Tuesday, February 15, 2005


I don't think the IbnEzra would have appeared on the Ramban's blogroll.

Why do I say that? Well, I study Ramban, and it's hard to miss the Lion of Gerona's disdain for his fellow exegete.

Most of the time, it's is gentle. Soft rebukes of the Ibn Ezra appear in the Ramban in too many places to count. These include: "I find it impossible to accept his opinion." or "His words are wrong." or, the ultimate hedge, "What he wrote seems wrong to me."

There are, however, several examples of outright viciousness (Gil or Ben can probably provide the exacte cites):

In Toldos, the Ramban says, "Now Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra has erred here exceedingly..." and, "I'd like to know who blinded the Ibn Ezra, and made it possible for him to write such a thing."

In Mishpatim, he says: "Rabbi Abraham ibn Ezra forgot that in another place he explained this with better understanding."

And in this week's parsha, Tetzaveh we find: "Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra attempted to display wisdom in the matter of the Urim and Tummim by saying that they were made by a craftsman from gold and silver... but what he said is of no importance"


When I was young and without battle-scars I had great sympathy for the Ibn Ezra. It bothered me that the big-bully Ramban shoved the smaller guy around and showed him so little respect. I reconsidered after a few points occurred to me:

1) The Ibn Ezra is mentioned in a very large percentage of the Ramban's posts comments. Only Rashi gets more ink. Surely there were other bloggers exegetes around in those days, so perhaps the Ramban's frequent ravings about the Ibn Ezra's shortcomings as a scholar were, after a fashion, signs of respect. In any event, if we remember the Ibn Ezra and give him a place among the Mikraot Gedolot it's due, at least in part, to the attention the Ramban showered upon him.

2) You have to be willing to let the Ramban be the Ramban. Sure, he could have shown more tact in his dealings with the Ibn Ezra. But Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman wasn’t a flatterer. He was nobody’s toadie. If he thought you were a moron, he said so, and damn the consequences. Had the Ramban pulled his punches, he would not have been the Ramban.

3) Any two-bit exegete can flatter his colleagues and offer simpering praise. That sort of behavior may suggest manners, but it doesn't demonstrate brains, talent or confidence. Endless praise is the behavior of a sycophant, someone who values popularity over truth and integrity. Is that really what we want from our professional bloggers Torah commentators? An endless exchange of Valentines?

As a blogger who has been smacked around (and who has done his share of smacking) I can relate. The roughness is how some people prefer to communicate but it's always sign of respect to be noticed, and mentioned. Moreover, rough language often comes with the territory when ideas are at stake.

But there's a bigger point here, so let me put a very fine point on it:

Don’t you wish, we had a scholar of the Ramban's rank with the guts to say to Rav Elya Wachtfogel, regarding Slifkin, You have erred exceedingly. I'd like to know who blinded you and made it possible for you to write such a thing."

I sure do.