Some of my congregants often ask me: Who is your favorite Jewish philosopher? Typically, I answer that it depends upon which time period we are talking about. I am very fond of Philo of Alexandria, the celebrated Jewish philosopher, who was the first person to create a synthesis of Jewish and Hellenistic thought. Then again, there is Saadia Gaon, whose theological arguments and understanding of religious metaphor is strikingly modern. But of all the Jewish philosophers I enjoy the most, it is by far Maimonides. Maimonides believed that as a faith, Judaism must do constant battle against the false ideologies that undermine true authentic faith. In an age such as ours, religion is often the source of considerable bigotry and intolerance. Here are some other amazing features one discovers in Maimonides’s works:
(1) He attempted to replace the confusing arguments of the Talmud, many of which were never resolved, with his Mishnah Torah, but unfortunately forgot to include his footnotes!
(2) Maimonides also introduced a philosophical and coherent approach to Judaism in an age of religious narrow-mindedness
(3) He loved Greek and Arabic wisdom, often correcting these two traditions with superior or alternative ideas of his own; by modern standards he promoted interfaith dialogue.
(4) Maimonides fought against the proto-Haredi movements within the Judaism of his time
(5) For the most part, Maimonides did not care to take controversial stand when it came to criticizing Talmudic Aggadot (folklore), and the rabbis of his era who interpreted these stories literally (e.g., like the passage where “God wears phylacteries”). Unfortunately, toward the end of his life, Maimonides probably grew tired of people arguing about his theological ideas, and many considered him an heretic for denying (what seemed) the rabbinical doctrine of resurrection; finally he caved in to popular pressure and wrote an epistle to the Jews of Yemen that of course he believed in resurrection. I suspect he understood the doctrine as a metaphor for the afterlife, i.e., the soul is reborn into the realm of Eternity. Continue reading “Maimonides as a Postmodern Jewish Philosopher”