Trembling Before Rashi – Redux

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By Shaul Gold

[Editors’ note: We received a large volume of comments, which were held up in the queue until Rabbi Gold could pen a response to their general drift. We have still not determined why so many of our readers assumed that “trembling before Rashi” is somehow the equivalent of granting Rashi veto power over interpreting pesukim. Rabbi Gold wrote nothing of the sort. Clearly, many rishonim disagree with many other rishonim; many disagree with Rashi. Rabbi Gold commented upon the tendency of many (and I have heard this myself many times – YA) to be dismissive of Rashi as hopelessly stuck in a primitive, literalist mode that is beneath enlightened moderns, chas v’shalom. Rabbi Gold argued that whether accepting his pshat (from which we always have something to learn, or preferring another, Rashi (as well as other Rishonim, but especially Rashi considering the centrality of his work on Chumash in the life of so much parshanut that followed) must always be approached with reverence. We will let Rabbi Gold explain in his own words.]

I would like to address some of the comments that Purim prevented me from addressing. I was, and yet remain, confused as to where I differ from many of the comments that I have read. I note that some comments seemed to focus on a sentence or phrase separate from its context. That can lead to other interesting discussions but may just mask the main focus of the post. I will try to recap and I hope that the message that I tried to impart will not get lost this time around.
Rav Nochum’s shiur was a powerful one, one that made a student think, and think hard. He had a keen sense of the p’shat tava, and taught his talmidim how to parse a Rashi, Tosfos, Rosh, Rashba, etc., and arrive at a clear understanding of the sugya. The lessons were road maps, not ends unto themselves. I described a specific incident, in a single shiur, to stress how even our greatest contemporary authorities, our great original thinkers, stood in awe and with Yir’as HaKovod for their Rabbeim. That yir’as HaKovod was essential to their Torah and to their lives. They learned from their Rabbeim because they understood “Im domeh Rabcho…”.

As to comparing my description to shiurim by other Maggidei Shiur, I sincerely hope that my previous post did not turn him into a caricature. I am sure that Rav Schwartzman and Rav Schorr, outside of the 4 ells of the shiur room, referred to their Rabbeim only with the utmost yir’as hakovod. Styles of shiur do, and should, differ; yir’as hakovod should not.

There are many talmidim that will, unfortunately, never experience rischa d’oraissa. There are plenty of reasons for that but none that are germane to the discussion at hand. I note that we are in agreement that all Talmidim need to revere Rashi, all Rishonim and many of the Achronim. I’m not sure where we part ways.
(Parenthetically, the story about the Sha’agas Aryeh is one I remember from my childhood. Alas, I am no Sha’agas Aryeh, although I don’t believe that his scharfkeit extended beyond the rischa d’oraissa.)
I did not come to represent a specific derech, but rather a general idea, central to approaching the study of Torah.

It seems that my deliberate phrasing of the statement, “We need to teach our children reverence for Rashi, Ramban, et al, and to teach them (and ourselves) that we are not the final arbiters of the truth, and that we need to submit our understanding to their superior ken and wisdom,” left room for misinterpretation. Allow me to try to rectify that.

We all understand that there are different types of disciplines and that each discipline works within its own framework. As such, the approach to a Rashi on Chumash must be different than to one on Gemoro, etc. Those that codified the halacha, used an approach that would not be appropriate for dissecting a sugya, learning a Midrash or understanding TaNaCH.

Amoraim do not argue on Tannaim. It would be fair to say that, to some degree, all Amoraim (ok, ok, not the Amoraim that were considered Tanna hu u’palig) submitted to the Tannaim. This did not stifle Torah nor did it end all creativity among the Amoraim.

The same can be said for the Rabonnon Savurai, the Geonim, the Rishonim, et al. Rashi never argued on Rava and Abbaye or on Shmayeh and Avtalyon. He clarified their opinions and gave us a tool for understanding them better. Yet, is there anyone that questions Rashi’s creativity and clarity?

I don’t believe that Rav Schwartzman ever argued personally on the Ramban or Rashi, nor did he, or any of our renowned Rabbeim, side with one rishon over another. At least none of my Rabbeim, like Rav Gifter , R’ Boruch Sorotskin or Rav Shmuel Berenbaum ever did. They elaborated on the machlokos and illuminated the sugya, and none of them ever stifled creativity or reduced our learning to mere parroting of others’ tomes. In fact, Rav Gifter actively dissuaded his talmidim from studying any of the later Acharonim until they had independently mastered the sugya.

The discussion that prompted my piece referred to a discussion of Rashis and Midroshim that were labeled, in the discussion, “fantastical” and whether such Rashis should be taught to children. That discussion does not belong here, at least not in this framework. Briefly, though, what engendered my piece was the intimation in that discussion that Rashi was a medieval commentary who lived with the superstitions of the time and that the “enlightened” moderns know better than him in certain areas. Ergo, a Rashi that doesn’t fit in with “our” understanding of things, whether scientifically, philosophically or socially should be elided or amended with contemporary understandings. That type of thinking can only occur if Rashi is nothing more than a medieval document and not a part of our living Mesorah.

It is a fundamental axiom that Rashi was on a higher plane than we are, both scholastically and spiritually. We must submit to Rashi, we must to Ramban, Rosh, Mordchai, et al, just as they submitted to the Amoraim and Tannaim that preceded them. If we aren’t trembling before Rashi and his ba’alei pelugta, if we can see ourselves as judges of their acuity, as equals or, rachmana litzlan, as their betters in some ways, then we have detached ourselves from Torah and Yir’ah. Such type of pedagogy is no longer in the realm of Torah, Kedushah and Mesorah. It is now merely Bible studies and its instructors merely purveyors of a scholastic discipline rising no more than Bertrand Russell’s triangle as chairman of a department of ethics.

A talmid learns from his Rebbe the verbalized ideas that he imparts, but he absorbs the unstated lessons even more. The Rebbe that lives with reverence imparts reverence and so, unfortunately, in the reverse.

R’ Nochum trembled before Rashi because he esteemed Rashi, he lived and breathed Rashi, he internalized and transmitted the fire that was in Rashi – and in all the Rishonim and Acharonim. His talmidim imbibed both the lomdus and the unstated nuances, nuances that he saw in R’ Boruch Ber’s reverence for his Rebbe, that he saw in his Rebbe, and so on. Without that crucial component, without the yir’as hakovod and the yir’as haromemu, without the concept of im rishonim k’mal’achim – Torah minayin?

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48 Responses

  1. Kavod for Rashi says:

    Netanel Livni wrote: “The Gra went so far as to ban the singing of shir haYechud in his synagouge even thought it was of much older vintage (it was authored by one of the chasidei Ashkenaz as is ambiguous in its pantheism.”

    The Maharal (Nesivos Olam, Nesiv Ho’Avoda 20) makes specific reference to the Shir Hayichud, and challenges its authenticity as a tefiloh authored by someone qualified to do so.

    There is a story told of Reb Mottele of Hornosteipel who had purchased a siddur of the Gr”a, and his son, Reb Leibele, who was helping him unpack, smiled, as if to take note that a chassidishe rebbe was interested in the Gr”a. Reb Mottele, a renowned talmid chochom (as attested to by his lomdishe seforim), commented that the hagahos of the Gr”a on Shulchan Aruch, as brilliant as they are, were only twice chiddushim to him – to Reb Mottele, but when it comes to kalaba, עין לא ראתה. The qualifications of the Gr”a in matters of kabala, while it is not for us to evaluate, were certainly above and beyond reproach. I may have a different mesora, but that does not diminish the position of the Gr”a the slightest.

  2. Netanel Livni says:

    >I won’t speak for R Gold, but will admit that I have long found this puzzling, and more troublesome to me than it is to you. But I don’t feel compelled to answer for every view out there, even of Torah giants.

    I also wanted to point out that the Alter Rebbe was not wrong regarding his analysis of the Gra’s point of view. It can be demonstrated that the Gra indeed found any sort of panentheistic theology heretical and that he saw the primary errant source for this theological position to be in the Kabala of the Ari. The Gra went so far as to ban the singing of shir haYechud in his synagouge even thought it was of much older vintage (it was authored by one of the chasidei Ashkenaz as is ambiguous in its pantheism.

    The Gra’s rejection of the Kabbalat HaAri was meticulously cataloged by R’ Yosef Avivi in his book “Kabbalat HaGra” (Yerushalaim 1993). Of course, the book is unavailable because it was banned as soon as it came out and R’ Avivi, who did not want to get into a war with the establishment, pulled its distribution. (I, however, managed to secure a copy :) ). The book shows that the Gra considered whole areas of the Gra’s Kabbala to be problematic and that he has a very different approach to reading the Zohar. That is to say, the Gra felt the the Ari was wrong and was fearless in saying so.
    (of course, the Gra was fearless in saying interpretations of the Mishna that disagree with the Gemara [but not in halacha leMaase]).

    One has to wonder whether R’ Gold’s attitude that reverence is contingent on submission was shared by those who banned R’ Avivi’s masterpiece. If we place limits on which positions can be taken in the search for truth, then we create the culture of bans we all suffer from today. In fact were not the banners correct according to R’ Gold’s logic? To say that the Gra considered the Ari to be wrong in no uncertain terms, to say that he would not submit to the Ari, is to say that he lacked reverence for those who came before him and therefore that he undermined the whole yeridat haDorot infrastructure. I am of course being facetious, but there is a slippery slope in R’ Gold’s words and those who banned Kabbalat haGra are near the bottom of that slope. I guess to sum up the machloket, I would rather suffer a bit of irreverence from my left than bans and limits on intellectual freedom from my right.

    [YA – You’ve set up a straw man, Nati. You can’t blame Rabbi Gold for the spate of bans. Not all slippery slopes can be avoided. (Remember the gemara about why Hashem does not destroy all objects of idolatrous veneration? The gemara’s answer that some people worship the sun – should Hashem destroy His world because some use it inappropriately?) People will almost inevitably take a good idea and pervert it. You know my rather public feelings about bans. Yet I identify fully with Rabbi Gold’s call for reverence for Rashi and Rishonim. I don’t believe that the latter must lead to the former.]

  3. Netanel Livni says:

    >I can report with certainty that Rav Aryeh Kaplan z”l held differently.

    I am sure that he did. However, that itself is highly problematic for the entire yeridat hadorot historiosophy. The Zohar itself was highly innovative and departed in a quite radical fashion from what came before it. Now, the traditional answer to this was that the Zohar itself was not a medieval but rather a tannaitic document written by rashbi and passed down to the elites of every generation. So one of two scenarios are possible. Either, the Zohar came on the scene and introduced doctrines that were previously considered heretical, all the while ignoring the authority of the earlier generations. Or, the Zohar came first, and somehow, R’ Saadia, the undisputed world leader of Jewry, was completely unaware of an entire school of Jewish thought. Somehow, the supposed messorah of the Zohar jumped over the most learned community in the world.

    [YA – I don’t find that so surprising. Nistar was not meant to be shared as widely as nigleh. Because of this, it was often kept as the province of smaller groups of scholars. Those geographically distant from them could have been wonderful talmidei chachamim, but remained unschooled in their content and methodology.]

    I think that the evidence is clear that the Zohar is mostly late document (although one that incorporates some very ancient traditions). The older mystical texts that we have were known to R’ Saadia, and in fact, he was intimately familiar with them. One need only see his commentary to Sefer Yetzira, the most important text of Merkava mysticism in order to see this.

