According to some, Maaseh Bereishis means science and Maaseh Merkava means meta-physics.

The Gemara mentions many scientific (and health) statements, many of which the Rambam famously held were inaccurate, and were just the scientific knowledge going around.

What happened to their knowledge of Maaseh Bereishis which allowed them to go "so far off"?

  • Real sources would be appreciated Jun 25, 2014 at 6:12
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    I don't understand the question. Is there an underlying assumption that the referenced Maasim are untainted traditions from Sinai or something? Why else would you see a contradiction between their knowing local science and the science they knew about was wrong?
    – Double AA
    Jun 25, 2014 at 6:24
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    Regarding the question in your title, some did (such as the סבי דפומבדיתא) and some didn't (Chagiga 13a).
    – Fred
    Jun 25, 2014 at 6:34
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    @ShmuelBrin Your link does not say that Maaseh Merkava is philosophy.
    – Double AA
    Jun 25, 2014 at 15:15
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    Why all the downvotes?
    – Yishai
    Jun 26, 2014 at 15:22

1 Answer 1


Here are definitions of Maaseh Bereishis and Maaseh Merkava according to the Gemara.

According to Rashi in Chagiga 13a:

מעשה המרכבה ומעשה בראשית. ברייתות הן

Both Maaseh Bereishis and Maaseh Merkava are Braithot. It's clear from the Sugya there that they refer to things that were not supposed to be taught to students who had not reached a certain advanced level of Yirat Shamayim.

As you can see from an earlier Rashi (ibid), they are part of the hidden parts: of Torah.

סתרי תורה. כגון מעשה המרכבה וספר יצירה ומעשה בראשית והיא ברייתא

According to Tosafot אין דורשין. במעשה בראשית in Chagiga 11b:

במעשה בראשית: פי' ר''ת הוא שם מ''ב אותיות היוצא מבראשית ומפסוק של אחריו

That is, Rabbeinu Tam says that Maaseh Berieshis is some sort of spiritual cause/explanation for the physical world.

Hardly science and philosophy, I would say.

The Rambam towards the end of הלכות יסודי התורה פרק ב says:

וביאור כל העיקרים שבשני פרקים אלו--הוא הנקרא מעשה מרכבה.

That's after explaining the structure of the non-physical world. (To overly summarize 2 heavy chapters in a sentence.)

Towards the end of הלכות יסודי התורה פרק ד he says:

וביאור כל אלו הדברים שבפרק שלישי ורביעי, הוא הנקרא מעשה בראשית

That's after explaining the structure of the physical world. (To overly summarize 2 heavy chapters in a sentence.)

That may explain the Maaseh Bereishis is science and Maaseh Merkava is Philosophy terminology - but it's not science nor philosophy as we know it.

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    According to Rashi and Tosfos it is clearly not. The contrary view is attributed to the Rambam.
    – Yishai
    Jun 25, 2014 at 11:17
  • @Yishai - a source would be helpful. From Hil. Yesodai HaTora Ch. 4:17-18 it seems like the Rambam does not argue. mechon-mamre.org/i/1104.htm Jun 25, 2014 at 11:32
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    It all depends if you take Moreh Nevuchim at face value. I believe he writes in there that if scientific understanding changed, what was written in Mishne Torah would change. I have been told that Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky held that the Rambam held like the opinion in the question, and was thus dismissive of the first 4 chapters of the Rambam as "Aristotelian philosophy". Not that there isn't support for what you write in understanding the Rambam, it is just that the question asked according to the other opinion.
    – Yishai
    Jun 25, 2014 at 13:18
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    Indeed much of this answer is completely irrelevant and I don't know why you included it. Structure of physical and non-physical world is basically what natural science and metaphysics, respectively, are. So I don't know where you are going with this...
    – Double AA
    Jun 25, 2014 at 15:14
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    the rambam wrote the morah navucheem after the meeshnei toro and therefore it is more authoritative than the meeshnei toro when it contradicts the meeshnei toro. see for example what mori qafee7 says in regards to shaluwa7 ha qan. rambam zl in them meeshnei toro says that we dont know the reasoning for it yet in the morah navucheem he says it is for ra7monoth even though the jamoro says not to say it for ra7monoth. Jun 25, 2014 at 20:21

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