Maimonides and the sacred quest for truth

A revolutionary thinker ensures Judaism’s survival by a radical synthesis of Torah and science.

February 13, 2014 15:11

Maimonides: Life and Thought By Moshe Halbertal Princeton University Press 400 pages; $35. (photo credit: Courtesy)

Eight centuries have passed since the death of Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (1138-1204). Known to Christians and scholars as Maimonides, to rabbis as the Rambam, and to Muslims as Musa ibn Maymoun, those very names capture the versatility of his personality and thought. During all that time, serious attention has been given to his intellectual legacy in every Jewish learning environment. So overpowering were his contributions to Jewish philosophy, halacha, biblical interpretation and legal theory that every current in Jewish thought since the Middle Ages intersects, engages or originates with Maimonides.

His “Thirteen Principles of Faith” redefined Judaism as a creed, dogmatizing a dogma-less faith, previously concerned primarily with conduct rather than belief. His pioneering Mishneh Torah is the first code of Jewish law, which organized and systematized what was until his time a chaotic impenetrable body of law, confused by a cacophony of opposing voices diffused across the vast corpus of the Talmud. The Mishneh Torah became the third prong of the Jewish canon, forming a curricular triumvirate alongside the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud. Finally, his philosophical magnum opus, The Guide for the Perplexed, remains the most profound synthesis of science and the Jewish tradition. No serious attempt to broach the issue of reconciling faith and reason can do without some sort of dialogue with that work.


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