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Maimonides was the greatest Jewish philosopher and legal scholar of the medieval period, a towering figure who has had a profound and lasting influence on Jewish law, philosophy, and religious consciousness. This book provides a comprehensive and accessible introduction to his life and work, revealing how his philosophical sensibility and outlook informed his interpretatioMaimonides was the greatest Jewish philosopher and legal scholar of the medieval period, a towering figure who has had a profound and lasting influence on Jewish law, philosophy, and religious consciousness. This book provides a comprehensive and accessible introduction to his life and work, revealing how his philosophical sensibility and outlook informed his interpretation of Jewish tradition.Moshe Halbertal vividly describes Maimonides's childhood in Muslim Spain, his family's flight to North Africa to escape persecution, and their eventual resettling in Egypt. He draws on Maimonides's letters and the testimonies of his contemporaries, both Muslims and Jews, to offer new insights into his personality and the circumstances that shaped his thinking. Halbertal then turns to Maimonides's legal and philosophical work, analyzing his three great books--Commentary on the Mishnah, the Mishneh Torah, and the Guide of the Perplexed. He discusses Maimonides's battle against all attempts to personify God, his conviction that God's presence in the world is mediated through the natural order rather than through miracles, and his locating of philosophy and science at the summit of the religious life of Torah. Halbertal examines Maimonides's philosophical positions on fundamental questions such as the nature and limits of religious language, creation and nature, prophecy, providence, the problem of evil, and the meaning of the commandments.A stunning achievement, Maimonides offers an unparalleled look at the life and thought of this important Jewish philosopher, scholar, and theologian....

Title : Maimonides: Life and Thought
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ISBN : 9781400848478
Format Type : ebook
Number of Pages : 400 Pages
Status : Available For Download
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Maimonides: Life and Thought Reviews

  • Miles
    2019-02-19 21:01

    Moshe Halbertal's "Maimonides: Life and Thought" is a masterful scholarly study of the Rambam (Maimonides.) I have a passing familiarity with his Mishneh Torah and vague recollections of The Guide for the Perplexed. This book integrates his two great works and some lesser writings into a biographical and cultural context which makes for a complete vision of the man, his time and place, and his ideas.What is Maimonides good for? Well, if you are trying to sort out the halachic implications of a difficult kashe in gemara, of course you may make reference to the Mishneh Torah. Mishneh Torah was the Rambam's attempt to replace the arguments, and the argumentative method itself, of the Talmud with a brilliantly clear set of rulings for daily life and for approaching God. The effort failed on those terms because it was not accepted by most Jewish communities as a guide to practice. It did however result in the clearest work of halacha that you are ever likely to read, one which is used to this day to understand the Talmud. As an amateur scholar, I refer to it sometimes just to enjoy the Hebrew text. Or, maybe your problem is reconciling your deep faith in Aristotelian science with your belief in the God of Torah who willfully acts in the world. You know that Aristotle and other philosophers are right, but how can you continue to live as a Jew if this is true? The Guide for the Perplexed is there for you.But, on the off chance that these are not your most pressing problems, what can we moderns DO with Maimonides? What I do with him, and with greater knowledge and understanding than I had before I read Halbertal's book, is appreciate that even though the science of Aristotle is no longer recognized as science, the Rambam's effort to reconcile his religious beliefs with a scientific method that was outside of Torah creates a lasting model for Jewish modernity. Maimonides created a pre-modern but getting-ready-for-modernity vision in Guide for the Perplexed, way back in the 12th century CE. He was able to fit Torah into a larger philosophical architecture, where all previous Jewish thinkers fit philosophy within an architecture of revelation. The Rambam believed that the natural world was the fingerprint of God, understood properly, that is, philosophically, and was therefore just as worthy of study as a path to God as the written and oral Torahs themselves. He believed that there was, and can be, no contradiction between these two seemingly disparate perspectives and labored nobly to demonstrate that this was true.Understanding the details of this is a complex process which Halbertal walks us through with clarity and precision. Would that belief still stand up if he were forced to mediate between Torah and science as we moderns understand it? It would be a very different effort. The mind of Maimonides could not yet imagine Newton or Einstein, but I do not think they would have been inimical to his spirit, even if the process of integration would have taken a different color.There is much more that one can say, but I'll conclude by noting something that Halbertal does not dwell on, but which strikes me once again - Rambam is truly the most Islamic of Jewish thinkers. As I read of Rambam's strong insistence on the supremacy of Moshe's prophecy over all other Jewish prophecy, and on the uniquely elevated status of the Five Books of Moses, the Torah, relative to all other books of Tanaq, and see again how he emphasizes the status of Moshe and Torah to a far greater degree than most other traditional sources, it seems very obvious to me that the Rambam is re-creating or mirroring, to some degree, Islam's prophet and text. For the Rambam, Moshe is MuḼammad (the one true prophet) and Torah is the Quran (the one true text.) I assume that this is a cultural influence, an artifact of a life as a refugee surrounded by Muslim philosophers in a Muslim land. Like his abhorrence of representational language for God as a form of idolatry, so much about Rambam has the flavor of Islam. I find that very interesting. With Islam, with the Rambam, and, indeed, with that arch opponent of the Rambam and all philosophers, Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav, the avoidance of "idolatry", properly understood, strikes me as about the most central religious issue. It is not only that, but also the meeting place of science and religion, as they converge through negative theology and the process of hypothesis negation, on a shared epistemology. There is a great deal more to say about that too, but I shall heed my own advice and stop before I construct a false image of reality.

  • Ari Landa
    2019-03-03 18:02

    Moshe Halbertall knows and understands Maimonides. There's no question about it. The book fluently expresses Maimonides' philosophical and religious outlook by showing similar idea streams throughout Maimonides three major works (Commentary on Mishnah, Mishnah Torah and The Guide). Halbertall also brilliantly places the works in its historical context, in light of the philisophical and religious thought trends of the day and the historical development of Judaism. He also shows why his philosophy is relevent today.That said, I do have a few critiques of the book. First, Halbertall gushes too strongly over Maimonides. There are too many luscious and wonderful accolade giving adjectives directed towards Maimonides' thoughts, goals and passages dispersed throughout the book. Second, I felt that Maimonides philosophy was internally inconsistent in many places and too little attention was given to those inconsistencies. Admittedly, the author did note the presence of conflicting views in the Guide, and it could be argued that the author left off discussing the inconsistencies to the chapters devoted to the Guide. Nonethelss, still, the logical conclusions of those conflicting views weren't "fleshed out" enough. For example, under the "Philosophical view" of The Guide, prophecy is just a higher form of human thought but not a conversation with God. If so, then the Halakha of Mishneh Torah has no relation to revelation at all but is a product of human thought. If so, why would Halakha be binding on followers of Judaism? The author tries to deal with it in other chapters by saying either that the halakha was "accepted" by all of judaism, or that Halakha somehow brings the essence of God to people. But why? and How? Halakha forms the bulk of Jewish orthodoxy life (Maimodides' life) and the ultimate question of "why Halakha?" isn't asked or answered. If Maimonides entertained the possibility that Halakha is born from a philosophical need, then the the rationale why philosophy justifies Halakha should have been more thoroughly discussed. Another example is Maimonides' pitiful explanation of why "evil" exists in a world created by a noble and good God. (Thankfully, Maimonides does deal with the problem of "evil" rather than just ignore it.) And, although the author quickly assert that the passages dealing with the "evil problem" is weak, he then later paradoxically praises Maimonides for brilliantly providing a rationale for the problem of evil--which of course he hadn't. Third, it is clear from the book that Maimonides tried to reconcile philosophy with faith. He was first and foremost a philosopher, and only second to that a Jewish scholar. He felt Judaism must be defined by philosophical truths. As such Maimonides draws philosophical arguments to show that philosophy does not disprove faith. This is all fine and well , but then the question to be asked is: if philosophy neither proves or disproves faith, and if people should live their life based on philisophical truths, then why must one have faith? Now, understandably, in Maimonidean times the question of why have faith carried less importance than today. Faith was more or less taken for granted. Nonetheless, I thought the author should have spent some time dissecting this issue for modern readers of Maimonides. Would Maimonides still require faith in todays' times? This is the essential question raised by Maimonides works for modern readers and the question isn't asked. In a similar vein, the author could have considered whether Maimonides, as a clear Aristotelian, would maintain the rationally charged Aristotelian viewpoint or would revert to a more platonic (Muslim Sufi styled) perspective in light of the currently apparent falsity of Aristotelian science? Fourth, I criticize the author for not suggesting that Maimonides had a selfish motive in writing his works. As a famous child prodigy in Andulasia, the young Maimonides was adored. After the Almohad conqest, the Maimon family was forced to flee to a place where the young Maimonides had no fame. Now, it is clear from the book that Maimonides tried to re-fashion judaism in conformance with his philosophical views (and his perceived needs of the community at the time). However, the author doesn't quite suggest that Maimonides bold move was driven by his desire for prominence and power. The author does suggest that Maimonides was motivated by a desire for prominence in his quest for a physician position in the King's Court, and in his long and bitter fued with Egyptian Jewish leadership and with Gaonic Halkhic leadership. So we do have an inkling that Maimonides did in fact covet prominence. However, the relationship between his desire for prominence and his motivation for writing his three major works--which broadly altered the historical course of Judaism, wasn't discussed.It seemed to me that Maimonides is Halbertall's personal idol. Halbertall being an academic and a religious jew appreciated Maimonides' similar perspective. However, he doesn't adequately question why the two should go together.As far as Maimonides himself, it's without question that he was a great man and an honest thinker--if not too singularly devoted to rationalistic thought. In his praise, he didn't shy away from intellectual problems and he faced problems between traditional faith and his personal views with religous courage. Many religious folk would have shied away from expressing the more radical positions out of fear of heavenly reproach. Indeed, Maimonides did address this conundrum in his letters. He ultimately justified it by arguing that it would be a shame if his knowledge died with him and by arguing that other scholars in Jewish history had radically altered Judaism out of pressing need. His general religous agnosticism (meaning his view that religious truths could not be proven either way) refelcts his honest thinking. Ultimately, I don't think Maimonides himself was troubled by the question of why faith? because he directly experienced the benefits of the Jewish faith. Nonetheless, the question remains open.

