With Tolerance, Respect, and Love for Jews of Other Torah Traditions
Principle 8 – Are All Aspects of the RaMBaM’s Philosophy Sacrosanct?
The RaMBaM’s legal philosophy (partially summarized in Principles 1-7) is an ancient tradition harking back to deep antiquity, and is inseparable from his halakhic positions. Following the halakhic path of the RaMBaM while rejecting this philosophy is not intellectually honest.
On the contrary, however, there is room to question in regards to the RaMBaM’s philosophy in other regards, such as his beliefs concerning music, (1)Across the RaMBaM’s writings, it is clear that, except for in a few narrow contexts that may not exist in our day, he generally viewed music in ...continue sexual intimacy, (2)Across his writings, it is clear that the RaMBaM’s view on sexual intimacy, while not ascetic, leans in that direction – viewing it as a ...continue the role of imagination in thought and the advancement of mankind, (3)In Shemonah Peraqim, the RaMBaM declares his argument against the Muslim proponents of the Kalām, who proposed that anything that could be imagined ...continue and the reasoning behind the Torah’s sacrificial system (4)According to the RaMBaM in his Guide for the Perplexed (Part III, ch.32), the entire reason for the Torah’s sacrificial system –with all its ...continue. The greatness of the RaMBaM is found in how far he kept such personal, philosophical positions out of his grand code of halakhah – sticking as closely as he could to the pure traditions of what the Sages literally said, while leaving out that which they did not.
However, there is even reason to question the applicability of a non-halakhic, philosophical teachings found in the first few chapters of Mishneh Torah to our times – namely the directive to keep all but the most gifted students in the dark in regards to the secrets of ma`aseh bereshith (the “science of creation”, or physical science). In today’s Western world, science has been practically deified. A level of basic scientific awareness is nearly ubiquitous among the middle and upper classes, often seeming to pose a serious threat to religious belief. In this new intellectual climate, hiding scientific wisdom and its synergy with the Torah is not only futile, but greatly harmful.
There are more questions: Would the RaMBaM’s philosophy regarding the soul have been affected by the findings of modern parapsychology? There is reason to wonder how his approach to angelology would have been affected by modern physics, astronomy, and astrobiology.
There is good reason to believe that the RaMBaM not only would not feel slighted by his students of the far future questioning his philosophy in these regards, but would have wanted them to do so. (5)We can surmise as such due to what was taught by his son, HaRav Avraham ben HaRaMBaM, in regards to the science and medicine in the Talmud being ...continue Questioning RaMBaM’s non-halakhic philosophy (while still trusting his legal philosophy and relying on his code) not only poses no contradiction to being a student of the RaMBaM, but may be the fullest expression thereof.
Notes [ + ]
|1.||↑||Across the RaMBaM’s writings, it is clear that, except for in a few narrow contexts that may not exist in our day, he generally viewed music in a negative light, due to its power to arouse man’s imaginative faculty. Today we know that music can play a very important role in psychological wellbeing and even healing. This deep connection with music is not isolated to human beings, but to other higher mammals as well.|
|2.||↑||Across his writings, it is clear that the RaMBaM’s view on sexual intimacy, while not ascetic, leans in that direction – viewing it as a base, animal need that should be conducted minimally, and that with great shame. He expressed a common belief in those days that excessive sexual activity saps the body of strength and vigor, bringing early death. While lust and sexual deviance are, indeed, major forces of destruction of the family and society at large, I have neither found nor heard of any research that supports this notion.
Not only is a healthy sexual lifestyle beneficial to physical wellbeing (more than the RaMBaM admits to Hilkhoth De`oth), but emotional health as well. Moreover, it is demonstrable how unbalanced attitudes towards sexuality (that is permitted by basic, applied halakhah for our times) can become catalysts of aggression, homosexuality, child abuse, the denigration of women, and the dropping out of young men from a Torah lifestyle. I refer here to extreme attitudes towards modesty, and extreme pressure on men –on the societal level– to deny their natural urges far beyond reason. While the Sages wrote of modesty what they did for a world in which young people were groomed for marriage in their mid-teens (even according to Shulḥan `Arukh); our youth today are even more at risk of the deleterious effects mentioned above due to the enforced institution of late marriage (which is against halakhah) and the permissiveness of the outside, mainstream culture.
In the opinion of the author, a healthier Torah view of sexuality is expressed in Iggereth Ha-Qodesh, (The Holy Letter) attributed to the RaMBaN (Naḥmanides).
|3.||↑||In Shemonah Peraqim, the RaMBaM declares his argument against the Muslim proponents of the Kalām, who proposed that anything that could be imagined is possible. According to his general wariness of the negative power of imagination, RaMBaM tries to demonstrate the absurdity of this position by having us “imagine an iron ship sailing in the air, or an individual whose head is in the heavens while his feet are on the ground…” With hindsight, it should be clear to all that, were it not for the sake of those who dreamed such “impossible” fantasies, man would never created the airplane or satellites, much less set foot on the moon, sent robotic craft to every planet of our solar system, sent human beings to the bottom of the Mariana Trench, pioneered organ transplants, or created the Internet and cellular phone technology, etc.
In fact, cell phones (now as wrist watches) are just one of a number of “impossible” technologies dreamed up by writers of science fiction. Just a few of many more that are on the way: Self-driving cars. Holographic screens. 3-D virtual reality technology approaching the level of the Star Trek “holodeck”. “Iron Man” robotic suits for U.S. soldiers being developed by DARPA. Special apps that enable physicians to diagnose patients with no more than a cell phone – even thousands of miles away from the patient. Warp technology, which would make interstellar travel possible, now being developed by NASA. The eminent physicist Michio Kaku predicts that within a century, a teleportation device similar to those in Star Trek will be invented.
Were the RaMBaM to see all of this, it is hard to believe that his position on the role of human imagination would be unaffected.
|4.||↑||According to the RaMBaM in his Guide for the Perplexed (Part III, ch.32), the entire reason for the Torah’s sacrificial system –with all its precise details– is to reluctantly provide a kosher alternative to idolatrous cultic practices. For to utterly discontinue them “would have been contrary to the nature of man,” and “by this Divine plan it was effected that the traces of idolatry would be blotted out, and the truly great principle of our faith, the Existence and Unity of God, would be firmly established”. (The second Friedlander edition [© Dover Publications, Inc., New York 1956. p.323)
However, it is a central, cardinal tenet of faith that all of the Torah’s 613 Commandments are for all time; that the sacrifices are destined to return when a the Holy Temple will be rebuilt. Such an apology can only satisfy the intellect so long as the majority of the world remains steeped in such cultic practice. What happens in a world such as our own, when, in all but the far reaches of the Third World, mankind has utterly abandoned animal sacrifice? A world in which even idolatry has evolved to flourish with no need for burnt offerings?! Now that animal sacrifice has been revealed not to be a function of human nature but of culture, and the Prophets railed against those who believed it to be a foundational Torah principle – the object of HaShem’s desire (e.g. Jeremiah 7:21-23), why are we obligated by our Creator to resurrect it?
The RaMBaN (on Lev. 1:9) and HaRav Samson Raphael Hirsch (on Gen. 3:1) challenge the RaMBaM’s approach, noting how, according to tradition, sacrifice to HaShem predates the advent of idolatry. While the author has his own theory, he views the teachings on the subject by the above rabbis, Rabbi Moshe Isserles ((תורת העולה חלק ב’ ד”ה “הטעם הה” ופרק שלישי, the MaHaRaL of Prague (ספר גבורת ה’ פרק ס”ט), and Izhbitzer Hassidic writings, as profound alternative methods of reasoning as to how and why Torah sacrifice can be profoundly beneficial for us – despite its not being an end in and of itself, much less something needed by HaShem. (See Oṣar HaQorbanoth by HaRav Menaḥem Makover [© Dani Sefarim and We-Har’enu Be-vinyano, Jerusalem 5771/2011. 104-108 pp.])
Had the RaMBaM seen how human culture would evolve in the coming centuries, it is likely that he would have given serious consideration to these alternative – considering that Torah sacrifice remains an eternal, Divine obligation.
|5.||↑||We can surmise as such due to what was taught by his son, HaRav Avraham ben HaRaMBaM, in regards to the science and medicine in the Talmud being outdated. He and his father must have understood that the science of their times would be eclipsed by that of the future, just as their own had eclipsed that of their predecessors.
Ma’amar `Al Derashoth Ḥaza”l (Hebrew for “Discourses on the Sayings of the Rabbis”). Published online at the website of Mikhleleth Hertzog – Gush Etzion: Da`ath Limude Yahaduth we-Ruaḥ, managed by Prof. Yehudah Eisenberg. http://www.daat.ac.il/daat/ mahshevt/agadot/hagada1-2.htm