Was Ezra haredi?

Was Biblical Ezra the Scribe ultra-Orthodox? What lies behind this seemingly silly question is a set of serious questions: When did Torah-observant Jewry divide into Orthodox, modern Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, etc.? Were Moshe Rabbenu, Ezra & Nehemia, Maimonides, Rashi, and Yehuda Halevi haredim?

This came to mind when someone asked me whether Ezra, the fictitious hero of Dawning of the Day, Rav Haim Sabato’s newest novel, was haredi.

For those who will be in Jerusalem on Monday after Simhat Torah (24 bTishrey) Oct. 16, there will be an evening devoted to the Dawning of the Day at 8 pm at Mishkenot Shaananim (Yemin Moshe, near Montefiore’s windmill down the block from the King David).Rav Sabato will speak (in Hebrew) and answer questions, and several literary critics will speak (in English).

The Friday English Haaretz published my review (co-authored with Jessica Setbon) of The Dawning of the Day, the exquisite translation into English translation (by Yacob Dweck a young scholar of Syrian descent) of R. Sabato’s K’Afapey Shahar. We know a lot about the book’s hero, Ezra Siman Tov, an Aleppo (Syrian) Jew living in Jerusalem’s Mahaneh Yehuda. We even know that

Ezra Siman Tov has a secret – a dark, sinful secret. He hides from it, but it intrudes like a specter on his peaceful life in the Jerusalem community of immigrants from Aleppo (Halab). “For several years he wept and pleaded for his sin to be pardoned, and he scrubbed and scoured the stain with all his might.”

We know what is in his heart, but we have no idea what kind of kippah was on his head, how he voted, or where he sent his children to school (which would help us pigeonhole him). And we should be thankful we aren’t told, because there was a time when the religious were not clearly demarcated into various camps.

From the interview with the author in the current issue of the Jewish Action one can gain an inkling of the direction from which the author, R. Sabato, is coming. From a review of his earlier two novels, Aleppo Tales and Adjusting Sights, a picture emerges of an author, indeed an entire segment of Sefardi Jewry, that is complex and resists labelling. As we wrote in Haaretz, R. Sabato

presents a spiritual journey in which Ezra faces his troubled past. A simple soul living in an old neighborhood of Jerusalem, Ezra delights in the performance of everyday religious duties like donning tefillin and reciting psalms. He enjoys the camaraderie of his fellow Aleppo Jews in their neighborhood synagogue, and gains fulfillment through respectful relationships with admired sages

Were the Jewish people better off before the sub-divisions into different Orthodoxies?
Maybe someone who attends the Oct. 16 evening devoted to the Dawning of the Day will ask the author, “Was Ezra Siman Tov haredi?”

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46 comments to Was Ezra haredi?

  • Joel Rich

    Reminds me of “The Elephant and The Jewish Problem” – the lens that any of us view the world through impacts our perception of reality.

    GT

  • Micha Berger

    Didn’t Judaism start with twelve Orthodoxies? I do not believe there ever ”

    Judaism would be healthier when we realize that the body needs different organs, and the various subcommunities worked together in concert. But there is health in diversity; ask any portfolio advisor. “Educate the child according to his way” implies that our children are better served into their adulthood if there is a community that encourages something similar to that “way” once they grow up. (Exact matches are impossible; the only person who exactly matches an Ism is its discoverer.)

    -mi

  • Shira Schmidt

    In one sentence – I was lamenting the loss of the generic observant Jew.

  • hp

    Shira, I usually identify myself (when occassion calls for it) as an observant Jew, or a Torah true Jew. I find the term “orthodox” uncomfortable, as it was a term foisted upon observant Jewry by the Reform movement, in reference to those Jews who did not accept their “enlightened” and modern formulas for Judaism. The term “Modern Orthodox” has too many variations to be a meaningful term, and “ultra” orthodox is quite offensive, even when coming from a fellow, albeit “less ultra”, Jew.

    So I agree- let’s get rid of these labels, and work on strenghthening our identities as observant Jews, our mission to do the will of H-Shm. We can have separate minhagim, different community strengths, and excell in varying areas. So long as we believe in the 13 ma’aminim, and strive to keep the mitsvos with the guidance of our teahers, we are observant, Torah true, Jews. And anybody who is not yet there is our brother and sister, with great potential to observe H-Shm’s Torah as well, if we inspire them the right way. Let’s not give in to these divisive labels.

  • S.

    >In one sentence – I was lamenting the loss of the generic observant Jew.

    As far as I can tell that is being replaced by a new generic observant Jew, even though there is still fragmentation. Today there is a tendency towards what I think can best be described (if crudely) as chulent. Everything is mixed. A vort from the Baal Shem Tov coexists in the minds of many with a hanhaga from R. Hayyim Brisker. There is the loss of communal minhagim and nusach, being replaced by…something. In my view there are some positive and negative points to this phenomenon, but phenomenon it is. There is a tendency towards homogeneity.

  • david guttmann

    What I find disturbing is that it seems in the past there were two groups, observant and non observant jews. Within the observant group the arguments dealt with Hashkafah issues rather than different practices which we translate into level of observances. Every town had a Rav who passkened according to his understanding and people followed him. Everybody knew that in another town the psak may differ. “Nehara Nehara Upashtei”. Nowadays we measure and fight over practice, humra etc… The dialogue has deteriorated from Milei Deshmaya to Milei Deshtussa!

    Moadim Lesimcha.

  • Chareidi Leumi

    S.,

    When I lived in Nof Ayalon, there was a minyan that consisted of people of very different traditions and the result was a mish-mash of minhagim which worked surprisingly well together.

    Of course, we preferred the term Sallad minyan to chullent minyan. The pieces of the salad tend to still keep their particular identity. :)

  • mycroft

    In one sentence – I was lamenting the loss of the generic observant Jew.

    Comment by Shira Schmidt

    Was there ever such an animal-for starters Kabbilists vs Rationalists. Those wanting peace with Rome-those wantibg to fight.
    Zionists vs anti-Zionists. R Emden vs R. Yonatan Eibschutz. Rambam vs. Raavad. Hassidism vs Mitnaggim and on and on

  • Baruch Horowitz

    “When did Torah-observant Jewry divide into Orthodox, modern Orthodox, ultra-Orthodox, etc.? Were Moshe Rabbenu, Ezra & Nehemia, Maimonides, Rashi, and Yehuda Halevi haredim?”

    The Rambam, if one takes his writings as a whole, was neither charedie nor modern-Orthodox, as the terms are used today. However, the collective Mesorah(tradition) consists not only of the Rambam’s Moreh, but also of the mysticism of the Arizal and the emuna peshuta(experiential faith) of the Chofetz Chaim. Were the Rambam alive today, I think he would vigorously argue his positions, but ultimately defer to the Torah leadership of today’s generation, however broad such leadership may be(see Rosh Hashanah 25a-25b).

    ” I was lamenting the loss of the generic observant Jew.”

    A relative of mine was asked by his ten year old son at the Shabbos table, “what are we, Abba”? I would have left it simply as “Jews” or “Shomrei Torah U’mitzvos”, but his son persisted and wanted to know if the family was “American, modern, yeshivish, or heimish”(they were able to eliminate Chassidic, although the father said he was a “chassid at heart” :) ). Furthermore, “modern-Orthodox” and “Charedie” are further subdivided into at least two groups each, as are also some Chassidic groups, so it can be quite confusing for anyone, certainly for a child.

    From my perspective, the splintering in the yeshiva world, particularly in the last few years is painful. I think it is more useful to view the Charedie world, and Orthodoxy in general as an umbrella group, like the Thirteen Colonies– a loose confederation of states coming together for mutual benefit.

    However one can not focus only on the negative and ignore examples of unity(Siyum Hashas, Hatzalah, etc.), otherwise one risks becoming cynical. Differences and conflict in any group or nation are to be expected, and always existed historically, as shown by Mycroft’s examples. According to the Tanya(32nd perek), Jewish unity is based on the fact that the roots of all of our souls are one entity, and differences are only due to any physical differences(“gufim mechulakim”). Also, in Messianic times, there will be “one nation… one king… and they shall be no more two nations”(Yechezkiel 37:22).

    See also here:

    http://www.aish.com/spirituality/prayer/Hear_O_Israel_Part_3_-_Jewish_Unity.asp

  • Steve Brizel

    Look at it this way-Aleppo’s Torah community contributed much to our way of life. Yet, one can argue that this community, by dint of its location, almost had nothing to do with many of the disputes mentioned by Mycroft. OTOH, Ezra HaSofer can be properly viewed as a major figure in the restoration of Bayis Sheni.

  • Baruch Horowitz

    This is also a good aricle on the topic from David Mandel of Ohel. From the end of the article:

    “People need to be comfortable with themselves, secure in their own skin, in order to find their place in the community. Dr. David Pelcovitz often speaks of the resilience of human beings, the inner strength people have that carries them through difficult times. Dr. Abraham Twerski is renowned for stressing the importance of self-esteem and positive self-image.

    As long as we’re comfortable with who we are and what we want to be, and as long as we don’t feel pressured or compelled to be someone or something we’re not ready to be or don’t want to be, we can be in the Center, the Right, the Left – or anywhere else on the spectrum.

    And please, let’s leave the labeling to clothing and food, not people. ”

    http://www.jewishpress.com/page.do/18267/%3Ci%3EBlack_Hat,_Gray_Hat,_No_Hat%3C%2Fi%3E__Reflections_on_Orthodox_Factionalism_.html

  • mycroft

    Look at it this way-Aleppo’s Torah community contributed much to our way of life. Yet, one can argue that this community, by dint of its location, almost had nothing to do with many of the disputes mentioned by Mycroft. OTOH, Ezra HaSofer can be properly viewed as a major figure in the restoration of Bayis Sheni.

    Comment by Steve Brizel

    Steve: Your point is well taken-but my examples are very much Eurocentric examples-BUT if I had been a Yeminite for example I could describe the debates about 100-200 years ago by those who followed solely the RAMBAM and those who followed mystical amulets etc a la Kabbalists. Trivia I believe it was the grandfather of the late R, Yoseoh Kapach-of RAMBAM, fame-and other Arabic translations Saadiah etc who led the Yeminite counterreformation against mysticism and back to the RAMBAM.

    Aleppo’s Torah community contributed much to our way of life

    Often forgotten by us Western Jews.

  • Joel Rich

    Were the Rambam alive today, I think he would vigorously argue his positions, but ultimately defer to the Torah leadership of today’s generation, however broad such leadership may be(see Rosh Hashanah 25a-25b).
    ============================================

    I tend to doubt this unless there were a functioning Sanhedrin and it was a case of determining the new moon (the case in the Gemora you quote). Without the ability to sit together and reach a conclusion based on extrensive interactions of the best and brightest (as was the case with the Sanhedrin), IIUC the Rambam would be sure he was correct and thus be forced to maintain his opinions. (This is a gross oversimplification of the issues by me -for more detail see the gemara in Horiyot 2a&b, the Yerushalmi Horiyot as well as the sifrei on “Lo Tasur” and how the later authorities seek to reconcile all these.)

    Moadim Lsimcha,

  • mycroft

    Were the Rambam alive today, I think he would vigorously argue his positions, but ultimately defer to the Torah leadership of today’s generation, however broad such leadership may be(see Rosh Hashanah 25a-25b).
    ========================================

    I tend to doubt this unless there were a functioning Sanhedrin and it was a case of determining the new moon (the case in the Gemora you quote). Without the ability to sit together and reach a conclusion based on extrensive interactions of the best and brightest (as was the case with the Sanhedrin), IIUC the Rambam would be sure he was correct and thus be forced to maintain his opinions

    I agree with Joel Rich, In fact the RAMBAM would be very contentious-note he never refers to Rashi and lived 100 years after Rashi,-workd sdid spread at that time note the Ravaad was a few years older than the Rambam commented on the Rambam from Egypt while the Ravad was in Provence- The Rambam writes to his son don’t listen to any of the French except for the Ibn Ezra.

    The Ranbam was a pure montheist-he probably would not accept Kabballah. He would probably think bleuevers in that are not pure monotheists. Obviously, we do-as Kabbalists are very much accepted in the mainstream.

  • Baruch II

    “However one can not focus only on the negative and ignore examples of unity(Siyum Hashas, Hatzalah, etc.),”

    Baruch – in an ideal setting, the Siyum Hashas would and should be an example of unity, at least across the Orthodox spectrum. Unfortunately, as it is currently conceived and constructed, the Siyum leadership is hardly representative of this “rainbow coalition” despite the diversity of its celebrants. It is a day/night for Agudas Yisroel to strut – which in a certain respect is perfectly understandable but nevertheless missing (intentionally so) the unity you’re referring to.

  • Baruch Horowitz

    “the Siyum leadership is hardly representative of this “rainbow coalition” despite the diversity of its celebrants”

    I agree, and I am also not naïve about the fact that there may have been various behind the scenes factional or political maneuvering that may have occurred, as one blogger mentioned to me. Nevertheless, there *was* significant achdus(unity), even if it was not utopian. We should be happy and satisfied with what is realistically possible: tofasta merubah lo tofasta.

    The fact that there was mention at the Siyum, by a member of Agudah’s executive leadership, of prayers to be said on behalf of “the brave soldiers who protect the Am Hayoshev B’tzion” was a positive step, as was mention of the “members of OU-affiliated synagogues” attending the event(quotes are from my memory). Likewise, both the Orthodox Union and RIETS(Yeshiva University) took out advertisements in the Jewish Press congratulating Agudah on the kiddush Hashem made by the event, as well as for the positive display of unity.

