At the end of 2002, within the space of a few
months, Orthodox Jewry witnessed something very unusual. With great
publicity two books were placed under a ban: Nathan Kamenetsky's Making of a Godol1
and Jonathan Sacks's Dignity of
Difference2. Kamenetsky is the
son of R. Jacob Kamenetsky (died 1986), one of the gedolim of the previous
generation, and is himself a personality in the haredi world, having been one
of founders of the Itri Yeshiva. In years past he was even worthy
of being referred to as Ha-Ga'on by Yated Ne'eman, the haredi mouthpiece.3 Sacks is the Chief Rabbi of
England (technically only the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew
Congregations of Britain and the Commonwealth), and an eloquent
spokesman for traditional Judaism as well as a most prolific
Although there was a time when bans were
issued against the writings of various alleged heretics, today the
boundaries between denominations are clear and members of the
Orthodox community do not need any special warning that
non-Orthodox works may contain false theology. Besides, due to the
sheer mass of such literature, it would be impossible to keep up
with even the most significant of such publications.
As such, in modern times leading scholars in
world will only rarely see the need to publicly declare a book to
be dangerous and thus forbidden. The only time they do so is when
it is thought that members of their community will see the book in
question as acceptable. Thus, it is not surprising that
condemnations are rare. Yet by the same token, when the
condemnations come, they are usually directed against distinguished
individuals who also identify with Orthodoxy, for it is their
writings that have the potential to infiltrate the haredi world and
While one can find some exceptions to this
(the 1945 excommunication of Mordecai Kaplan and public burning of
the Reconstructionist Prayer Book comes to mind4), it remains a
valid generalization. Thus, there is no need for a condemnation of
a book written by a typical Modern Orthodox intellectual, for it is
unlikely to be read by members of the haredi world, and if read, it will not be taken seriously
if it opposes the current haredi da`as Torah. On the other hand, if we are dealing with a figure
such as Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, there is indeed a possibility
that his ideas could have an influence in the haredi world. As such, it is
prise that when R. Eleazar Shakh, at the time
the leading ideologue of da`as Torah in the haredi world, was asked about the Rav's views of Zionism
as expounded in his classic Hamesh
Derashot, R. Shakh replied that his
position indeed departed from da`as
Torah. R. Shakh added that reading the
work was forbidden, for it contained heresy, pure and simple (mammash divrei kefirah).5
As the guardian of haredi Orthodoxy, it was R.
Shakh's role to establish the boundary line between his community
and other forms of Orthodoxy, and he did so with a stridency many
will find disconcerting. The institutions and books he condemned
include Touro College,6 the Jerusalem College of Technology,7
Mikhlalah,8 the Ma`arava school,9 Heikhal
Shelomo,10 the hesder movement,11 the Steinsaltz Talmud
and other books by this author,12 and Yehudah Levi's book Sha`arei Talmud Torah,
which supports a Torah im Derekh Erets perspective.13 Since these institutions and
books are clearly part of the Orthodox world and are even supported
by great scholars, it was necessary for them to be condemned lest
public be led astray.14
Of course, all this is not new. Already in
medieval times we find bans put on Maimonides' work and the study
of philosophy in general. As time went on, Azariah de Rossi's
historical work Me'or Einayim was condemned, as was Mendelssohn's Bi'ur, Naftali Hertz
Wessely's Divrei Shalom ve-Emet,15 various Hasidic works, the
anti-Kabbalistic writings of R. Yihye Kafih, the proto-Zionist
works of R. Akiva Joseph Schlesinger, and the writings of R. Kook,
to name just a few.16
Because R. Shakh was regarded as a leader only
by the haredi community, his pronouncements were not the subject of
much concern in the wider Orthodox world. In fact, I think it is a
testament to the respect people had for R. Shakh's great Torah
learning that he was generally not subjected to abuse by those
groups he condemned. On the contrary, the religious Zionist
community, with few exceptions, continued to treat him with
respect, albeit it from a distance, even though he regarded their hesder yeshivot and
worldview as destroying Torah, going so far as to declare:
"Religious Zionists have done nothing for the benefit of Torah
causes in Israel. They are void of Torah and the fear of Heaven and
are not capable of producing any gedolim."17 R. Zvi Yehudah Kook was one of the
few religious Zionist leaders who publicly criticized R. Shakh, yet
when he heard one of his students doing likewise, he was quick to
rebuke him.18 R. Shelomo Aviner, a contemporary leader of the
religious nationalist community, has often written about the
importance of respecting all Torah scholars, even those whose views religious
Zionists vehemently reject.19
Yet in the haredi world, it is much more difficult to find such
respect for those whose views differ. It is, of course, no secret
that in religious matters it is easy for people to respect those on
their right; it is the reverse that is more difficult. For this
very reason, people who send their children to Modern Orthodox
schools contribute heavily to haredi
yeshivot, without expecting, or
receiving, any reciprocity. Leading haredi figures always showed great respect for the
Satmar rebbe, but, since they cooperated with and received from
money from the State of Israel, they never expected to receive such
respect in return.
towards the leaders of Modern Orthodoxy and religious Zionism are
more complicated than this. Even when one finds elements of
respect, they are usually coupled with signs that there are also
"problems" with the individuals concerned. The very
reserved "eulogy" in the Jewish
Observer, following the death of Rabbi
Soloveitchik, was in line with this.20 In fact, literature
that disrespects Torah scholars is a staple in the haredi world,
but of course, these Torah scholars are always found in a different
ideological camp. Usually, the disrespect is seen in the way haredi writers refer to
these scholars. While the haredi
gedolim are referred to as ha-rav ha-ga'on, other gedolim become simply ha-rav. There are times
when matters reach more distressing proportions, but as all who
literature know, the omitting of the title ha-ga'on is the standard way
to distinguish real gedolim from those who may be learned, but, because they do
not follow da`as Torah, can never reach the highest rung.
Because of this pattern, it was somewhat of a
surprise when people heard that Kamenetsky's Making of a Godol, a book that
emanated from the haredi world, had come under attack. The story,
accompanied by all sorts of rumors, quickly spread on the Internet.
When the official herem finally appeared, with R. Yosef Shalom Elyashiv's
name featured at the top of the signatories, the book became an
immediate collector's item. Most seforim stores would not even carry it.
Before even discussing the book itself, a word
must be said about the figure of R. Yosef Shalom Elyashiv. Over the
last ten years, he has become the supreme authority in the haredi world, the final
word on all matters of importance. R. Elyashiv stands as
clear evidence that the institution of the Mo`etset Gedolei ha-Torah, a
group of Torah scholars who are supposed to decide matters for the haredi community,
remains a fiction. In fact, as the haredi historian Zvi Weinman has documented,21
throughout most of its existence the Mo`etset has had no real
significance, and when rabbinic authority was required, it became
the role of individual gedolim to offer guidance. Today, this position is
filled by R. Elyashiv.
Although R. Elyashiv assumed R. Shakh's role,
the course of R. Elyashiv's life, in contrast to that of R. Shakh,
for the most part has not followed the typical haredi model. He is the
grandson of R. Shelomo Elyashiv, the famed Kabbalist and author of Leshem Shevo ve-Ahlamah,
and the son-in-law of R. Aryeh Levin, both of whom were close to R.
Kook. R. Elyashiv himself served for many years as a dayyan in the Israeli
Chief Rabbinate, the same rabbinate condemned by R. Shakh.22
It was only when R. Shelomo Goren was elected chief rabbi in
1972 that R. Elyashiv, then serving as a member of the rabbinate's
Supreme Beit Din, resigned. He regarded R. Goren's approach as a threat to
the integrity of the halakhic system and refused to serve under
him. In retrospect, this was a very significant step, for only with
his ties to the official rabbinate removed would he be able to
emerge, twenty years later, as the supreme leader of the haredim.
Because R. Elyashiv had not always been
regarded as part of the haredi world, and had not engaged in sharp attacks on the
other segments of Orthodoxy, he remained well respected in the
religious Zionist community even after he began to publicly
identify with the haredi ideology. Thus, despite his increasing
politicization in the last decade, he is still regarded as a gadol whose reputation
transcends the haredi world. As such, R. Elyashiv's views on various
communal matters should certainly be taken seriously, even if not
ultimately accepted, by all segments of the Orthodox world.
Having offered this background, we can now ask
what was so problematic about Making of
a Godol that this great sage was forced
to issue his condemnation. Furthermore, what can we say about the
book in general, since lost in all the hubbub has been any
discussion of its quality and general approach? The book is
subtitled, "A Study of Episodes in the Lives of Great Torah
Personalities," and this is certainly an apt description.
Filling some 1400 pages, Kamenetsky uses the biography of his
father to discuss many gedolim and aspects of the yeshiva world, focusing on
the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. There is a basic
text, of less than a hundred pages, and numerous excursuses and
notes. It is in the latter section that the book's real
It is not an easy book to read, as it has been
organized very poorly and there are far too many
cross-references– some of which lead to nowhere. A good
editor could have improved matters immeasurably. Also, the author's
method of transliteration is downright foolish, as is his manner of
sometimes referring to people by the Yiddish pronunciation of their
names, e. g., Ya`akov becomes Yankev or Yankel, Mosheh becomes
Maisheh, Yehezqel becomes Hatzqel, Avraham becomes Avrohm, Yosef
becomes Yoshe, etc. Here too, an editor would have been very
helpful. Yet even though he did not have such assistance, the book
is beautifully typeset with helpful maps at the beginning and end.
I did not find one typo, which is no small achievement considering
the length of this book. There are pictures of twenty-one gedolim on the front and
back book jackets. Unfortunately, none of them are identified, and
the average reader will not realize that one of the pictures is of
a youthful and very stylishly dressed R. Aaron Kotler. There is
also a picture of R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik, showing that the
author's view of who qualifies as a gadol is wider than that of much of the haredi world.23 On
the book jacket, we are informed that the author "has
accumulated much more material on this general subject, and this
volume is the first in an anticipated series." One wonders
whether with all the controversy that has ensued, this will ever
come to pass. Certainly, if more volumes do appear, they are not
likely to be similar to the first one.
In the forward to the book, Kamenetsky
discusses two ways history has been written in the Orthodox
community: the hagiographic and the realistic. He tells us that he
intends to write real history and justifies this choice, which no
longer is an obvious one in haredi circles.24 While portraying gedolim as the
outstanding figures they were, he also notes that "if a minor
blemish – and on a truly great man it is never more than
minor—also exists, it does not ruin the grace of the
outstanding personality" (p. xxvii). By calling attention to
imperfections, he does not believe that he is diminishing these gedolim in any way.
Here, of course, is the problem in the eyes of
world. While most of them would admit that even gedolim have their faults, it
is regarded as improper for these faults to be pointed out. Now it
is true that stories of the sort recorded by Kamenetsky have always
been part of yeshiva lore, but they have always been transmitted
orally. To see them written down, recorded for posterity, is, I
admit, a little jarring. I submit that it is this, rather than any
beliefs in the supposed infallibility of gedolim, that brought out the
fury of the haredi leadership and is reflected in the text of the ban:
We were appalled to hear from reliable talmidei chachomim about
the distribution and sale of a book called Making of a Godol which is
full of severely debasing remarks, derisiveness, degradation and hotzo'as shem ra against
several figures among gedolei
horabbonim, the leading lights of
Yisroel in recent generations and the rishonim
kemal'ochim whose words guide the lives
of all Beis Yisroel, whose elucidations of the Torah we imbibe and
whose greatness, veneration and holiness are rooted in the hearts
of all Jews with a fear of Heaven. This is what the book seeks to
negate, by discrediting, disgracing and debasing their illustrious
honor, which is also the honor of Hashem
yisborach and the holy Torah. . . .
This is not a book of tales about gedolei
Yisroel, but just the opposite. It is
wholly filled with a chilling spirit that distances one from the
true purpose in life that can have unforeseen and grave
The ban also mentions that the book is
dangerous for it "blemishes the proper hashkofoh" that condemns
"blending external studies together with the pure study of our
holy Torah." Here I must confess that I don't know what the
ban is referring to, for nowhere in the book does the author
criticize the Torah-only perspective of the yeshiva world in favor
of some sort of Hirschian Torah im
Derekh Erets approach. I would assume
that a few references to his father being acquainted with Modern
Hebrew and Russian literature, as well as having some awareness of
Aristotle, Plato, and Kant, are not so terrible as to bring about
such a strong denunciation.26 Neither is the report that R.
Jacob Kamenetsky recommended to the principal of the secular
department at Yeshivat Torah Vodaath that students study certain
Shakespeare plays "because in olden times there was less
reference to topics to which yeshiva bahurim should not be
exposed" (p. 264). I could be wrong about this, and it is
possible that haredi society has now reached the point where gedolim are supposed to
have absolutely no knowledge of matters other than Torah. Yet it is
also possible that the signers of the herem, none of whom could read the book in the original,
were misinformed about its content in this regard.27
In Making of a
Godol, Kamenetsky shows himself to be a
master of the Lithuanian yeshiva world. One won't find here
sociological analysis of the sort in Shaul Stampfer's book on the
subject,28 but it is impossible not to be struck by the
incredible amount of information the author amassed during his
fifteen years of research. It is a true labor of love, and there is
hardly anyone who can match Kamenetsky's sheer knowledge of this
world and its rabbinic figures, most of whom are completely
forgotten today. Using this knowledge, the author is able to bring
a wide range of sources to each issue and personality he discusses.29
Yet the book suffers from some serious flaws.
I would not mention them if Making of a
Godol were a typical haredi hagiography, but
Kamenetsky is at pains to point out that his book is the exact
opposite. We see this not only in the text itself, but even in the
book's layout. It includes a book jacket with a picture of the
author and a short description, much like one finds in
"regular" books but which are conspicuously absent in haredi works.
As such, it is important to point out that
despite the author's great erudition, this is not a properly
synthesized book that flows neatly from one topic to another. It is
rather a smorgasbord of facts, impressive indeed, but without any
sight of the big picture. What we get instead are attempts, some
very clumsy, at illuminating selected episodes and personalities. A
trained historian could have done wonders with the information
Another serious shortcoming is his use of
sources–in particular, the hundreds of personal
communications he records. While oral history can be valuable, it
has to be used carefully and must yield when faced with documentary
evidence to the contrary.30 The haredi culture is in many respects an oral culture, with
stories of gedolim told and retold, and with this come distortions and
falsehoods. Kamenetsky at times shows that he is aware of this, but
only when the oral history is contradicted by another version of
oral history or by a reliable written source. Otherwise, he chooses
to rely on all sorts of tales.
It is one thing when oral history focuses on
an event or an oral exchange witnessed by a particular
individual–and there are numerous such examples in the book—
but often Kamenetsky will record a story he heard from X who heard
from Y who heard from Z, sometimes about an event that happened 100
years ago! Clearly, this does not qualify as history. Again, if
this were a book of hagiography, one would expect this type of
thing. In that sort of book we would anticipate being told what R.
Hayyim Soloveitchik said when he was on a train or how the
Rogochover rebuked another gadol in the privacy of their hotel room. But
Kamenetsky wants his book to be judged by the standards of
historical scholarship, and in this respect it is sorely lacking.
This failure to recognize the unreliability of
oral history leads Kamenetsky to take different versions of the
same story and try to determine what actually occurred. While there
is no doubt a kernel of truth in the basic story, a historian must
acknowledge that at this late date it is simply impossible to come
to any firm conclusions. Similarly, his detailed and tedious
analysis of events, most notably the mission of Max Lilienthal in
Russia (pp. 188-257), combine what is best about the book – a
gathering together of widely scattered material – with the
book's weakness, a reliance on stories and traditions, together
with hypotheses, which, at the end of the day, have no basis.
This criticism, however, does not mean that
the author's hypotheses are never compelling or at least thought
provoking. For example, he questions whether the unusual paths of
men such as R. Jehiel Jacob Weinberg, Prof. Saul Lieberman and
Prof. Samuel Atlas31 had something to do with their being
childless and thus feeling free to make unconventional choices (p.
820). This, I think, is a compelling insight.
Another problematic element of the book,
admittedly found only on occasion, is its use of unnamed sources.
This is acceptable in journalism, but not in scholarship. For
example, the evidence for one of the most controversial passages in
the book, concerning R. Aaron Kotler, his future wife, and his
future father-in-law, R. Isser Zalman Meltzer, is "a reliable
source" (p. 802).32 I understand why the source would
not want his or her name to be given, but when repeating such a
loaded story, which one knows will be controversial and its
veracity challenged, the author is obligated to name the source,
thus allowing the reader to judge its reliability. After all, if
the source is R. Kotler's daughter, its authenticity is more
apparent than if it is another example of what X heard from Y. If
the source does not wish to go on the record, it is best for the
story to be omitted. (In my own biography of R. Weinberg, I was
forced to leave out a number of "juicy" details,
precisely for this reason.)
As for the controversial elements in Making of a Godol, which
are only a very small portion of the book, I will leave it to
others to judge whether they should have been included. One can
easily understand, especially in our day and age, why the haredi leaders would
react so sharply to any book that portrays gedolim in a non-hagiographic
light, discusses conflicts these gedolim had with one another, and repeats stories that
portray some of them as having made errors and even as possessing
Since my own work has been the subject of a
major dispute in this regard, I have given these issues a good deal
of thought. Every biography involves choosing from a mass of
information in order to portray various characters. When dealing
with potentially controversial matters, my own yardstick has always
been whether the information will help in one's assessment of the
individuals concerned, or if is it simply voyeuristic gossip.
Kamenetsky would no doubt reply that this is a judgment call, and
he was not writing an intellectual biography but seeking to portray
personalities. Indeed, the gedolim do come to life in Making
of a Godol, and the stories are always
entertaining, sometimes even shocking. Yet, in the final analysis,
one must wonder whether they are true.
Sacks's book is in a completely different
category and the reasons for the controversy are much more
fundamental, indeed reaching to the heart of what traditional
Judaism affirms.34 The controversy over the work forced Sacks
to issue a new, soft-cover edition of the book, in which he has
rephrased the disputed passages,35 but he has refused to
retract anything that appeared in the first edition.36 What
has made the book so controversial is that Sacks stakes out an
ecumenical position that apparently breaks new theological ground,
which understandably is anathema in haredi circles. What must be considered, and what
Sacks shockingly does not do, is whether there is any support in
the Jewish tradition for his approach.
Before discussing this let me briefly describe
Sacks's general position. The book is an attempt to provide
guidance in the era of globalization, so that we can to avoid the
much talked about "Clash of Civilizations." In addition
to religion, Sacks focuses on charity, education, and the value and
problems of capitalism. Yet it is his theory of religion that is
most original, and that led R. Elyashiv, in a letter to the rav of Gateshead, to
characterize the book as "containing heresy and matters that
are against our faith in the holy Torah, and it is forbidden to
have such a book in one's home."37
According to Sacks, in our current
post-September 11 climate, we must do more than have tolerance for
other cultures and religions, and do more than search for common
values and give other religions basic respect.38 Rather, we
must celebrate the diverse world we live in. Such a celebration of
the diversity of God's world is more than tolerance and even more
than pluralism; it is a recognition of the truth found in all
Forty years ago, at the height of the
ecumenical movement, a number of Jewish religious leaders were
asked the following question: "Is Judaism the one true
religion, or is it one of several true religions?"39 It
is significant that none of the Orthodox respondents were willing
to grant that there is any truth in other religions, other than
those truths that Mendelssohn would describe as the product of
reason.40 In other words, everyone grants that if
Christianity teaches that murder is wrong, then this is a truth,
but it is not a religious truth particular to this faith, and it is
not what Sacks has in mind.
Sacks is a child of a different era, one in
which post-modern ideas are now prevalent, and this explains his
alternative view of religion and truth. In fact, he attempts to
locate "the celebration of [religious] diversity at the very
heart of the monotheistic imagination" (p. xi). He begins his
book by describing an interfaith service that took place at Ground
Zero in New York City, at which the Archbishop of Canterbury, a
Muslim Imam, and a Hindu Guru recited prayers and meditations, and
the Chief Rabbi of Israel read a reflection. This is a model of how
religions should co-exist, according to Sacks. He sees our era as
one in which:
The great faiths must now become an active
force for peace and for the justice and compassion on which peace
ultimately depends. That will require great courage and perhaps
something more than courage: a candid admission that, more than at
any time in the past, we need to search – each faith in its
own way –for a way of living with, and acknowledging the
integrity of, those who are not of our faith. Can we make space for
difference? Can we hear the voice of God in a language, a
sensibility, a culture not our own? (pp. 4-5.)
In other words, Sacks is asking us to see God
not merely in the peoples of the world, but even in their varying
religions. This is a very bold stance when one considers Judaism's
monotheistic tradition. Sacks himself acknowledges: "I have
not hesitated to be radical, and I have deliberately chosen to
express that radicalism in religious terms" (p. 17). As he
puts it, our faith can give rise "to a generosity of spirit
capable of recognizing the integrity–yes, even the
sanctity–of worlds outside our faith" (p. 9). In
pre-modern times "it was possible to believe that our truth
was the only truth; our way the only way" (p. 10). Today, the
challenge is: "Can I, a Jew, hear the echoes of God's voice in
that of a Hindu or Sikh or Christian or Muslim. . . . Can I do so
and feel not diminished but enlarged? What then becomes of my faith
which until then had encompassed the world and must now make space
for another faith, another way of interpreting the world?"
Sacks' conclusion is to reject the notion that
"one God entails one faith, one truth, one covenant" (p.
200). In other words, while God's covenant at Sinai remains true
for the Jewish people, other religions are expressions of
alternative covenants with God, each of which represent its own
truth. In Sacks's words, "God has spoken to mankind in many
languages: through Judaism to Jews, Christianity to Christians,
Islam to Muslims . . . God is God of
all humanity, but no single faith is or should be the faith of all
humanity." (p. 55, italics in
Although he claims that his position is not an endorsement of
polytheism (p. 65), Sacks never explains why not. He himself tells
us that truth on earth is not the whole truth: "When two
propositions conflict it is not necessarily because one is true
[and] the other false. It may be, and often is, that each
represents a different perspective on reality, an alternative way
of structuring order. . . . In heaven there is truth; on earth
there are truths." (p. 64.)43 Who then is to say that a
polytheistic conception is not the truth of another
culture–"a different perspective on reality"
–while monotheism is the truth of the Jews? After all, as
Sacks further notes, "God is greater than religion" and
"He is only partially comprehended by any faith" (p. 65).
I see no way to accept Sacks' basic
propositions and at the same time to discount the legitimacy of
polytheism for those cultures which approach the divine in this
fashion. Sacks himself says, with reference to religious truth,
that "each culture has something to contribute" (pp.
64-65, italics added). In other words, he explicitly includes even
polytheistic societies. Once Sacks is prepared to understand truth
in a non-absolutist sense, then it is not merely Christianity and
Islam that become part of the great circle of truth, but all religious
Does the Jewish tradition have room for such a
position, one that speaks of multiple religious truths? In
formulating this question I speak of the Jewish tradition in its
widest sense, obviously much broader than that recognized by the haredi world, which, for
instance, does not regard R. Kook's theological views as
legitimate. In fact, Sacks could have looked to R. Kook in support
of what he states regarding the differences between truth on earth
and Divine truth. R. Kook wrote: "In relation to the highest
Divine truth, there is no difference between formulated religion
and heresy. Both do not yield the truth, because whatever positive
assertion a person makes is a step removed from the truth of the
Yet even with such a passage, we still do not
have a precedent for Sacks's overall thesis. Since the outlook he
describes is a product of new intellectual approaches, many will
wonder how sages of previous generations could possibly provide
support. To be sure, new positions can be offered in Jewish
theology, but unless there is some support in the tradition both
the new position, and the individual advocating it, will probably
be read out of the fold.
Sacks himself acknowledges that his approach
is radical, and he notes that "God is summoning us to a new
act of listening, going back to the sources of our faith and
hearing in them something we missed before, because we did not face
these challenges, this configuration of dilemmas before. In
religions of revelation, discoveries are rediscoveries, a
discernment of something that was always there but not necessarily
audible from where our ancestors stood" (p. 19). Clearly, we
are faced with a controversial position when the author admits that
what he is advocating was not–indeed, could not–have
been known previously. Since he posits that a basic religious truth
was unknown to the greats of previous generations but has now been
revealed to us, one understands why there was such a strong
reaction to Sacks' words.
If we are to conclude, as Sacks himself seems
to, that while his position has biblical roots, it is absent from
the rabbinic tradition, then we would be forced to agree with the haredi critique. Some
might argue that there are lots of things that we know today that
the greats of previous generations did not know. Yet those are
matters in the realms of history and science. On the other hand,
Sacks is referring to a basic theological assumption. If he can
show that we now recognize facts that must change our perceptions
of other religions, facts that earlier generations were unaware of,
this would be important. Yet he does not do this. Rather, he simply
asserts that there is a need to go back to the sources of our faith
and hear something that wasn't heard in previous generations. This
assertion, that earlier generations lacked our multicultural
perspective, is simply begging the point, for he has not
established that our multicultural perspective is positive in and
of itself and can thus be the springboard for a new ecumenical
theology, for what Sacks acknowledges to be "a paradigm shift
in our understanding of our commonalties and differences" (p.
48). As such, any effort in this direction must proceed on the
basis of Jewish sources, rather than on ex cathedra, post-modern
Let us then take up the question of whether
there is any basis in traditional Jewish sources for Sacks's
assertion that there is truth, indeed sanctity, in other religions.
Nowhere does Sacks discuss the issue of avodah zarah. This is crucial,
because the concept stands in contradiction to his claim that the
truth of Judaism need not mean the falsehood of other religions. If
the other religions fall into the category of avodah zarah, how can one not
affirm their falsehood? At first glance, there appears to be no
room for speaking of such religions as wonderful ingredients in
God's great mosaic. Rather than honoring these religions for what
they provide their adherents, as Sacks wishes to do, halakhah would seem
to require that these religions be condemned for teaching a
non-monotheistic theology. Needless to say, such an approach is
hardly the friendly perspective Sacks wants Judaism to project in
our multicultural world.
But this assumption that religions of avodah zarah are
deserving of condemnation, though seemingly the Talmudic approach
and codified as such by Maimonides, is not the only perspective our
tradition offers. An opening for a more tolerant approach is seen
in the writings of Meiri. Although Meiri is often cited as the
source for the notion that Christianity is not a form of idolatry,
he actually can be read as saying a lot more than this. An
examination of his various statements, as has been expertly done by
Moshe Halbertal, shows that as far as Gentiles are concerned, Meiri
essentially regards idolatry as a moral error, not a theological
error.46 To put it another way, the main problem with Gentile
idolatry is that it leads to a society not bound by norms of
Although in one place Meiri describes
Christianity as affirming the unity of God,47 leading J.
David Bleich to a restrictive understanding of Meiri's view,48
elsewhere Meiri's tolerance appears much broader. For
example, he describes the idolatrous nations, those not
"restricted by the ways of religion," as violent people
"who are possessed of no religion in the world and do not
yield to fear of the Divinity and, instead, burn incense to the
heavenly bodies and worship idols, paying no heed to any sin."49
Elsewhere he states, concerning the idolators of old:
"They were not restricted by the ways of religion. On the
contrary, every sin and everything repulsive was fit in their
eyes."50 These formulations put the focus on the
idolators' lack of any fear of divine punishment, which in turn
leads to a society not restrained by moral standards. As
Moshe Halbertal has recently written, "Intolerance for
idolators has its source, therefore, not in their being members of
another religion, but in their being members of no religion at all
because they are not restricted by the ways of religion. The Meiri
is the first thinker to suggest a concept of inter-religious
tolerance built on the functional value common to all
To be sure, Meiri identified polytheistic
societies as also being barbaric. But today it is obvious that we
can indeed speak of societies that are "restricted by the ways
of religion," that is, civilized, even if these societies'
religions are, from a strict theological standpoint, idolatrous. In
one place, Meiri himself actually refers to the nations who are
restricted by the ways of religion as "worshipping the
divinity in any way, even if their faith is far from ours."52 It
is certainly possible to construct an interpretation of Meiri's
approach to idolatry that would enable religious acceptance even of
the archetypal pagan from the Orient, so often referred to on the
first page of seforim published in Eastern Europe. Such an
interpretation would be especially valuable in modern times, since
we now live with polytheists and can observe that they are not evil
people. Perhaps such an interpretation was in the mind of R. Jehiel
Jacob Weinberg, who was particularly adamant about the need to
accept Meiri's view so that we could "put an end to the hatred
of the religions for one another."53 Elsewhere, Weinberg
himself wrote quite ecumenically: "We believe that a Gentile
can also be blessed, when he remains true to his religion and
faithfully fulfills its precepts."54
The common assumption is that Meiri's view has
no source in any talmudic or midrashic text. Yet there is one midrash that actually
expresses a remarkable tolerance of non-monotheistic theologies. Exod. Rabbah 15:23
reads as follows:
It is written: Let
them be only thine own, and not strangers' with thee (Prov. 5:17). The Holy One blessed by He said,
"I do not warn idolators concerning idolatry, but you,"
as it is said: Ye shall make you no
idols (Lev. 26:1). Only to you have I
given judgment, for it says: Hear this,
O ye priests, and attend, ye house of Israel, and give ear, O house
of the King, for unto you pertaineth the judgment (Hos. 5:1).
It would be hard to find a more clear
declaration that idolatry is only a prohibition as far as Jews are
We must also call attention to Deut. 4:19,
which states: "And lest thou lift up thine eyes unto heaven
and when thou seest the sun and the moon and the stars, even all
the host of heaven, thou be drawn away and worship them and serve
them, which the Lord thy God hath allotted unto all the peoples
under the whole heaven." The implication appears clear, and is
noted as such by Rashbam, namely, that the stars are intended to be
worshipped by the nations.55
Mal. 1:11 similarly states: "For from the
rising of the sun even unto the going down of the same My name is
great among the nations, and in every place offerings are presented
unto My name, even pure libations; for My name is great among the
nations, saith the Lord of Hosts." This verse seemingly
recognizes the religious legitimacy of non-Israelite worship. In
other words, although the adherents of other faiths offer
sacrifices to their gods, God regards this worship as also being
directed to him, even though He per se is not yet recognized. In
the words of the late Chief Rabbi Hertz, "Even the heathen
nations that worship the heavenly hosts pay tribute to a Supreme
Being, and in this way honour My name; and the offerings which they
thus present (indirectly) unto Me are animated by a pure spirit,
God looking to the heart of the worshipper. This wonderful thought
was further developed by the Rabbis, and is characteristic of the
universalism of Judaism."56
This notion, that gentiles are not bound by a
prohibition on idolatry, is also affirmed by two important medieval
commentators, R. Isaac Abarbanel and R. Isaac Arama. They agree
precisely with the passage from Exod. Rabbah cited above, although
neither of them cites this text. In discussing the Jonah story and
the actions of the people of Nineveh, Abarbanel cites the verse
from Deut. 4:19 and concludes from it that the Ninevites were not
to be punished for their idolatry. They did not know any better and
indeed were never commanded against idolatry.57 This
understanding of Abarbanel is also found in his commentary to 1
Kings chapter 3, where he again cites the verse from Deut. 4:19 in
the context of Solomon informing the nations how best to worship
the stars of the heavens. Since this is permitted for Gentiles,
Solomon did no wrong in this.58
R. Isaac Arama also cites the verse from Deut.
4:19, as well as some other biblical passages, and is explicit that
"the nations are not obligated in the prohibition against
idolatry."59 He also points to a passage in Bava Kamma 38a: "R.
Joseph said: He stood and measured the
earth he beheld [and drove asunder (va-yatter) the nations60 ]. What
did He behold? He beheld the seven commandments which had been
accepted by all the descendants of Noah, but since they did not
observe them, He rose up and granted them exemption (ve-hittiran lahem)."
While the Talmud records a couple of amoraic understandings of what
R. Joseph meant, Arama holds to the simple meaning, which is that
Gentiles are no longer obligated in the Noahide Laws. Not noted by
Arama is that Lev. Rabbah 13:2 is also explicit that since the Gentiles
"were unable to endure even the seven precepts accepted by the
descendants of Noah, God took these off them and put them on
This notion, that God no longer requires
obedience to the Noahide Laws, is, of course, quite surprising.
According to this view, law is based on convention rather than
revelation. Each society is therefore free to establish its own
standards in all areas, including religion. With such an
understanding, even gentile idolatrous worship would cease to be
objectionable. In addition to Arama, this view concerning the
current non-binding nature of the Noahide Laws is shared by at
least one of the Tosafists, who distinguishes between the period
prior to the giving of the Torah, when Gentiles were obligated by
these laws, and the time subsequent to the revelation at Sinai,
when they were freed from them61.61 Others who assert that the
Noahide laws are no longer binding include R. Solomon ben Abraham
Algazi62 and R. Meir Azariah da Fano63. R. Joseph Trani
is quoted by R. Hayyim Abulafia as having held the identical
position, and, based upon it, disputed Maimonides' ruling that it
is a capital offense for Gentiles to violate the Noahide Laws.64
R. Isaac Palache too regards the Noahide Laws as no longer
binding on Gentiles by virtue of divine law, although he argues
that one is still permitted (!) to instruct them in these laws
because they have a strong utilitarian purpose, in that they make
for a civilized society (tiqqun ha-olam). 655
Finally, in his earliest work, R. Samson
Raphael Hirsch also implies that Gentiles are not obligated by the
prohibition against idolatry. He writes, with reference to the Jews
being regarded as the Chosen People, "This designation does
not imply, as some have falsely interpreted it, that Israel has a
monopoly on God's love and favor. On the contrary, it proclaims
that God has the sole and exclusive claim to Israel's devotion and
service; that Israel may not render Divine homage to any other
being."66 The implication of the final comment is that
whereas Israel, as the Chosen People, may not render Divine homage
to any other being, the nations of the world are permitted to do
To be sure, these are minority views, but
minority views have a place in the tradition. This is especially so
when dealing with matters of Jewish thought, which, by their
nature, do not require a practical halakhic ruling. Since Sacks
wishes to develop a radical idea, it is crucial that he have at
least some support for it in the tradition. The sources cited here
can perhaps be of some assistance in this regard.
So far we have only spoken of the negative,
and shown why the common notion that idolatry is prohibited for
Gentiles is not without dissent. But what about the positive side,
which Sacks stresses, that other religions have real, objective
truth? Can we also find support for this notion in the tradition?
Here too there are some passages that could
assist Sacks. The most famous is found at the end of the Mishneh Torah, where
Maimonides notes that both Christianity–which, according to
Maimonides, is an idolatrous religion67 –and Islam
"served to clear the way for King Messiah, to prepare the
whole world to worship God with one accord." In other words,
both of these religions in fact contain truth, and serve to move
society closer to a pure view of God. To be sure, Maimonides
sees their truth as provisional, and this is hardly identical with
Sacks's understanding. Yet the passage is still significant in that
it recognizes that other religions, even idolatrous ones, can
indeed contain truth.
What about Sacks's more extreme assertion,
that other religions also contain sanctity?68 The Talmud
speaks of prophets who were sent to the nations of the world (Bava Batra 15b). Their
role was to bring God's word, and it is certainly possible that
this word could exist in the framework of another religion.
Furthermore, one need not assume that the prophets mentioned in the
Talmud are all that have appeared among the Gentiles. Although
there are rabbinic passages that state that once the Torah was
given, ruah ha-qodesh was removed from the nations, this in not a unanimous
view, and Maimonides indeed rejects it.69
The clearest support for Sacks' position is
provided by R. Netanel ben al-Fayyumi (twelfth century), who
maintains that "God sent different prophets to the various
nations of the world with legislations suited to the particular
temperament of each individual nation."70 Although Sacks
is motivated by a post-modern vision, the medieval R. Netanel also
claimed that God's truth was not encompassed by Judaism alone.
According to R. Netanel, various religions are to be viewed by
their adherents, and correctly so, as sanctified.71
I do not intend to argue that Sacks' position
is reflective of the main trend of rabbinic thought, for it
certainly is not. But, as been demonstrated here, it is also the
case that some precedent can be found even for his most radical
statements. There is no question that he has gone beyond these
earlier sources and offered a more complete theory of ecumenism
than could possibly have been found in previous generations. One
can certainly disagree with it, and I for one am not comfortable
with many aspects of Sacks's presentation, in particular his
obvious enthrallment with multiculturalism. Yet, by the same token,
that the Chief Rabbi's comments are a denial of a foundational
Jewish belief also strike me as wide of the mark.
2New York, 2002.
3See the interview with Kamenetsky in the Sabbath
supplement, Pesah 5756.
4See Jeffrey S. Gurock and Jacob J. Schacter, A Modern Heretic and a Traditional Community (New York, 1997), pp. 140-141
5Mikhtavim u-Ma'amarim (Benei Berak, 1990), vol. 4, pp. 35-40, 107
6Mikhtavim u-Ma'amarim, vols. 1-2, pp. 108-109.
7Ibid., p. 128.
8Ibid., vol. 3, pp. 52-53.
9Ibid., vol. 4, p. 41.
10Ibid., vol. 6, pp. 161-162.
11Ibid., vol. 4, p. 40.
12Ibid., vol. 4, pp. 65-67. Steinsaltz himself is categorized as a
13Ibid., vols. 1-2, pp. 107-108.
14For discussion of many of these bans and other
recent controversies, see Chaim Rapoport, The
Messiah Problem: Berger, the Angel and the Scandal of Reckless
Indiscrimination (Ilford, England, 2002), pp.
2ff., 91ff. I take issue with what Rapoport writes on p. 92, that when R.
Kook passed away, R. Abraham Isaiah Karelitz, the Hazon Ish, declared that he would have
no portion in the World to Come. The source for this is Aharon Rosenberg, Mishkenot ha-Ro'im (New York,
1997), vol. 3, pp. 1120-1121, who cites a well-known London anti-Zionist.
This is hardly an unimpeachable reference. (This same source also claims
that the Hazon Ish
insisted that R. Ben Zion Uziel's Mishpetei
Uziel be left on the floor, since it is muktseh mei-hamat mi'us. See
ibid., p. 1198; Elyakim Schlesinger's haskamah to Aharon Rosenberg, Torat Emet [Monsey, 1992]). The truth is that while the Hazon Ish asserted that R.
Kook's philosophical works should not be read, he saw nothing objectionable
about his halakhic writings and certainly did not regard as R. Kook as a
heretic. See Shelomo Kohen, Pe'er ha-Dor (Jerusalem, 1969), vol. 2, p. 34. Indeed, one of the
first things the Hazon Ish did when he arrived in the Land of Israel was to write R. Kook a
letter, asking him to decide a halakhic problem he was confronted with. See
R. Ben Zion Shapiro, ed., Iggerot ha-Reiyah (Jerusalem, 1990), pp. 448-449. Furthermore, it is known
that when R. Kook came to deliver a talk in Benei Berak, the Hazon Ish remained standing
throughout the former's address. See Kohen, Pe'er
ha-Dor, vol. 2, p. 32; R. Mosheh Zvi Neriyah, Bi-Sedeh ha-Reiyah (Kefar
ha-Ro'eh, 1987), p. 247. Even with regard to R. Kook's philosophical
writings, the Hazon Ish sometimes expressed a more positive view, depending on whom he
was speaking to. See Binyamin Efrati, "Shenei
Bikurim Etsel ha-Hazon Ish ZT"L," Morashah 6 (1974): 62-63.
15In 2002, R. Mosheh Tsuriel, under the pseudonym
Hayyim Lifschitz, published N. H. Wessely's Sefer
ha-Middot (Jerusalem, 2002), with an
introduction defending the author's piety. This work was also placed under
a ban. See De`ah ve-Dibbur, Sept. 4, 2002 (found at www.shemayisrael.com). De`ah ve-Dibbur is the internet
version of Yated Ne'eman.
16See Moshe Carmilly-Weinberger, Censorship and Freedom of Expression in Jewish History (New York, 1977). Although the book is fairly complete,
Carmilly-Weinberger inexplicably does not discuss the condemnations of R.
Kook's writings. Concerning this, see Bezalel Naor's introduction to his
translation of R. Kook's Orot (Northvale, N. J., 1993). See also Rivka Shatz, "Reishit ha-Masa Neged ha-Rav Kook," Molad 6 (1974): 251-262.
17Translation in Rapoport, The Messiah Problem, p. 93.
18See Itturei Kohanim (Heshvan, 5763), p. 44. R. Zvi Yehudah told him: "What
is permitted for me to say, is not permitted for you." R. Zvi Yehudah
could indeed speak sharply about gedolim when they did not accept his religious-national
perspective. For example, R. Zvi Yehudah downplayed the significance of the
Hazon Ish, whose
non-Zionism and suspicious view of the State prevents him from being
embraced by the religious nationalists. R. Zvi Yehudah wrote: "The Hazon Ish was not the gadol ha-dor. The gadol ha-dor and halakhic
decisor par excellence was my father of blessed memory. In Vilna there were other laymen
who were ge'onim,
R. Shalom David Rabinowitz, R. Yerucham Fishel Perla, R. Moses Kreines, and
others. . . . Even if he [i. e., Hazon
Ish] was a gadol [!], he was not the halakhic decisor for this generation
and generations to come." See Avraham Remer, Gadol Shimushah ([Jerusalem],
1984), p. 68 (I am citing from the uncensored version. A censored version
of this work, lacking this passage, appeared in Jerusalem, 1994.)
19This is a common theme in R. Aviner's letters, which
appear monthly in Itturei Kohanim.
20May, 1993, p. 43. The "eulogy" is actually
omitted from the table of contents
21Mi-Katovitz ad Heh
be-Iyyar (Jerusalem, 1995).
22His own mehuttan, R. Jacob Israel Kanevsky, the famed Steipler Rav, and R.
Shakh both urged their followers not to take the examinations to become a
See R. Kanevsky, Karyana de-Iggarta (Benei Berak, 1986), vol. 1, p. 263; R. Shakh, Mikhtavim u-Ma'amarim, vols.
1-2, p. 165.
23In R. Shakh's Mikhtavim
u-Ma'amarim, vol. 4, p. 107, R. Soloveitchik is
referred to as a gadol with quotation marks around the word, after which his ideas are
described as mammash divrei kefirah. While not usually going as far as this, haredi denigration of the Rav was
common during his lifetime, and was made most vivid by the widespread haredi boycott of his funeral.
Regarding the boycott, see Eliezer (Louis) Bernstein, "Ve-Lamashmitsim lo Tihye Tiqvah," Ha-Tsofeh, Oct. 29, 1993.
24See Jacob J. Schacter, "Facing the Truths of
History," Torah u-Madda Journal 8 (1998-1999): 200-276.
25See De`ah ve-Dibbur, Dec. 25, 2002 (found at www.shemayisrael.com).
26Kamenetsky also discusses the secular knowledge of
R. Aaron Kotler (pp. 305ff.)
27In addition to the herem by the Israeli haredi leaders, a number of American Roshei Yeshivah signed
which mentions nothing about Torah and secular studies.
be-Hithavutah (Jerusalem, 1995).
29I find it surprising, however, that there is no
mention of Rav Tsair's autobiography (Pirkei
Hayyim [New York, 1954]), which contains
much relevant material.
30This point is stressed by Zvi Weinman, a
historian who works with original documents and whose writing is far
removed from hagiography. See Mi-Katovitz ad
Heh be-Iyyar, pp. 10, 165 n. 12.
31An example of the unreliability of oral history and
yeshiva lore is Kamenetsky's identification of Atlas as the youngest son of
R. Meir Atlas, the rav of Shavli (p. 820). The dedication at the beginning
of Atlas' edition of Hiddushei Rabad on Bava Kamma (London, 1940) identifies his father, and it is not R. Meir
32That there was some tension between R. Kotler and R.
Meltzer, specifically with regard to Zionism, has recently been documented.
See Yoel Finkelman, "Haredi Isolation in Changing Environments: A Case
Study in Yeshiva Immigration," Modern
Judaism 22 (2002), pp. 63-64.
33To be sure, it is not only gedolim revered in the haredi world who are the focus
in this regard. Thus, Kamenetsky cites R. Joseph B. Soloveitchik's report
that R. Hayyim Soloveitchik regarded R. Isaac Jacob Reines, the founder of
Mizrachi, as a heretic (p. 479). The Rav himself is known to have made some
very sharp comments about certain gedolim, most notably R. Jacob David Willovsky (Ridbaz), whose harsh criticism of R.
Hayyim Soloveitchik is well known. I would be surprised if these appeared
in any future biography of the Rav.
34I am grateful to Rabbi Chaim Rapoport for sending me
relevant clippings from the Jewish Chronicle and the Jewish Tribune
35This review was written before the soft-cover
edition appeared. Both versions remain in print.
36The very fact that Sacks submitted to haredi pressure and, instead of
defending his position, agreed to issue a "revised" edition,
leads Geoffrey Alderman to assert that the real leader of English Orthodoxy
today is not the Chief Rabbi and his Bet Din, but the rav of Gateshead, R. Bezalel Rakow. See the Jewish Chronicle, Nov. 15, 2002
37See the text of his letter in the Jewish Tribune, Nov. 7, 2002. Some haredi fundamentalists also
objected to Sacks's departing from the traditional notion that the world is
under six thousand years old (p. 69); see, e. g., Ben Yitzchok in the Jewish Tribune, Nov. 21, 2002.
Surprisingly, none of the fundamentalist critics seem to have noted the
passage on p. 50, where Sacks refers to events at the beginning of Genesis,
including the Flood and Tower of Babel, as "not simply an etiological myth"
(emphasis added). In these circles, the notion that any biblical stories
portray non-historical archetypes is regarded as heretical
38Not noted by Sacks is that such respect is almost
always absent in traditional Jewish texts. For example, one outstanding poseq routinely refers to
churches as beit tiflah. If a leading Christian figure spoke of synagogues in this
fashion, the response of the ADL and other Jewish organizations would be
fast and furious, and rightfully so.
39The Condition of Jewish
Belief (New York, 1966), p. 7.
40Sacks's predecessor as Chief Rabbi, Immanuel
Jakobovits, was most adamant: "As a professing Jew, I obviously
consider Judaism the only true religion, just as I would expect the
adherents of any other faith to defend a similar claim for their
religion." Ibid., p. 112.
41I would also ask, what becomes of the liturgy, which
in a number of places expresses a very exclusivist approach? Unfortunately,
Sacks does not discuss whether he would be open to liturgical alterations
in accord with his ecumenical vision. At the very least, it is impossible
for his vision to coexist with the (often excised) words of Aleinu: "For they bow to
vanity and emptiness and pray to a god which helps not."
42 Sacks also writes that, "There is no
equivalent in Judaism to the doctrine that extra
ecclesium non est salus, outside the Church
there is no salvation." This is, however, incorrect, and it is none
other than Maimonides who asserts it, when he declares in Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Melakhim
8:11 that even Noahides must accept the binding authority of God's
revelation to Moses in order to receive a share in the World to Come
(though, admittedly, he doesn't require Gentiles to actually convert to
Judaism). In his commentary to this passage, R. Joseph Karo expresses
agreement with Maimonides' view. See Steven S. Schwarzschild, "Do
Noachites Have to Believe in Revelation," Jewish
Quarterly Review 52 (1962): 297-308, ibid., 53 (1962): 30-65.
According to Maimonides, any non-Jewish system of religious ritual is
illicit; the only alternatives for Gentiles are conversion or observance of
the Noahide laws, which by definition exclude any Gentile system of ritual.
See Hilkhot Melakhim 10: 9; Gerald Blidstein, "Maimonides and Me'iri on the
Legitimacy of Non-Judaic Religion," in Leo Landman, ed., Scholars and Scholarship: The Interaction Between Judaism
and Other Cultures (New York, 1990), pp. 28-33.
See also R. Zvi Hirsch Chajes, Kol Sifrei
Maharatz Chajes (Jerusalem, 1958), vol. 2 p.
1036; Moshe Feinstein, Iggerot Moshe (New York, 1973), Yoreh Deah II, p. 9.
43 Sacks is here following the path advocated by
the philosopher of religion, John Hick, in his influential book An Interpretation of Religion: Human Responses to the
Transcendent (New Haven, 1989). According
to Hick, the truth formulations of all religions should be viewed as
"incomplete attempts at expressing the ineffable, i. e., 'truths' only
in a very weak sense of the term." See Tamar Ross, "Reflections
on the Possibilities of Interfaith Communication in our Day," The Edah Journal 1 (5761;
available at www.edah.org. The quote is Ross's summary of Hicks's
position.) Ross's discussion of interfaith communication, which is a
philosophically more sophisticated analysis and covers much of the same
ground as Sacks's, is not reticent about acknowledging that even so-called
idolatrous religions must be included when truth is understood with a small
"t", that is, as a subjective portrayal of how we see the divine.
The corollary to this, as Ross makes clear yet Sacks does not, is that
there can no longer be a hierarchy of religions, with Judaism at the top,
containing Truth, and the other religions below it. As Ross puts it,
"The varieties of religious particularism teach us the infinite range
of possibilities open to the human spirit rather than the wealth of the one
track to be taken by all."
44Arpelei Tohar (Jerusalem, 1983), p. 45; translation in Tamar Ross,
"The Cognitive Value of Religious Truth Statements: Rabbi A. I. Kook
and Postmodernism," in Yaakov Elman and Jeffrey S. Gurock,
eds. Hazon Nahum (New
York, 1997), p. 491.
45Sacks' religious ecumenism is actually anticipated
to a certain extent by the late British Chief Rabbi Joseph Hertz, who wrote
that according to the Sages, the heathens were not held responsible for a
false conception of God and "were judged by God purely by their moral
life." Pentateuch and Haftorahs (London, 1980), p. 759. Hertz also declares that pagan
worship of the sun, moon, and stars, albeit as a first stage of religious
belief, "forms part of God's guidance of humanity" (ibid.).
46Bein Torah le-Hokhmah:
Rabbi Menahem ha-Meiri u-Va`alei ha-Halakhah ha-Maimonim be-Provence (Jerusalem, 2000), ch. 3. An English version of this
chapter appears in The Edah Journal 1 (5761; available at www.edah.org).
47Beit ha-Behirah to Gittin (ed. Schlesinger), pp. 257-258.
48J. David Bleich, "Divine Unity in Maimonides,
The Tosafists and Me'iri," in Lenn E. Goodman, ed., Neoplatonism and Jewish Thought (Albany,
1992), pp. 243ff.
49Beit ha-Behirah to Avodah Zarah (ed. Sofer) p. 39.
50Ibid., p. 59
51Bein Torah le-Hokhmah, p. 102.
52Beit ha-Behirah to Bava
Kamma (ed. Schlesinger), p. 330 (emphasis
53See my "Scholars and Friends: Rabbi Jehiel
Jacob Weinberg and Professor Samuel Atlas," Torah u-Madda Journal, 7 (1997), p.
54"Zum Proselytproblem," Jüdische Rundschau-Maccabi, Sep.
8, 1950, p. 4.
55The Talmud, Megillah 9b and Avodah Zarah 55a, specifically rejects such a reading.
Haftorahs., p. 103.
57Commentary to Jon. 4:11
58Pp. 475-476 in the standard editions. This latter
text (as well as the texts from Arama discussed forthwith) are cited by
David Berger, "'The Wisest of All Men': Solomon's Wisdom in Medieval
Jewish Commentaries on the Book of Kings," in Elman and Gurock, eds. Hazon Nahum, p. 107, n. 39. In
his article "Al Tadmitam shel ha-Goyim
ba-Sifrut ha-Pulmusit ha-Ashkenazit," in
Yom Tov Assis, et al. eds., Yehudim mul ha-Tselav, p. 90, Berger discusses Abarbanel's assertion that God will
wipe out the Christians for their sin of attributing corporeality to God. I
don't see how this latter position can be squared with the position cited
in the text, which frees Gentiles from culpability for idolatry. In private
communication Professor Berger has commented, "Arguably, we have there
a remarkable position that some forms of paganism are less blameworthy than
Christianity. I am tempted to say, 'Benei Noah
lo huzharu al avodah zarah shel ammei kedem (or
at least some forms of it), aval huzharu
59Akedat Yitzhak, ed. Pollak (Israel, 1974), Deut., ch. 88, p. 17a, Hazut Qashah, ch. 12, pp.
61See the version of Tosafot
in Ein Ya1aqov, Hagigah 13a, s. v., ein. This Tosafot is quoted by R. Joel
Sirkes, Haggahot ha-Bah to Hagigah 13a.
62Ahavat Olam (Dyhenfurth, 1693), pp. 27a-b.
63See She'elot u-Teshuvot
ha-Rama mi-Fano (Jerusalem, no date), no. 123
(pp. 256-257). He himself contradicts this position ibid., no. 30
64Miqra'ei Qodesh (Jerusalem, 1993), p. 184. Abulafia does not cite where
Trani expressed this view, and it doesn't seem to be found in his published
works, but many of his writings were lost. I assume that when Abulafia
refers to Maharit, he has Trani in mind, but it is also possible that he
means R. Joseph Taitatzak.
65Yafeh la-Lev (Izmir, 1889), vol. 5, Yoreh
66Nineteen Letters, tr. Jacob Breuer (New York, 1969), pp. 96-97. R. Joseph ben
Joshua of Krakow's position is not entirely clear, but he, too, believes
that the Noahide Laws are not currently binding, or perhaps only binding
rabbinically. See She'elot u-Teshuvot Penei
Yehoshu`a (Lvov, 1860), vol. 1, Yoreh De`ah, no. 3, vol. 2, Even ha-Ezer, no. 43, and the
criticism of R. Moses Sofer, She'elot
u-Teshuvot Hatam Sofer (Jerusalem, 1991), Hoshen Mishpat, no. 185.
67See his commentary to Avodah
Zarah 1:3-4, Mishneh
Torah, Hilkhot Avodah Zarah 9:4 (uncensored
version). For responsa that permit Jews to contribute to the building of a
church (some more grudgingly than others), see R. Marcus Horovitz, Matteh Levi (Frankfurt, 1933),
vol. 2, Yoreh De`ah, no. 28; R. Isaac Unna, Sho'alin
ve-Dorshin (Tel Aviv, 1964), no. 35; R. Yehudah
Herzl Henkin, Benei Vanim (Jerusalem, 1997), vol. 3, no. 36; R. Shalom Messas, Shemesh u-Magen (Jerusalem,
2000), vol. 3, Orah Hayyim, nos. 30-31. Messas is the recently deceased Sephardic Chief
Rabbi of Jerusalem. After this essay was completed I discovered that the
237a, refers to the kingdom of Greece as having been "near the true
faith". Zohar, Introduction 13a, after noting that the Shekhinah takes under its wings
those who separate themselves from impurity, states: "Let the earth
bring forth a living soul according to its kind [put verse in italics]. The
expression 'after its kind' denotes that there are many compartments and
enclosures one within the other in that region which is called 'living',
beneath its [the Shekhinah's] wings. The right wing has two compartments, which branch out
from it for two other nations who are most closely related to Israel [in
their monotheistic belief], and therefore have entrance into these
compartments. Underneath the left wing there are two other compartments
which are divided between two other nations, namely Ammon and Moab. All
these are included in the term 'soul of the living'." As for Islamic
monotheism, Maimonides positive evaluation was also shared by Nahmanides,
commentary to Genesis 2:3 (end).
68Eugene Korn, in an essay that parallels Sacks in
many ways, also speaks of the "Jewish conception of covenantal
pluralism [that] lays the groundwork for multiple
sacred covenants that all moral people can
follow" (emphasis added). See his "One God: Many Faiths - A
Jewish Theology of Covenantal Pluralism,"
69See Iggerot ha-Rambam, ed. Kafih (Jerusalem, 1994), p. 38
70Encyclopedia Judaica XII, col. 971. The most recent
discussion of R. Netanel is Mordechai Akiva Friedman, Ha-Rambam, ha-Mashiah be-Teman, ve-ha-Shemad (Jerusalem, 2002), pp. 94ff
71See Gan ha-Sekhalim, ed. Kafih (Jerusalem, 1984), ch. 6.