Maimonides at the Museum

In all of post-biblical Jewish history, there are few figures that rival the rabbi, philosopher, and physician Moses Maimonides (1138–1204) in stature. The Golden Path: Maimonides across Eight Centuries, on display at the Yeshiva University Museum, begins with manuscripts and annotations in the great rabbi’s own hand, and continues with numerous editions of his works as well as such related items as a handwritten text by Isaac Newton that relies heavily on Maimonides’ treatise on astronomy. Edward Rothstein writes in his review:

From more recent centuries we see a 1784 Hebrew prayer composed in New York after the American Revolution incorporating Maimonides’ doctrines of faith, mentioning George Washington, and offering thanks for granting “these thirteen states of America everlasting freedom.” More visceral evocations of Maimonides appear in 20th-century artifacts and images, including Arthur Szyk’s haunting portrait of Maimonides as a medievalesque melancholic, leaning on Hebraic scrolls and surrounded by allegorical trappings of wealth. And finally, contemporary Maimonides memorabilia include toddler outfits, postage stamps, and school notebooks.

Unfortunately, from the books alone we can’t really get a sense of the philosopher’s taut binding of the faculty of reason and religious faith, or of how he combined severe scrutiny with interpretive flexibility. These volumes are mainly written in Hebrew or Judeo-Arabic. Detailed translations as part of the displays would have helped, but perhaps only cursorily. Maimonides’ two most important works—codifying Jewish law in the encyclopedic Mishneh Torah and conducting a philosophical inquiry into the nature of God and Jewish belief in Guide of the Perplexed—are meant to be studied, not perused.

Each display can also lead to a widening network of historical facts and ideas. In one case, Maimonides’ works—born out of a milieu of cross-cultural learning and inquiry—are bound up in a fate that echoed his own life struggles. We see copies of Mishneh Torah published in Venice in 1550–51 by two different Christian-run Hebrew presses. A lawsuit between them over some commentary led to an appeal to the pope, who then called for an investigation by the Inquisition. The result? . . . In Rome and then in Venice, public bonfires destroyed every copy of the Talmud that could be discovered, attempting to eradicate that multi-volume compendium of Jewish law and debate that helped shape Maimonides’ religious world.

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More about: American Revolution, Anti-Semitism, Jewish museums, Judaism, Moses Maimonides

Israel’s Covert War on Iran’s Nuclear Program Is Impressive. But Is It Successful?

Sept. 26 2023

The Mossad’s heist of a vast Iranian nuclear archive in 2018 provided abundant evidence that Tehran was not adhering to its commitments; it also provided an enormous amount of actionable intelligence. Two years later, Israel responded to international inspectors’ condemnation of the Islamic Republic’s violations by using this intelligence to launch a spectacular campaign of sabotage—a campaign that is the subject of Target Tehran, by Yonah Jeremy Bob and Ilan Evyatar. David Adesnik writes:

The question that remains open at the conclusion of Target Tehran is whether the Mossad’s tactical wizardry adds up to strategic success in the shadow war with Iran. The authors give a very respectful hearing to skeptics—such as the former Mossad director Tamir Pardo—who believe the country should have embraced the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. Bob and Evyatar reject that position, arguing that covert action has proven itself the best way to slow down the nuclear program. They acknowledge, however, that the clerical regime remains fully determined to reach the nuclear threshold. “The Mossad’s secret war, in other words, is not over. Indeed, it may never end,” they write.

Which brings us back to Joe Biden. The clerical regime was headed over a financial cliff when Biden took office, thanks to the reimposition of sanctions after Washington withdrew from the nuclear deal. The billions flowing into Iran on Biden’s watch have made it that much easier for the regime to rebuild whatever Mossad destroys in addition to weathering nationwide protests on behalf of women, life, and freedom. Until Washington and Jerusalem get on the same page—and stay there—Tehran’s nuclear ambitions will remain an affordable luxury for a dictatorship at war with its citizens.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Joseph Biden, Mossad, U.S. Foreign policy