Volume 12 Number 73
                       Produced: Thu Apr 21 12:49:40 1994

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

Allegory and Interpretation (2)
         ["Yitzchok Adlerstein", Alan Cooper and Tamar Frank]
explanations of Chumash
         [Eli Turkel]
The Code Infallibility Paradox
         [Sam Juni]


From: "Yitzchok Adlerstein" <ny000594@...>
Date: Wed, 20 Apr 1994 10:18:09 -0400
Subject: Re: Allegory and Interpretation

Ezra Dabbah writes:

>Secondly, in the Gemara Baba Batra daf 14 there is an argument if
>Job ever existed! These great Tanaim and Emoraim are telling us that
>our Torah is indeed laced with allegory and Divine lessons to be
>learned from them. I don't know what tradition you are relaying there.

Of course he is correct!  And we could add others to the list: those 
like the Sforno who learn that the primordial Nachash is an allegory to 
the yetzer hara; every anthropomorphic reference to Hashem Himself, etc.

I never contended that the Torah excluded allegory.  I wrote that it is 
unthinkable to treat EVERY story as allegory, and thus deny the 
historicity of the Avos, or of Akeidas Yitzchok, or the Flood, or the 
Exodus.  Unfortunately, there have been those at different points in 
history who used interpretive "license" to allegorize everything in 
sight - as pointed out in the famous responsum of the Rashba that I 
mentioned in my original posting.

The point is that if "everything goes" as far as interpretation, then 
everything - the entire Torah - will quickly go to where it will become 
an unrecognizable parody of the original.  There must be limits, and 
they are often not clear.  I wish I could offer sound advice and 
delineate what can be allegorized and what should not.  Personally, I 
take the coward's way out: if a recognized Torah giant is willing to 
allegorize, I don't object, and rest comfortably on his "pleitzos" 
[shoulders.]  (Being a keen student of Maharal, the allegorizer par 
excellence, I am seldom disappointed.)  If no Gadol fiddles with 
apparent reality, I won't fiddle either.

From: Alan Cooper and Tamar Frank <Alan.Cooper@...>
Date: Tue, 19 Apr 1994 09:31:47 -0400
Subject: Re: Allegory and Interpretation

Ezra Dabbah has, I believe, misrepresented the main rabbinic position
concerning the literal meaning of the stories in the Tana"kh.  The
prevalent view is that the literal truth of the stories is maintained,
even as it is acknowledged that interpretation may yield deeper levels
of meaning.  The few momentary exceptions to that view merely prove how
deeply rooted the principle is.  Last week's parashah provides a famous
case in point--the statement in Tos. Negaim 6 and Sanh 71 that the
"afflicted house has never existed and never will exist."  But that
statement is immediately qualified by the contrary view that such a
house did indeed exist in Gaza or Acco.  (The same Talmud page also
includes mention of the rebellious son who is to be stoned to death by
his parents--another possible case of lo hayah ve-lo atid lihyot.)  As
for Job, the statement that he never lived is demonstrably
idiosyncratic, as a perusal of the contexts in which the statement
occurs will show (see Bereshit Rabba 57.3 with the extensive annotation
on pp. 614-618 of the Albeck/Theodor edition).

A classic statement of what I take to be the mainstream position is in
Albo's Sefer ha-iqqarim Book 3, ch. 21 (from the HUsik translation):
"Though there are many passages in the Torah concerning which all the
wise men agree that they bear allusions to noble, sublime, and
intellectual things, like the Garden of Eden and the four rivers, and so
on, nevertheless they do not deny the reality of the literal meaning."

Incidentally, Rabbi Adlerstein was kind enough to send me a photocopy of
the article that he mentioned in his posting.  I am most grateful to
him, for it is filled with learning as well as entertaining.  I don't
want him to be overburdened with requests for reprints, but it would be
worth anyone's time to read the article.

With good wishes,  Alan Cooper


From: <turkel@...> (Eli Turkel)
Date: Wed, 20 Apr 94 15:08:47 +0300
Subject: explanations of Chumash

Yitzchok Adlerstein writes

> However, to argue, for example, that events never occured,
> that all the narratives were just allegories, is completely foreign to
> our tradition.

> The actual issue of how to treat the Avos and Imahos, how high a
> pedastal to place them on, is beyond the scope of this posting.  In
> short, I believe there to be a clear mesorah through all strata of
> rabbinical literature to treat the avos as paragons of virtue, as
> exemplars of avodah and sterling midos of the highest order whose
> spiritual productivity was so potent that the effects of their lives
> still spill over to us today.

    First let me say that I completely agree that there are limits to
ones interpretaion of events and personalities in Tanach. IMHO R.
Steinsaltz went to far in his book on personalities in the Bible.
Nevertheless the question is what is meant by putting the Avot and
Imahot and Moshe on a pedestal.

1. Rambam does deny that many miracles occurred and interprets them
   allegorically or as dreams. One example is the fight between Yakov
   and the angel which Rambam intreprets as a dream (see Ramban who

2. There is an excellent article by S. Leiman in Tradition, 24#4,1989,
   91-98 about a story that Tiferet Israel brings about Moshe Rabbenu
   where he looks into a magic mirror and sees all his potential faults
   and evil behavior.  Tifferet Israel likes the story because it shows
   that Moshe was great because he overcame his potential faults to
   become a great tzaddik (righteous person). Others have disagreed very
   strongly with this approach and have insisted that Moshe was
   absolutely perfect from birth.  Leiman indicates that these two
   approaches are representative of the hasidic and mitnagged approaches
   to Chumash. (In his article Leiman proves that the story is of
   gentile origin - but that is irrelevant to the general issue).

3. The topic began because someone mentioned an interpretation that
   Joseph thought that his father was involved in the plot against him.
   I do not understand how this denigrates either Joseph or Jacob.
   Malbim discusses the problem of why Isaac wanted to bless Esau
   instead of Jacob when Esau was an evil person. Why didn't Rivkah tell
   her husband what was happening. Malbim answers that because Isaac was
   blind he could not really appreciate what his wife was saying and
   figured that she was exaggerating, Esau was not a great Tzaddik but
   he couldn't be a rasha (wicked person) either. Hence, it did not
   bother Malbim to assume that Isaac was not aware of the true facts.

4. I quote from Rav S.R. Hirsch (English translation) on Shemot 18:24
   regarding Yithro suggestions for setting up a court system.

   "So little was Moses in himself a legislative genius, he had little
   talent for organizing, that he had to learn the first elements of
   state organization from his father-in-law. ...  the man to whom it
   was necessary to have a Jethro to suggest this obvious device, that
   man could never have given the People constitution and laws out of
   his own head, that man was only, and indeed just because of this the
   best and most faithful instrument of G-d."

   Rav Hirsch claims that Moshe was the best messenger of G-d precisely
   because he was not capable of constructing laws by himself and so the
   Torah obviously came from G-d and not Moshe !!.

5. The purpose of my quoting the Tosafot Yom Tov was to demonstrate that
   one is allowed to disagree with even Chazal on interpretating verses
   (again not to denigrate anyone). In fact this is done in Chumash by
   Rashi, Even Ezra, Ramban etc. One simple example that I just saw this
   week.  After Joshua crossed the Jordan river he went to Mount Ebal to
   pronounce the blessings and curses given in Devarim. The order in the
   book of Joshua indicates that this was done after the wars against
   Jericho and Ai.  Nevertheless the Jerusalem Talmud (see Tosafot on
   B.T. Sotah 33a) state that this was done immediately after crossing
   the Jordan. Either two hills were created called Mount Grezim and
   Mount Ebal (independent of the mountains of the same name near
   Shechem) or else the Jews travelled a hundred miles back and forth to
   Schechem, in one day, to hear the blessings. In spite of the midrash
   of Chazal a number of commentaries (e.g. Netziv, Malbim) interpret
   the verses literally that this happened later.  This issue came up
   recently because I showed a rav in my town a picture in the atlas of
   Daat Mikrah indicating the road across the Jordan to Shechem and
   displaying it after the story of Ai. He claimed that the atlas had no
   right to explain the story different than chazal (he was not aware of
   the Netziv and Malbim).

   Hence, I see nothing wrong with coming up with a new explanation of
   why Joseph did not contact his father based on Joseph's
   misinterpretation of the events.



From: Sam Juni <JUNI@...>
Date: Mon, 18 Apr 1994 15:55:44 -0400
Subject: The Code Infallibility Paradox

I am responding to Rabbi Karlinsky's posting of 4/5/94 where he poses a
hypothetical question (paraphrased): Suppose a validated system of
codes/numerology (e.g., the Discovery Codes) analyzes the Torah text to
yield a directive inconsistent with traditional Judaism (e.g., Change
Shabbos observance to Sunday), how would you react? He cites the Rambam
and Ramban re a scenario -- a prophet delivers an alleged message from
G-d containing the directive of the abovenoted example, accompannied by
a display of miracles; in that case, the messenger is convicted as a
"false prophet." Another citation is of the Rambam's assertion that our
belief in Torah is based on our having witnessed Matan Torah at Sinai
personally, rendering it obvious to us that any contradictory messages
must be false. Thus, when a prophet delivers directives contradictory to
Torah accompannied by miracles, these miracles cannot be taken as proof
of G-d's complicity with the impossible. Rather, they represent miracles
sustained by G-d only to test our convictions. The concept of false
prophecy is then argued to apply, as well, to Code results which are
inconsistent with traditional Judaism.
      There are a string of assumptions in these arguments which merit
elaboration and questioning. I have not organized them systematically,
nor have I thought out their implications. My comments and reactions
      A. The Rambam explains the miracle performed by the false prophet
totally differently than Rabbi Karlinsky cites it.  The Rambam states in
the last Chapter of Yesodei Hatorah that the messenger is punished for
fabricating his message, and that his miracle must have involved
trickery/magic and sleight of hand. Indeed, the Rambam's view of all
magical and sorcery phenomena is that never are actual events affected
to occur -- all is in fact deceptive of the audience. Thus according to
the Rambam's conceptualization of the false prophet, the analogy between
deceptive Code results and false prophecy is erroneous.
      B. There is a distinction between prophecy and Torah text (in
metaphor level). The Rambam in Chapter 7 of Yesodei Hatorah protrays the
prophetic vision as a scene which is revealed during sleep to be
interpreted analogously by the prophet. For example, Jacob's ladder with
the ascending and descending angels represents a parable for the
relative pattern of subjugation among nations. Clearly, this mechanism
leaves leeway for misinterpretation. It is therefore not surprizing that
a prophet challenging a traditional tenet can be discredited. The Torah,
however, is intrinsically and literally divine. You cannot discredit
textual features of a divine document.
      C. I personally find the idea of G-d actually sending us a
misleading false prophesy (in contrast to G-d not interfering with a
messenger who decides to falsify a prophecy, or with a person
fabricating one) perplexing.  If G-d actually sends us a false prophet,
does the Bais Din execute him even if he is an accurate reporter of his
message? The idea of G-d sponsoring actual miracles just to deceieve and
test the audience is incongruous. I believe that the Talmud (Sanhedrin
90a) rejects this notion explicitly.
      D. If we accept the Codes as statistically conclusive and if we do
not accept the premise that G-d will attempt to trick us by sending us
messages contradicting the authenticity of the Torah, then the student's
reaction (as quoted by Rabbi Karlinsky) to the original question (that
it is logically impossible fr a Code message to be found which exhorts
us to change Shabbos observence to Sunday) is right on the mark. Pushing
the question with the "What if..." method can be seen as
methodologically absurd. Illustratively, why then not push the following
question: "What if you found an old authentic Chumash version which
which features a mitzvah to change Shabbos observence to Sunday?"
      E. The notion of knowing a-priori that the new prophecy is false
"because "we were all present at Sinai and saw it all" (paraphrased)
needs to be clarified. Obviously, one who doubts the very fact (or
specific mitzvah legitimacy) of Matan Torah will not be convinced by the
argument. What I think Rabbi Karlinsky is referring to is a concensual
report by our ancestors and the reported universality of contemporary
acceptance of the Sinai phenomenon.  Some arguments of the skeptics,
however, are based on the possibility of partial distortion of
historical leagacy as tradition is passed on from one generation to the
next. Furthermore, one can appeal to arguments of sorcery, sleight of
hand, or even mass hysteria to challenge grand-scale miraculous events.
I believe I once read a very convincing probabilistic argument by the
Lubavitcher Rebbe (L'Rfuah Shleimah) for the sociological unlikelihood
of a massive event such as Matan Torah to have been invented and then
sustained had it not ocurred in reality. If Rabbi Karlinsky is referring
to such an approach, this should be elaborated.
       F. One segment of the population which responds to the Code
arguments hails from the scientific positivist community. The hard
sciences have inculcated empirical values in its practitioners, so that
statistical proofs of text-based predictions are accepted, while the
most elaborate and well-founded evidence based on historical or social
variables are dismissed as falsifiable or reinterpretable. To that
population, the argument that we know the veracity of Torah because we
are convinced that it was given to us at Sinai may well appear nothing
short of circular.
       G. I do not believe I fully understand Rabbi Karlinsky's (breifly
stated) stance vis-a-vis the Codes. If they cannot be used to support
findings, then they cannot be used to verify the authenticity of any
findings. Assuming that one can also find Code messages which are false
(in addition to true ones) than the Codes are useless -- period! To
suggest that G-d programmed false information into the Torah document
along with true information seems fanciful.
       I apologize to Rabbi Karlinsky if I am mis-reading his
presentation, and would appreciate being set straight if I am. Based on
his postings which I read previously, I am sure that his arguments are
more sophisticated and developed.
       In a sense, I am reacting to a implicit (local, New York,
Yeshivishe) response I have sensed toward the Discovery phenomenon which
appears patronizing: Use it when expedient and discard it when it turns
out not to be. To some, the effort sounds insincere and even
opportunistic. If the method is not congruent with Da'as Torah, we need
to be explicit. Pat disclaimers will not do. If there are serious
reservations or limitations to the approach, let these be stated as
preambles. One can hope that the mainstream is not benignly neglecting
to criticize an effort which is conceptually unsound just because of its
expedience in raising religious consciousness. Such are efforts are sure
to backfire.

      Dr. Sam Juni                                      Fax: (718) 338-6774
      New York University  400 East Building            Tel: (212) 998-5555
      New York, N.Y.  10003


End of Volume 12 Issue 73