Ger­son­ides: Judaism with­in the Lim­its of Reason

Sey­mour Feldman
  • Review
By – August 24, 2011
Levi ben Ger­shon was one of the most cre­ative thinkers in Jew­ish his­to­ry. Also known as Ger­son­ides, he was an inno­v­a­tive sci­en­tist, a high­ly inde­pen­dent bib­li­cal exegete, and an orig­i­nal and coura­geous philoso­pher. In 1999, Sey­mour Feld­man com­plet­ed his trans­la­tion of Gersonides’s philo­soph­i­cal mag­num opus, The Wars of the Lord. Now Feld­man has writ­ten a book that lays out the main areas of thought that Ger­son­ides grap­pled with in his Wars.

The book is not a gen­er­al intro­duc­tion to the per­son­al­i­ty of Ger­son­ides, and is best under­stood as a com­pan­ion vol­ume to the trans­la­tion of Wars of the Lord. It does not deal with his sci­ence or astron­o­my, and his com­men­tary on the Bible is treat­ed only as a back­drop to dis­cus­sions in Wars. But for what it does, it is very good. Feld­man presents the very dense philo­soph­i­cal ques­tions in the con­text of ear­li­er thinkers, and then explains the steps by which Ger­son­ides arrived at his own nov­el posi­tions. These expla­na­tions are pre­sent­ed in acces­si­ble lan­guage, so that even some­one unversed in Aris­totelian ter­mi­nol­o­gy can under­stand the con­cepts and fol­low the argu­ments. Ref­er­ences are also pro­vid­ed to dis­cus­sions of the issues in mod­ern schol­ar­ship.

This is an impres­sive achieve­ment, and makes this a use­ful book for any­one inter­est­ed in medieval Jew­ish phi­los­o­phy, either spe­cial­ist or novice.

Discussion Questions