Page 80 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

Basic HTML Version

aggadah as sources of kabbalistic teachings is to be expected. And
yet, in placing Nahmanides’ attitude towards aggadah in the context
of his overarching thesis that Nahmanides owed much to Andalu­
sian rationalism, Septimus writes that “Nahmanides did
phasis his] see kabbalistic interpretation 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 understanding.”19Wolfson, in accordance with his view
that Ramban was a kabbalist first and foremost, and a not-so-
conservative kabbalist at that, writes that “Nahmanides . . . did
not differentiate between rabbinic and kabbalistic modes of inter­
pretation. . . . ” Inverting Septimus’ phrase, Wolfson asserts “that
Nahmanides saw aggadic interpretation as the universal key to
the understanding of kabbalah.”20
As different as Wolfson’s and Septimus’ views are, they share
an important point in common. The tendency in earlier historiog­
raphy 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 appropriate explana­
tion. 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 legitimate within the his­
tory of Jewish interpretation, and Ramban could certainly be for­
given a reversal of position in order to perform successfully in a
highly charged polemical context.21
According to both Septimus and Wolfson, however, Nah­
manides’ stance on aggadah at the Barcelona disputation was fully
consonant with his true exegetical proclivities concerning aggadah.
Nahmanides, as an inheritor of the Geonic-Andalusian tradition
19. Septimus, “Open Rebuke,” p. 19.
20. Wolfson, “By Way of Truth,” pp. 153-76
21. Robert Chazan,
Barcelona and Beyond,
pp. 142 -56 , presents a detailed
analysis o f the differing positions within modern historigraphy on Ramban and
aggadah. He further suggests, as part of a larger claim, that by distinguishing
between the disputation itself and Nahmanides’ narrative portrayal of the event,
one can gain a fuller perspective on Nahmanides’ views concerning the rejection
of aggadah.
\ 72