  • Samuel Fainsod
    2019-02-22 19:49

    Perfectly researched and documented in the life and social contexts of maimonides although the author takes for granted many interrogatives to his ideas that are quite questionable.

  • Juliahoney Kamenker
    2019-03-05 19:48

    It was more about his thought than his life would have preferred it the other way around

  • Sylvia McIvers
    2019-03-13 13:46

    Child Prodigy, Controversial Books, Sultan's Physician. Maimonides proscribed getting enough sleep for health. Then he wrote that he never had enough sleep. Physician, heal thyself! The first chapter gives a thorough summary of the era: Fundamentalist Muslims were overwhelming the Muslims living in Northern Africa and Andalusia, destroying the beautiful buildings and killing anyone not fundamental enough. Oh dear, that sounds awfully familiar. So, the Maimon family flees Andalusia, Spain, and wanders around war torn Northern Africa, finally settling in Egypt.Moses Maimonides (which means Maimon-son) writes several books, which cause an uproar and upheaval in his contemporary Jewish society. Is he awesome or awful? Either way, his contemporaries agree that "From Moses (the lawgiver at Sinai) until Moses (Maimonides), there was no one as Moses." He stopped writing books during middle age, because his duties as a doctor took from dawn to midnight. The rest of the book explores why he wrote these books, and his probable mindset - based on the introduction to his books and the letters he wrote to friends or colleagues, and the wide difference of his explanations depending on who he was talking to.Extremely interesting, if rather dry once one gets past the first chapter.

  • John Connolly
    2019-02-25 15:57

    I loved it. A clear and very logically laid out guide to the big ideas in Maimonides's Guide for the Perplexed, Mishneh Torah, Book of Commandments and the Commentary on the Mishnah. The biographical stuff is also good and provides an insight into the formation of the subject's worldview. This really is a book of ideas, though. It also does well in explaining what position Maimonides intended his halakhic works to have in Jewish life, and his reconciliation of Aristotelian philosophy with Judaism.

  • Andrew Pessin
    2019-02-21 20:46

    strangely a bit sloppy in the writing -- but overall an awesome book, deep and thoughtful and extremely helpful to organizing one's thinking about maimonides ... would have liked a little more on the guide and a little less on mishneh torah, perhaps -- or better, keep the mishneh torah material (which was really helpful to a novice on the subject) and add more on the guide -- rarely do i wish a philosophical book were longer, but that's the case here ....!

  • Jean Kelly
    2019-03-03 17:55

    I won't pretend to have understood all of it but this was a fascinating work focused on Mishnah Torah. The author has the ability to walk you through his thought process step by step in understandable language.

  • Mills College Library
    2019-02-23 18:38

    189 M223Xm 2014

  • Mindy
    2019-02-19 19:52

    Powerful, readable, provocative summary of Maimonides's life and work.

  • Eliezer Sneiderman
    2019-03-17 18:42

    One of the better books on Maimonides. Halbertal looks at the entirety of Rambam's works, not just the guide. He also avoids much of the presentism associated with such analysis.

  • Eli Mandel
    2019-03-19 14:54

    Very thorough.