Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Afikei Mayim IV

In the Likut Kedushas Ha-Torah (ch. 4), Afikei Mayim has a section titled "The Moreh [Nevukhim] Was Only for Those of His Generation". The author then brings quotes from various sources about how we reject philosophy in general, and that of the Rambam in Moreh Nevukhim in particular, and how the Rambam only wrote the book for his generation. When I read this, I was immediately reminded of the Lev Tov expanded edition of R. Bachya Ibn Pakuda's Chovos Ha-Levavos. As an introduction to the first section of the book -- Sha'ar Ha-Yichud, the author of Lev Tov collected many sources that argue that one should not study that section. This is, it seems to me, similar to the what Afikei Mayim did. However, there are two significant differences:

Click here to read more1. The Lev Tov still included Sha'ar Ha-Yichud in his edition and even added two commentaries. However, he did not write his own expansion of the text. This indicates to me that he recognizes that some will rule that it is permissible to read the section and he wanted to accommodate them.

2. The Lev Tov starts off by quoting authorities who disagree and permit studying Sha'ar Ha-Yichud. He then continues with a long list of authorities who forbid it. However, he makes it clear that it is a debate with serious sages on both sides even if the majority (as he sees it) are strict.

For example, on reading the Afikei Mayim one would never know that the Rema wrote the following (Responsa, no. 7):

Even if we say that they prohibited reading all their books [of non-Jewish philosophy], it did not arise in anyone's mind to prohibit all of the books of our sages from whose water we drink. This is so especially of our great master the Rambam, because one certainly need not be concerned that his books contain any false view... Even though some sages disagreed with him and burned his books, his books have disseminated among all the later scholars and they all made them into a crown for their heads to bring proofs from his words like a law to Moshe from Sinai.
Nor would one know that, for example, R. Meir Simcha Ha-Kohen utilizes philosophy extensively (see e.g. the Or Samei'ach to Hilkhos Teshuvah 4:4) and quotes the Moreh Nevukhim 30 times in his Meshekh Chokhmah. The writings of the Maharatz Chajes are replete with references to Moreh Nevukhim. His Mevo Ha-Talmud quotes the Moreh 11 times, and those citations feature prominently in the author's positions. The Malbim's writings also feature quotes from the Moreh Nevukhim. See, for example, his second comment at the beginning of Artzos Ha-Chaim on Shulchan Arukh.

R. Moshe Shapiro's older colleague from the Ponevizher Yeshiva, R. Chaim Friedlander, quotes Moreh Nevukhim 8 times in his Sifsei Chaim on mo'adim and 10 times on emunah u-vechirah, sometimes extensively elucidating Rambam's words.

R. Avraham Grodzinski, the last mashgi'ach in Slabodka, quotes Moreh Nevukhim twice in his Toras Avraham. His brother-in-law, R. Ya'akov Kamenetsky, quotes Moreh Nevukhim also but I did not have the time to count the instances and the index does not include that information. The same for Michtav Me-Eliyahu.

Additionally, I heard in the name of R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik that his grandfather, Reb Chaim, was so familiar with Moreh Nevukhim that he was capable of doing to it what he did to the Mishneh Torah (i.e. elucidating it conceptually). The following story of why R. Moshe Soloveitchik never studied Moreh Nevukhim is worth repeating for, among other reasons, its description of R. Chaim Soloveitchik's familiarity with Moreh Nevukhim. This is from Shulamit Meiselman (R. Moshe's daughter), The Soloveitchik Heritage: A Daughter's Memoir (pp. 109-110):
Reb Chayyim, it was told, became, for some reason, interested in reading the Guide of the Perplexed. A great admirer of Maimonides, he wanted to explore the author's philosophical ideas, which had caused much furor among the rabbis of his time and after... Reb Chayyim read the Guide thoroughly and then began to reread it. Father [Reb Moshe], noticing his father's great interest in the book, became intrigued and curious. He, too, wanted to explore the Rambam's ideas and decided to read the book. Moshe's sudden interest in the Guide did not meet with his father's approval. "Why are you so enmeshed in this book? Don't you know that our rabbis have banned it?"

"I saw you all wrapped up in it, so I concluded that if it merits your attention, then I too may find it worthwhile," was Moshe's reply.

"I must answer you with a parable," relpied Reb Chayyim. "When does a doctor prescribe castor oil to a patient? When one is sick, it cleans the digestive system. If, however, a healthy person swallows some castor oil, then the opposite happens; he becomes sick. The same applies to the reading of the Guide. You are healthy in both mind and body. Your beliefs are unswerving; you don't need the Guide. I don't want you ever to read the book. Promise me."

"I promise," was Father's reply. He hearkened to his father's voice and never again attempted to examine the contents of the Guide. Even years later, when his children were attending the university and the book was part of the family library, Father never touched it. Father always kept a promise.
Ha-levai we should be "sick" like Reb Chaim.

(See also these posts: I, II, III)

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