Volume 35 Number 48
                 Produced: Fri Sep 14 10:45:07 US/Eastern 2001

Subjects Discussed In This Issue: 

         [Avi Feldblum]
Gersonides (2)
         [Robert, Ariel, Gidon]
Ralbag-- the Great Commentator Gersonidees
         [Russell Jay Hendel]


From: Avi Feldblum <mljewish@...>
Date: Fri, 14 Sep 2001 10:00:21 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Administrivia

I will admit I went out a bit on a limb with a few of the messages that I
let out on the list recently. In particular, the question about
understanding the Ralbag (I think you can raise a similar "question" about
the Ibn Ezra) can be a springpoint for a useful discussion. I clearly
think that some of the assumptions of the original poster were set up to
make debating points, but in the accepted (but edited - a very long quote
from another work has been removed, contact him directly if you want it)
submission below, Robert identifies those points in the Ralbag's
philosophy that may go against the grain of what is commonly accepted
today. [I do want to just comment that there is a bit of circular
arguement there, a) Assume "orthodox" = acceptance of Rambam's 13
Principles, b) find a reshon who argues with Rambam, c) question if
reshon = "orthodox] I think that pointing out, as well as properly
understanding, the range of opinions of the reshonim is very valuable
for many people today. 

Avi Feldblum
mail-jewish Moderator


From: Robert <rkaiser1@...>
Date: Sun, 9 Sep 2001 17:45:23 -0400
Subject: Gersonides

I recently asked if one could agree with Gersonides's theology and still be
considered an Orthodox Jew.  I have since received several questions off of
the forum, from people who wanted to know where Gersonides differed from
modern day Orthodox theology; someone asked if I was implying that
Gersonides was a heretic.  Thus, I would like to clarify my question in
some detail:

I am not claiming that he was a heretic; I think his views are absolutely
valid.  However, others have claimed that he was a heretic, and his magnum
opus "Book of Wars of the Lord" was attacked by his critics (beginning with
Crescas) as the "Book of Wars *Against* the Lord".  Since that time, only
part of Gersonides's theology has been taught in detail; the areas that
some see as problematic are ignored, or they are rewritten as if Gersonides
had the same beliefs as everyone else.

While there are a number of areas that he has been criticised for, I am
thinking of the two main areas of which, I have been told, contradict
Orthodox Judaism.  As many members of various Orthodox forums have stated,
Orthodox Judaism is by definition the acceptance of Maimonides' 13
principles of faith. [ This isn't true, but nonethelesss it is what the
baalei teshuvos and the Haredim state with firm belief.  See the following
article for more information on that topic. "Maimonides Thirteen
Principles: The Last Word in Jewish Theology?" Marc. B Shapiro, The Torah
U-Maddah Journal, Vol.4, 1993, Yeshiva University.]

However, just for the sake of argument, let us assume that Orthodox Judaism
is defined by Maimonides' principles: But Gersonides rejects one of these
outright: Maimonides' second principle of faith is that "the second
foundation is God's unity, may He be exalted; to wit, that this One, Who is
the cause of [the existence of] everything, is one.  His oneness is unlike
the oneness of a genus or of a species.  Nor is it like the oneness of a
single composed individual, which can be divided into many
units.....Rather, God, may He be exalted, is one with a oneness for which
there is no comparison at all.

Note here that Maimonides is not merely claiming that there is only one
God.  He is also claiming that God is utterly simple, and no attributes can
be assigned to God whatsoever.  This is described in detail in his "Guide
for the Perplexed."  However, Gersonides (Levi ben Gershom) and others
reject this principle of faith.  These thinkers hold that if God is to be
intelligible, His attributes must be understood as positive predications.
They did not think that positive predication compromised divine unity and
perfection. Moreover, Gersonides believed that positive predicates could be
applied to God literally because their primary meaning is derived from
their application to God, while their human meaning is secondary.

Secondly, most Orthodox Jews teach that God is omnipotent; anyone who holds
otherwise is held to be potentially - or actually - a heretic.  This is
especially odd, since God is not presented as omnipotent in the Tanakh, in
some of the Talmud and in much of Kabbalah.  This belief isn't even a part
of Maimonides' principles of faith.  Nonetheless,  it is a sociological
truth that this belief is what most of Orthodox Judaism teaches.

