Sunday, January 07, 2007

Literal and Conceptual Truth in Torah

In a comment to my most recent post, Yehuda pointed out a general methodological difficulty with the study of Midrash and, more broadly, with the literary approach to studying Tanach. Specifically, he mentioned that it is sometimes possible to read so many nuances of meaning into the text that we lose hold of what aspects of the narratives are intended literally and what aspects are metaphoric.

For example, the symbolic significance of Shechem and Dotan in the story of Yosef and his brothers has received much attention in Rabbinic literature from antiquity to the present. But does that mean that the brothers didn't literally travel to Shechem, or relocate to Dotan? Or are we to believe that it was a huge cosmic coincidence that the brothers went to places that were associated, in one way or another, with deeper metaphysical themes?

This question is a formidable and complex one. I believe that the essential answer to it lies, ironically, in a Midrash! In Samuel I 24:13, King David declares:

As the ancient proverb (Heb. Meshal Haqadmoni) states, "From the wicked shall issue wickedness..."

Rashi, basing himself on several Rabbinic sources (ex., Mechilta on Parashat Mishpatim, Makkot 10B, etc), writes:

"The ancient proverb": This is the Torah, which is the metaphor (mashal) of He Who preceded the world (Qadmono shel Olam.)

What Rashi is suggesting is that the Torah itself is a mashal, a metaphor. The Rambam also seems to allude to this concept in the beginning of Hilchot Yesode Hatorah (1:9). In the midst of a treatment of God's incorporeality, the Rambam explains that anthropomorphisms used in the Torah are not literal:

If so [that God is not corporeal], what is the meaning of that which is written in the Torah - "beneath His feet", "written with the finger of God", "hand of Hashem", "eyes of Hashem", "ears of Hashem", and similar expressions. All of this is in accordance with the minds of human beings who only recognize material bodies; and the Torah speaks in the language of man. For example, it is written, "I will sharpen My flashing sword " - does He have a sword, or kill with a sword? Rather, it is an allegory (mashal), and it is all an allegory.

The nuance of the Rambam's language here - "it is all an allegory" - is very instructive. Strictly speaking, he should have said something like, "and everything similar to it is an allegory". But he chose his words carefully and said "it is all an allegory". The Rambam is pointing out a general concept that is as applicable to Torah wisdom as it is to all branches of knowledge.

Human beings think through the medium of the imagination. Even in our discussions of abstract ideas, we utilize metaphor and analogy constantly, often without so much as realizing it. This is built in to our language (there you go - built in, a metaphor), our scientific models, and the way we experience our environments. All is mashal - we use concrete imagery to capture abstract concepts, and this is in fact the only method by which we can really handle them (capture and handle, two more examples!). And that, indeed, it what the Torah is all about - creating a mashal, a systematic presentation of concrete material, narratives and commandments, that help us gain insight into timeless principles of theology and morality that would otherwise be beyond our grasp (grasp, a concrete metaphor for an intellectual activity - get the idea?).

But this raises a serious problem. We routinely distinguish between mashal and empirical fact, and we consider mashal less "real". So how can we relegate the entire Torah to the realm of mashal, thereby implying that it lacks "reality"? Isn't the Torah a literal record of events that occurred in the past? In order to comprehend the precise relationship of Torah to metaphor, we must clarify what exactly a mashal is.

A metaphor/allegory is, by definition, something composed of two parts - a superficial, concrete component and an underlying conceptual component. Whereas a factual account is mainly concerned with the empirical details it is meant to communicate (i.e., it operates on only one level, the concrete one) a mashal is primarily designed to convey the deeper principle it contains. The material found in a mashal is nothing more than a vehicle for the expression of this principle.

That doesn't mean that we should automatically assume that the "manifest content" of a mashal is not true in a factual sense. It might be entirely accurate in every nuance. However, unlike an historical report, which is created to convey empirical knowledge, the factual truth of the material in a mashal is not significant - it is being introduced and utilized to teach a lesson.

Again, the difference between mashal and history is not necessarily in the accuracy of the information they contain. They may both be equally accurate in all respects. The difference between them will express itself in what they emphasize, in their ultimate objectives.

In this sense, it is quite clear that the entire Torah is indeed a mashal. It is an account the sole purpose of which is to edify and enlighten us. It was not written to provide us with trivia about goings-on in the ancient world. On the contrary, it was introduced to help us achieve philosophical and ethical insight through the medium of its narratives.

