The other in Maimonidean law

Gerald J. Blidstein

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8 Scopus citations


This paper traces Maimonides' attitudes toward the Jewish "other," primarily the heretic. Maimonides ruled more harshly in the case of heretics than did his Talmudic sources. He imposed normative punishment, where the Talmud often made do with divine reproof. By and large, Maimonides sees the heretic (along with the informer) as a threat to the religious (or physical) integrity of the community, and his penology in their case is more political than judicial. He relaxes some of the more stringent requirements of halakhic procedure, but also defines the punishment as discretionary. This policy reflects a heightened use of one Talmudic source and the vigorous reinterpretation of Scriptural precedent (Num. 15:30; Deut. 15:30; Joshua 22), but it also parallels Islamic patters of ideology and law. The paper then turns to Maimonides' treatment of the Karaites. Joseph Kapah rightly claimed that as seen in both the Commentary to the Mishnah and the Code, Maimonides' first considered Karaites to be quintessential heretics. But eventually, he took into account Karaite familial and social realities and came to view them much more leniently; he never excused "turncoat Rabbanites." Maimonides rested his argument on the so-called "captured infant" model of the Talmud, but he also carried this model's implications beyond their (originally) intended limits, suggesting that his intentions were rhetorical. Additional references by Maimonides to Karaites indicate that his attitude toward them was nuanced.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)173-195
Number of pages23
JournalJewish History
Issue number2-3
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2004

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • History


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