Shomer Emunim: Translator’s Notes on Style

5 Jan

Translator’s notes on the style used in sefer Shomer Emunim:

Two classic styles dominate the ‘stand-alone’ philosophical compositions (as opposed to the more common Perushim, or commentarial works) of the Rishonim and Early Acharonim (Mid-11th to early 19th century). The Aristotelian and the Socratic.

The Aristotelian, popularized by the Rambam, and used by Ramcha”l, Mabi”t, and other famous authors, is by far the more widely used and known style. It’s appeal lies lies in it’s order and clarity. Everything is laid out and logical sequences are built up in order. [For example: Law1) X is so. This must be because of Y. Law 2) Z can not be the explanation because of A. Law 3) B is a necessary outcome of X.] This is a direct, effective way of teaching a large amount of material in a methodical, logical, way.

However, as it’s aim is to teach, this method does not deal with dissenting opinions outright (note Rava”d’s objection at the end of the Introduction to Mishneh Torah). When there are already informed, dissenting, opinions, it is often necessary to engage them.

The Socratic Method, popularized by Plato in his dialogues, and best known in Rabbinic literature by way of Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi’s Kuzari, was thought of as the best approach to this kind of situation for over 2,000 years. In it, two or more scholars argue their sides, with the more logical winning the day. When done well, i.e. with well-developed opinions on both sides following a logical sequence, this method often has the side benefit of being highly engaging for the reader. [1]

In this sefer, the three sides, Talmudic, Jewish Philosophic, and Kabbalistic, are given a fair hearing by a master of all three, through the voices of two scholars. The first, Shealtiel (Hebrew: I asked God) is the Talmudist asking the questions, and the second, Yehoyada (Hebrew: God knows) is his Kabbalist counter and, later, guide. To further engage the reader, the author gives a pretend, but historically meaningful background to the discussion (again similar to the Kuzari and Plato’s dialogues), and styles the dialogue to sound like regular speech. There are interjections, counter arguments, admissions of defeat, even veiled insults. The author says in his introduction that he is trying to make the book interesting and informative, and he does not disappoint.

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1. An early progenitor of this style, with all of the important nuances, can be found in the Tanach, the Book of Job. It is possible that this was an early form of the style, which became more structured as a book of logic and less as an incorporative logic/poetry Wisdom book (Sefer Emes in the terminology of Chazal) by Plato’s time.

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