A letter to the editor I just sent to Hakira magazine:
Regarding Rabbi Natan Slifkin's "Was Rashi a Corporealist?", in Hakira 7: I thank Rabbi Slifkin for providing this fascinating article, and I commend him for the courage of writing something which is as controversial as I am sure this is. I found the article's thesis to be absolutely incredible.
One comment: Rabbi Slifkin notes at the very conclusion that though (according to his thesis) Rashi was a corporealist, we cannot believe this today anymore, and Rabbi Slifkin says he hopes to write an article in the future on why.
However, I find this difficult. My following comments will be based chiefly on Professor Marc Shapiro's The Limits of Orthodox Theology: Is truth time-conditioned? Why could Rashi believe something we cannot? Did the truth change? There is no paskening on issues of hashkafa, and so we cannot pasken here, and we cannot say that corporeality was kosher once but no longer. Only in halakhha is there paskening, and not because the view is no longer valid anymore, but rather, only because a binding norm is necessary; the rejected halakhic view remains theoretically valid, and is only practically "dead" - elu v'elu. But in hashkafah, no binding norm is necessary, and all we have is the enduring theoretical validity.
On the other hand, in issues of dogma, there is only one truth, and thus, there is no ability to pasken, as there is only one option to begin with. But if there is only one truth, that truth is everlasting and eternal, and it will never change. If the sole one option was incorporeality, then Rashi's belief in corporeality was just as invalid then as it is today; or, vice versa, if his belief was valid then, it is no less valid today.
Either way, we cannot pasken; either both views are kosher, were kosher, and will always be kosher; or one and only one view was, is, and will be kosher.
Let us suppose that indeed, Rashi was a corporealist, and that indeed, G-d in truth has no corporeality. According to the forgoing words of mine regarding paskening hashkafah and dogma, one might suppose Rashi was a heretic. But Rambam alone held that heresy b'shogeg is heresy; everyone else disagreed. The reason is that Rambam held Olam haBa is a naturalistic and mechanistic achievement. But for those who hold it is a heavenly boon, only heresy b'meizid is heresy; heresy b'shogeg will be forgiven. According to this, the normative view is that only deliberate and conscious heresy is heresy; only a statement to the effect of, "I know the Torah says X, but I say Y" will be true heresy. And this is as it should be, in fact. What does the Torah care for belief qua belief? The very belief in dogma is a concept inspired by Greek philosophy, and it is thoroughly un-Jewish. In truth, a truly heretical heresy, i.e. one b'meizid, is no different than a sin b'yad ramah, for which Rambam says we lose Olam haBa. That is, there is no difference between performing a sin in action in order to spite G-d, and in deliberating and consciously believing in something contrary to the Torah. (Caveat: this is assuming the sin is b'yad ramah, and not merely out of sensual desire and weakness of will. Similarly, a heretical belief that is held due to the honest and searching inquiry of the believer, with no deliberate attempt to rebel, is similarly less severe, to whatever degree. Whether a person sins in deed due to weakness of will, or sins in belief due to erring intellect, but in both cases without the initial and deliberate attempt to violate the Torah or G-d's will, these sinners are far less than b'meizid.) According to this, there are not 13 Principles, but rather, there are 613 Principles. There is no difference between consuming a pork chop b'yad ramah and violating Shabbat b'yad ramah, and there is no difference between believing that G-d has a body (contrary to the Torah) and doubting the tiniest detail of the Torah (contrary to the Torah). As Rambam says in his 13 Principles, there is no difference between "I am the L-rd your G-d" and "Timna was his concubine". (Obviously, interpreting a Torah verse as true but not literally true, is entirely different from interpreting the Torah as false. If someone believes that "Timna was his concubine" is meant allegorically, he may be mistaken and ignorant, but he is not a heretic.)
And of course, as Professor Shapiro notes, the Torah never even says that G-d has no body; the Torah says we never saw a form of His, and it prohibits constructing a form, but it never says He has no form. Likewise with Hazal. So regarding corporeality in particular, it would be extremely difficult to say that one is violating the Torah's view here, as the Torah apparently has no view to violate. A belief in corporeality may be wrong, but so is a belief that 1+1=3, but obviously, the latter is not heretical as the Torah expresses no view thereof, and likewise with corporeality.
I personally do not believe G-d has a body, but on what grounds can I condemn the believer in corporeality as a heretic? He may be wrong, but so is someone who believes the earth is flat. Truly, as Rabbi Hayim Hirschensohn notes, the Torah seems far more concerned with deed than with creed. This is not to say that creed is unimportant, but being important does not mean being a dogma. For example, I am incensed with the views that certain observant Jews have regarding gentiles, but while I believe their views are utterly mistaken, and contrary to the Torah, I do not see how I can condemn them as heretics, even though to do so would actually gratify me immensely. (Now, if a person said, "I know the Torah says gentiles are created b'tzelem elokim, but I disagree...", then obviously, he is indeed a heretic, just as if he said, "I know the Torah prohibits pork, but I don't care...".)
Thank you, and sincerely,
Meanest Mommy Award - The boys are leaving for five weeks next week. They will be spending a good period of quality time up in Montreal with their Dad and their Canadian family....
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