Friday, July 24, 2015

What Rambam haters always get wrong

Rambam haters often criticize the Rambam's approach as being overly influence by Scholasticism. What they forget is that every Jewish approach was influenced by something.

Our first Temple-builders were influenced by the tripartite Temples they saw all over the Ancient Near East. Our first lawmakers looked to Hammurabi and the Suzerain system for ideas. In places where rationalism reigned we produced rational sages like Ramban and Ran. In places where people were inordinately superstitious we find Balei Shem and kabalistic magicians.

This isn't a coincidence. Judaism doesn't exist in a vacuum. It's forever responding to outside events and ideas. For instance
  • The development of the feminine aspect of God in the 13th century was a response to the cult of the Virgin Mary in medieval Europe
  • The custom of donning masks and costumes on Purim, like many of our wedding and burial rituals, was borrowed from the surrounding, non-Jewish culture
Do these facts cheapen Judaism? Some people seem to think so. Here's one comment from yesterday's thread:

It's incredible that your loyalty to scholastic philosophy should be so strong that you are willing to trash out, squeeze every bit of chiyus and imagination out of Judaism

This is a doubly offensive point.

(1) From the perspective of people like me, the hyper spiritualist neo-hasidim are the ones who are taking the life and the meaning and the significance out of Judaism and replacing it with emotional gobbledygook. Why are their religious preferences superior to ours?

(2) While it may be true that the Rambam and his fans are coming to the question from the perspective of scholasticism, let's not forget that the hasidim, or the Kabalists or whoever you like best also come to Judaism with a perspective in hand, one that reflects their own time and place just as surely as the Rambam's approach reflects the scholasticism of his era.

The argument is not as Rambam-haters are attempting to frame it. This isn't a battle between real Judaism and the Rambam's futile attempt to justify Judaism to Aristotle.

It's a battle between competing attempts to justify Judaism to competing philosophies.
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