Saturday, April 28, 2012

Rabbi Abahu and Rambam's 3rd Ikkar

I came across three interesting statements for Rabbi Abahu this week, which seem to point to the fact that he does not agree with Rambam's third principle - that we must deny any kind of physicality from G-d.

I was learning the (Israeli) parshat hashavua which speaks about the service of the Cohen Gadol on Yom Kippur. One of the fundamental disputes between the Sadducees and the Rabbis was whether to first place the incense on the coals and then enter the Holy of Holies, or whether to first enter and then place the incense. There is a well known story in both the Bavli (Yoma 19b) and Yerushamli (Yoma 1:5) about a Sadducee who did it 'his' way, and died shortly thereafter. He was found with a hoofprint on his forehead, because he was killed by an angel, and angels have a single foot with a calf's hoof. In the Yerushalmi the students asked Rabbi Abahu how an angel was permited to be inside the Holy of Holies, since they learnt from the verse "No man will be with him when he enters..." that even angels are not permitted inside. He answered that this only applies when the service is done properly, but not when it is done incorrectly.

That is fine. But if we look a bit further in the Yerushalmi (5:2 27a) it tells the well-known story of Shimon HaTzadik, who knew when he was going to die:

ארבעים שנה שימש שמעון הצדיק את ישראל בכהונה גדולה ובשנה האחרונה אמר להן בשנה הזאת אני מת אמרו לו מאיכן אתה יודע אמר להן כל שנה ושנה שהייתי נכנס לבית קודש הקדשים היה זקן אחד לבוש לבנים ועטוף לבנים נכנס עמי ויוצא עמי ובשנה הזו נכנס עמי ולא יצא עמי. בעון קומי ר' אבהו והא כתיב (ויקרא טז) וכל אדם לא יהיה באהל מועד בבאו לכפר בקדש עד צאתו אפי' אותן שכתוב בהן (יחזקאל א) ודמות פניהם פני אדם לא יהיו באהל מועד אמר לון מה אמר לי דהוה בר נש אני אומר הקב"ה היה:

For forty years Shimon HaTzadik served as the High Priest. In his final year he said to the people 'In this year I will die'. Htye asked him 'how do you know?' He replied, 'Every year when i would enter the Holy of Holies an old man dressed in white and wrapped in white would enter with me and leave with me. THis year he entered with me, but did not leave with me.'
They asked Rabbi Abahu, 'does it not say that "not man will be in the Tent of Meeting when he enters... even those who are called 'man' (angels)...?" He replied to them, 'Did I say it was a man (or an angel)? I say it was the Holy One, blessed is He!'

Apparently Rabbi Abahu believes that G-d can take on human form! None of the commentaries that I have seen so far address this issue at all. I know that Rabbi Abahu doesn't have to agree with Rambam, but is Rambam not a bit embarrassed to disagree with Rabbi Abahu? (I am asking this tongue in cheek - knowing full well that a similar question is one of Abarabanel's many challenges to the 13 principles).

But I didn't have to go as far as the Yerushalmi to find Rabbi Abahu's view on this matter. The Bavli (Sanhedrin 95b) also has a similar statement from him - this time talking about the downfall of Sancherev:

אמר רבי אבהו אלמלא מקרא כתוב אי אפשר לאמרו דכתיב (ישעיהו ז) ביום ההוא יגלח ה' בתער השכירה בעברי נהר במלך אשור את הראש ושער הרגלים וגם את הזקן תספה אתא קודשא בריך הוא ואדמי ליה כגברא סבא

R. Abbahu said: Were not the [following] verse written, it would have been impossible to conceive of it: viz., In the same day shall the Lord shave with a razor that is hired, namely, by the riverside, by the king of Assyria, the head, and the hair of the feet: and it shall consume the beard.41 The Holy one, blessed be He, went and appeared before him [Sennacherib] as an old man, and said to him... (Soncino translation)

Even though Yad Rama there explains that it does not mean G-d, but rather a person doing the will of G-d, have a look at Rashi. He says explicitly "The Holy One, blessed is He, Himself".

I looked in Rav Aryeh Kaplan's The Handbook of Jewish Thought, Volume 1 where he clearly states (Chapter 2 section 14):
Judaism therefore rejects the possibility that God could have ever assumed human form.

In footnote 17 he brings the source as Yerushalmi Taanit 2:1 (9a). When I looked there I found that once again it is a statement of Rabbi Abahu:

אמר רבי אבהו אם יאמר לך אדם אל אני מכזב הוא בן אדם אני סופו לתהות בו שאני עולה לשמים ההוא אמר ולא יקימנה.

Rabbi Abahu says: If a person says to you "I am god" he is lying. If he says "I am a person (i.e. very righteous and holy - Korban HaEidah) he will eventually me led astray. If he says "I will ascend to heaven" he can say it but he cannot do it.

This does not seem to me to be very compelling. In fact, it seems to me that the only reason Rabbi Abahu call someone who claims to be god a liar is because he entertains that such a thing is possible. Otherwise the person is simply a fool, rather than a liar. Furthermore, these three statements seem to be an attack on Christianity, rather than specifically laying our Jewish dogma.

Rabbi Abahu was a 3rd generation Amora (student of both Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish) who was the Rosh Yeshiva in Cesaeria (which I know from other sources, but is also confirmed by Wikipedia) and had frequent dealings with the non-Jewish leadership (as evidenced by his knowledge of Greek). He was known as an expert in aggadata.
Is Rabbi Abahu unique amongst the Rabbis in attributing the possibility of human form to G-d? Do the other Rabbis argue with him anywhere about this? Was it a shared belief amongst Chazal? Does Rambam have any clear statement from Chazal supporting his claim that it is heresy to beleive that G-d can assume human form?
The only statement of Chazal that Rambam brings (in his Introduction to Perek Chelek - he brings no source in Mishne Torah) is from Chagiga 15a which says:
גמירא דלמעלה לא הוי לא ישיבה ולא תחרות ולא עורף ולא עיפוי

This is a statement of Acher (Elisha ben Avuhya) which is that "Above there is no sitting nor competition nor turning the back of the neck, nor tiredness"
I'm not convinced that this is even speaking about G-d (from the context it seems that it is speaking about angels and specifically NOT G-d) and it is far from explicit.

I am open to any other insights that anyone may have.

Shavua Tov

1 comment:

  1. I would think the dispute amongst rishonim about who or Who was the Man in the Throne when seen at Har Sinai or in the Merkavah would apply to Rav Avohu's words too.

    I presume the Ramban would say that Shim'on haTzadiq's vision was a message from the Almighty, and there is no problem believing that Hashem's symbol for himself in that message was a person.

    Whereas the Rambam and R' Saadia Gaon see prophecy as a peering into higher existences, which the prophet's power of imagination wraps into something more familiar. (In the Greek Philosophical sense of the word, imagination includes our perceptions during observation.) Therefore to them, the man in the throne was Hashem's Kavod (Glory / Honor), which is a created entity.

    I wrote about this once, including their dispute on Avraham's three guests in Mesukim MiDevash for Mishpatim, which appears in an earlier form as the title post of my blog. The two are nearly identical, although the printed version lacks (for space format reasons) the tie-in to the dispute over whether the metaphor used in places in the gemara for prophecy and wisdom is a mirror or a lens.