Maimonides’ proposed solution to the problem of evil is characteristic of his philosophy as found in The Guide for the Perplexed , as it requires a ‘substantive shift in Jewish religious consciousness’. 1 In assessing whether Maimonides’ solution
Three contributions celebrate the occasion of the eight-hundredth anniversary of the death of one of our greatest sages, Moses Maimonides (1135–1204). Maimonides was a master in every branch of Jewish scholarship. He was the great genius who synthesised the vast world of Talmudic law. He threw light on the Mishnah by one of the most lucid commentaries ever to have been written and he wrote numerous responsa advising Jewish community leaders on intricate problems of interpretation and application of rabbinical law. As a practising physician his advice on prophylaxis and medical treatment was highly valued, while he also had a keen interest in human psychology and in the natural sciences in general, including astronomy.
The Guide of the Perplexed, written by Moses Maimonides in 1185, is an unusual book that is not easy to interpret in any straightforward manner – that is one of the few remarks that can be made about it upon which there is broad agreement amongst commentators. Admittedly, such a description is not unusual as far as philosophical works are concerned, and many of the great works of philosophy in what can loosely be described as the Western tradition have been subjected to various different, and often incompatible, interpretations by scholars. However, the differences concerning the ways in which The Guide of the Perplexed can be read go beyond this: it is not even universally accepted that it is a philosophical text.
A Jewish Theological Perspective on Its Causes
The cultural crisis that Israel is experiencing today derives largely from the concept of isolation, which is based in Jewish theology (Halevi). The concept itself stems from the 'illegitimacy claim', already present in rabbinic literature, which developed into the firm halakhic practice of separating Jews from non-Jews. Although rabbinic Judaism contains an alternative, universalistic current (Maimonides) that was influential in the Middle Ages, Israel's Religious Zionist educational system is based on the 'isolationist' system expounded by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. Proponents of the latter include both religious Jews and secular Israelis, who defend it as part of Israel's Jewish heritage. These tendencies not only prevent dialogue with Israel's neighbors but also fragment Israel's Jewish public. This rejection of the 'Other' as belonging to the 'sons of darkness' is largely responsible for the cultural crisis pervading the country. Israel should reorient itself toward the universalistic stream represented by philosophers such as Buber, Rosenzweig, and Levinas.
Reading Sifra on Lesbianism
, remarkably, of an explicit ban on same-sex marriage between women. Notably, when Maimonides sought to proscribe sexual relationships between women in his medieval Mishneh Torah , the only source he could marshal in support of his project was this prohibition
The Guide of the Perplexed is a unique and often daunting work. Written to address a specific group of people whom Maimonides identified as having a specific need, it also presents a wider philosophical system. At its heart is a recognition of the limitation of human knowledge about the divine.
I am very pleased and honoured to have this opportunity to speak at a gathering of the Muslim delegates in London. For the sake of brevity and clarity, I shall limit my comments in general to the Muslim community in this country, though much of what I say may equally be applied to the Muslims in general. Furthermore, since the Maimonides Foundation is an interfaith organisation and does not comment on political issues, I shall steer clear of politics.
I am grateful to the World Jewish Congress for inviting me to share my thoughts with this most distinguished gathering on the issues of Islamophobia and antisemitism. I would like to pay tribute to the Maimonides Foundation and Lord Janner for organizing this, my second visit, to the holy city of Jerusalem. I am acutely aware of the honour given to me, the first European Muslim ever to be invited to address the World Jewish Congress.
This is a shared editorial, but one written by both of us with a heavy heart. When the editorial board set about finding materials to mark the eight-hundredth anniversary of the death of Moses Maimonides, we invited Esther Seidel to oversee this project, and she contributes the second half of this editorial. But neither Esther nor I could have foreseen that we would also be commemorating the untimely death of my co-editor Rabbi Dr Albert Friedlander who, together with his wife, Evelyn, has been directly associated with European Judaism since the birth of the magazine.
Marc Saperstein, Frank Dabba Smith, Robin Ostow, and Ruth Langer
Menachem Kellner, Maimonides’ Confrontation with Mysticism, Oxford: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2006. 343 pp., ISBN 978-1-904113-29-4. £35.00.
Michael Walzer (ed.), Law, Politics, and Morality in Judaism, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2006. 224 pp., ISBN 00-691-12508-2. £35.95 (cloth), £11.95 (paper).
Alena Heitlinger, In the Shadows of the Holocaust and Communism: Czech and Slovak Jews Since 1945, New Brunswick, USA, and London, UK: Transaction Publishers, 2006. 238 pp., ISBN 0-7658-0331-3. $39.95 US.
Forms of Prayer, I: Daily, Sabbath and Occasional Prayers, Eighth Edition, London: The Movement for Reform Judaism, 2008. 750pp., ISBN 978-0-947884-13-0. Standard hardback edition £24.95.