Phi­los­o­phy and Rab­binic Cul­ture: Jew­ish Inter­pre­ta­tion and Con­tro­ver­sy in Medieval Languedoc

Gregg Stern
  • Review
By – January 16, 2012

Rab­bi Mena­hem ha-Meiri is, today, one of the bet­ter-known Tal­mud­ists of the Mid­dle Ages. He lived in Per­pig­nan, in what is now the south of France, and died around the year 1315. His Tal­mu­dic com­men­tary is known for its crisp Hebrew, its ency­clo­pe­dic range, and its amaz­ing­ly lib­er­al atti­tude toward Gen­tiles. The Meiri claimed that all the dis­parag­ing state­ments and dis­crim­i­na­to­ry laws referred only to the ancient Pagans, and that the Chris­tians among whom he lived belonged to a hith­er­to unknown cat­e­go­ry of reli­gious­ly moral people. 

Gregg Stern places the Meiri in his his­tor­i­cal con­text, find­ing thinkers both Jew­ish and Chris­t­ian whose views mir­rored or antic­i­pat­ed those of the Meiri. He illu­mi­nates the philo­soph­i­cal assump­tions that pro­vide the foun­da­tions for the rabbi’s inno­va­tions. He also pro­vides a detailed account of the Mai­monidean Con­tro­ver­sy” which riled the Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ties of France and Cat­alo­nia at the begin­ning of the 14th cen­tu­ry. Meiri played only a minor role in this con­tro­ver­sy, but it does pro­vide a vivid back­drop to under­stand­ing the intel­lec­tu­al world in which Rab­bi Mena­hem lived. This book is writ­ten in clear lan­guage and ben­e­fits from an up-to-date bib­li­og­ra­phy, but both the sub­ject mat­ter and the struc­ture of the book make it a dense read. Bib­li­og­ra­phy, index, maps.

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