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July 06, 2008

Comments

steve mcqueen

Other advantages that Kabbala has today for the over modern person include the focus on the self, focus on corrective social action and the way it can be linked into modern psychological and philosophical trends. Plus Rav Kook's idea about building a palace of Torah in top of the discarded previous ideologies (if I have understood that correctly).

But it also needs reinterpreting for the new generation, in particular what some sources have said about gentiles, which does not fit with how educated people experience the world, and treating women as objects, not subjects.

Moshe

Of course, one of the problems with Kabbola is that it may very well be false. That is a very convenient point to forget.

Ploni

Moshe, if Kabbola is a way of perceiving the world, then how can it be false? Surely the question to ask is whether it promotes ahavas and yiras Hashem, whether it gives it's adherents a full, internally consistent view of life and yidishkeit.

Eliyahu

Ploni:

You wrote:
Moshe. Just because Kabbalah is a way of perceiving the world how does that make it true?

I don't understand. Can't it be a false way of perceiving the world (or a true way)?

Ploni

Because a "perception" is just that, a way of perceiving the world. It is not subject to proof or disproof, since it makes no testable claims and can therefore not be falsified. Claiming the earth is flat, for example, is a testable claim, that has been found to be false. Claiming that life has meaning, or the other hand, is not testable and is simply a perspective on life, a choice made by the observer which has consequences as to how he lives his life, and treats others.

Eliyahu

Ploni:

Thank you for responding.

However, the following is what I meant.

IIUC, Kabbalah (as opposed to Metaphysics) makes certain claims of truth based upon the assertions of mystical experiences. IIUC Kabbalah asserts that HKBY has created Sefirot that each have assigned functions and then in turn radiate influence upon creation and that our mitzvot affect changes in such sefirot.

The Ramban accepts early Kabbalah; while the Rambam vigorously disputes the claims of Kabbalah and he uses a Metaphysical system that is more Aristotelean and thus he asserts that our thoughts and deeds and especially our gaining knowledge of HKBH effect changes in our souls which IIUC he equates with our Active Intellect (an Artistotelian concept). The Rambam would thus not agree that mitzvot affect sefirot and thus affect changes in a metaphysical spiritual universe but rather that they perfect our personal souls much more directly through enhancing our knowledge of HKBH which then actualizes the potential in our souls.

Each is making a truth-claim.

I can't prove or disprove either system; however that doesn't change the fact that they are indeed making such claims.

As far the assertion the the phrase "life has meaning" is unprovable, and is "simply a perspective on life, a choice made by the observer which has consequences as to how he lives his life, and treats others". You are coming at this question from what I understand is an existentialist perspective: does existence precede essense or does essense precede existence. Sartre is saying that we have no real essence we just exist but we may as well create meaning in our lives. Religous people say that we have an essence - a meaning and purpose- ordained by HKBH and must live not according to what we create as our personal meaning of life but as our Torah teaches.

We make a choice but that choice indeed reflects what we believe to be the truth and NOT a merely an arbitrary decision to, for example, accept the Kabbalistic system AS IF it was true or accept a Rambam philosophical system AS IF it was true. We decide that such MOST LIKELY is true or at least MORE LIKELY is true. But in each case truth does matter.

Your comments?

Ploni

Eliyahu, I appreciate your thoughtful comments. I'm certain the baal hablog can contribute to this discussion far more effectively than I can.

I think we need to differentiate between "truth claim" and "verifiable truth claim" IOW, as you put it, Rambam and Ramban are each making a truth claim. When we choose one in favour of the other, it need not simply be arbitrary, nor our own existentialist creation. The fact that I cannot prove (nor disprove) a hashkafa does not preclude it from having some ontological basis. So yes, truth does matter, but in light of the fact that rational argument will not necessarily favor one way or the other, we need to choose our path, based on where it leads and how well it gets us there.

You comments?

Eliyahu

Ploni:

You wrote:

"...[Y]es, truth does matter, but in light of the fact that rational argument will not necessarily favor one way or the other, we need to choose our path, based on where it leads and how well it gets us there."

You advocate a pragmatic appraoch.
Rather than the classical axioms of Pragmatism taught in Philosophy courses, let's make up our own philosophy that we'll call "Jewish Pragmatism". Both the Rambam and Ramban would agree that we do mitzvot to assist us in perfecting ourselves and ultimately perfecting creation but each posits a different metaphysical universe and hence different routes for our perfection. To the Ramban we perfect the spiritual universe and through doing the latter perfect our souls in addition although the prime goal is to perfect the mystical cosmos. To the Rambam we perfect our souls and by doing the latter there will be an effect on creation although there is no specific conception what the metaphysical cosmos consists of and that is left as something beyond our ken to perceive in our lifetimes.

So we could however make up the following axiom of Jewish Pragmatism to which both the Rambam and the Ramban would subscribe: Does my philosophical belief better perfect me and does it (whether directly or indirectly) better perfect creation.

However I don't think that either the Rambam or the Ramban would really be satisfied with such an approach a a le-chatchilah as:

(1) The Rambam IIUC prefers an intellectual perception of the greatness of HKBH and of Truth which he denies to the (early) Kabbalah;
(2) The Kabbalists are less intellectually centred but they still prefer a mystical state of mind in contemplation of the effect of mitzvot on the sefirot with our minds thus working on pefecting that mystical cosmos and a Rambam intellectual would not be doing so.

So our "Jewish Pragmatism" is a "bediavad" to both "Rambam Rationialists" and "Ramban Kabbalists" although a bediaved is far better than nothing.

However bediaved is not lechatchilah.

Thus I guess that someone could believe in Kabbalah, which to the Rambam is untrue, but then be medakdek be mitzvot and through doing so come to know HaShem through the effects of mitzvah performance which to the Rambam are aimed at educating outselvs. That is me-toth shelu lishmah (i.e. throgh Kabbalistically induced performance of mitzvot to the Rambam) ba-lishmah (educating ourselves and reaching true Yediat Ha-Shem) and thus perhaps reach a high madregeh in the Rambam's system also; although he would no doubt say "nebech".

The Ramban IIUC like Yehdah Ha-Levi, doesn't depend so much on intellectual perception of the truth to perfect the soul but rather on one's deeds; however the Kabbalists' kavannot in davenning and in mitzvah performance still,lechatchilah, would better be accompanied by mystical thoughts. Again "nebch".

I don't know...

Your comments?

MP

"TiDE's children" are everywhere, not just in Lakewood.

Reason#1: fair enough. Reason#2: WADR, misleading, as the Seminary population wasn't limited to Yekkes; additionally, irrelevant, as the female side of many Yekke-Yekke "invei hagefen" didn't attend the Seminary (besides my family, I can think of at least one other, and they live and, since their marriage, have lived in Washington Heights). Reason#3: topsy-turvy -- the real issue is that the young men and women were educated by non-TiDE people and now are sending their children to non-TiDE institutions (Avakesh hints at this in his post-#3 paragraph, but doesn't nail it with names -- when the list of such names starts with R'Shimon Schwab, who only changed his mind and considered TiDE a "l'chat'chilah"/for all times worldview after leading the K'hillah and Y'shivah for a few crucial decades, and R'Joseph Elias, who influenced the Seminary and continues to influence through his edition of "The Nineteen Letters," is there any wonder why the younger generations were influenced?).

I wouldn't write TiDE off. So long as there's a moon, there will be TiDE :).

Ploni

* "Rambam IIUC prefers an intellectual perception of the greatness of HKBH"
* "The Kabbalists are less intellectually centred but they still prefer a mystical state of mind in contemplation of the effect of mitzvot on the sefirot with our minds"

Coming from a Chabad background, I just don't see the huge dichotomy here. Understanding seder hishtalshelut is to me the same thing as "intellectual perception of the greatness of HKBH" up to the point humanly possible.

I also don't why you say my acceptance of the kabalistic paradigm is only bediavad.

Eliyahu

MP:
MP:

Thank you very much for your posting.

I did not state that the acceptance of the Kabbalistic paradigm is only bediavad. I stated that, IIUC, the
Rambam did not accept that paradigm.

