Emunah Peshutah vs Machashavah

A basic problem when approaching Jewish philosophy is the appropriateness of studying it altogether. As Prof. Sholom Carmy wrote on Avodah:

The people who keep insisting that it’s necessary to prove things about G-d, including His existence, seem to take it for granted that devising these proofs is identical with knowing G-d.
Now if I know a human being personally the last thing I’d do, except as a purely intellectual exercise, is prove his or her existence.

Focusing on the Philosopher’s G-d makes it difficult to see the Personal G-d. On the other hand, without theology, our picture of G-d is blurry, and often wrong.

So the question is, what is the appropriate balance between the two?

I found a variety of opinions:

1- The Rambam seems to belittle emunah peshutah. Yedi’ah is the key to olam haba. The hoi palloi may have to settle for the vague approximation of emunah peshutah, but the philosopher’s machshavah amuqah is superior.

2- The Baal haTanya invokes a mystical resolution. The conflict is a function of pursuing machshavah amuqah from a source other than the Yechidah Kelalis. (The one sage each generation who is like “Moshe in his generation”.) Through the unity of the national soul’s yechidah, a single view of G-d emerges even at both planes of existance.

3- At the other extreme, Rav Nachman miBreslov discouraged the study of theology, placing all value on having a relationship with HaQadosh barukh Hu. The philosopher’s G-d, while logically sound, is cold, transcendent and incomprehensible — very unconducive to this natural parent-child style relationship which is at the center of his definition of “deveiqus” and man’s tafqid.

4- The Brisker approach is to avoid the whole subject. As Rav Moshe Feinstein put it, it’s a hashkafah of not studying hashkafah. It differs from Rav Nachman’s position not so much in that they feel it’s wrong, but that it’s pointless. The ikkar is learning halakhah and man’s duty in this world.

R’ YB Soloveitchik puts forth this position in his essary Qol Dodi Dofeiq: The Jewish question [of tragedy] is not “Why?” but “How am I supposed to respond?” Rabbi Soloveitchik simply wasn’t curious about theological questions. His philosophy has an existentialist agenda. It doesn’t deal with questions of how G-d is or how He runs the world, but rather he presents a detailed analysis of the human condition and the world as we see it. Because our dilemma is part of the human condition, he discusses it as a dialectic. Rabbi Soloveitchik has no problem with the idea that we simultaneously embrace conflicting truths. However, he leaves little record of his own personal confrontation with the tension of this particular dialectic. I believe it’s his Brisker heritage.

The problem with positions 3 and 4 is that they do not have the support of either the scholastic rishonim (eg: Rav Saadia Ga’on, the Rambam, R’ Albo), the antischolastic rishonim (eg: R’ Yehudah haLevi), the kabbalistically inclined (eg: the Ramban), nor the Ramchal, the Besh”t, the Gra, R’ Chaim Vilozhiner… Their nature is that only an explicit discussion of our particular problem would turn up antecedents. One can’t argue from silence that some rishon agreed with them because perhaps he simply chose to commit his time to publishing in other areas.

5- When thinking about this further I realized that I assumed a different stance when writing AishDas’s charter. I think it warrants mention because I believe it’s the position of the Mussar Movement. It reflects the approach I see utilized by Rav Dessler in Michtav MeiEliyahu.

R’ Lopian defines mussar as dealing with the space of an amah — getting ideas from the mind to the heart. We often think things that don’t reflect how we feel and many of the forces that influence our decision-making. Akin to RYBS’s dialectic, we embrace different ideas and motives in different modes of our consciousness.

As for our contradiction, the question is one of finding unity between mind and its ability to understand and explain, to philosophize about G-d and His governance of the universe, and the heart and how we feel and react toward Him.

Emunah, bitachon, ahavas Hashem, yir’as Hashem, etc… are middos. They are not acquired directly through study, but through the tools of tiqun hamidos. (With the observation that constant return to a subject operates on both levels.) There is a reason why the kiruv movement is built on the experience of a Shabbos, and not some ultimate proof of G-d. (Aish haTorah’s “Discovery” program, the only counter-example that came to mind, is intended to be a hook, to pique people’s interest to get them to that Shabbos, not kiruv itself.)

Rather than seeing this as a dilemma, I saw it as a need. We can embrace both because each involves a very different component of self. And since avodah must be bekhol nafshekha, we actually MUST study both machshavah and mussar. Meaningful avodas Hashem must require involvement of both mind and heart.

You may also like...

No Responses

  1. Yoni Sacks says:


    You start with a survey of what Torah authorities say about Hashem. This is not step one for me. As a human being my problem is not- what do authorities say about Hashem. My problem is- what do I know about Hashem. Ultimately this is the only way I am going to make intelligent decisions bout a way of life given the reality that there are so many authorities, Torah and non Torah. I could probably spend my life reading authorities and not reach the end of them. In this we face the same problem as Colin Powell in the area of war. If one were to take the time to wait for all data and all opinions on the data on going to war, the war would already be over.

    My first step then is – what approach should I employ in choosing a way of life within the time I have? My answer is Torah.

  2. Yoni Sacks says:

    I apologize I missed a step. My first step is asking what approach should I employ in choosing a way of life. My answer is to seek the best evidence possible to me in identifying the best way of life. My second step is to explore the major ways of life available and the basis of their claims to be the best. For easons I think you know, my answer is Torah.

  3. micha says:

    Except that it’s quite clear that that’s not what people actually do. We choose which arguments we find most compelling based upon which answer resonates. That, in a nutshell, is the bottom line of the Kuzari’s objection to philosophy. The validity of a proof rests on whether I see the world in the same terms as its postulates.

    In reality, most people try a lifestyle, find it compelling, and therefore see the world from the same angle as some philosophical argument — which they then find compelling.

    Or as I put it in another post: why accept something pieced together from arguments built upon 12 observations rather than accepting it based on the experience of it itself?

    Kant dismissed the entire possibility of your endeavor, and few philosophers have broken ranks since. We really can’t know the world objectively enough to make old-style philosophy meaningful or reliable.


  4. Yoni Sacks says:

    Are you trying to use rational argument based on evidence (its not what people do) to convince me there is no place for rationality? How can this make sense?

    Yes most people fail to use their minds, and live bad lives. This is not an argument for what it is intelligent to do.

