Page 172 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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“Nahmanides did
[emphasis his] see kabbalistic interpreta­
tion as a universal key to the understanding of all aggadah.
When he does resort to kabbalistic defense it is often of aggadot
that are entirely beyond the reach of Andalusian understand­
ing.19 Wolfson, in accordance with his view that Ramban was
a kabbalist first and foremost, and a not-so-conservadve kab-
balist at that, writes that “Nahmanides . . . did not differentiate
between rabbinic and kabbalistic modes of interpretation . . . ”
Inverting Septimus’ phrase, Wolfson asserts “that Nahmanides
saw aggadic interpretation as the universal key to the under­
standing of kabbalah.”20
As different as Wolfson’s and Septimus’ views are, they share
an important point in common. The tendency in earlier his­
toriography was to acknowledge that Nahmanides’ dismissal of
certain aggadic passages at the Barcelona disputation was clearly
opposed to the general position which he took in his biblical
commentaries, that rabbinic interpretations and aggadot were
to be accepted wherever possible, either literally or with an ap­
propriate explanation. In order to succeed at a very trying and
crucial moment, Nahmanides adopted the rationalistic view that
aggadah was not always binding. This view was perfectly legit­
imate within the history of Jewish interpretation, and Ramban
could certainly be forgiven a reversal of position in order to
perform successfully in a highly charged polemical context.21
Accord ing to both Septimus and Wolfson, however,
Nahmanides’ stance on aggadah at the Barcelona disputation
was fully consonant with his true exegetical proclivities concern­
ing aggadah. Nahmanides, as an inheritor of the Geonic-
Andalusian tradition had never, in Septimus’ view, accepted
“the absolute authority of all aggadah.”22Wolfson, by asserting
that use of aggadah was critical to Ramban’s understanding of
19. Septimus, “Open Rebuke,” p. 19.
20. Wolfson, “By Way o f Truth,” pp. 153-76.
21. Robert Chazan,
Barcelona and Beyond,
pp. 142-56, presents a detailed an­
alysis o f the differing positions within modern historiography on Ramban
and aggadah. He further suggests, as part o f a larger claim, that by dis­
tinguishing between the disputation itself and Nahmanides’ narrative por­
trayal o f the event, one can gain a fuller perspective on Nahmanides’ views
concerning the rejection o f aggadah.
22. Septimus, “Open Rebuke,” pp. 20-22. See also Marvin Fox, “Nahmanides
on the Status o f Aggadot: Perspectives on the Disputation at Barcelona,
Journal of Jewish Studies
40 (1989): 95-109.