Tag Archives: SPinoza

Rabbi Hirschenson’s Malki Bakodesh

I was given a copy of the 2006 reprint of Rabbi Hayyim Hirschenson’s Malki baKodesh on my last journey. I have read the older Hebrew edition. But as I pack for the next journey, I took it out to read for Shabbat.and looked at the new edition, He writes as 1929 Zionist. who attended the early Zionist congresses and wants to deal with the political problems that will arrive. He wants to assure that Religious Jews would not require a king and would not require the institution of sacrifices. He wants to allow people on to the Temple mount but as house of prayer for all people. It is permitted to join the Jewish legion even if it is a non-obligatory war- yet was are not in a messianic age. Finally, he accepts the concept of a high court of appeals- something that Rav Kook vehemently objected to its institution.Along the way and unlike most Rabbinic works are discussions of Horace Kalen, Louis Brandeis, and Jabotinsky. He supports the creation of legal boards and mishpat ivri to avoid Rabbinic courts. And finds the Balfour declaration a major event that should reorient Judaism. No law of the Torah can be against true civilization

In the original 1929 edition there was already an English preface which encouraged the role of the populous, and the need to make sure the halakhah does not perish. ” They deal with considerations of primary importance for every Jew who is interested in the organic continuation of Jewish life in the line of historical development of Jewish teaching on the basis of Halacha.” The editor of the new edition notes the influence of Abraham Lincoln’s  “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government: of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”.

He is anti Kingship based on the Abrabanel. And his approach seems to solve problems by making things problematic. The Bavli says this but the midreshei halakhah say other things and our questions cannot be answered so we can have a removal of a Rabbinic category. So unlike Maimonides who creates an ideal messianic halakhah- Hirschenson shows there is no ideal and there the laws are inoperative. He also used the technical questions of the Vilna Gaon, R. Akiva Eier and the Torah Temimah, to remove closure. As a said in my YUTorah class on Hirschenson- he is not just creating liberal position but works through Horayot and Sanhedrin and undoing them. Unlike others who try and make him Maimonidean, philosophic, or intellectual modernist. He is more historic oriented, a strong defense of popularism, and is more about removal of law than the construction of new law. (cf, the volume’s introduction that compares him to David Hartman).

A few theological points:

He writes that he was witness to WWI and the slaughter of the Armenians and decides that there is a need to write a new Zohar style apocalypse, like the Nistarot of Rabbi Shimon or Zohar Shemot 6-7, which he wrote and called “Tikkune Hamalkhut”

He wrote and analysis of Spinoza’s ethics and what we can learn from it in Spinoza’s work,  contained in his Musagei Shav veha-Emet. He can use Spinoza because he is not trying to create rationality, rather he is seeking to create opening for a broader life, like Rabbi Reines.

Coincidently, I had Hirschenson’s hagadah at hand, literally, someone recently sent me a copy.

Here are a few ideas from it:

“Maimonides did not intend that there would be only 13 principles of faith; there are many other principles in the Torah. Maimonides needed to explain only those principles that the masses would not understand because of their philosophic depth… There are many halakhot that are also principles such as those of “kill and do not violate.” And in the case of the Hagadah, the wicked son writes himself out of Judaism.

He translates “pereshut- zu derekh eretz” as one of the class system, perishut means class and the Jews who were originally upper class were treated as lower class and that is a major afflication.

The hagadah states that Jews are free in many countries due to minority rights but they are not spiritually free yet because are feeling the oppression of the majority culture and therefore do not have love of Torah and fear of heaven.  He also notes that until he cme to the US, he never knew why both phrases are needed and now he sees that one can have a sense of heaven and be totally removed from [the laws of] Shabbat and Torah.

Angel’s Maimonides – rationality and social order

Steve Nadler gives a favorable review to Marc Angel’s  Maimonides, Spinoza and Us: Toward an Intellectually Vibrant Judaism. Nadler, nevertheless places his critiques between the lines. Nadler supports Spinoza’s concept of rationality in which we live rational human beings.  Angel wants Judaism without superstition. But is a lack of superstition the same as rationality?

“Rambam and Spinoza both located superstition in the realm of ignorance and irrational fear…. Rational people will learn to overcome the tendency toward superstition and will root their lives in reason and in an intellectual love of God.”

On this I am overwhelmed by .the simplicity of the definition of rationality. Much of the philosophy of the 1970’s and 1980s discussed rationality. Winch said that it is all contextual, and after some great volumes by Bryan Wilson and then Hollis & Lucas we conclude with Taylor’s defense of universal rationality but as within a given system. In that middle period we had many such as Douglas and Turner who said that the term is only in reference to one’s system- it reveals how one defined one’s social order.

Treating Maimonides as rejecting superstition is following the minimal Maimonideans somewhere between the Rashba’s rejection of kaparot and the Meiri rejecting non- philosophic agadot. It is not the Maimonides of the philosophers- it is not Gersonides, Falquera, or Narboni. It is not even the Maimonideanism of Radak who discusses how he studies the natural order on Shabbat. Maiimonides is here for the broad community- no superstition but not the Maimonides of those who read.  There is no offering of a new Guide of the Perplexed that combines the philosophy of our age and Judaism .

Nadler concludes:

But the success of Angel’s project depends on how well he manages tensions that will be apparent to contemporary rationalist critics of religious belief. For example, while decrying attempts to import superstitious elements into Jewish practice (talismans, prayer for hire, etc.), he suggests that (according to Maimonides) the harm they bring includes the loss of one’s portion in the world to come. And Angel himself apparently believes in the efficacy of prayer, because “God is always present and listening everywhere.” These and other elements of even an “intellectually vibrant” Judaism will strike nonbelievers as no less superstitious than red strings and amulets.

Eliezer Goldman, following Weber, had already written that Maimonides is rational not in the modern sense but in the sense of having a fixed goal and system and then working within it. The rejection of superstition seems to define a current social order. Maimonides would actually reject  “God is always present and listening everywhere” in its modern American usage. In the Guide it is defined in more naturalistic terms.

We can use a good discussion of how these beliefs  connect to modern scientific worldview. The 1970’s rationality debate used as their example the Azande of Africa who followed the natural order but also resorted to witchcraft to provide meaning, telos, and remove contingency. The natural and the religious may be on two separate planes. In this case, Maimonides describes a theoretical sabian magic and then uses as a yardstick and rubric to explain how one should relate to the commandments without magical idolatry. In the modern case, we want a rational Orthodoxy, so we project  a lack of rationality onto others, henceforth called superstition, and if we don’t violate our own definition then willy-nilly, we are rational.

Maybe we can be more like the Azande and accept have both the natural order and witchcraft? or more like Spinoza and have rational educated lives and have religion as its own realm? or we can be like Maimonides himself who had an esoteric Torah for the philosophers and the fighting of superstition for the masses and that philosophy that should not be brought to the masses?. And what of symbolist approaches such as Ricoeur?

How can there be a faith-based sectarian religion that is informed by rational thinking, one that avoids the Scylla of irrational faith and the Charybdis of rational unbelief?

This seems like a false dichotomy and does not correspond to the fragmented, multiple realms of our lives.  Nor does it correspond to context of rationality. My question is: how does this dichotomy portray a very specific social order of what is in and what is out. Do we all really color just within the printed lines of a coloring book?

Maimonides believed the ancient prophets to be morally and intellectually gifted individuals — much like philosophers, except with greater imaginative powers.

Is this a potential definition of prophecy as a acquired perfection? Does this require a philosophic reading of the Bible? And wouldn’t this negate the vibrant literary reading that people are giving to the Bible? The Bible should only be understood by gifted individuals like the prophets. Should we create a prophetic Orthodoxy teaching people to attain these levels? And as Feyerabend ended his classic work Against Method – – If a non system allowed Rabbi Akiva to gain knowledge of the heikhalot- who  re we to try and impose a rational system?