Anyone who has carefully studied the New Testament and the teachings of the early Church knows that they are, in terms of their metaphysics, something quite different from the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud. I refer in particular to the supposition of a sharp disjuncture between body and soul, between the material and the spiritual, which can be found in certain post-biblical Jewish sources, but which are in evidence almost everywhere in early Christian thought. It is this clean fissure in reality — so strikingly captured in the distinction between “that which is unto Caesar,” and “that which is unto God” (Matthew 22:21); or in Jesus’ declaration that “My kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36) — which permits Christians to conceive of the divine as being fundamentally of another world, along with man’s immortal soul, while man’s body is of this earth. With such a fissure in place,one quickly concludes that the other world is one of truth and goodness, and that this world is, by contrast, a realm of illusion and sin, perhaps even of evil. This understanding is the basis for the opposition between the City of Man, which is temporal, partial, and corrupt, and the City of God, which is eternal, perfect, and pure.
Now that Hazony has established the Christian Platonic dualism (cf. George Eldon Ladd, The Greek Versus the Hebrew View of Man for an analysis of the Platonic view), he continues with its political and epistemological ramifications:
If you understand the world in keeping with such a dualism, it is not difficult to come to the conclusion that God's word,if there is to be such a thing, must be a kind of an incursion of absolute purity and perfection into a fallen world. To compete with the darkness of this world, this incursion must be something overwhelming in its effective power,with the capacity to sweep away the illusion and deceit imposed on man by his materiality. God’s word becomes a “revelation,” by which is meant a form of miraculous knowledge, revealing to man what his own corrupt reason could never have attained. God’s word, as revealed in Scripture, becomes in principle something that is quite distinct from reason, or even opposed to it. What he receives from this activity is itself the revelation in question. Imperfect though his mind may be, it must be the case that the individual has the capacity, in the process of reading Scripture, to attain knowledge of the absolute, the perfect, and the pure.
Now, the Haredim of course do not share the Christian Platonic dualism, or, at the very least, this dualism is not integral to their philosophy. That is, one could, at the very least, imagine a Haredism sans Platonic dualism.
Nevertheless, while Haredi metaphysics is not dualistic, its epistemology certainly is. The Spanish Rishonim saw all knowledge - religious and secular - as ultimately striving for the truth (or perhaps better, Truth, with a capital "T"), and therefore, the "double bind" between religious and non-religious knowledge did not trouble them so terribly much, relatively speaking. One of course had to determine which kinds of secular knowledge were legitimate and trustworthy, and some Spanish Rishonim indeed banned the study of Greek philosophy, but at least theoretically speaking, it was acknowledged as axiomatic that any true secular knowledge was as trustworthy and valid as anything offered by the Torah, for both were "Truth". A simple example would be that the "Shema Yisrael" is no more trustworthy or valid, epistemologically speaking, than "1+1=2"; both are Truth, and neither is more valid than other, even though mathematics is not from Sinai. By contrast, the Haredim see all knowledge not derived from the Torah and Talmud as defective and wanting. Thus, they feel impelled - even against the repeated warnings of the Gaonim and Rishonim - to say that even Hazal's medical knowledge came from Sinai.
In short, Haredi epistemology is as dualistic as Catholic metaphysics. Even if the Haredim do not view the world as such in a dualistic way, they certainly view knowledge and learning in this dualistic way. Thus, what Hazony says, in his continuation, about the Catholic understanding of reason and exegesis, would apply just as well to the Haredim:
But of course, it does not work that way. [I.e., revelation does not come to man miraculously, circumventing his reason and granting him pure and unadulterated knowledge from G-d.] The text does not “reveal” the absolute, the perfect, or the pure to anyone. On the contrary, the encounter with the text only spawns endless contradictory interpretations, each of which implies that the absolute, perfect, and pure do not reside with the others. Or, in other words, that the absolute, perfect, and pure have not been “revealed” at all. In reading Scripture, every individual finds himself thrown back on his own resources, struggling, with the power of his own reason, to attempt to determine its meaning. The very reading of the text refutes the thesis of miraculous knowledge, point-blank.
In short: everyone derives his own personal interpretations of Scripture, contradicting others'. The Karaites said the Talmud cannot be divine because it is filled with disputes, but the same can be said of interpretations of Scripture. Scripture itself can sit on the desk in all its pristine purity and unity of meaning, but any understanding of it is perforce human, and the interpretations will be myriad, controversial, and various. Hazony continues,
This is not a small problem for Christianity, as well as for any interpretation of Judaism that insists on importing a dualist metaphysics similar to that of the New Testament. For if there is no direct road to miraculous knowledge, and instead only countless human interpretations — all of them fallen, all of them corrupt — then how can one say that religion provides a way out of the maze of illusion that is this fallen world? Without the possibility of miraculous knowledge, the entire structure of New Testament metaphysics begins to totter. To head off this collapse, one clutches even more tightly at the supposedly miraculous and absolute character of one’s own interpretation. One insists that a certain understanding is rooted in “authority,” while other interpretations are not. The result, at least in medieval Europe, was the Inquisition and the Index.
Hazony said "...as for any interpretation of Judaism that insists on importing a dualist metaphysics...", but again, I feel we can substitute the word "epistemology" for "metaphysics", and thus arrive at the Haredi position, with that Haredi position being faced, more or less, with the same predicament as the Catholics.
The Haredim distrust any knowledge not gained from Scripture. The root of this is that they distrust nature and man's reason in general, being ever fearful that the revelation of G-d in nature or in man's mind is false and disingenuous, seeking only to lead us astray.
If so, then how can the Haredim trust even the Torah and Talmud? After all, do not their interpretations rely on human reason? The problem faced by the Catholics is the same as faces the Haredim!
But the solution is near at hand. "The result, at least in medieval Europe, was the Inquisition and the Index", and the result, in Israel today, is Daas Torah.
Hazony continues, and for our purposes, everything he says about Christianity could be said just as well about Haredim:
What I take from this analysis of the promise of Christian religion is the following. If we try to determine what precisely it is that makes many versions of Christianity difficult to reconcile with free inquiry into the public good,we find that it is the claim to make available a miraculous knowledge. This claim, to the extent that it is accepted, paralyzes reasoned discourse; because once someone believes he has absolute and perfect knowledge, the doubts that arise as part of the normal debate regarding issues of public concern can only be seen as detracting from the perfect truth he already has. Whether intentionally or not, assertions of miraculous knowledge thus have the effectof delegitimizing all other knowledge with regard to any subject concerning which they are asserted. To admit claims of miraculous knowledge into public debate therefore comes perilously close to calling for an end to public debate.
Is there another approach to the role of Scripture in public life? I think there is another approach, which is the one advanced in the Talmud. The rabbis well knew that no one receives the content of a “revelation,” in the sense of something absolute and perfect, by reading Scripture. What we see is always partial. For this reason, the Talmud establishes the principle that each word of the Tora has “seventy faces,” that each of the many interpretations is equally “the words of the living God.” (Numbers Rabba 13; Eruvin 13b; Gitin 6b.) Moreover, in the struggle to demonstrate the superiority of one interpretation over another, the Talmud explicitly proscribes appeals to revelation. The word of God is“not in heaven,” but of this earth, and men must decide. In matters of interpretation, this means accepting the principle that Tora is always present as multiple views, each of which is legitimate. Where political considerations require that these be reduced to a single decision, the decision is taken not according to “voices from heaven,” but according to the majority opinion among interpreters. (Bava Metzia 59b.)
A similar conclusion would be arrived at from Professor Menachem Kellner's Maimonides Agonist: Disenchantment and Reenchantment in Modern Judaism(Covenant - Global Jewish Magazine 1:1, November 2006 / Cheshvan 5767). (This article is based on his Maimonides' Confrontation With Mysticism (2006)):
For years I have been convinced that the notion of da'at torah was a haredi innovation, a politically expedient if Jewishly questionable response to the challenges of modernity. However, I have been forced to change some of my cherished opinions. While it is clear that the term da'at torah is a late nineteenth-century innovation, the notion actually reflects forces that existed earlier in Judaism.
He introduces his discussion saying,
In its narrowest form, the debate revolves around the question: what role do prophets as such have in the halakhic process? ... But this debate reflects a much deeper and more profound difference of opinion. For religious thinkers like [Judah] Halevi [the author of the Kuzari], the issue is not only that prophets have a role to play in the halakhic process, but that the very nature of halakhah makes it necessary that prophecy play a role in its determination. For religious thinkers like Maimonides, on the other hand, the nature of halakhah is such that prophets as prophets are irrelevant to the process. This debate itself reflects an even deeper one, about the nature of God's relationship to the created cosmos.
This leads Professor Kellner into a discussion of Maimonidean/rationalistic nominalism versus Kuzarian/Qabalisti mysticism. Kellner summarizes this dispute, saying,
For Halevi, fulfilling the commandments actually does something in the world and accomplishes something which cannot be accomplished in any other fashion. ... How and why does this work? For Halevi, the commandments of the Torah reflect an antecedent reality, a kind of parallel universe of godliness and holiness accessible only to a holy few. Halakhic distinctions for Halevi reflect a reality which is really “out there,” an actual facet of the cosmos, even if it is a reality not accessible to our senses. Holiness, for example, is something that actually inheres in holy places, objects, people, and times. Were we able to invent a “holiness counter” it would click every time its wand came near something holy, just as a Geiger counter clicks in the presence of radioactivity. ... But Maimonides saw the commandments of the Torah as creating a social reality, not as reflecting anything actually existing in the universe. Maimonides, as opposed to Halevi (and Nahmanides), sees halakhah as constituting institutional, social reality, not as reflecting an antecedent ontological reality. ... This reflects his perception of halakhah as a system of rules imposed upon reality. In further opposition to what I have been calling the Halevi--Nahmanides stance, Maimonides maintains that ritual purity and impurity are not states of objects in the “real world,” but descriptions of legal status only.
Having established this distinction, Professor Kellner clinches its association with Da'at Torah:
If [following Halevi] halakhah reflects an antecedent reality, a reality which cannot be apprehended through normal tools of apprehension but only through an “inner eye,” enriched in some fashion by contact with the divine in some fashion, then people who can properly make halakhic decisions are people endowed with a power of apprehension which rises above the natural. That being the case, it makes sense to accept their leadership even in matters which many might think lie outside the four cubits of the law. Halevi's insistence on blurring the boundaries between halakhah and prophecy is thus seen as an outgrowth of his philosophy of halakhah. Deciding halakhic matters is not simply a matter of erudition, training, insight, and skill; it demands the ability to see things invisible to others.
Maimonides, on the other hand, sees halakhah as a social institution, ordained by God, of course, but an institution that creates social reality, not one that reflects antecedent metaphysical reality. Since he holds that so much of halakhah is historically contingent (i.e. it could have been otherwise), he could not have held otherwise. For Maimonides, halakhah does not “work” in the way in which it “works” for Halevi. Obedience to the commandments for Maimonides is immensely important on all sorts of levels--personal, educational, moral, social--but accomplishes nothing outside the psychosocial realm of identity and community.
A good way to see the difference between Halevi and Maimonides is to focus on the following question. Can a non-Jew (or, for that matter, a future computer) determine halakhah? For Halevi the question is ridiculous. In order to determine the law a person must be a Jew who has perfected his contact with the inyan ha'elohi to the greatest extent possible. For Maimonides, the question is not ridiculous. I assume that for many reasons he would not want to see the halakhic decision of a non-Jew as authoritative but he would have to invoke arguments which do not reject the theoretical possibility of a non-Jew achieving sufficient familiarity with halakhic texts and canons of reasoning to formulate decisions which stand up to the most rigorous halakhic examination.
The modern doctrine of da'at torah is thus clearly Halevian and not Maimonidean. For Halevi, in order properly to determine halakhah one must tap into a kind of quasi-prophecy; for Maimonides, one must learn how to handle halakhic texts and procedures properly. If halakhah creates institutional reality, then, beyond technical competence (and, one hopes, personal integrity), the charismatic or other qualities of the individual halakhist are irrelevant to questions of authority; if, on the other hand, halakhah reflects antecedent ontological reality, then the only competent halakhist is the one who can tap into that reality, a function of divine inspiration, not personal ability or institutional standing.
There is another point to be made here. Maimonides tells us what a law is, and how one determines what a law is. There is a real sense in which he wants to “rationalize” the whole process, excluding from it appeals to seyata deshemayah ("help of heaven") or to ruah hakodesh (“holy spirit”). This, of course, is threatening to people whose authority rests upon their access to such sources. I do not mean to accuse anti-Maimonideans of playing Machiavellian power politics, but it would be naive to ignore this aspect of the matter.
Given this reference to politics, Professor Kellner appropriately then launches into a discussion highly reminiscent of Professor Kaplan's regarding the “ethic of submission”; Kellner says that Maimonides's world is a “disenchanted” one, a world in which Jews are called upon to fulfill the commandments, not because failure to do so is metaphysically harmful, but because fulfilling them is the right thing to do. By making demands, imposing challenges, Maimonidean Judaism empowers Jews. Their fate is in their own hands, not in the hands of semi-divine intermediaries or in the hands of a rabbinic elite.
The world favored by Maimonides' opponents, on the other hand, is an “enchanted” world. Theirs is not a world that can be explained in terms of the unvarying workings of divinely ordained laws of nature; it is not a world that can be rationally understood. It is a world in which the notion of miracle loses all meaning, since everything that happens is a miracle. In such a world instructions from God, and contact with the divine in general, must be mediated by a religious elite who alone can see the true reality masked by nature. This is the opposite of an empowering religion, since it takes their fate out of the hands of Jews, and, in effect, puts it into the hands of rabbis. This is, in effect, the Jewish world we live in.