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The major innovation in Maimonides’ treatment of the conceptual significance of the Holy Land lies in his disregard for the issue. In his greatest philosophical work, Guide of the Perplexed, Maimonides conducts a profound discussion of numerous areas in Judaism, but nowhere in that framework does he deliberately discuss the Land of Israel. In fact, he demonstrates that one can engage in a philosophical discussion of Judaism without even touching on the Holy Land.
Accordingly, Maimonides’ view of the Land of Israel may only be determined from sources of two categories, direct and indirect: One includes various conceptual and national considerations that depend for their definitions and realization on the Land of Israel; the other includes the halakhic [legal] material pertaining to the Land of Israel, as expressed in his legal writings.
The Land as Instrument
We begin with the first category. Maimonides presents a series of objectives that can be achieved only on national soil. Clearly, here, the Land of Israel is understood in a purely instrumental sense: It permits the realization of certain ends.
These objectives are as follows:
The historiosophical approach of autonomy and exile. According to Maimonides, adversity and persecution prevent the perfect person from devoting himself to the acquisition of knowledge. Insofar as prophecy depends on intellectual virtues, stressful situations such as exile do not further its realization. Thus the intellectual perfection of any individual is dependent on leading an autonomous, peaceful existence in the Land of Israel
Importance of the political dimension in religious and intellectual life. Scholars do not agree on the significance of political aims in Maimonides’ thought. Some consider the ultimate Maimonidean political end to be creation of a just government, while others see political perfection as merely a step on the way to individual perfection.
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