  5. Yoni Sacks says:

    Incidentally, you can measure what people really think about rationality, from their behavior in cases where our survival is at clearly stake, Very few, Kantian or non Kantian, expects a general to go to war, or a surgeon to operate based upon anything other than the best possible evidence and clear rational argument. We tend to reserve our skepticism about rationality to religion.

  6. micha says:

    When I said that this discussion doesn’t fit in a comment chain, it’s not because your blog’s comment chains are any more restrictive than mine. This won’t really work here either.

    Bottom line: There is no such thing as a solid proof. A proof is always less grounded than the weakest assumption that goes into it. The whole notion of requiring philosophical proof for a belief to be well grounded is itself not very well grounded. This is the reason why the wiggle room exists for even the most rational of people to accept different conclusions, each with their own proof (as noted in Kuzari 1:13 and elsewhere in that section). This is why when Kant got on the scene, Western Philosophy was torn between the Empiricists (who gave the most epistemological weight to scientific proof) and Idealists (who valued concepts, such as mathematical proofs) as more reliable, and Kant accepted half of each — both were correct that the other’s notion of a solid proof was fundamentally flawed.

    RYBS didn’t expect emunah to be based on philosophical proof and at the far end of the spectrum, neither does Breslov.

    What I suggested was the reverse: Do not keep Shabbos because you proved to your own satisfaction that the Creator gave us a Torah which told us to. Rather, believe there is a Creator Who gave us a Torah that told us to keep the Shabbos on the basis of the first-hand experience of Shabbos.

    And before you ask about observers of other religions and their experiences… We can dismiss the accuracy of their experience no less trivially as we can dismiss the accuracy of their philosophical proofs. Just as you accept that our proof demonstrates that their proof must be flawed; our experience demonstrates that the conclusions they draw from their experience is flawed.

    To directly address these two comments:

    5: I’m using evidence to show that know proof is as solid as you claim. People use their minds — but only to assemble conslusions from data. Where do data / first principles / postulates come from? Is that mechanism any more reliable than what I’m showing numerous baalei mesorah based emunah upon? It can’t be — it’s the very same mechanism; our judgment of whether a fact fits our experience, or not. Emunah is only one step away from the evidence, I do not need a multi-step proof from evidence to some conclusion. It only sounds more certain whereas in reality it has more potential places for error.

    6: People go to war over religion, for example. Are you saying they proved their religion and only go to war on clear and rational argument? We reserve the notion of skepticism, that a proof must be impeccable in order to be of value, to religion. And that way lies agnosticism, because no proof is impeccable. You can never prove to yourself you didn’t make a mistake; that proof itself could be beset by the same mistake!


  7. Yoni Sacks says:


    I am not suggesting the logical form as a magical cure for fantasy and self deception. This was never the contention of Rambam and Talmud Torah generally. What I am arguing is that it the best option that we have.

    Let us limit our discussion to Torah Shebaal Peh and Tanach, for the sake of argument. Are we to say that the Reform and conservative, are correct, that Talmud torah, as limited to baal peh and bichtav, is purely a subjective expression of the given Rabbinic authority? Are all the carefully constructed arguments of the Rishonim mere wastes of time in the post Kantian world?

  8. Yoni Sacks says:

    People go to war over religion, for example. Are you saying they proved their religion and only go to war on clear and rational argument?

    If we explore this case, I think it brings out the core problem quite well. Let us take a current example, Iran. There is a dimension of reality, namely the means of Jihad, where the Iranian functions quite well. It is expected in Iran, that the General will use the best possible means of war, including Nuclear research, of spreading the word of Allah, as they understand this Emunah peshuta.

    It is in the basis of whether Jihad is something to be pursued as an end, as a benefit and a good, that the Iranian falls down. Amazingly, the same careful formulation of scientific thought grounded in evidence used to find the nuclear science needed to arm himself with the means of war, fail to be applied in the scrutiny of the basis of the reality of Jihad as an end. The reason for this distinction is clear. Were they to push past their their emunah peshuta to true research methods they use in seeking the means of war, there would be no justification for the Jihad they pursue.

    יהוה עזי ומעזי ומנוסי ביום צרה אליך גוים יבאו מאפסי ארץ ויאמרו אך שקר נחלו אבותינו הבל ואין בם מועיל׃

    This is what I meant when i said that we reserve our skepticism to religion.

  9. micha says:

    I’m saying two things:

    1- That philosophical proof is no more solid than the postulates it’s based upon. Those postulates come to us the same ways that you are rejecting: what fits our experience, and what we learn second-hand from sources that worked for us in the past. Not only isn’t philosophical proof more certain than justification from experience (or even from tradition), it’s inherently shakier. It requires accepting more such givens based on experience, each of which no more perfect than that which you’re trying to replace, plus you have to be sure you haven’t erred in your chain of reasoning.

    The Shiite in Iran not only draws from a separate set of experiences and bases his religion on them. But, he could also turn to the descendents of the Metaqalamun and bring their philosophical proofs for Shiite Islam as well. Just as a Catholic can turn to all of his faith-community’s philosophical work since Augustine and Aquinus, etc… Religious philosophical debate runs aground when we find that we are arguing from conflicting postulates. (Or, in the case of Judaism and the various Christianities, from conflicting understandings of a common sacred text.) Very rare is one able to show the Qalam or Scholasticists failed in their logic.

    See my post in which I contrast ever-more-rigorous versions of the Argument from Design, from Hillel to the Rambam to thermodynamics to my own variant based on telecommunications and computer theory. The more rigorous one makes the proof, the more givens one has to posit, the more times one has to invoke common experience or subject-matter authority. (In the case of some of the information theory I rely upon, the reader is likely to accept some of my givens on the say-so of it appearing in much-cited lectures by John von Neumann and papers by Claude Shannon and Gregory Chaitin than invest the effort to understand them themselves.)

    2- That M not only assumes that philosophical proof is certain, he then makes it the basis of what we today call “emunah” and he probably would have preferred calling “yedi’ah”. This too I object to, for reasons beyond my differences with his epistomology (as outlined in #1). I do not believe that knowledge plays as much of a role in akrasia (the problem of making bad decisions; roughly: the yeitzer hara) as the Rambam did.

    To summarize: in #1 I posit Kant over the Greeks and in #2, Freud and the whole field since his day (as well as the Maharal, Ramchal, R’ Dessler, etc…) over Aristotle.


  10. Yoni Sacks says:

    That philosophical proof is no more solid than the postulates it’s based upon. Those postulates come to us the same ways that you are rejecting: what fits our experience, and what we learn second-hand from sources that worked for us in the past. Not only isn’t philosophical proof more certain than justification from experience (or even from tradition), it’s inherently shakier. It requires accepting more such givens based on experience, each of which no more perfect than that which you’re trying to replace, plus you have to be sure you haven’t erred in your chain of reasoning.

    Can you give a concrete example of Philosophical proof being shakier than justification from experience?

  11. Yoni Sacks says:

    If the Iranian Shiite argument is so persuasive, why must their first resort be to violence?

  12. Yoni Sacks says:

    ז אמרו חכמים הראשונים, כל הכועס, כאילו עובד עבודה זרה. ואמרו שכל הכועס–אם חכם הוא, חכמתו מסתלקת ממנו, ואם נביא הוא, נבואתו מסתלקת ממנו. בעלי כעס, אין חייהם חיים; לפיכך ציוו להתרחק מן הכעס, עד שינהיג עצמו שלא ירגיש אפילו לדברים המכעיסים. וזו היא הדרך הטובה, ודרך הצדיקים: הן עלובין, ואינן עולבין; שומעין חרפתם, ואינן משיבין; עושין מאהבה, ושמחין בייסורים. עליהם הכתוב אומר, “ואוהביו, כצאת השמש בגבורתו” (שופטים ה,לא).

  13. micha says:

    “Can you give a concrete example of Philosophical proof being shakier than justification from experience?”

    “If the Iranian Shiite argument is so persuasive, why must their first resort be to violence?”


    Seriously, though, there is no way to objectively rank the shakiness of a proof. I explained why I believed philosophical proof MUST be shakier — every one of its givens are established via experience. The probability of any one of them being false is greater than the probability of being mistaken about one given postulate. Bottom line: both are claims confirmed by being consistent with repeated experience. Turns out even Euclid was “wrong” in the sense that plane geometry only approximates real space, never mind doing actual geo + metry (earth measuring) on the surface of a sphere or imperfect oblate spheroid.

    I fail to see the relevance of your quote about savlanus to our discussion.

  14. Yoni Sacks says:

    I fail to see the relevance of your quote about savlanus to our discussion.

    I was elaborating on the idea that the Iranian shows his lack of wisdom and inability to persuade through his unbridled violence and anger.

  15. Yoni Sacks says:

    Seriously, though, there is no way to objectively rank the shakiness of a proof. I explained why I believed philosophical proof MUST be shakier — every one of its givens are established via experience.

    Simple. Illustrate the grounds you present as the basis of experience being less shaky than philosophy, in a concrete instance. I need some experience of the shakiness you are talking about. Right now you have only philosophical argument that philosophical argument is shaky. I am not sure I can trust that. Give me experience so I can be sure.

  16. micha says:

    You mean like the proofs the earth was flat vs. seeing a ship descend over the horizon (or a building appear top-down when you approach)?

    I hope that example, which does satisfy your request, show how impossible it is to rank comparable shakiness.

    Another one: Xeno proved motion was impossible, being the completion of an infinite series.

  17. Yoni Sacks says:

    How do we know that the Earth is not flat? It looks flat?

  18. micha says:

    As I said, we see boats descend below the horizon and mountains rise up when we come closer to them. We see the world is round, when we really look.

    (Didn’t I say that in #17???)


  19. Yoni Sacks says:

    So I have two apparently conflicting observations in experience alone. Is there an experience that tells me how to reconcile the conflict? Or is it an argument that I use to explain the conflicting experiences?

  20. micha says:

    Actually, there is no visual evidence the world is flat. (Obviously, because it isn’t.) People ignored their senses telling them there was a slight curvature, because a flat earth made more sense to them. If it were round, we’d fall off! But this is spending too much time on an example rather than the point.

    A philosopher can prove that the spheres have intellects. Aristo (followed by the Rambam) required reinsertions of impetus to the object, which he believed was caused by intellects. A flawed postulate — that objects moved due to an impetus which runs out, rather than a momentum which is conserved. In turn, due to misunderstanding an observation — they didn’t take into account friction (including air drag) and heat. Philosophy rests atop experience, and thus can’t be any more sound than it.

  21. Yoni Sacks says:

    Don’t be so hard on the ancients, it is far easier to see these things in hindsight, than at the time. These sorts of errors will always occur, who knows what we will look like in a thousand years?

    9 מה-שהיה הוא שיהיה, ומה-שנעשה, הוא שיעשה; ואין כל-חדש תחת השמש: 10 יש דבר שיאמר ראה-זה חדש הוא; כבר היה לעלמים, אשר היה מלפננו: 11 אין זכרון לראשנים; וגם לאחרנים שיהיו, לא-יהיה להם זכרון, עם שיהיו לאחרנה:

    Where does an observation stop and interpretation of an observation begin? It is obvious that to be useful, an observation must be generalized. This generalization is not the sense perception itself, it is a definition or formulation of a universal exemplified by the sense perception. The examples you bring of Aristotle and Newton view of motion is no exception.

    What is needed then, is a basis of judging these interpretations of sense perception.

  22. Yoni Sacks says:

    Especially when the sensible interpretation of observations contradict.

  23. micha says:

    I’m more in judgment of contemporaries who would prefer the certainty one can feel following the ancients than an honest exploration of their own emotions and problems and seeking answers that actually satisfy. The person who builds his beliefs by denying certain things in his own character will be left ch”v bereft in a time of crisis.

  24. Yoni Sacks says:

    I am not sure what you mean. Rambam, the archetype of the Rishonim who utilized Aristotle as their summary of science, was all for exploring the Nefesh. So too was the Philosopher himself. On the entrance to the Academy, as we are told, it said, “know thyself”. The issue here is that knowing oneself presupposes an awareness of what “knowing” is.

  25. micha says:

    I’m saying that philosophy took a turn with the Empiricists vs Idealists and Kant for a reason. People in the modern age are bothered by different things than people back then. People today, in post-industrial (relative) comfort, are bothered by different things than people before the revolution (which was the state of the shtetl dweller through until WWI).

    Someone who enjoys thinking and build a whole classical-philosophical structure, or for that matter someone who enjoys having answers and gets a “Jewish Theology for Dummies” book at his local sefarim store or kiruv web site, isn’t getting the answers to the questions that really come up when push comes to shove.

    That’s my target audience. Although really I should be focusing on presenting an alternative, and not go on the attack. “You can catch more flies with honey…” But nu, I’m human.

  26. Yoni Sacks says:

    Someone who enjoys thinking and build a whole classical-philosophical structure

    It is not about enjoying thinking and building classical-philosophical structure, though of course it is delightful. It is about the fact that classical philosophical structure is the way halacha exists. You have a nice illustration of this in your Aristotle section on trajectory. This is just the very tip of the iceberg I assure you. The foundational notion of a system of 613 mitzvot is the real issue.

    If someone comes along and creates a Mishne Torah that gives exposition on Taryag, founded on a new basis, I am interested. Until then, I think your point about Halacha taking an Aristotelian classical-philosophical structure stands true.

  27. micha says:

    But my whole notion of the role in understanding halakhah of how we perceive the world is based upon Existentialism. The fact that Aristo happened to catalog the world as perceived rather than engaging in science doesn’t validate the usability of his worldview.

  28. Yoni Sacks says:

    But it validates the Philosopher as a basis of approaching the legal model of the world Halacha actually uses. It also validates him as a basis of approaching the Shitta of the Rambam on those legal models. As Rambam said an entire civilization can exist so that the 4 Amot of Halacha can be served.

    The Philosopher thought he was doing science, but in reality, created an introductory primer for understanding the sense based legal models of the world deployed by Halacha.

  29. Yoni Sacks says:

    Just read the intro of Rav Kafih to Moreh Nevuchim. I think he explains the uniqueness of Rambam in the world of Halacha, excellently.

    עלינו איפוא לעמוד על רגלנו להודות ולהלל ליוצר המאורות אשר ברא את המאור הגדול הזה להאיר לדורות. כי להקות להקות הטוענים את המחשבה עמדו לה ליהדות, וכל אחד מנסה להלעיטנו מחשבותיו – הזיותיו. אך איש מהם לא נסה להראותינו את ידו החזקה וזרועו הנטויה בחכמתה המעשית של תורת ישראל, איש מהם לא נסה להראותינו את שלמות יכולתו ביתר המדעים הניתנים למשישה ולבחינה מעשית, מדברים הם גדולות גדולות בשטחים שהסופיסטיקה יכולה למצוא בהם ידיה ורגליה, בקרקע רכה ואבקית שכל מדרך כף רגל ואף של קלניתא עשוי להטביע בה רשומו, הקץ לדברי רוח. רבנו הגדול הוא היחידי אשר נטה ידו החזקה והעלה את כל פניני בראשית מנבכי ים הספרות ההלכית היהודית, חרזה בחוט של זהב ותלאה בצואר היהדות הוא ספרו היד החזקה. וזו היא הערובה ליכולתו הכבירה, רבנו הוא היחידי אשר הראה כי לו עשר ידות ביתר המדעים ההכשרתיים וזו היא הערובה ליכולתו השפוטית ולצדק שיקוליו במדעי הרוח. ספרו זה של רבנו הוא בית היוצר לשכלול השכל האנושי ולטביעת דעת האדם במטבע תורת ישראל והאמונה היהודית, ואם כדברי רבנו בפירושו למסכת חגיגה פ”ב מ”א:
    “כל שלא חס על כבוד קונו, הכוונה בזה מי שלא חס על שכלו, כי השכל הוא כבוד ה'”,
    הרי אפשר לומר כי ספר זה “ערש הכבוד”. ואם גופו של רבנו הגדול נעדר מאתנו זה מאות בשנים הרי רוחו ועטו חיים וקיימים לעולמי עד, ולא אמנע מלהביא כאן דברי הפילוסוף הנודע אבי נצר אלפאראבי במאמרו “פצוץ אלחכם” וז”ל מתורגם:
    “אל תחשוב כי העט כלי דומם, והלוח שטח שטוח, והכתב כיור מרוקם. אלא העט מלאך רוחני והלוח מלאך רוחני, והכתב ציור האמתיות. והרי העט מקבל את העניינים שבדבר ומפקידם בלוח על ידי הכתיבה הרוחנית, ואז יצא המשפט מן העט והסכום מן הלוח… ומהם ישוט אל המלאכים אשר בשמים, ואחר כך שופע אל המלאכים אשר בארץ, ואז ימצא הסכום במציאות”.
    עלינו איפוא לעתד את עצמנו להיות המלאכים אשר בארץ, כדי שישפיעו עלינו המלאכים אשר בשמים אותו השפע המתהווה מציור האמתיות אשר צייר רבנו על ידי האותיות שחקק בדפי הניר.
  30. micha says:

    I don’t think it validates the role of classical Philosophy at all. It is a coincidence that both end up concerned with the world as perceived. Halakhah does so, I’m suggesting, because it’s perception that refines souls / connects them to the Creator. The philosopher did so because he thought that his postulates could be accepted without testing. Chazal, if they had come up with idea of the scientific experiment, would still have gone with perception over a sounder notion of objective reality. Philosophy would / did not — the discipline of science budded off from it.

  31. micha says:

    I read R’ Qafih’s words as lauding halakhah-as-science as part of his praise of halakhah’s greatest scientist since chazal. Chokhmah hamaasith. The majority of rishonim and acharonm treat halakhah more like other legal systems, and thus creating a huge divide between halakhah (the Yad) and aggadita (the Moreh). Digging up the truth isn’t the right metaphor for halakhah, at least, as everyone but the Rambam (and I’m sure other examples of whom I’m unaware) the Darda’im and the less traditional Rambamists (R’ Chait’s talmidim, a subset of the Hilltop Youth, some of the LWMO / UTJ crowd) practice it.

  32. Yoni Sacks says:

    Could you restate your last two comments a little more simply? I don’t understand what you are saying?

  33. micha says:

    Sorry, my time for these conversations is limited, so I tend to be brief bearing into overly-brief.

    Why does halakhah align with classical Natural Philosophy more often than more modern science? Not because of conceptual alignment, but because each have reasons to look at the world as perceived rather than try to get past first-hand experience to get at a more objective truth. Natural Philosophy was a philosophy, and thus took self-evident givens and used them to build less evident but more fundamental conclusions. They weren’t exploring ways to get sounder postulates. Halakhah is out to refine the soul, to get closer to G-d, to . It therefore doesn’t revolve around objective reality because it’s focus is on how the action (or inaction) impacts the psyche and soul. Rather than simply never considering that the first-hand experience could be a mere approximation of a more objective reality, the halachic program doesn’t even require that objective reality. Entirely different reason than Aristotle’s. Not only doesn’t the reason WRT halakhah generalize to show an alignment between Torah and classical philosophy in general, but even within the realm of defining that metzi’us is, the alignment is coincidental.

    Second comment, expanded: The Rambam thought halakhah was a science. Not that determining metzi’us should be scientific rather than natural philosophical, because that would be anachronistic — no one realized the problems with natural philosophy yet. I accidentally reused the word “science” between the two comments without clarifying.

    Rather, I am saying that the Rambam, and the Darda’im (the qehillah that R’ Qafih taught and led) understand the role of a poseiq is to determine to the best of his ability what it was Hashem legislated, or what it was the beis din originally enacted. It’s a search for original intent. Most of the observant community see halakhah as an evolution of interpretation. IOW, which do I care more about in defining a current pesaq, do I want to know what R’ Meir held, or do I want to know how R’ Moshe Feinstein understood the Shach’s understanding of the Rama’s understanding of the Maharil’s position on the Mordechai’s take on R’ Huna’s position on R’ Meir? If there was drift in interpretation during the near-millenium since R’ Meir, do we unwind it as being an error, or accept it as being what it means for Torah to be be’al peh… That the evolution that Orality allows is a good thing.

    And realize we’re not really comparing what R’ Meir meant vs the chain from R’ Meir to RMF. We’re really comparing our own reconstruction by stepping outside that chain to the evolution we are convinced occurred. Short of a time machine and the ability to ask R’ Meir directly, both are deductions from the original.

  34. Yoni Sacks says:

    I understand what you are saying, thank you.

    May I ask where your empirical data about Rabbi Chaits and R Kafih’s “original intent” approach comes from?

  35. micha says:

    Not R’ Chait… he’s more moderate. It’s more a cadre of his talmidim. Such as R’ Saul Zucker, one of my son’s HS principal’s back at Mesivta of North Jersey a”h, and the person at Mesora.org. I speak to them often enough. My impression of the Darda’im and the Rabbis Qafih are from quotes like the one you posted. They are impressions built from from numerous instances, and it’s hard for me to list examples from which I smelled a pattern.

    (Jose Faur is more extreme than either in his Rambamism, but since he teaches at JTSA, I’m not sure his opinion is in scope for this discussion.)

    See the Avodah discussion Truth and the Rambam, largely between my friend R’ Zvi Lampel (baal “The Dynamics of Dispute”), R David Riceman (who I manage to confuse utterly), and myself.

  36. Yoni Sacks says:

    I know R Zucker fairly well and R Moshe Bar Chaim of Mesorah very well. I am quite sure they agree with our shared Rebbi, R. Chait, that Talmud Torah is not about original intent as thought of by Robert Bork, which did not exist even in the time of Moshe Rabbenu himself. I remember speaking with Rabbi Chait about this very topic, at the time of the Bork hearings. He categorically rejected “original intent” as humanly possible or meaningful in any way, in any thought system, including Halacha. Lo Bshamayim Hi.

    I assume that, in the heat of debate, my friends may have used a word like “truth” or some such that appeared to mean original intent as it is used by Robert Bork. This is not what they mean.

  37. micha says:

    Ah ferinstance… The gemara says one can’t hang a mezuzah like a doornail (nagar). Machloqes whether this means that it can’t be horizontal or if it can’t be vertical. (And if the problem is horizontal, does that mean front-to-back across the door frame, or into the door frame?) Until Ashkenaz in the 11th cent or so, everyone held that one should hang the mezuzah vertically.

    Then something happened. Archeologists noted that in many homes from which Jews were evicted during the Crusades the new owner turned the mezuzah hole into a cross. Perhaps people wanted to stymie that eventuality. I don’t know, but it’s a cute theory. Anyway, Ashk changed the norm, and now we hang the mezuzah at a diagonal.

    The Briskers would be proud — during the era of the baalei Tosafos already we have an example of abandoning accepted pesaq for the sake of being yotzei lekhol hadei’os. Which a diagonal does — a mezuzah hung at an angle is not like a nagar by either (or any of the 3) definitions!

    And yet, R’ Zucker made a point of hanging mezuzos vertically at MNJ. Only floor in the IDT building where this was true.

    Because the original way is more right.

    That’s just one example, the one that stuck in my head because it was my first exposure to that mindset.

    I can’t compare this to Bork, since I don’t know Constitutional Law. But in any case, it’s a pursuit of truth rather than a connection to an evolving system.


  38. Yoni Sacks says:

    “A pursuit of truth” needs to be clarified.

    Have you ever read Rav Moshe’s introduction to Igeros Moshe? He offers a very nice distinction between unattainable “Emes Klapei Shemaya” vs Emes resulting from an individuals honest Limud of the area? He points out there that a person is not obligated to find the absolute truth, Emes klapei Shemaya. Rather, one is obligated to find his own understanding of an area. This commitment Rav Moshe has to the honest investigation of the individual Chacham, seeing how an area is understood by his own mind, is the approach I associate with the Rav as well.

  39. micha says:

    RMF devalues pursuit of truth in favor of pursuit of law.

    There are rishonim who go further, taking “eilu va’eilu” quite literally, and consider the legal process to be a selection among truths. See my blog entries on “Eilu vaEilu” part I and (for a further analysis of the approach that most speaks to me) part II.

    The Rambam, it would seem, believes the process is more like science or philosophy, and therefore what one is convinced was the law as enacted (either by HQBH or by beis din) is binding. Notions of appeals to later interpretations, or appeal to practical precedent — puq chazi mai ama devar — don’t enter his way of doing things. It is more important to get things right than to preserve the legal processes.

  40. Yoni Sacks says:

    I don’t see Rav Moshe devaluing truth at all, why do you say that? I certainly agree that Rambam views Halacha as an application of logical. I also find it fascinating that Ramchal agrees with Rambam completely that Halacha is an application of Higgayon.

  41. micha says:

    He says that a poseiq can succeed even if he fails to find the truth as it is in heaven. To my mind, this devalues the role of Truth-finding in pesaq. The law is the law even when it’s not the Truth, because we are obligated to follow the results of our exploration, not the Truth.

  42. Yoni Sacks says:

    The” Truth” is Hashem Himself, which no man can know, not even Moshe Rabbenu himself.

