Mai­monides and His Heritage

Idit Dobbs-Wein­stein, Lenn E. Good­man, and James Allen Grady, eds.
  • Review
By – October 31, 2011

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:

Leonard A. Matanky, Ph.D., serves as asso­ciate super­in­ten­dent of the Asso­ci­at­ed Tal­mud Torahs of Chica­go, direc­tor of its Mor­ris and Rose Gold­man Com­put­er Depart­ment for Jew­ish Stud­ies, dean of Ida Crown Jew­ish Acad­e­my, and rab­bi of Con­gre­ga­tion K.I.N.S. of West Rogers Park (Chica­go).

Discussion Questions