Maimonides’ life embraced seemingly conflicting characteristics. He was the consummate scholar desiring solitude in order to study. At the same time, he was the political leader of the Jewish community, actively engaged even in its mundane affairs. He was the Jewish legal authority who mastered the entire library of rabbinic literature, and who was totally engrossed in even the relatively minor points of law. Yet he was also the philosopher, primarily concerned with the gamut of the sciences culminating in metaphysics, and whose avowed teachers were Aristotle and his ancient and Islamic disciples. Maimonides’ wholehearted commitment both to Jewish law and to philosophical study posed a particularly vexing problem to many. In the eyes of staunch Jewish traditionalists, Aristotelian philosophy is synonymous with heresy. It rejects the creation of the world and the personal God of history, who knows and rewards each individual in accordance with his or her deeds. How then could a person so totally at home in the world of rabbinics engage in the study of such thought, let alone openly embrace it on several issues? Many Jewish rationalists, on the other hand, viewed Jewish legal studies as at best secondary to the philosophic pursuit, upon which depended one’s true felicity. Was this not also Maimonides’ view as it emerges from several of his writings? Why then would he devote most of his literary efforts to the law, painstakingly studying and codifying even those laws which had no practical relevance in his own day? Maimonides’ dual commitment has also contributed to an unusual historical phenomenon. Through the ages, many diverse and sharply antagonistic groups within Judaism looked to Maimonides as their spiritual hero, and interpreted his life and works in accordance with their own ideological predilections.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Arts and Humanities (all)