Sunday, January 28, 2007


I've begun writing a short monthly column for the Or Adam newsletter. Each month, I'll briefly discuss an important thinker in Jewish history or in secular humanist thought. The following was the first "Scholarly Notes" with a focus on Maimonides.

One of the greatest scholars of medieval Jewish history, and arguably of any period, was the Spanish born Moses ben Maimon, better known by his Greek name: Maimonides. Born in Córdoba in 1135, Maimonides eventually settles in Cairo after moving around to escape Muslim persecution and forced conversions of Jews. In Cairo, he rises to prominence as an influential physician and philosopher. He was an expert in Greek philosophy and wrote many secular medical treatises, but his two most famous works are religious in focus: the Mishneh Torah and The Guide to Perplexed. The Mishneh Torah was the Jewish world's first comprehensive law code, integrating laws and rulings from the Tanakh, the Talmuds, Midrashic literature, contemporary rabbinic writings, and even non-Jewish sources like Aristotle. The Guide to the Perplexed seeks to put Jewish law and beliefs on a solid rational basis; that is, he argues that the beliefs were not just the dictates of the Torah or rabbis, but were deduced and proven by reason. In doing so, Maimonides attempts a synthesis of Jewish thinking and Aristotelian philosophy. Although Maimonides' rationalism met much opposition in the Jewish world, many of his views are today taken, at least by the Orthodox, to be defining elements of Judaism. Maimonides also had a profound influence the non-Jewish world. He set the ground for much of later Christian Medieval philosophy: including Thomas Aquinas who attempts, similar to Maimonides' synthesis of Judaism and Aristotelianism, a synthesis of Christianity and Aristotelianism. With Maimonides' attempt to put Jewish thought and beliefs on a rational basis, we should also see him, though quite unintentionally, as setting the stage for later secular Jewish thinking.

Sources: The Teaching Company's Introduction to Judaism by Shai Cherry; A History of the Jews by Paul Johnson; and Wikipedia.

No comments: