Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 135
“From Moses to Moses there was none like Moses” is a famous phrase that indicates something of Maimonides’ place of importance in Jewish thought. The First Moses represents the origin of the great Jewish religious tradition and the Jewish Law. The Second Moses stands for an attempt to reconcile this inherited tradition with the growing Arabian and Western philosophy and culture that were being absorbed in the eleventh century.
Intellectuals of his age were perplexed by the disparity between the Law, which meant so much to them, and the philosophical sophistication they could not resist acquiring. For them, Maimonides provided The Guide of the Perplexed, as well as a new summary of the Law, both of which were so successful that they have become classics in the religious tradition as well as in secular philosophy.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 433
Maimonides addressed The Guide of the Perplexed to those who had studied philosophy and had acquired knowledge and who “while firm in religious matters are perplexed and bewildered on account of the ambiguous and figurative expressions employed in holy writings.” Moses’ audience was from the beginning firmly committed to its religious tradition; but now that philosophy had penetrated religion, the question was never one as to whether religion should be maintained but only how it was to handle its philosophical content. Maimonides wrote for those whose religious roots were deep and who had held to religious practice:The object of this treatise is to enlighten a religious man who has been trained to believe in the truth of our holy Law, who conscientiously fulfills his moral and religious duties, and at the same time has been successful in his philosophical studies.
It is not difficult to see why such people were “lost in perplexity and anxiety,” caught in tensions they could not easily resolve. Their religious training was too deeply ingrained even to consider surrendering it, and yet the new sophistication made philosophy naturally attractive. It is not that such people had for the first time become intellectuals—because as Jews, they had inherited a long and subtle intellectual tradition—but that formerly reason had worked only within the Law, and afterward, philosophy took this same reason outside the Law and offered it new and alien foundations. This was the general cause for concern, but The Guide for the Perplexed focuses on the particular problem of trying to explain certain words in Scripture central to the religious tradition whose common interpretation sets them at odds with philosophical refinements. Reason never ceased to accept the Law, but it found it difficult to accept any teaching based on a literal interpretation of the Law.
Furthermore, the perplexity had to be met by finding a way to live with it, because to surrender either the Law or the newly found philosophy was unacceptable. Maimonides’ attempt is never to try to remove the source of the anxiety, as might seem natural, but to try to find a way in which to adapt to it. To surrender religion would mean to break down the context that gave meaning and continuity to Jewish life, but to surrender philosophy would be no service to religion either because it would leave religion still disturbed by the unanswered philosophical questions. To reject philosophy would not remove the objections with which philosophy perplexes religion. Because there could be no escape from perplexity, it had to be met and accepted as the starting point.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 578
Maimonides’ first step toward meeting this perplexity is the ancient one of suggesting that the...
(The entire section contains 3040 words.)
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