Maimonides on the Irrevocability of a Positive Prophecy according to the Oxford Manuscript of the Mishneh Torah

Friday, 8 June, 2018 - 10:36 am

Screen Shot 2018-06-08 at 03.31.23 pm.png 

Summary: The authentic Oxford manuscript of Maimonides' Mishneh Torah omits a section suggesting that positive prophecy is revocable. With a lengthy discussion on the nature and reliability of positive prophecy in Jewish thought, the essay explains why this omission is in fact correct.



One of the names of the night of the Exodus is Leil Shimurim,[1] the night of the watch. This represents the night that G-d guarded Israel and saved the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. Another interpretation is that G-d anticipated and waited longingly for that night when the Exodus would take place to be assured that the promise he had made to the Jewish people that they would be slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt but would then be redeemed[2] would indeed be fulfilled.[3] In other words, G-d was bound by a promise of the Exodus made years earlier to Abraham and was compelled to fulfill the promise.




This essay aims to explore the purposes of a prophet as a future teller and the principle that a promise made by a prophet must always be fulfilled and cannot be abrogated in any circumstances. In particular, I will look at the distinction brought in Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah that there is a difference between good prophecies and bad prophecies: whereas the former must be fulfilled, the latter may be subject to change due to sin. In this regard, I will focus on a variation in the Oxford Huntington 80 manuscript of Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah that omits a section that seems to indicate that there is the possibility for G-d to abrogate a promise for the good in the case of sin.


To explain the view of Maimonides on this complex theological subject, based on the Oxford Huntington version of Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, I will first present the Biblical concept of a prophet as a future teller, and outline the simplistic notion that his veracity is determined by whether his predictions come to fruition or not. I will then proceed to present conflicting case studies and biblical texts that appear to indicate both, a. the principle that a prophecy for the good must occur and cannot be retracted and b. the possibility that a promise for the good may be retracted, indicating that above principle a. is not at all conclusive. In conclusion, I’ll demonstrate that there are indeed two approaches to this subject covering hundreds of years, throughout the medieval commentators, early modern up until the 20th century, whereby Maimonides clearly takes the side of one of these approaches - that a promise for the good may not in fact be abrogated in any circumstance, thus justifying the omission that seems to indicate the opposing approach.


Prophet as future teller


A prophet in the Jewish tradition has three possible purposes: a. to warn the people to repent, b. teach them the law, like Moses, c. and teach them greater levels of wisdom, like the purpose of Messiah as prophet.[4] In all these categories, a prophet by definition is also someone who can predict the future and his predictions must come to fruition. A source for the role of a prophet as future teller is in Numbers:[5] ‘For there is no divination in Jacob and no soothsaying in Israel. In time it will be said to Jacob and Israel, 'What has G-d wrought?' The Midrash explains:[6]


The phrase ‘it will be said to Jacob’ is not in the future tense but in the present tense. Thus, the meaning is: They have no need for a diviner or sorcerer, for any time it is necessary to tell Jacob and Israel what G-d has wrought and what decrees He enacted on high, they do not need diviners or soothsayers, but the decrees of the Omnipresent are transmitted to them through their prophets, or the Urim and Tummim[7] inform them.


In his Introduction to the Mishnah,[8] Maimonides writes: there is no doubt that the Holy One, blessed be He, established prophets for us instead of astrologers and soothsayers and magicians, so that we can ask them general principles and details, and they will inform us of trustworthy things about the future. This is reflected in Deuteronomy, where it states:[9]


Now if you say to yourself, "How will we know the word that the Lord did not speak?" If the prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, and the thing does not occur and does not come about, that is the thing the Lord did not speak. The prophet has spoken it wantonly; you shall not be afraid of him.


Much of the Torah is narrative about future events. This includes, for example, the prediction of the flood before it occurs, Sarah and Abraham giving birth to a child, the destruction of Sodom, the exile of the Jewish people to Egypt, the subsequent exodus, the entry into the land, among many others. In addition, prophets themselves in the Torah are conveying messages about the future. This is in the context of conveying information about the character of Isaac and Rebecca’s children, Moses speaking to Pharaoh about the plagues that will rain down on Egypt if he refuses to let the Jewish people free from slavery, Moses telling the Jewish people about the Exodus, the revelation at Mount Sinai, and end of days being foretold by both Balaam and Moses. In the Books of the Prophets private future telling can be found in the story of Samuel and Saul where the latter couldn’t find his ass, the death of Saul in battle, the birth of Samuel, the birth of Samson, Elisha promising a child to the wife of one of the prophets, among many others. The central theme of the book of Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel are about future exile and tragedy befalling the Jewish people if they don’t listen to G-d.


Future telling as sign of being a prophet


Maimonides codifies the criterion of a prophet to be able to tell the future in his legal work Mishneh Torah:[10]


Any prophet who arises and tells us that G-d has sent him does not have to prove himself by performing wonders like those performed by Moses, our teacher, or like the wonders of Elijah or Elisha, which altered the natural order. Rather, the sign of the truth of his prophecy will be the fulfillment of his prediction of future events, as implied by Deuteronomy:[11] "How shall we recognize that a prophecy was not spoken by G-d?..." Therefore, if a person whose progress in the service of G-d makes him worthy of prophecy arises and claims to be a prophet - if he does not intend to add to or diminish the Torah, but rather to serve G-d through the mitzvot of the Torah - we do not tell him: "Split the sea for us, revive the dead, or the like, and then we will believe in you." Instead, we tell him, "If you are a prophet, tell us what will happen in the future." He makes his statements, and we wait to see whether his "prophecy" comes to fruition or not. Should even a minute particular of his "prophecy" not materialize, he is surely a false prophet. If his entire prophecy materializes, we should consider him a true prophet. We see from this that a prophet will arise for the sole purpose of telling us the future events which will transpire in the world, whether there will be plenty or famine, war or peace, and the like. He even will inform a particular individual regarding his needs. Hence, when Saul lost an object, he went to the prophet to discover where it was. These are the types of things that a prophet will say. He will not come to found a new faith or add or withdraw a mitzvah.


Primary or secondary function


Maimonides defines[12] the prophet as someone who receives Divine emanation through the active intellect to man's rational faculty and then to his imaginative faculty.[13] The power to tell the future is due to an agent that in addition to perfecting the mind and imaginative faculty provides for the conception of ideas that result from premises which human reason could not comprehend by itself. This provides for knowledge of the future with such clarity as if it were already perceived through the senses and as if deduced by means of syllogisms.[14] Whether the primary nature of prophecy is to receive Divine spirit for one’s own perfection, to guide others to perfection or to tell the future, the definition of a true prophet appears to be someone whose prophecies about the future come to fruition,[15] as positively identified with Samuel:[16] “And all of Israel knew that Samuel was trustworthy as a prophet of the Lord.” 


Must all prophecies and promises necessarily come true?


While the idea that a prophet is someone who can tell the future and his prophecies must come to fruition, there are cases that imply that this is indeed the case but equally there are many cases that imply that there is the possibility that prophecies may not come to fruition, presenting a challenge to this principle. The following are a series of cases that appear to confirm the idea that a prophecy must happen and conversely the idea that represents the uncertainly of this principle.


The principle that G-d does not change his mind regarding a promise for the good is articulated as a principle in the Talmud:[17] ‘Rabbi Yoḥanan said in the name of Rabbi Yosei: Every statement that emerged from the mouth of the Holy One, Blessed be He, for the good, even if it was conditional, He did not renege on it.’ The following are a number of cases that illustrates that G-d does not indeed change His mind and retract a promise for the good even if the circumstances under which the promise was made have changed:


1. Exodus


In the foretelling to Abraham about the enslavement of the Jewish people to Egypt it says:[18] ‘And He said to Abram, "You shall surely know that your seed will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and they will enslave them and oppress them, for four hundred years.’ This is the followed by the promise of the Exodus:[19] ‘And also the nation that they will serve will I judge, and afterwards they will go forth with great possessions.’ The promise of a. the exodus and b. leaving with great possession is fulfilled at the time of the exodus:[20] ‘And the children of Israel did according to Moses' order, and they borrowed from the Egyptians silver objects, golden objects, and garments. The Lord gave the people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians, and they lent them, and they emptied out Egypt (with gifts that they were given).’[21] The Talmud[22] comments that G-d requested Moses to instruct the asking for gifts so as to be relieved from His promise to Abraham: ‘Rabbi Yannai said: The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to Moses: I beseech you, go and tell Israel: I beseech you; borrow vessels of silver and vessels of gold from the Egyptians in order to fulfill the promise I made to Abraham in the “Covenant between the Pieces,” so that that righteous person, Abraham, will not say: G-d fulfilled His pronouncement: “And they will be enslaved and afflicted,” but G-d did not fulfill His pronouncement: “And afterward, they will leave with great possessions.”’


2. Moses’ descendants


After the sin of the golden calf, G-d promised to punish the Jewish people with destruction and recreate the people from Moses. In Deuteronomy it states:[23] ‘Leave Me alone; I will destroy them and blot out their name from under heaven; and I will make from you a nation mightier and greater than they’. Even though Moses prayed to have the decree repealed, the promise was nevertheless fulfilled and Moses’ descendants became a ‘nation mightier and greater than the 600,000 Israelites in the desert.’[24]


3. G-d does not relent


It says in Numbers:[25] G-d is not a man that He should lie, nor is He a mortal that He should relent. Would He say and not do, speak and not fulfill?


4. First entry into the land


Regarding the Jewish people entering the land, they were promised in Deuteronomy that there would be no opposition to them conquering the land:[26] ‘For if you keep all these commandments which I command you to do them, to love the Lord, your G-d, to walk in all His ways, and to cleave to Him, then the Lord will drive out all these nations from before you, and you will possess nations greater and stronger than you. Every place upon which the soles of your feet will tread, will be yours: from the desert and the Lebanon, from the river, the Euphrates River, and until the western sea, will be your boundary. No man will stand up before you; the Lord your G-d will cast the fear of you and the dread of you on all the land upon which you tread, as He spoke to you.’ Similarly, in Exodus,[27] it states: ‘I will send My fear before you, and I will confuse all the people among whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you. And I will send the tzir'ah (hornet) [28] before you, and it will drive out the Hivvites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites from before you.’ This is in fact what occurred in the time of Joshua:[29] ‘And you crossed the Jordan and came to Jericho; and the inhabitants of Jericho fought against you, the Amorites, and the Perizzites, and the Canaanites, and the Hittites, and the Girgashites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I delivered them into your hand. And I sent the hornet before you, and it drove them out from before you, even the two kings of the Amorites; not with your sword, nor with your bow.’ Before Joshua passes away he informs the Jewish people that G-d indeed had fulfilled all the promises regarding the promised land that were told to them:[30] And, behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth; and you shall know with all your hearts and with all your souls, that not one thing of all the good things that the Lord your G-d has spoken concerning you has failed; all have happened to you, not one word of it has failed.’


5. Jeremiah and Chananiah ben Azur


In the book of Jeremiah, there is a dialogue between Jeremiah and the prophet Chaniniah ben Azzur. Chananiah ben Azzur conveyed a promise in the name of G-d in the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah king of Judah, saying that the servitude to Babylon will end and the return of Israel from captivity will take place in two years:[31] ‘So said the Lord of Hosts, the G-d of Israel, saying: I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon. In another two years, I will restore to this place all the vessels of the house of the Lord, that Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon has taken from this place and brought to Babylon. And Jeconiah the son of Jehoiakim the king of Judah and all the exile of Judah coming to Babylon, I will restore to this place, says the Lord, for I will break the yoke of the king of Babylon. Jeremiah responded: The prophet who would prophesy for peace, when the word of the prophet would come, the prophet whom the Lord had truly sent would be known…And Jeremiah the prophet said to Chananiah the prophet: The Lord did not send you, and you assured this people with a lie.


Rashi comments that Jeremiah was arguing: I (Jeremiah) prophesy retribution. If it does not come, I am not a liar, for the Holy One, blessed be He, renounces the evil, but the prophet who prophesies for peace, etc., when the word of the prophet comes, etc., but if his word does not come, he is a liar, as it is said, “G-d is not a man that He should lie, etc.”[32] In this manner Rabbi Tanhuma expounded.’[33]


Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi points out that the reprimand by Jeremiah to Chananiah ben Azzur is based on the premise that a promise for the good cannot be retracted even in the case of sin: if this was the case, the reprimand would not be of any value, since if the prophecy does not materialise within two years, one would attribute it to sin. Accordingly, a prophesy for the good must in any event be fulfilled.




A number of sections in the Hebrew prayer book are structured on the concept that G-d promised goodness to the Jewish people through the prophets and it is expected that this will be fulfilled. This is indicated in the following statement in the morning prayer: ‘Fulfill for us, Lord our G-d, the promise which You have made to us in Your Torah through Moses Your servant in Your glorious Name.’ It then proceeds to enumerate the various promises in the prophets for the good. This includes the following statement from Leviticus that G-d will never abrogate His covenant with the Jewish people:[34] ‘I will remember My covenant with Jacob, also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember. Yet even when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not abhor them nor spurn them so as to destroy them and annul My covenant with them, for I am the Lord their G-d. I will remember with favour the covenant with their ancestors, whom I took out of the land of Egypt; I am the Lord.’ In Deuteronomy:[35] ‘Then, the Lord, your G-d, will bring back your exiles, and He will have mercy upon you. He will once again gather you from all the nations, where the Lord, your G-d, had dispersed you.’ Isaiah states:[36] O Lord, be gracious to us! We have hoped for You. Be their arm every morning, also our salvation in time of trouble. Isaiah promises:[37] I will bring them to My holy mount, and I will cause them to rejoice in My house of prayer, their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be acceptable upon My altar, for My house shall be called a house of prayer for all peoples. So says the Lord G-d, Who gathers in the dispersed of Israel, I will yet gather others to him, together with his gathered ones.’ The promise of salvation from troubles is expressed by Isaiah:[38] ‘In all their trouble, He is afflicted, and the angel of His presence saved them; with His love and with His pity He redeemed them, and He bore them, and He carried them all the days of old.’ Jeremiah promises:[39] ‘Ho! For that day is great, with none like it, and it is a time of distress for Jacob, through which he shall be saved.’ Micah writes:[40] ‘Who is a G-d like You, Who forgives iniquity and passes over the transgression of the remnant of His heritage? He does not maintain His anger forever, for He desires loving-kindness. He shall return and grant us compassion; He shall hide our iniquities, and You shall cast into the depths of the sea all their sins. You shall give the truth of Jacob, the loving-kindness of Abraham, which You swore to our forefathers from days of yore.’ Additionally, Zephaniah promises:[41] ‘At that time I will bring them, and at [that] time I will gather you, for I will make you a name and a praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your captivities before your eyes, said the Lord.’


A key text in the Passover Haggadah is about the idea that G-d keeps His promises to Israel:


Blessed be He Who keeps His promise to Israel, blessed be He, for the Holy One, blessed be He, calculated the end of our bondage in order to fulfill His pledge to Abraham made in the covenant bayn habetarim, as it is stated:[42] "And He said to Abram: 'Know with certainty that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not their own. The natives will enslave them and oppress them for 400 years. But, ultimately, I will execute judgement upon the nation they shall serve and, afterwards, they shall leave with great wealth.'"


The author of the Haggadah continues that His promise of the exodus is not only in the past but also for the future, in every generation, despite change of circumstances:[43]


It is this (promise) that has stood by our ancestors and us. It is not only one that has risen up against us to destroy us. Rather, in every generation, they rise against us to annihilate us. However, the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hand.


Another instance in the Haggadah where G-d is held to account for a promise of salvation is the paragraph recited immediately after the fourth cup of wine has been poured towards the end of the Passover Seder, where it states: ‘Pour out Your wrath upon the nations that do not acknowledge You, and upon the kingdoms that do not call upon Your Name.[44] For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation.[45] 14th century Rabbi David Abudarham writes[46] that the inclusion of this passage in the Passover Hagaddah is a request for G-d to fulfill His promise for justice for the suffering of the Jewish people. According to the Jerusalemite Talmud the four cups of wine at the Passover Seder are themselves a demonstration of the demand for promised justice to be fulfilled:[47]


And rabbis say: They correspond to the four cups of retribution that the Holy One Praised be He will give the nations of the world to drink: 1. For thus said the Lord, the G-d of Israel to me:  Take from My hand this cup of wine of wrath and make all the nations to whom I send you drink of it.[48] 2.  Flee from the midst of Babylon for this is a time of vengeance for the Lord. He will deal retribution to her.  Babylon was a golden cup in the Lord's hand and it made the whole earth drunk.[49] 3. For in the Lord's hand there is a cup with foaming wine fully mixed; from this He pours; all the wicked of the earth drink, draining it to the very dregs.[50] 4. He will rain down upon the wicked blazing coals and sulfur, a scorching wind shall be the portion of their cup.[51]




The idea that G-d makes a promise and He may be relied upon is applied in Jewish law to a person who does not have enough money to buy food for Shabbat, He may borrow beyond his means and rely on G-d for its repayment. The Talmud states:[52]


What is meant by: For the joy of G-d is your security?[53] G-d told the Jewish people: ‘My children! Borrow for me, recite Kiddush, believe in Me, and I shall reimburse you!’


The Tosafists[54] and Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel, known as the Rosh (1250-1327), limit this to a person who has collateral to repay the loan. If he doesn’t have collateral he should not rely on a miracle.[55] Other commentaries argue that the collateral is not intended for the repayment, but rather a person may rely on G-d to repay the loan beyond the person’s means.[56] This is reflected in the Talmudic statement: ‘G-d makes to a Jewish person that the expenses spent on Shabbat are not included in the annual anticipated earned income of a person’s livelihood.’[57]


G-d may change His mind


On the other hand there are a number of cases that illustrate G-d may change His mind and retract a promise:


1. Man


The first instance of G-d changing His mind is in the creation of man at the beginning of Genesis. It first states:[58] ‘And G-d created man in His image; in the image of G-d He created him; male and female He created them. And G-d saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good.’ Then it states the opposite:[59] ‘And the Lord saw that the evil of man was great in the earth, and every imagination of his heart was only evil all the time. And the Lord regretted that He had made man upon the earth, and He became grieved in His heart. And the Lord said, "I will blot out man, whom I created, from upon the face of the earth, from man to cattle to creeping thing, to the fowl of the heavens, for I regret that I made them.”’


2. Jacob


G-d first promised protection to Jacob when he travelled to Laban to find a wife:[60] “And behold, I am with you, and I will guard you wherever you go, and I will restore you to this land, for I will not forsake you until I have done what I have spoken concerning you." In the house of Laban before returning to Canaan, G-d promised Jacob a second time:[61] ‘And the Lord said to Jacob, Return to the land of your forefathers and to your birthplace, and I will be with you.’ When Jacob was confronted with Esau, however, he feared G-d may have retracted His promise of protection:[62] ‘Jacob became very frightened and was distressed; so he divided the people who were with him and the flocks and the cattle and the camels into two camps. And Jacob said, "O G-d of my father Abraham and G-d of my father Isaac, the Lord, Who said to me, “Return to your land and to your birthplace, and I will do good to you.” I have become small from all the kindnesses and from all the truth that You have rendered Your servant, for with my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps.’


3. Moses


G-d promised the Jewish people they would be liberated from Egypt. However, Moses questioned their worthiness of redemption, first, when Dathan and Abiram informed Pharaoh about Moses striking the Egyptian. It says Moses had fear[63] that the people were not worthy of redemption.[64] Secondly, after G-d promised Moses:[65] So now come, and I will send you to Pharaoh, and take My people, the children of Israel, out of Egypt," Moses responded: ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should take the children of Israel out of Egypt?’ The Midrash explains that the intention of Moses was:[66] ‘What merit do the Israelites have that a miracle should be wrought for them, and I should take them out of Egypt?’ Polish Rabbi David ha-Levi Segal (c. 1586 - 1667) comments that Moses’ concern was that sin may have caused the promise of the exodus to be revoked, similar to Jacob.[67] Thirdly, when Moses initially approached Pharaoh to let the people free, and Pharaoh responded with increased labour, Moses returns to G-d and says: ‘Why did you send me?’[68] Rabbi David ha-Levi Segal explains, in this case also, Moses feared that sin had got in the way of G-d’s promise, thus putting into doubt any purpose in being sent to Pharaoh.[69] A fourth case with Moses is when G-d reassures Moses:[70] ‘For I shall be with you,’ but in the battle against Og the king of Bashan, G-d had to tell Moses:[71] ‘Do not fear him.’ The Midrash[72] explains that Moses, similar to Jacob, had fear of sin that may have cancelled the promise that G-d will protect him.[73]


4. David


The prophet Nathan promises David:[74] ‘And I will appoint a place for My people, for Israel, and I will plant them, and they will dwell in their own place, and be disturbed no more; and the wicked people shall not continue to afflict them as formerly. This was clearly abrogated with the many trials and tribulations David suffered.


5. Solomon


David is given a promise that his son Solomon will reign after him:[75] ‘Behold a son will be born to you; he will be a man of peace, and I shall give him peace from all his enemies around about, for Solomon will be his name, and I shall give peace and quiet to Israel in his days. He shall build a House in My Name, and he shall be to Me as a son, and I to him as a Father, and I shall prepare the throne of his kingdom forever.’ However, later on, despite the earlier promise, a request for Solomon to inherit the kingship had to be made to Zadok the priest to confirm it will actually take place:[76] ‘And King David said, "Call to me Zadok the priest, and Nathan the prophet, and Benaiahu the son of Jehoiada," and they came before the king. And the king said to them, "Take with you the servants of your lord, and you shall cause Solomon my son to ride on my own mule, and bring him down to Gihon. And Tzadok the priest and Nathan the prophet shall anoint him there as king over Israel, and blow the horn and say, "(Long) live King Solomon." And you shall come up after him, and he shall come and sit on my throne, and he shall reign in my stead, and I have appointed him to be ruler over Israel and over Judah. And Benaiahu the son of Jehoida answered the king and said, "Amen, may the Lord, G-d of my lord the king say so too. As the Lord was with my lord the king, so shall He be with Solomon and make his throne greater than the throne of my lord King David.’ The Midrash[77] suggests that despite the promise that Solomon will inherit David’s throne, there was a possibility that this would be retracted due to opposition.


6. Israel


A promise was made to the Jewish people that when they enter Israel with Joshua it would be a miraculous conquest with no opposition.[78] This in fact occurred as mentioned in Joshua.[79] However, in Deuteronomy the people who were to enter the land were told that they should: ‘Love G-d with all your heart, all your soul and all your might.’ The commentaries explain that ‘All your soul’ means that one should be prepared to even surrender their life.[80] As this is told to them in the context of entering the land[81] this contradicts the promise that there would be no need to fight in battle when conquering the land, as the entry will be without opposition.[82]


7. Babylon


When Nebuchadnezzar exiled the Jews to Babylon Jeremiah wrote to them from Jerusalem with a promise that the exile will last seventy years after which they will return:[83] ‘For so said the Lord: For at the completion of seventy years of Babylon I will remember you, and I will fulfill My good word toward you, to restore you to this place.’ When seventy years from the time Nebuchadnezzar subjugated Jehoiakim, king of Judah (608 to 598 BC) passed, Daniel began fasting fearing that the Jews had sinned and redemption was delayed.[84] Daniel records:[85] In the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, contemplated the calculations, the number of the years that the word of the Lord had come to Jeremiah the prophet, since the destruction of Jerusalem seventy years. And I turned my face to the Lord G-d to beg with prayer and supplications, with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. And I prayed to the Lord my God, and I confessed, and I said, "Please, O Lord, O great and awesome G-d, Who keeps the covenant and the loving- kindness to those who love Him and keep His commandments. O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do, do not delay; for Your sake, my G-d, for Your Name is called upon Your city and upon Your people." In a vision, angel Gabriel informed Daniel that the counting of the seventy years commenced when the Temple was actually destroyed in 586 BCE, eighteen years after the subjugation of Jehoiakim, thus assuring Daniel that the promise stands.


8. Jeremiah


Jeremiah writes that G-d can change His mind at any time He wants:[86] ‘As this potter can I not do to you, O house of Israel? says the Lord. Behold, as clay in the potter's hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. One instant I may speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to uproot and to demolish and to destroy. And when that nation repents of its evil for which I spoke concerning it, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do to it. And at one instant I may speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant, And it will do what is evil in My eyes, not to hearken to My voice, I will repent of the good I said to benefit it.’


9. Jeremiah – marriage and divorce


In Song of Songs, Solomon depicts the relationship between the Jewish people and G-d as a marriage. The Talmud portrays Mount Sinai as the wedding canopy and the Torah as the marriage document. Jeremiah, in this light condemns Israel’s idolatrous practices and banishment from the land as divorce:[87] ‘And I saw, because of all that backsliding Israel had committed adultery, I sent her away, and I gave her her bill of divorcement, yet treacherous Judah, her sister, did not fear, and she too went and played the harlot.’ On the other hand Isaiah clarifies that no divorce was actually given:[88] ‘So said the Lord, "Where is your mother's bill of divorce that I sent her away?’ and Ezekiel states that despite the sin of harlotry ‘I shall remember My covenant with you in the days of your youth, and I shall establish for you an everlasting covenant.’[89] Lamentations Rabbah[90] suggests a divorce was given but seized back immediately.[91]


10. Ezekiel


Before the destruction of the first Temple, G-d promised Ezekiel[92] the righteous would not die together with the wicked. According to the interpretation of the Talmud,[93] the promise was retracted and the righteous died with the wicked.[94]


11. Ezra


A promise was made that the entry to the land under Ezra would be the final entry with no further exile. This is based on an interpretation of the verse:[95] ‘Until Your people will cross, Lord, until the people You have acquired will cross. You bring them in and plant them in the mountain of Your inheritance, the place, Lord, which You made for Your dwelling.’ The Talmud interprets homiletically that the first statement: ‘Until Your people will cross’ refers to the first entry to Israel with Joshua, and the second statement: ‘Until the people You have acquired pass over’ refers to the second entry following the Babylonian exile with Ezra. Based on the juxtaposition of these two entries, the Talmud compares them together: ‘Israel was worthy of entering the land without being subject to any foreign power in the time of Ezra the scribe, similar to how they entered the land triumphantly in the time of Joshua bin Nun.’ In reality, due to sin, the entry under Ezra was only with the kind permission of Cyrus the Great[96] and the Jews continued to be subject to Persian rule until Darius III.[97]


12. Rabbi Akiva


The Talmud states that Rabbi Akiva questioned the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zachariah. The Talmud relates:[98]


It happened that Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Elazar ben Azaria, Rabbi Joshua and Rabbi Akiva went up to Jerusalem. When they reached Mt. Scopus, they tore their garments. When they reached the Temple Mount, they saw a fox emerging from the place of the Holy of Holies. The others started weeping; Rabbi Akiva laughed. Said they to him: “Why are you laughing?” Said he to them: "Why are you weeping?" Said they to him: “A place so holy that it is said of it, 'The stranger that approaches it shall die,’[99] and now foxes traverse it, and we shouldn't weep?" Said he to them: “That is why I laugh. For it is written, ‘I shall have bear witness for Me faithful witnesses—Uriah the Priest and Zechariah the son of Jeberechiah.’[100] Now what is the connection between Uriah and Zechariah? Uriah was in the time of the First Temple, and Zechariah was in the time of the Second Temple! But the Torah makes Zachariah's prophecy dependent upon Uriah's prophecy. With Uriah, it is written: ‘Therefore, because of you, Zion shall be plowed as a field; Jerusalem shall become heaps, and the Temple Mount like the high places of a forest.’[101] With Zachariah it is written, ‘Old men and women shall yet sit in the streets of Jerusalem.’[102] “As long as Uriah's prophecy had not been fulfilled, I feared that Zechariah's prophecy may not be fulfilled either. But now that Uriah's prophecy has been fulfilled, it is certain that Zechariah's prophecy will be fulfilled.” With these words they replied to him: “Akiva, you have consoled us! Akiva, you have consoled us!”[103]


Rabbi Jacob Ettlinger (1798 – 1871) suggests Rabbi Akiva did not question the prophecy of Zachariah but rather the timing, thinking it was only relevant to the rebuilding of the second Temple but not the third. When realising Uriah’s negative prophecy in the destruction of the second Temple he became hopeful that the prophecy of Zachariah is relevant also to a third Temple.[104] Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn (1902-1994), known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe, argues that Rabbi Akiva interpreted the two prophecies as a single prophecy; when the first part was fulfilled the second was considered to have begun already, causing joy to Rabbi Akiva.[105] The wording of Rabbi Akiva’s suggests however some degree of doubt in the fulfillment of the prophecy: ‘As long as Uriah's prophecy had not been fulfilled, I feared that Zechariah's prophecy may not be fulfilled either.’[106]




The opposing views may be summarized in the following opposing Biblical passages:


1. Deuteronomy states a promise by a true prophet must occur.[107]

2. Jeremiah states a promise must be fulfilled only for the good.[108]

3. Jeremiah states a promise is always subject to change due to change in circumstances.[109]

4. Ezekiel states G-d changed His mind even regarding a promise for the good, as what occurred in the first Temple.[110]


Two views in the Talmud


Similarly, the opposing views in the Talmud may be summarized by the statement in Berachot: ‘Every statement that emerged from the mouth of the Holy One, Blessed be He, for the good, even if it was conditional, He did not renege on it.’ This is contradicted by the Talmudic interpretation of Ezekiel:[111] ‘And you shall commence from My sanctuary’ that G-d did change His mind during the First Temple period and punished the righteous along with the wicked due to the sin that the righteous did not rebuke the wicked.[112]


Two views persist through medieval and modern period


The aim to resolve these opposing views is the subject of rabbinic writings from 11th century continuing to the 20th century. As the Biblical texts fall on both sides of the debate, the commentaries may also be summarized by two approaches: 1. Upholding the principle that a promise for the good may not be retracted in any circumstances despite sin, siding with the view of Jeremiah in his dialogue with Chananiah ben Azur, and subsequently laid down as a principle in the Talmud tractate Berachot. 2. Upholding the second view in Jeremiah that G-d can always change His mind due to circumstantial change in the case of sin. From each of these premises respectively the particular arguments are made how to reconcile the sources that seem to imply the opposite. We will present the various answers in the order of chronological history of the Biblical commentaries.


1. Rashi and Rashbam: – positive – negative distinction


Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (1040-1105), known as Rashi, in his commentary to Deuteronomy, maintains that the verse in Deuteronomy:[113] ‘Now if you say to yourself, How will we know the word that the Lord did not speak? If the prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, and the thing does not occur and does not come about, that is the thing the Lord did not speak,’ is referring to the dialogue between Jeremiah and Chananiah ben Azur whereby Jeremiah tells Chananiah ben Azur that his promise for the good that the Jews will return from the Babylonian exile after two years must come true, in contrast to Jeremiah’s negative promise of seventy years that need not come true. Similarly, Deuteronomy is only referring to positive prophecies that if they do not come true it would imply a false prophet whereas if a negative prophecy does not come true it would not imply a false prophet. Rabbi Shmuel ben Meir, known as Rashbam (1085 - c. 1158), grandson of Rashi, makes this point clear by commenting in Deuteronomy that the rule that all true prophecies must come true is with the exception of cases where a negative promise was made, for example the death of Hezekiah in the book of II Kings[114] and the destruction of Ninveh in the book of Jonah, both of which were changed due to repentance.[115] Both Rashi and Rashbam thus accept the premise that prophecies for the good may not be abrogated in any event, while negative promises may be abrogated.


Maimonides: positive and negative


Maimonides also makes a distinction between a promise for the good that must occur and a negative promise that need not occur if man repents, thus explaining the verse in Deuteronomy[116]. In his Introduction to the Mishnah he writes:[117]


When the prophet prophecies drought in their land or that hailstones should come down on them, and similar to it; and afterwards none of this matter materializes, and they are shown mercy from the Heavens and all of their concerns ended in peace and tranquility. The deceit of the prophet is not shown by this, and it is not fitting to say because of this that he is a false prophet and that he should be obligated in death; as it is because the Holy One, blessed be He, thought better about the calamity. And it is possible that they repented and left their vexations or that the Holy One, blessed be He, delayed their deserts in His compassion and stayed His anger until a different time – as He did with Achav, when He said through Eliyahu[118], “’I will not bring the disaster in his lifetime; I will bring the disaster upon his house in his son’s time.’” Or He may have had mercy upon them for the sake of the merits of those that came before them. And it did not say about a thing like this, "The oracle does not happen and does not come." If the prophet promised good proclamations that will arise at a specific time, and he says, “There will be quiet and tranquility this year,” and there were wars in it; or he said, “This year will be rainy and blessed,” and there was famine and drought, and similar to it – we know that he is a false prophet, and that the negation of his claim and his falsehood have been established. This is because when the Holy One, blessed be He, promised a saying about good proclamations through a prophet, it is impossible that He not do it; so that His prophecy be established for people. And this is what they, peace be upon them, said[119] “Regarding anything that comes out of the mouth of the Holy One, blessed be He – even on condition – He does not go back on it.”


This distinction is also codified in Maimonides’ legal code Mishneh Torah:[120]


The above principles do not apply to 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." This is because the Holy One, Blessed be He, is slow to anger, abundant in kindness, and forgiving of evil. Thus, it is possible that they will repent and their sin will be forgiven, as in the case of the people of Nineveh, or that retribution will be held in abeyance, as in the case of Hezekiah. This does not apply regarding prophecies for the good. 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 G-d decrees - even if the decree is provisional - will never be nullified. We can conclude from this that a prophet should be tested on the basis of his positive prophecies. This was what Jeremiah meant by his reply to Chananiah ben Azur, when he was prophesying doom and Chananiah was promising a glorious future. He told Chananiah: "If my words are not fulfilled, this will not lead to the conclusion that I am a false prophet. If your promises are not fulfilled, however, it will be proven that you are a false prophet," as implied by Jeremiah:[121] "Hear, now, this word... As for the prophet who prophesies for peace, when the word of the prophet shall come to pass, it will be known that God has truly sent this prophet."


As Rashi and Rashbam, Maimonides’ view is that a promise for the good is not subject to change and must always occur, while a negative promise is subject to change in the event the person repents.


2. Nachmanides - no retraction, just self-reflection


Nachmanides similarly argues that a promise for the good may not be retracted in any event. He however makes a distinction between the certainty of a promise for the good and the necessary constant self-reflection of righteous people who consider the possibility that they have sinned thereby nullifying such a promise for the good.[122]


3. Maimonides, Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi: public and private promise


Maimonides[123] in his introduction to his Commentary to the Mishnah makes a further distinction between a promise made by G-d privately to a prophet and a promise to be conveyed without condition to the people in public. While the former may be invalidated through sin, the latter may not be cancelled under any circumstance. This distinction is also mentioned by Biblical commentator Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi (c. 1455 – 1525)[124] and Rabbi Abraham de Botton (c. 1560-c. 1605) in his commentary to Mishneh TorahLechem Mishneh.[125]


4. Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi - thought and speech


Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi makes a further distinction between a promise and change of heart expressed in the realm of the thought of G-d and one articulated by speech. G-d may retract a promise or decision in the realm of His thought, but cannot articulate as such in the form of speech.[126] This explains the two cases when G-d appears to change His mind: at the time of the flood[127] and in Jeremiah. In Jeremiah it states:[128] ‘And at one instant I may speak concerning a nation and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant, And it will do what is evil in My eyes, not to hearken to My voice, I will repent of the good I said to benefit it.’ In both these cases, the change of heart would have been expressed in thought as opposed to speech.[129]


5. Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi, Rabbi David Kimhi – full and partial


Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi and Rabbi David Kimhi (1160–1235) make a further distinction made between complete retraction of a promise for the good and partial retraction. The principle that no retraction of a promise for the good can be made is only pertaining to a complete retraction but a partial retraction is possible, as long as it does not cancel the promise completely. This distinction is relevant to the return of the Jews under Cyrus the Great. Although Moses promised that the Jews will return triumphantly with total conquest of the land under Ezra as occurred with Joshua, the non-fulfillment of this promise does not constitute an abrogation as the Jews did return but just not in a triumphant manner.[130]


6. Gersonides – a. moral and factual; b. future and present; c. mediated and unmediated


Rabbi Levi ben Gershon (1288–1344), known as Gersonides,[131] argues that moral prophecies are always subject to the possibility of change. He concedes that when a good promise is made requiring the mediation of a human being, like the prophecy about the return of the Temple vessels within two years after the Babylonian exile, as opposed to direct providence of G-d, it is unlikely to change. Certainly negative and positive prophecies directly from G-d are subject to change. When Deuteronomy states that prophecy may not change it is only referring to matters of the future that are neither good nor bad or matters in the present.[132] In summary, Gersonides argues that there is no case that one can limit G-d by saying that a moral promise is not subject to change.


7. Hasdai Crescas – if there’s a sign, no retraction  


Spanish-Jewish philosopher Hasdai Crescas (1340-1410) poses a question on Gersonides’ view due to the verse in Deuteronomy that suggests there must be an absolute indication of a false prophet. He proceeds to argue that it is true that a prophecy for the good or bad is subject to change besides for a case that a sign is given, as when Moses was sent to the Jewish people in Egypt with the promise of redemption[133] and Elijah on Mount Carmel,[134] in which case it cannot be changed.[135]


8. Isaac ben Moses Arama – no sin, no change


Spanish Rabbi Isaac ben Moses Arama (c. 1420 – 1494), author of Akedat Yitzchak,[136] also maintains that a promise is always subject to change whether for the good or bad. The verse in Deuteronomy is merely stating the obvious that where there is no circumstantial change a promise will occur. Regarding the verse in Ezekiel that suggests there was change even in a case where there was no circumstantial change between the time of the promise and the occurrence, he argues this was not a change of mind but rather an internal debate without resolution.[137] In summary, he agrees in principle with Hasdai Crascas and Gersonides that a promise is subject to change.


9. Rabbi Judah Loew (I) – promise and prophecy


Rabbi Judah Loew ben Bezalel (1520-1609)[138] rejects the distinction between public prophecy and private prophecy and instead makes a distinction between an assurance or promise (havtacha) and prophecy (nevuah). A promise is dependent on the recipient and is therefore subject to change if the circumstance in the future changes on behalf of the person who is the recipient of the promise. A prophecy by definition is a statement about a matter of fact framed in the past tense that is not subject to change. This is indicated in Chananiah ben Azzur’s statement in the past tense:[139] “I have broken the yoke of the king of Babylon.” Rabbi Loew argues that the statement in the Midrash also indicates this distinction:[140] There is no promise for the righteous in this world. The reason is due to the possibility of sin. Similarly, the promise of a triumphant return of the Babylonian exile was also a promise but not a prophecy, as was the promise that Solomon would inherit the kingship after David in Chronicles I that was subject to change, thus necessitating a further confirmation in Kings I towards the end of David’s life.


10. Rabbi Judah Loew (II) - explicit and implicit


Rabbi Judah Loew makes a further distinction between an explicit and implicit promise derived from one of the thirteen methods of exegesis of the Torah.[141] In the case of the former, the promise cannot be retracted, whereas when the details of the promise are derived from extrapolation as in the case of the comparison of the return of the Babylonian exile with the entry to the land under Joshua, the details may be subject to change due to sin, as long as the overall promise remains intact from G-d’s perspective.


11. Rabbi Mordechai Yoffe – omniscience negates possible retraction


Rabbi Mordechai Yoffe (1530-1612) upholds the view that a distinction may be made between public and private prophecy, as does Maimonides in his Introduction to the Mishnah and Rabbi Elijah Mizrachi. He also maintains however that G-d may always retract a prophecy if there is sin that makes the prophecy for the good underserving. He reconciles this by arguing that the statement of the Talmud that a promise for the good can never be retracted is a statement of fact that G-d would not issue a promise knowing full well that man will in the future sin and the promise will be annulled, as this would undermine the credibility of prophecy and the numerous promises that the Torah foretells. The partial cancellation of a prophecy due to sin however is a possibility as it will not necessarily put in doubt the integrity of the Torah, as one will justify its partial cancellation as being due to sin. Similarly, a private prophecy for the good may also be cancelled due to sin, as a prophet will not doubt the validity of the Torah in such a case, since a righteous individual will know that the reason for the cancellation of the promise is due to sin.[142]


12. Rabbi Mordechai Yoffe – retraction and substitution


Rabbi Mordechai Yoffe makes an additional distinction between a promise for the good that merely remains unfulfilled and a promise that is regretted and changed to something negative.[143] This would explain the case of Ezra whereby the return of the Jews to Israel under Cyrus was merely the lack of fulfillment of a promise - return to Israel without constraints - but not a regret and substitution with a punishment.[144]


13. Rabbi Shmuel Eidels – sin and use of merit cause for retraction


Rabbi Shmuel Eidels (1555 – 1631) argues that a retraction of a promise for the good is possible if there are two factors: sin and the use of existing merit. If there is only sin or the only the use of merit due to kindness already shown to the person, a promise for the good is not able to retracted.[145] This explains the concern of Jacob when confronting Esau that since he had already received G-d’s kindness and feared sin, it rendered him no longer worthy of the promise of Divine protection. The only case where both factors were not present due to the close proximity of the promise to the retraction, not enabling the excuse of sin and use of merit to be a factor, is during the destruction of the first Temple when the righteous were killed with the wicked.


14. Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi – constant fear of sin


Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1813), known as the Alter Rebbe, argues that fear of sin as in the case of Jacob is not fear of actual sin but rather: a. A feeling of diminishment before the Divine that the righteous constantly have in their heart. b. Past sin is always before the person. The first idea is expressed in the Biblical command: ‘And you shall love G-d with all your soul.’[146] This is not merely a commandment in the context of the entry into the land with Joshua that the Jewish people should be prepared to surrender their life, but something every person should aspire to constantly: to be prepared to surrender their life for G-d, whether completely or partially through negation of one’s evil inclination and temptation of sin. Rabbi Schneur Zalman writes in Tanya:[147] ‘The fulfilment of the Torah and its commandments is dependent on being constantly aware of one's readiness to surrender one's life to G-d for His Unity's sake, so that this awareness be permanently fixed in one's heart and not depart from one's memory night and day. For in this way is one able to face one's evil nature and vanquish it always, at any time or moment, as has been explained.’ Similarly, the idea that sin should always be constantly before the person is based on the verse in Psalms: My sin is always before me.


The idea of constant awareness of one's evil nature and desire to surrender one’s life before G-d’s unity, and awareness of the residues of past of sin, even after complete atonement, is, as Nachmanides writes, the state of being of the righteous and not in contradiction with the notion that G-d’s promise for the good cannot be retracted. The fear of sin, according to Nachmanides and the Alter Rebbe, is merely part of the eternal struggle of the righteous to attach oneself to the Divine. They both would be of the opinion that a promise for the good is not able to retracted.


15. Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn – an irretrievable arrow; free choice


Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn, known as the Lubavitcher Rebbe (1902-1994), offers two opposing approaches: a. A promise by G-d for the good may be compared to an arrow that once released cannot be retrieved, thereby validating the Talmudic statement: ‘Every statement that emerged from the mouth of the Holy One, Blessed be He, for the good, even if it was conditional, He did not renege on it.’[148] b. There is always the possibility that despite a promise for the good by G-d, fear of sin is legitimate, and can be a cause for G-d to retract.[149] The rationale is that a promise made by G-d indeed determines reality, as a released arrow that cannot be retrieved, and forms part of the natural world (gidrei hab’riah) accordingly. A person’s action however through his or her free choice has the ability to counter the natural world as determined by G-d’s promise.[150]




In summary, there are two points of view: a promise for the good may never be changed, as is the view of Maimonides in the Mishneh Torah, Rashi, Rashbam and Nachmanides, and the view that a prophecy may be subject to change if there is sin. The latter has many different variations as outlined above.




Screen Shot 2018-06-08 at 03.49.04 pm.png

The view of Maimonides in Mishneh Torah presented earlier appears then to follow the view that a promise for the good cannot be changed despite sin, as per the view of Rashi, Rashbam and Nachmanides. In some versions of Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, however, an exception to this rule is mentioned, stating there is a single case where a promise for the good was reneged: during the destruction of the first Temple when the righteous perished with the wicked. In the standard editions of the Mishneh Torah it includes the following paragraph:[151]


We find G-d nullifying a positive prophecy only 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.


This paragraph can be found in the 16th century editions of Alvise Bragadin and Marco Antonio Giustiniani, printed in Venice 1550, as well as early manuscriptsincluding a Yemenite manuscript found in the Shechter collection. It is found as a marginal note in another Yemenite manuscript found in the Shechter collection, as well as the manuscript of the Mishneh Torah found in the Anglican Library in Rome, though these both may have been added from the printed Venice edition. This version with the additional paragraph was the copy that Rabbi Abraham de Boton (c. 1560 – c. 1605) used in the 17th century when he wrote his classic commentary to the Mishneh Torah.[152] It is in fact the standard copy used by most people today. In the Oxford MS Huntington 80 edition of the Mishneh Torah[153], as well as other early manuscripts of Yemenite, Sephardic and Ashkenazic origin, and early Sephardic printed editions, they all have this text omitted.[154]


In principle it makes sense that the exception has been included. The reason for the retraction of the promise not to punish the righteous with the wicked was due to the claim that the righteous were complicit in the sins of the wicked, as they did not protest their behaviour, despite the fact any protest would have gone unheeded. While this explains what the nature of the sin is for which they were held accountable, it does not explain why the promise was revoked, if G-d does not retract a promise for the good. It is for this reason that the exception of the First Temple Period is a genuine one that defies the principle, as none of the qualifications above seem applicable. Due to this being the case, it is understandable that Maimonides in some versions includes this exception.


I would like to argue however that, based on the extensive above study outlining two principle views on this subject in Jewish theology 1. the view that suggests the existence of exceptions to the rule of no retraction of a positive promise, and 2. the view that retraction is not possible in any event (as per the Talmud in Berachot)[155], it would be inconsistent for Maimonides who quotes the Talmud in Berachot outright that a retraction of a good promise is not possible, to then proceed to align himself with an opposite text from the Talmud that points to the opposing view in Jewish theology that exceptions to the rule do exist. To summarise this argument: the additional text is inconsistent with Maimonides’ view in his legal code Mishneh Torah.[156]


Explicitly in the tractate of Shabbat


I would like to argue further that a reason for not including the exception is due to reluctance on the part of Maimonides in fully accepting the case as an exception. This is alluded to in the version of the manuscript that includes the exception, either in the text or in the margin, but states that this exception is mentioned “explicitly in the tractate of Shabbat.” The provision of this source is uncharacteristic for Maimonides who deliberately does not mention any sources in his code. He was subject to withering criticism for this and went as far as stating his intention to correct this but did not have the time. This was left to the great 16th century commentaries on Maimonides, the Kesef Mishneh by Rabbi Joseph Karo and Lechem Mishneh by Rabbi Abraham be Dotton. In the medieval period after the close of the Talmud and the end of the Gaonic period following the closure of the great academies of Sura and Pumbeditha in Babylon, and the beginning of the movement of Jews to Ashkenazi lands, two styles of rabbinic works emerge: one that continued to rely on the Talmudic text to articulate Halacha, and one that does not, making Jewish scholarship more accessible. The former may be seen in the work of the Tosafists, the code of the Rosh by Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel, Rif by Rabbi Isaac Alfasi, Mordechai by Rabbi Mordechai ben Hillel, Sefer Mitzvot Gedolot by Rabbi Moses of Cucci, Sefer Mitzvot Ketanot by Rabbi Isaac of Crobeil, Sefer Ha’agudah by Rabbi Alexander Suslin HaKohen (d. 1349), among others. The latter include rabbinic works like Rashi’s commentary on the Torah, Maimonides Mishneh Torah, up until Rabbi Joseph Karo, whose code of Jewish law is the standard legal work and does not contain the exact wording of the Talmud or even a reference.[157] For this reason, commentators believe this note about the exception of the First Temple period with a reference to Talmud tractate Shabbat could not have been written by Maimonides but rather added by an unknown hand. We have thus explained two reasons why the comment should be omitted: Inconsistency in the view of Maimonides by the inclusion of an exception and inconsistency in the style of his work by inclusion of a reference to the Talmud:


A third argument why the addition should have been omitted may also be made by analysing the language used in the comment itself while referencing the Talmud in the tractate of Shabbat: ‘as explained (meforosh) in the tractate of Shabbat.’ The word meforosh means: explicit, explained, distinct or clear. It is found in Nechemiah:[158] ‘And they read in the scroll, in the Law of G-d, distinctly (meforosh), and gave sense, and they explained the reading to them.’ Similarly, in Midrash Tanchuma it states:[159] It is a clear Biblical verse (Mikra meforosh hu). In the case of this text, the meaning would be it’s explained clearly in the Talmud. Being that the work of the Talmud is an exegetical work with the employment of interpretations of verses of the Torah that are not necessarily explicit in the verse, the use of the phrase ‘as explained (meforosh) in the tractate of Shabbat’ would imply that while the Biblical verse may not be explicitly interpreted as such, due to the simple meaning perhaps meaning something different, it is explained as such clearly in the Talmud.


As a reference to the use of this language, one may look at the commentary of Rashi on the Torah that also generally does not reference the Talmud or other works of rabbinic literature, despite clearly utilising them as the basis for his commentary in innumerable places. As with the additional text in Maimonides, Rashi also makes an exception and references the Talmud in numerous places. When looking at the various places where Rashi does reference the Talmud, there are two reasons for this: to indicate that Rashi is of the opinion that while the Talmud is a valid interpretation of the Torah and thus the application of the law derived from it, it may not be the simple understanding of the Biblical text, known as ‘pshat’, which is his primary concern in his commentary. For this reason Rashi would state that in tractate such and such of the Talmud this is the way the verse is expounded.[160]


An example of this is the laws of impurity, where it states in the book of Leviticus:[161] ‘Or if a person touches anything unclean, whether it is the carcass of an unclean wild animal, or the carcass of an unclean domestic animal, or the carcass of an unclean creeping animal, and it was hidden from him, he incurs guilt.’ The Torah seems to be instructing that a person should always maintain oneself in a state of ritual purity. The Talmud interprets this however to mean that one need only be concerned about purity while entering the Temple or eating sacrificial food. At all other times, there is no concern for being in a state of purity.[162] Rashi accepts this interpretation of the Talmud, and writes: ‘This is how the Talmud[163] expounds this verse in the tractate of Shavuot (kach nidrash b’msechte Shavuot).’ Another context for a reference to the Talmud is to highlight that the Babylonian Talmud quotes numerous interpretations and views on the subject. An example for this is regarding which of the five sons of Jacob were presented to Pharaoh by Joseph when they came down to Egypt, which the Torah does not state explicitly,[164] and how the Torah scroll lay adjacent to the tablets in the ark, on a shelf protruding from the ark or inside the ark itself,[165] among other cases.


One may apply the same approach to Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah when it references in this single instance the Talmud, according to the versions that have this included. Tractate Shabbat refers to the exception to the rule that G-d does not renege on a positive promise. The exception is from the book of Ezekiel when G-d reneged on His promise not to kill the righteous with the wicked and proceeded to do just that. I would like to propose that referencing the Talmud as the source for this exception is ironically indicating that this is not actually the simple reading of the text; it is rather a Talmudic interpretation. Indeed, when looking at the various Biblical commentaries on the text in Ezekiel[166] there are ways of reading the text that do not pose a contradiction to the principle that G-d does not retract a promise for the good.


The text in Ezekiel states:


Old man, young man, and maiden, young children and women, you shall slay utterly, but to any man upon whom there is the mark you shall not draw near, and you shall commence from My sanctuary. So they commenced from the old men who were before the House (u’mimikdoshi tacheilu).’


The simple meaning of this text is, as Biblical exegetes Rashi, Rabbi Joseph Kara (c.1065 – c.1135), Rabbi David Kimchi (1160-1235), and David Altschuler (18th century) explain, that ‘From those standing before My sanctuary’ refers to those standing before My sanctuary who sinned most grievously by worshipping idolatry in the Temple itself. Rashi brings as a second commentary the interpretation of the Talmud:


Our Rabbis said: Do not read וּמִמִּקְדָשִּׁי, and from My sanctuary, but וּמִמְּקֻדָשַּׁי, and from My sanctified ones, from those sanctified to Me. They are the ones marked with the sign, whom He had warned [them] not to hurt. [Now] He reneged and commanded [the angels] to destroy [even] them because the Divine standard of justice contended before Him, “Why are these different from those? Is it not so that they did not protest?” As is stated in Tractate Shabbath (55a).




In conclusion: The additional text included in Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah alluding to this Talmudic interpretation is intended not to present Maimonides’ view that G-d does renege sometimes on a promise for the good, which would be inconsistent with Maimonides’ views, as explained earlier, but on the contrary, to highlight that the Talmudic statement that seems to imply an exception to the rule from the work of Ezekiel is not in fact a sufficient proof to undermine this principle, since the interpretation is based on a Talmudic interpretation that is not the simple meaning of the text, as pointed out by the Biblical commentators themselves. These commentators either ignore the Talmudic interpretation, as Rabbis Joseph Kara, David Kimchi and David Altschuler do, or place the Talmudic interpretation as secondary, as Rashi does, stressing that a prioritization should be given in this case to the simple meaning of the text, which does not present a difficulty to the principle that G-d does not, as an absolute rule, renege on a promise for the good.[167] According to the above analysis, the additional text in Maimonides does not belong in the text due to it being a. contradictory to Maimonides’ own view on the subject, b. out of character with the style of Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, and c. is unnecessary due to prioritisation of the simple meaning of the Biblical text in Ezekiel. In the final analysis, the third point – highlighting the exception from Ezekiel as a Talmudic interpretation as opposed to the simple (pshat) meaning of the text - suggests that the amendment itself may be intended or at least implies the confirmation of the view of Maimonides in his legal code that G-d does not renege on a promise for the good in any circumstance.






[1] Exodus, 12:42: ‘It is a night that is guarded by G‑d to take them (Israel) out of Egypt, this night remains to G‑d a night that is guarded throughout the generations.’

[2] Genesis 15:13-14.

[3] Rashi on Exodus, 12:42: ‘For which the Holy One, blessed be He, was waiting and anticipating, in order to fulfill His promise to take them out of the land of Egypt.’

[4] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings.

[5] 23:23.

[6] Midrash Tanchuma Balak 14, Numbers Rabbah 20:20, as quoted in Rashi’s commentary to Numbers 23:23.

[7] The Divine name of G-d written on parchment in the breastplate of the High Priest.

[8] Section 7.

[9] 18:21.

[10] Mishneh TorahYesodei haTorah 10:1.

[11] 18:21.

[12] Guide for the Perplexed, Volume 2, chapter 33-37 (translator: Michael Friedlander, Dover: New York, 1904), p. 225-228.

[13] The distinction between passive and active intellect is made by Aristotle and later adopted by Maimonides and Aquinas. See “Aquinas: An introduction to the life and work of the great medieval thinker”, F.C. Copleston, Penguin, 1955, p. 181.

[14] Volume 2, chapter 38.

[15] 18:19-20.

[16] I Samuel 3:20.

[17] Berachot 7a.

[18] Genesis 15:13.

[19] Genesis 15:14.

[20] Exodus 12:35-36.

[21] Rabbi Chaim ben Moshe ibn Attar comments in his commentary Ohr Hachaim that from the additional statement ‘they emptied Egypt’, beyond the request for loans, we derive the Egyptians in fact forced their valuables on the Jews more that what they asked for, justifying them keeping the items as a gift.

[22] Berachot 9a-b. Exodus Rabbah.

[23] 9:14.

[24] In I Chronicles (23:15-17), it states regarding Moses’ offspring: ‘The sons of Moses: Gershom and Eliezer…and the sons of Eliezer were Reḥaviya the chief. And Eliezer had no other sons; and the sons of Reḥaviya were very many.’ The Talmud derives from the description ‘many’ the following (Berachot 7a): ‘Rav Yosef taught in a baraita: “Many” means more than 600,000. This is learned through a verbal analogy between the words ‘many’ and ‘many.’ It is written here with regard to Reḥaviya’s sons: “Were very many.” And it is written there with regard to the Israelites in Egypt (Exodus 1:7): “And the children of Israel became numerous and multiplied and were very many, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them.” Just as when the children of Israel were in Egypt, very many meant that there were 600,000 of them, so too the descendants of Reḥaviya were 600,000.’

[25] 23:19.

[26] 11:22-25.

[27] 23:27-28.

[28] Rashi comments: This was a kind of flying insect, which would strike the people in their eyes, inject venom into them, and they would die (Tanchuma 18). The tzir’ah did not cross the Jordan, and the Hittites and the Canaanites are those of the land of Sihon and Og. Therefore, out of all the seven nations the Torah did not count any but these. As for the Hivvites, although they were on the Western side of the Jordan, in tractate Sotah (36a) our Rabbis taught: It stood on the bank of the Jordan and cast venom upon them. An alternative view in the Talmud (Rav Papa) is that there were the tzir’ah in the time of Moses that did not cross the Jordan and the tzir’ah in the time of Joshua that did cross the Jordan.

[29] 24:11-12.

[30] Joshua 24:14.

[31] 28:1-17.

[32] Num. 23:19.

[33] Vayera 13.

[34] 26:42-45.

[35] 30:3-5.

[36] 33:2.

[37] 56:7-8.

[38] 63:9.

[39] 30:7.

[40] 7:18-20.

[41] 3:20.

[42] Genesis 15:13-14.

[43] Abudarham commentary on the Haggadah.

[44] Psalms 79:6.

[45] Psalms 79:7. In early texts of the Haggadah there are only two verses. The standard Haggadah has four verses. Machzor Vitry includes nine verses. The Passover Haggadah in MS CCC 133 at Corpus Christi College includes 11 verses: (1) Pour out Your wrath upon the nations that do not acknowledge You, and upon the kingdoms that do not call upon Your Name (Psalms 79:6). (2) Pour out Your indignation upon them, and let the wrath of Your anger overtake them (Psalms 69:25). (3) You shall break them with an iron rod; like a potter's vessel you shall shatter them (Psalms 2:9). (4) Give them, O Lord, what you will give; give them a bereaving womb and dry breasts (Hosea 9:14). (5) Give them according to their deeds and according to the evil of their endeavors; according to the work of their hands give to them; return their recompense to them (Psalms 28:4). (6) Give them a weakness of heart; may Your curse be upon them (Lamentations 3:65). (7) Pursue them with anger, and destroy them from beneath the heavens of the L-rd (Lamentations 3:66). (8) May they be erased from of the book of life and not be inscribed with the righteous (Psalms 69:29). (9) May their palace be desolate; in their tents let there be no dweller (Psalms 69:26). (10) May their table before them become a trap, and [their hope] for peace become a snare (Psalms 69:23). (11) For they have devoured Jacob and laid waste his habitation (Psalms 79:7).

[46] Abudarham commentary on the Haggadah.

[47] Jerusalemite Talmud Pesachim 10:1.

[48] Jeremiah 25:15.

[49] Jeremiah 51:6-7.

[50] Psalm 75:9.

[51] Psalm11:6.

[52] Beitza 15b.

[53] Nechemia 8:10.

[54] Beitza 15b.

[55] Hagohat Ashri. Regarding such a person, the contrary statement in the Talmud is applicable: Treat your Shabbat like a weekday and do not require the assistance of others (Pesachim 112a).

[56] Likkutei Sichot vol. 16, p. 180. The Rebbe explains the collateral is merely meant to show an appearance of the person’s effort in the repayment but not used in the repayment that would undermine the promise that G-d made, as recorded in Nechemiah (8:10), to repay the loan.

[57] The Talmud says (Beitza 16a): The entire sustenance of man [for the year] is fixed for him from New Year's Festival to the Day of Atonement, except the expenditure for Sabbaths and the expenditure for Festivals and the expenditure for the instruction of his children in the Law; if he spent less for any of these he is given less and if he spent more, he is given more.

[58] Genesis 1:27-31.

[59] Genesis 6:5-7.

[60] Genesis 28:15.

[61] Genesis 31:3.

[62] Genesis 32:8-11.

[63] Exodus 2:14.

[64] Rashi on Exodus 2:14 according to Midrash Tanchuma Shemot 10.

[65] Exodus 3:11-12.

[66] Exodus Rabbah 3:4. Rashi on Exodus 3:12.

[67] Divrei David on Exodus 3:12.

[68] Exodus 5:22.

[69] Divrei David on Exodus 5:22. Likkutei Sichot 16, p. 50.

[70] Exodus 3:12.

[71] Numbers 21:34.

[72] Genesis Rabbah 76:1 according to the interpretation of Rabbi Abraham ben Asher in his commentary B’or Hasechel (Venice 1567), brought in Matnat Kehuna commentary on the Midrash (Likkutei Sichot 36, p. 2).

[73] Moses’ fear of personal sin is not however a reason to explain why Pharaoh didn’t listen to Moses initially because it was a personal mission but on behalf of the Jewish people, whereby his personal sin would have no bearing of such a mission (Likkutei Sichot 16, p. 50).

[74] II Samuel 7:10. See Ralbag, Sefer Milchamot Hashem.

[75] I Chronicles 22:9-10.

[76] I Kings 1:6-8.

[77] Genesis Rabba 76:2.

[78] Deuteronomy 11:22-25; Exodus 23:27-28.

[79] 24:14.

[80] Rashi on Deuteronomy 6:5.

[81] Deuteronomy 6:1-3.

[82] This question is raised in the Tanya (ch. 35) by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1813).

[83] Jeremiah 29:1; 29:10.

[84] Talmud Megillah 12a.

[85] Daniel 9:1-4; 9:19; 20-27.

[86] 18:5-10.

[87] Jeremiah 3:8.

[88] 50:1. Sanhedrin 105a: Shmuel says: Ten people came and sat before the prophet Ezekiel. He said to them: Repent. They said to Ezekiel: In the case of a slave sold by his owner to another master, or a woman divorced by her husband, does this person have any claim upon that person? Since God gave the Jewish people to other masters, the ties that existed between Him and us were severed. The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to the prophet: Go say to them: “Where is your mother’s scroll of severance, with which I sent her away? Or to which of My creditors have I sold you? For your iniquities you sold yourselves and for your transgressions was your mother sent away” (Isaiah 50:1). Learn from this that God did not sever His ties to the Jewish people.

[89] 16:60.

[90] 1:3.

[91] Other difficulties with the concept that G-d uses the legal framework of a get (divorce) to describe the relationship between Jewish people and G-d after sinning with idolatry is the law that there must be the complete transfer of the bill from the husband to the wife with no possibility of retraction (Gittin 78b), which is inapplicable to an omnipresent G-d. The Lubavitch Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneersohn argues that a more suitable metaphor is the idea of a separation but not divorce, similar to a husband travelling overseas, one day to return (Likkutei Sichot vol. 9, p. 146).

[92] 9:4-6.

[93] Shabbat 55a.

[94] It says in Ezekiel (9:4-6): ‘And the Lord said to him, "Pass through the midst of the city, through the midst of Jerusalem, and you shall mark a sign upon the foreheads of the men who are sighing and moaning over all the abominations that were done in its midst." Old man, young man, and maiden, young children and women, you shall slay utterly, but to any man upon whom there is the mark you shall not draw near.’ The Talmud (Shabbat 55a) explains this process: ‘Go and inscribe a tav of ink on the foreheads of the righteous as a sign so that the angels of destruction will not have dominion over them. And inscribe a tav of blood on the foreheads of the wicked as a sign so that the angels of destruction will have dominion over them.’ Despite the sign, the promise to protect the righteous was retracted and the righteous died with the wicked. This is indicated in the subsequent statement (9:6): ‘And you shall commence from My sanctuary. So they commenced from the old men who were before the House.’ The Talmud (ibid) explains that the instruction to commence from ‘My sanctuary’ refers to the righteous. The Talmud comments: ‘Rav Yosef taught: Read not: My Sanctuary (mikdashi), rather: Those sanctified to Me (mekudashai). These are people who observed the whole Torah in its entirety from alef through tav.’ The Talmud explains the reason for the retraction: ‘It was in the hands of the righteous to protest the conduct of the wicked, and they did not protest.’ In Jewish law one is considered accountable for sin if one can protest but refrains. See Talmud Shavuot 39b and Sanhedrin 93a relating to Zachariah 3, where Joshua the High Priest was punished for not protesting his sons marrying women unsuitable for the priesthood.

[95] Exodus 15:16–17.

[96] Ruled 559-530 BCE.

[97] Ruled 330-335 BCE.

[98] Makkot 24b.

[99] Numbers 1:51.

[100] Isaiah 8:2.

[101] Micah 3:12.

[102] Zacharia 8:4.

[103] This question is posed in Likkutei Sichot vol. 24, p. 69 based on the statement in the Talmud Berachot 7a that G-d does not renege on a prophecy for the good even it is conditional.

[104] Aruch La’Ner commentary to Makkot 24b.

[105] Likkutei Sichot vol. 24, p. 77. Due to this perception Rabbi Akiva was able to perceive positivity in the midst of tragedy. Rabbi Francis Nataf, in a lecture presented at the Oxford University Chabad Society on 7 May, 2018, entitled ‘Hegel, history and the confusion of Sefirat Haomer’, explained in a similar vein that Rabbi Akiva was expressing the Hegelian concept of history that life and death are two sides of the same coin. He was therefore able to see goodness and rebirth within the destruction.

[106] It would appear then that upon Rabbi Akiva seeing the fulfillment of the negative prophecy, which constitutes punishment for sin, he became certain that the positive prophecy will indeed be fulfilled.

[107] 18:21: ‘Now if you say to yourself, How will we know the word that the Lord did not speak? If the prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, and the thing does not occur.’

[108] 28:1-17.

[109] 18:5-10.

[110] 9:4-6.

[111] 9:6.

[112] This was despite the fact that rebuke would have been futile. Since this was unknown to the righteous that it would have been futile they were held accountable for not doing so (Shabbat 55a).

[113] 18:21-22.

[114] 20:1-6.

[115] Jonah 3:10.

[116] The metaphor is like an arrow that has been shot and cannot be retrieved. G-d’s hand is forced in the fulfillment of the promise by His own will that promises for the god cannot be retrieved (Likkutei Sichot 1:126).

[117] Section 8.

[118] I Kings 21:29.

[119] Berachot 7a.

[120] Yesodei haTorah 10:4.

[121] 28:7-9.

[122] Nachmanides on Genesis 32:13: it is the way of the righteous to always have fear and Jacob feared that even between the time he left the house of Laban and encountered Esau he sinned by entering into a pact with Laban, who was an idol worshiper, or in some other way – indeed only G-d knows about inadvertent sins.

[123] Introduction to the Mishnah, Section 7: ‘This teaches that the Holy One, blessed be He, promises good, and yet the iniquities overcome it and this good does not materialize. But it is to be known that this matter is only between the Holy One, blessed be He, and the prophet. However that the Holy One, blessed be He, should say to the prophet to promise a good proclamation to other people in an absolute statement without any condition and it not materialize, such a thing is null and it is impossible for it to be. As otherwise there would be no room for us to establish the trustworthiness of a prophet, and the Holy One, blessed be He, gave us in our Torah the fundamental principle that a prophet is tested when his promises are validated.’

[124] Mizrachi on Genesis 32:8.

[125] First published in Venice 1609.

[126] This explains why G-d ‘thought’ to change His mind before the flood to destroy humanity but in speech to Noah He was unable to do so but rather continue through Noah (Likkutei Sichot vol. 15, p. 30).

[127] 6:5-7.

[128] 17:5.

[129] Mizrachi on Genesis 32:8 pertaining to the statement of Jeremiah.

[130] Mizrachi on Genesis 32:8. The same argument may be made regarding Noah. G-d reneged on his decision to create man at the time of the flood but not completely as he kept Noah and his family alive in order to begin again humanity from his progeny.

[131] Akeidah 96.

[132] Akeidah 96.

[133] Exodus 4:8-9.

[134] I Kings 18:20–39.

[135] Akeidah 96.

[136] Spanish rabbi and author. He was head of the rabbinical academy at Zamora, served as rabbi to the community in Tarragona, and later of Fraga in Aragon. He officiated finally in Calatayud as rabbi and head of the Talmudical academy. Upon the expulsion of the Jews in 1492, Arama settled in Naples, where he died in 1494.

[137] Akeidah 96.

[138] Gur Aryeh on Genesis 32:8.

[139] Jeremiah 28:2.

[140] Genesis Rabba 76:2.

[141] The Baraita of Rabbi Ishmael in the introduction to the Sifra.

[142] L’vush Ha’orah on Genesis 32:8.

[143] Mizrachi argues that this distinction is invalid since Jeremiah indicates to Chananiah ben Azzur that even if a promise that had been made for the good is merely not fulfilled, the prophet it considered a false prophet, as Rashi comments (from the Midrash Tanchuma) on Jeremiah (28:7): “but if his word does not come, he is a liar.” Similarly, Maimonides would not agree with this distinction. See Yesodei HaTorah 4:10, where it states that the mere non-fulfillment of a promise for the good is not possible with G-d: “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 G-d decrees - even if the decree is provisional - will never be nullified.”

[144] The above distinction will help reconcile seven of the above cases where a promise for the good was abrogated or was thought to have been able to be abrogated. The statement by Ezekiel and the death of the righteous together with the wicked during the destruction of the first Temple remains however unanswered, as the promise was articulated in the form of a prophecy to the people and from the time the promise was made until the retraction there was no time for a sin to have occurred or the use of reward to have been able to been a cause for the retraction of the promise. For this reason some versions of Maimonides mentions this single exception to the rule of no retraction of a promise for the good.

[145] Commentary to Talmud Shabbat 4a. See also Rashi on Genesis 32:11 that mentions both factors: “I have been diminished by all the kindness” (Genesis 32:11) refers to the lessening of merit due to kindness already displayed, as well as the fear of the cause of sin.

[146] Deuteronomy 6:5.

[147] Ch. 25.

[148] Likkutei Sichot vol. 1, p. 126 (1954).

[149] Sichot Kodesh 5726, Shemot; Likkutei Sichot vol. 36, p. 3-6 (1966). The Rebbe argues that trust (bitachon) in G-d’s kindness can itself cause that even when one is not worthy, the situation will be positive (tracht gut vet zein gut).

[150] Sefer Hamamarim Melukat 4, footnote 45 (1969). This explanation is presented in a footnote to explain the statement in the Ten Commandments: You shall not kill. According to Rabbi Schneur Zalman this statement is a command but also expressed in the form of a promise: You will not kill. The will of G-d that is revealed at Mount Sinai forms human nature to be against killing. Due to sin, however, man’s nature remain unchanged and only through gradual self-perfection, man’s nature will change for the good. The Rebbe argues that there is no inherent contradiction between the promise and man’s action based on the above rationale.

[151] Yesodei ha-Torah 10:4.

[152] Yalkut Shinuyei Nuschaot, Shabse Frankel edition of the Mishneh Torah, haMada, p. 519.

[153] Fol. 46a.

[154] In the Venice edition the words ‘as explained in the tractate of Shabbat’ are omitted.

[155] 7a.

[156] It’s possible to argue that Maimonides himself is not consistent between his legal code Mishneh Torah that seems categorical in his view that G-d will not renege on a promise for the good, and his view as articulated in his Introduction the Mishneh that allows for more flexibility by making a distinction between private promise to a prophet that may be reneged and a public promise. This would however not undermine our argument against inconsistency within the work of the Mishneh Torah itself. There are numerous cases where Maimonides would be express different opinions between his various works due to the nature of the particular but would be expected to be consistent within each work.

[157] Sefer H’itur, Arba Turim, Etz Chaim.

[158] 8:8.

[159] Vayera 10.

[160] See Leviticus 5:2; 6:5; 7:12; 7:20; 7:26; 4:10.

[161] Leviticus 5:2; 16:17.

[162] Nachmanides suggests that the law is self understood and one does even need to resort to Talmudic interpretation. This is a major point of contention between the Rabbinic tradition and the Karaits. See ‘An introduction to Karaite Judaism: History, Theology, Practice, and Custom’, p. 82.

[163] Shavuot.

[164] Genesis 46:2.

[165] Deuteronomy 31:26.

[166] 9:6.

[167] The question of whether G-d may retract a promise for the good due to circumstantial change is based on two opposing arguments: firstly, the statements: ‘G-d does not relent or subject to change’ and ‘For I, the Lord, have not changed’ reflect the notion that G-d is not man whose conduct is subject to change. On the other handJewish theology recognizes that one cannot say that G-d has greater limitation to that of a human being. As a person may promise something for the good but in the event of subsequent unworthiness of the recipient due to their own freewill, a promise may be be retracted, the same should be true regarding G-d. If this were not the case, the idea of reward and punishment would be irrelevant. A consideration in support of G-d not reneging a promise for the good despite sin is the idea that punishment and reward reflects only one aspect of the relationship between the Jewish people and G-d. Beyond that, however, there is an underlying aspect of the relationship that will always remain despite circumstantial change. It is on this existential level that one may attribute the principle that G-d does not relent. This would also imply that, despite the language of divorce used in Jeremiah, divorce is not in fact possible with Israel. Similarly, it is on this existential level that the exodus was inevitable as is the future redemption of Israel, as promised by the prophets. The existence of the Divine is thus on two levels: G-d that is revealed within existence and G-d that transcends existence. The former is subject to change in terms of responding to man by exacting punishment for sin and offering reward for merit. In this context the will of G-d may change in response to the conduct of man. On the transcendent level G-d is not subject to change and does not relent despite sin. It is the transcendent will of G-d that is the cause for the unchanging promise for good, as discovered by the gentile prophet Bil’am who was sure the sins of Israel would be grounds for his curses to be manifest, only to realize that this framework, while rationally sound, was subject also to a second framework that ultimately defies the first, if not in full, as with the Exodus, at least in part, as with return of the exile with Ezra.



Comments on: Maimonides on the Irrevocability of a Positive Prophecy according to the Oxford Manuscript of the Mishneh Torah
There are no comments.