    As far as RIETS roshei yeshiva speaking, I think that it is unrealistic at this point in time, at least in the main venue(MSG). It should be noted that Agudah was also trying to bring in groups on its Right, like Chassidim and the very yeshivish.

    Perhaps one idea would be to have a RIETS rosh yeshiva speak at a smaller venue and then broadcast to the main arena short clips in the form of an audio/video montage of speakers from other venues, in place of downloading entire speeches from other events(as it was, people complained about the unanticipated lengthiness of the program). Perhaps everyone would be satisfied, or perhaps not, but it is an idea.

    I had a lengthy exchange with another blogger about this:

    http://bhorowitz.blogspot.com/2006/10/siyim-hashas-unity.html

  • dilbert

    Interesting that those who yearn for ‘generic observant Jews’ are the some of the same who look to deny legitimacy to YCT and UTJ, inter alia. Before enlightenment in Europe, one could either be part of the Jewish community, or convert out. One could not be Jewish and not part of the community. Therefore, it was a lot easier to enforce communal norms. Since the enlightenment, and with the rise of Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, etc., there are many options. Some of the options are within Halachic boundaries, some are not. And, each group draws its halachic boundaries in a different way. And, many groups hold that non-halachic groups and Jews should not be dealt with or recognized. That is the present situation in a nutshell. I just recieved a mailing from the UTJ, outlining its positions. I cannot find anything in it that is against halacha. However, I am sure that many readers(and probably bloggers) here would find something objectionable. Perhaps that they refer to Torah min haShamayim rather than Torah m’Sinai. Or hold that what counts most is the quality of a halachic arguement, rather than who makes it(contrary to da’as Torah doctrine). The only way to have the ‘generic orthodox Jew’ is to have as lenient as possible(but still halachic) recognizable border on the left, and to stop having ‘litmus tests’ and ‘heresy hunts’ among those who accept the border. And pigs will be flying soon.

  • mycroft

    An interesting question there were approximately 3 million Jews in the World 2000 years ago-and approximately 10% of the known worlds population-what happened-in general persecution is not the answer. Why have we lost so much-is Off the derech really not something new?

  • Baruch Horowitz

    “The only way to have the ‘generic orthodox Jew’ is to have as lenient as possible(but still halachic) recognizable border on the left…”

    I don’t think that you can force people to abandon their hashkafos(Torah philosophy) in the name of achdus. Sadly, the only unity in certain cases, would then be on the individual and personal levels such as sharing simchos(happy occasions), and lo elinu, participating in another’s misfortune. Also, those critiquing Chovvei Torah should bear in mind Tanya( Likuite Amorim 32) which talks of “bringing in people with bonds of love”, even as one is critical(the Chazon Ish has said a similar thing as well).

    Rabbi Amos Bunim in his recent article “Toras Emes and Modernity” regarding Chovevei Torah kept this in mind, I think, in the following paragraph:

    “What needs to be done now is to reevaluate many of the positions and philosophies that have developed within this new movement, with an eye toward reestablishing the primacy of Toras emes. *My wish for them is, “chazak ve’ematz” in Torah values* ”

    Related to the issue of Jewish unity and diversity, is the issue of finding appropriate forums for people with diverse needs to express themselves in a proper way. In the next month, the issues of blogs and kavod hatorah(respecting Torah scholars), which is an important one, will be getting attention on the communual level. However, since the Jewish people are a diverse people with different needs, the appropriate forums for self-expression need to be found. This is really the crux of the issue as opposed to merely the symptom, IMO.

  • dilbert

    Having reread my post, I dont see anything where I advocated forcing people to abandon their point of view. However, there is a difference between advocating a certain point of view on one hand, and rejecting all other points of view on the other. What is not one’s point of view does not neccessarily have to be non-halachic. I accept Rav Elyashiv as part of the halachic community even though I think his banning certain books is dead wrong and totally unjustified. However, I dont think that banning the books is totally outside of halacha, and therefore I think of Rav Elyashiv as a halachic Jew. I am sure that there are those who think that what UTJ or YCT does is wrong and unjustified as well. However, if you look carefully, they are within traditionally accepted parameters of halacha. Of course, if you insist on defining the parameters by the Chazon Ish or even RYBS(Steve Brizel), then they might be outside halachic parameters. But, halacha is much more than RYBS, the Chazon Ish, or even the Mishna Brura. It goes all the way back to different shitot in the mishna/gemara, geonim, etc. Nobody holds by every word of the shulchan aruch, despite our depiction of ourselves as ‘shulchan aruch’ Jews.