    ב לפיכך אין אמיתתו כאמיתת אחד מהם. [ד] הוא שהנביא אומר “וה’ אלוהים אמת” (ירמיהו י,י)–הוא לבדו האמת, ואין לאחר אמת כאמיתו. והוא שהתורה אומרת “אין עוד, מלבדו” (דברים ד,לה), כלומר אין שם מצוי אמת מלבדו כמותו.

    יא [י] מה הוא זה שביקש משה רבנו להשיג כשאמר “הראני נא, את כבודך” (שמות לג,יח)–ביקש לידע אמיתת הימצאו של הקדוש ברוך הוא, עד שיהיה ידוע בליבו כמו ידיעת אחד מן האנשים שראה פניו ונחקקה צורתו בקרבו, שנמצא אותו האיש נפרד בדעתו משאר האנשים; כך ביקש משה רבנו להיות מציאת הקדוש ברוך הוא נפרדת בליבו משאר מציאת הנמצאים, עד שיידע אמיתת הימצאו כמה שהיא. והשיבו ברוך הוא שאין כוח בדעת האדם החי שהוא מחובר מגוף ונפש, להשיג אמיתת דבר זה על בורייו.

    It is for this reason that we have Torah, which speak to man, in our logical categories.

    טו [יב] והואיל והדבר כך הוא, כל הדברים הללו וכיוצא בהן שנאמרו בתורה ובדברי נביאים–הכול משל ומליצה הם, כמו שנאמר “יושב בשמיים, ישחק” (תהילים ב,ד), “כיעסוני בהבליהם” (דברים לב,כא), “כאשר שש ה'” (דברים כח,סג), וכיוצא בהן. על הכול אמרו חכמים, דיברה תורה כלשון בני אדם.

    It is this inquiry, honest investigation with our limited categories that we we call “Emet” in the human framework. Rambam agrees in his perush al hamishna,in the introduction to Mishna.

    אבל כאשר רפתה שקידת התלמידים על החכמה, ונחלשה סברתם נגד סברת הלל ושמאי, ובם נפלה מחלוקת ביניהם בעיון על דברים רבים, שסברת כל אחד ואחד מהם הייתה לפי שכלו, ומה שיש בידו מן העיקרים.
    ואין להאשימם בכל זאת. שלא נכריח אנחנו לשני חכמים מתווכחים בעיון להתווכח כשֶכֶל יהושע ופנחס. ואין לנו ספק כמו כן במה שנחלקו בו, אחרי שאינם כמו שמאי והלל או כמו שהוא למעלה מהם, שהקב”ה לא צוונו בעבודתו על עניין זה. אבל ציוונו לשמוע מחכמי הדור, כמו שנאמר אל השופט אשר יהיה בימים ההם.
    ועל הדרכים האלו נפלה המחלוקת, לא מפני שטעו בהלכות, ושהאחד אומר אמת והשני שקר. ומה מאוד מבואר עניין זה לכל המסתכל בו. ומה יקר וגדול זה העיקר במצות.

  43. micha says:

    I think you heard the words and lost the thread of the converstion. The discussion had long left the theological, and shifted to asking what is halakhah? Is halakhah our obligation to follow what was legislated, and thus the halachicist is charged with finding out to the best of his ability what that was? Or, is halakhah our obligation to follow the results of a legal process, and the halachicist is more concerned with the history of interpretation of that legislation than trying to apply his own da’as to the sources of the original law?

    I argued that in my encounters with fellow talmidim of your rebbe, there appears to be (1) an affinity to holding like the Rambam even in many cases when he isn’t the rishon most others hold like (even more so than others who were influence by R’ Chaim Brisker), and (2) more fundamentally, that includes the Rambam’s attitude of “halakhah is our obligation to follow what was legislated”.

    This sub-thread came from my expressing my belief that the Rambam’s position WRT halakhah comes from the same place has his positions WRT middos, the central role he gives yedi’ah (over other forms of deveiqus or sheleimus), and his association of yedi’ah with Classical Philosophical methodology. IMHO, they are all inherited from Ariso, his chain of intellects from the Creator to the Active Intellect and from there to man’s task in life.


  44. Yoni Sacks says:

    I am just waiting for your “aha” experience. You are in the antechamber of the palace of our discussion, you just have to see where you are. Allow me to facilitate the lightening.

    Exactly as you say. Rambam’s view is that Yedia has the central role in Halacha. This Yedia is best expressed through Classical Philosophical methodology higgayon which itself emerges from the understanding of Form.

    We are now back in theology.

  45. micha says:

    I still think you’re blurring things because of the words used, and not keeping clarity of concept.

    Yedi’ah of theology has the central role in the Rambam, including why we follow halakhah.

    The Rambam’s notion of pesaq has to do with yedi’ah of the law.

    Both are yedi’ah, but not of the same thing. One can be theologically adept, and therefore merit hashgachah peratis, have the right opinions that will thus cause the right middos, and still not know what Rabban Gamliel and his beis din legislated well enough to get the pesaq right. Similarly, one can study halakhah and master the art of pesaq but still take “Yad Hashem” literally and thus not accomplish the goal of life.

    Knowledge of and compliance to halakhah isn’t the yedi’ah of G-d, it’s a set-up designed to cause that moment of epiphany “yeish mi sheqoneh olamo besha’ah achas” in which one gains that yedi’as haBorei. (As the Rambam in Peirush haMishnayos explains that quote.)

  46. Yoni Sacks says:

    Then each and every “yedia” whether of chemistry, physics and math, or Halacha is yedia precisely, and exclusively because it is instrumental to that Epiphany of knowing the source of the unity of wisdom, or Form, expressed in all things?

    If a person fails to use any subject for that epiphany purpose, it is a fundamental lack in his yedia journey as a soul?

  47. micha says:

    I am not sure I know what you mean by “[E]ach and every ‘yedia’ whether of chemistry, physics and math, or Halacha is yedia precisely, and exclusively because it is instrumental to that Epiphany of knowing the source of the unity of wisdom, or Form, expressed in all things”. But realize I can only answer the question in terms of what I would think would be the Rambam’s position. I do not personally believe that life is about yedi’ah — for all the reasons discussed so far.

    That sentence sounds to me like a blurring of map and terrain. Knowing wisdom doesn’t usually mean knowing its Source. It might be instrumental, or could be made instrumental to it. But they are still two distinct things.