    [YA – Maybe. Maybe not. Rabbi Kaplan maintained that Sefer Yetzirah was a favorite jumping-off point for authors a long time ago. Some of the commentaries to Sefer Yetzirah use it a a launching pad for whatever they wanted to discuss, without seriously addressing the content of that work.]

    >He speaks of where we train our spiritual sights, what we strive for.

    He also speaks of our ability to achieve higher spiritual, ethical, and intellectual levels than they were able to achieve. I believe that this goes against the spirit of everything R’ Gold wrote. To not submit to the rishonim but rather to try to exceed them on every front seems to R’ Gold to be a sign of disrespect and lack of humility. To R’ Kook, it was a spiritual imperative. I think that sums up the main difference.

    >As always, Nati, you raise good points. Ashrecha. In the end, these good points require some boundaries and limitations, and where we might disgaree is that I think those limits must come from the group of people that some our our Rishonim (!!!) called the “ba’alei Meorah” of each generation.

    I don’t think that in any of my comments I have denied the importance of the rishonim or the messoarh. To the contrary, I spend most of my intellectual energy trying to properly understand the words of those who came before. I revere all parts of our messorah, even those parts that I functionally reject in my own spiritual life. The argument here is not about the fact of respect or reverence, but rather regarding its nature and parameters. I refuse to let any man, no matter how great, be the final decider of truth for me. I will never submit my intellect to another intellect, not matter how much greater than my own. It is God’s most precious gift and to do so, amounts, in my mind to a rejection of that gift. R’ Gold disagrees. I concur that for now all we can do is agree to disagree. Though I fear the day when R’ Gold’s narrow point of view is translated to a real religious split … may it not come and may I not see it.

    [YA – I can understand that striving for greatness and insight. I cannot, however, accept the statement “I will never submit my intellect to another intellect, not matter how much greater than my own.” One of the 48 ways mentioned by the Mishnah to acquire Torah is emunas Chachamim. While we must always remain critical and skeptical (and I imagine that this is what you meant by that line), submission to baalei mesorah who dwarf our tzidkus, our understanding, and our depth is a good thing, not something to be avoided. As I’ve said before, I don’t believe that this need lead to stasis and paralysis.]

  4. shmuel says:

    To Rabbi Adlerstein:

    you wrote: “People read in their own thoughts to what they want a text to say – only skipping the nicety of reading their findings into a Maamar Chazal. The result is the same. People see Torah discourse about all matters outside of halacha is nothing more than a debating club, using bits of Hebrew and Aramaic phraseology to sound authentic. They therefore come to believe that there is no such thing as an authentic Torah view, or set of views – to the exclusion of those that are inauthentic.”

    Can you please give one or more concrete examples of this (the ideas, not the persons who expressed them)? It would go a long way toward helping me (and probably others) understand the parameters of the discussion. Thank you.

    [YA – I am going to devote a short article to this as a separate posting.]

  5. Daniel Weltman says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein’s explanation, both of my position and the semantic quibbling, is correct.
    I still stand by the “extreme” language that I used.

    Rabbi Gold, you seem to want to eat your cake and have it, too. Rabbi Adlerstein read your comments as simply decrying a lack of respect for the rishonim (and acharonim) that passes in certain circles. From the beginning, I have stated that, were that all you had written, I would have no dispute with you. It is not your “extreme” (which I have never called it) language that is objectionable, but your requirement of submission to the point of abdication of judgement. That you now tone this down to a demand for “reverence” is a good step in the right direction, for which I applaud you.

    it’s only a few little steps from there to calling Rashi a ” naif “, and others have all but done that.

    One can be reverent towards Rashi and still hold that his views were in part products of “naive” times. I once again direct attention to the passage from Orot Hakodesh. This, by the way, is no denigration, as any reader with historical consciousness would naturally recognize.

    Thanks for the straw man. Reverence is now Avodah Zarah.

    I never said that. Submitting our intellectual honesty and freedom on the altar of hero-worship, claiming a super-human plane for those who came before, sets those up as idols in our own minds.

    To paraphrase your argument, there’s no middle ground between scoffing and denigrating on the one hand, and Avodah Zarah on the other hand. (I took the liberty of balancing your parallel.)

    In an ironic twist, it is you who set up a straw man here. I have consistently been arguing for the possibility of respectful disagreement, which is a fine balance between scoffing and worship.

    Further, you submit that to respect and revere someone renders one incapable of intellectual honesty.

    I am surprised at the number of times you choose to misread what I wrote in plain English. I said that one who submits to the altar of hero-worship, is abdicating his responsibility to intellectual honesty. Surely you see the difference.

    that we give both the benefit of doubt and history to Rashi and demand that any critique of any specific Rashi be as exhaustive, complete, peer reviewed and second-guessed as possible.

    This is a fair position from which to start a discussion of how one can disagree with Rashi. I am sure that you, Rabbi Adlerstein, and the commenters (including myself) would be open to such a discussion. It is unfortunate that this was not part of your original two posts.

    If Rabbi Gold’s comment here had been moderated in the same way that my comments have been, I would have been happy to allow him the last word. However, since he is entitled to vigorous defense and I am left quite without editorial assistance, I feel it is only right to respond to mischaracterizations of my points.

  6. Moishe Potemkin says:

    It’s quite troubling that Rabbi Gold feels the need to slight me – my comments were in no way insulting that I consider myself Rashi’s equal. His list of five points completely misconstrues my argument.

    Notwithstanding his bifurcation of the world into modern progressives and naive fools, it in in fact entirely possible to recognize both Rashi’s incredible accomplishments, and to recognize that he was still human. That doesn’t negate the need for humility when discussing him or learning his Torah, it simply provides the opportunity for understanding emes la’amito.

  7. Netanel Livni says:

    >Read his new comments, someplace in this pile!

    Unfortunately, those comments to not move R’ Gold closer to the “rationalist” position.

    The spirit of his comments stand in contradistinction to that of (for example) R’ Avrahama ben HaRambam who famously said regarding the earlier generations that he will not be a “donkey carrying their books.”

    R Gold writes: “I stand firm. When you remove the trembling and the submission – which doesn’t remove the thinking or examining, (OY! that I have to state this explicitly), when you remove the reverence.” It is clear from his earlier comments that he limits the thinking and examining to apologetics which end up “justifying” the difficult position of the rishon (as if, when understood in proper historical context, they need justification). It is clear that any thinking or examining that leads to the conclusion that Rashi was wrong is beyond the pale for R’ Gold. It is clear that he considers submission to be a pre-requisite of reverence. These are all positions which stand in direct opposition to the type of critical thought and search for truth that I equate with true Torah study. I further believe that his attitude is what R’ Kook was describing when he juxtaposes those who will move beyond the limits of what the rishonim understood with those who would only allow submission to their words as spiritual paganism: ודליגה על גביהם, נגד האלילות הרוחנית, שהרבתה לה אלילים מכל דרי מעלה

    This chasm is indeed unbridgeable. I cannot pretend that Rashi was correct on many many points in which he was … well … wrong. Whether we are talking about the existence of mermaids and other mythical creatures, the usefulness of two letter roots in grammar, or the meaning of the word Pim. What we know today renders these positions of Rashi untenable for people who see the study of Torah as a search for truth.

  8. Daniel Weltman says:

    >YA I have no idea what bearing this has on the topic of our discussion. Rav Kook finds much to be applauded in modern evolutionary thought? That is so radical?

    Rav Kook explicitly says, that this concept of evolution applies to Torah as well, that sophistication and depth in Torah thought is itself an evolutionary process. Certainly this stands in contrast to the attitude of Rabbi Gold in his twin posts, that we must submit to those who came before and deny any sense of judgement of the validity of their words! Rav Kook clearly states that contemporary though brings us to a greater depth, higher degree of life-giving value from the simple (would Rabbi Gold like this?) undestanding that came before…and in this process, in the process of evolution within Torah, the divine is glorified.

    Rabbi Adlerstein, you have chosen to argue a different point than Rabbi Gold. However, it is his point of view that is under discussion, and that is why I keep going back to what he says. You say “All he means, I think, is that it takes some much consideration and deliberation to come to such a conclusion – whether in halacha or in parshanut”, but you must realize that this is not Rabbi Gold’s opinion as he articulates when writing that, “we are not final arbiters of the truth, and that we need to submit our understanding to their superior ken and wisdom”.

    [YA – Read his new comments, someplace in this pile!]

  9. Netanel Livni says:

    [YA – My comments are interspersed in brackets]

    >R Saadia’s rejection of gilgul stemmed from the fact that he had no real exposure to the world of kabbalah, unlike others.

    He had full exposure to those parts of Kabbalah which existed at the time. He wrote a commentary to sefer yetzira! (That being said, pre-Zohar kabbalistic works don’t seem to use gilgul as a major theme). To harmonize discordant views is good and well, but these are not discordant views but contradictory ones – and we can not truly harmonize them. Either the Zohar rejected the position of R’ Saadia or vice-versa.

    [YA I can report with certainty that Rav Aryeh Kaplan z”l held differently. The positions are indeed antithetical. But he believed that it was certainly possible that had R Saadia seen more material favoring the concept, he might not have dismissed the concept with the strength that he does. This is only conjecture, of course, but it does make life easier for us syncretists.]

    >OTOH, he reported the same basis for the dispute between the Gra and the Alter Rebbe (and sided with the Gra, of course.) To the best of my knowledge, people in my part of the universe indeed reject the idea of a “hisgalus” of a new, previously unknown part of the Torah by either the Ari or the Besht. They assume that what they communicated indeed had earlier mekoros that we cannot identify, without which any “new” elements would be questionable. Additionally, there is a key difference between invoking concepts whose origins cannot be found, and those that actually conflict with what significant numbers of Rishonim say.

    But that is not the position of the Alter Rebbe himself! He admits that this previously heretical doctrine has no earlier source. AND the only defense he makes for himself is that it is a result of a new revelation. Don’t get me wrong, I am squarely on the side of the Alter Rebbe on this. In my book, he had every right to progress beyond the limits of those who were before him. But leShitas R’ Gold, what the alter rebbe writes should be deeply problematic.

    [YA – I won’t speak for R Gold, but will admit that I have long found this puzzling, and more troublesome to me than it is to you. But I don’t feel compelled to answer for every view out there, even of Torah giants.]

    >I’m not familiar with the Ran you quote

    It is in the same derasha you quoted above.

    [YA – It’s now on my reading list. Haven’t gotten around to checking yet.]

    >I see nothing in the piece by R Kook that R Gold would disagree with. First of all, he mentions not disapprovingly our seeing ourselves as dwarfed by them. That is the essence of R Gold’s position. R Kook adds that we should not become so impressed with our non-significance relative to the stellar achievement of those who came before that we give up trying to achieve spiritual greatness. I think we can all agree about that!]

    He says more than that! He talks about skipping over their opinions. About not falling victim to spiritual paganism (of limiting ourselves to their opinions). Of only putting pure Truth as the goals of our investigations. We can bounce the texts of R’ Kook around for a long time, but the idea of the forward progress of our ethical and spiritual achievements – BEYOND that which the earlier generations achieved, is a clear motif of his thought and stands in contradistinction to the commonly heard doctrine of yeridat haDorot.

    [YA – He speaks of where we train our spiritual sights, what we strive for. I don’t see anything in that running contrary to the doctrine of yeridas ha-doros. But let’s say for the sake of argument that you are correct. The challenge would still be where to set limits. You will have a difficult time convincing people that R Kook’s license to go beyond the Rishonim translates into a wholesale license to be dismissive of their contribution. R Gold’s key point remains that our first approach should be to mine the depths of Toras Rishonim. We can agree or disagree about how far to depart, modify, or suggest alternatives later. What he (and I) reject is engaging in such a process without a full recognition of their role, their depth, their contribution and their siyata di-Shmaya.]

    In fact, I can not understand how the attitude expressed by R’ Gold can lead to anything other than the stifling of spiritual and intellectual creativity. The rishonim lived in a world so radically different than our own, it is impossible that we can find the answer to every one of our problems in their works. getting meaningful answers to our spiritual questions requires a living tradition. One not afraid to go in new directions not imagined by previous generations when necessary – of course all the while revering and learning from those who were the previous guardians of said living tradition. Yes, Rashi can be wrong. And we are on an intellectual and spiritual level high enough to say so. And in some cases, the truth and contemporary circumstances may require us to say so. To me there is nothing controversial in stating something which is so obvious – however, the fact that R’ Gold is horrified by such an attitude is, I believe more of a symptom of a negative and extreme form of reverence than it is the product of true respect to those who came before us.

    [YA We are going to have to disagree on this. I can’t see anything stifling in this at all. I can’t see any of us maintaining that R Hutner was not highly creative, culturally attunded – and possessed of an enormous amount of the yiras ha-rommemus (which does, in the end, translate as something more than “revering and learning from them”) of the Rishonim. I can’t see any of us disagreeing with R Kook’s stunning formulation in his hakdamah to Ein Ayah that we need both “perushim” and “bei’urim” in elucidating aggados Chazal. The latter are related to the word “be’er,” because it is in the very nature of Torah to yield new waters like a spring, i.e. new insights unavailable in the past.

    Once again, I will not speak for R Gold: I am so used to those who thought and wrote creatively (Maharal, Ramchal, R Tzadok, R Hutner, others) that I have a boredom threshold of approximately three nanoseconds in listening to or reading the output of contemporary speakers and melaktim. I share your frustration. But I have seen too much of what appears to me at times as tendentious nonsense, coming from people who have shunned all moorings of their thought to the world-view of Chazal. I would prefer, if I had to subject myself to this devil’s arithmetic, having to be bored rather than subject to personal musings that give me no confidence of their validity.

    I wonder if things have changed much from the times in which R Yisroel Salanter mourned the fact that rabbonim had made Chazal irrelevant to the common man by using their words as a springboard of their imagination, with each rov reading in his own opinions to every Maamar Chazal. R Yisroel believed (and so do I!) that there has to be a way to preserve the “real” intent of a Maamar Chazal (or the set of real applications or lessons somehow inherent in it.) What is happening today is really no different. People read in their own thoughts to what they want a text to say – only skipping the nicety of reading their findings into a Maamar Chazal. The result is the same. People see Torah discourse about all matters outside of halacha is nothing more than a debating club, using bits of Hebrew and Aramaic phraseology to sound authentic. They therefore come to believe that there is no such thing as an authentic Torah view, or set of views – to the exclusion of those that are inauthentic.

    As always, Nati, you raise good points. Ashrecha. In the end, these good points require some boundaries and limitations, and where we might disgaree is that I think those limits must come from the group of people that some our our Rishonim (!!!) called the “ba’alei Meorah” of each generation.]

  10. Shaul Gold says:

    DW says: “My point is that Rabbi Gold claims that it is axiomatic that Rashi was on a different plane than anyone subsequent was.”

    Rabbi Adlerstein’s explanation, both of my position and the semantic quibbling, is correct.

    I still stand by the “extreme” language that I used. You misunderstood me on two counts:

    “…than anyone…”: Rashi was, and is, definitely on a higher plane than you and me (and, obviously his current detractors and critics). It is the height of hubris to think otherwise.
    “…than anyone subsequent was”. Rashi had peers both in his generation and in subsequent Rishonic generations that were ba’alei plugta of his. Once again, you and I are not it, nor are those that wish to dismiss him. I stand firm. When you remove the trembling and the submission – which doesn’t remove the thinking or examining, (OY! that I have to state this explicitly), when you remove the reverence, it’s only a few little steps from there to calling Rashi a ” naif “, and others have all but done that.

    DW says: “For Rabbi Gold, if we do not sweep our feelings under the rug, and submit our intellectual honesty on the altar of hero-worship (to the point of Avodah Zarah, if you ask me), then we are no longer engaged in Torah learning but in academic studies.”

    Thanks for the straw man. Reverence is now Avodah Zarah. You contend that if we remove the right to be mevatel it logically follows that we have created a demigod. To paraphrase your argument, there’s no middle ground between scoffing and denigrating on the one hand, and Avodah Zarah on the other hand. (I took the liberty of balancing your parallel.) Further, you submit that to respect and revere someone renders one incapable of intellectual honesty. (I’m not sure where the “feelings” come in when dealing with cold, scientific logic.)

    The argument is reminiscent of the Hazony review of the Rav’s sefer that both misses the forest for the trees and misunderstands the trees for lack of the forest. It is easy to isolate a statement and presume to divine the author’s intention. It is harder to justify that claim when seen in context of the entire piece. I suggest that you reread the entire paragraph and reread it in context of the article as a whole.

    Intellectual honesty: A truly intellectually honest individual should always be ready to admit that he was wrong and should constantly second guess himself. That, by the way, is a form of submission. If one cannot do that, one is truly not intellectually honest. Rashi’s commentary has withstood a millennium of review. It has been analyzed and pulled apart by scholars for centuries. Intellectual honesty demands that we give both the benefit of doubt and history to Rashi and demand that any critique of any specific Rashi be as exhaustive, complete, peer reviewed and second-guessed as possible. Humility does not preclude intellectual honesty. (I still don’t get the “feelings” thing.)

    As to the Chasam Sofer’s “dismissal” of Rashi: Allow me to paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, A”H. “I ‘knew’ the Chasam Sofer, I learned the Chasam Sofer, the Chasam Sofer’s Torah has been an inspiration and model for me since I was a child by my father’s feet, and, Reb Yid, neither of us is the Chasam Sofer”. I find it ironic that the same Chasam Sofer that certain circles mock with sarcastic references to “chodosh ossur min haTorah”, the same Chasam Sofer who was one of the foremost fighters against the Reformers and ‘enlighteneds’ of his time, the same Chasam Sofer who gave his heart and soul to protect the mesorah, is being used to undermine his own life’s work. Attempting to turn the Chasam Sofer into a rationalist that ‘dismissed’ Rashi is both cynical and evinces a lack of context both of the individual and of his approach to Torah.

  11. Shaul Gold says:

    Moishe Potemkin wrote: “When Rabbi Adlerstein says, “Once again, the issue is attitude”, I regretfully infer that this discussion as simply another arbitrary tool for criticizing the non-yeshivish.
    My main, concern, however, is that when we feel as though we must impute super-powers to rabbis, be they rishonim, acharonim, or contemporary rabbanim, we are saying that the real people that they actually were (or are) are less deserving of respect. If we have to pretend that Rashi was somehow impervious to the infinite number of ways in which his cultural reality shaped his perceptions in order to respect him, and if we have to pretend that he knew things that were unknowable at the time, then we’re saying that the actual person he was is less worthy of respect, chalilah.”

    You raise several points:

    1. There are only Yeshivish and non-Yeshivish people.

    2. If the statement is found lacking in your eyes, it is, necessarily, “arbitrary”.

    3. People are either clay-footed or possessed of super powers. There is nothing between the imbecilic and the paranormal.

    4. All people have altered perceptions and are prisoners to their cultural realities. It is impossible to rise above or reject the cultural maladies (the “infinite” cultural maladies) to any perceivable degree. That would presumably include yourself and the secular humanist “cultural realities” that must shape us all and that none are impervious to, immune from, or can rise above. Ergo, you, yourself cannot escape rank subjectivity, nor can you be a fit judge, given your cultural realities, of any truth whatsoever.

    5. It is impossible to truly understand and embrace the Torah, Talmud and Halachah without 21st century enlightenment, ergo, the only way to understand Rashi is to assume that he either knew 21st century, progressive science, sociology and PC, or was unable to understand the Torah clearly due to his medieval misconceptions.

    Rabbi Adlerstein has been responding for me; in that sense, the response to him is meant for me as well. I will take the liberty of responding to more than just your points, as they are representative of a trend I noticed both here and in additional comments at a separate site.

    Many posters, including a blogger, have taken to demonizing my innocuous piece by labeling it “right-wing Chareidi” or some other appellation that safely boxes me into a “type”, and thus irrelevant to the discourse of “mature, enlightened” types. By doing so, they expose the frailty of their position. There is a self-consciousness and a lack of confidence in the verity of their belief. If the argument is not as strong or as grounded as necessary, one can fortify the position, modify the position, reject the position or just mock the other position that makes one uncomfortable in the first place. The path of least resistance is to “Bork” it, or, as evidenced recently, to “Bleich” it.

    MP, there are many different types of Jews, many different Chareidi Jews, many different “Yeshivish” Jews, many different Orthodox Jews, many different “modern” Jews. They all think differently and, to a large extent, defy blanket classification. Were one to attempt to generalize about women, goyim, Neologues or any other “protected” types, the hue and cry would be deafening. Isn’t it remarkable that when it comes to “Chareidi”, “Yeshivish”, etc., the silence is deafening? Or is the tolerance of some merely “arbitrary”?

    Moving on: Let’s posit that Rashi was a regular human, born of a human father and mother. Let’s posit , as well, that he was never known under the pseudonym “Kal-el” and didn’t have x-ray vision. Additionally, let’s agree that Rashi had to eat and drink like the rest of us. Given all that, would you place yourself as his equal – in intelligence, in breadth and scope of encyclopedic knowledge, in Yir’as Shomayim, and as a responsible transmitor of Mesorah, Torah and precision of understanding? Would you consider yourself his equal … in anything?

    If you do, then our conversation is ended. The chasm between us is too great.

    There are some that have intimated that Rashi was just another scholar, like themselves, who would be glad that the moderns are able to correct his misconceptions and, ergo, the moderns have the responsibility to correct his misconceptions. After, all, he’ll thank them one day!! [While this has been obliquely intimated here, it was explicitly uttered as a comment on a blog that was excerpted here in the comments.]

    Rashi, the saintly Rashi, reviewed his commentary several times, carefully editing and crosschecking his work. His commentaries to several tractates, that hadn’t been sufficiently vetted, were not published, although there would probably be much to glean from his drafts as well. [Afilu l’ta’ameich,] Is it possible to approach his works without a sense of awe and reverence? Does it not deserve an equivalent or greater sense of humility when scrutinized?

    A quote from a poster – from his own blog: “Second, Rabbi Gold apparently understands yeridas hadoros to mean that earlier generations are actually more intelligent than later generations …. Does this mean that gentiles in the past were also more intelligent? And does it mean that future generations will be less intelligent than us?”

    Aside from the fact that, like others, the poster puts words in my mouth that were never stated, and then proceeds to knock down the paper tiger he erected, the snarkiness of the rejoinder reveals the depth of the poster’s antipathy to his imagined foe. In order to dispute the point made in the article, he resorts to imputing that Rashi’s superiority demands an equal and appropriate superiority of his contemporary gentiles, etc.

