Thursday, April 06, 2006

Seeking Clarification of Ta'am

I am moving the discussion about ta'am to this post. In response to Ta'am in Rambam and Ta'am in Rashi Rabbi Maroof wrote:
I understand Rashi as making reference to formal causes, while Rambam is discussing final causes. In other words, if I ask why I must act a certain way, I might mean one of two things. I could be asking which halachic principle compells me to act that way, i.e., I could be requesting clarification of a formal principle. On the other hand,I could be asking why the halacha is formulated in the way that it is, i.e., I am asking about the purpose that the formal principle is designed to serve.

Most Jews lack two dimensions of Torah knowledge. The first is that they fail to perceive the laws of the Torah as an orderly system that has a consistent abstract logical form. Oftentimes, the dinim of the Torah are perceived as innumerable concrete particulars, without any underlying set of conceptual roots from which they emerge and that integrates and accounts for them.

The second deficiency in knowledge is that even people who are aware of the formal constructs of halacha fail to appreciate that the form halacha possesses is there for a reason, to accomplish specific ends.
Rabbi Sacks amplified his statement:
I would like to amlify Josh's excellent point. The formal cause can itself be thought of in two ways- a mathmatical sense whose value lies more in consistency than in reality and a physical sense. The pfysical sense requires that the nefsh distil its principles from rich sensory experience as Ralbag points out in intro to Shir hashirim. It is the failure to acquire this rich experience that I refer to as the cause of the sterile lifeless formulae in the intro to lashon limudim. Our project is to reconstruct the story approach to distilling principles that will solve both the lack of regard or formal and final causes.
I propose two questions to Rabbi Sacks:

What is the rich sensory experience from which one would be able to distill the principle that would be able to illuminate why one who rents from a Jew may not remove the m'zuzot he affixed upon moving out?

Additionaly, in the "Intro to Lashon Limudim" you write:
...modern education, in Torah and general studies alike, fails by rushing the immature nefesh to formal thought before it ready to do so. In rushing our students to formal thought, we do violence to the prime directive of our chanoch la-naar al pi darcho. Implicit in this dictum is an acknowledgement that the immature nefesh's distillation of principles, cannot be rushed. All we accomplish by attempting to rush this natural process is a sterile memorizing of lifeless formulae. The best and most effective way to facilitate this natural process is through presenting carefully organized descriptions of the real world. Stories are actually the ideal instrument for this task. The next section will explore why this is so.
He continues:
...As rational animal the hashkafa skills of our Nefesh sichli must develop in an immature psyche or Nefesh behami that is essentially animal in character...Such a nefesh sichli, as yet unilluminated by ohr, must be carefully guided to finding the hierarchy of ohr principles within the tov of social life as this immature nefesh percieves it.
Rabbi Sacks seems to be saying that the principles distilled from the Torah Sh'bichtav are the Rambam's ta'am (final cause) not Rashi's (formal cause). Can the m'zuza problem (for instance) only be solved by showing how it achieves some tov - in other words establishing how it achieves its final cause? What would Rabbi Sacks consider to be a formal cause (lets stick to the m'zuza example to keep us rooted) that would immerge from the story approach? (I am trying to be concrete in this discussion so as not to commit the "mathematical fallacy")


Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I like your question. The overemphasis on final cause in the study of mitsvot is also a liability. We should keep in mind that the Rambam reserved most of these explanations for the Moreh, only providing a select group in the Yad.

Yehuda said...

How does one seek formal cause that is not overly mathematical? It would seem that an inductive process must be used.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

It may be that some intuition regarding final cause must be present to identify formal cause. For example, in recognizing the formal causes of the biological function of animals, we continually make reference to the final causes that these processes serve. The question is - could more than one formal cause derive from the same final cause? Or does clarification of formal cause necessarily entail refinement, and possibly revision, of our grasp of final cause?
If we use scientific inquiry as a model, it seems that multiple models of formal cause can be conceived of without a change in attribution of final cause. It may be that one organizing principle (i.e. formal cause) is better suited to a particular final cause though. This could guide our halachic intuition toward identifying the best formulation of the principle when competing sevarot are presented...

Anonymous said...

I responded in lashon limudim in greater length. Remeember as a practical discipline does not have a formal or final cause most properly speaking but rather instruments all ordered to one end.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Please see my further response on lashon limudim (which, by the way,really should be l-shon or leshon limudim, it is a semichut). Shabbat Hagadol Shalom.

nachum klafter, MD said...

