Nah­manides: Law and Mysticism

Moshe Hal­ber­tal, Daniel Tabak (trans.)

January 14, 2020

A broad, sys­tem­at­ic account of one of the most orig­i­nal and cre­ative kab­bal­ists, bib­li­cal inter­preters, and Tal­mu­dic schol­ars the Jew­ish tra­di­tion has ever produced

Beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten, Moshe Halbertal’s ground­break­ing book is excep­tion­al in its capa­bil­i­ty to pen­e­trate to the heart of Nahmanides’s think­ing and world­view. An admirable achieve­ment.” — Adam After­man, Tel Aviv University

Rab­bi Moses b. Nah­man (1194 – 1270), known in Eng­lish as Nah­manides, was the great­est Tal­mu­dic schol­ar of the thir­teenth cen­tu­ry and one of the deep­est and most orig­i­nal bib­li­cal inter­preters. Beyond his mon­u­men­tal scholas­tic achieve­ments, Nah­manides was a dis­tin­guished kab­bal­ist and mys­tic, and in his com­men­tary on the Torah he dis­pensed eso­teric kab­bal­is­tic teach­ings that he termed By Way of Truth.”
This broad, sys­tem­at­ic account of Nahmanides’s thought explores his con­cep­tion of halakhah and his approach to the cen­tral con­cerns of medieval Jew­ish thought, includ­ing notions of God, his­to­ry, rev­e­la­tion, and the rea­sons for the com­mand­ments. The rela­tion­ship between Nahmanides’s kab­bal­ah and mys­ti­cism and the exis­ten­tial reli­gious dri­ve that nour­ish­es them, as well as the legal and exo­teric aspects of his think­ing, are at the cen­ter of Moshe Halbertal’s por­tray­al of Nah­manides as a com­plex and trans­for­ma­tive thinker.

Discussion Questions

Nah­manides, Rab­bi Moses ben Nah­man (1194 – 1270) was the lead­ing halakhist, kab­bal­ist, Bib­li­cal exegete and Tal­mud com­men­ta­tor — as well as philoso­pher, doc­tor, and dis­putant — of his time. He lived most of his life in Gerona, Cat­alo­nia, and died in Jerusalem in 1270. His oeu­vre is enor­mous, span­ning the eso­teric and exo­teric, across the vast sea of Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture. While many stud­ies have been pub­lished about par­tic­u­lar areas of Nah­manides’ thought, we now have, in Eng­lish, a mag­is­te­r­i­al, com­pre­hen­sive, and sys­tem­at­ic work that pro­vides a win­dow into the thought of this giant of Jew­ish intel­lec­tu­al history. 

Moshe Hal­ber­tal, Pro­fes­sor of Jew­ish Thought and Phi­los­o­phy at the Hebrew Uni­ver­si­ty of Jerusalem and Gruss Pro­fes­sor of Law at NYU School of Law, has, in the words of his trans­la­tor Daniel Tabak, the gift of mak­ing com­plex ideas read­i­ly under­stand­able in his lucid and log­i­cal­ly com­pelling Hebrew prose.” As with his work on Mai­monides, Hal­ber­tal has syn­the­sized and orga­nized the wide ‑rang­ing work of an icon of medieval Jew­ish thought in a beau­ti­ful­ly writ­ten sin­gle vol­ume. The scope is impres­sive; the analy­sis is pen­e­trat­ing and insight­ful; and the syn­the­sis is clar­i­fy­ing and acces­si­ble. Hal­ber­tal does not fall prey to spec­u­la­tive analy­sis. He is a remark­able close read­er of texts — and he reads them all. His analy­sis reveals new ways to inte­grate the many sides of this great thinker.

Pub­lished in Hebrew in 2006, Nah­manides is now avail­able to the Eng­lish-lan­guage read­er thanks to Tabak’s pre­cise and ele­gant trans­la­tion. While the book is chal­leng­ing because of the wide-rang­ing nature of Nah­manides’ work, it is a rich, infor­ma­tive, and very reward­ing read.