Monday, October 03, 2011

Rabbi Isaac Lampronti's reconciliation of bodily resurrection and reincarnation in a disputation with a converted Jew.

Paolo Medici was an 18th century Italian convert to Christianity. By his own testimony, Medici converted at age 15 in Livorno. He became a priest and a major polemicist against Judaism, in writing, as well as in person. I think his most famous book is his Riti e Costumi dei Ebrei confutati (Refuting the Rites and Customs of the Jews; Florence 1736) which he consciously intended as a rebuttal to Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh Modena's own Riti, which he (legitimately) felt glossed over many Jewish customs and beliefs which he regarded as superstitious. In his introduction, he accuses Modena, in his book, of "concealing the evil" in Judaism. He particularly deplores the fact that Jews, when arguing with Christians, deny the teachings of the rabbis, which they actually regard as far more binding than Scriptures. His book, by the way, enjoyed a resurgence of popularity in the late 19th century by two groups: antisemites on the one hand and those Jews and non-Jews who sought to refute the blood libel on the other. They pointed out that Medici makes no mention of it (see here).

For example, in discussing the death and burial practices, Medici refers to various rabbinic beliefs about pain in the grave, such as חיבוט הקבר ("chibut ha Keber"), and that they also believe that those who died on Friday, or are buried in the Holy Land, are exempted from this. He regards this as clear evidence of the silliness and errors of Judaism. He then treats belief in gilgul, the transmigration of souls, and similarly finds this lacking sense. One of the reasons is that it is not the body, but the soul, that is the real man. Thus, stripped of the soul, how then could one explain the eventual resurrection of the dead, if the soul - the same one - is detached from several bodies?

Medici writes that he disputed with the great Rabbi Isaac Lampronti, who (he insultingly adds) "claims" to have graduated from a university with degrees in Philosophy and Medicine. Citing Abarbanel, that Adam, David and the Messiah, shared the same soul, then how could they possibly be resurrected from the dead? A soul can only inhabit one body at a time. If the suggestion is that the soul is divisible, then that means it is material, which is clearly a mistake. Furthermore, just as one soul could inhabit three bodies, then it could inhabit a thousand. Obviously this is wrong.

Medici says that Lampronti replied that in the time of resurrection God will takes limbs from many bodies - an arm from this one, a leg from that one - and the sould will inhabit this body, made of several people. Medici says he laughed when he hears this, and told Lampronti that this is as ridiculous as making a garment out of various kinds of fabrics and colors. Even if what Lampronti says is true, no one could say this is a real resurrection, because body and soul must be joined as it was during life. In conclusion, Lampronti is terrible, a blasphemer, a heretic, a proponent of detestable rabbinic doctrines, etc.

Incidentally, and probably not surprisingly, nothing of the sort is indicated in the relevant section of Lampronti's Pachad Yitzchak. See here and here. In the latter we see that he was well aware of the discussion about whether or not gilgul is even a true doctrine. We do not see his own opinion, but obviously he wisely knew that he would not win the discussion by denying it altogether, or even just claiming - correctly - that is the subject of rabbinic debates. We see, however, in Lampronti's reply, however we may or may not be satisfied with it, that Medici's charge that the Jews deny rabbinic doctrines when confronted with them cannot be borne out, at least in the case of Rabbi Yitzchak Lampronti, the talented physician and rosh yeshiva of Ferrara.

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