Maimonides (Rambam)

The greatest medieval Jewish thinker, Talmudist and codifier.

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The Mishnah Torah has received standard commentaries of its own in which Maimonides’ sources are uncovered and in which the sage is defended against Rabad’s strictures. It became a challenge to keen students of the Halakhah to defend Maimonides against the charge that he was either misunderstood or ignored Talmudic formulations, thus creating a new branch of Halakhic studies…

The Guide of the Perplexed

The “Perplexed” in the title of this three-part work are the students of Aristotelian philosophy, puzzled and confused by the many apparent contradictions between philosophy (= human reasoning) and certain statements, especially about the nature of God, in the Bible and the Talmud.

The basic thrust of the Guide is to demonstrate that all truth is one so that the Bible, containing the revealed work of God, has to be interpreted not to be in conflict but to be in harmony with reason…

The first part of the Guide deals similarly with the question of biblical anthropomorphisms. It is true that the Bible describes God in human terms but these are not to be taken literally. In the third part of the Guide, Maimonides proceeds to give “reasons” for those commands in the Torah which seem unreasonable at first glance such as the dietary laws.

For all of his reliance on reason Maimonides is not, however, a rationalist in the conventional sense. He believes beyond question in the Torah as divine revelation. Moreover, there is a strong mystical element in Maimonides' thought. In the remarkable account in the Guide of the man whose thoughts are always on God, such a rare individual is said to be beyond the normal mishaps of nature. He can walk though fire without being burned and pass through water without being drowned..

The Guide is a very difficult work not only because of its subject matter but also because Maimonides presents his thoughts, contrary to the precision he employs in other works, unsystematically, evidently in his desire to prevent those incapable of following abstruse arguments from venturing into the dangerous field that might easily lead to loss of faith. He has even been accused of planting false clues for this purpose, so that it is often impossible to grasp what he is really saying. The commentators to the Guide often leave the student in a greater sense of perplexity than he was when he began the study.

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Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs (1920-2006) was a Masorti rabbi, the first leader of Masorti Judaism (also known as Conservative Judaism) in the United Kingdom, and a leading writer and thinker on Judaism.