Mai­monides — Between Phi­los­o­phy and Halakhah

Rab­bi Joseph B. Soloveitchik; Lawrence J. Kaplan, ed.
  • Review
By – July 19, 2016

Mai­monides — Between Phi­los­o­phy and Halakhah, edit­ed by Pro­fes­sor Lawrence Kaplan of McGill Uni­ver­si­ty, has a unique ori­gin. In 1950 – 51, Rab­bi Joseph B. Soloveitchik, a leader of Mod­ern Ortho­doxy in the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry, offered a series of lec­tures on Mai­monides’ Guide of the Per­plexed. While the lec­tures are not tran­scribed ver­ba­tim, com­pre­hen­sive notes from a lec­ture attendee, Rab­bi Ger­ald Hom­nick, pro­vide the basis for Kaplan’s book. As a wide­ly rec­og­nized schol­ar on the thought of Rab­bi Soloveitchik, Pro­fes­sor Kaplan is unique­ly qual­i­fied to recon­struct these lec­tures on Mai­monides’ most chal­leng­ing philo­soph­i­cal work.

To these notes Kaplan has pro­vid­ed both a pref­ace and editor’s intro­duc­tion of just over fifty pages. In a fore­word to Kaplan’s intro­duc­tion, Pro­fes­sor Dov Schwartz rec­og­nizes the achieve­ment of this intro­duc­tion to both impart an inde­pen­dent per­spec­tive to the con­nec­tion between R. Soloveitchik and Mai­monides and aids the read­er in under­stand­ing Rab­bi Soloveitchik’s inten­tions and insights.”

Fol­low­ing the intro­duc­tion, Rab­bi Soloveitchik’s analy­sis of the Guide of the Per­plexed is divid­ed into ten units that include a dis­cus­sion of Mai­monides’ think­ing on prophe­cy, ethics, cre­ation, and the knowl­edge, love, and fear of God. Small­er units con­sid­er the dis­tinc­tion between Mai­monides and Aris­to­tle and Mai­monides and Judah Hale­vi. In explain­ing his edit­ing process, Kaplan explains that Rab­bi Hom­nick was not a pro­fes­sion­al tran­scriber, and he was not always able to take down the Rav’s lec­tures word for word … At times the mate­r­i­al is quite repet­i­tive and there­fore required com­bin­ing and con­dens­ing. At oth­er times, to the con­trary, it is very frag­men­tary, and I found it nec­es­sary to fill in the gaps from oth­er essays or pub­lished lec­tures of the Rav.” Kaplan’s edi­tion also includes foot­notes to expli­cate and expand Rab­bi Soloveitchik’s words.

As one might expect, Mai­monides — Between Phi­los­o­phy and Halakhah is not an arm­chair read. Kaplan’s work is best under­tak­en by those with an above-aver­age under­stand­ing of gen­er­al phi­los­o­phy, Jew­ish phi­los­o­phy, and the writ­ings of Rab­bi Soloveitchik. How­ev­er, any read­er com­mit­ted to work­ing his or her way through Kaplan’s work will rec­og­nize the val­ue of Kaplan’s con­tri­bu­tion to elu­ci­dat­ing the com­plex­i­ty of both Mai­monides’ phi­los­o­phy and Soloveitchik’s interpretation.

Relat­ed Content:

Jonathan Fass is the Man­ag­ing Direc­tor of Edu­ca­tion­al Tech­nol­o­gy and Strat­e­gy at The Jew­ish Edu­ca­tion Project of New York.

Discussion Questions