Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Afikei Mayim VI

The editor of the Likut Kedushas Ha-Torah in the recent volume of Afikei Mayim (p. 69 n. 89) proposes that the famous essay on aggadah by R. Avraham ben Ha-Rambam is a forgery. This is significant because this essay, among its many important ideas, suggests that the talmudic sages occasionally relied on the science of their times and therefore accepted erroneous ideas. If this essay is merely a nineteenth century forgery then it becomes useless as proof that this approach is valid within traditional Judaism.

When I asked a well-known Orthodox academic who is an expert on such matters, he said that the question is moot because it is unquestionable that the Rambam himself advanced this view. So of what relevance is it whether the essay is legitimate? (See also this analysis of various sources on this subject.)

When I asked a prominent pulpit rabbi who is writing a doctoral dissertation on R. Avraham ben Ha-Rambam, he responded that this allegation of forgery is "absolutely silly, if not worse." (He asked that I not mention his name so he does not have to waste his time with endless replies to inquiries. So even if you can figure out who he is, please don't bother him about this.)

Let me explain why this claim is baseless. My former teacher, R. Elazar Hurvitz, published in 1974 fragments from the Cairo Genizah of R. Avraham ben Ha-Rambam's essay in its original Judeo-Arabic (dating possibly back to the 14th century). Additionally, R. Hurvitz wrote an overview of the various manuscripts available. (This was republished in his 1989 collection Seridim Mi-Torasan Shel Ge'onim Ve-Rishonim.) The following is a summary of his overview:

Click here to read more1. This essay was clearly part of a larger book, most likely R. Avraham's Ha-Maspik Le-Ovdei Hashem, of which only a small portion remains.

2. The essay is quoted in Hebrew translation by 16th century authors, including R. Vidal Tzarfati in the introduction to his Imrei Yosher commentary on Midrash Rabbah and R. Avraham Ibn Migash in his Kevod Elokim.

3. There are similarities between the essay and some of R. Avraham's other writings. Significantly, R. Avraham writes in his Milchamos Hashem (p. 86 in the Margoliyos edition) that the talmudic sages conceded to the gentile sages regarding the movement of the sun in the night (Pesachim 94b, and contrary to Rabbenu Tam's interpretation).

4. The Hebrew translation was first published (in recent times) in the journal Kerem Chemed in 1836 based on a manuscript in the library in Oxford. That edition served as the source for all future publications. That edition contains an introduction by the anonymous translator (from centuries ago) and a "signature" at the end that was first added in that journal.

5. Another manuscript of the Hebrew translation of the essay exists in Paris, and corrections from it were incorporated into the edition in Kovetz Teshuvos Ha-Rambam. This manuscript does not have the translator's introduction.

6. JTS has another manuscript of the Hebrew, dating back to the 16th century. This manuscript has the translator's introduction and, despite many differences with the other manuscripts, seems to be the same translation. The source of the differences seems to be the copyist, R. Avraham Eilburg of Bronsweig, but they are clearly his own additions.

In other words, it seems utterly implausible to suggest that an essay for which we have fragments dating back possibly as far back as the 14th century, and manuscripts and quotations in published works from the 16th century is a forgery written in the 19th century. This is particularly so since no one had ever suggested that this essay was a forgery until the Slifkin ban, and even then it was offered by non-specialists.

(See also these posts: I, II, III, IV, IVb, V)

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