But - Gersonides rejects the idea that God is omnipotent; he views this
claim as literally nonsensical.  Instead, Gersonides maintains that God is
not - and cannot - be omnipotent. To be more precise, he claimed that
people who believed in the existence of free will and in God's omniscience
are confused; this is a logical contradiction, and you can't have both. One
of these conflicting principles must be jettisoned.  As such, Gersonides
states that whens omeone states that God is omnipotent, it only makes sense
for one to say that God has all the power that a being can logically have.
It is not logical for a being to know the choice that a person will make
before the choice is made, because then we have a situation in which free
is an illusion.

Julius Guttman explains Gersonides's views in his "Philosophies of
Judaism" excerpted below [removed by Mod.].  And note that his view is
not unqiue; it is the mainstream understanding of Gersonides's views
that was held by classical commentators (especially held by Gersonides's
critics!) and by most modern day scholars as well, including Menachem
Kellner, Norbert Samuelson, and Seymour Feldman, among many others.

Note that even Abraham Ibn Ezra also held this way.  In the commentary to
Bereshit 18:21 he writes "God knows the individual in a general manner
rather than in a detailed manner."  He concludes by saying that this view
contains "a great secret".   This clearly means that God cannot be
omnipotent, in the strongest sense of the word put forth by many readers on
this list.  But allow me to substantiate this understanding of Abraham Ibn
ezra's view - this is the way that most of the classical commentators
understand him.  To wit, Marc Shapiro, writing in the Torah U-Maddah
Journal, writes that "This appears to be a clear acceptance of the Islamic
Aristotelian view that God only knows the particular in a general way, but
not the particular as such, since the latter is constantly changing.  This
is how Ibn Ezra is understood by Nahmanides, who refers to him pejoratively
as 'pleasing himself with foreign offspring [i.e. philosophy].' [See
Nahmanides comments to Genesis 18:20]   Ibn Ezra is also understood this
way Gersonides, Caspi, Abravanel, Rabbi Shem Tov Falaquera,..[and the list
continues with many rabbis and modern day scholars.]

Hence my original question. I have noted that when some [..] agree with
these views about God, they are viewed as heretics.  So when did the
Orthodox community begin to conclude that these views about God were no
longer a part of Judaism?  What precipitated this change, and resulted
in a severe restriction of theological options?

Robert Kaiser

From: Ariel, Gidon <Gariel@...>
Date: Mon, 10 Sep 2001 16:06:11 +0300
Subject: Gersonides

In Vol. 35 #43 Robert wrote: Is Gersonides (Levi ben Gershon, aka the
Ralbag) nowadays considered outside of Judaism, or can one still agree
with his theological and philosophical views and still be considered

I admit that I am no scholar of the Ralbag, but a good friend of mine, R
Baruch Braner, is. He has received numerous grants to do his research in
Yeshivat Birkat Moshe in Maale Adumim together with R Carmiel Cohen, and
has already produced three volumes.

See http://www.birkatmoshe.org.il/bmh/bmhf/bmhf2.html for a short Hebrew
description of the book.

BTW, if you post some of the more controvertial issues about the Ralbag,
it might pique my interest and that of others to study him!

Gidon Ariel


From: <rhendel@...> (Russell Jay Hendel)
Date: Tue, 11 Sep 2001 23:10:54 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: RE: Ralbag-- the Great Commentator Gersonidees

This is the first I hear that there are problematic views in
Ralbag(Perhaps the reference is to his theories of creation).

To the best of my knowledge however (independent of a particular error
he may or may not have made) his commentary is a piece of brilliance. I
especially warmly recommend the following (a) His LISTS Of PERSONALITY
TRAITS and LEARNING LESSONS after each episode in Early Neviim (b) His
commentary on Job is one of the best; he uses a 3 part approach: words
first, sentences second followed by interpretation of chapters. ALthough
this is obvious he is the only Rishon who uses this approach (c) Ralbag
is frequently cited by EVERYBODY for solving very difficult
philosophical problems--for example Ralbag simply interprets the
stopping of the sun in Jerico as meaning >The war happened quickly;
while the sun passed over Jericho (a few hours)< or as another example
in a previous mail Jewish I showed that his approach to witchcraft,
identifying it with hallucinations, would solve many problems and is
consistent with halacha.(d) Ralbag frequently comes up with fresh
etymologies of words.

In addition to this scholarship Ralbag is famous for having saved
several Jewish Communities.

Hope the above encourages learning more Ralbag

Russell Jay Hendel; 


End of Volume 35 Issue 48