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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?

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  • 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
    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...) 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
    Feb 2, 2023 at 16:18
  • @RabbiKaii Marsha is most likely referring to Maharsha, the classical commentary on the Aggadic portions to Shas. 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
    Feb 2, 2023 at 17:26

2 Answers 2

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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

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    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
    Feb 4, 2023 at 18:26
  • @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
    May 30, 2023 at 17:01
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You seem to have several questions here.

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?.

Please go to Sefaria and search for a book called "Or Neerav" Read the first chapter.

I have copied and pasted a few quotes below from the book (Or Neerav)

The Maharsha states one has to believe it literally,

Chafets chaim, Rashash, Gra, speak heavy on learning further than the pshat. If you read the book "Or neerav", they mention anyone who only learns pshat in any level of the Tora, is in major trouble.

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

Everyone agrees you have to read the Pshat first, it's like identifying the variable of the equation, Then you must learn, as we mentioned above and mentioned below, the hidden meaning.

The Book Or Neerav starts here.

"it is concerning these men and their like that King Solomon, peace upon him, said, The fool does not desire understanding, but only to air his thoughts (Prov. 18:2). It is apparent that one who follows his desires and spurns enlightenment in the mysteries of the Torah can be called a fool, since he continues his folly and his intoxication with this lowly world. [The verse] states, The fool does not desire understanding—these are the esoteric subjects hidden within the exoteric matter. This definition of understanding is the one which [the sages], their memory be a blessing, [used when they] said, “He who understands one thing from another.”" Of these men and their like, Rabbi Simeon bar Yoḥai, peace upon him, said in the Tikkunim [no. 43]:

בראשית
In the beginning (Gen. 1:1). תמן את״ר יב״ש ודא איהו ונהר יחרב ויבש.
There it is dry, and here the river dries up and is parched (Job14:11). בההוא זמנא דאיהו יבש ואיהי יבשה, בנין צווחין לתתא ביחודא ואומרים שמע ישראל,
At that time when he is dry and she is dry, sons cry out below in unification and say, Hear, O Israel (Deut. 6:4). ואין קול ואין עונה,
And there is no voice in response (I Kings 18:26). הדא הוא דכתיב אז יקראנני ולא אענה.
Thus it is written, Then they will call to Me, and I will not answer (Prov. 1:28). והכי מאן דגרים דאסתלק קבלה וחכמתא מאורייתא דבעל פה ומאורייתא דבכתב, וגרים דלא ישתדלון בהון ואמר דלא אית אלא פשט באורייתא ובתלמודא,
This concerns one who removes Kabbalah and wisdom from the oral Torah and the written Torah, who causes that they should not attempt [to acquire] them, and who asserts that there is nothing beyond the plain meaning of the Torah and the Talmud. בודאי כאילו הוא יסלק נביעו מההוא נהר ומההוא גן.
Certainly it is as if he removed the flow from that river and that garden. ווי ליה,
Woe to him. טב ליה דלא אברי בעלמא, ולא יוליף ההיא אורייתא דבכתב וההיא אורייתא דבעל פה, דאתחשב ליה כאילו חזר עלמא לתהו ובהו, וגרים עניות לעלמא, ואורך גלותא". עכ״ל: It were better for him had he never been created in the world, and had he never taught the written Torah and oral Torah, for it is considered as if he had returned the world to formlessness and void (Gen. 1:2) and bequeathed poverty and length of exile to the world. Of these men and their like, Rabbi Simeon bar Yoḥai, peace upon him, said in the Tikkunim [no. 43]:

So there are a lot of people that are commenting on this answer as not answering your question. I will explain how this post is truly answering your question.

All midrashim are connected, though to rule from them or not there's a machloket, that I am not familiar with, so to answer your question, NO you don't have to take them all literal, NOW are they all true, Answer to that is YES though in different levels of learning the tora, (and there's still a minor argument).

Hence why I have put the above, to share with you that you must not take it all literal or as all sod, there are some contradictions within a few midrashim, it does not mean they're wrong, we just have to understand them at a deeper level, can you take Halacha from them, maybe not. Either or, OR-Neerav is here to share with you the importance of reading or understanding beyond the pshat. I was Baffled that there were 600K People that interpreted the tora differently though there's only 70 ways to interpret the tora, so who's right? This is a major contradiction, unless we go further in. Another literal contradiction, The angels argued with Moshe over the tora, though angels can't do a thing without hashems permission, so did hashem direct a climactic scene for the books, was there a hidden meaning, did it even actually happen or was the author shown such revelation to learn a lesson that one should not aspire to be an angle rather a perfect human (entails all their needs and desires, by the good for the good). Hope you understand why taking everything literally isn't the tora way as explained by Rabbi Moshe Cordovero.

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    This does not answer the question.
    – Shmuel
    Feb 2, 2023 at 16:47
  • @Shmuel. Please explain to me how you have interpreted the question.
    – Gabriel
    Feb 2, 2023 at 17:30
  • This seems to be exactly the opposite of what I am looking for, this is saying you must not believe the midrash as it said rather there are deeper reasons for it. @Gabriel can you maybe show me which part of what you quoted answers the question I would appreciate it. Feb 2, 2023 at 17:32
  • The MAIN theme of my answer is the book Or neerav, that mentions anyone that learns the Oral Tora = Mishna,(this includes the Gemara) or the Written Tora = seven books of the Chumash and so forth, would best not have been born, rabbi shimon bar yochai a tana. I quoted a many great people as well that mention this profusely.
    – Gabriel
    Feb 2, 2023 at 18:00
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    @Yaacov Deane. Thank you, made further explanations.
    – Gabriel
    May 30, 2023 at 17:02

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