Mai­monides, Spin­oza and Us: Toward an Intel­lec­tu­al­ly Vibrant Judaism

Rab­bi Marc D. Angel
  • Review
By – August 26, 2011
Seri­ous treat­ments ofMai­monides or Spin­ozaare usu­al­ly found in weighty schol­ar­ly tomes. Rab­bi Marc Angel’s slim but seri­ous new vol­ume seeks only to point out cer­tain areas of con­gru­ence as well as con­flict in the writ­ings of these two giants by cit­ing their orig­i­nal words and by apply­ing the con­cepts to the con­tem­po­rary poles in Ortho­doxy of dog­ma­tism vs. intel­lec­tu­al engage­ment. The stat­ed goal of the work is to put forth a ratio­nale for an open Ortho­dox the­ol­o­gy. 

Both Mai­monides and Spin­oza chal­lenged author­i­ty. How­ev­er, Mai­monides felt ulti­mate­ly bound to Jew­ish tra­di­tion while Spin­oza reject­ed it. For Spin­oza, rea­son was every­thing. For Mai­monides, rev­e­la­tion, tran­scen­dence, and per­son­al expe­ri­ence were cog­nate to rea­son. Mai­monides used rea­son and log­ic to explain tex­tu­al and the­o­log­i­cal issues, while Spin­oza reject­ed what­ev­er his rea­son could not accept. It should be not­ed that while Mai­monides was not excom­mu­ni­cat­ed, he was exco­ri­at­ed in many cir­cles for chal­leng­ing the reli­gio-the­o­log­i­cal sta­tus quo. 

The book cov­ers a wide range of top­ics includ­ing the role of women, con­ver­sion, super­sti­tion, and the nature of God.

One sens­es Rab­bi Angel’s frus­tra­tion with some reli­gious lead­ers’ obscu­ran­tism, rigid­i­ty, and author­i­tar­i­an­ism. It is true that the Mai­monidean con­tro­ver­sy is still rag­ing. While we do not expect most rank and file Jews to be capa­ble of devel­op­ing a sys­tem­at­ic philosophy/ the­ol­o­gy based on tra­di­tion­al and philo­soph­i­cal writ­ings, this book is an excel­lent intro­duc­tion to the basic con­cepts. It’s also a great gift to give to a rabbi.
Wal­lace Greene, Ph.D., has held sev­er­al uni­ver­si­ty appoint­ments, and cur­rent­ly writes and lec­tures on Jew­ish and his­tor­i­cal subjects.

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