Afikei Mayim II

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As discussed in an earlier post, a new book titled Afikei Mayim on Shavu’os has been recently published, and in it a pamphlet titled Likut Kedushas Ha-Torah that seems to be directed against R. Natan Slifkin. In chapter 3 of that pamphlet (p. 38), the author quotes from a responsum of the Rashba (1:9) in which he decries allegorizing verses based on philosophical conclusions. In footnote 52 to that citation, the author quotes a responsum of R. Tzvi Ashkenazi (Chakham Tzvi 77) in which this view of the Rashba is quoted and accepted. Bizarrely, though, the quote from the Chakham Tzvi is cut off at precisely the crucial point — where the Chakham Tzvi qualifies the Rashba’s hesitance to allegorize verses based on R. Sa’adia Gaon’s conditions for when allegorization is permitted. In other words, the Chakham Tzvi tells us when allegorization is acceptable, entirely contrary to the implication of the partial quote that seems to say that it is never acceptable. Here is a more complete quotation from the Chakham Tzvi:

ומה שביקש להוציא דברי הזוהר הברורים בדרך משל ומליצה כבר הורונו אבותינו ורבותינו הקדושים שאין להוציא שום דבר מדברי תורה מפשוטו אפילו בתורה שבכתב הסתומים וחתומים כאמרם ז”ל (שבת סג, ע”א. וש”נ) אין מקרא יוצא מידי פשוטו, וכמה חרה לאביהן של ישראל הרשב”א ז”ל בתשובה תי”ד, תט”ו, תט”ז על המוציאים מקראות מידי פשוטן עד כי יצא הקצף מלפניו להכותם עד חרמה, ולא בדברי המצוות ויסודות התורה לבד אלא בכל התורה כולה, כי לא נתנה התורה דברי’ לשיעורין וזה יסוד כל התורה וכל הנביאים כולם אם לא במקום שדוחק אותנו החוש או המופת המכחיש פשוטו או שהמקראות סותרין זה את זה וכמ”ש רבנו סעדיא גאון… א”כ, בנידון דידן שאין בו אחת מכל הד’ טענות הללו, אדרבא ארבעתן יחד מסכימות לפשוטו של דבר, שאין להוציא דברי הזוהר מפשטן ומשמען, ואם דברי הזוהר במקום שהוא מדבר בעליונים וגבוה מעל גבוה סתומים וחתומים באלף עזקאין, אבל בשאר הענינים דבריו כפשוטן כמו שהיא בכל התלמוד ובמדרשי רז”ל, וזה פשוט.

The text from which I cut-and-pasted the words of the Chakham Tzvi omitted the paraphrase from R. Sa’adia Gaon. As I summarize here, R. Sa’adia Gaon’s position is that verses may be understood as being purely allegorical if they fulfill any of the following four conditions: 1) the plain meaning contradicts the senses (and, I think, science); 2) it is repudiated by logic; 3) it is contradicted by other verses; 4) it is opposed by the oral tradition.

The Chacham Tzvi‘s acceptance of R. Sa’adia Gaon’s position as normative is, I believe, contrary to the intent of the Afikei Mayim.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Editor of, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student has served two terms on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America and currently serves as the Director of the Halacha Commission of the Rabbinical Alliance of America. He serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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