    [By the way, if one were looking for an example of “tone” deficiency, this one screams “Me! Me!”. The question is snide, meant to mock and doesn’t deal with the essential statement “as is”. Much to our dismay, it seems that many of his fellow travelers need no more convincing than snide, scurrilous attacks.]

    Let me give you an analogy to expose the obvious fallacy in the reasoning. Would you say that all Patent Office clerks must be of superior intelligence, since Einstein was a Patent Office clerk? If one can be in awe of an Einstein, why can we not presume that some of our great luminaries were possessed of similar qualities? Now, if you leave out all the super powers and secret messages from the angels, but add Yir’as Shomayim and a level of kedusha that Rav Pinchos ben Ya’ir advocated reaching, is it possible that he may be deserving of, at least, the veneration given to an Einstein, a Newton and even of Obama during the 2008 elections?

    Do you really believe that Rashi was a naive fool that fell prey to the cultural mores of medieval society but that only the modern progressives, that have learned from, and internalized, secular humanistic beliefs, are capable of being freed from the shackles of narrow minded, misogynist, tribal beliefs and can finally teach the world G-d’s (god’s) truth?

    As to point 5, I repeat your quote: “… if we have to pretend that he knew things that were unknowable at the time”. Have you ever wondered why the Torah was given so many millennia before we were capable of truly dealing with it? Have you ever wondered how G-d thought that we would deal with this before the 21st century? Do you think that maybe He blew it big time, giving the Torah to “intellectually retarded” slaves [the Dor De’ah] who had none of the sophistication and scientific ken to adequately comprehend it? Should He have rather waited three millennia? Maybe He thought that people should just muddle through and mess up until the “enlighteneds” saved the day?

    Was the Bible nothing more than… a Potemkin village?

    Reb Yid, if the Torah and Halachah were unnavigable at the time it was delivered due to the “unknowns” and to the “infinite number of ways in which their cultural realities shaped their perceptions”, then we are in a bigger mess than you think.

    A good friend of mine, an Israeli who enjoyed playing with the English language once told me what I now must repeat to you: “change” your mind, and “keep the change”.

  12. Moishe Potemkin says:

    When Rabbi Adlerstein says, “Once again, the issue is attitude”, I regretfully infer that this discussion as simply another arbitrary tool for criticizing the non-yeshivish.

    My main, concern, however, is that when we feel as though we must impute super-powers to rabbis, be they rishonim, acharonim, or contemporary rabbanim, we are saying that the real people that they actually were (or are) are less deserving of respect. If we have to pretend that Rashi was somehow impervious to the infinite number of ways in which his cultural reality shaped his perceptions in order to respect him, and if we have to pretend that he knew things that were unknowable at the time, then we’re saying that the actual person he was is less worthy of respect, chalilah.

  13. Daniel Weltman says:

    Please indicate where you believe that R Kook rejected this doctrine

    I completely missed this request three comments ago. In the interim, Netanel Livni provided a source from שמונה קבצים, but the source I intended is found in Orot Hakodesh 2:19 (pg 537 in the standard edition). It is a short piece, but I will reproduce some of it here:

    “תורת ההתפתחות, ההולכת וכובשת את העולם כעת, היא מתאמת לרזי עולם של הקבלה, יותר מכל התורות הפילוסופיות האחרות…אנו מוצאים בו את העניו האלקי מואר בבהירות מוחלטת…וזאת היא עליתה הכללית, ששום פרט לא ישאר חוצה, שום ניצוץ לא יאבד מהאגודה, הכל מתוקן לסעודה.”

    And then, in 2:24 (pg 647): “כל אותן ההרצאות והדרכים המביאים לדרכי מינות הם בעצמם ביסודם מביאים, כשמחפסים את מקורם, לעומק אמונה יותר עליונה, ויותר מאירה ומחיה, מאותה ההבנה הפשוטה שהאירה לפני התגלות הפרץ…ובזה הגודל האלקי מתפאר, וכל המגמות האמוניות מתאשרות ביותר, ומקום האמונה, הבטחון, והעבודה האלקית מתרחב…ויש בשכלולו של האדם ארת עצמו ואת עולמו גם כן כדי להעלות מדרגות, הרי הוא עושה בזה ממש את רצון קונו. והמעלה הרוחנית המתעלה מעל כל מתראה היא ליותר מרכזית ביסוד ההויה…וכל ערכי המוסר מתעלים בעילוי אלקי…”

    [YA I have no idea what bearing this has on the topic of our discussion. Rav Kook finds much to be applauded in modern evolutionary thought? That is so radical? Find a time in our history where great talmidei chachamim did NOT take a “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” attitude to some of the Zeitgeist of the time, when they indeed found that there was overlap with Torah thought. Rav Kook is being hugely traditional in this, even if some people today go into a dead faint at the mention of the world evolution. Remember, R Kook doesn’t just embrace the idea – he predicates its validity ON EARLIER SOURCES, just as R Gold would want.]

  14. Netanel Livni says:

    >I think that “submitting” to Rashi means we need to humbly recognize that Rashi said what he said based on his thoughts, ruach hakodesh, homiletical objectives, etc. etc. the depths of which we cannot understand.

    But what if doing so is engaging in dishonesty? For example, Rashi to Shmuel I 13:21 is confronted with a word that only appears once in the entire tanach (an hapax legomenon). וְהָיְתָה הַפְּצִירָה פִים, לַמַּחֲרֵשֹׁת וְלָאֵתִים, וְלִשְׁלֹשׁ קִלְּשׁוֹן, וּלְהַקַּרְדֻּמִּים; וּלְהַצִּיב, הַדָּרְבָן.

    The meaning of פִים was a mystery to all the rishonim and they all gave different definitions to this word. Rashi, associating the word with the word Peh assumed that it was some sort of toothed utensil, presumably some sort of file.

    However, a 20th century British archeologist by the name of Robert Alexander Stewart Macalister, during his excavations at Gezer, found weights with the word Pim written on them.

    He found Pims and half Pims, etc. A Pim is not a file but a weight measure. And such a definition fits very well with the grammar of the pasuk. What the pasuk is saying is that the plishtim charged Bnei Yisrael an exorbitant amount of money for the conversion of their farming equipment into weapons of war. And Rashi, who did not have the benefit of the knowledge we have today was simply making his best educated guess regarding the meaning of the word. In my mind, anyone who thinks less of Rashi because of this has a very immature mind. On the other hand, anyone who wants to pretend that rashi was right in his understanding of the word Pim, is not showing respect to a rishon who I am sure would have danced if he was privy to the knowledge we have today. Knowledge that allows us to understand a pasuk that was closed off to the rishonim.

  15. Jewish Observer says:

    “Submitting to Rashi (and all the Rishonim), regarding them as on a higher plane, DOES NOT imply that we will never disagree”

    – I personally am not comfortable using the loshon “disagree” regarding our feelings toward statements of Rashi. I think that “submitting” to Rashi means we need to humbly recognize that Rashi said what he said based on his thoughts, ruach hakodesh, homiletical objectives, etc. etc. the depths of which we cannot understand. We can – and should – think in terms of how the psukim strike us, what we feel they mean etc. and if that differs from what Rashi tells us, all it means is just that – our soul is telling us what it is telling us, We can’t do anything about that.

    But to articulate it as “disagreement” makes it shound like we can sit on the same “bankel” in the beis medrash as Rashi, chas v’shalom

  16. Jewish Observer says:

    Parashas Vayikra has a great example of Rashi offering a pshat that is clearly not poshuteh pshat. On “asher nasi yecheta” Rashi brings ther chazal which homiletically explains “asher” to mean “ashrei”, as in fortunate is the generation whose leaders own up to their errors. A quick scan of Ramban, Ibn Ezra and Sforno shows that all give various alternatives of pshatim that are poshut, what I would call “cheider”, pshat. I (think we have to have the emunas chachomim to) believe that Rashi was obviously aware of all these alternatives, but chose the direction he did notwithstanding, based on the goals of his perush.

    Bottom line: to say that Rashi’s pshat is not the poshuteh pshat is not to disresoect Rashi, but to allow that we may not be so wise as to zero in on his lofty purposes.

  17. Daniel Weltman says:

    Dear Rabbi Adlerstein, I believe we are not engaged in a fruitless semantic quibble at all. If Rabbi Gold’s point had been that we must disagree with respect, with “trembling”, we would not be having this conversation. The fact is that Rabbi Gold is not saying what you are saying. Here is what you say:

    “Submitting to Rashi (and all the Rishonim), regarding them as on a higher plane, DOES NOT imply that we will never disagree.” Now, one may agree or disagree with your analysis of what submitting does (indeed, this may be a semantic arguement); however, it is clear from your conclusion that you allow for us to respect Rashi, and yet disagree with him.

    On the other hand, here is what Rabbi Gold says:

    “Amoraim do not argue on Tannaim. It would be fair to say that, to some degree, all Amoraim (ok, ok, not the Amoraim that were considered Tanna hu u’palig) submitted to the Tannaim. This did not stifle Torah nor did it end all creativity among the Amoraim.” Rabbi Gold believes that Amora’im do not argue on Tana’im. He further states:

    “The same can be said for the Rabonnon Savurai, the Geonim, the Rishonim, et al. Rashi never argued on Rava and Abbaye or on Shmayeh and Avtalyon. He clarified their opinions and gave us a tool for understanding them better.” And also: “…we are not the final arbiters of the truth, and that we need to submit our understanding to their superior ken and wisdom” It is Rabbi Gold’s contention that the chain of generations consists of one in which Rabbis do not argue on those who came before them. Indeed, he argues that we should not deign to know the truth, and if we feel the earlier authorities are wrong, we need to ignore that feeling and submit to their superior wisdom. Rabbi Gold does not allow for us to respect Rashi, and yet at the same time disagree with him.

    Rabbi Gold further claims this as “axiomatic”, and he states that if we reject this viewpoint, we are “no longer in the realm of Torah, Kedushah and Mesorah”. For Rabbi Gold, if we do not sweep our feelings under the rug, and submit our intellectual honesty on the altar of hero-worship (to the point of Avodah Zarah, if you ask me), then we are no longer engaged in Torah learning but in academic studies.

    That this is patently untrue, and demonstrably so, has been shown in many comments here. The biology of the female reproductive organs, the question of sponaneous generation, the issue of Earth’s shape, and the intricate question of astronomical calculations, are only a few examples of places where rabbis rejected the claims (yes, even halachik) of those that came before them. That they did this with respect and “yirat haromemut” is enough to make you, Rabbi Adlerstein, and me happy, but not Rabbi Gold.

    (And all this does not even begin to discuss the fact that when speaking of midrashic, aggadic, interpretive issues, much more leeway is taken by commentaries in rejecting views they saw as untenable.)

    With this in mind, let me reproduce my last comment on this post. What I was pointing out is that Rabbi Gold’s axiom can only hold true if all those that Rabbi Gold considers to be “of the Masorah” submit in the way he demands. However, if one counter-example can be found, Rabbi Gold’s claims are discredited. The fact that the Chasam Sofer writes what he writes regarding the medieval greats’ grasp of physiology therefore discredits Rabbi Gold’s claim that we may not argue on previous generations. Of course, Rabbi Adlerstein, it does not discredit the claim that we must argue with reverence and respect.

    [YA Sorry for being so pigheaded, but I still don’t see this fixity in the words of R Gold. His argument is by comparison, but it is not meant to set up mathematical identities. Amoraim indeed do not disagree with Tanaim. Etc. That tells us something about the way some generations looked to earlier ones (See Kesef Mishneh in Hilchos Mamrim, especially as understood by the Chazon Ish.) This does not mean that achromim never disagree with rishonim. They in fact do at times. All he means, I think, is that it takes some much consideration and deliberation to come to such a conclusion – whether in halacha or in parshanut.]

  18. Daniel Weltman says:

    >[YA – I still don’t see your point. R Gold never said that we don’t disagree upon occasion with Rishonim. He did say that we always approach them with huge deference. If we have no choice, we sometimes will have to disagree, as the Chasam Sofer does in that specific sugya. R Gold objects (and I join with him) in the attitude of bitul which we both have heard many times. It is directed at Rashi in particular, for his decision to be “midrashic,” rather than follow a different definition of “pshat.”

    My point is that Rabbi Gold claims that it is axiomatic that Rashi was on a different plane than anyone subsequent was.

    This is something you, Rabbi Adlerstein, seem to understand is mistaken, and so your comments in the comment section sometimes skirt the issue because you agree more with the commenters than with the post. I think in general, you are arguing for Rabbi Gold in your comments to comments, but end up denying what it is Rabbi Gold wrote.

    My comment was directed to Rabbi Gold’s post, and his thesis that we must treat all rishonim with the extreme reverence demonstrated by Rabbi Beckerman’s quotes from RSZA, is demonstrated false by counter-example – as the Chasam Sofer shows. When one tries to claim an absolute requirement, it only takes one disproof to deny the whole proposition. This is why so often agruments between the right and left become appeals to authority (as it did between Rabbi Beckerman and Rabbi Slifkin): because one side is making claims that can be refuted by one counter-example. That side further does not realize that all the examples in the world will not contradict one counter-example. To illustrate, if one makes the claim that all rabbis must have beards, one example of a rabbi (that all admit is a rabbi) without a beard will disprove the claim, all the examples of rabbis with beards notwithstanding.

    Rabbi Gold claims authentic torah study can only be accomplished with his axiom of submitting to Rashi. The Chasam Sofer (“did not bother at all with the commenteries…”) is a counter-example. No matter how many submit to Rashi, after seeing one who definitely is an authentic Torah figure not submit, Rabbi Gold’s thesis is denied.

    [YA – I may misunderstand you, misundertand R Gold, or both of the above. Or, we may all be engaged in a fruitless semantic quibble. Submitting to Rashi (and all the Rishonim), regarding them as on a higher plane, DOES NOT imply that we will never disagree. It means that we will think longer and harder for other possibilities before arriving at such a conclusion. We will do so with “trembling.” The Chasam Sofer disagreed, but he did not trivialize Rashi, belittle him, take him for granted, or otherwise diminish his stature. Too many other treatments of Rashi in his writings show that this is true. People on much elevated planes can still be wrong! The Chasam sofer came to that conclusion. I can’t see how that challenges the notion that Rashi was on a higher plane. Do you recall how he writes about his own rebbi, R Noson Adler?]

  19. Netanel Livni says:

    >Where do you draw the line? Perhaps belief in angels, or olam habo, was only a concept common to the part of the ancient world they inhabited?

    That question is way over my pay grade. That being said, speaking mostly for myself and a little for the small group of people with whom I learn, I think I can safely say that any proscriptive process is doomed to fail as it always has in the past. The answer must be sociological and intellectual at its core. That is, what beliefs allow a person to simultaneously live as a functioning member of the faith community while at the same time not feeling like he is sinning against his intellect, or the reverse. In the final analysis, my opinion is that we lose more than we gain by proscribing intellectual limits. It causes an ossification of the living Torah and in my opinion goes against the very nature of the living messorah, which over the ages has adopted ideas that earlier generations considered heretical.

    Just a few examples to illustrate my point:

    1) Rav Saadia Gaon famously argued that any belief in gilgulim is heretical. However, in later generations, the Zohar and later mystical works turned gilgulim into sometime close to an ikkar haEmuna (even if one believes that the Zohar was written before R’ Saadia, then one is still confronted with the fact that he considered whole sections of its text heretical). One way or another, later generations saw fit to ignore the theological stances of the earlier ones.

    2) It is not clear exactly what composed the theological layer of the Gra’s opposition to the Hassidic movement. It has been suggested, the beyond his sociological and halachic reasons, there was a fundamental theological dispute over Divine imminence vs. transcendence. This can even be seen in the Baal HaTanya’s own letter in which he explains why he does not consider it constructive to meet with the Gra and discuss their dispute: (אגרות קודש אדמו”ר הזקן, אגרת לד):
    זאת היא תפיסת הגאון החסיד על ספר ליקוטי אמרים ודומיו, אשר מפורש בהם פי’ ממלא כל עלמין ולית אתר פנוי מניה כפשוטו ממש, ובעיני כבודו היא אפיקורסות גמורה לאמר שהוא ית’ נמצא ממש בדברים שפלים ותחתונים ממש

    הנה עיקר העלאת מ”ן זה של העלאת נצוצין לא נזכר אלא בקבלת האר”י ז”ל בכללה, ולא במקובלים שלפניו וגם לא בזוהר הק’ בפירוש. וידוע לנו בבירור גמור שהגאון החסיד ז”ל, אינו מאמין בקבלת האר”י ז”ל בכללה, ושהיא כולה מפי אליהו ז”ל.

    That is to say, the dispute was over pantheism/panentheism, a doctrine which according to the vast majority (totality
    of?) of rishonim was an heretical doctrine. It was certainly considered so by the Gra and the rabbinic establishment to which he belonged and yet the Hassidic movement has not suffered for adopting this doctrine. The Baal HaTanya admits that this doctrine has no precedent in the ancient sources and is a theological innovation of the the Arizal and yet he adopts it and justifies it based on a belief that the Arizal had the status of revelation. We are not talking about theological minutiae here but rather about a doctrine that was considered equivalent to atheism in its day. And yet our kids sing “Hashem is here, Hashem is there, Hashem is truly everywhere”. The innovative theology one the day without having rishonim upon which to base itself.

    3) The Ran which is quoted above is himself very willing to interpret the amoraim in ways that were heretical in his intellectual climate. For example, he interprets R’ Chanina’s opinion of יש מזל לישראל as being subversive of pretty much any form of hashgacha pratit (which also followed Rashi’s understanding of the statement: שאין תפילה וצדקה משנים המזל). Of course, the Ran explicitly disagrees with this position of R’ Chanina without much recourse to the kind of stuttering the R’ Gold suggests is appropriate and necessary toward earlier generations.

    All in all, intellectual freedom must be an essential component of our chinuch. It does not even need to be said that the educational methodology needs to be based on and derived from our ancient Holy texts, however people must know that studying these texts does not limit their intellectual horizon but on the contrary, gives them a rich language and history with which their spiritual and intellectual life becomes broader than they could ever dream of! Will some stray into areas that are unacceptable to wider society? Probably so, however the other option of only interpreting the past in the light of what is acceptable in the present leads to the ossification and hamstrings intellectual and spiritual development.

    >I don’t see anything in this piece by Rav Kook that counters the notion of yir’as haromemus for the words of earlier generations. Rav Kook seemed to evidence it quite a bit.

    I do not see anyone arguing against the notion of yir’as haromemus. The disagreement seems to be over two major areas: Are the earlier generations of a qualitatively higher intellectual and spiritual caliber than we are? Do we have a religious obligation to submit our intellects to their superior ones?

    R’ Kook’s piece disagrees with both of these premises.

    The first On the one hand, it is impossible to compare the spiritual landscape of on generation to that of another: החשבון שונים הם! To whatever extent, they were greater, it is not directly relevant to our intellectual and spiritual goals, only to our sense of awe at their own achievement in their own spiritual tests.

    Further, to whatever extent, we revere the rishonim, they can never be allowed to limit our intellectual and spiritual ambitions. That this is not obvious from the above passage is my fault since I did not include the entire passage. Here is some more:

    אבל על כל פנים החשבון מתמצה, שההשתפלות שלנו לעומתם לא תבטלנו משאיפות רוממות ערך, ודליגה על גביהם, נגד האלילות הרוחנית, שהרבתה לה אלילים מכל דרי מעלה. ואנו הננו עולים בגאותנו ואומרים, מי לי בשמים. רק האמת המולטה, רק הגודל לבדו, רק המקוריות בעצמה, רק עז אלהים, דורשים אנו ונדרוש. כמו כן בחשבונות אחרים לא יעכבונו ראשונים. אם אנו באים למגמה, שמסיבות נמנעה מהם, בין שהיא שכלית בין שהיא מוסרית, אמונית או לאומית, וכבודם וגדלם, ומיעוט ערכנו וקטננו, במקומו מונח, אבל לא נפסוק משום כך מכל שאיפת עליה שרוחנו הומה אליה, ושיד הזמן מורה אותנו שהננו יכולים לתופסה …

    It is clear, that R’ Kook’s conception of yir’as haromemus did not include submission and the limiting of our intellects to their climate, but rather striving for our own spiritual goals. This is the area of disagreement and the chasm that I see no way to bridge.

    [YA I don’t see anything in R Gold’s position that is proscriptive. It simply urges far more caution and deference than others are willing to give. The example I’ve given talmidim is of a very bright undergraduate physics student announcing that he has found an error in one of Einstein’s equations. The student may be correct, and his search for truth should not be stifled. But he should also be cautioned to check and recheck his thinking, because there is a great chance that he, not Einstein, is making the mistake.

    In my circles, people try pretty hard to harmonize discordant views. R Aryeh Kaplan, zt”l, whom I had the privilege to know well, argued that R Saadia’s rejection of gilgul stemmed from the fact that he had no real exposure to the world of kabbalah, unlike others. I realize that there is no way to prove this one way or another, but it illustrates the way an enormously gifted and creative thinker handled the dissonance.

    OTOH, he reported the same basis for the dispute between the Gra and the Alter Rebbe (and sided with the Gra, of course.) To the best of my knowledge, people in my part of the universe indeed reject the idea of a “hisgalus” of a new, previously unknown part of the Torah by either the Ari or the Besht. They assume that what they communicated indeed had earlier mekoros that we cannot identify, without which any “new” elements would be questionable. Additionally, there is a key difference between invoking concepts whose origins cannot be found, and those that actually conflict with what significant numbers of Rishonim say.

    I’m not familiar with the Ran you quote

    I see nothing in the piece by R Kook that R Gold would disagree with. First of all, he mentions not disapprovingly our seeing ourselves as dwarfed by them. That is the essence of R Gold’s position. R Kook adds that we should not become so impressed with our non-sgnificance relative to the stellar achievement of those who came before that we give up trying to achieve spiritual greatness. I think we can all agree about that!]

  20. Dovid Kornreich says:

    The difference in approach between the Intro to the Commentary and the MT is obvious.
    In the Intro to the Commentary the Rambam is definitely trying to convey the proper attitudinal approach to Chazal which is one of intellectual submission to people possessing greater intellect and greater perfection of character. It demands that we invest enormous effort in attempting to understanding their words and never ever dismissing them as speaking superficially.
    In the Intro to the MT he is simply providing the legal authority that the Gemara possess over Klal Yisroel to explain why Chazal’s rulings must be obeyed in practice.
    It’s just two different goals.

    But I always wonder why the people who consistently deny the Rambam believed in Yeridas hadoros don’t address this Intro to the Commentary which is most explicit that he did!

  21. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    Rabbis Slifkin and Adlerstein: Actually, you are both right (and wrong). My own investigations have led me to the conclusion that the Rambam changed his mind on the issue of whether rishonim ke-malakhim is a fundamental axiom of Judaism. While in the Introduction to the Commentary on the Mishnah the Rambam bases the authority of the Talmud on the almost divine inspiration of its authors, in the Introduction to the Mishneh Torah he bases its authority on institutional grounds. Similarly, Prof. Yair Loberbaum has noted that the Rambam has a more critical attitude toward midrashim in the Guide than he does in the Intro to the Commentary on the Mishnah. I have (much) more to say about this, but “od hazon le-mo’ed.”

    [YA – 1) We pasken like the earlier Commentary on the Mishnah. He wrote that before he started college and studied secular philosophy [Just kidding.] 2) That’s one way to resolve the tension between the sources. As we all know, there are multiple ways to resolve (or not resolve) apparent differences between parallel texts in Rambam. I’m particularly not convinced in this case – although always ready to listen. I’ve used the same two approaches on a single day, depending on whether the classroom I was in was one of frum high school students, or a non-frum group at Loyola Law School. I don’t think the two approaches are contradictory at all, but he may have had his reasons for underscoring one rather than the other in the two introductions.]

  22. S. says:

    [YA – I think R Gold’s point is that any consideration of the accuracy of the position should be made from a position of koved rosh. One who has considerable awe for Rashi will not be so dismissive. He may indeed show the argument for three letter roots, but he will struggle to find justification for a two letter system as well. In the process, he will understand that either one can be justified. While most of us would prefer the three letter one, we will still find some utility in the notion of two letter roots – and the cognate position that three letter roots that share two letters are meaningfully related – a position that suffuses the Hirsch Chumash.]

    There’s nothing to be dismissive about. It is not, first of all, Rashi’s theory. It is the earlier theory developed by the early grammarians (not Rashi, whose grammatical knowledge was mostly derived from other scholars, while his application of these rules was original). The discovery that all roots are triliteral, while it had been made already by R. Yehuda Hayyuj while Rashi was alive, was probably unknown to him, and probably he would have accepted it if he did know of it. If I remember correctly Rabbenu Tam (who was a small child when Rashi died) did accept it. Why? Because it became known in France.

    Furthermore, there is nothing to struggle with. We know why the earlier theory was two letters. What do you do with two letter words? What is the root of “har”? h-r-r, we now realize, as in ‘harerei kedem’, but like most things, first a very wise person has to come along and figure it out. So at first it seemed that the root of “har” must be h-r. Similarly, until the role of the weak nun or other weak letters was understood, it was not understood. There’s really not much to struggle with.

    The true utility of understanding the theory is to understand the scholars, Rashi included, who used it. Therefore to understand Rashi we need to understand the theory. To understand the Hebrew language in a more clear way though, we need to understand the triliteral theory rather than give equal time in our own scholarship to an incorrect theory. To make it more clear, by “our own scholarship” I don’t mean “in trying to understand Rashi,” but original contributions to the study of mikra or leshon hakodesh. This is why I suggested that if we do not take a position that we will end up stunting scholarship. Surely one cannot be expected to explicate the meaning of a word according to the two-root AND three-root theory every time?

    Note that I am not saying that we ought to ignore Rashi, but simply that the weight of evidence indicates that one of these two theories works better than the other, and that unless we act like it we wind up stunting scholarship. You are correct that if one were to adopt an approach where both bi- and tri- are correct then we can end up with an approach like R. Hirsch. This is well and good, but that cannot possibly be the only permissible approach to analyzing the Hebrew language.

    [YA – Even better. We don’t even have to struggle to prevent ourselves from looking at Rashi as foolish or primitive, C”V, as so many do today. (More seriously, I fully concur that on a practical level – which includes deciding which approaches resonate with us, which we wish to convey to talmidim, which sefarim we want to spend more time learning – we make choices between Rishonim all the time. Once again, the issue is attitude, and the recognition of how much they contributed to our understanding of the Dvar Hashem. I am surprised that no one so far has used the phrase so popular in our generation to describe the way people like Rabbi Gold and I look at the Rishonim: אלו שמפיהם אנו חיים With those who can say that phrase and mean it, we have no dispute.]

  23. Netanel Livni says:

    >In looking for articulation of the principle, besides the gemara itself, you must have overlooked Derashos HaRan in the 8th derasha (pg. 127 in the Feldman ed.) where he writes: וזאת היא הסבה החזקה אצלי להתמעט הנבואה והחכמה דור אחר דור כמו שהוא ידוע ומפורסם (And this is the powerful reason for the decline in prophecy and wisdom generation after generation, as it is well known

    It exists everywhere in our ancient texts. I never claimed otherwise. In fact, the idea of yeridat haDorot was never a uniquely Jewish concept but was ubiquitous in the ancient world. Everyone believed in it. The very proverb of the dwarves standing on the shoulders of giants is of Greek origin. The idea simply fell our of favor in the gentile world with the advent of modern critical historical methods. The question is, is it still a defensible idea in light of what we know about history. Would the great scholars of the past defend it if they knew what we know now? The question is not obvious to me.

    Here is how R’ Kook understood the aggada regarding אם הראשונים כמלאכים:
    (Shmoneh Kevatzim, kovetz 3:8)
    ועם זה לא נעלמה ממנו גדולתם של הראשונים, ואפיסתנו לעומתם, ואנו אומרים, אם הראשונים כמלאכים אנו כבני אדם. אבל האם על מלאכים עצמם, עם כל הודאתנו בתקפם וחוסן קדושתם, גדלם ואימתם, “וגובה להם ויראה להם”, וכי עליהם עצמם אין אנו באים בכח הסוד, והאגדה בכלל, להתגדר ולומר, שמה שלא יוכלו להגיע אליו עם כל כבודם, אנו מגיעים אליו עם כל שפלותנו? החשבונות שונים הם. יש לנו עילוי של הליכה ושל בחירה, של התקבצות הדרגות השונות בחטיבה אחת, לגבי מעמד של עמידה, של הכרח, של טפוסיות מיוחדה למקצוע אחד, שאנו מרשמים את המלאכים…. כמו כן בחשבונות אחרים לא יעכבונו ראשונים. אם אנו באים למגמה, שמסיבות נמנעה מהם, בין שהיא שכלית בין שהיא מוסרית, אמונית או לאומית, וכבודם וגדלם, ומיעוט ערכנו וקטננו, במקומו מונח, אבל לא נפסוק משום כך מכל שאיפת עליה שרוחנו הומה אליה, ושיד הזמן מורה אותנו שהננו יכולים לתופסה. שם ד’ אנו קוראים בהתגלות החיים והרוח שבכל דור ודור, ופגם הכתוב כבודו של צדיק בקבר מפני כבודו של צדיק חי…

    That is to say, we must revere the ancients and everything they contributed to our messorah to get us to where we are today. However, like melachim, we can NEVER make them baalei bechira for our intellectual challenges. Their challenges were their challenges and ours are our own – we can not abdicate spiritual responsibility simply because we live in a different spiritual and intellectual climate.

    The corollary of R’ Kook’s statement is that if we make the rishonim k’bnei adam, that is baalei bechira for our intellectual problems, then we are like chamorim. If we treat them as malachim, great scholars that inform us regarding how to handle our issues (through learning about how they handled them), and yet, like melachim do not have bechira regarding which way we should go, then we are worthy of the status of bnei adam, who are defined by their free will (in both thought and action).

    [YA –
    Dear Nati,

    So you agree that sifrei rishonim are suffused with the idea, and that it is based on the gemara itself. You fear, however, that the concept was a borrowed one, and has no outlived its usefulness. You admit that this is only a fear, or a question.

    1) Where do you draw the line? Perhaps belief in angels, or olam habo, was only a concept commmon to the part of the ancient world they inhabited? (The heterodox have been arguing this for decades.) Do we discard important concepts because we see them reflected – perfectly or otherwise – in other cultures? If this is only a question in your mind (and I don’t see how it could be more than a question or intuition), is there a process whereby you resolve the question? Are questions about what we believe in important matters (even outside the ikarei hados) unanswerable, or are we supposed to go to the baalei mesorah for guidance? (Yes, I know that the last question is not rhetorical at all. It is one of the main issues that divides different camps within the Orthodox world. I will stick with the yeshiva world on this one.)

    2) I don’t see anything in this piece by Rav Kook that counters the notion of yir’as haromemus for the words of earlier generations. Rav Kook seemed to evidence it quite a bit.]

  24. cohen y says:

    “At least none of my Rabbeim, like Rav Gifter , R’ Boruch Sorotskin or Rav Shmuel Berenbaum ever did.”

    There were others such as R’ Ahron Kotler who certainly did. Yet it was agreed universally ,that only elite of the elite PLUS the test of time,should be given any credence.

  25. Charles Hall says:

    ” the ephemeral quality of modern scientific knowledge”

    I have not seen the *Dialogue* article and would like to read it and possibly comment on it if I have something to offer. Is it available online?

  26. Bob Miller says:

    What if submission to a Rishon’s understanding (assuming we grasp what that understanding is) means lack of submission to another Rishon’s understanding of the same thing?

  27. YM says:

    When the Vilna Gaon argues on a Rashi or says that our girsa is incorrect, that is the Vilna Gaon, who certainly understood all of the Rishonim. When R’ Nochum did it, he trembled and did it with awe, and he understood all of the Rishonim. When we, who don’t understand all of the rishonim do it…we just shouldn’t do it. We should just assume we don’t understand it.

  28. yy says:

    I agree wit DF that this article drew a definite “line in the sand.”

    When the writer responds with “there really is a cultural divide” and proceeds to ever-so-diplomatically malign his position with having “broken away from normative Jewish thought”, it became much clearer to me that this whole discussion is less about clarifying authentic Mesorah and more about making points in the growing cultural war between rationalist and mystical orthodoxies.

  29. Marty Bluke says:

    The following statement from the Teshuvos HaRid is very relevant to the discussion:
    “Should Joshua the son of Nun endorse a mistaken position, I would reject it out of hand, I do not hesitate to express my opinion, regarding such matters in accordance with the modicum of intelligence alloted to me. I was never arrogant claiming “My Wisdom served me well”. Instead I applied to myself the parable of the philosophers. For I heard the following from the philosophers, The wisest of the philosophers asked: “We admit that our predecessors were wiser than we. At the same time we criticize their comments, often rejecting them and claiming that the truth rests with us. How is this possible?” The wise philosopher responded: “Who sees further a dwarf or a giant? Surely a giant for his eyes are situated at a higher level than those of the dwarf. But if the dwarf is placed on the shoulders of the giant who sees further? … So too we are dwarfs astride the shoulders of giants. We master their wisdom and move beyond it. Due to their wisdom we grow wise and are able to say all that we say, but not because we are greater than they.”

    When we ask/argue on Rashi it is not because we think we are greater but because we have the benefit of everyone who came before us to help us understand.

  30. Natan Slifkin says:

    “I don’t accept that Rashi allowed any outside influences to color his understanding of Torah HaKedoshah. To accept such is to invalidate the essence of Rashi and calls into question the sanity and probity of a millennium of great scholars that venerated Rashi, agonized over an extra or missing word in his commentary and wrote tomes and theses based on exactitude of his commentary.”

    It’s pretty well accepted, by figures ranging from the Vilna Gaon to virtually the entire gamut of scholars of Maimonidean thought, that Rambam’s understanding of Torah HaKedoshah was colored by the outside influence of Greek philosophy. Does this invalidate the essence of Rambam and call into question the sanity and probity of a millennium of great scholars that venerated Rambam, agonized over an extra or missing word in his Mishneh Torah and wrote tomes and theses based on exactitude of his wording? I wouldn’t think so. So why is it only Rambam that can be influenced by his surrounding cultural context, but not Rashi?

  31. Daniel Weltman says:

    ענה לי הרב: אני יכול לומר “קשה מאוד” על החזו”א!? מי אני שאקשה עליו באופן כזה!? עפר אני תחת כפות רגליו! צריך עיון בחזון איש ותו לא

    Therefore, I did not bother at all with the commentaries of Rashi and Tosfos in this matter since it is impossible to match them with true reality. You should know this.” (Chasam Sofer to Nidah 18a)

    What the original post and many comments do not seem to realize is this:

    As soon as one example of rabbinical writing not “submitting to Rashi” as Rabbi Shaul Gold would require, his thesis is demonstrated false. Even if the majority of examples submit, if one does not, that proves the “axiom” to be non-axiomatic. The burden of proof for the Trembling Before Rashi twin postings is too heavy, because if claims a rule where that rule is demonstrably false.

    [YA – I still don’t see your point. R Gold never said that we don’t disagree upon occasion with Rishonim. He did say that we always approach them with huge deference. If we have no choice, we sometimes will have to disagree, as the Chasam Sofer does in that specific sugya. R Gold objects (and I join with him) in the attitude of bitul which we both have heard many times. It is directed at Rashi in particular, for his decision to be “midrashic,” rather than follow a different definition of “pshat.”

    As I wrote earlier, the importance of yeridas ha-doros in our hashkafa did not begin with R Gold, but is well entrenched in much Torah literature.]

  32. Natan Slifkin says:

    “What are the meanings of the anatomical terms mentioned in this Mishna? After I researched medical books and medical writers as well as scholars and surgical texts, I have concluded that we cannot deny the fact that reality is not as described by Rashi, Tosfos and the drawings of the Maharam of Lublin. We have only what the Rambam wrote in the Mishna Torah and his Commentary to the Mishna – even though the latter has statements which are unclear. However, you will find correct drawings in the book Maaseh Tuviah and Shevili Emuna…. Therefore, I did not bother at all with the commentaries of Rashi and Tosfos in this matter since it is impossible to match them with true reality. You should know this.” (Chasam Sofer to Nidah 18a)

    Apparently, Chasam Sofer had a very different view of how to relate to Rashi than does Rabbi Gold.

  33. DF says:

    The Raavad (Beis HaBechira 3:18) says the Rambam’s description of the “muchni” (in connection with the Temple laver) is “strange.” The Kesef Mishhna there explains that the Raavad was used to Rashi’s understanding of the Muchni, and did not realize the Rambam understood it differently. Then the Kesef Mishna adds the following: “I’m astonished at him [the Raavad.] If a man knows Rashi’s explanation, and another man has a different explanation, is that a reason to call that second explanation ‘strange'”? QED.

    Noam Stadlan – you are confusing scientific fact with your personal opinion. It is possible to Rashi to be objectively wrong about a scientific fact. But it is not possible for Rashi to have been “found incorrect” over his “biases” – whatever you think those were – about women.

  34. shaul Gold says:

    DF: There really is a cultural divide. The question that you have to ask yourself, though, is – who has broken away from normative Jewish thought and who is the mainstay. I must ask a serious question of you, as well. When referring to those whose attitude disturbed and frightened me, I never used language like “Left-wing/Maskilish/”. Why the “right wing/Chareidi” pejorative?

    Dr. Stadlan: There is a wonderful article in the new edition of Dialogue that highlights the ephemeral quality of modern scientific knowledge. I don’t know the extent of Rashi’s ken of the sciences and neither do you. There is, though, a beautiful midrash which describes a Tanna answering a Roman scholars question (based on the scholar’s extensive research) with a diyuk from a pasuk.

    I don’t accept that Rashi allowed any outside influences to color his understanding of Torah HaKedoshah. To accept such is to invalidate the essence of Rashi and calls into question the sanity and probity of a millennium of great scholars that venerated Rashi, agonized over an extra or missing word in his commentary and wrote tomes and theses based on exactitude of his commentary. Where Rashi wasn’t sure of something, or where he wanted to clarify that he was stating his own opinion, and not that of his Rabbeim, mesorah or of responsible sources, he went out of his way to say so explicitly. Rashi was a kadosh and his approach to Torah was that it is kodesh. I contend that he himself trembled before the Torah and all magideha, and that he agonized, with each word he wrote, over the possible “me’ilah b’hekdesh” that could occur with an erroneous explanation.

    If you permit, I would like to amend your statement as follows: “It is reasonable to say that (if) something that Rashi held literally now may seem fantastic to us, the difference lies in what we (think we) know about the world. We shouldn’t demean Rashi, but should rather recognize that our understanding of the natural world(which God created) that pass for current science advances is in a perceived conflict and needs further study.”

    One further point: I alluded to the fact that halacha, lomdus, chumash, etc. are distinct disciplines that run on different systems of analysis. I have yet to see where the entire compendium of Rishonic opinions regarding a halacha was rejected in favor of a more modern conception. Comparing the discipline of p’sak to other branches of study is imprecise.

    CH: Thank you for your comment. I was referring to a shiur pilpul, not p’sak. No contemporary Acharon will conclude that “Rashi” was wrong. They would try to guess at reasoning behind the different opinions. While that might serve as a basis for following one Risahon over another in the final halachic determination, that would not have been what occurred during a shiur iyun.

  35. Doron Beckerman says:

    In V’oleihu Lo Yibbol, vol. II, pg. 59, we find a glimpse of R’ Shlomo Zalman Auerbach’s approach to this matter. RSZA edited Rav YM Lau’s notes on Shiur, and three of the emendations were as follows:

    ויש לדעת שהקשו קושיא גדולה על רש”י
    changed to: ויש לדעת דלכאורה קשה על רש”י

    אך דחו את דברי הרמ”א
    changed to: אך יש חולקים על הרמ”א

    אך יש להקשות על החזו”א… ואכן תמוהים דבריו מאוד.. אך קשה מאוד על פירושו של החזו”א… ולכן נראים דבריו תמוהים עד מאוד
    changed to:
    אך יש להקשות על החזו”א…ואכן תמוהים דבריו מאוד… אך צ”ע על פירושו של החזו”א [הרב מחק את המשפט “ולכן נראים דבריו תמוהים עד מאוד

    הרב לאו סיפר: ניגשתי אל הרב ושאלתיו מדוע מחק את הניסוח “קשה מאוד על פירושו של החזו”א” והעדיף במקום זה לכתוב “צ”ע על פירושו של החזו”א, והרי מקובל לנסח דברים בלשון של “קשה מאוד”
    ענה לי הרב: אני יכול לומר “קשה מאוד” על החזו”א!? מי אני שאקשה עליו באופן כזה!? עפר אני תחת כפות רגליו! צריך עיון בחזון איש ותו לא

  36. YM says:

    Rabbi Gold has identified what I consider the main difference between secular academic learning and (men’s) Torah learning. For Torah learning to be effective, you have to become a diciple of your teacher and trust that he is teaching you correctly. Your job in learning gemara is to gain understanding of how the various rishonim understand the sugya. If a certain rishon’s take on a sugya seems illogical or doesn’t make sense, the talmid needs to say that he doesn’t understand that rishon, not “that rishon is wrong”. A talmid that isn’t willing to do this will have a very difficult time actually learning anything and will not experience the mind expansion that can come as a gift from Hashem when one learns gemara with effort, diligence and dedication. I would add that for me, this was very difficult; I was over 30 when I became involved in Orthodoxy, I have a hard time trusting those in authority and it took me years to realize how gemara learning works.

    I don’t know if women have to become diciples of their teachers in the same way. Perhaps those with experience can comment.

  37. Shalom says:

    DF, I for one ascribe to the belief that we must SUBMIT to Rashi and not merely respect him. I once heard my Rosh Yeshiva put it this way, although he was talking about the Rambam, “Of course the Rambam made mistakes. He was a Nivrah (human)! But it’s [almost] impossible for me to figure out where he made mistake.” I don’t recall if he said almost impossible or impossible. The Mesorah we got in Yeshiva is the Rishonim are in another league and to understand them requires the humility to submit to what they’re saying. If one has a question on them, its “I don’t understand”, not “I think they made a mistake.”

  38. S. says:

    Would it be legitimate for one to, for example, take a stand as to whether or not Hebrew words all have a three letter root, rather than two as per Rashi? By contrast, would it be legitimate to adopt Rashi’s viewpoint even though other Rishonim proposed the triliteral root theory? Must we take no position at all? If so, wouldn’t that stunt scholarship?

    [YA – I think R Gold’s point is that any consideration of the accuracy of the position should be made from a position of koved rosh. One who has considerable awe for Rashi will not be so dismissive. He may indeed show the argument for three letter roots, but he will struggle to find justification for a two letter system as well. In the process, he will understand that either one can be justified. While most of us would prefer the three letter one, we will still find some utility in the notion of two letter roots – and the cognate position that three letter roots that share two letters are meaningfully related – a position that suffuses the Hirsch Chumash.]

  39. t4 says:

    “Did his surrounding culture hold biases against women and perhaps others that have been found to be incorrect? yes. Did this surrounding culture influence him? probably.”

    Actually a theme of rashi’s writings and teshuvot is respect for women, and highlighting the importance of the covenant between man and wife. If the surrounding culture was biased against women, he chastised those influenced by it. Your comment demonstrates the extent of your bias, as you conflate all rishonim with one another to accuse them one and all of misogyny.

  40. Charlie Hall says:

    “Rav Schwartzman ever argued personally on the Ramban or Rashi, nor did he, or any of our renowned Rabbeim, side with one rishon over another.”

    I don’t understand this one. Contemporary poskim have to choose which rishon to follow when a halachic dispute is a machloket rishonim — and that occurs quite often. The Shulchan Aruch and the Rema did not decide everything (and there are many times when we don’t follow even them).

    ‘a discussion of Rashis and Midroshim that were labeled, in the discussion, “fantastical” and whether such Rashis should be taught to children’

    As I don’t teach children I don’t really have an opinion on this particular issue, but I would think that Rabbi Avraham ben HaRambam’s essay that appears at the beginning of the Ein Yaakov collection of aggadata would be a worthy read by everyone — at least every adult — before studying midrash/aggadata.

    “a Rashi that doesn’t fit in with “our” understanding of things, whether scientifically, philosophically or socially should be elided or amended with contemporary understandings.”

    I can see reasons to amend our understanding: The discovery of a new manuscript that somehow eluded the censors. Better understanding of the vocabulary of the language, for example the etymology of Old French. Discovery of previously unknown historical information that sheds light on the circumstances behind a particular dispute in the Talmud or in the rishonim. But these of course would occur rarely. Amending the understanding of rishonim to fit with contemporary ideology (as opposed to the advancements in knowledge) would seem to be intellectually dishonest.

    (Were I a medieval history professor who came across a previously unknown Rashi manuscript, you bet I’d be trembling!)

  41. noam stadlan says:

    I think that they key concept here is: “It is a fundamental axiom that Rashi was on a higher plane than we are, both scholastically and spiritually. We must submit to Rashi…. if we can see ourselves as judges of their acuity, as equals or, rachmana litzlan, as their betters in some ways…..”

    What does the author mean when he states that “Rashi was on a higher plane scholastically”? Rashi was obviously closer in time to those who closed the Gemara, and the chain of oral tradition was probably stronger. Did Rashi know as much physics as we do? medicine? biology? No no and no. Was Rashi a product of a surrounding culture that made it more likely to hold beliefs that we now would think to be not in consonance with known science? yes. Did his surrounding culture hold biases against women and perhaps others that have been found to be incorrect? yes. Did this surrounding culture influence him? probably.

    Should any of the above make us respect Rashi any less? absolutely not. However, what it does mean is that it is reasonable to look at what he wrote and believed and take into account what he knew about the natural world versus what we now know, what his surrounding culture was telling him versus what we now think, and that not every word he wrote has to be considered Torah m’Sinai. It is reasonable to say that something that Rashi held literally now may seem fantastic to us, and the difference lies in what we know about the world. That doesn’t demean Rashi, it is a recognition that our understanding of the natural world(which God created) has advanced.

    By the way, I am also not sure what it means ‘argue on Rashi.’ Anytime you dont follow Rashi’s shita in something you have not only argued against him, pasken’ed against him, but gone halacha l’maaseh against him.

  42. Kavod for Rashi says:

    I have observed occasions where Rashi was not given the proper kavod (in my opinion), and tried to guess why. Without interviewing anyone, I guessed that the existence of Rashi as the “simple” commentary, as opposed to ther lengthier ones of most other Rishonim, give Rashi the appearance of being indeed elementary. However, virtually none of the Rishonim ever give such airs about Rashi.

    Rashi’s commentary on Chumash is similarly given short shrift, for reasons I cannot grasp. In reality, there are hundreds of meforshim on Rashi on Chumash. Save the fact that Rashi’s commentary went through many hand written copies before its first printing, rendering the peirush vulnerable to errors, inclusions of additions, etc., it is still loaded with tremendous depth and wisdom. A remarkable feature of Rashi on Chumash, oft quoted by the Lubavitcher Rebbe ZT”L was that Rashi’s peirush was suitable for the 5-year old beginning to learn Chumash, as well as for the accomplished talmid chochom.

  43. SRS says:

    I don’t disagree with the main thrust of the piece, but I do have a couple of comments.

    “I don’t believe that Rav Schwartzman ever argued personally on the Ramban or Rashi, nor did he, or any of our renowned Rabbeim, side with one rishon over another.” Regarding the second part of this sentence, I can’t speak for Rav Schwartzman, but plenty of acharonim, even contemporary ones, and plenty of magidei shiurim, side with one rishon over another. It happens in teshuvos sefarim all the time as well as in shiurim. While they always respect the rishonim, this doesn’t mean they can’t bring proofs that one rishon’s peshat makes more sense than another rishon. I don’t know what type of shiurim you have had in your lifetime, but the shiurim I attended often had the magid shiur pointing out that how rishon’s peshat was difficult and he would therefore side with another rishon in explaining peshat.

    You then write: “Briefly, though, what engendered my piece was the intimation in that discussion that Rashi was a medieval commentary who lived with the superstitions of the time and that the “enlightened” moderns know better than him in certain areas.” What you criticize is perfectly correct and not problematic in the slightest. Rashi did live with certain superstitions of his time, and we do know better than him in certain areas (for example, science and medicine).

    You are under the mistaken assumption that if you assume that Rashi had certain superstitions which everyone in his day believed in (for example mermaids and werewolves), that we therefore cannot accept your next point “It is a fundamental axiom that Rashi was on a higher plane than we are, both scholastically and spiritually.”

    One thing has nothing to do with the other. Of course Rashi was on a higher plane than we are, both scholastically and spiritually. But he was also a person of his age, and the fact that he believed in certain things that were generally accepted even though we know now they were incorrect, doesn’t take away from his greatness one iota. I am surprised you are missing this.

  44. DF says:

    “It is a fundamental axiom that Rashi was on a higher plane than we are, both scholastically and spiritually. We must submit to Rashi . . . If we aren’t trembling before Rashi and his ba’alei pelugta, if we can see ourselves as judges of their acuity, as equals or, rachmana litzlan, as their betters in some ways, then we have detached ourselves from Torah and Yir’ah.”

    Well, there’s the line in the sand right there, isnt it? In your view it is not enough to RESPECT Rashi’s view, we must SUBMIT to it. Any other view is detached from Torah. And there it is, in a nutshell. I dont accept that view, and I can tell you right now there are tens and scores of thousands – ie, a huge percentage of observant Jews – who dont accept it either. If your view is in fact representative of right wing/charedi Jewry (and I’m sorry to say, I think it is) then we dont have to wait for the coming schism within orthodoxy, we’re staring it in the face already.

  45. L. Oberstein says:

    I have great respect for the intellectual discussions of Rashi on this blog. I learned very little Modern Hebrew poetry but once learned “Asira LeRashi’ which was written on the 1,000th anniversary of his birth by Shimshon Meltzer, a secular Israeli poet. He recalls with great love and nostalgia learning Rashi in cheder before WW I and now he is on a kibbutz and no one cares about Rashi any more. He wonders if anyone will ever learn Chumash and Rashi again. I don’t want to sound triumphalist,but a lot of people are learning Rashi now, a lot more than live on secular ,socialist Kibbutzim in fact.

  46. Daniel Weltman says:

    It is a fundamental axiom that Rashi was on a higher plane than we are, both scholastically and spiritually.

    This line typifies the mistake Shaul Gold makes. He thinks that to combat what he sees as a “flippant” attitude towards the rishonim, he needs to invent axioms that go to the other extreme. To say that Rashi was on a higher plane than we are may fit in with some explanations of “yeridat hadorot” (a concept understood by many in a different way and even rejected by some, like Rav Kook), but not all. Turning it into dogma is damaging and a perversion of the variation in our Masorah.

    While the orgiginal argument Shaul Gold makes about flippant attitudes towards the rishonim may be valid, the effect of his essays and the side points he raises is to expose a far deeper error that he makes in his evaluation of the rigidity of our Masorah and its ability to stand up to critical examination.

    [YA – ‘Dems fighin’ words! You are going to have to contend with a whole lot more than one post by Rabbi Gold. Whether you agree or not, the “axiom” was not invented by R Gold. It may be the simple pshat in the gemara (if the earlier ones are like angels, etc.). It is clearly enunciated by the Ran, and seems to be embraced by Rambam (see my response to one of R Slifkin’s comments). I have heard from world class gedolim that the idea of yeridas hadoos is a pillar of our belief system. You can disagree, but you can’t trivialize or dismiss the position of such stellar figures.

    Please indicate where you believe that R Kook rejected this doctrine.]

  47. Netanel Livni says:

    >It is a fundamental axiom that Rashi was on a higher plane than we are, both scholastically and spiritually.

    I have looked and looked all around the great ikarim literature that exists and have not found this axiom anywhere. Please enlighten us from where this axiom appears (other than, of course, in your own judgement of what is proper)

    >We must submit to Rashi, we must to Ramban, Rosh, Mordchai, et al, just as they submitted to the Amoraim and Tannaim that preceded them.

    I must submit to God. I must submit to my own concience that God implanted in me. But to submit to Basar veDam?!? NEVER! THAT is avoda zarah.

    >If we aren’t trembling before Rashi and his ba’alei pelugta, if we can see ourselves as judges of their acuity, as equals or, rachmana litzlan, as their betters in some ways, then we have detached ourselves from Torah and Yir’ah.

    If we are not triying to understand what the rishonim ACTUALLY meant in their own historic/intellectual context. If we are not using all the tools at our disposal to understand them as great scholars who lived in a particular time and place and therefore need to be understood in the context of their intellectual era. If we transform them from great intellects into oracles. Then we dishonor them as scholars and as anshei emet.

    >Such type of pedagogy is no longer in the realm of Torah, Kedushah and Mesorah. It is now merely Bible studies and its instructors merely purveyors of a scholastic discipline rising no more than Bertrand Russell’s triangle as chairman of a department of ethics.

    Intellectual honesty, critical analysis, and historical context are the prerequisites to understanding. And understanding is the prerequisite to talmud Torah of any kind. A type of study that does not use the vastly superior tools that are available to us but were not available to previous generations. A type of study that is limited to the intellectual vistas of the past and ignores those of the present. Such a type of study can never be emet nor can it be a conduit of Kedushah into this world.

    [YA – In looking for articulation of the principle, besides the gemara itself, you must have overlooked Derashos HaRan in the 8th derasha (pg. 127 in the Feldman ed.) where he writes: וזאת היא הסבה החזקה אצלי להתמעט הנבואה והחכמה דור אחר דור כמו שהוא ידוע ומפורסם (And this is the powerful reason for the decline in prophecy and wisdom generation after generation, as it is well known…)

    I agree about intellectual honesty demanding the use of all tools that become available. Yet new tools don’t replace or obviate the need for the old ones. The old tools of classic learning require a yir’as ha-romemus of Torah, and gedolei Torah. That is all that Rabbi Gold was saying.]

  48. Natan Slifkin says:

    Amoraim do not argue with Tannoim, and Rishonim do not argue on Amoraim – in PISKEI HALACHAH. In non-halachic matters, and in explanations for the sources of piskei halachah, we do indeed find dispute. See Rav Shlomo Fisher in Derashos Beis Yishai for further elaboration. Rambam most certainly was not of the view that it is a “fundamental axiom” that earlier generations are scholastically on a higher level than later generations.

    Furthermore, the Rishonim were never canonized vis-a-vis us in the way that the Gemara was canonized vis-a-vis the Rishonim. That is why Rav Moshe Feinstein explicitly states (Yoreh Deah 1:101) that he sometimes argues with the Rishonim – in halachah!

    The article here is still somewhat ambiguous, but it seems to strongly say that it is unacceptable to say that Rashi interpreted Midrashim literally, or that on occasion his explanation was based on scientific information that is now obsolete. Since both these points were made by countless authorities from R. Moshe Abulafiah to Chassam Sofer to Rav Aryeh Carmell ztz”l, on what grounds does the writer state that this is unacceptable, that it contradicts the notion of mesorah, and that it results in “Torah minayin”?

    [YA – I concur about the ambiguity. Whether or not it is appropriate to sometimes reach a conclusion that Chazal based a comment on the science of their day is not the topic of this discussion. I am not sure what Rabbi Gold meant; you know what my position is. It is important to note that when gedolim of the past reached the conclusion that an explanation found in the rishonim had to be rejected, they did so only as a last recourse, in the manner of R Samson Raphael Hirsch in the essay on teaching science that both of us are fond of citing. They showed all the awe and respect for Rishonim that is the real thrust of Rabbi Gold’s two essays. Without the attitude of the greatness of previous generations, we do indeed compromise mesorah – a point made explicitly by R Yaakov Kamenetsky (Emes L’Yaakov, Bamidbar, 9:8).

    I disagree about Rambam. He enunciates the familiar belief in the greatness of previous generations in his introduction to the Commentary on Mishna. He writes (loosely translated) “The wise would attribute deficiency to themselves, when they evaluated themselves relative to those who preceded them. This is consistent with what Chazal said (Eruvin 53A) The minds of earlier generations, etc…and certainly ourselves, from whom wisdom is lacking.”]