    I cannot picture the Rambam speaking of a “yedi’ah journey as a soul”. “Yeish mi shekoneh olamo besha’ah achas” is taken by the Rambam as a statement that the goal, not the journey, is what matters. Leshitaso, a person’s value is the Torah they know, not the ameilus they put into getting it.

  48. Yoni Sacks says:

    Can we attain a goal without engaging in a journey?

    THE present chapter does not contain any additional matter that has not been treated in the [previous] chapters of this treatise. It is a kind of conclusion, and at the same time it will explain in what manner those worship God who have obtained a true knowledge concerning God; it will direct them how to come to that worship, which is the highest aim man can attain, and show how God protects them in this world till they are removed to eternal life.

    I will begin the subject of this chapter with a simile. A king is in his palace, and all his subjects are partly in the country, and partly abroad. Of the former, some have their backs turned towards the king’s palace, and their faces in another direction; and some are desirous and zealous to go to the palace, seeking “to inquire in his temple,” and to minister before him, but have not yet seen even the face of the wall of the house. Of those that desire to go to the palace, some reach it, and go round about in search of the entrance gate; others have passed through the gate, and walk about in the ante-chamber; and others have succeeded in entering into the inner part of the palace, and being in the same room with the king in the royal palace. But even the latter do not immediately on entering the palace see the king, or speak to him; for, after having entered the inner part of the palace, another effort is required before they can stand before the king–at a distance, or close by–hear his words, or speak to him.

  49. Yoni Sacks says:

    I am not sure I know what you mean by “[E]ach and every ‘yedia’ whether of chemistry, physics and math, or Halacha is yedia precisely, and exclusively because it is instrumental to that Epiphany of knowing the source of the unity of wisdom, or Form, expressed in all things”. But realize I can only answer the question in terms of what I would think would be the Rambam’s position. I do not personally believe that life is about yedi’ah — for all the reasons discussed so far.

    Since we are talking about what the Rambam meant in terms of “Yedia”, of course you should answer in terms of Rambam.

  50. Yoni Sacks says:

    That sentence sounds to me like a blurring of map and terrain. Knowing wisdom doesn’t usually mean knowing its Source. It might be instrumental, or could be made instrumental to it. But they are still two distinct things.

    It means knowing its source, if all Wisdom is one.

  51. micha says:

    The whole planet is one, but you could have only visited the US, Israel and England. Since you can never visit every point on the planet, you’re quite likely to know distinct pieces. Knowing the din of when Shabbos begins doesn’t mean knowing He is the Kol Yakhol. Many people know one and not the other. Especially w/in the Rambam’s worldview, where it isn’t really knowing until you can philosophically prove it.

    Saying it’s all one despite the fact that the person who knows one lemaaseh doesn’t know the other is mysticism, not the Rambam.

    Second, it is true that you can’t reach the destination without the journey. But is your job the destination or the journey. The Rambam says it’s the destination. The knowledge, not the process of acquiring it. In most contemporary hashkafos, someone of lesser intellect who at the end knows less, but put in more ameilus is in a higher “place” than a genius who knows more from one quick skim. According to the Rambam, no. In fact, that guy who needed all that ameilus has a smaller soul. (As he describes the people who can’t ever get beyond the iqarim.) The hamon am are lesser to the intelligentsia because of this lesser potential — in the same lifetime they won’t reach the same yedi’ah.

    It’s not lilmod that’s important, it’s lada’as.

    Just as it’s not middos that’s important, and da’as a way to get those middos, or an experiential deveiqus (knowing G-d) that’s important and daas (knowing about G-d) is a means to achieve that deveiqus. It’s the daas itself. It’s Aristotilian — to know is to connect to the active intellect which is connected to the intellect just above it in the chain and so on up to the Creator.

    Because da’as is so central, he casts the role of learning into that of daas. The ameilus which connects one to the stream of halachic process is not as important as knowing facts.

  52. Yoni Sacks says:

    You fundamentally mischaracterize the relationship of Rambam to Aristotle. To understand the category of the relationship, compare with the Rav and existentialism. The Rav was not in essence, a existentialist. He was, first and foremost, a Gadol BTorah. This reality is self evident to any who study him. Existentialism was a language, a basis of organization and communication, not a fundamental of the Rav’s Torah experience.

    How much more so the Rambam. Aristotle was the Chacham who best presented human research in his day, not the basis of Rambam’s Torah mentality. Rambam was first and foremost a Torah thinker. If he saw saw fit to express his deepest thoughts about Torah in Aristotelian category, it was because it served well to do so, as a tool and instrument of Torah.

    Given that reality, you are looking at Rambam’s use of Aristotle, in precisely the wrong way.

  53. micha says:

    Both the Gra and R’ SR Hirsch argued that the Rambam did go beyond the limits in his fealty to Aristotle. R’ Hirsch’s critique in 19 Letters is particularly interesting, given that he preached Torah im Derekh Eretz and then faults the Rambam for the wrong kind of fusion between the two.

    AISI after having looked at both the Moreh and Metaphysics, the Rambam really only breaks with Aristo on one issue — and all its consequences. Aristo believed that the laws of nature were necessary truths, and the Rambam held they were contingent truths. This is how the Rambam could break with Aristo’s argument that the world was eternal, as it allowed room for a creation that defies what we today call the Law of Conservation of Matter, and this break also allowed him to believe in miracles. But his angelology — straight out of Physics and Metaphysics. The role of Yedi’ah, again Metaphysics.

    But more fundamentally, the Rambam spoke in Aristo’s terms, using Aristo’s list of topics and his axioms. The Rambam builds proofs based on hylomorphism (form and substance), the 4 types of causality, the notions of essence, attribute, accident, etc… His categories of thought were Aristo’s — when he disagreed, it was on Aristo’s terms.

    The Rav was an existentialist for similar reasons. In fact, Existentialism is entirely a matter of topic and framework — the noted Existentialists barely agree with each other in substance on anything.

    Someone who disagrees with R’ Chaim on many things, but does so building his arguments using the Brisker Derekh is still a Brisker.

  54. Yoni Sacks says:

    You give a nice list of some of the best thinking of Rambam’s day (4 types of causality, the notions of essence, attribute, accident). That is what it was, the best thinking of his day.

    Someone who agreed with R Chaim on all things but one little issue, he held that nature was a necessary truth. Would such a one be a Brisker?

