1

Context:
I've noticed before that whenever I post anything about Neoplatonism in a Jewish context, such posts usually tend to get downvoted to oblivion, and in general, such views are not very well received among most frum Jewish people that I've talked to.

However, it is well known that Neoplatonism had a strong influence on Kabbalah and there were many Jewish philosophers who were Neoplatonists (e.g. Avicebron or Isaac Israeli ben Solomon). Of course, I think that for example, Avicebron's Neoplatonism is nonsensical (e.g. he believed that G-d, blessed be He, eternally and "unconsciously" emanates His own will through which He creates through many layers of emanation) - "Neoplatonism" is not a uniform philosophy and there are many differing views that all get grouped under the term "Neoplatonism".


Formal question:

Is there anything heretical in Neoplatonic views? To be more specific, the idea that seems to get me the most flack is: that G-d, blessed be He, can only directly produce one effect/creation which is necessarily the most perfect creation through which He creates everything else (the so-called "rule of one", which really comes from Islamic Neoplatonism (qāʿidat al-wāḥid) NOTE: These ideas also have a parallel in Jewish thought - refer to Jewish Neoplatonism - Being above Being and divine emanation in Solomon ibn Gabirol and Isaac Israeli (2006, Cambridge University Press)). Are these ideas heretical?

ADDITIONAL CLARIFICATION:

G-d, blessed be He, can only directly produce one only creation which is necessarily the most perfect creation through which He creates everything else. Hence, G-d, blessed be He, does not directly create a tree. He is eternally creating the most perfect creation and through this most perfect creation, He directs the creation of trees.

Consider the following:

G-d
↓ eternally creates most perfect creation
First Intellect (an intelligent and willful most perfect first creation)
↓ from this point on, it mimics G-d to create another singular creation
Universal Soul
↓ (at this point, things can at least theoretically branch out according to some views, so the chain is no longer singularly linear) ......

So there is a chain of creation just like this. I provided some explanation for why this is the case in my link above where I talk about getting downvoted to oblivion.

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  • Comments have been moved to chat; please do not continue the discussion here. Before posting a comment below this one, please review the purposes of comments. Comments that do not request clarification or suggest improvements usually belong as an answer, on Mi Yodeya Meta, or in Mi Yodeya Chat. Comments continuing discussion may be removed.
    – Isaac Moses
    Sep 27, 2023 at 12:23
  • What's the nafka mina?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Sep 27, 2023 at 13:37
  • I recommend adding sources that show that this is an idea that appears in Jewish neoplatonic writings.
    – Harel13
    Sep 27, 2023 at 14:28
  • 1
    "however, it is well known that Neoplatonism had a strong influence on Kabbalah" no, any "kabbalah" which is authentically Jewish is Torah and not a secular philosophy to be influenced by other philosophies.
    – Dude
    Sep 28, 2023 at 4:11
  • 1
    @setszu not even remotely true. Kabbalah is Torah not goyishe philosophy
    – Dude
    Sep 28, 2023 at 10:11

2 Answers 2

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I can't tell you if it is heretical, but I can give you some information from the chassidic approach that might help you determine how to proceed with the question, and what is needed to find the answer.

The chassidic teachings record that the great Torah leaders of each generation passed on an esoteric tradition. There are many notable events in this tradition but the key ones are Adam Harishon received the secrets of creation from an angel, the Avot were in the chain that received that and added more, then Moshe was taught where it all is in the Torah when he received it at Sinai, and R Shimon Bar Yochai completed it, seeing with a "clear lens" and becoming the final and greatest teacher of the full secrets of the Torah.

After he passed, the knowledge went underground and was only passed among the selected few. We have works from the Geonim and the chassidic masters teach us that they recorded their knowledge in very encrypted form in these works. The subsequent generations enclothed the teachings in philosophy.

This is where I am getting to. The philosophical teachings we have, such as Maimonides, according to the chassidic view, contain within them, secretly, the esoteric teachings. The Rambam "hid and scattered the teachings in pieces throughout his writing", in the form of Aristotelian philosophy, and the mystical tradition he was working from might have even been partial. Many great chassidic Rebbeim, including from Chabad and Ishbitz, who were all great and holy Kabbalists, spilled a lot of ink showing how Rambam's teachings contain these ideas.

R Gershon Henoch writes in his introduction to Beit Yaacov (from chapter 15 there are a few chapters on showing Kabbalah in Rambam) that someone trying to understand the secrets of the Torah from philosophy is akin to someone trying to work backwards from the effect to the cause; a task that is impossible to do completely, if even partially (and uses derivation from argument, which is the exact opposite of Kabbalah, I.e. received wisdom). In the case of philosophy, it's even harder because philosophy, especially the type of Grecian rational philosophies we are talking about, aren't able and aren't even trying to convey anything of the superrational, which is of course where you need to go when you are discussing things that come before intellect! Thus, the only way to learn the secrets of the Torah today is to do so through the teachings of the Zohar, which is the work of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai who as we said is the greatest and final teacher of the complete mysteries of Torah. The Zohar is the cause, rather than one of the "effects", going by the above analogy.

R Henoch also points out that the mysteries of creation that are hidden in the teachings of philosophy are muddled with non authentic traditions. In today's day when we have the Zohar and hundreds of works based on it, elucidating the inheritance of Yaacov: the secrets of the Torah, by great holy Chachamim and Rebbeim, including the Arizal, and all the Chassidic Rebbes and great Kabbalists of the last 500 years, there are only very few who seriously still try to unpack the esoteric teachings of the Kabbalah from the enigmatic works of the period when Kabbalah was "underground", including the philosophical works. Still fewer who would allow it, let alone recommend it.

So, according to this traditional approach I have brought, the recommendation would be that if you want to understand the secrets of the Divine, you should start with authentic teachings based on the Zohar, and nowadays there are many options and styles that might suit you, if you are diligent in your search (you said the Neoplatonic ideas help you understand these things and speak to you, which might imply that you've not had such an experience studying the esoteric from traditional Zoharic sources).

It would be very nice if a very learned person will come and just answer your question with a yes/no and neat explanation but I think from what I've laid out here, it seems that there are a number of barriers that might prevent that happening, including the point that rational philosophies are often just not enough and not fully capable of containing complete Divine truths, as well as being a very controversial and dangerous way to approach gaining this Divine knowledge in a "clear lens" way. Philosophy is a tainted and muddled, inadequate esoteric source, and is at best a clothing of encoded information about Divine truth and therefore yes, there are many barriers that may make this question "off topic" in the traditional approach :) As I said, a lot of writing has been written on the Rambam's ways of enclothing Divine esoteric wisdom in philosophy, it might be of interest to you to follow that up, but it is unlikely you'll find the same amount and the same calibre of work done on the Neoplatonic works. You've citied so far only contemporary scholars in a single academic work making that claim. Surely their work would cite some traditional sources who spoke about the Neoplatonic theory? If so, you should go and learn those, of course! Or cite them in the question for us. If there aren't any, then all the more you should consider the recommendations I am laying out here.

I recommend reading his whole introduction to Beit Yaacov, but especially chapters 13 onwards for a few chapters. It is in his work Sha'ar HaEmuna VeYesod HaChassidut, and can be found in English on sefaria. Hatzlacha.

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  • one time i scribbled with a ballpoint pen on a piece of tissue paper, and showed it to my brother, saying; "look, i found a manuscript from moshe rabeinu!".
    – user32609
    Nov 4, 2023 at 23:40
  • @eliezer incredible, did the sucker buy it?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Nov 4, 2023 at 23:43
  • apparently it depends on whether he finds the scribbles along with the associated claims useful.
    – user32609
    Nov 4, 2023 at 23:47
  • Note that the OP specifically mentions answers from the Kabbalah as sought
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Nov 5, 2023 at 10:22
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First there are different types and levels of "heresy". For example אפיקורס usually has one meaning (see סנהדרדין י:א) and the word מין might have another meaning.

Second, the obvious problem with your statement is whether you can limit what Hashem can do. It might be one thing to say that הקדוש ברוך הוא "decided" to create a creation that is somewhat perfect and from that to create creation.

You could argue a number of commentaries say exactly this for creation (or at least most things). See Hiyuli and Ramban Genesis 1:1. Nevertheless, I am not necessarily convinced this is a clear proof, since he considers a Spiritual substrate and Physical substrate being created - it is also unclear if these are "perfect" or rather hardly "physical" (which you can argue are more "perfect" or "one").


Your response (I'd like to focus on):

Perfection is identical to Him, all-knowing is identical to Him, etc. and they're all identical to each other, with distinctions being mainly formal/virtual. Hence, if He has free will, which He does, His free will necessarily must also be perfect. Hence, He cannot actualize anything other than the most perfect creation because it would be a contradiction.

If He had multiple choices, then either a) That would introduce composition within His essence, and hence, contingency, thus making Him not necessary existence and making something else be that (G-d forbid). or b) That would imply brute contingency which would contradict the principle of sufficient reason. Hence, He only makes one creation, and this creation is eternal and most perfect contingent creation

This is not a limitation of power. Think of it this way: What would it mean that G-d, blessed be He, just arbitrary and randomly chooses to create whatever? If He can just bring imperfection when He could bring perfection, then how would in Jewish views He be all-good?

I wouldn't say that Hashem and his perfection are identical exactly, more like that we describe Hashem as perfect, but that attribution is actually limiting and therefore incorrect. I similarly wonder if "free-choice" in regard to Hashem is even close to a correct attribution.

Assuming there is some "choice" (as we envision it) - out of pure logic, his unlimited ability would allow him to create everything and anything. Ie: he cannot be limited because then there is no true free-choice and similarly, no true unlimited ability. It is standard Jewish thought to understand that Hashem could do everything and uses Angels and intermediaries for our benefit and for us to learn from; not because he is limited in some way.

Also what is created is here. Is it perfect or imperfect. According to you he created a perfect creation first, that created an imperfect one for us? If he is unlimited why can't he create a creation that must create something with no imperfections, or just create our universe perfect directly? Is that impossible? On the other hand, if this world is perfect there is no issue.

In Judaism there is a general idea that Hashem had a purpose for creation, and created the most perfect creation for that specific purpose. Ie: The purpose was determinative of what was created more then Hashem's essence as you are stating. Similarly the "imperfections" can serve that ultimate purpose, and are usually explained as only potentially there (ie: it is part of the system), and are actualized by man's free choice. **This is part of the mechanics and purpose of the world and therefore, part of the perfect creation. **

The heresy, if it exists, likely lies in the area where you are requiring this to be the only thing Hashem could create. That sounds quite problematic. Why do you need that component? I don't see any reason why that would be necessary. Similarly, the anthropomorphic way you are describing Hashem as being perfect or how he chooses is not obvious to me in Judaism, but once again not obvious to me that it is heresy.

For example: Why don't you state that this "perfect" creation served the purpose of creation for example, even if it means so we can understand his power, uniqueness and perfection? I prefer the Jewish version personally.

I am not an expert at heresy, it is possibly not heresy, but I think that your idea is not standard Jewish thinking. At least the way phrased here. Obvious heresy are things like: Multiple deities, The Torah not being given by Hashem etc....

I do suggest breaking the argument into components and re-asking it as separate questions if you want to know whether any component might be heresy.

27
  • Thank you for your reply. 1) Neoplatonism primarily comes from Plotinus (c. 3th century CE), and not Plato. 2) By "most perfect creation", I mean, most perfectly actualiziable contingent (i.e. dependent) creation. Obviously, G-d, blessed be He, being the necessary existence, and fully independent, cannot be compared to anything - He is His own "category". But among the contingent creations like us, the first creation is the most perfect one. For (3) I will continue below
    – setszu
    Sep 27, 2023 at 22:17
  • 3) Consider this: G-d, blessed be He, is necessary existence, so He cannot not exist. That is a part of His essence - eternity. And since He is one and His essence is one, all of His attributes are identical to each other and His essence. So perfection is identical to Him, all-knowing is identical to Him, etc. and they're all identical to each other, with distinctions being mainly formal/virtual. Hence, if He has free will, which He does, His free will necessarily must also be perfect. Hence, He cannot actualize anything other than the most perfect creation because it would be a contradiction
    – setszu
    Sep 27, 2023 at 22:21
  • Because if He could for example, not exist (G-d forbid), then He would not be the necessary existence. And since He cannot contradict that attribute, He by extension cannot contradict any of His other attributes. So since He is all-powerful as there is nothing external to Him at that point, and nothing that could limit Him, He must actualize only one creation (since He is one, no multiplicity) which is necessarily the most perfect one
    – setszu
    Sep 27, 2023 at 22:24
  • If He had multiple choices, then either a) That would introduce composition within His essence, and hence, contingency, thus making Him not necessary existence and making something else be that (G-d forbid). or b) That would imply brute contingency which would contradict the principle of sufficient reason. Hence, He only makes one creation, and this creation is eternal and most perfect contingent creation
    – setszu
    Sep 27, 2023 at 22:25
  • 1
    @msj121 given the nature of the subject, it would be very good if you add many sources to this answer
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Sep 29, 2023 at 7:17

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