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Warren Zev Harvey, Return of Maimonideanism

Warren Zev Harvey, Return of Maimonideanism

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The Return of MaimonideanismAuthor(s): Warren Zev HarveySource:
Jewish Social Studies,
Vol. 42, No. 3/4 (Summer - Autumn, 1980), pp. 249-268Published by: Indiana University PressStable URL:
Accessed: 06/07/2010 20:57
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The ReturnofMaimonideanism
byWarren ZevHarvey
Even as Maimonides(1135-1204)revolutionizednormativeJudaismwithhisCommentaryontheMishnah,withhislegalresponsa,andespeciallywithhisgreatCodeofJewishLaw,theMishnehTorah,so tooherevolutionizedJew-ishphilosophy1with hisGuideofthePerplexed.NotonlydidtheGuiderenderallpreviousJewish philosophyalmostobsolete,butit isbarelyanexaggerationtocallallsubsequentmedievalJewishphilosophy"Maimonidean."2EvenHas-daiCrescas(c.1340-c.1410),Maimonides' radicalphilosophiccritic,calledhim"theMaster,"and whiledismantlinghisphilosophyfromtheinside,workedperforcewithin it. Thewaningof the MiddleAges,however,broughtthewaningofMaimonideanism.Spinoza(1632-1677),who nevercompletelyfreed himself of the Maimonideanism on whichhewasreared,and whomHarry AustrynWolfson called "the last of the mediaevals and the first of themoderns,"3s well seenasmarkingtheendofacontinuousJewishphilosophictradition whichspannedalmostfivecenturies. Some scholarswouldgoso far astosaythatthe end of thismedieval Maimonideantradition meant the end ofallJewishphilosophyworthyof the name.IsaacHusik,forexample,concludedhisAHistoryofMediaevalJewish Philosophywith the flat statement: "ThereareJewsnow andthere arephilosophers,but there are noJewishphilosophersand there isnoJewish philosophy."4IfJewishphilosophydidsurvive the MiddleAges,it was notMaimoni-dean.To besure,Maimonides remainedasthesymbolofTheJewishPhiloso-pher,but hisphilosophywas nolongeraliving, commandingforce. MosesMendelssohn(1729-1786),thefatherof whatevermightbecalled "modernJewishphilosophy,"was a finestudentof Maimonides' rabbinicworks,andwroteanimportantHebrewCommentaryonhis uncontroversialTreatise onLogic,buthewas too muchthe naiveAuJkldrer,toomuchtheaesthete,andtoo muchtheidyllic religionisttoidentifywith the aristocratic intellectualismfoundintheGuide.5AlthoughtheroguishSolomon Maimon(1754-1800)dididentifywithit,publishinga HebrewCommentaryonPart One of theGuide,andevennaminghimself aftertheMaster,his brilliantTranscendentalphilos-ophieis a contribution to Kantiantheory,notMaimonideanism.Similarly,whatisoriginalinNahman Krochmal's(1785-1840)prodigiousGuideofthe249
 
250
JEWISH SOCIAL STUDIES
PerplexedofOur TimesisinspiredmorebyFichte,Hegel,andSchellingthanbyMaimonides,itsverytitleimplyingthat Maimoides'Guideis anachronistic.Unsurprisingly,whenHermannCohen(1842-1918),founder of the neo-Kan-tianMarburgschool,turned toJewishphilosophyand wrotehismagnificentReligionofReason outofthe SourcesofJudaism,itwas not aMaimonideanbut a neo-Kantianwork.As for twentiethcenturyJewish philosophy,it has beenlargelyunder theexistentialistspellof Martin Buber(1878-1965)and FranzRosenzweig(1866-1929).WhileKrochmal and Cohenhadreverentlystudied theGuide,6andasJewish philosophershad considered themselves tobemodern-dayMai-monides,albeit notmodern-dayMaimonideans,Buber andRosenzweigweresheer outsiders to Maimonideanism. Buber wrote dozens ofvolumesonanim-pressivelywiderangeofJewishandphilosophic topics,yetherarelymentionseven thenameofMaimonides.Rosenzweig occasionallycites Maimonidesinpassing,but the medievalJewwhomostsignificantlyinfluencedhimwas theHebrewpoetandanti-philosopher, JudahHalevi(c.1080-c.1140),whose"middle-sized reincarnation"7hefanciedhimselfto be. Notinappropriately,thepresent agehas beencaricaturedbythe Frenchphenomenologist,Emman-uelLevinas(b. 1905),asone"inwhichJewsunderstandonlyhasidictales."8Levinas isinhis ownrightoneof the mostprofoundcontemporary philoso-phersofJudaism,andalthoughhisorientationisundeniablymoreMaimoni-deanthanhasidic,heisastudentof Husserl andonly remotelyofMaimonides.AbrahamJoshuaHeschel(1907-1972),whosethoughtisperhaps representa-tive of the dominanttheological temperof theage,and whoiscertainlyamongthe mostexcitingofthehasidicstorytelling Jewishexistentialistphilosophers,hadpredictablylittle use for Maimonideanintellectualism,and wrote abeau-tifulessay,"TheLastDaysofMaimonides,"inwhich hetried toprovethatinthe end Maimonidesgave up"hisearliercommitment to thesuperiorityofin-tellectualpursuits."9Yettepidnesstoward Maimonideanphilosophyis foundeveninplaceswhere onemighthaveexpectedto find fervidenthusiasm.Thus,JosephB.Soloveitchik(b. 1903),whoas an halakhistisprobablythe mosttrenchantliving interpreterofMaimonides'rabbinicsystem,and whoispossi-blyuniquetodayamongeminent rabbinic authoritiesinthat,after theMaimonideanmodel,he isalsoanoriginalphilosopher,has-notwithstandinghismightyspiritualrootsinMaimonides'rabbinism--constructedaphilosophyofJudaismwhich isinfluencedlessbytheGuidethanbyneo-Kantianism,byKierkegaardianexistentialism,andmaybeevenbytheKabbalah.Again,therehave beenhistoriansofJewish philosophy,such as SimonRawidowicz(1897-1957)andIsrael Efros(b. 1891),who havemadetheGuide thesubjectof meticulousstudy,and thenhavegoneon to write their ownJewishphiloso-phyoblivious of Maimonides.

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