One of the great and perennial problems in law is the relationship between “the rules” and the transcendental order (if any) that animates them. This is so in all the Abrahamic religions, which have, over the centuries, developed different understandings of that relationship. Even within a single religion, different strains emerge: the Thomism of Catholicism differs from the approach of the Christian East and from Protestant understandings. Luther burned the canon law books, after all.
A new book from Yale explores perhaps the greatest sage of Jewish law who attempted a synthesis between faith and legal reasoning: Maimonides: Faith in Reason. The author is Alberto Manguel. Here’s the publisher’s description:
An exploration of Maimonides, the medieval philosopher, physician, and religious thinker, author of The Guide of the Perplexed, from one of the world’s foremost bibliophiles
Moses ben Maimon, or Maimonides (1138–1204), was born in Córdoba, Spain. The gifted son of a judge and mathematician, Maimonides fled Córdoba with his family when he was thirteen due to Almohad persecution of all non-Islamic faiths. Forced into a long exile, the family spent a decade in Spain before settling in Morocco. From there, Maimonides traveled to Palestine and Egypt, where he died at Saladin’s court.
As a scholar of Jewish law, a physician, and a philosopher, Maimonides was a singular figure. His work in extracting all the commanding precepts of Jewish law from the Hebrew Bible and the Talmud, interpreting and commenting on them, and translating them into terms that would allow students to lead sound Jewish lives became the model for translating God’s word into a language comprehensible by all. His work in medicine—which brought him such fame that he became Saladin’s personal physician—was driven almost entirely by reason and observation.
In this biography, Alberto Manguel examines the question of Maimonides’ universal appeal—he was celebrated by Jews, Arabs, and Christians alike. In our time, when the need for rationality and recognition of the truth is more vital than ever, Maimonides can help us find strategies to survive with dignity in an uncertain world.