    No one is asking anyone to give up their view. However, a traditional view of halacha, rather than a narrow one, will result in a group of people uniformly commited to halacha and Yiddishkeit. If every group is going to have a narrow view of what is acceptable halacha, then there will be no achdus, only people slinging accusations of heresy and apikorsus.

  • Baruch Horowitz

    “However, there is a difference between advocating a certain point of view on one hand, and rejecting all other points of view on the other”

    I agree partially. I think that the more traditional Orthodox communities should be very careful about declaring even a view(not only a person), as beyond the pale. I think that this was one of the concerns of Rav Yosef Albo. Once a person feels “I’m guilty of Kefirah anyway” in the minds of those who are more Frum, then he or she will say, “who cares what they say about anything else”?

    The same goes for change in minhagim. It is true that this was a slippery slope, regarding Reform, but it is, hopefully, not a given. On the other hand, one can indeed protest against haskafos and hanhagos which one feels are “pushing the envelope”, admittingly, sometimes a subjective term. The sensitive balance should be based on “smol docheik v’mein m’karev”.

    Also, no one is declaring that the people themselves as not part of being “generic Jews”, even if there are protests against particular views and opinions. But from a sociological perspective, it becomes harder,but not impossible, for *everyone* to get together on at least some Torah-related issues, besides say, support for Israel. If some of the right-wing has become polarized to the extent of considering an opinion of the Rambam as Kefirah today, and the left has likewise gone in the other direction in embracing some aspects of academic Talmud and Bible, then sometimes it does seem that “never the twain shall meet”, in terms of, say, a joint Lakewood-Chovevei Torah Yom Iyun.

  • hp

    “considering an opinion of the Rambam as Kefirah today”

    Baruch, can you give an example of this? This is an intriguing statement.

  • dilbert

    seems we agree. Unfortunately, even support for Israel is not a given in every community.

  • Baruch Horowitz

    HP,

    I was referring to the Moreh Nevuchim’s opinion(and others) on the issue of Chazal’s knowledge of science. It is not the topic of this post, and any event, I was not taking sides, but merely observing that there appears to be an extreme polarization of hashkafah amongst some observant Jews.

  • hp

    Baruch, it just seems to be an extreme word to use- Kefirah. It’s a mischaracterization of the “right wing” orthodox community, and being an observant Jew, I reject it completely. The likes of me have no place even describing such a holy individual as the Rambam, but I can only say that the sentence you used is offensive and has no basis in reality, debates about science notwithstanding. I know it was not the point of your post, but you need to be careful with off the cuff remarks that are blatantly untrue. I don’t think you can bring any evidence of orthodox individuals quoting the Rambam and labeling the Rambam’s opinion as Kefirah. Please be careful.

  • Baruch Horowitz

    HP,

    By “extreme polarization”, I mean when comparing the two groups referred to above, they are relatively on extreme poles; to hold that the Rambam’s opinion is Kefirah is a legitmate position in of itself.

  • hp

    “to hold that the Rambam’s opinion is Kefirah is a legitmate position in of itself”

    To hold that is appalling, not legitimate at all. The Rambam was a holy Torah giant, and no one of our caliber should have the audacity to “hold” that something the Rambam said is Kefirah. These debates are in the realm of the Rishonim. How can we even utter such words?

    It is well known that “right wing” orthodoxy inteprets some of the Rambam’s words very differently than do “modern” orthodox segments. It is unfortunate that after interpretating some of the Rambam’s teachings in a particular way, some segments of modern orthodoxy have determined that the Rambam is not the guide for the “right wing”.

  • Baruch Horowitz

    HP,

    I am not sure why you find that objectionable. There are poskim today, as there were in previous generations, who indeed hold that the opinion in question subsequently became Kefirah. I, personally, feel that the status quo in Orthodoxy has been to allow people to “hold” by the shittah as a possibility, and it is therefore unfortunate that recently, people have been made to feel that they are beyond the pale for holding or believing the opinion even as a possibility. But these are my personal feelings, and does not make the “hard-line” view illegitimate.

    I agree with you that the Rambam indeed should be a guide for modern-Orthodoxy. As I said previously(comment # 9), the Rambam, if one takes his writings as a whole, was neither charedie nor modern-Orthodox, as the terms are used today. We have to be careful of “kol hamoseif gorea”. One has to look at the mesorah at a whole and include supra-rational views, but if one disqualifies the Rambam’s views entirely, some indeed, might not take seriously things which he did, hameiven yavin.

  • dilbert

    Many of the positions that the Rambam held regarding belief in scientic results, philosphy from outside Judaism(greek, islam), accepting truth from whomever says it, etc, are considered by some to outside the pale of acceptable halachic viewpoints, and, as evidenced by the banning of R. Slifkin’s books, considered kefirah. plain and simple. If you want to try to re-interpret the Rambam to say that he didn’t hold these things you can, but that doesn’t make it true.

  • Baruch Horowitz

    Dilbert,

    I think that the Rambam would have recognized that the direction of the generation is to be left in the hands of each generation’s Torah leaders. Would the Rambam be happy in Yeshiva University, in Lakewood, or start his own yeshivah? It’s a fascinating question, at least to me, but it remains guesswork.

    Rav Dessler(Michtav Meliyahu, volume I, pgs 175-176) explains that historically, the different approaches to emunah(faith) were formulated in response to the needs that existed during different periods in Jewish history. Rav Dessler(Michtav Meliyahu, volume IV, pg 355) also indicates that the Rambam’s derech was designed for people who needed this special guidance. This is not revisonisim, after all, everyone knows that the Rambam’s seforim were burned. It’s merely taking an holistic approach to Jewish philosophy, and taking into account the needs of each generation.

  • hp

    Baruch, I hear you. I maintain, though, that debates notwithstanding, no one in right wing orthodoxy has ever equated any of the Rambam’s quotes as Kefirah. I think we understand each other, though, on the main points.

    dilbert, the Rambam isn’t here today, and we don’t know what he would comment on R’ Slifkin’s books. It would be of benefit if those who use some of the Rambam’s quotes as sound bites would learn the Rambam in depth, not cherry picking to extrapolate hechshers where they don’t exist. Perhaps there indeed would be a hechsher if the Rambam were here today, but assumptions to this effect are all too often made on a grand, sweeping, and absurd scale. As Baruch wrote, “the Rambam, if one takes his writings as a whole, was neither charedie nor modern-Orthodox, as the terms are used today.”

  • Steve Brizel

    I abhor the use of the term Charedi to define the Rishonim, especially Rambam or any other Rishon. However, take a look at the Sefer HaMitzvos where the Rambam in the Shoresh HaSheni ( IIRC-I don’t have the sefer here) ascribes a higher level of Torah obligation to a din that is either explicit in the text or learned from the Pshuto Shel Mikrah as opposed to a din learned via any of the various means utilized by the Chachmei HaTalmud which Rambam describes as an Asmachtah. The Ramban rejects this thesis vigorously. However, the Ritva in RH 16 goes beyond the Ramban and characterizes the Ramban’s view as not just unacceptable but either apikorsus or minus-check the Ritva if you need to see it inside. OTOH, see the famous statement of Rambam at the end of Hilcos Meilah re Karbanos. If you were to read it without knowing its authorship, you would be hard pressed to show anyone that Rambam held differentlty than Ramban on the desirability and purposes of Karbanos.

    That being the case, one should understand that some Talmidie Chachamim view the Yad as reflecting Halacha LMaaseh and the MN being a philospophical work addressed to the attack of Aristotelian philosophers. Others such as R Meir Simcha ZTL in Meshech Chachmah ( see beginning of Vayikra) and the Rogatchover try to demonstrate their unity and that halachos can and were derived from the MN as well.Obviuosly, the rise of Kabbalah after the Spanish Inquisition and expulsion led many to question the rationalistic views of Rambam. The points raised by Dilbert cannot be viewed as either MO or Charedi-but rather the view of Rambam. Whether one accepts or rejects them is simply a matter of whether one views them as within the Mesorah and noone , even Rambam’s critics on these views, denies their validity. They merely question their universal applicability-a question that remains unresolved and at the core of many discussions vis a vis Torah and the outside world. There is no question that Rambam is more of a rationalist ala Ibn Ezra than Ramban. OTOH, none less than RYBS viewed Ramban as expressing a more authentically Jewish POV because Ramban did not resort to foreign hashkafos to prove his point.

  • Baruch Horowitz

    Steve,

    An important source is also the Rambam in Hilchos Avodah Zarah concerning learning heretical material. As I am sure you know, there was an exchange of articles in the TUM journal between Rabbi Yehuda Parnes and others concerning this Rambam.

  • hp

    “The points raised by Dilbert cannot be viewed as either MO or Charedi-but rather the view of Rambam. Whether one accepts or rejects them is simply a matter of whether one views them as within the Mesorah and noone , even Rambam’s critics on these views, denies their validity. They merely question their universal applicability-a question that remains unresolved and at the core of many discussions vis a vis Torah and the outside world.”

    Steve, your position is well presented. I am in agreement; as I believe is most Torah observant Jewry.

    The Rambam was a giant, and we don’t have the credentials to assess any of the Rambam’s positions in a way other than, “how can I understand this better”, or, as in so many Torah discussions, after learning them in depth, “these are the two positions, we follow the position of the Rambam/____.” As an aside, Chareidi Jewry learns and quotes Rambam continually – just step into any Yeshiva. It is baffling that others may think otherwise

  • hp

    “I abhor the use of the term Charedi to define the Rishonim, especially Rambam or any other Rishon.”

    And Steve, I hope you equally abhor the use of “Modern Orthodox” to define the Rambam or any other Rishon as well. To be honest, I feel it is gargantum arrogance to engage in this type of talk.

    The terms Chareidi, right wing, left wing, MO, are primarily political terminology, and have no function in describing Klal Yisrael and their diverse derachim of serving H-Shm. They are generally used in a divisive context such as, as opposed to X, we as Y think think or do “this way”.

  • dilbert

    I certainly agree that the Rambam cannot be classified as chareidi, MO, etc. I was only pointing out that certain shita’s of the Rambam are reflected in the books that were banned. And that by banning the books, essentially those beliefs of the Rambam were termed kefirah. Another example is the idea that the science reflected in the gemara is sacred. The Rambam certainly did not hold that.

  • hp

    dilbert, thanks for your clarification. I do not agree that books were banned for “reflecting the Rambam’s shita’s”- you simply do not know if the books entire content indeed reflected what the Rambam would have approved of. I don’t think we are great enough and Torah knowledgeable enough to voice a personal opinion on this question. Certainly we would all benefit from learning Rambam in breadth and depth, to gain increased comprehension. As I mentioned previously, our 2006 interpretation of what the Rambam intended may be far from accurate, and we do not know at all, contrary to what you may assert, if the Rambam would have written a forward for it, with a haskamah on the back, or not. I think our positions might not be so far apart, but just needs some more nuance.

  • Steve Brizel

    HP-Obviously, we should be careful before we attempt to fit the Rambam or any other Rishon into ideological categories such as Charedi or MO. I do stand by the remainder of my post on this issue.

    Baruch-when you read the exchange of views between R Parness and R D D Berger, et al, it is hard to conclude that R Parness’s POV is the only valid POV on that issue.

  • dilbert

    The bare bones. The Rambam believed that science has validity, to the point that when the science of his time contradicted the science of the gemara, he held by the science of his time. R. Slifkin’s book reflects the same approach to the validity of science. By saying that R. Slifkin’s books are kefirah, they are saying that the Rambam’s approach to science is kefirah. Plain and simple. We don’t need to posit that the Rambam would or would not have written a haskama. R. Slifkin takes the same approach to science as the Rambam. Ban Slifkin, ban the Rambam. QED.

  • hp

    dilbert, I guess you have a need to feel very strongly that the Rambam would have agreed with the contents of these books, as well as all current scientific books, since you feel the Rambam’s approach was, “all current science supersedes the Gemarah”, hence the Slifkin books, coming under the umbrella of science, is surely unimpeachable as well.

    Having studied science in great depth in graduate courses, I find that approach a bit silly, but you are welcome to keep science on a pedestal, and “hold” that the Rambam felt the same way as you. As the Rambam said, let us stuff ourselves with Torah first- perhaps then we will have the clarity and wisdom to assess scientific theories and findings as the Rambam did.

  • hp

    And to respond directly to some of your comments:

    “The Rambam believed that science has validity”

    So does every observant Jew of every stripe. Implying otherwise doesn’t lend credibility to your comments. Perhaps you need to visit some “right wing” schools at science lesson time.

    “to the point that when the science of his time contradicted the science of the gemara, he held by the science of his time.”

    Every time? Indiscriminately? Perhaps you will learn otherwise when you learn the Rambam in greater breadth and depth, rather than relying on sound bites that have long lost credibility. Are you reading Sefarim, or have you come to your conclusions from reading periodical essays?

    “R. Slifkin’s book reflects the same approach to the validity of science.”

    We all have that approach. We all agree that science has validity. We just all may not accept every theory and “finding” that science has to offer. Neither do scientists, which is why ongoing research continually reveals new information that oftentimes are in direct contradiction to previous findings. Science is continually advancing because we DON’T have that the approach that our current scientific knowledge is infallible.

    So yes, since we ALL agree that science has validity, it boils down to, would the Rambam, as you assert, have agreed with the particular science and content found in Slifkin’s books. I know you prefer not to deal with the question, but a sweeping generalization that since the Rambam agreed with some of the science of that time, he would agree with Slifkin’s books, unfortunately begs the question.

    “By saying that R. Slifkin’s books are kefirah, they are saying that the Rambam’s approach to science is kefirah. Plain and simple.”

    Quite simply not plain and simple, but a distortion of the facts. The Rambam’s approach to science does not have any bearing on whether Slifkin’s books are kefirah or not. You seem to be confusing ‘approach’ with specific science.

    “We don’t need to posit that the Rambam would or would not have written a haskama. R. Slifkin takes the same approach to science as the Rambam. Ban Slifkin, ban the Rambam. QED.”

    The above may suit an agenda, but doesn’t add up. R’ Slifkin takes the same approach as the Rambam (I don’t feel knowledgeable and wise enough nor great enough to determine that this is so- I’m sure you don’t either), so therefore his books would automatically be something the Rambam would approve of? Ban Slifking, ban the Rambam? One doesn’t lead to the other. No matter how much the concept suits a particular viewpoint.

  • Ori Pomerantz

    May I make a recommendation? Dilbert, could you please cite cases where the Rambam accepted medieval scientific theories that contradicted the Gmara consensus about the same matter? HP, could you cite cases where the Rambam followed the Gmara on scientific matters despite a consensus of medieval science to the contrary?

    Luckily, medieval science was relatively stable so they were more likely to have scientific consensus than we do.

  • Baruch Horowitz

    Steve,

    “it is hard to conclude that R Parness’s POV is the only valid POV on that issue.”

    I indeed did not say that. To generalize, I think the position of the Orthodox academics on this matter would be close to that of the Hildesheimer Seminary.

    I think the issue is if everyone can say that they are on the level of the Rambam who studied heretical sources. Rabbi Carmy brings his and others’ experiences with RYBS as a Maseh Rav, but on the other hand, R. Parnes writes that the Rambam in Avodah Zarah can not be swept under the carpet. R. Parnes also wrote:

    “…Nothing less than a classically documented and formulated teshuva by a recognized Torah authority either in America or in Eretz Yisael can resolve this festering issue…”

    As I wrote on other blogs, I think a compromise would certainly be to allow students to avoid courses like Academic Bible or Talmud. As RHS said, it should theoretically be possible for a student from Torah Voddas to be able to study at YU without needing to be concerned about these issues.

  • Baruch Horowitz

    HP,

    “Ban Slifking, ban the Rambam? One doesn’t lead to the other.”

    The possible comparisons between the Rambam and RNS are in the areas of:

    A)Taking the pesukim of Maseh Berishis in a non-literal manner as far as the simple meaning is concerned(eg, days of creation) B) reinterpreting Torah in light of science C) preferring a rationalistic approach to supra-rationalistic approach D) Being less concerned with the multitudes who need to be protected, and more concerned with the searching intellectual E) The nature of the scientific knowledge of Chazal.

    I only have general ideas of both the Rambam’s and RNS’s books, but I would agree that one has be certain before making comparison’s between the two. It is true that the Rambam was criticized by both RSRH and the Gra for crossing the line and bending Torah to conform to Greek philosophy, the equivalent of the science of his day. But I do not know enough to make comparisons regarding A-C.

    However, in the last two areas(D and E), I think that the comparisons are clearer, even if RNS went further in some ways regarding Chazal’s knowledge of science(E). There are definitely some Gedolim who would likewise hold that the Rambam’s approach regarding chazal’s knowledge of science would be considered kefirah today, whether or not RNS took the approach too far(i.e., “tone” of his writings). Also, see quotations from Rav Dessler(comment #30) above, as to possible differences in historical eras regarding the approach to emunah (D).

  • hp

    dilbert, upon reflection, I think that even if we don’t have a mutual understanding of these issues, it certainly is not a prerequisite for mutual respect, and perhaps we should agree to disagree.

    How beneficial it would be for all of us not to divide ourselves with such black and white lines, and throw these divisive “wing” labels away. They don’t suit a nation such as ours. Don’t you agree?

  • Shira Schmidt

    Rosh Hodesh MarHeshvan
    I was disappointed that no one seems interested in actually reading the novel “Dawning of the Day” about the generic Orthodox Jew, Ezra Siman-Tov.
    Last year there was a lively discussion on cross-currents about the negative portrayal of religious Jews in popular and literary fiction written by Orthodox and lapsed-Orthodox writers. The N.Y. times Book Review cover article by (haredi writer) Wendy Shalit last year took such Orthodox bashers to task and created a brouhaha.

    The fiction of R. Haim Sabato is a welcomed change in the depiction of Orthodox Jews in fiction. In any case, all 3 of his novels are now available in English. I would love to hear some comments about these works.