On December 13, 1204 (20 Tevet 4965), the great halachist,philosopher, and physician, Moses Maimonides died. Whether his lifespanned 66 years, as many suggest, or 69 years as the late ProfessorShlomo Pines suggested, it is hard to imagine how any mortal could notonly produce the depth and breadth of scholarship as did Maimonides, butalso have such an enduring impact upon Jewish and non-Jewishscholarship.
But Maimonides did, and Maimonides continues to fascinate, illuminate, and challenge scholars from all walks of life.
Recently, three new studies have been produced to delve further intothe beliefs and the works of Maimonides. Two are scholarly works,produced in conjunction with the 800th anniversary of the “GreatEagle’s” death, and one is a more popular work.
The more significant of the scholarly works is the latest volume of Maimonidean Studies.Based primarily upon a three-day symposium (March 21 – 23, 2004)sponsored by Bernard Revel Graduate School of Yeshiva University andSkirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies of New York University,this volume contains 19 papers written by some of the foremost scholarsof Maimonidean output. (Two of the papers, which appear in Hebrew, weresubmitted independently of the symposium, and the paper presented byDr. Haym Soloveitchik was published elsewhere.)
As was the symposium, this volume is organized around four majorthemes, “Maimonides and Halacha,” “Maimonides and Philosophy,”“Maimonides on Science and Medicine,” and “Maimonides’ Influence.” Whilethe authors exhibit a broad range of interests in Maimonides’scholarship, there is, as is often the case in such volumes, littleintegration between the four primary themes. Of course, this is atestament to the greatness of Maimonides himself, that so many scholarsare needed, each to develop a sub-specialty about this great man. Yet,for the non-scholar these papers are difficult to place within thebroader perspective of Maimonides’ contributions.
Nevertheless, for the scholar, Maimonidean Studies: Volume 5is a most important contribution to the literature and offers newinsights that will most assuredly be the basis of even further study.
The second of the scholarly tomes produced in conjunction with the 800th anniversary of Maimonides’ passing is Maimonides and His Heritage.Sharing many of the same scholars with the previous work, this volumeis also an important contribution to the understanding and appreciationof Maimonides.
Consisting of ten essays, the first five focus on Maimonides as anexemplary medieval philosopher in his milieu, and the last five on theimpact he had upon later thinkers. This volume is also an eclectic mixof themes and scholarship.
While this brief review does not allow for an overview of all of thecontributions, the first, written by Professor Hyman (editor of Maimonidean Studies)offers a fascinating insight into Maimonides the philosopher. Accordingto Hyman, Maimonides was not a philosopher, but an biblical exegete,whose commentaries to the Bible created a uniquely Jewish philosophy.
The second half of this book contains a number of interestingarticles, projecting Maimonides’ influence forward to the 20th and 21stcenturies, ending with an article by David Novak, “Can We BeMaimonideans Today?”
The final entry into this latest group of books about Maimonides isvery different in purpose, tone, and content. Written by the prolificauthor Israel Drazin, Maimonides: The Exceptional Mind is a layman’s guide to Maimonides’ ideas and beliefs.
Divided into four sections and 41 chapters, the author has chosen toorganize this book around a series of questions, many provocative, andto focus each chapter on one such question.
The book is easy to read, especially in comparison to the twoscholarly works. And unlike the other two, which are collections ofpapers, this book has a single theme — “to alert people to the perniciousnature of superstitions that still pervade the lives of many people…”.
For one seeking an introduction to some of the beliefs of Maimonides,written in a direct, and understandable style, this latest volume byDrazin is a welcome addition.
Additional books featured in this review: