Friday, April 28, 2006

Rabbi Shem Tov ben Yosef ben Shem Tov

(c. 1461-1489; Spain), Shem Tov commentary to The Guide for the Perplexed 2:8:2:

ר' שם טוב בן יוסף בן שם טוב, פירוש שם טוב למורה נבוכים ב, ח, ב (ירושלים, תש"כ); ז"ל

וזהו דעת המפורסם באומתנו, ר"ל שיחזקאל היה מזה הדעת באמרו ואשמע את כנפיהם כקול מים רבים כקול ש[ק]י וכו', ולזה הובא בזה, כי זה הדעת היות להם קולות אמנם הוא נמשך אחר האמנת גלגל קבוע ומזלות חוזרים, וכבר ידעת הכרעתם דעת חכמי אומות העולם על דעתם בעניני התכונה האלו ואמרם בפירוש ונצחו חכמי אומות העולם את חכמי ישראל, וזה האמת כי הענינים העיוניים אשר בם החכמים חכמים אמנם דבר בהם כל מי שדבר בו כפי מה שהביא אליו העיון ואין הנבואה למעלה ממנו כי החכם עדיף מנביא ולא יועיל אצל החכמים אלא מה שנתאמת מופתו על זולתו, ודע כי זה המאמר הוא יקר מכל כלי חמדה יתבארו ממנו דברים רבים למי שרצה ליכנס בפרדס: עכ"ל

"And this view [that the heavenly spheres make sounds] is famous among our nation" – meaning that Ezekiel was of this opinion when he said (1:24), "I heard their wings, like the sound of great waters, like the sound of God, etc." ... This view, that the spheres make sounds, is a corollary of the view that the sphere is fixed and the stars move, but you know that [the Jewish sages ultimately] decided against their own view in favour of the gentile sages' [view that the spheres move and the stars are fixed thereon] in this astronomical matter, as they explicitly said, "The gentile sages triumphed over the Jewish sages" [cf. Pesachim 94b]. It is quite right that our Sages have abandoned their own theory; for speculative matters every one treats according to the results of his own study, and prophecy is not superior to it, for "a scholar is greater than a prophet," and sages have regard for only that which can be supported to the exclusion of alternatives. Know that this statement is more valuable than all precious vessels; many things can be explained based on it, to the person wishing [to explore its ramifications]. [Translation by HWMNBN, except for the words "It is quite right ... the results of his own study," which is taken from M. Friedländer's translation of The Guide for the Perplexed, Second Ed., New York: Dover, 1956, p. 163.]

Note that while much of this paragraph can be construed as merely a paraphrase of Rambam's own words, the crucial last sentence unquestionably expresses Rabbi Shem Tov's own view, and simultaneously endorses all that precedes it. Note also that Shem Tov here discusses an incorrect scientific belief found not only in a Talmudic passage, but also in the book of Ezekiel. I have assumed that if he is willing to say that unchallenged scientific assertions made in Tanach (the Bible) are incorrect, he would consider it legitimate to say the same of the Talmud.

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