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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Read more at Wall Street Journal

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


Only Hamas’s Defeat Can Pave the Path to Peace

Opponents of the IDF’s campaign in Gaza often appeal to two related arguments: that Hamas is rooted in a set of ideas and thus cannot be defeated militarily, and that the destruction in Gaza only further radicalizes Palestinians, thus increasing the threat to Israel. Rejecting both lines of thinking, Ghaith al-Omar writes:

What makes Hamas and similar militant organizations effective is not their ideologies but their ability to act on them. For Hamas, the sustained capacity to use violence was key to helping it build political power. Back in the 1990s, Hamas’s popularity was at its lowest point, as most Palestinians believed that liberation could be achieved by peaceful and diplomatic means. