what exactly is the difference between the rationalist approach and the non-rationalist approach in Judaism. Have heard the Rambam as belonging to the rationalist side.

I assume both believe in miracles.

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    This question would be a great deal clearer if you would edit in some information about where you've seen these terms. – Isaac Moses Mar 23 '15 at 12:29
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    where you first saw them is less important than some notion of the context[s] in which this question seeks to understand what these words mean. These are English terms that may or may not mean different things in different contexts and may or may not describe well-defined approaches to Judaism. – Isaac Moses Mar 23 '15 at 19:06
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    chayas.com/AntiRAMBAM.pdf – mevaqesh Dec 2 '16 at 4:43
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    This should answer your question. – mevaqesh Feb 2 '17 at 3:19
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    youtube.com/watch?v=KjGl4Ep2B5U&t=1s this is an ok starting point for those who are not in the know. r slifkin in my opinion was too politically correct in his speech. im glad r duwak spoke his few minutes with straight answers without sugar coating. however the terms rational and irrational are not really the words meant to be used. rambam zl wasnt anti mysticism. he believed in meta physics as well. – MoriDowidhYa3aqov May 2 '17 at 12:05

Rationalism in philosophy is more about the method used to achieve conclusions than the underlying conclusions themselves.

Rationalism in religion tends to forbear supernaturalist thinking for scientific style reasoning.

Rationalist Judaism as a philosophical school is a relatively modern and loosely defined construct. "Jewish Rationalists" lay claim that Rambam and Rav Hirsch are antecedants to their school of thought, though whether they were actual rationalists or just wrote works absent mystical reference is a matter of some debate. A Jewish "rationalist" would, however, be inclined toward the style of those two Ba'alei Mesorah rather than, say, Tanya or the Zohar for handling things like metaphysics and miracles.

Bottom line: a rationalist would tend to ignore metaphysics as not empirically observable by humans, so it can't really be ascertained or meaningfully discussed. Historical miracles would be handled in the fashion of the Rambam - as engineered "coincidences" of a grand scope that utilize the rules of nature for uncanny results.

Here's a good discussion of things from the rationalist point of view. The wikipedia page on Jewish philosophy delves into this divide between traditionalist and "rationalist" thinking.

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    Does the wikipedia page contrast raitionalist thinking with tradition thinking? Or is that your word choice? – Double AA Mar 23 '15 at 14:20
  • @doubleaa it references historical rationalist thought among Jewish philosophers and discusses their reception by their contemporaneous traditionalist orthodoxy. – Isaac Kotlicky Mar 23 '15 at 14:23
  • @DoubleAA sample quotes: Sa'adya Gaon denounced Hiwi as an extreme rationalist, a "Mulhidun", or atheist/deviator. ... It was Saadia who laid foundations for Jewish rationalist theology [...] thereby shifting Rabbinic Judaism from mythical explanations of the Rabbis to reasoned explanations of the intellect. ... Contemporary Kabbalists, Tosafists and Rationalists continue to engage in lively, sometimes caustic, debate in support of their positions and influence in the Jewish world. – Isaac Kotlicky Mar 23 '15 at 14:36
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    @IsaacKotlicky 1) Your use of quotation marks is material and incorrect. 2) There's a difference between "traditional" and "traditionalist." 3) There's nothing new about the Rambam. 4) A more precisely descriptive term could be "mystic" or "esoteric." – Isaac Moses Mar 23 '15 at 15:28
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    @IsaacMoses Modified the answer to make clear that Rambam may have used rationalist methodologies, as opposed to being part of a discrete "rationalist school." Better? – Isaac Kotlicky Mar 23 '15 at 16:07

Rationalism in Jewish sense is in not philosophical rationalism but, rather a tool. In analyzing Jewish tradition as there have been many different forms Conservative, Reform, Orthodox, Modern Orthodox, Haredi, and Hasidic. The rationalist in any of these is more of trying to separate falsehoods from truths with the use of reason.

"The biggest stumbling block to love of God is the belief that the only way to remain true to the Bible is to interpret it literally. The result of literal interpretation is a material conception of God, which, in Maimonides’ opinion, amounts to idolatry." (Maimonides Stanford Encyclopedia)

For example, concerning G-d's incorporeality Rambam talks about how some Jews can make the simple mistake of G-d's being corporeal because taking the Torah literally in that sense.

"The biblical texts suggest that God is corporeal and the interpretation of these texts is not a very easy task"(The Guide for the Perplexed). From this, we can conclude that some Jews may be confused, led astray, or be susceptible to conversion to other religions when they misinterpret the Torah. If they can't understand G-d's incorporeality they might lose their faith. This is why Rambam wants to guide Jews to pure monotheism and rationalism, being using reason as a tool is helpful.

Also, to note Rambam, the famous rationalist had created the 13 principles of faith. three of which are like miracles.

  1. The belief in divine reward and retribution.

  2. The belief in the arrival of the Messiah and the messianic era.

  3. The belief in the resurrection of the dead. (Chabad)

The word miracle definition in the Dictionary.com "is an effect or extraordinary event in the physical world that surpasses all known human or natural powers and is ascribed to a supernatural cause."

As it said in the Torah "for dust you are, and to dust you will return." and along with the notion that people can be resurrected is a miracle as itself as people do not see their dead relatives coming back to life.

Also, the Rambam states "The existence of G-d and his unity were admitted as unquestionable by all Jews; all Jews as Jews know that G-d exists and that He is one, and they know this through the biblical revelation or the biblical miracles."(Guide of the Perplexed PG XXI,Volume 1)

Both faith and reason can work together and in Judaism are not conflicting but rather complementary each other. For rationalism it is simply a tool to help us understand G-d and how we are live in a proper state to worship G-d. This proper state should be clear of misunderstandings from superstition to G-d's incorporeality.

The difference between the rationalist and non-rationalist is the focus on reasoning. Rationalist use of reason to help them while, non-rationalist do not use any form of philosophical techniques from the Greeks, Western, British, and etc. All non-rationalist forms of Judaism tend to be mystical rather than philosophical.

  • Normally answers are best when sourced, although in this case the question was very poorly worded, basing itself on the subjective term "rationalist", so that leaves it open to individual interpretation. – mevaqesh May 2 '17 at 18:32

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