Friday, December 01, 2006

Should We Learn The Ibn Ezra's Commentary?

Should we learn the commentary of the Ibn Ezra on the Chumash?

After a e-mail conversation with Chabakuk Elisha earlier last month, I decided to look into this subject a bit further. To begin with, I remembered Sichos HaRan #223 which relates the view of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov:

"A number of people were once praising Rashi's commentaries in the Rebbe's presence. The gist of the conversation was that one should use only Rashi's commentary on the Torah and not those which follow the philosophers.

Some Torah commentaries occasionally abandon the traditional Talmudic and Midrashic interpretation in favor of one agreeing with philosophical teachings. These should be avoided. The only necessary commentary is that of Rashi.

The Rebbe then remarked, 'You may not realize it, but Rashi is like the Torah's brother. Every Jew, from childhood on, studies both the written and oral Torah with Rashi's commentary. Think of this and you will understand Rashi's unique greatness."

If there is any misunderstanding on who Rebbe Nachman is referring to when he speaks about "those which follow the philosophers", Chayei Moharan #410 states:

"One Rosh Hashana, the Rebbe spoke about the prohibition against studying Torah commentaries taking a philosophical approach (such as the works of Ibn Ezra, especially the commentary known as the Margalit and the works of the Ralbag which are well known to contain statements contrary to the Torah to the point that one should rend his garments on hearing a single word of them.) The Rebbe said that all their basic premises are taken from Aristotle and other well known atheists, some of whom came before the Talmudic period and some during it. When the teachers of the Mishnah and Talmud introduced the prohibition against studying works dealing with Greek thought they were aiming against these atheistic works, which were an intrinsic part of Greek culture."

Rebbe Nachman's view, however, was not universally shared in the Chassidic world. Midrash Pinchas, kuntres 8:7 (pages 181-182), quotes Rebbe Pinchas of Koretz as having said, "Ibn Ezra was an incarnation of the Tannaim, and he had every right to express a dissenting view." Rebbe Yaakov Shimshon of Shepetovka said, "All the words of Ibn Ezra are as sacred as a sefer Torah." Additionally, other Chassidic rebbes who supported learning his commentary include the Yismach Yisrael and Rebbe Simcha Bunim of P'shyscha, who regularly learned Ibn Ezra's commentary because he believed it was "conducive for attaining Yiras Shamayim."

While the Degel Machaneh Ephraim often quoted the commentary of Rashi, the Ohr HaChaim, and sometimes the Ramban, I don't recall him ever quoting Ibn Ezra and have not found anything definitive that reveals the Degel's view about the commentary of the Ibn Ezra.

I asked Rabbi Lazer Brody his opinion whether a person should stay away from this commentary and he replied, "Yes, because many of them were into "chakira". For that reason, we also don't learn the Rambam's "Guide to the Perplexed" nor chapter one of "Chovos Halevavos" - the Baal Shem Tov way (Degel, Breslev, etc) is pure and simple emuna."

Another Breslover chassid I asked about this replied, "After we win the battle against television in the frum community, we can start worrying about these intramural Jewish controversies!"


At December 1, 2006 at 9:00:00 AM EST, Blogger BaconEating AtheistJew said...

OT- Happy Birthday

At December 1, 2006 at 9:01:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Thank you! :)

At December 1, 2006 at 1:02:00 PM EST, Anonymous Kosher Eating Faithful Jew. AKA: Yaakov Shalom said...

I figure once i finish Chumash Rashi, Ohr Hachaim, Ramban etc.
I would want to stick with CHssideshe rebbes and the Mekuballim.
If Reb Nachman who said that a person should learn everything (with H-shems help)Because a person wants to go to every Bais Medrsh in Olam Habba. And then he says this about these commentators.
I would stay away.
I am personally never comfortable with these perushim i always felt uncomfortable even before I learned Reb Nachman said anything.

At December 1, 2006 at 3:46:00 PM EST, Anonymous Jew2 said...

How is it that after 700 years of Jews learning Ibn Ezra that a person comes along and says "no more!" Is this what Mesorah is all about?

At December 1, 2006 at 5:04:00 PM EST, Blogger der ewige Jude said...

Wow, this is really bad news because Rashi is the commentator I turn to last. Although he wrote commentary on just about everything and obviously had great learning and a huge knowledge base, his interpretations are often quite convoluted and he ends up reinterpreting huge sections of Torah in order to make his explanation "fit." As an example Rashi says the passage "He will bear you up on eagle's wings" Means that unlike other birds which carry their young in their claws, an eagle carries its young on its back. He then relates this to the way that Jewish souls are carried by the Divine Presence.
Unfortunately birds do not carry their young, some species of bats do, but they are not birds. Since he is basing his Torah interpretation on faulty knowledge of birds it seems that his interpretation may also be faulty. Rashi also interprets Hebrew words a certain way because they sound similar to words in French.
I generally favor the interpretations of the Rambam, Ramban, and Ibn Ezra. However, if Rabbenu ruled against them, OY!
Gut Shabbos

At December 2, 2006 at 2:39:00 PM EST, Anonymous yosef said...

I'm pretty sure no one would rule against the RaMBaN. See what the RaMBaN has to say in reference to the Ibn Ezra in his own commentary- I don't know about issues of philosophy, but in issues of pshat he takes the Ibn Ezra to account brilliantly, and in sometimes shocking language :-)

At December 2, 2006 at 2:43:00 PM EST, Anonymous Yosef said...

BTW, R. Nachman was opposed to learning the RaMBaM's Moreh Nevuchim (Guide to the Perplexed), as well as the philosophical sections in Sefer Mada of the Mishne Torah. But he actually praised the RaMBaM's halachic works as being without parallel. One shouldn't conclude that this was meant as a blanket condemnation of the RaMBaM, G-d forbid- many others, including the Vilna Gaon, had the same view regarding the Moreh Nevuchim, etc.

At December 3, 2006 at 3:24:00 PM EST, Anonymous Dovid Sears said...


Please take a closer look at the original text of Sichos HaRan # 223, where Reb Nachman states of RASHI: "Ve-she-ein tz'rikhin lilmod perush acher 'al ha-mikra 'al pi pashut, ki she'ar ha-meforshim rubam holkhim 'al pi darkhei ha-chakiros... And it is unnecessary to learn another commentary on Scripture according to the simple meaning, because most other commentators follow the ways of philosophy..." Note the phrase " 'al pi pashut... according to the simple meaning." This does not rule out the validity of other levels of meaning.

I agree with Yosef that the Rebbe would not have rejected the commentary of RaMBaN, which my teacher Rav Kenig of Tzefat has quoted to me, and sees in a different light than works of the philosophically oriented commentators. Rav Kenig has also enouraged us to learn the Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh every week, which is a deeper-level commentary. I never asked him about other kabbalistically grounded works like Rabbenu Bachaye, Recanati, and Kli Yakar, etc., but I would guess that they are not a problem, either.

Nevertheless, RASHI stands above the rest. The Lubavitcher Rebbe zatzal (among many other outstanding Gedolim) seems to have seen RASHI in a "league by himself," as well.

At December 3, 2006 at 7:38:00 PM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Rabbi Sears: Thanks for the information on Rav Kenig's advice about the Ohr HaChaim since it is quite timely for me. I plan to post more about this in the future.

At December 3, 2006 at 7:45:00 PM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

The Ramba"n based his pirush on Kabolo, and his pshat is parallel to Rashi, though he uses different approach in defining pshat. The critique in Chayey Moharan is aimed not at the meforshim at large (pay attention - ki she'ar ha-meforshim rubam holkhim 'al pi darkhei ha-chakiros), but at those who choose chakiro instead of Kabolo. So it doesn't rule out any pirushim even al pi pshat, if they aren't anti Kabolo oriented.

There are several pirushim on the pirush of the Ramban al pi nistar (Meiras Eynaim from Rabbi Yitzchok deMin Acco za"l, and Keser Shem Tov from Rabbi Shem Tov ben Goen za"l), which are serious Kabolo sforim on their own.

Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh combines all levels, and is explaining simple pshat in psukim all the time as well.

At December 3, 2006 at 7:46:00 PM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

What I meant that Ramban's pshat is parallel to Rahi, is that he uses a different system. Quite often it is not like Rashi actually.

At December 4, 2006 at 12:04:00 PM EST, Blogger Soccer Dad said...

I learned from Prof Hyman at YU that the Rambam only learned the Ibn Ezra. Not because he didn't like Rashi, but because Rashi was probably never accessible to him.

At December 4, 2006 at 5:53:00 PM EST, Anonymous A Yid said...

Totally incorrect. Ramban discusses Rashi's pirush very often in his own.

At December 4, 2006 at 8:53:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

My Bais Yaakov teachers oftened taught us the Ibn Ezra...I never knew there was any issue with it

At December 14, 2006 at 11:59:00 PM EST, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"I learned from Prof Hyman at YU that the Rambam only learned the Ibn Ezra. Not because he didn't like Rashi, but because Rashi was probably never accessible to him."

the letter from the rambam in which he says to study ibn ezra is not genuine. It's a later forgery.

At January 4, 2007 at 6:24:00 AM EST, Blogger A Simple Jew said...

Interestinhgly, in a discussion with the Sudilkover Rebbe last night, he told me that he found a reference in Degel Machaneh Ephraim that quotes the Rambam. When searching for the source of this quote, the Sudilkover Rebbe could only find it located in Moreh Nevuchim.

At February 2, 2007 at 1:39:00 PM EST, Anonymous tzura said...

it's funny, Reb Nachman's Torah never really spoke to so much even before I read about his comments on the Ibn Ezra. Now I know why :)

At February 5, 2007 at 1:10:00 PM EST, Blogger Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I don't want to criticize anyone, but I don't agree with the approach expressed in this blog post. The quotations from Rav Nachman are full of factual errors. Aristotle was not an atheist - he was a monotheist. And the majority of philosophers during Talmudic times were not Aristotelian, they were neo-Platonists, Stoics, etc. Furthermore, the works of Aristotle and the philosophers were never an intrinsic part of Greek culture - they were reserved for the elite. The Greeks killed Socrates, and Aristotle fled Athens for years to avoid a similar fate.

In my opinion, pure and simple emunah is not a Jewish concept. The Torah speaks of "knowing" Hashem, and never asks for faith. The Neviim ask the Jews to return to the Torah based upon knowledge and understanding, not a leap of faith. The whole idea of studying Torah is a process of critical questioning and pondering.

Furthermore, in modern times it is impossible to go through life without encountering challenges to one's emunah. Does Hashem want us to ignore our God-given intellects when we see difficulties with emunah that need to be addressed? I don't think so. If Avraham Avinu had taken that approach, we would still be worshipping stones. And clearly the great Rabbis of past and present who wrote books like "Guide for the Perplexed", "Chovot Halevavot", etc, thought that deeper investigations into the philosophy of Judaism was praiseworthy. Are we superior to them such that we sit in judgment over them?

The Rambam, Ramban, Radaq, Ralbag, Chovot Halevavot, Ibn Ezra, Saadya Gaon, R' Yehudah Halevi, etc., etc., all felt that one of the ultimate goals of study was to achieve deeper understanding of the philosophy of Judaism. None of them advocated blind faith - this idea made its first appearance with the advent of the Chassidic movement. Whom should we believe? I think the answer is obvious.


Post a Comment

<< Home