Ploni

Therefore? Today, the vast number of Askenaz (both Chassidic and non-chassidic) and Sefarad gedolim accept the kabalistic paradigm. Surely we are on solid ground?

steve mcqueen

Lets look at how the baal hablog puts it:

"Not to repeat the same old formulation that no longer speak to the type of a man and the kind of a Jew that has emerged in the the postmodern age but to find a new language which he can hear"

It is possible to use Kabbala to understand modern philosophical and psychological insights and incorporate them into ones understanding of Jewish life. To do this it is not necessary to believe that Kaballa is true, ie that "that HKBY has created Sefirot that each have assigned functions and then in turn radiate influence upon creation and that our mitzvot affect changes in such sefirot". (this seems a pretty bizarre thing to believe as literally true anyway unless you have a very deep understanding of what you mean by "functions", "radiate influence" and "change").

A person who is not troubled by any modern challenges to Judaism will have no need for such an approach. A person who is well versed in these challenges may find such an approach inspirational. In this way Kaballa becomes an allegory for life, society and Judaism, and the more you understand Kaballa the more you understand life, society and Judaism. You would not need to ask whether it is true any more than you need to ask whether gravity is true. It explains what you see, for the moment, and that is sufficient.

Eliyahu

Ploni:

Let me try to recap before replying to your most recent posting.

You suggested that a Kabbalisic hashkafah was the most pragmatic answer to the needs of today's Jews as it was acceptable to everyone. You suggested that this was so as your Kabbalistic hashkafah had the virtue of being flexible and adaptive. (*To me that begged the question of why everyone needed to have one hashkafah; but more on that later.*)

Moshe countered that such was fine except for one important point: Kabbalah might not be true.
AND THUS MOSHE WAS SAYING THAT YOUR HASHKAFIC SOLUTION OF A BIG TENT FOR HASHKAFAH ALBEIT A KABBALISTIC ONE WAS NOT ACCEPTABLE TO EVERYONE.

You then countered him with a Pragmatic argument and that accepting your kabalistic hashkafah wasn't an issue of truth or falseness but merely one of accepting a useful way of perceiving the world - as we can't really know truth or falseness. So, you argued,we might as well try to find what works in helping us to perceive the world. You continued that Kabbalah works quite well at so doing as its an adaptive hashkafah. So you thus returned to a pragmatic argument.

I countered that another system not only also worked well at doing so (and thus fit your pragmatic considerations) but that it did, in fact, make logically defensible truth claims. That system is the rationalisic - metaphysical system of the Rambam. So I had again countered that even from a pragmatic viewpoint there need not be a monolithic kabbalistic hashkafah - even a flexible and adaptive one.

You then wrote:

"...[Y]es, truth does matter, but in light of the fact that rational argument will not necessarily favor one way or the other, we need to choose our path, based on where it leads and how well it gets us there."

In other words - back to a argument from pragmatism. While agreeing that "truh does matter" you believe that a Kabbalistic hashkafah such as your Chabad haskafah is more pragmaticm and you advocate it as a monolithic solution.

I then attempted to define what pragmatism should mean for Orthodox Jews - a detente between Maimonidean rationalists and Kabbalist mystics based on the fact that each was attempting to reach the common goal of Yediat Ha-Shem. I attempted to illustrate how each could respect the other without agreeing that the other was correct and leave room to consider eachother as legitimate- albeit wrongheaded. I termed this as "Jewish Pragmatism" i.e. a hashkafah having the shared common goal of Yediat Ha-Shem and Qium Ha-Mitzvot.

You countered that the majority of gedolim of our time were pro-Kabbalah.
______________________________

The latter is a new point; however, I don't think that it takes us anywhere in a logical argument.
Such doesn't disprove the position of the Rambam et al.

Why not accept that there are a (limited) range of legitimate hashkafot within Orthodox Judaism and still have mutual respect for but not acceptance of eachother's positions?

Perhaps it is uncomfortable to realize that the Rambam has a hashkafah that differs from yours; however appealing to a notional majority vote as then deciding THE correct hashkafah won't work to prove or disprove a hashkafah and create a monolithic kabbalistic Judaism.

Will you not agree that another Orthodox Jew has the right to respectfully consider your hashkafah as wrong-headed but still consider you as on the same bigger team, based on the values and goals that you share and that he or she has the right to expect reciprocity. This may be somewhat disappointing to you as you envision a somewhat amorphous kabbalistic big tent as uniting everyone. Perhaps you can instead accept a bigger tent of Yediat Ha-Shem and Kiyum Ha-Mitzvot as uniting fellow Ohavei Ha-Shem.

Your comments?

Ploni

Eliyahu, I have absolutely no problem with you or anyone else going with a "rationalist" approach to Yidishkeit. I don't know what I said that gave you such an impression. Harbeh derachim lamakom. I have no problem either with you "respectfully consider[ing][my] hashkafah as wrong-headed" However, you would have to include the Maharal, Gro, R Ch Volizhin, all Chassidic rebbes, most Sefardi gedlolim in that list too. It's your call.

(BTW the statement you made: "Perhaps it is uncomfortable to realize that the Rambam has a hashkafah that differs from yours" is rather condescending and uncalled for. It is not *I* who have the chutzpa to argue on the Rambam, I am simply following the almost universal attitude of Eastern European Jewry. I feel no discomfort whatsoever knowing they disagreed with the Rambams "rationalist" philosophy)

May I ask you a question? How much exposure do you have to traditional kabalistic and chassidic texts? To teachers who live within those traditions? The reason I ask is because I think the only way to appreciate this approach is from the inside.

Eliyahu

Ploni:

Your wrote:
"BTW the statement you made: "Perhaps it is uncomfortable to realize that the Rambam has a hashkafah that differs from yours" is rather condescending and uncalled for. "

--That was not my intention. I did however take issue with what the phenonmenon of the deligitimization of opposing views by some in the rightwing of Orthodox Judaism. The late Rabbi Oscar Fasman wrote about this as early as the late seventies and he described this as "bittul". Perhaps I incorrectly read that into your remarks, and if I was wrong then I also apologize for that incorrect interpretation.

"It is not *I* who have the chutzpa to argue on the Rambam,..."

---Why would it be "chutzpa" to diaagree respectfully with the Rambam? It might be foolish given the Rambam mastery of all sources but it would be not be chutzpadic for anyone having properly reviewed the sources and being able to "learn" to voice respectful critcisim of anyone. Such is usually phrased as with much reverence such as that person saying that he "does not understand" rather than saying that the Rambam or others were "wrong". However Rav Moshe Feinstein z"l in an introduction to one of his chalakim in Yoreh Deah wrote that he had the right to disagree with Rishonim and even at times with Rishonim when he has clear and convincing proof and in fact that is the Halachah of pesak (see CM25). Yes, that's Rav Moshe and not any mere talmid but that is the normative derech that he has taught us.

"I am simply following the almost universal attitude of Eastern European Jewry. I feel no discomfort whatsoever knowing they disagreed with the Rambams "rationalist" philosophy) "


--Nor should you feel any discomfort. Why should you. There is a fine kabbalistic tradition.

"May I ask you a question? How much exposure do you have to traditional kabalistic and chassidic texts? To teachers who live within those traditions? The reason I ask is because I think the only way to appreciate this approach is from the inside. "

--I wasn't attempting to espouse an anti-kabbalah viewpoint in my previous remarks but rather I was espousing a viewpoint of the legitimacy of the Rambam's rationalism and metaphysics. Why must standing up for the legitimacy of an opposing viewpoint necessarily imply agreement with tha opposing viewpoint. What I was against was any attempt to deligitimize the latter.
I was not writing on a personal level.

If you do ask about me, however, I am indeed not a chassid and my views are not hyper-rationalist like the Rambam but lean a bit in that direction. My knowledge about chassidus and kabbalah is based only on secondary sources. However to be frank, my knowledge of many areas such as philosophy is also not based on primary philosophic sources but only secondary source books. I have friends or acquaintences within Lubavitch circles as I have within other circles. I have attended some chassidic tishes years ago but that is not my style. To each his or her own within normative Orthodox Judaism.

Eliyahu

An addendum:
Piloni:

I most appreciate the time that you spent replying and your thoughtful consideration of my arguments.

KT

not fake

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