I believe that the Rambam's conception of Ta'am is better clarified in his Shemona Perakim, Chapter 6, where he discusses the difference between Chukim and Mishpatim. It is quite clear that that the Rambam's sense of ta'am is that one of the kavanot of our kiyum of a mitzvah is the impact that the mitzvah's performance has on the nefesh (i.e., on the psychological, philosophical, and spiritual development of the human being).

When the Rambam in the Moreh advances a peshuto shel mikra understanding of עין תחת עין he expressly states that he has come to explain the the meaning of the mikra and not maamarei chazal. I think that this would be an instance of Rabbis Maroof's and Sacks' disctinction in the Rambam between the final and formal causes. In othe words, the final cause of עין תחת עין is equitable justice in cases involving torts. It happens to be that the method of achieving this is through monetary compensation. Nevertheless, the concept is more perfectly expressed in the mikra as עין תחת עין and not as ממון תחת עין or something similar.

I am uncertain however how "formal cause" as opposed to "final cause" can be inferred from the comment made by Rashi. Can Rabbis Rapoport, Maroof, or Sacks comment on this please?

Yehuda said...

Nachum, nice reference to Sh'mone P'rakim and nice example from the Moreh.

Your last question would be a good one for Rabbi Maroof. It was the distinction that he made. I do think it is possible that Rashi uses the term in the same way as Rambam. Perhaps Rabbi Maroof could explain why he reads Rashi that way.

In another posting, Rabbi Sacks wishes to say that practical disciplines do not have formal and final causes most properly speaking, only instruments ordered to an end (he was the anonymous post). He expands this comment greatly on another site but I as of yet fail to grasp what he means.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

My basis for differentiating between Rashi and Rambam is that I sense that Rashi's intention is not that the people should be trained in "taame hamitsvot" as such, but that, rather than memorize each law as an independent case without comprehending the universal concept responsible for it (the way most students prepare for tests in all disciplines), they should understand the underlying principles and logic that generate the particular halachic applications being taught. The metaphor of a shulchan aruch seems to refer to the notion of practical readiness, an ability to respond to any given situation in the appropriate halachic manner. This requires a formal knowledge of the abstract legal principles that can be generalized to new circumstances, not just a rote memorization of case law. It would not appear to require a knowledge of the reason why the law is formulated as it is in any particular case, the "philosophy behind the law", if you will. One need not know why God created gravity the way He did in order to grasp the principles of its operation in the abstract and to, as a result, apply those principles to any given set of phenomena.

Rambam provides a comprehensive account of the legal system of halacha, so he cannot be referring to this kind of formal "reasoning" when he speaks of t'amim. He is clearly discussing philosophical t'amim, their desirability and limits.

nachum klafter, MD said...

Here is another example where the Rambam rejects the ta'am suggested by Chazal. I will put forward my analysis of this for your interest. I recently gave this over as a lenghty derasha in my community, but I am curious if Rabbi Maroof sees here that the gemara and the Rambam are approaching the very notion of ta'am differently.

On Bava Kama 79b, the students of Rabban Yochanan Ben Zakai ask why the Torah instituted a harsher penalty for the ganav than for the gazlan (regarding the kenas of kefel, or 4x/5x payment). Their question, according to my understanding, stems from their assumption that gezel is a more severe crime than geneivah. Rabbi Yochanan Zakkai's answer, which is echoed by Rabbi Meir in the name of Raban Gamliel, is essentially that, in fact, gezel is a sin of lesser severity than geneivah. This is counterintuitive, and is justified by the following explanation by these tannaim. A thief shows his fear of fellow human beings but not his fear of the Almighty, and he acts as if the Almighty has no ability to see or hear what happens on the earth. The metaphor expounded by Rabbi Meir in the name of Raban Gamliel clearly shows that they consider this to be a great affront to the Almighty.

However, the Rambam in the Moreh (III, 41) advances a totally different theory for the Torah's more severe treatment of a ganav as compared with a gazlan. He states that since theft is a more common crime than robbery, the Torah imposed a more severe kenas for the sake of deterence.

I recently gave a derasha on this where I asserted the following: In the first place we must simply take notice of the fact that the Rambam chose not to accept this reason given in the gemara which was advanced by three of the greatest sages in the history of Yahadus. This is remarkable. Evidently, the Rambam contends that these 3 Tannaim are advancing their own theories of ta'amei ha-mitzvot and are not reporting a mesorah from Har Sinai. The Rambam is therefore free to advance his own theory of the ta'am of this mitzvah.

According the Tannaim on Bava Kama 79b, when a ganav commits theft, concealing himself from potential witnesses, he commits a grave transgression in his denial of G-d’s omniscience. He is obviously aware that theft is considered wrong by his fellow human beings, and he attempts to avoid being caught so as not to incur their wrath or their punishment. To be so brazen before G-d and so fearful before man is deserving of greater punishment, according to these Tannaim, than the crime of theft itself. This is why a robber, who has also taken another person's property, is spared the kenas.

Rambam disagrees. He does not see in the thief’s behavior a denial of G-d’s omniscience. Rather he simply sees that the thief wants to avoid getting caught, and does not feel that this speaks at all to the thief’s theology. In another well known gemara, a thief who is about to tunnel into a home prays to HaShem for success in his endeavor. Evidently, in the Rambam’s view, it is possible for a person who believes in G-d to fear being caught by man, and to not fear being caught by G-d.
In Hilchos Teshuva Ch. 4, I believe that the Rambam explains the psychology of a person whose conception of G-d is distorted in a manner which will shed light on his understanding of the ganav and his disagreement with the Tannaim on Bava Kama 79b. Among the things which prevent a person from being capable of repentance (דברים המעכבים את התשובה) would be the person who says “I will sin, and then I will repent” (אחטא ואשוב). Such a person looks at G-d’s readiness to forgive as a justification to become further engaged in sin, His attitude, “I can always repent later”, is actually based on a sincere belief in teshuva and in the Almighty’s forgiving nature. However, his conception of G-d is restricted to what G-d will do to or do for him, and he sees the mitzvos as a means of achieving reward. Therefore, his confidence that G-d will forgive him becomes an actual obstacle to his repentance.
Therefore, the Rambam does not necessarily see a ganav as a person who denies G-d’s omniscience. Rather, a ganav may simply be a person who believes in the Almighty, and who realizes that the Almighty is perfectly aware of his sins. He plans to eventually repent but, in the meantime, he does not want to get into trouble with his fellow citizens. He therefore acts in secret, and not openly, like the gazlan. The Rambam clearly does not accept the notion that theft is a more severe sin than armed robbery. He concludes that the Torah’s reason for treating it more harshly is simply that it is a more rampant problem and that it requires greater deterrence.

In reading Rabbi Maroof's comments on Rashi and the Rambam, however, I now wonder if there is something else at work here. I wonder if Rabbi Maroof would assert that the Rambam is providing a reason for this mitzvah from the point of view of the Torah’s ultimate purpose in instituting fines for theft. The Tannaim on Bava Kama 79b, by contrast, are seeking to preserve a legal principle which states that whenever the Torah institutes a more severe punishment, by definition, the Torah has declared that the sin in quesiton is more severe. Would Rabbi Maroof see this as final causality vs. formal causality? I am also curious to hear form Rabbis Rapoport and Sacks.

Yehuda said...

It seems that Chazal and Rambam are approaching the question from different perspectives. Chazal are deal with the issue of punishment as a facilitator of t'shuva - the punishment will be more severe if the chait is more severe. Rambam seems to be looking at punishment in so far as it is a deterrent. I do not know why Rambam focuses on this aspect of punishment.

I do not think that Rambam disagrees with Chazal, in fact, I think that Chazal give the cause of Rambam's contention. Chazal give the cause of why g'neiva is more prevalent.

As for your last point, it seems that both Chazal and Rambam are offering a cause of the legal principle based on their conception(s) of the purpose of punishment and the nature of the crime.

nachum klafter, MD said...

HaRav Sholom Kamenetsky of Philadelphia (a maggid shiur and shoe'l u-meshiv, son of Rav Shmuel, shlit'a)also attempted to reconcile their shittos in response to my derasha along the same lines as what you are saying, but in our discussion he agreed that the Rambam does not accept the notion that geneiva is more severe the gezel. These tanna'im most definitely stick to that principle. Otherwise, the Rambam would have stated that geneiva is a more severe sin.

Read the Moreh III 41 and you will see that the Rambam himself lists severity of sin as one of the criteria for severity of the punishment, but in this instance he does not accept that geneiva is more severe than gezel. He has the same question as the students of Raban Yochanan ben Zakaik but he does not accept the answer provided by the tanna'im. I do not see how these views can be reconciled.