When it comes to non-metaphorical interpretation methods for midrashim and aggadah, there are two concepts for the purposes of this question:

  • Literal: the story presented by the midrash is factual. If it says Pharaoh was 3 feet tall, he was actually 3 feet tall, historically. Still, it may be that he was 3 feet tall for a supernatural reason.
  • Rational: Not only is it literal, but also there is no other supernatural modification or explanation. In this case, the reason Pharaoh was 3 feet tall was simply because he was someone with dwarfism.

The Rambam at the beginning of Hachelek refers to the fools who take Aggadic text literally in a rational way. He is referring to others who held this way. Is anyone familiar with an opinion in the Rishonim/ early Achronim that states one must understand all Aggadic text in such a manner? The Maharsha states one has to believe it literally, but as expounded on (Thanks Rabbi Kaii) by the Gra, he is referring to a non-rational supernatural understanding.

Does anyone take this to the extreme that one must believe every Midrash in a literal and rational sense?

  • I hope you don't mind, after your edit, I made an edit of my own. Feel free to revert it or improve it. It's more clear this way. A couple more questions for clarity. Who/what is "Marsha" or is that a typo? Secondly, could you explain why you are using the Rambam as a starting point for the question, as he doesn't even hold that midrashim have to be literal, let alone rational?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 16:10
  • @RabbiKaii amazing edits! How do you charger for your editing skills? Made the question a lot easier to understand... (Adhd does not help me...) Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 16:11
  • No problem, it's an interesting question I would like to see it succeed :) Note I deleted my original comment and made a new one so please see above as I have 2 more questions for clarifying your Q
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 16:18
  • @RabbiKaii Marsha is most likely referring to Maharsha, the classical commentary on the Aggadic portions to Shas. Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 17:11
  • I hope I understood your question correctly, as following, (Is there anyone rishonim, achronym... who agrees to not take midrashim literally as the rambam said). If I have misinterpreted your question, forgive me, I ask for clarification. Thank you
    – Gabriel
    Commented Feb 2, 2023 at 17:26

1 Answer 1


This is a non-answer

I was in shul with a few prominent people over the course of this shabbos, I posed this question to them. One of them gave me a few sources to look at which I will do Bez"h over the next few days.

I spoke with Rabbi Dr Natan Slifkin when I met him over Shabbos. I believe he is qualified to answer the question as someone who has been through the topic and has written on it extensively. He explained there were those Rishonim who understood Midrash as literalists like Rashi and Tosfos - those who lived in France. While Rationalists like Rambam lived in Spain. This was one of the big disagreements between the two camps.

So it would seem that there would be no one who was on both sides of Rationalism and Literalism. So the answer would therefore be there is no one.

If I do find a Rishon/early Acharon I will downvote this answer and post a new one.

Gut Voch

  • 2
    Shavua tov. R Slifkin certainly seems like a good person to ask, however rationalism nowadays dafka views the midrashim as metaphorical, taking them either literally or rationally would be considered "irrational". So now I'm not 100% if I originally understood?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Feb 4, 2023 at 18:26
  • 1
    @RabbiKaii. I recall reading an article on this, sharing with us an indeed argument, and most hold to take some literal (where it's Obvious) and other's to be metaphorical, (Main opinion of rabbi solovaichic, Ramban, Barziliy...) AND no you don't become a kofer if you don't believe in them at all. (Ramban's words are, no harm will come to you) I put this in as I was called a Kofer for disagreeing with with someone on a Midrash about the angles arguing with Moshe was it's self contradictory, being they don't have free will unless they come to earth, that I doubt these spoke to Moshe.
    – Gabriel
    Commented May 30, 2023 at 17:01

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