Sunday, February 21, 2021

From Moses to Moses- Guide to the Guide to the Perplexed- Discussion 3 on Maimonides- Feb 20

From Moses to Moses- Guide to the Guide to the Perplexed- Discussion 3 on Maimonides- Feb 20

For a video  recording of discussion go


Arabic text ( Hebrew letters as common in Judeo-Arabic usage).

Medieval Manuscript of Ibn Tibbon translation

Modern Hebrew translation, based on  Arabic manuscripts , by Rabbi Yosef Kapach.( Ofra’s uncle).


Rambam as a source of influence on:

Islamic world

Maimonides figures very prominently in the history of Islamic and Arab sciences.



Because of his path-finding synthesis of Aristotle and Biblical faith, Maimonides had an influence on the great Christian theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas who refers to Maimonides in several of his works, including the Commentary on the Sentences.

Aquinas is valuable for integrating use of philosophical reason in religion for the Catholic church.


European Enlightenment and the modern world:


Cartesian philosophy may have laid the ‘first principles’ for the conclusions that Spinoza draws in Parts Four and Five of the Ethics, but the doctrines that we find embedded in the propositions of those parts are a response to a far different tradition, one that has as its most prominent members the medieval Jewish philosophers Maimonides and Gersonides.(Stephen Nadler)


In a talk by the late Lord John Maynard Keynes in 1942 on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the birth of Sir Isaac Newton, Keynes said that Newton's radical religious views were not just those of a closet Arian Unitarian, but actually those of a monotheistic follower of Maimonides

(R H Popkin)

In Modern Judaism

As Jews were influenced by the new philosophies of western and central Europe, the Rambam offered them a path to remain as Jews and as moderns

Moses Mendelsohn- Judaism as revealed law, not revealed dogma. Father of the Haskalah-the Jewish parallel to the European Enlightenment.

Mordecai Kaplan- God as the ground of being, the power that makes for salvation. Founder of Reconstructionism, Judaism as civilization, influence on all 3 movements of US Judaism.

Yeshayahu Leibowicz- Impossible to speak of  any definition of God- ultimately, only acceptance of mitzvoth. Orthodox  intellectual.



Dalalat al Hairin-Moreh Nebuchim-Guide to the Perplexed

[English translation excerpts from Friedlander edition, courtesy Sefaria,org , in italics. Out line notes in plain font from  Jewish Encyclopedia, 1904 ed, article on MOSES BEN MAIMON. My comments in bold face font].

:Who are the Perplexed? Nebuchim? The work is in Arabic, the language of philosophy, not Hebrew, the language of prayer and halakhah, because Jews have been exposed to the new thinking of the Islamic/Aristotelian world, in that language. Ideas from Aristotle & Plato, neo-Platonism, through Islamic thinkers, Averoes, Al-Farabi, Avicena and others.


Opens with an introductory letter to his student, to whom he dedicates his work:

My dear pupil, ever since you resolved to come to me, from a distant country, and to study under my direction, I thought highly of your thirst for knowledge, and your fondness for speculative pursuits, which found expression in your poems. . . .. But when you had gone with me through a course of astronomy, after having completed the [other] elementary studies which are indispensable for the understanding of that science, I was still more gratified by the acuteness and the quickness of your apprehension. Observing your great fondness for mathematics, I let you study them more deeply, for I felt sure of your ultimate success.”

 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 fulfils his moral and religious duties, and at the same time has been successful in his philosophical studies. Human reason has attracted him to abide within its sphere; and he finds it difficult to accept as correct the teaching based on the literal interpretation of the Law, and especially that which he himself or others derived from those homonymous, metaphorical, or hybrid expressions. Hence he is lost in perplexity and anxiety

However, the full truth can not be taught to all, or even directly to a few. The writings must be intentionally vague:

 You must, therefore, not expect from me more than such heads. And even these have not been methodically and systematically arranged in this work, but have been, on the contrary, scattered, and are interspersed with other topics which we shall have occasion to explain. My object in adopting this arrangement is that the truths should be at one time apparent, and at another time concealed. Thus we shall not be in opposition to the Divine Will (from which it is wrong to deviate) which has withheld from the multitude the truths required for the knowledge of God, according to the words, "The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him" (Ps. 25:14).

 This is not for everyone:

. Lastly, when I have a difficult subject before me--when I find the road narrow, and can see no other way of teaching a well established truth except by pleasing one intelligent man and displeasing ten thousand fools--I prefer to address myself to the one man, and to take no notice whatever of the condemnation of the multitude; I prefer to extricate that intelligent man from his embarrassment and show him the cause of his perplexity, so that he may attain perfection and be at peace.

  Philosophy and Religion.

According to Maimonides, there is no contradiction between the truths which God has revealed and the truths which the human mind, a power derived from God, has discovered. . . . embodied in Bible and Talmud…Maimonides, however, set up the incorporeality of God as a dogma, and placed any person who denied this doctrine upon a level with an idolater

 Examples of misunderstood anthropomorphism:

Part 1 Chapter 1

Some have been of opinion that by the Hebrew ẓelem, the shape and figure of a thing is to be understood, and this explanation led men to believe in the corporeality [of the Divine Being]: for they thought that the words "Let us make man in our ẓelem" (Gen. 1:26), implied that God had the form of a human being, i.e., that He had figure and shape. . .thought that if they were to relinquish it they would eo ipso reject the truth of the Bible: . . ., they would have to deny even the existence of God. The sole difference which they admitted, was that He excelled in greatness and splendour, and that His substance was not flesh and blood. Thus far went their conception of the greatness and glory of God.

He describes numerous metaphors and homonyms that are used in the Bible that are clearly not literal but figurative:

.., the term signifies "the specific form" of man, viz., his intellectual perception, and does not refer to his "figure" or "shape…This term likewise denotes agreement with regard to some abstract relation: comp. "I am like a pelican of the wilderness" (Ps. 102:7); the author does not compare himself to the pelican in point of wings and feathers, but in point of sadness."

 As man's distinction consists in a property which no other creature on earth possesses, viz., intellectual perception, in the exercise of which he does not employ his senses, nor move his hand or his foot, this perception has been compared--though only apparently, not in truth--to the Divine perception, which requires no corporeal organ. On this account, i.e., on account of the Divine intellect with which man has been endowed, he is said to have been made in the form and likeness of the Almighty, but far from it be the notion that the Supreme Being is corporeal, having a material form.

  The use of common personal expressions to convey abstract ideas to the masses

:Chapter 26

You, no doubt, know the Talmudical saying, which includes in itself all the various kinds of interpretation connected with our subject. It runs thus: "The Torah speaks according to the language of man," that is to say, expressions, which can easily be comprehended and understood by all, are applied to the Creator. Hence the description of God by attributes implying corporeality, in order to express His existence: because the multitude of people do not easily conceive existence unless in connection with a body, and that which is not a body nor connected with a body has for them no existence. Whatever we regard as a state of perfection, is likewise attributed to God, as expressing that He is perfect in every respect, and that no imperfection or deficiency whatever is found in Him

 The Divine Attributes. [Negative Attributes]

the misinterpretation of certain Biblical passages that caused some to admit divine attributes. Against this admission Moses argues (1) that an attribute expresses some quality or property which is not inherent in the object described, in this case being an "accident," or (2) that it denotes a property consistent with the essence of the object described; in the latter case the fact of the coexistence of such an attribute would, if applied to God, denote a plurality in the divine essence.

 Indeed, with the exception of the Tetragrammaton, all the divine names are explained by Maimonides as descriptive of His actions. As to His essence, the only way to describe it is negatively. For instance, He is not non-existent, nor non-eternal, nor impotent, etc.

Maimonides completes his study of the attributes by demonstrating that the philosophical principle that God is the "intellectus" , the "ens intelligens", and the "ensintelligibile"  does not imply a plurality in His essence, because in matters of the intellect the "agens" (which acts in the formation of the notions), the action, and the object of the action, are identical. [  intellectus [thought], the ens intelligens [thinker], and the ens intelligibile [thinking process] are one].

In short, when we say God is “good” or “ merciful”, we are only saying that we are using terms that we, as humans understand God’s impact, but can not be a description of God.

Chapter 50-54

you will find many ignorant people professing articles of faith without connecting any idea with them.

If, however, you have a desire to rise to a higher state, viz., that of reflection, and truly to hold the conviction that God is One and possesses true unity, without admitting plurality or divisibility in any sense whatever, you must understand that God has no essential attribute in any form or in any sense whatever, and that the rejection of corporeality implies the rejection of essential attributes. Those who believe that God is One, and that He has many attributes, declare the unity with their lips, and assume plurality in their thoughts. This is like the doctrine of the Christians, who say that He is one and He is three, and that the three are one. Of the same character is the doctrine of those who say that God is One, but that He has many attributes; and that He with His attributes is One, although they deny corporeality and affirm His most absolute freedom from matter; …: you will be of those who truly conceive the Unity of God, not of those who utter it with their lips without thought, . . .

Consider all these and similar attributes, and you will find that they cannot be employed in reference to God. He is not a magnitude that any quality resulting from quantity as such could be possessed by Him; He is not affected by external influences, and therefore does not possess any quality resulting from emotion. He is not subject to physical conditions, and therefore does not possess strength or similar qualities; He is not an animate being, that He should have a certain disposition of the soul, or acquire certain properties, as meekness, modesty, etc., or be in a state to which animate beings as such are subject, as, e.g., in that of health or of illness. Hence it follows that no attribute coming under the head of quality in its widest sense, can be predicated of God. Consequently, these three classes of attributes, describing the essence of a thing, or part of the essence, or a quality of it, are clearly inadmissible in reference to God, for they imply composition, which, as we shall prove, is out of question as regards the Creator.

Before Einstein, he understood time is relative to motion.

. It is quite clear that there is no relation between God and time or space. For time is an accident connected with motion, in so far as the latter includes the relation of anteriority and posteriority, and is expressed by number, as is explained in books devoted to this subject; and since motion is one of the conditions to which only material bodies are subject, and God is immaterial, there can be no relation between Him and time. Similarly there is no relation between Him and space

 Whenever any one of His actions is perceived by us, we ascribe to God that emotion which is the source of the act when performed by ourselves, and call Him by an epithet which is formed from the verb expressing that emotion. We see, e.g., how well He provides for the life of the embryo of living beings; how He endows with certain faculties both the embryo itself and those who have to rear it after its birth, in order that it may be protected from death and destruction, guarded against all harm, and assisted in the performance of all that is required [for its development]. Similar acts, when performed by us, are due to a certain emotion and tenderness called mercy and pity. God is, therefore, said to be merciful: e.g., "Like as a father is merciful to his children, so the Lord is merciful to them that fear Him" (Ps. 103:13); "And I will spare them, as a man spareth (yaḥamol) his own son that serveth him" (Mal. 3:17). Such instances do not imply that God is influenced by a feeling of mercy, but that acts similar to those which a father performs for his son, out of pity, mercy and real affection, emanate from God solely for the benefit of His pious men, and are by no means the result of any impression or change--[produced in God].—…

The principal object of this chapter was to show that all attributes ascribed to God are attributes of His acts, and do not imply that God has any qualities.

 . We can only say what God is not- not many, not body, embodied in space or time.

Chapter 58 Only what God is not

. Know that the negative attributes of God are the true attributes: they do not include any incorrect notions or any deficiency whatever in reference to God, while positive attributes imply polytheism, and are inadequate, as we have already shown. It is now necessary to explain how negative expressions can in a certain sense be employed as attributes, and how they are distinguished from positive attributes. Then I shall show that we cannot describe the Creator by any means except by negative attributes


The last chapters of the first part of the "Moreh" are devoted to a criticism of the theories of the Motekallamin [also spelled mutakallimūn , referring to philosophers of the discourse,a defense of Islamic doctrine.] 

the Motekallamin deny the existence of any law, organization, or unity in the universe. For them the various parts of the universe are independent of one another; they all consist of equal elements; they are not composed of substance and properties, but of atoms and accidents (see Atomism); the law of causality is ignored; man's actions are not the result of will and design, but are mere accidents

[Extension of the concept of the power of Allah as absolute, so that every moment in time is independent of the previous moment, and only comes to be as a result of divine will, insha'allah, if Allah wills it . For Rambam, the universe is an interconnected whole, in which all operate by natural law ]

 Proofs of the Existence of God.

The second part of the "Moreh" opens with the enumeration of the twenty-six propositions through which are proved the existence, the unity, and the incorporeality of the Primal Cause. For the existence of the Primal Cause there are four proofs [Essentially ,argument of a prime mover, that everything must have a beginning, in a chain of existence, but that chain necessitates a beginner].

 Aristotelian Principles.

As there is no disagreement between the principles of Aristotle and the teachings of Scripture as to God, or the Primal Cause, so there is none between their systems of natural philosophy.

 That the spheres are animated and intellectual beings is clearly expressed by the Psalmist. "The heavens declare the glory of God" (Ps. xix. 2 [A. V. 1]) can not be taken as a mere figure of speech. The angels mentioned in the Bible are identical with the Intelligences.

 There is, however, one point on which Maimonides differs from his master. According to Aristotle, these spheres, as well as the Intelligences, coexisted with the Primal Cause, while Maimonides holds that the spheres and the Intelligences were created by the will of God. Maimonides asserts that he was prompted to reject the doctrine of the eternity of matter not because certain passages in Scripture confirm the "creatio ex nihilo," for such passages could easily be explained in a manner that would leave them in harmony with the former doctrine, but because there are better arguments for the "creatio ex nihilo" than for the eternity of the universe.[in other words, philosophical interpretation determines the intent of scriptures. Had reason led him the other way, he would have been able to prove it also]

 Denies Eternity of Matter.

Moreover, Aristotle himself was well aware that he had not proved his thesis. . .[Matter has a beginning and,at some point, ends. This is idea is reflected ie popular Adon Olam: v'acharei kichlot halol, levado yimloch nora- After all has come to its end, He alone will reign in awe.]

Reconciliation of Bible and Aristotle.

  But as Maimonides recognizes the authority of Aristotle in all matters concerning the sublunary world, he proceeds to show that the Biblical account of the creation of the nether world is in perfect accord with Aristotelian views…The account of Adam's sin is interpreted by Maimonides as an allegorical exposition of the relation between sensation,intellect, and moral faculty.

 The Requisites of Prophecy.[Or-why Aristotle never achieved prophecy]

 He agrees with the philosophers in regarding the prophetic faculty as natural to man and in accordance with the laws of nature; in holding that any man whose physical, mental, and moral faculties are in perfect condition may become a prophet; but he holds also that, with all these qualifications, man may still, by divine, miraculous interference, be prevented from prophesying.. . . imagination, which is, according to Maimonides, an essential element in prophecy.

 Origin of Evil.[Natural law, an example of God’s providence for creation, must include both creation and destruction . Any excess damages-are the result of human failure.]

 Maimonides endeavors to show that evil has no positive existence, but is a privation of a certain capacity and does not proceed from God; when, therefore, evils are mentioned in Scripture as sent by God, the Scriptural expressions must be explained allegorically. Indeed, says Maimonides, all existing evils, with the exception of some which have their origin in the laws of production and destruction and which are rather an expression of God's mercy, since by them the species are perpetuated, are created by men themselves.


 God's Providence and Omniscience.

 "God," he says, "perceives future events before they happen, and His perception never fails. Therefore no new ideas can present themselves to Him. He knows that a certain individual will be born at a certain time, will exist for a certain period, and will then cease to exist. The coming into existence of this individual is for God no new fact; nothing has happened that He was unaware of, for He knew this individual, such as he now is, before his birth."

The fact is, no comparison whatever is possible between human knowledge and God's knowledge, the latter being absolutely incomprehensible to human intelligence. . . can man's will assert itself freely? Does not the very fact of God's knowledge compel man to act in accordance with it?. . . "the fact that God knows things while they are in a state of possibility—when their existence belongs to the future—does not change the nature of 'possible' in any way; that remains unchanged; and the knowledge of the realization of one of several possibilities does not affect that realization."

[This is taken to the extreme by Rabbi Levi ben Gershon, Ralbag, Gersonides-on free will- God knows all possible outcomes-there are multiple future possibilities. All exist, like a “ multi-verse]

 The Object of the Commandments.

According to Maimonides, ethics and religion are indissolubly linked together, and all the precepts aim either directly or indirectly at morality. …Thus, for instance, the object of the laws concerning the sacrifices lies in the accompanying prayers and devotions; as to the sacrifices themselves, they were only a concession to the idolatrous habits of the people.

 According to Maimonides, the final aim of the creation of this world is man; that of man is happiness. This happiness can not consist in the activity which he has in common with other animals, but in the exercise of his intellect, which leads to the cognition of truth. The highest cognition is that of God and His unity; consequently the "summum bonum" is the knowledge of God through philosophy.

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