Wednesday, January 11, 2006

The Rambam (finally)

Here is the Rambam, Hilchot Melachim, chapter 11, section 4. A good bit of this was censored by the Christians, and you will not find it in standard editions, and I will put the censored part in brackets. I have also lettered the paragraphs for easy reference.

A. If there will arise a king from the house of David, well versed in Torah, and occupied in Mitzvot as David, his ancestor, in accordance with the written Torah and the oral Torah, and he will compel all Israel to go in it, and to strengthen its breaches, and he will fight the wars of G-d, behold, this one is in the status of being considered Moshiach;
B. and if he did all this and was successful, and built the Temple in its place, and gathered in the exiles of Israel, he is certainly Moshiach, and he will correct the world to go in the way of G-d, as it is written, “for then, I will transform the nations to have a clear speech, that they all should call in the name of G-d, and serve him in unity.”

C. [And if he did not succeed to this extent, or he was killed, it is known that he is not the one about whom the Torah promised, rather he is like all other Jewish kings that are Kosher, that died. And G-d has only sent him to test the multitudes, as G-d only caused him to arise in order to test the multitude. As it is written [Daniel 11:35], "Some of the wise men will stumble, to purge, to refine, and to clarify, until the appointed time, for it is yet to come."

D. Also Jesus of Nazareth who aspired to be the Mashiach and was executed by the court was also spoken of in Daniel's prophecies [Daniel 11:14], "The renegades among your people shall exalt themselves in an attempt to fulfill the vision, but they shall stumble.” Can there be a greater stumbling block than this? All the prophets spoke of Moshiach as the redeemer of Israel and their savior, who would gather their dispersed ones and strengthen their mitzvos. And he caused the Jews to be slain by the sword, their remnants to be scattered and humiliated, the Torah to be altered, and the majority of the world to err and serve a god other than the L-rd.

E. Nevertheless, the intent of the Creator of the world is not within the power of man to comprehend, for [Yeshayahu 55:8] His ways are not our ways, nor are His thoughts our thoughts. [Ultimately,] all the deeds of Jesus of Nazareth and that Ishmaelite who arose after him will only serve to pave the way for the coming of Mashiach and for the improvement of the entire world, [motivating the nations] to serve G-d together, as it is written [Zephaniah 3:9], "I will make the peoples pure of speech so that they will all call upon the Name of G-d and serve Him with one purpose.

F. How will this come about? The entire world has already become filled with talk of Messiah, as well as of the Torah and the mitzvos. These matters have been spread among many spiritually insensitive nations, who discuss these matters as well as the mitzvos of the Torah. Some of them say: "These commandments were true, but are not in force in the present age; they are not applicable for all time." Others say: "Implied in the commandments are hidden concepts that cannot be understood simply; the Messiah has already come and revealed them."

G. When the true King Moshiach will arise and prove successful, exalted and uplifted, they will all return and realize that their ancestors endowed them with a false heritage; their prophets and ancestors cause them to err.]


The key clause is clause C above. Those who attack Lubavitch with this clause say that the Rambam is clear that if the Moshiach candidate dies, he is no longer fit to be Moshiach. It is very important to note that this reads clause C as a “conditions of failure clause.” In other words this position reads clauses A, B, and C as a “success and failure” formulation. Rambam states the conditions for Moshiach’s success, followed by the conditions for Moshiach’s failure. This is a fairly standard formula followed by Rambam throughout the fourteen volumes of his work. If condition x is met, the Get is valid, if condition y is met, the Get is invalid. If condition x is met, the food is Kosher, if condition y is met, the food is not Kosher.

Now, while this formula is very common in the Rambam’s work, I will argue that it is not the formula being used in this Halacha. I will demonstrate that reading Clause C as a “conditions of failure” (COF) clause is creates tremendous difficulties, and leaves the Rambam nearly incomprehensible. I will not argue that this position is completely untenable, only that it is very forced, and that another reading, which leaves the Rebbe’s candidacy for Moshiach open, is much more plausible.

Before, I proceed to that part of the discussion, it is important to tie up some loose ends. There is Mishichist literature that addresses this point (it is too obvious to be ignored) and they attempt to resolve it, while retaining the overall assumption that clause C is a COF clause. They point out that the Rambam says that a person is rendered “not Moshiach” through a) “not succeeding to this extent,” or b) “being killed.” He clearly does not give “dying” as a COF. They argue that this demonstrates that the Rambam did not mean to consider merely dying as a COF. Rather a person would be a failed candidate only if he announced that he was giving up his effort (not succeeding to this extent), or if he was killed in the very wars of Moshiach. Being killed in the wars of Moshiach would be a clear demonstration that the Moshiach was a failure. But, merely dying would be nothing more than taking a short break, and Moshiach could very well return to finish the job.
This position has been refuted by many writers, including Gil, and they may have some strong points.

Now, I will add another objection to this position. It is obvious that many Mishichisten believe that the Rebbe began to fulfill the “success conditions” listed in Clause A of the Rambam above. They argue that the Rebbe was learned and pious, initiated the worldwide Teshuva campaign, and, they argue the Rebbe fought the wars of G-d. Although this did not take place on the physical level, they argue that the wars of G-d may be understood metaphorically, as referring to battling the forces of Kelipah, by bringing Torah to the world. Now, taking into account that the wars of G-d that Moshiach fights take place on the spiritual plane, would it not also be logical to argue that the “killed in battle” that the Rambam lists as a failure condition would also be on the spiritual plane. And, if this is so, it is not clear that the Rebbe’s death, coming so soon after he intensified his efforts to bring about the redemption, raising those efforts to unprecedented levels, would constitute “being killed in battle?”

So, I reject the notion that this can be a satisfactory response to the problem that this Halacha presents.

However, the question is: Is Clause C meant to a COF clause in the first place?

Here are the objections to that position:
1) Suppose, in fact, Clause C is a COF clause. In this case, the thrust of the Rambam’s ruling is that if a person was a candidate as Moshiach, and then dies, that person must be abandoned as a Moshiach candidate. In other words, the Rambam is speaking directly at Lubavitch. We could almost call Clause C “the Lubavitch Clause.”
The trouble with this reasoning is that, in the time of the Rambam, there was no Lubavitch. How did the Rambam know that, 900 years later, a movement would arise and make the very claim that he negates so presciently in his work?!
While this objection sounds facetious, it is not. It is important to understand that the Rambam’s book of Halacha is a carefully sourced work. (While the Rambam does not provide sources for his work, he certainly had them) In the vast majority of cases, Rambam does not make statements of his own, he only restates Halachic rulings from the two Talmuds and the Midrash. In rare cases, Rambam steps out of this constraint to deliver a refutation to a position that had some currency in the world of Jewish thought. For instance, Rambam’s statement that one should not make the mistake of believing that G-d forces a person to act righteously, or wickedly, this being the opinion of “most blockheads of Israel.” Although there may not be a direct Talmudic or Midrashic source for this thrust, it is nevertheless a statement that the Rambam makes, because it addresses a position that holds currency within Jewish thought, namely, that man’s life is fatalistic. However, in this case, neither condition is met. There is no known Talmudic or Midrashic source for the Rambam’s ruling, so it cannot be taken as a restatement, so it can only be relevant as a response to a position of some currency. However, up to the time of the Rambam there was no Jewish position that held this way. As such, the Rambam’s ruling, if it is understood as a COF, can only be taken as a display of Ruach Hakodesh so mind-bogglingly accurate that it must be prophecy.

And please, please, don’t make the mistake of claiming that the Christians hold this belief, and the thrust of the Rambam is against Christianity. They most certainly do not. As I hope to explain in a later post, this is not the Christian belief at all. Additionally, the rest of the Halacha is taken up with a complete refutation of the possibility that J was Moshiach. Obviously, then, this first part, where the Rambam addresses a case where the dead king is like “All Kosher kings of Israel” is not an allusion to the Christian founder.

2) If the clause is a COF, the question obviously presents itself: Why does the Rambam use the words “did not succeed to this extent, or was killed”? Why not just include it all in the phrase “and if he died before succeeding to this extent”? If this is a COF clause, doesn’t the Rambam’s singling out the condition of “was killed” seem to exclude the condition of “dying”?
Gil put together a booklet in which he attempts to demonstrate with Lomdus that the Rebbe cannot be Moshiach. Of course, he knows that this question is a serious one against his position, so he posits the following fantastic interpretation of the Rambam. He claims that the COF of failure clause must be interpreted in the following way: “If he did not succeed to this extent” [Gil: This means that he died before accomplishing the building of the Beit Hamikdash, ingathering of the exiles, restoration of all the laws of the Torah to their ideal state, leading all the nations to serve one G-d, etc.] “or he was killed” [Gil: This means that he was killed AFTER accomplishing all those things] “then it is certain that this is not the one about whom the Torah has promised.”
So, Gil is conceding that, unless one accepts the notion that a person can do everything that the Rambam says that he has to do to be Moshiach Vadai (The assured Moshiach) and still be disqualified through being killed after having built the Beit Hamikdash, ingathering the exiles, etc, etc, etc, then, one must admit that reading this clause as a COF clause has a serious hole.
Now, it does not take much effort to reject Gil’s ludicrous notion here, but let’s do it anyway. 1) The Rambam says that once a person has accomplished the slate of things that Moshiach must accomplish, he is Moshiach Vadai. Vadai means that the game is over, the Geulah has come. To say that Moshiach being killed after this would disqualify him beggers logic. 2) The Rambam, L’Halacha, holds that it is perfectly feasible for Moshiach to die. If this is the case, why should his being killed after bringing the Geulah disqualify him?
So, since Gil’s position is pretty weird, we are left with the question: If this is a COF clause, why the redundant awkward language instead of a straight, simple statement?

3) If this is a condition of failure clause, why does the Rambam alter his failure language from his success language. Clause A says that if Moshiach achieves ABC, Harei Zeh B’Chezkas Moshiach. Clause B says that if Moshiach achieves XYZ, Harei Zeh Moshiach Vadai. So Clause C should say that if Moshiach does not accomplish ABCXYZ, Harei Zeh Eino Moshiach. Why does the Rambam use the lengthy phrase “It is known that this is not the one about whom the Torah promised”?

So, we have introduced three serious objections against reading this clause of the Rambam as a COF clause. In my next post, I will introduce an alternate understanding of this clause of the Rambam, in a way that all three objections are resolved. We will demonstrate that the Rambam is, in fact, restating a Talmudic ruling, that both phrases (did not succeed, and was killed) are necessary, and that the best way for the Rambam to negate the Messianic status of the individual under consideration is to use the phrase “This is not the one about whom the Torah promised.”

5 Comments:

Blogger thanbo said...

I would point out, that in my arguments with Lubavitchers on soc.culture.jewish (the old newsgroup), there was a sudden switch after Gimmel Tammuz. Before Gimmel Tammuz, the Rambam was the last word, the proof that the Rebbe couldn't die, since as Moshiach, he still had work to do. After Gimmel Tammuz, the first (pseudo-halachic) reaction was to treat the Rambam as irrelevant - that the Rambam's "COF" referred to Bar Kochba as the model for Moshiach, and since the Rebbe had "died", the Rambam wasn't operative any more - Moshiach/Rebbe clearly wasn't going to be in the mold of Bar Kochba.

Nowadays, now that they've had time to rethink things, the Rambam is relevant again, by taking literally "or is killed" to exclude natural death, as you explain.

Can you tell that this all looks like people with a preconceived notion trying to twist the meagre halachic literature on the subject to Prove, Prove their position even when they themselves have been using it to prove the opposite?

5:46 AM  
Anonymous Mishichist said...

Nowadays, now that they've had time to rethink things, the Rambam is relevant again, by taking literally "or is killed" to exclude natural death, as you explain.
I don't think that you read my post at all. I specifically reject that interpretation of the Rambam. Do you just have a canned reply to any Lubavitcher?
In a later post, I will attempt to explain why we believe that the Rebbe is Moshiach, and not any other Godol B'Yisroel of history.
I understand your point about how it looks, but, there are very compelling reasons to believe that the Rebbe is Moshiach, and we must therefore carefully examine the Halacha to see whether a careful reading actually excludes this position.
As I have demonstrated in my post, it does not.

8:14 AM  
Blogger Toby Katz said...

The Rebbe hardly fulfilled any of your clause A, therefore the whole rest of your post is moot.

"A. If there will arise a king from the house of David,"

He wasn't a king

"well versed in Torah, and occupied in Mitzvot as David,"

That he was, but so were many others -- do not forget his great contemporary, R' Moshe Feinstein, and other gedolim

" and he will compel all Israel to go in it, and to strengthen its breaches,"

He could not compel anything or anyone, he had no police, no army, no govt -- he was a private citizen living in another land, America, and did not even live in Israel, let alone govern it.

He was not able to win back the 90% of Jews who are still not religious nor to stem the intermarriage rate which still remains over 50%

"and he will fight the wars of G-d, behold,"

As I said, no war -- no police, no army. The Arabs remain our undefeated enemy and we remain in galus. The rebbe did not achieve even one of the things that the Rambam says the Moshiach will do.

8:43 PM  
Blogger Dovid said...

Good luck with your endeavor! I hope you do a good job at getting the emess about the torah view on oshiach, etc, out there.
Yechi Hamelech!

9:59 PM  
Blogger Mishichist said...

Toby,
I don't agree with your assessment about the Rambam, (especially with some of the laughable errors, like confusing the people that the Rambam refers to as Israel with the modern state that is today called Israel) but, I don't intend to argue this point.
Let's be clear: The belief that most Lubavitchers have that the Rebbe is Moshiach is not based on the notion that the Rebbe fulfilled the "success conditions" enumerated in Rambam, even though much of the Rebbe's career does parallel that description.
To be sure, there are some Lubavitchers that have made a big deal out of this point, mainly to convince outsiders, who might be impressed by a Halacha in Rambam. But, we have other, better, reasons for believing that the Rebbe is Moshiach, and I hope to try to explain those at some point.
My current post only relates to the question of whether the Rebbe is disqualified from being Moshiach by the fact that he passed away.
Thus far, I have demonstrated that the reading of the Rambam that posits death as a disqualification for being Moshiach is fraught with difficulty. In my next post, I hope to present an alternate understanding of the Rambam, which I believe is far more plausible.

5:45 AM  

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