Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Is Ibn Ezra An Apikores For Denying The Reality of Sheidim?

So in a recent post, I took flak from both sides -- as delusional for believing in Torah MiSinai, and as an apikores for disbelieving in the existence of sheidim, despite that a bunch of gemaras appear to assume the existence of sheidim.
One rishon who seems to deny the existence of sheidim is Ibn Ezra. On Vayikra 17:5,
ז וְלֹא-יִזְבְּחוּ עוֹד, אֶת-זִבְחֵיהֶם, לַשְּׂעִירִם, אֲשֶׁר הֵם זֹנִים אַחֲרֵיהֶם: חֻקַּת עוֹלָם תִּהְיֶה-זֹּאת לָהֶם, לְדֹרֹתָם. 7 And they shall no more sacrifice their sacrifices unto the satyrs, after whom they go astray. This shall be a statute for ever unto them throughout their generations.
he writes:

יז, ז]
לשעירים -
הם השדים ונקראו כן, בעבור שישתער הגוף הרואה אותם.
והקרוב, בעבור שיראו אותם המשוגעים כדמות שעירים.

ומלת עוד
תורה שכן היו ישראל עושין במצרים.

אשר הם זונים -
כי כל מי שמבקש אותם ומאמין בהם הוא זונה מתחת אלהיו, שיחשוב כי יש מי שייטיב או ירע חוץ מהשם הנכבד והנורא.

To roughly translate:
To satyrs: They are the demons {shedim} and are called this because the body which sees them is attacked {?}. And a close {second explanation}, because the crazy people see them in the form of goats {or satyrs}.

And the word further -- informs that so did the Israelites do in Egypt.

After whom they go astray: For anyone who seeks them out, and believes in them, he is straying from after his God, that he thinks that there is one who can make things good or bad aside from the Honored and Awesome Hashem.
Now, it seems to me that there are two ways to understand it. And I will present both, because I love arguing against myself.

The first is that Ibn Ezra is denying the existence of shedim. And thus only the crazy people think they see them. And it is straying to believe in them, and that they have any power. Belief in sheidim thus takes away from a monotheistic belief in God.

The second is that Ibn Ezra is actually admitting the existence of these beings, though he is against sacrificing to them and worshiping them. Thus, he talks about the body of one who sees them being attacked. This matches things Chazal say about sheidim. Of course, he could be explanaing the basis of their name, rather then endorsing their reality there. Then, he says that crazy people see them as seirim, goats or satyrs. He might be saying that they are crazy for seeing them, but he also might be saying that lunatics have a different, non-rationalist, perception of reality, such that they can see things with rational people cannot see.

What about the fact that he says ומאמין בהם? Certainly that shows he denies their existence? Well, I could argue that maamin actually has two possible meanings. It could mean believe or it could mean trust. For example, vayaaminu baHashem uveMoshe avdo. Surely they did not think that Moshe did not exist? Perhaps we could answer they now believed in Moshe's role as Hashem's servant. But another answer is that they now had emunah, faith, in Hashem and in Hashem's servant Moshe. So too here, Ibn Ezra theoretically could be saying that sheidim exist, but one should not put trust in them, and think they can provide benefits, such that one should sacrifice to them. I can believe you exist, but that does not contradict any belief in the power of Hashem.

Regardless of what Ibn Ezra actually maintains, I do not think he would be an apikores for denying the reality of sheidim. How to contend with the various gemaras? That is another question, which I can leave until later, or perhaps never. There are valid answers though. And Rambam is another Rishon to consider as support for this position.

9 comments:

moish said...

the gemoro does not just "assume" the existence of sheidim, it relates explicit stories involving them, such as the one with shlomo hamelech which is actually stated in the possuk that shlomo hamelech used to build the beis hamikdash "shidim veshidos". that means that if you deny their existence you are cleary denying this whole story happened which means you do not accept the tora shbaal peh. we must obviously then explain the ibn ezra to fit with this, especially as one cannot deduce at all from his words that he does not believe in the existence of sheidim. on the contrary, 33 pesukim earlier by the mitzva of sending the seir lazazel the ibn ezra states a sod to explain the purpose of the mitzva is when you reach 33, and the ramban explains his words that he is referring to the possuk 33 pesukim later ולא יזבחו עוד לשעירים to say the azazel is to appease the dark side of spirituality including the sheidim, and then the ramban ends off with piercing words that he cannot expand on the topic as there are so called chachomim that only believe in what they themselves can feel and understand, these are his finishing words וזה יודע ברוחות, בחכמת נגרומנסי"א, ויודע גם בשכלים, ברמזי התורה למבין סודם, ולא אוכל לפרש. כי היינו צריכים לחסום פי המתחכמים בטבע הנמשכים אחרי היוני אשר הכחיש כל דבר זולתי המורגש לו, והגיס דעתו לחשוב הוא ותלמידיו הרשעים, כי כל ענין שלא השיג אליו הוא בסברתו איננו אמת:
. although it is interesting to note that the maharshal in the hakdomo to yam shel shlomo already takes issue with the ibn ezra for not seeming to follow chazal in his pirush on the torah, but as it happens this is not one of those places.

joshwaxman said...

a midrash involving shlomo hamelech is not the best evidence to put forth. put forth Yosef the Sheid in Eruvin 43a, instead, as an example. (though that is the stama de-gemara.)

a midrash involving shlomo is not the best evidence *because* we can say that a particular midrash, such as that one, was intended *allegorically*, rather than literally. see rambam's into to perek chelek for this idea.

taking a midrash allegorically, rather than absolutely literally and historically, is *not* denying Torah sheBaal Peh.

And Rambam is also a source for denying shedim, in that e.g., throughout he replaces the reasons given in the gemara as shedim with natural causes instead.

Just perhaps, consider that in your Torah education, certain positions were stressed and some were perhaps not presented at all. And perhaps consider that I might have learned through some of those sources, and interpret certain sources differently than you do. Now, I may be wrong or I may be right. But even if wrong, this does not necessarily make me an apikores who denies Torah sheBaal Peh.

Kol Tuv,
Josh

Ramchal and spiritual creatures said...

BS"D

On the other hand, the Ramchal is very clear about the existence of Shedim. You can read it in a book, Maamar Haikarim, which is about Hashkafah (Jewish thought and beliefs), not about Midrash.
An English translation is here :
http://www.anzarouth.com/2008/08/2-spiritual-creatures.html
If you want to read it in Hebrew (or in Italian, who knows?), the link is provided in that page.

joshwaxman said...

true. there were a number of rishonim and acharonim who believed in the existence of sheidim. though we are not compelled to agree with them on that score, as I mentioned in the initial post.

ramchal is interesting, in that his sefarim on kabbalah were put in geniza, only after cajoling the rabbis in his area not to burn them. (because he wrote some purportedly via maggid, and at a young age.) mesilat yesharim is what he wrote when he was under a ban from writing about kabbalah.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

The reason psychologists do not diagnose delusions in terms of absolute truth/falsity of a person's beliefs is because the objective of psychological treatment is to enable a person to live in a healthy and adaptive manner in the society of his or her choice, and in this respect all that is relevant is whether the beliefs he holds are consistent with or contradict the typical notions of a "normal" person in his context.

Psychologists cannot and should not be engaged in determining the truth or falsity of philosophical, moral or religious beliefs upon which they are not qualified to comment.

Their job is to restore balance and function to a person's psyche so that he can be happy in accordance with whatever definition of happiness he accepts, not to establish his priorities and direct his life.

Not to mention that the values and principles that many psychologists embrace in their private lives are far from being universally acknowledged truths.

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

Here is a possibly ethnically/ religiously insensitive conjecture.

Muhammad seems to have been known as המשוגע in medieval Jewish literature from Islamic lands. Could Ibn Ezra be saying that המשוגעים, the followers of המשוגע see jinns as satyrs?

I don't know if that was a classic image that jinns appeared as, but I found this:

http://en.allexperts.com/q/Islam-947/2008/8/jinn-1.htm

and

The association of monstrous beings with ruins and desert places is still a prevalent element in the folk-lore of Arabia and Syria; and the Arabian jinn also are represented as having monstrous hairy forms.

http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=274&letter=S

Perhaps more research would uncover a connection between satyr imagery and jinns.

Or perhaps not.

joshwaxman said...

nice idea.
i don't know if i buy it, but it's a nice idea.

joshwaxman said...

"The reason psychologists do not diagnose delusions..."

I agree that certainly is a large part of it.

but even aside from all that, it makes logical sense. If everyone in your culture believes in witchcraft, then believing that the lady next door hexed you, causing impotence, is certainly a logical conclusion one can come to, without having any sort of chemical brain imbalance causing it. And not rising above the memes of your society does not make one stupid. We all laugh at the crazy things they believed (scientifically) 500 years ago, but who knows how future generations will judge us?

In contrast, if in a typical industrial society, someone seriously thinks that gnomes are stealing his socks, and that the government is controlling his thoughts through his dental fillings, this might well betray some sort of chemical imbalance in the brain.

I am not totally convinced, BTW, that Rav Kanievsky truly said this, despite it being "not a rumor." Perhaps I will get a chance to elaborate in another post.

KT,
Josh

Mississippi Fred MacDowell said...

>i don't know if i buy it, but it's a nice idea.

LOL

I don't know if I buy it either. At the very least, I'd like some confirmation that Ibn Ezra used משוגע to refer to the person in question, that he used it to refer to his followers, or at least that we can find such usage at all.

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