It is impossible to overstate Maimonides' influence on Jewish philosophy. Although his predecessor Judah Halevi may have come closer to expressing what most Jews think about God, and his successor Levi ben Gerson (Gersonides) may have been a more rigorous practitioner of scholastic philosophy, neither shaped Jewish self-understanding the way Maimonides did. One reason is the breadth of his contribution: In addition to his standing as a philosopher, Maimonides established a commanding reputation as a rabbi, Talmudic expositor, physician, and social commentator. But the most important reason has to do with intellectual power. By trying to bring Judaism and philosophy closer together, he did not leave either as he found it. If Judaism became more rigorous in defending its central beliefs, philosophy became more willing to face its limitations. In Maimonidesâ€™ judgment, Judaism stands or falls on its commitment to an incorporeal God who cannot be represented in bodily form. It is clear, however, that this commitment runs counter to the tendency of most people to think in material terms and deny the existence of anything incorporeal. The problem is acute because for Maimonides to conceive of God in the wrong way is not to conceive of God at all. Thus a person who prays to an image of a king on a throne has not fulfilled the commandments of the religion no matter what else he or she may do. Nor, as far as Maimonides is concerned, has he or she fulfilled the rational potential of a human being.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Arts and Humanities(all)