Questions and Suggested Answers
Based on the writings of Nehama Leibowitz
1. In his Sefer haZikaron, Ritba, reacting to Nahmanides' comment (after quoting Maimonides' Guide, 3;46), writes:
Our Master (Nahmanides) of blessed memory, rejects the explanation of the sacrifices offered in the Guide for the Perplexed. We need not here repeat his words. It is my opinion that the genuine (kabbalistic) tradition concerning the sacrifices and Maimonides' apparently feeble rationale caused the Master (Nahmanides) to criticize him (Maimonides) for the sake of the sanctity of the Torah and God's holy Name, in the context of the sacrifices. However, Maimonides chose this and many other explanations of the commandments in order to provide them with some meaning and to furnish the masses with some rational arguments against heretics, rather than believing these to be the principal reasons...
With all due respect to our great Master (Nahmanides) and his divinely inspired word, his zeal confused him and prevented him from examining thoroughly Maimonides' statement. There is no doubt, in my opinion, that Maimonides' explanations contain some elements which do not accord with those of the Kabbalists or other scholars. However, there is neither error nor contradiction in the method he follows, for his carefully presented arguments are full of wisdom and logic.
Let me now humbly point out the views which Nahmanides wrongly attributes to Maimonides, thus employing arguments which are irrelevant to Maimonides' method of interpretation - and may the Almighty lead us onto the path of truth.
Our Master, whose pardon I beg, writes that "this is his (Maimonides') lengthy exposition." However, it appears that the length of his exposition did not facilitate its comprehension, for our Master (Nahmanides) apparently concluded that in Maimonides' view the sacrifices were instituted to repudiate the views of the wicked and the foolish, i.e. the Egyptians and Chaldeans. I, however, with my limited intellect, do not glean this from his words. Maimonides' general view of the sacrifices is set out in Part 3, chapter 32 of his work, of which the following is an excerpt (quoting from "Now God sent" until "and not by action" as cited at the beginning of our introduction).
This clearly demonstrates that according to Maimonides the sacrifices were meant to eliminate the erroneous conception from the minds of our own people, who had also succumbed to idol worship. Unfortunately, our ancestors did not cleanse themselves of that abomination, even after having become a Kingdom of Priests and a Holy Nation. Thus, Moses declared "for I know that after my death you will surely become corrupted" (Deut. 31;29). This is how they acted throughout many generations until they brought upon themselves the dispersion. All this is common knowledge.
Maimonides' comment quoted by Nahmanides indeed appears in the Guide 3;46, but it refers to the specific animals the Torah declares fit for the altar, and not to the rationale of the sacrifices as such dealt with in chapter 32, which I have quoted. As for the animals fit for sacrifice, i.e., why oxen, sheep and goats have been singled out from among all other animals, this is treated at the beginning of the said chapter (46): "The precepts of the eleventh class are enumerated in the Section on Divine Service (Sefer Avodah) and the Section on Sacrifices (Sefer haKorbanot) of Maimonides' Code (haYad haHazakah). We have described their distinction in general terms. I will now offer reasons for each precept separately, as I understand them."
It is clear from the above text that Maimonides' general and substantive explanation of the sacrifices is not in ch. 46 but rather in ch. 32. It is astonishing that our Master overlooked it. This oversight must have been due to his zealous Torah championship, as I have already mentioned.
(Ritba offers additional argument s in favor or Maimonides.)
(a) Explain wherein, in Ritba's view, lay Nahmanides' misunderstanding of Maimonides.
(a) According to Ritba, Nahmanides dwelled exclusively on Maimonides' words in section 3 chapter 46 of the Guide which er to the specific animals that the Torah declares fit to be offered. In the Guide, Maimonides first outlined the rationale for sacrifices in chapter 32. The specific reference to fit animals provides an instructive lesson to the children of Israel who had been exposed to the pagan sacrificial rites of the Egyptians and Chaldeans. Chapter 46 is therefore tangential to chapter 32. In addition, Maimonides provides a fuller explanation of the meaning of sacrifices in his code.
(b) How can we prove that Nahmanides bases his criticism on part 3, chapter 46 of the Guide and completely ignores chapter 32?
(b) Nahmanides' premise in that Maimonides viewed sacrifices primarily as a protest against pagan worship rites. This is the thrust of chapter 46 which details the fit animals and their otherwise hallowed practices in the eyes of idolatrous nations. Therefore he cites chapter 46 only.
(c) Which two factors account for Nahmanides' radical and unjustified criticism, according to Ritba?
(c) According to Ritba, the following two factors account for Nahmanides' criticism:
Nahmanides not taking into account Maimonides' views on sacrifices as found in chapter 32 of the Guide and in his code haYad haHazakah.
Nahmanides misread the meaning and intent of chapter 46. Maimonides emphasizes that by sacrificing the bull, ram, oxen and sheep, the Israelites who had also succumbed to idol worship would be taught an essential lesson that these "sacred" animals are not to be worshipped. Nahmanides interpreted the chapter's meaning as being a protest against idolatrous practices rather than being a lesson to the Israelites.
Prepared by: Rabbi Mordechai Spiegelman veteran yeshiva educator (USA) now residing in Jerusalem