How did Moses Maimonides redirect the future of Judaism?

Religious traditions are consequently changed over time by significant people. These significant individuals do not necessarily change their respective religions, but they offer new interpretations and open the future path for their religion. Born in Cordoba Spain in 1135, Moses Maimonides was an extremely influential Jewish philosopher and Rabbi who offered new interpretations of the Jewish beliefs and sacred texts and redirected the path of Judaism and its adherents during the time where Judaism was vulnerable to the threats from the Almohads and classical philosophy. Maimonides did this through his role as chief Rabbi of Cairo and his literary works: the Mishnah Torah, the Commentary on the Mishnah, the Guide to the perplexed and the Book of Commandments. Maimonides’ texts helped strengthen Judaism by making it accessible to all Jewish adherents and by providing new interpretations on the Jewish faith.

Maimonides offered new interpretations of the Jewish laws and ethical guidelines through his Mishnah Torah where he provided a simple systematic version of the Talmud in which all Jewish adherents would be able to interpret. Through the Mishnah Torah, Maimonides offered new interpretations of the Torah and the Talmud as he made them more accessible to everyday Jews as well as scholars. In the text, Maimonides revealed that: “A person who first reads the written Torah and then this work will know it from the whole of the Oral Torah” The Mishnah Torah consolidated Jewish adherents who were living in a society dominated by Islam by redirecting them to Judaism, thus preventing them from converting to Islam. In the 21st century, Jewish adherents who don’t have the time to read the Talmud can still acquire knowledge concerning Jewish beliefs and laws in the Mishnah Torah, this shows the impact of Maimonides interpretation of Judaism as without it, Jewish adherents wouldn’t be able to understand the Jewish laws and beliefs, therefore Judaism may not even have existed. Furthermore, the impact of the Mishnah Torah being accessible to all Jewish adherents is revealed by Rabbi Shlomo Moshe Amar (Chief Rabbi of Israel): “They added many indexes… so that it can be accessible to any person at any time, be he simple or wise”. Maimonides’ Mishnah Torah offers new interpretations on Judaism and redirected the future of Judaism.

Maimonides’ Guide to the Perplexed was an innovative philosophical piece of writing which introduced the interpretation that science and religion could co-exist. Through this text, Maimonides strengthened Judaism against the threats of Aristotelian philosophy. By strengthening Judaism, Maimonides directed the future path of Judaism, this is because without his interpretation the Aristotelian philosophy would have undermined the Jewish faith and Judaism may have dissipated. However, the Guide to the Perplexed was subject to controversy within the Jewish and Gentile communities. For instance, various scholars pointed out the contradictions between God’s commandments and the depictions of God. However, Maimonides responded to this criticism by concluding that the bible should not be taken literally. In addition, the Guide to the perplexed revealed that “Truth does not become more true by virtue of the fact that the entire world agrees with it, nor less so even if the whole world disagrees with it”, showing that the fact that science and religion could co-exist is the truth and will remain the truth even if everyone agrees or disagrees with it. Furthermore, the Guide to the Perplexed was further subjected to criticism and controversy as some believed that Maimonides intentionally undermining Judaism by emphasising on rational thought as he concluded that the bible should not be taken literally. By creating a relationship between science and Judaism, Maimonides redirected Judaism during a time of separation between Sephardic and Ashkenazic Jews.

Through his Commentary on the Mishnah, Maimonides offered new interpretations on Judaism and redirected the path of Judaism as he made the Talmud clear, concise and accessible so that it could be understood by all Jewish adherents; past and present.  The Commentary on the Mishnah, collected all the binding laws from the Talmud and explained the meaning behind each Mitzvot. This work also included the 13 principles of faith, which provided Jewish adherents with simple statements regarding Jewish beliefs. At first, the 13 principles of faith attracted widespread controversy, however over time they formed the basis of numerous Jewish credal statements and were added to modern editions of the Talmud, thus showing Maimonides’ redirection of the future of Judaism. Therefore, through his Commentary on the Mishnah and the 13 principles of faith, Maimonides offered new interpretations concerning Jewish faith and redirected the future of Judaism as he highlighted the Jewish beliefs in a universal context so that its relevance would carry on through time.

In his Book of Commandments, Maimonides listed and defined the 613 mitzvot into a simple and clear context. Maimonides divided the mitzvot into positive and negative, this helped Jewish adherents to understand how to live their lives in a morally correct way and how to maintain a good relationship with God. Through his interpretation of the 613 mitzvot, Maimonides redirected the future of Judaism by keeping the Jewish faith strong amongst the Jewish communities whilst facing threats from the Almohads. Therefore, through his interpretation of the mitzvot, Maimonides was able to redirect the future of Judaism by transforming it into a dynamic religion, this is seen today as Judaism still exists in the 21st century and the 613 mitzvot are still applicable to modern society.

Besides his literary works, Maimonides offered new interpretations of Judaism after he became the chief Rabbi of Cairo in 1171. During his time as chief Rabbi, Maimonides dealt with matters ranging from matters that concerned Jewish law to matters that concerned general civil issues. For instance, Jewish adherents (including all members from all social classes) would write to Maimonides for advice on how to maintain their Jewish faith in their communities, Maimonides wrote responses (teshuvot) back to them. Maimonides’ responses helped keep Judaism strong during the Almohad invasion, which redirected the future of Judaism by preventing the religion from dissipating. Maimonides’ momentous contribution as the chief Rabbi of Cairo was acknowledged by the time magazine in 1985: “Maimonides is the most influential Jewish thinker of the Middle Ages, and quite possible of all time” Therefore, during his time as Chief Rabbi of Cairo, Maimonides was able to offer new interpretations of Judaism through his responses to the queries of Jewish adherents from a range of different communities.

Maimonides literary works and the work he had done as chief Rabbi of Egypt provided new interpretations of the Jewish faith and redirected the path of Judaism by helping it to remain existent throughout different time periods. Consequently, without Maimonides’ literary works and responses (as chief Rabbi of Cairo) Judaism would not be the dynamic religion that it is in the 21st century. Through his restructuring and analysation of the integral Jewish texts, Maimonides consolidated the wider Jewish community during times of threats from the Almohads and Aristotelian philosophy. The impact of Maimonides’ work is reflected through the saying: “From moshe to moshe, there arose none like moshe”.  Maimonides impact on Judaism is still relevant today, as his interpretations of the Jewish faith have been concretised and many Jewish adherents continue to follow his guidance.

rambam

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s