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The Rambam famously states regarding the nature of positive prophecies (Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah 10:4):

דברי הפורענות שהנביא אומר כגון שיאמר פלוני ימות או שנה פלונית רעב או מלחמה וכיוצא בדברים אלו אם לא עמדו דבריו אין בזה הכחשה לנבואתו ואין אומרים הנה דבר ולא בא... אבל אם הבטיח על טובה ואמר שיהיה כך וכך ולא באה הטובה שאמר בידוע שהוא נביא שקר שכל דבר טובה שיגזור האל אפילו על תנאי אינו חוזר ולא מצינו שחזר בדבר טובה אלא בחרבן ראשון כשהבטיח לצדיקים שלא ימותו עם הרשעים וחזר בדבריו וזה מפורש במסכת שבת.

[Regarding] prophecies of retribution which a prophet will utter - e.g., "So and so will die," "This or that year will be a year of famine or a year of war," and the like. If his words do not come true, this does not nullify the validity of his prophecy, nor do we say [in condemnation of him]: "Behold, he spoke and his words were not fulfilled."...

... But if [a prophet] promised that good would come and such and such will occur, and the good about which he prophesied did not materialize, he is surely a false prophet. Any good which God decrees - even if [the decree] is provisional - will never be nullified. We only find [God] nullifying a positive prophecy during the destruction of the first Temple. He had promised the righteous that they would not die together with the wicked; however, He nullified this prophecy, as explained in the tractate of Shabbat. (Translation from Chabad with minor edits).

This view has become mainstream; for example, here is an excerpt from Chabad.org's What is Prophecy?:

[O]nce a Divine promise of good is communicated through a prophet it is never retracted; however, if the prophet warns, in the name of G‑d, that a calamity is destined to befall, and it does not occur, this does not disprove his prophecy, since a decree of evil can be removed through prayer and repentance.

However, Yirmiyahu 18:5-10 states:

ה וַיְהִי דְבַר-יְהוָה, אֵלַי לֵאמוֹר. ו הֲכַיּוֹצֵר הַזֶּה לֹא-אוּכַל לַעֲשׂוֹת לָכֶם, בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל--נְאֻם-יְהוָה; הִנֵּה כַחֹמֶר בְּיַד הַיּוֹצֵר, כֵּן-אַתֶּם בְּיָדִי בֵּית יִשְׂרָאֵל. {ס} ז רֶגַע אֲדַבֵּר, עַל-גּוֹי וְעַל-מַמְלָכָה, לִנְתוֹשׁ וְלִנְתוֹץ, וּלְהַאֲבִיד. ח וְשָׁב, הַגּוֹי הַהוּא, מֵרָעָתוֹ, אֲשֶׁר דִּבַּרְתִּי עָלָיו--וְנִחַמְתִּי, עַל-הָרָעָה, אֲשֶׁר חָשַׁבְתִּי, לַעֲשׂוֹת לוֹ. {ס} ט וְרֶגַע אֲדַבֵּר, עַל-גּוֹי וְעַל-מַמְלָכָה, לִבְנוֹת, וְלִנְטוֹעַ. י וְעָשָׂה הרעה (הָרַע) בְּעֵינַי, לְבִלְתִּי שְׁמֹעַ בְּקוֹלִי--וְנִחַמְתִּי, עַל-הַטּוֹבָה, אֲשֶׁר אָמַרְתִּי, לְהֵיטִיב אוֹתוֹ.

5 Then the word of the LORD came to me, saying: 6 'O house of Israel, cannot I do with you as this potter? saith the LORD. Behold, as the clay in the potter's hand, so are ye in My hand, O house of Israel. {S} 7 At one instant I may speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up and to break down and to destroy it; 8 but if that nation turn from their evil, because of which I have spoken against it, I repent of the evil that I thought to do unto it. {S} 9 And at one instant I may speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; 10 but if it do evil in My sight, that it hearken not to My voice, then I repent of the good, wherewith I said I would benefit it.

The Rambam surely knew Yirmiyahu, and therefore how could he hold his opinion that prophecies of good could not be revoked? Is this truly a contradiction, as it clearly seems to be? And, practically, should we stop teaching this Rambam in our Chinuch institutions?

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    Did you mean the "practical" final question seriously? It sounds more than a bit over-the-top. – Isaac Moses May 18 '16 at 2:13
  • When my Navi teacher would explain about Nevuah, he would always teach the Rambam and never the Yirmiyahu. I'm wondering if we should flip the script. – ephraim helfgot May 18 '16 at 11:25
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The Rambam knew the pasuk in Yirmeyahu. Just because one has a question based on a plain-text interpretation of a verse, that doesn't mean that people should stop teaching the Rambam. There are many Biblical verses, and many Mishnayot that are interpreted in ways other than what the plain-text meaning seems to be.

Rambam designed his framework based on other pesukim, including others in Yirmeyahu. The clash between Yirmeyahu and Chananya ben Azzur sets the stage that a public prophecy for good has no "out", and thus would be concrete evidence that Chananya is a false prophet.

Here are three ways the Rambam might have interpreted that verse, namely וְרֶגַע אֲדַבֵּר, עַל-גּוֹי וְעַל-מַמְלָכָה, לִבְנוֹת, וְלִנְטוֹעַ. י וְעָשָׂה הרעה (הָרַע) בְּעֵינַי, לְבִלְתִּי שְׁמֹעַ בְּקוֹלִי--וְנִחַמְתִּי, עַל-הַטּוֹבָה, אֲשֶׁר אָמַרְתִּי, לְהֵיטִיב אוֹתוֹ

1) Radak, that it is regret but not retraction:

אך שמע נא - הענין הזה שאמר לו כי בהבטחת הטובה יבחן הנביא כי אם יבטיח טובה ולא תבא בידוע שהוא נביא שקר כי כל דבר טוב שיבטיח האל אפילו על תנאי הוא בא אבל באמת תסור ממנו הטובה ההיא אם יחטא כמו שאמר ורגע אדבר על גוי ועל ממלכה לבנות ולנטוע ועשה הרע בעיני ונחמתי על הטובה אמנם על כל פנים תחול הטובה ותבא אבל אם יתנבא לרעה ולא תבא כלל לא יודע בזה שהוא נביא שקר שהקב"ה ארך אפים ורב חסד ונחם על הרעה כשעשו תשובה כמו שעשה באנשי נינוה.

That is, when the pasuk says וְנִחַמְתִּי, it means that Hashem regrets it. But that regret doesn't mean that He retracts it.

2) Abarbanel, in how the Rambam would have to interpret it as a private communication:

וכמה ספקות נתחייבו לדעתו זה. אם ראשונה שלפי דרכו זה יצטרך לפרש אשר ידבר הנביא בשם ה' וגומר ביעוד הטוב לא ביעוד הרע ויפרש מאמר ירמיהו (סימן י"ח) רגע אדבר על גוי ועל ממלכה לבנות ולנטוע כשיהיה הדבור לנביא לעצמו ולא שיהיה לנביא שלוח לזולתו. והתנאים והחלוקים האלה לא נזכרו בכתובים. והיה מבואר הקושי אחר שיעמיס הכתובים על כרחם לאמר מה שלא נמצא בהם.

That is, that perforce the communication (dibur) was to the prophet as a private communication but not one to deliver to the people.

3) Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi, that the dibur here is thought.

(See Bereishit 8:2 for vayomer el libo: וַיֹּאמֶר ה אֶל-לִבּוֹ לֹא-אֹסִף לְקַלֵּל עוֹד אֶת-הָאֲדָמָה בַּעֲבוּר הָאָדָם) something internally)

Mizrachi writes:

שכל דבר טובה שיאמר האל אפילו על תנאי אינו חוזר. וליכא לאקשויי מקרא ד"רגע אדבר על גוי ועל ממלכה לבנות ולנטוע ועשה הרעה בעיני לבלתי שמוע בקולי ונחמתי על הטובה" (ירמיהו יח, ט - י), דהתם בדבור של מחשבה קמיירי, כלומר רגע אחשוב על גוי

4) Something else not spelled out above. Just as the above three interpretations wouldn't necessarily occur to someone who spots an apparent contradiction, so too other interpretations might not necessarily occur. I would not jump to the conclusion that the extremely learned Rambam forgot an explicit verse.

  • The Chananiah Ben Azzur story could very easily not be saying what the Rambam takes it to mean. – ephraim helfgot May 18 '16 at 11:26
  • Hashem said, נחמתי** כי המלכתי את שאול למלך כי שב מאחרי ואת דברי לא הקים ויחר** לשמואל ויזעק אל יהוה כל הלילה What does Hashem then say? "Therefore, go anoint a new king." He regrets Shaul's kingship, and so He retracts it. – ephraim helfgot May 18 '16 at 11:30
  • indeed. it, just like the pesukim in Yirmeyahu 18, are subject to interpretation. this is subject the analyses of dikduk, meaning of words, inclination of the commentator. biblical commentators might look globally, optimize one interpretation at the expense of another one. – josh waxman May 18 '16 at 11:30
  • take the Nichamti question up with Radak. He might say that words take a range of meaning, and just because it means X in one place, it does not need to mean precisely X in another place. – josh waxman May 18 '16 at 11:31
  • It takes a whole lot more guts to say Yirmiyahu 18 agrees with Rambam than to say that Chananiah Ben Azzur doesn't support him. As in, it is much more of a stretch. – ephraim helfgot May 18 '16 at 11:31
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Judaica Press explains in Yirmiyahu 18:9 that there is a machlokes between Rambam on the one hand and Abarbene and Ibn Nachmiash on the other hand about this matter. Rambam holds that the prophesy (by a true prophet) will come about but if the people sin, it will not last.

I have also seen referenced (about the decree at Rosh Hashana for the coming year) that if for example the decree is for rain, if the people sin, the rain may come but fall in a counterproductive manner.

Radak also says that

in the case of an unfavorable prophecy, repentance helps to avoid the evil completely, whereas, in the case of the favorable prophesy, the good must come about in any case, only that if the people become wicked, it does not remain.

Additionally, this is explained as not having been a prophesy, but as a decree based on what the people deserve. Hashem had wanted to decree good for Bnai Yisrael, but the constant evil behavior had caused them to merit punishment.

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