Guest Post by Eddie [D.T. I am posting this because I respect Eddie's sincerity as well as the fact that similar views seem to be accepted as valid amongst some Orthodox Jews. I personally totally reject this understanding and my posting it should not be interpreted as approval or agreement. - I also posted it because Eddie does raise some good questions that are important to deal with. However asking good question doesn't mean that the questioners explanations are correct. Please read the comment sections.]
The Rambam is widely recognized as the most authoratative Rabbinic scholar in post Talmudic literature and possibly Jewish life. His halacha, philosophy, and principles of faith are central to Jewish practice, even beyond denominational communities.
His Ikkarim or 13 principle of faith, which are in his Introduction to Chelek, are generally considered as make or break as far as orthodox or traditional Judaism is concerned.
In his epic Mishneh Torah, he concludes with the laws of Kings and Wars, which is widely accepted by all streams of Orthodoxy, whether Lubavitch, Litvish, Sephardim, Yemenites etc.
הלכות מלכים ומלחמות פרק יא
ז ועיקר הדברים, ככה הן: שהתורה הזאת אין חוקיה ומשפטיה משתנים לעולם, ולעולמי עולמים, ואין מוסיפין עליהן, ולא גורעין מהן; וכל המוסיף או גורע, או שגילה פנים בתורה והוציא הדברים של מצוות מפשוטן--הרי זה בוודאי רשע ואפיקורוס.
Here is delineates a position that any changes made to the Torah (that he has just described) is a work of evil and heresy. He presumably means fundamental, mitsvot, rather than specific halachic opinions which are disputed by his great rivals such as the Gaon RAAVAD of Posquieres.
Regarding Messianic speculation, on the details of Mesianic times, sequences, details, he writes as follows:
ד ויש מן החכמים שאומרים שקודם ביאת המלך המשיח, יבוא אלייהו. וכל אלו הדברים וכיוצא בהן--לא יידע אדם היאך יהיו, עד שיהיו: שדברים סתומים הן אצל הנביאים. גם החכמים אין להם קבלה בדברים אלו, אלא לפי הכרע הפסוקים; ולפיכך יש להם מחלוקת בדברים אלו. ועל כל פנים, אין סידור הוויית דברים אלו ולא דקדוקן, עיקר בדת.
It is instructive that he says the Prophets did not have access to the specifics, and that Chachamim had no Kabbalah (received tradition) on these matters.
ה ולעולם לא יתעסק אדם בדברי ההגדות, ולא יאריך בדברי מדרשות האמורים בעניינים אלו וכיוצא בהן; ולא ישימם עיקר--שאינן מביאין לא לידי אהבה, ולא לידי יראה. וכן לא יחשב הקיצין; אמרו חכמים, תפוח דעתן של מחשבי קיצין. אלא יחכה ויאמין בכלל הדבר, כמו שביארנו.
Furthermore we are enjoined not to calculate end times, or to dwell on midrashim regarding these matters.
It also significant that he was not challenged by Raavad on these statements.
There is a counter trend amongst mystics of the Kabbalah esoteric school, which not only makes calculations of end times, but also dwells on the Moshiach of each generation, and tells fantastic stories, for example of the Arizal knowing what was unknown to the Neviim and Chazal!
We are expected to believe that some 400 years before the Wright Brothers, 2 mystics flew by cloud from Tzfat to Lublin (Poland) , the proof being that they presented the Maharshal with hot cakes fresh from the oven in Israel!
Had these men flown by cloud, not only would the cakes have cooled down by the sub zero temperatures, they would have died from the cold and lack of oxygen.
A number of departures from Rambam and misrepresentations of his comments have been made by some important and less important Acharonim.
The Baal HaTanya in Shaar haYichud of his Tanya claims that G-d and Sefirot are One, and he bases this on
הלכות יסודי התורה פרק ב
יג [י] הקדוש ברוך הוא מכיר אמיתו, ויודע אותה כמות שהיא. ואינו יודע בדעה שהיא חוץ ממנו כמו שאנו יודעין, שאין אנו ודעתנו אחד. אבל הבורא--הוא ודעתו וחייו אחד, מכל צד ומכל פינה: שאלמלא היה חי בחיים ויודע בדעה, היו שם אלוהות הרבה--הוא וחייו ודעתו; ואין הדבר כן, אלא אחד מכל צד ומכל פינה ובכל דרך ייחוד.
This is despite Rambam stating that אבל הבורא--הוא ודעתו וחייו אחד, מכל צד ומכל פינה
This is clearly not the case with the Sefirot / Ein Sof, which have a diverse life of their own.
R Shneur Zalman's chief Mitnagdic opponent, R Chaim of Vollozhin also makes a remarkable misattribution to the Rambam.
In Gate B. Ch. 5 (Penultimate paragraph), he claims that Rambam in Moreh Ch 72 of part 1, that G-d is the soul of the world, in the same way that human soul is related tot he human body.
A careful analysis of the above Rambam (Guide 1, ch.72) reveals that Rambam says the exact opposite. In his 3rd caveat that the management of the universe is totally separated , ie unlike a human soul/body, Hashem is absolutely separate from all parts of the universe. ( see R' Kapach's edition, Mossad HaRav Kook 1977, p. 132).
The entire works of Rambam, especially his Yad HaHazakah, Guide, and Helek, attest to his non materialist approach to G-d. His views are bing misappropriated to give creedence to an alien and counter philosophy which is immanentism , which is one way in which pantheism is defined, even by orthodox Rabbis.
Another anti-halachic claim which is commonly mad, is that Rambam violates his own injunction not to calculate the Ketz, or end-times. It is alleged that he did so in his Epistle to Yemen, when in fact he repeatedly states there that is is forbidden. What he did reveal, was a tradition for a possible date for the renewal of prophecy. He did this in order to stop people from calculating the ketz.
It seems to me, from the above halachic statements of Rambam, that he did not accept mystical kabbalah, and that he denied that Chazal and Neviim, had knowledge of specifics of Messiah.
Furthermore, his fight against materialism, or corporeality, has gone unheeded, and that this idea, which he calls heretical, has come back in force to become mainstream orthodoxy, who brazenly misquote the Rambam himself, as justification for this ideology.
One final word: Rambam was famous for saying accept the truth from whomever it comes. When discussing such matters, and one's entire life and perceived reward is at stake, it is very easy to claim that a list of gedolim said this, therefore they must be right.