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Monday, August 06, 2007

Are R' Chaim Soloveitchik's analyses of the Rambam historically true?

When R' Chaim (or any other Rosh Yeshiva) explains the Rambam with a Brisker lomdus is that really what the Rambam meant?

The שרידי אש in both a teshuva and a published letter says no. He writes that it is clear that the Rambam's derech was not R' Chaim's. All you have to do is look at the Teshuvos Harambam where he deals with some of the issues/contradictions. The Rambam never gives any lomdus to explain his psak, rather he gives what we would call Baal Habatish answers. He had a different girsa in the Gemara, their copy of the Mishne Torah was wrong, he made a mistake, etc. Not once does he employ anything close to Brisker lomdus.

What does this mean for us? Does it matter?

The answer would seem to be it doesn't. This is the way that Torah works. The Mishen Torah as a sefer has been accepted and meaning can be found in it even if that was not the Rambam's intent. Call it whatever you want (רוח הקדש, סייעתא דשמיא), the great sefarim take on a life and meaning of their own.

10 Comments:

At 4:54 PM, Blogger ADDeRabbi said...

kinda like the harry potter series. in other words, reb chaim is fanfic. i posted something similar myself.

 
At 5:39 PM, Blogger Nephtuli said...

Mark Shapiro had a good article about this topic in a book review in Tradition during the 90s. It seems pretty obvious that the Rambam did not "learn" like Rav Chaim. The question about whether a reader should have fidelity to the author's original intentions is one of the primary disputes in legal and literary interpretive theory.

 
At 8:47 PM, Blogger Ari said...

I'm not sure it's that simple. For example, many of the supposed contradictions in the Rambam revolve around 2 halachot that the gemara has linked (e.g. if you paskin this way here, you must paskin this way there), but that the Rambam de-links. A different girsa will explain why Rambam departed from our Gemara, but you'll need Rav Chaim to offer a svara alternative to the gemara as to why these are two separate halachot.

This, of course, only applies to a subset of R. Chaim's, but it shows that this issue is not black and white.

 
At 9:44 AM, Blogger bluke said...

The point is that the Rambam never does that in any of his teshuvos.

 
At 5:06 PM, Blogger Zadok said...

The Brisker Rav was once asked that acording to his father (R' Chaim) explanations that there is no intrinsic machlokes between the Ra'avad and Rambam (just two dinim) we would have to negate all the places in Sulchan Orech and poskim that consider them two shittos.I don't remember his exact answer but do remember thinking when I saw it that it would also answer this blog posts issue.

 
At 5:30 PM, Blogger bluke said...

How exactly does that answer the question? The bottom line is that you see from the Rambam's teshuvos that he was not going with R' Chaim's derech.

 
At 6:19 PM, Blogger Nephtuli said...

How exactly does that answer the question? The bottom line is that you see from the Rambam's teshuvos that he was not going with R' Chaim's derech.

The amazing thing is that the Brisker Derech is very similar to the analytic aspects of Legal Positivism, a legal methodology that became prominent around that time as well as the Legal Formalism that dominated the American legal academy at that time. I doubt Rav Chaim studied John Austin or Langdell so it's probably a coincidence.

Chaim Saiman has a good article about the Briskers here.

 
At 8:30 PM, Blogger Ari said...

The point is that the Rambam never does that in any of his teshuvos.

Right. He'll give the "different girsa" answer, but there is still room for Rav Chaim's explanations as to why the halacha is different in each case.

 
At 3:55 AM, Blogger Shimi said...

Sorry but that doesn't make sense, nor is it true. If the Rambam did not mean it, there is no basis for R' Chaim to say it. Any time R' Chaim sees a Rambam conflict his own explanation, he revises or retracts it.

 
At 10:01 AM, Blogger bluke said...

Shimi,

That simply is not true. The Rambam gives different explanations in his teshuvos then what R' Chaim gives.

 

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