a1 Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion Cincinnati, Ohio University of the Free State Bloemfontein, South Africa
The study of Moses ben Maimon's works is ultimately tied into scholars' assumptions about whether they are reading the writings of Maimonides, the medieval Jewish philosopher par excellence, or Rambam, the premier medieval codifier of halakhah. Three approaches to interpreting his works have dominated scholarship for the last century. Some read the works as consisting of two essentially independent oeuvres: halakhic works written for one audience and philosophical works for another. Thus, Maimonides did not need to be consistent in his views. The supporters of Maimonides the philosopher read his halakhic works as secretly containing philosophical truths consistent with those in the Guide of the Perplexed (referred to as GP herein). The supporters of Rambam prefer to see the Mishneh Torah as the foremost statement of his views and the philosophical stance expressed in the Guide as disingenuous. In the words of Menachem Kellner, Maimonides is presented as “everything from a late convert to Kabbalah to a halakhist, who in truth disdained philosophy, to an Aristotelian philosopher, whose own innermost thoughts stood in conscious opposition to normative Jewish teachings.”
This article began as a presentation at the Midewest Jewish Studies Association (MWJS) conference held at Hebrew Union College–Jewish Institute of Religion in Cincinnati in September 2006. A draft of the article was later shared at a workshop for junior faculty in Jewish studies hosted by the American Academy of Jewish Research and the Frankel Center for Jewish Studies at the University of Michigan in May 2007. I am grateful to the organizers and the participants for their insightful responses. In addition, I would like to thank my colleagues, David H. Aaron, Barry Kogan, Lawrence Kaplan, Haim Rechnitzer, Dana Herman, and Jaqueline Du Toit, for their guidance and help.