishpachat Rosenthal by Y. Y. Greenwald and I think it will be obvious that the reprehensible actions of the Roim against Shir' attempt bid for the Rabbinate in Prague certainly crossed the line into jealousy and hate.

2- pg. 3 note 11 - Shapiro mentions R' Yaakov Kamenetsky's view that the first four chapters of Yesodei Torah are not to be regarded as Torah. (Cf. the similar statements of Shadal - Devarim 6,5.) R' Yaakov expands on this view in Shai L' Melachim to Melachim 1 6,2 (My sincere thanks to R' Nosson Kamentsky for providing me with a copy of this booklet).

This excerpt from a speech given by R' Nosson contains the backstory behind this view of R' Yaakov:

"Beyond that, RNK said his father would have taken issue with the entire idea of denying the validity of modern science when it seems to contradict Torah as interpreted by Chazal. He recalled how R. Yaakov watched Neil Armstrong land on the moon (in the house of a neighbor who owned a TV) and conclude that, clearly, the first few chapters of the mishna torah that discuss the moon being a living spiritual being must have been based on Greek philosphy that had been conclusively disproven."

Not everyone, took this so sanguinely. The Lubavitcher Rebbe in one of his letters (quoted and critiqued here) makes a rather "violent" attempt to explain away Maimonidean astronomy and R' Shakh is also know to have commented that even Maimonidean astronomy is infallible (Update: I was referring to this, which for obvious reasons might not be the best example.) (Also somewhat relevant is R' Kook's Maamer Meyuchad - printed in the back of Toledot Yisroel of Ze'ev Yaavetz V. 13) [Update: See this comment for a similar view.)

pg. 11 n. 54 - Shapiro refers to the famous letter to R' Pinchas Dayan in which Maimonides admits to forgetfulness. In Mivchar Ketavim (pg. 120), R' Matisyah Strashun points out that in that case the Rambam didn't actually forget the source. (See here)

pg. 54 - In his list of scholars who trie to answer the Rambam in a way different then the Rambam himself answered in his responsa, Shapiro misses a major source. In the Kesef Mishna to Kriat Shema 1,8 , Maran throws up his hands in despair at one of the Rambam responsa to Chachmei Lunil and offers his own explanation instead.

pg. 57 n. 239 - Emendations that ignore the commentary to the Mishna. See this post for Rambam Berachot 1,15 in which most of the answers (including that of the Gra) ignore the explict statement of the Rambam in his commentary to the Mishna.

pg. 85 - On the Rambam and the Zohar - the Kesef Mishna (in Sefer Ahavah, I can't find the exact place right now but it should be easy to find with a DBS search) cites a Zohar as a soiurce for one of Rambam's halacha. I am not sure if he believed that the Rambam actually had the Zohar.

pg. 89 n. 376 - although not directly related to the book 'd like to mention an interesting source re: Rashi and Kabbalah. Rashi Beitzah 33a cites a Piyut Yotzar from one of the Chachmei Lombardy. The Gilyon writes that this is actually the Pirush to Sefer Yetzirah of R' Shabsi Donnolo (Rashi cites this Pirush- called Chakomini -in Eiruvin 56a). Possibly by Piyut Rashi refers oi the rhymed introduction. S. Y Friedman pointing to this example says that Rashi's language "I heard" means he heard it recited in the shul - which is unlikely if he refers to the pirush to Sefer Yetzirah.

Last essay - On the Rambam and superstition - I believe C. Tchernowitz in his Toledot HaPsoekim alsio provides some examples of the way in which Rambam phrases things to fit with his philosophical beliefs. (See note 4 here for a case where the Rambam phrases a statement to avoid an apparent anthropomorphism (this was already noted by Prof. Twersky, along with some other examples in the Chapter on Law and Philosophy in his Introduction) )

[1a] The Aderet produced many seforim on some rather unusual topics. They have only recently started publisihng them. I believe his is the only sefer in history that contains an approbation by the author to his own work, the kuntres Acharis Ha-Shanim on Vidui Maaser. Here are photos of the title page and Haskamos:

[1] See for example Ishim V' Shitot - R' Meir Simcha, as well as many of the reviews in Seforim V' Soferim. His review of Kasher's Rambam V' Mekhilta D'Rashbi has some particularly important methodological observations.

[2] Shapiro collects all his statements on the subject in the Hebrew section. I would add to his list the SE's statement in his responsa on abortion that R' Chaim's answer there, while brilliant, doesn't reflect the historical Rambam.

[3] See this post for a relevant statement by the Maharsha.


andy said...

Keep them coming! A few of my own he'aros on Shapiro's excellent book. In many of his examples of the RMBM misquoting pesukim, he writes that the RMBM is following the gemara's lead. One is left wondering whether the RMBM does this consistently or if he sometimes corrects the 'mistake.' On pg 88 S writes that the GR"A did not believe that the RMBM knew the Zohar and gives as his sources two Beurei Ha-Gra. (Incidentally, there is a printing mistake in the first one, should read 179:13.) It would seem that his ikar proof is from the line that 'neither the Rema nor the RMBM saw the PRDS.' However, certainly the Rema knew the Zohar and so this would not appear to show that the GRA believed that the Rambam did not. On pg 124 the Meiri that S brings in fn 111 does appear to be an explanation of the talmudic passage, although I have not looked it up. On pg 130, S's statement re the gemara in Sanhedrin 65a is puzzling.

andy said...

Also, when S writes many times about R' Kafih that "his mss. have presumably been corrected", is that a 'lashon sagi nahor' because he does not want to come right out and say that K made the corrections himself?

Anonymous said...

"Not everyone, took this so sanguinely. The Lubavitcher Rebbe in one of his letters (quoted and critiqued here) makes a rather "violent" attempt to explain away Maimonidean astronomy and R' Shakh is also know to have commented that even Maimonidean astronomy is infallible "

Zev Lev relates a conversation he had with an anonymous Rosh YEshiva in this regard in his essay in "Encounter"

wolf2191 said...

Can you summarize this here?


Anonymous said...

Low recounts a discussion of his with a former student of R. SHimon Shkop, who denied the veracity of Armstrong's moon-landing, as it was contradicted by the Rambam. Low asked him what his reaction would be were he confronted by two religious Jews who swore to that the event had indeed occurred. He replied that this would cast doubt on all teh other statements of teh Rambam. As Low concludes, "He would not entertain the possibility that Rambam projected the knowledge of science in his time, and that if he had lived today he might have made a revision of the first four chapters of Yad hachazakah." The overall context of the article is the importance of grappling with the challenges of modernity within the yeshiva and not merely dismissing them out of hand.

William Z. Low, "Some remarks on a letter of Rabbi E.E. Dessler", in Schimmel and Carmell, Encounter

ari kahn said...

regarding your comment:
"The Aderet produced many seforim on some rather unusual topics. They have only recently started publishing them. I believe his is the only sefer in history that contains an approbation by the author to his own work, the kuntres Acharis Ha-Shanim on Vidui Maaser."
This is not the only place the Aderet did this - I published an article over 20 years ago showing an example of this in another work by the Aderet

wolf2191 said...

What is the name of this article abd where can I find it?


ari kahn said...

Pretty obscure place Council of Young Israel Rabbi annual journal volume 2 1988; The Commandment of Hakhel
Rabbi Ari D. Kahn
Here is the relevant section and footnotes; if you want the entire article please email me,
Over a hundred years ago in Warsaw a small pamphlet was published entitled Zecher L'Mikdash' (A Remembrance of the Temple), containing "explanations of the mitzvat Hakhel, one of the commandments of the Torah commanded to us by Moshe Rabbenu, may he rest in peace." The pamphlet was published anonymously, and Rabbi Eliyahu David Rabinowitz Te'omim — "The Aderet" — is credited with its authorship. Since that time, a plethora of works have emerged on the topic which have contributed to a symbolic performance of this mitzva in our time. In the following pages I will deal with a few of the issues involved in the mitzva of Hakhel, noting some points of particular interest.

Republished in Kovelz Hakhel. Rabbi Binyamin Rabinowitz Teomim, ed. (Jerusalem: Mosad HaRav Kook, 1973.)

2 The author writes, "My intention is not, God forbid, money or honor. Therefore I will not reveal my name." Kovetz Hakhel, Pg- 23.

3 Ibid., pp. 7, 16. All later sources have accepted the authorship with the exception of A. Hilovitz. See Chokrei HaZmanim Vol. I (Jerusalem: Mosad HaRav Kook, 1978), p. 258, note42 and p. 267, note 42. An oddity in the original pamphlet is the inclusion of an approbation written by the Rov of Ponevizh, the Aderet himself. This is especially odd given that the author, presumably the Aderet, declined to sign his name to the work out of modesty, yet the approbation signed by the Aderet for the pamphlet describes its author as "harav hagaon hamekhaber, shiita" (loosely, the brilliant rabbi who authored this pamphlet). This would indeed be a peculiar modus
operandi for a man motivated by modesty. However, it is worth noting that of the three approbations included in the original pamphlet, that of the Aderet is the only one which actually attests to having read the contents, and it includes three pages of supplemental notes.
A second point of interest may be seen in what I believe is a cryptic hint included by the author in his introduction to the pamphlet:
and in our days let there be seen upon the hills the feet of the Messenger Elijah for the Son of David shall come speedily in our days...
The Aderet's given name was. of course, Elijah David.

Anonymous said...

Как говорилось на Зачитываюсь в данный момент сборником стихов с замысловатым названием "Книга, из-за коей объединились поэты, объединить коих невполне вероятно".
Тут и классики, и новые имена: Окуджава, Ахмадуллина, Диана Арбенина и многие другие...
Каждый вечер, засыпая, читаю по стишку, и утром просыпаюсь, незамедлительно за книжку... И весь день будто летаю, счастливая)))) Может, в этом кроется секрет красоты, а, женщины?)))
Читайте стихи и будете такими же счастливыми и привлекательными, как я в данный момент!!

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