Reinventing Maimonides in Contemporary Jewish Thought

BookReinventing Maimonides in Contemporary Jewish Thought

Reinventing Maimonides in Contemporary Jewish Thought

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


February 20th, 2019

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Every work on Jewish thought and law since the twelfth century bears the imprint of Maimonides. A. N. Whitehead’s famous dictum that the entire European philosophical tradition ‘consists of a series of footnotes to Plato’ could equally characterize Maimonides’ place in the Jewish tradition. The critical studies in this volume explore how Orthodox rabbis of different orientations—Shlomo Aviner, Naftali Zvi Yehudah Berlin (Netziv), Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, Joseph Kafih, Abraham Isaac Kook, Aaron Kotler, Joseph Soloveitchik, and Elhanan Wasserman—have read and provided footnotes to Maimonides in the long twentieth century. How well did they really understand Maimonides? And where do their arguments fit in the mainstream debates about him and his works? Each of the seven core chapters examines a particular approach. Some rabbis have tried to liberate themselves from the influence of his ideas. Others have sought to build on those ideas or expand them in ways which Maimonides himself did not pursue, and which he may well not have agreed with. Still others advance patently non-Maimonidean positions, while attributing them to none other than Maimonides. Above all, the essays published here demonstrate that his legacy remains vibrantly alive today.


'Carefully and convincingly, Diamond and Kellner show that Maimonides’ written words were repeatedly appropriated by Jewish religious thinkers in the 20th century to promote theological positions that Maimonides would never have subscribed to.'
Martin Lockshin, The Canadian Jewish News

‘A striking example of Rambam's universalistic world view: all people of all backgrounds have access to God if they suitably devote themselves to the Almighty.’
Rabbi Marc Angel

‘A remarkable contribution to Maimonides scholarship.’
Rabbi Jeremy Rosen, The Algemeiner

'Much can be learned from each of the articles... each of these thinkers reads Rambam [Moses Maimonides] differently. Rambam continues to evoke serious thought. He remains a powerful guide…and a formidable challenge.'
Rabbi Marc Angel, Ideals

'How should we... invoke the authority of Maimonides in a way that shows fidelity both to intellectual history and to contemporary significance? Historical studies alone are insufficient for this task. In the writings of eight contemporary Orthodox writers, we catch a glimpse of how they try to carve out the current meaning and significance of Maimonides for their religious visions and ways of life. Kellner and Diamond have done us an important service by bringing these rabbinic thinkers and their readings of Maimonides to our attention.'
Alex Sztuden, Tradition

'James A. Diamond and Menachem Kellner are not afraid to tangle with the heart of Jewish tradition and ask provocative questions... [they] do an excellent job of executing their goal of analyzing selected Orthodox rabbis’ writings,'
Ethan Prager, Reading Religion

Author Information

James A. Diamond is Joseph & Wolf Lebovic Chair of Jewish Studies at the University of Waterloo, Ontario. He is the author of Maimonides and the Shaping of the Jewish Canon (2012), winner of a Canadian Jewish Literary Award in 2015, and Converts, Heretics and Lepers: Maimonides and the Outsider (2007). Menachem Kellner is chair of the Department of Philosophy and Jewish Thought, Shalem College, Jerusalem and Wolfson Professor Emeritus of Jewish Thought, University of Haifa.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents
Section TitlePagePrice
Note on Transliteration11
1. Rabbi Naftali Tsevi Yehudah Berlin: The Love of Israel versus the Love of the Mind20
2. Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik and Maimonides50
3. Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kookand the Mystification of Maimonidean Rationalism70
4. Maimonides and Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira: Abandoning Reason in the Warsaw Ghetto98
5. Rabbi Elhanan Wasserman on Maimonides, and Maimonides on ‘Reb Elhanan’118
6. Each Generation and Its Maimonides: The Maimonides of Rabbi Aharon Kotler160
7. What, Not Who, Is a Jew: Halevi–Maimonides in Those Days, Rabbi Aviner and Rabbi Kafih in Our Day186
Afterword: Tradition versus Traditionalism in the Contemporary Study of Maimonides206