Maimonides in religious-Zionist philosophy: Unity vs. Duality

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The considerations that shaped the image of Maimonides in religious-Zionist thought create the following process: (1) The importance of the Maimonidean figure. The personality and endeavor of Maimonides suited the aims of religious-Zionist thought. Maimonides was the paragon of a leader open to his surroundings, an original thinker attentive to general culture, and a halakhist encompassing many realms. Religious-Zionist thought, therefore, presented Maimonides as a model for imitation and a paradigmatic figure. (2) The threat of the Guide. The writers of the religious-national renaissance, however, were suspicious of the Guide. Religious-Zionism, as noted, strove to create a redemptive religious type. As such, this type must certainly be engaged by the surrounding culture, but must also preserve his self-respect and his originality. The Guide, however, is perceived as somewhat obsequious. Its commitment to medieval science in general and to Aristotle in particular threatened the goal of self-respect. (3) Toward a solution. Most religious-Zionist thinkers reconciled the Mishneh Torah and the Guide, and thereby "returned" the philosophical treatise to the bosom of Judaism. Only activists and individualists (Jawitz, and Soloveitchik in his 1940s writings) found it hard to settle the Guide with Maimonides' figure. (Note also that many religious-Zionist thinkers preferred Judah Halevi's approach to that of Maimonides. These include, for instance, the circle that gathered around Abraham and Zvi Judah Kook, who hallowed the Kuzari and called for handling it with awe, and Isaiah Aviad (Wolfsberg), who remained faithful to Halevi's approach in his articles.) Maimonides' figure thus became a symbol representing the intersection of several qualities: leadership, halakhic greatness, creativity, as well as philosophical and cultural openness. This figure suited the pattern of the new (religious) man of the generation promoting a religious-national revival. As far as contents are concerned, most religious-Zionists found other thinkers far more appealing than Maimonides. As an expression of an overpowering, ideal religious pattern, however, there was no alternative to the Maimonidean figure. We can hardly claim that religious-Zionism as a movement developed a special interpretation of Maimonides' personality and endeavor. His figure, however, was a focus of identification or of resistance, since his essential role in a movement of religious revival was obvious to all. Hence, the passionate controversy between Kook and Jawitz and, indirectly, also Soloveitchik, is not merely a historical but a current matter. Maimonides' figure was an icon in the controversy over the acceptable level of openness to general culture, as well as the depth of the mutual relationship between the Jewish heritage on the one hand, and western culture and its philosophical foundations on the other. Religious-Zionism, as noted, voluntarily endorsed the openness warranted by the adoption of the national ideal. Maimonides' figure symbolizes the borders of openness in light of the conservatism warranted by the religious dimension. The current study should also have considered Maimonidean scholarship in Israel and abroad. Most of the second generation scholars of the Guide in Israeli universities are identified with the religious-Zionist idea (Warren Zev Harvey, Steven Harvey, Raphael Jospe, Yaakov Levinger, Daniel J. Lasker, Michael Zvi Nehorai, Avraham Nuriel, Howard Kreisel, Menahem M. Kellner, Aviezer Ravitzky, and so forth). Despite the ideological differences between these scholars, at times indeed abysmal, all are Orthodox and all support Zionism. Many of them were educated in foreign universities and even attained high-ranking positions there, but they immigrated to Israel for ideological reasons. The harsh struggle between supporters and opponents of Maimonidean esotericism among these scholars owes its passion partly to religious national ideology and to the adaptation of Maimonides' image to it. In this essay, I confined my research to Mizrahi ideologues because their religious-Zionist motivations are easily traceable, whereas scholars take pains to conduct their research according to "objective" criteria. It can easily be shown that the unity that David Hartman discerns in Maimonides,68 for instance, fits his philosophical approach. But can we also say so about the other scholars mentioned above? The very admittance of ideological underpinnings could impair research objectivity, a question that is occasionally discussed. The relationship between Maimonides, Israeli academics, and religious-Zionism is a tangled issue, but the existence of this triple association is unquestionable. Indeed, this association sheds further light on the significant place of Maimonides' image in religious-Zionism.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Cultures of Maimonideanism
Subtitle of host publicationNew Approaches to the History of Jewish Thought
EditorsJames T. Robinson
PublisherBrill Academic Publishers
Number of pages52
ISBN (Electronic)9789004174504
StatePublished - 2009

Publication series

NameSupplements to The Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy
ISSN (Print)1873-9008

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This study was supported by Suna and İnan Kıraç Foundation (SVIKV) (2005–2008, 2008–2011, 2011–2014) , Bogazici University (Grant number 99HB0101 02OB0101 04B101D 08HB102 10B01P8 11B01P6) Research Funds (BAP), and The Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey (TUBITAK-SBAG2007 COST-TUBITAK-SBAG2007 TUBITAK-EVRENA-SBAG2009) . We gratefully acknowledge their generous contributions. We thank Ilknur Yıldız, Selda Dağdeviren, Irmak Şahbaz, Alireza Khodadadi Jamayran, Helena Alstermark, and Anna Birve for their excellent technical assistance. We extend our thanks to Professor Jeffrey D. Macklis (Harvard Medical School, MA, USA) and Professor Peter Andersen (Umea University, Umea, Sweden) for their constructive contributions to this study; to Professor Coşkun Özdemir and Dr Sevtap Savaş for the critical reading of the manuscript; and to Cemile Koçoğlu, Fulya Akçimen, and Hamid Hamzeiy for their assistance in the preparation of the figures and tables. Last but not least, we cordially thank our patients, their families, and the Turkish ALS Association for their invaluable cooperation. This study is dedicated to the memory of our esteemed collaborator Dr Hilmi Özçelik, who passed away on May 2, 2013.


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