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Did Maimonides Value Philosophical Knowledge over Jewish Law?

The work of Moses Maimonides loomed large in the thought of the 20th-century sage Joseph B. Soloveitchik, both as a prism through which to understand talmudic law and as a model for reconciliation between Judaism and Western rationalism. Yet Soloveitchik’s published writings contain little analysis of Maimonides’ philosophical magnum opus, the Guide of the Perplexed. A new book, based on one student’s extensive notes on Soloveitchik’s lectures, has changed this. The volume’s editor, Lawrence Kaplan, comments on the rabbi’s solution to one thorny problem posed by Maimonidean thought. (Interview by Alan Brill.)

[A]n old objection to Maimonides . . . [claims that he] follows Aristotle in maintaining that knowledge is superior to morality—in the form both of moral virtue and of moral action—and, furthermore, in arguing that only intellectual knowledge possesses intrinsic value, while morality possesses merely instrumental worth, serving only as a steppingstone to attaining intellectual perfection. From this it would follow that halakhah, dealing with action, is of lesser worth than science, [and that] the study of halakhah is inferior to the study of the sciences. . . .

Soloveitchik counters this objection by claiming that Maimonides distinguishes between two stages of ethics: pre-theoretical ethics—ethical action that precedes knowledge of the universe and God—and post-theoretical ethics, ethical action that follows upon knowledge of the universe and God. Pre-theoretical ethics is indeed inferior to theory and purely instrumental; however, post-theoretical ethics is . . . the imitation of God’s divine attributes of lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness—the ethics referred to at the very end of the Guide. It is this stage of ethics that [according to both Maimonides and Soloveitchik] constitutes the individual’s highest perfection.

Read more at Book of Doctrines and Opinions

More about: Aristotle, Halakhah, Jewish Thought, Joseph B. Soloveitchik, Maimonides, Religion & Holidays

The Myth of the Disappearing Two-State Solution

A frequent refrain among those who claim the need for an immediate peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians is that soon it will “too late” for compromise. According to this argument, the ongoing increase in the number of Jews living on the West Bank will soon lead to Palestinian and Israeli populations that are hopelessly entangled, rendering any division of territory impossible. But, writes Jackson Diehl, the facts tell a different story:

The annual UN General Assembly is under way this week in New York, so we can expect to hear, again, its most hackneyed rhetorical theme—the Israeli-Palestinian “peace process.” Speaker after speaker will declaim the urgency of settling the conflict once and for all; many will assert that the time for doing so has all but expired. . . . It consequently seems worthwhile to offer a couple of reality checks: no, this is not the time to fashion a Mideast peace deal; and, no, the time for one has not run out.

Of the some 600,000 [Jewish] settlers who live outside Israel’s internationally recognized borders, just 94,000 are outside the border-like barrier that Israel built through the West Bank a decade ago. Just 20,000 of those moved in since 2009, when Benjamin Netanyahu returned to office; in a sea of 2.9 million Palestinians, they are hardly overwhelming. Last year, 43 percent of the settler population growth was in just two towns that sit astride the Israeli border—and that Mahmoud Abbas himself has proposed for Israeli annexation.

If the Palestinians were today to accept the deal they were offered nine years ago by then-Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, a state on 94.2 percent of the West Bank, only 20 percent of current settlers would find themselves on the wrong side of the border. . . . It follows that a wise U.S. policy would aim at preserving that option until Israeli and Palestinian leaders emerge who can act on it.

Read more at Washington Post

More about: Israel & Zionism, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Settlements, Two-State Solution, United Nations