  55. micha says:

    A school of philosophy is defined by its mode of thought, not its conclusions. The Rambam discussed Aristotilian concerns using Aristrotilian style arguments.

    More than that, he held of the “best thinking” of his day to an extent that he questioned or recast as metaphor many of the beliefs held by Chazal. To many other rishonim and acharonim, he went too far. After I hit the sources, I wouldn’t say I agree, but I definitely see where they are coming from.

    Now, what does this have to do with any of our original topics?

  56. Yoni Sacks says:

    Before I answer your last question, you should answer mine. The question about the “Brisker” who denies the Yesod Hatesodot is the basis of how I will explain the connection to our original topic.

    Take Dr Wolfson as a concrete example. This Harvard Professor was an avid follower of R Chaim in the sense of studying Halacha as a “legal system”. Yet, he was a self professed denier of yesodos, he was certainly kofer in the Torah, it is likely he also denied the Yesod haYesodos, I can only assume he was not Shomer Shabbat B’shitta.

    Would such a one be a Brisker? How can one who denies the very definition of Talmud Torah as a service of Hashem, be classified as a lomed torah with the differentiating feature of being a Brisker subcategory of Torah student?

  57. micha says:

    I thought I answered your question when I wrote, “school of philosophy is defined by its mode of thought, not its conclusions. The Rambam discussed Aristotilian concerns using Aristrotilian style arguments.” As well as in my original answer to why I called the Rambam an Aristotilian, “But more fundamentally, the Rambam spoke in Aristo’s terms, using Aristo’s list of topics and his axioms.… His categories of thought were Aristo’s — when he disagreed, it was on Aristo’s terms.”

    Brisk is a religious trend rather than a philosophical school. It therefore not only is associated with a school of thought, but also takes for granted you bought into the religion. That’s why applying the adjective “Brisker” to a kofeir feels so wrong.

    The Rambam turned his back on a lot of mesoretic ideas due to that best thinking of his day. (At least, best thinking if you didn’t side with the Platonists…) Not saying he was wrong to — I’m not arguing that (eg) astrology works. But he didn’t just recast what he received into new packaging. The Rambam also whittled off the corners that didn’t fit.

  58. Yoni Sacks says:

    I can only assume that you are saying that the Kofeir is in fact a full fledged Brisker. My issue with this is not that it feels wrong. It is that saying that the Kofeir is one who fulfills mitzvat Talmud Torah in a certain Brisker manner, it is in direct contradiction to Rambam’s definition of Talmud Torah. The Brisker qua one who takes “buying into religion” for granted is in direct contradiction to himself qua one who “seeks to logically unify his principles in learning Rambam”.

    Rambam does not allow for vague notions about “taking for granted” that one has “bought into religion”. It is here that the self contradiction of the Brisker notion you portray, reveals itself.

    There is a minimal definition of student, and only one who meets this criteria may be taught Talmud Torah,whether of a Brisker variety or any other.

    א אין מלמדין דברי תורה אלא לתלמיד הגון נאה במעשיו, או לתם. אבל אם היה הולך בדרך לא טובה, מחזירין אותו למוטב, ומנהיגין אותו בדרך ישרה, ובודקין אותו; ואחר כך מכניסין אותו לבית המדרש, ומלמדין אותו. אמרו חכמים, כל השונה לתלמיד שאינו הגון, כאילו זרק אבן למרקוליס, שנאמר “כצרור אבן, במרגמה–כן נותן לכסיל, כבוד” (משלי כו,ח): ואין “כבוד” אלא תורה, שנאמר “כבוד, חכמים ינחלו” (משלי ג,לה).

    This priority in creating a Talmid with proper first notions is clear in Rambam’s instruction in his intro to the Mitzvot. Lest there be any confusion that “derech tova” is only about some behavioral “doing” of halacha , Rambam clearly shows that there are certain first principles which must be absorbed as well. This is made clear in Perek Chelek but also in Mishne Torah.

    ספר ראשון. אכלול בו כל המצוות שהן עיקר דת משה רבנו, וצריך אדם לידע אותן תחילת הכול–כגון ייחוד שמו ברוך הוא, ואיסור עבודה זרה. וקראתי שם ספר זה ספר המדע.

  59. micha says:

    You distort my words when you recasted them. Perhaps because you are trying to fit my position into a false dichotomy.

    The definition of belonging to a school of philosophy is different than belonging to a derekh. A school of philosophy is not defined by a set of conclusions, but by how they are reached. A religion has core teachings.

    To the Rambam, na’eh bemaasav is a foundation for knowledge. Good behavior as a handmaiden for right thought. This prioritization of knowledge is something he found in Aristo, not Chazal. (To stay on my core message.)

  60. Yoni Sacks says:

    I can fully accept that the measure of “Yedia” of first notions can be very low to begin with. I can also accept that our “yeda” may remain very low for the vast majority of us our entire lives. But I cannot accept that one can be on the one hand honestly pursuing unity in understanding Rambam, yet, take “buying into religion” for granted as a vague completely undefined notion.

  61. micha says:

    I have no idea what you’re talking about. This last sentence doesn’t resemble anything I wrote. This conversation is drifting all over the place. And we aren’t any closer to reaching understanding than when we began.

    I wrote about the word “Brisker” meaning that someone actually believes certain things, and thus differs from the word “Aristotilian” or “Existentialist” in kind.

    I said nothing in that comment about whether we our beliefs should be founded on classical philosophical proof or some other justification system — and I never promoted faith without justification. (Although I believe it has value, I don’t think it’s an ideal.) I also didn’t use the phrase to describe the Rambam or following the Rambam.

  62. Yoni Sacks says:

    Lets think how to proceed.

  1. April 18, 2007 – ל׳ בניסן תשס״ז

    […] This goes back to my position, described in the entry “Emunah Peshutah vs Machashavah“, that emunah is not an intellectual indeavor, but a middah. Emunah is the response to an experience, machshavah is the development of a philosophy based on that emunah to give it enough detail to add further meaning to that experience, aid in decision making, etc… […]

  2. September 28, 2014 – ד׳ בתשרי תשע״ה

    […] “Emunah Peshutah vs. Machashavah“: How do we maintain a personal, first-hand relationship with G-d while still having a well-developed theology (which will inevitably emphasis the distance between uns)? Also on the gap between intellect and emotion. […]

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *