Epistle to Yemen/XI
|←page x||Epistle to Yemen [xi]
|Iggeret Teiman, translated by Boaz Cohen, notes by Abraham S. Halkin|
view of the Mosaic pronouncement "unto us and unto our children forever." Such a one we would declare a false prophet and would execute him if we had jurisdiction over him. We would take no notice of the miracles that he might perform, just as we would disregard the wonder-working of one who seeks to lure people to idolatry, as we are enjoined in the verse "And the sign or wonder came to pass ... thou shalt not hearken unto the words of that prophet" (Deuteronomy 13:3). Since Moses, of blessed memory, has prohibited image worship for all the time, we know that the miracles of a would-be-seducer to idolatry are wrought by trickery and sorcery, Similarly, since Moses has taught us that the Law is eternal, we stamp definitely as a prevaricator any one who argues that it was destined to be in force for a fixed duration of time, because he contravenes Moses. Consequently we pay no attention to his assertions or supernatural performances.
Inasmuch as we do not believe in Moses because of his miracles, we are under no obligations to institute comparison between his miracles and those of others. Our everlastingly firm trust and steadfast faith in Moses is due to the fact that our forebears as well as he, had heard the Divine discourse on Sinai, as it is intimated in the Scripture, "and they will also believe thee forever" (Exodus 19:9). This event is analogous to the situation of two witnesses who observed a certain act simultaneously. Each of them saw what his fellow saw and each of them is sure of the truth of the statement of his fellow, and does not require proof or demonstration, whereas other people, to whom they would report their testimony, would not be convinced without confirmation or certification. Similarly, we of the Jewish faith, are convinced of the truth of the prophecy of Moses, inasmuch as our ancestors in common with him witnessed the Divine revelation on Sinai, and not merely because of his miracles.9 He performed all of these only as the occasion demanded and as is recorded in Scripture.
We do not give credence to the tenets of a miracle worker, in the same way we trust in the truth of Moses our Teacher, nor does any analogy exist between them. This distinction is a fundamental principle of our religion, but seems to have fallen into oblivion, and has been disregarded by our co-religionists. This thought was present in the mind of Solomon when he addressed the Gentiles in behalf of Israel, "What will you see in the Shulamite? as it were a dance of two companies." (Song of Songs 7:1). The verse means to say, "If you can produce anything like the revelation on Sinai then we shall concede some misgivings concerning Moses."
If a Jewish or Gentile prophet urges and encourages people to follow the religion of Moses without adding thereto or diminishing therefrom, like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and the others, we demand a miracle from him. If he can perform it we recognize him and bestow upon him the honor due to a prophet, but if he fails to do so, he is put to death. We require only a miracle as his credentials, although it may be wrought by stratagem or magic, just as we accept the evidence of witnesses although there is a possibility of perjury. For we are divinely commanded through Moses to render judgment in a suit at law in accordance with the testimony of two witnesses, the possibility of false swearing notwithstanding. Similarly we are enjoined to yield obedience to one who asserts that he is a prophet provided he can substantiate his claims by miracle or proofs, although there is a possibility that he is an impostor. However, if the would-be-prophet teaches tenets that negate the doctrines of Moses, then we must repudiate him. This point was made abundantly clear in the introduction to our large work on the commentary of the Mishnah, where you will find some useful information concerning principles which form the foundation of our religion, and the pillars of our faith.
It is incumbent upon you to know that the rule that nothing may ever be added to or diminished from the Laws of Moses, applies equally to the oral law, that is the traditional interpretation transmitted through the sages of blessed memory. Be cautious and on your guard lest any of the heretics, may they speedily perish! mingle among you, for they are worse than apostates. For although this country is, as you know, a place of scholars, students and schools, they indulge in bombastic talk and we warn our people against their occasional errors, heresies and mistakes. As for you, in this distant country, although you are scholars, learned in the law, and pious, you are few in number, may God increase your number and hasten the time of gathering you all together. If any of the heretics rises up to corrupt the people, they will undermine the faith of the young folks and they will not find a savior. Beware of them and know that it is permitted to slay them in our opinion for they repudiate the statement in the prophecy of Moses who commanded us
9 Cf. Maimonides, Hilkot Yesode ha-Torah VIII.3.