The notion of mashal can explain the Torah's writing style as well. Unlike the epic poems of the Greeks, for example, the Torah dwells very little on the personal appearance of its characters or the dramatic elements of its storytelling. We are not told how long Avraham's hair was or what color Yitschaq's eyes were. We do not hear the beating of Yaaqov's heart with passion when he first encounters his beloved Rachel, nor are we privy to the romantic daydreams that must have occupied him while he toiled for seven years to win her hand in marriage. Regarding the fashion sense of the Matriarchs we shall forever be in the dark.

What's more, colorful detail is sorely lacking. The sun's rays do not bathe any valleys. Clouds do not dance across the sky. Monologues and dialogues are brief and to the point. Overall, the focus of the Torah stories is invariably on the key theme that is being explored. Very little space, if any, is devoted to the concrete elements of the tale. Even when it comes to narratives that are powerful and dramatic, such as the Exodus and the Revelation at Sinai, the amount of concrete detail is still remarkably sparse.

This simplicity is a particularly striking feature of the Biblical narrative style, especially when we contrast it with what we know of other literature, ancient and modern. It is thoroughly understandable, however, if we take the view that the Torah's aim is pedagogical - its eye is on the principle, the idea, the message. Unlike other books - written, as they are, for entertainment purposes - the Torah makes every effort to avoid discussion of the trivial kinds of detail that titillate the average reader. Were the Torah to satisfy our curiosity about how Moshe Rabbenu liked his coffee in the morning, it would have had to compromise on its ultimate goal - namely, keeping us focused on what is truly important, in the world and in life. Obsession with the external features of a mashal can come only at the expense of reflecting upon its inner spiritual beauty.

The notion that the Torah is essentially mashal helps us appreciate the significance of the introductory segment of the Book of Proverbs:

Proverbs of Solomon, son of David, King of Israel. To know wisdom and discipline; to understand statements of understanding...A wise man will hear and increase in knowledge; and a man of understanding will acquire new strategies. To understand an allegory and a parable, words of the wise and their riddles.

Why is the skill of comprehending parables and allegories so essential? The Rabbis tell us that King Solomon was instrumental in bringing Israel's level of Torah study to a higher plateau. The Torah is, in essence, a mashal - a text that uses concrete examples and narratives to illustrate profound ideas. Thus, in order to accomplish his goal of drawing the Jewish people closer to the wisdom of their tradition, King Solomon had to teach them the proper way of appreciating allegories and parables, of extracting ideas from the material husk in which they are embodied. In so doing, he allowed them to gain access to the Meshal Haqadmoni, the Metaphor of the Creator Himself - our Holy Torah.

32 comments:

B. Spinoza said...

which is why I don't focus on the scientific or metaphysical implications of the Torah. The point that the prophets seem to be teaching is ethical behavior and obedience not rationalistic philosophy or science. They used poetic expression and imagery to inspire and uplift the people's behavior. There is no reason to think that the prophets excelled in areas of thought such as science or metaphysics. Intuitions was their primary tool rather than critical analysis. I say this because I see no evidence to suggest otherwise

Yehuda said...

There is no reason to think that the prophets excelled in areas of thought such as science or metaphysics.

Science, yes but why not metaphysics? It is not as if we have more data to work with than the prophets to investigate metaphysical questions. Would not the metaphysician have a greater insight into ethics?

Intuitions was their primary tool rather than critical analysis.

So what makes the prophets great is their really good intuition?
It is hard to believe that they only worked with their intuition and only sought behaviors and obedience. Are the prophets on the same level as poets? The evidence for their metaphysical depth is their ethics.

Yehuda said...

In my comment on the previous post I wanted to focus on another difficulty. Even when the Torah is understood as mashal (as you have defined it) there seem to be three ways of approaching (or using) the text. Using the example of Dothan:

1) we can contemplate the actual significance of travelling to Dothan - taking into account the context the stories provide, what we know from geography, etc.

2) we can make a play on words (see Rashi)

3) we can make reference to parallel words (as in Dothan and Aviram).

The first approach views the story as mashal but deals with the events as described.

The second approach (I'll call it Remez) can not stand on its own - first one must have an idea based on the substance of the story and then one can make creative plays on words as a flourish.

The third approach (literary allusion) is where the waters get more murky. At times a literary allusion can point our minds to an idea and at times we think of an idea and then see the literary allusions as a support. This can get dangerous when one only follows the literary allusions and does not seek substantive support in the stories themselves.

I apologize if I have not been clear.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Baruch,

You are true to your namesake....

I plan to do a post on Spinoza vs. the Rambam on the nature and purpose of prophecy and revelation soon. I have long been intrigued by the excellent kushyot that Spinoza lodges against the Rambam's approach in the Tractatus.

Be that as it may, I agree with Yehuda on the basic issue here. It is clear to me that the prophets were not only moralists. They were vigorous opponents of idolatry, which is a metaphysical sin, and moralists who are not metaphysicians would not be concerned about this kind of thing. No ancient or modern ethical theorist discusses the evils of idol worship (except Plato, who was dismayed by the inappropriate behavior exhibited by the mythological gods. But the prophets opposed making images, even of the true God.)

Similarly, the emphasis in the Neviim on Shabbat observance, together with social justice and ethics, indicates that their ethical vision was rooted in a theological one.

B. Spinoza said...

I didn't mean to suggest that they were secular ethicists and that they had no religious motivations or that they had no metaphysical intuitions or understanding at all.

I just meant that they didn't have a clear or perfect understanding of metaphysics. Even by ancient standards it wasn't the best. I think the Greek philosophers had a superior understanding.

For example, God is described as having a body of some kind and getting angry. You can either say that they didn't understand fully or that they just didn't care that the Jewish people had such notions. Either way, I think it is clear that you shouldn't read the prophets in order to increase your metaphysical knowledge

B. Spinoza said...

>I plan to do a post on Spinoza vs. the Rambam on the nature and purpose of prophecy and revelation soon.

I look forward to it. That's one of the reasons why I'm commenting, in order to motivate you

Michoel said...

Rabbi Maroof,
Shalom Aleichem. I saw were you mentioned on another blog that there were hints of a non-literal (or non-universal) mabul in Midrashim and in Rav Saadia Gaon. Can you please tell me where the reference is?

Thanks

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

At that same, original location - which escapes me right now - I clarified that I got the information about Saadiah Gaon from the Daat Miqra Humash Beresheet (Vol. 1). A subsequent commenter cited other Geonic sources that sounded very interesting as well.

The Talmud famously discusses whether or not the Mabul occurred in Eretz Yisrael. The premise is obviously that we need not take the "global" character of the Flood literally; otherwise, what room is there for a discussion of whether a particular location was or was not affected?

The term "kol" - all of - is a broad term that is often used for dramatic effect in the Bible. Take for example the fact that "all" of the animals of the Egyptians died during the plague of Dever (pestilence). A couple of months later, Egyptian animals die in Barad. And Moshe demands that Pharaoh send the Jews out with animals for sacrifices - but from where, if they're all dead? Clearly, "all" in the context of dever was a dramatic flair, not literal. A whole lot of Egyptian animals died. (Ibn Ezra explains this in his commentary.)

David Guttmann said...

Excellent and sorry it took me so long to get here. I am in the middle of a complicated post and work too!

I am sure you know rambam's dissection of a mashal in his intro to MN.

I like the way you explain why the fact is irrelevant rather than untrue.Yeyashar Kochacha.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I'll never forget back in my very early Yeshiva Gedola days, when I was still a teenager, and I listened to a shiur given by one of the older bachurim (in my eyes, he was a rabbi!) on Sefer Mishlei. He dissected the mashal of the adulterous wife seducing the man while her husband was away, offering an explanation of every detail in the story. When he was finished, I brought over the MN and showed him how the Rambam explicitly states that this is not the way to understand meshalim, and offers that very example to illustrate how not to approach a mashal.

The rabbi was quite flustered at first, and eventually replied that one must first analyze the mashal carefully before determining which details are worthy of interpretation and which are not. In retrospect, I suppose that that is a reasonable answer.

Yitschak said...

>What Rashi is suggesting is that the Torah itself is a mashal, a metaphor. The Rambam also seems to allude to this concept in the beginning of Hilchot Yesode Hatorah (1:9). In the midst of a treatment of God's incorporeality, the Rambam explains that anthropomorphisms used in the Torah are not literal


By quoting Rashi that he thought that the torah as a whole was mashal,you went to far.
Anyone who has studied the perush by the TAMIM Rashi knows it's not so.If you believe in Olam Haba,you will have have to give a din v'chesbon before Rashi for slandering him!
suffice it for me to give 1 ex. to show you how absurd this is.
On Gen 1:27 Rashi writes:
Vayivra etc.
בדפוס העשוי לו שהכל נברא במאמר והוא נברא בידים and
בצלם...פירש לך שאותו צלם המתוקן לו צלם דיוקן יוצרו הוא
This Rashi coudn't have have suggested that Torah is mashal.
It seems to you were too strongly influenced by XGH who was writing about it ad nauseam.

Even the Rambam doesn't mean that the all torah is mashal.About 100 yrs after his death they were those who who tried this this in his name-led by R.yaakov Anatuli- but were ostrasized & considerd apirkosim.

I think you are missing an important principle of religion.
Religion is the ACCEPTED tradition by the MASSES & not what some isolated intellectual of a certain time said.
I understand the dilemma Orthodoxy is in .They want to eat the cake & cake it.But by doing so they have to lie to themselves & to others.

Finally,R.Maroof,let me ask you this: if Torah is mashal,then Christianity is fully entitled to their symbolic interpretation of Scripture & that every act,tree etc.points to the "redeemer" & his crucifiction.Heaven knows that they enough pesukim for that.You may not agree with their the mashal,as they will not agree to what is mashal according to you.
But since it's all mashal & historical facts are IRRELEVANT,as you put it, we may as well convert & join the majority.One mashal is as good as another!

Yitschak said...

Sorry for the typos.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Yitschak,

Honestly, I am a little bit confused by your comment. Let me outline what I don't understand, and perhaps you can offer me some clarification:

1) I am not sure what you are trying to prove from the Rashi you quote. What does that comment of Rashi suggest to you, and what did you mean to argue based on it?

2)You seem to have misunderstood my post completely. I never suggested that the Torah is all symbolic. The point of my post was to explain what a mashal is - it is a story designed to teach ideas and principles.

It is clear that the Torah is not too concerned with concrete historical or dramatic details. Its overarching concern is with educating us through providing principles of theology and ethics. This is what I meant by mashal, and has nothing to do with the symbolic interpretations of Scripture that are found in other religions.

That being said, though, it happens to be true that other religions operate through mashal as well - their stories are designed to convey ideas too, just mostly incorrect ones! That is why I would avoid using them.

If you study my past comments on and about XGH's blog(s), you will discover that I am far from being influenced by his approach. I find that he fails to define his terms and concepts clearly, and ends up dealing with weighty issues in a superficial way. He takes exception to this criticism because he feels that he has spent an enormous amount of time and effort thinking about these things. I admire his sincerity, but quantity of time invested is no substitute for depth of analysis.

One of the areas I disagree with XGH on is his attitude to mashal, which he wrongly confuses with myth.

Mashal doesn't mean the historical and factual content isn't true; it means that the purpose of the communicating the content is to exemplify deeper principles, and not for its own sake. Myths and symbols, on the other hand, are by definition not factual. That is a different category entirely.

3) Your distinction between the religion of the masses and of individuals is oft-repeated in the blogosphere, but makes no sense to me. Was the religion of Yeshayahu the same as the religion of the masses of his time? How about Hoshea? Yirmiyahu? So, according to your line of reasoning, none of the Prophets really practiced Judaism because they didn't represent the religion of the masses.

4) From some of your words I get the sense you are criticizing the idea of God's incorporeality as an instance of solitary intellectuals distorting original Judaism. But again, was Onkelos a solitary intellectual? How about the Targum he compiled, which was accepted by all of the rabbis as the official Targum of all Babylonian Jews?

My point is that at no point in history did the religion of the masses ever represent authentic Judaism. We must look to the Judaism of the Baale Hamesora to understand the Tanach correctly.

Sorry for the typos.

Fortunately for you, I am not taking off points for spelling today! :)

Yitschak said...

R.Maroof,
First let me say that I am not very handy with computers.It's only lately that I started to comment on blogs.
I like Haloscan but find Blogger very inconvenient,I suppose I'll just have to learn to get used to it.BTW, If I would just have one cent for every spelling mistake that I have seen on Jewish blogs,I'd be a very,very wealthy man...

Now to your points:
1) The purpose of my quoting Rashi was to point out that he means what he says.He writes plainly that everything was created by a ma'amar but not man,he was created by *yadyim* & he cites in support a pasuk from Psalms,that man was created like a chotam-a seal -an impression,like one makes a coin.

In my 2nd quote of Rashi in the same pasuk,he writes distincly "peresh lecha sheoto tselem hametukan lo tselem DIOKAN yotsro hu".
Actually,Yonatan Ben Uziel tranlates it this way.It's quite obvious that Rashi took this literally.
& why should on be surprised? If R.Moshe Taku,about 100 yrs after Rashi could write "ktav Tamim" to prove the Rambam wrong & that God was physical.
This may not be to your liking but in IMO one should not misrepresent Rashi.He certainly didn't write that all of the Torah is mashal.What he meant we can't of course know,since he is dead.I don't think it's fair to make unfounded conjectures to one's liking.

As it is,this comment so far has taken up too much of my time.(I only type with 1 finger).
So I'll respond VERY briefly to you other points.
(a) I don't accept your distinction between Mashal & Myth.
Myth has a stigma attached to it,something that really never happened.Mashal is a safer way to say the same thing...

(b)> Was the religion of Yeshayahu the same as the religion of the masses of his time? How about Hoshea? Yirmiyahu? So, according to your line of reasoning, none of the Prophets really practiced Judaism because they didn't represent the religion of the masses.

I really don't have the time right now to give you a proper response.
No, they didnt represent the religion of the Masses.
Do you think Rambam represented the Masses? Is that's why they burned his books?
The same goes for the prophets you mentioned.
Judaism is not a monothilitic Mesorah.It' a collection of masorot with a common backround.
You don't really believe that a Jew today -of any type-is of the hashkafah & praxis as a Jew,let's say,of 2nd Temple times,let alone earlyer...?

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Yitschak,

For every Rashi that can be interpreted to imply he was a materialist, there are other pieces of evidence that suggest otherwise.

For example, Rashi defines "tzelem elokim" as "l'havin u'lhaskil". Why would he do that, if he believes God has a physical tzelem? He could have said tzelem is the shape of the body, and demut are the features of the body - eyes, lips, etc. But he doesn't.

Unfortunately, people reading Rashi often misunderstand his poetic use of words as literal, even though he himself says in many places that descriptions of God are written "kdei lsaber et ha-ozen ma shehee yechola lishmoa", to explain to the ear what it is capable of hearing. We should apply the same concept to Rashi's own expressions.

The case you cite is an instance that the modern-day theological pluralists have grasped to show that Rashi is a materialist. But in fact they are misunderstanding his point. The verse there says "and God created man b'tzalmo, btzelem elokim He created him." Rashi is explaining why the verse repeats "btzalmo" and "btzelem elokim", since both are the same thing.

He therefore makes a distinction and says that the first "btzalmo" doesn't mean in His (Hashem's) image, but in his (the man's) image. In other words, it is "his form", the form designated for man.

What Rashi says about creation by a statement vs. creation by hands is obviously a metaphoric explanation of the difference between the natural world, which developed according to general laws stated in the 6 days of creation, and human beings who have an additional, spiritual component that required a specific intervention from Hashem.

Regarding the second Rashi, one must ask - why does he use such convoluted language "tzelem diyuqan yotsro"? Why doesn't he just say "tselem yotsro". I believe this supports the interpretation that Rashi is trying to avoid attributing the tzelem directly to God. He is falling over himself, in fact, to make the relationship between God and the tzelem in man an indirect one.

If Rashi was a materialist, as you claim, you will also have difficulty accounting for the fact that Machzor Vitry, derived from Rashi's school, is explicitly and emphatically anti-anthropomorphic. And Rashbam, Rashi's own son-in-law, was certainly no materialist.

Moshe Taku was not one of the major Baale Mesora - he has been nearly forgotten by history - so I don't consider his obscure opinion to be significant. Furthermore, he never argued that God had a human body the way he is imagined by primitives; his argument was far more nuanced than that. Be that as it may, plenty of the elders who stood at Mt. Sinai worshipped a golden calf shortly afterward. So should I be surprised if some later rabbis strayed after an idolatrous conception of the Creator?

You may not like my distinction between myth and mashal, but I believe it is accurate and helpful for understanding why the Torah is written the way it is.

My point about the Neviim still stands. All of our great rabbis have been voices in the wilderness, like the prophets. And they are the epitome of Judaism.

yitschak said...

>For example, Rashi defines "tzelem elokim" as "l'havin u'lhaskil". Why would he do that, if he believes God has a physical tzelem? He could have said tzelem is the shape of the body, and demut are the features of the body - eyes, lips, etc. But he doesn't.


Yes,& just before it he write "betsalmenu- bid'fus shelanu".
I can ask you the same thing ,why would Rashi use such language.
I am sure that Rashi,master par excellence of the Hebrew language, could find the proper word to use without having people to misunderstand him.

But I don't your question at all.
Your question would be valid if I said that Rashi held that God is just physical.I never said it .
An essential part of Godhood(whatever it's supposed to mean) is to be able 'lehavin ulehaskil'
so what's your question?

BTW How to explain the anthropomophisms in Tanach,has been argued centuries before Rambam or even Saadya Gaon.They took it from the Muslim scholars.
Of course the muslims argued about the Koran but the Tanach has the same problem.
One of the great Muslim theologians believed that when it's written God's hand,legs,face etc.they should be understood literally but "beila kaif" without asking *how*
I think many pre rambam including Rashi understood it the same way.

About machzor Vitri we can't be sure by whom it was written.
You know there are perushim ,even on shas falsely ascribed to Rashi.

About Rashi's grandson ,the Rashbam,why are you bringing in yichus,do we want to meshadech him.. what's he got to do with our discussion? Do grandons & grandfathers always think alike???

Yehuda said...

BTW How to explain the anthropomophisms in Tanach,has been argued centuries before Rambam or even Saadya Gaon.They took it from the Muslim scholars.
Of course the muslims argued about the Koran but the Tanach has the same problem.


Almost every history that I have read of Muhamed and Islam unequivocally trace their absolute rejection of idolatry and anthropomorphisms to his contact with Jews (and Christians, though he was clearly not as pleased with the Christian concept of God). I will give you one clear example of someone who clearly did not take his explanations of anthropomorphisms from the Muslims: Onkelos, who lived in the first and second century (many centuries before the Muslims).

David Guttmann said...

I always quotr Rashi at end of Nasso on Vayshma et hakol midaber - kevodo shel makom lomar beino levein atzmo and see Sforno who elaborates. Rashi is saying that God does not speak. God's knowledge is out there for man to take it. We are talking about the least physical of actions, transmittal of knowledge, and even this to rashi was too anthropomorphic. BTW Rashi repeats this comment in Ki Tissah on Vediber el Moshe.

Rashi was underestimated because of his style of writing. Avraham Grossman did some good and interesting work in this area.

Yitschak said...

>Almost every history that I have read of Muhamed and Islam unequivocally trace their absolute rejection of idolatry and anthropomorphisms to his contact with Jews

Yehuda,
We weren't discussing idolatry.We were discussing anthropomorphism,& with regard to that your statement is nonsensensical! The Medieval Muslim theologians argued about anthr. But you who never read a page in the Koran (if you did you woudn't have uttererd such stupidity) says that there is no anthr.in the Koran & that the muslim scholars wasted their time arguing about it ,since they had none...
Can you name just one of those books who writes this (with reg.to anthr.NOT to confuse with idolatry.).No one could have written it because every page in the Koran is full of anthr.,just as is Torah.
It's also a fact they raised these issues centuries before before Rambam or S.G.
So who influenced whom?

Yehuda said...

I will ignore your insults. However, I would recommend you temper your statements in a manner conducive to thoughtful discussion. I certainly would not deny that the Torah and the Koran employ anthropomorphisms when they describe God. My point was based on the connection between anthropomorphism and idolatry (i.e. one who absolutely rejects idolatry also rejects attributing any physicality to God). On reflection I realize that the connection between these two ideas is not immediately apparent and in this I was mistaken. I found the following verse, after a quick check on wikipedia, from the Koran (112:1-4) "...God, the One and Only; God, the Eternal, Absolute; He begetteth not, nor is He begotten; And there is none like unto Him." This clearly rejects attributing any physicality to God. However, it seems like a waste of time to discuss Muslim beliefs.

Yitschak said...

> I will give you one clear example of someone who clearly did not take his explanations of anthropomorphisms from the Muslims: Onkelos, who lived in the first and second century (many centuries before the Muslims

True enough. But he is an exception. But the ones who really raised the issue & published books about the subject were the Muslims.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

The suggestion that Onkelos was "an exception" is hard to swallow.

His Targum was the official translation of Tanach in Babylonia. Onkelos received the content (or at least the methodology) of the Targum from Rabbis of the previous generation and, in its final form, it was accepted by all of Hazal as "given at Sinai" - i.e., it was considered by the Rabbis to represent the authentic meaning of Scripture.

During Talmudic times, the recitation of Targum Onkelos was considered an indispensible accompaniment to every Torah reading.

This is hardly "one person" taking an anti-anthropomorphic stance.

And, incidentally, there were Geonim prior to Rav Saadiah who discussed incorporeality. He wasn't the first person to address the topic.

Yitschak said...

To Yehuda,
I apologize for my use of improper language in my comment to you.

Yitschak said...

R.Maroof,
Re Onkelos:
I am not an expert on Onkelos.I am afraid I am not one of those Jews who are mekayem the mitsvah of 'sh'nayim mikra v'echad targum'.
I haven't read & analyzed every Onkelos on Torah,so I don't know if he is consistent throughout his Targum.

When I agreed that the Targum is anti-antropomorphisms in the Torah I relied mainly on Rambam who writes so in the first chapters of the Moreh.
However,the Rambam, most of his first part of the Moreh,is devoted to just that subject,has an agenda to carry out.
His very writing of the Moreh shows(as he himself writes)that the masses & most of the RABBIS believed in anthro.& he is very selective what he chooses to cite as proof.
This can easily be seen from the first ch. where he tries to explain the use of 'tselem' & 'demut'.I find it far fetched & unconvincing & he is very selective in his quotes.Even I can think of pesukim to contradict him.
Now he might be right what he writes about Onkelos.I just don't know.

However,let me add this: The figure of Onkelus is shrouded in mystery & legends,(as is much of Judaism & Jewish history of earlier times) as can be seen by the stories about him in the Talmud & it's uncertain who actually composed the Targum & whether it was by just 1 person.

Be it as it may,the fact is that chazal understood the pesukim,in most cases kifeshutam.
Chazal are full of anthropomorphisms.
Rambam's apology of chazal that they did so in order not to "blind" the ignorant masses by the truth is IMO very unconvincing.
He promised to write a book explaining all the anthr. & strange aggadot by chazal.Of course,he didn't.
It would have been a fascinating book,if he had written it.

Yehuda said...

Please post something new. I am in a meeting and I need something to read.

littlefoxling said...

How do you explain all the detailed genealogical tabs in the Torah?

littlefoxling said...

I do not understand this post. In the end of the day, did they brothers go to shechem or not? If they did, is it then a cosmic coincidence? How does the fact that the Torah is a mushul relieve you of the need to explain the coincidence aspect if the events did in fact happen?

James said...

Nice re-iteration of modern philosophy regarding Hashem and the Torah.
Be warned this is G-D's story, as told to Moses, with nothing hidden. Our problem is that we lack understanding. From Genesis Chapter 1 we are told the man is form in HIS image. When G-D reacts to Miriam's and Aaron's sedition against Moses, the L'RD says to this man I speak Mouth to Mouth so that there is no mis-understanding. Mankind seems DEAD SET on trying to discount the word of Hashem, not that this hurts the L'RD rather that we are lead astray by our desires.
The Torah (5 Books of Moses) are True, if you KNOW they are not true prove to me that truth. In searching for almost 50 years for truth, those things that I can trust and bet my life on, I have found no inconsistency or contradictions in the Torah. I have found that so much wisdom and points of views as well as rules for testing for the truth. Deuteronomy 19:15 One witness shall not rise up against a man for any iniquity, or for any sin, in any sin that he sinneth: at the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established. Using this text I have found that the Torah and Hashem are trustworthy for me. If you would know G-D and the Truth of the Torah, re-read without notions and an open heart. Seek G-D with your soul, you will find that a new understanding is available to you.
My Name is James Jeffries, The G-D or Abram, Issac and Jacob is my G-D and my Trusted King. Truthintorah.blogspot.com

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

James,

Yes, the Torah is absolutely true. But being absolutely true is not the same as being meant literally.

Yaakov --James Jeffries said...

Come, Not Literally? It is possible to say that Gravity is only theory, and theories are not truth, truth being subjective. However, stepping by accident off the edge of the Grand Canyon, will give more than a few moments to consider how much the TRUTH will HURT when you stop at the bottom.

The Writings of Moses are very Literal and True. Don't miss the step to find out.
Shalom, Yaakov

Rajeswarifzbk said...

Rabbi Maroof, Shalom Aleichem. I saw were you mentioned on another blog that there were hints of a non-literal (or non-universal) mabul in Midrashim and in Rav Saadia Gaon. Can you please tell me where the reference is? Thanks

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