MAIMONIDES: A Biography by Abraham Joshua Heschel


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Rabbi Heschel (1907-1972) made major contributions to Jewish philosophy and theology--not to mention civil rights and ecumenism--but this hagiographical exercise won't rank as one of them. Heschel wrote it (in German) when he was 28, and it unfortunately bears all the marks of indiscriminate youthful enthusiasm. Speaking of Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, he writes: ""The principles and methods he employed with meticulous consistency in his decisions were so lofty that they make the heads of scholars whirl in subsequent centuries down to our own day."" Heschel doesn't analyze, he eulogizes. In positively rapturous tones, for example, he rehearses Maimonides' Aristotelian argument for the unreality of evil (as the absence of good, a series of ""lacunae in Being,"" which have no positive existence), insisting that ""This exposÉ robbed disaster of its strength. . . . Any other conception of evil is sheer fantasy."" Would Heschel have dared to write, ten years later, that the Holocaust was a metaphysical non-event? Heschel's presentation of Maimonides' life and thought is, to put it charitably, uneven. He opens with an account of the rise of the Almohads, but thereafter never gives a coherent description of Maimonides' historical environment. Heschel says nothing about the long line of Jewish thinkers, beginning with Levi ben Gerson (Gersonides), who resisted Maimonides. Instead he quotes stupefying extracts from the correspondence between Maimonides and his sometimes refractory disciple, Joseph Ibn Aknin. Students interested in Maimonides should stick to the biography by Solomon Zeitlin (2nd ed., 1955) and other standard sources.

Pub Date: April 1st, 1982
ISBN: 0374517592
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux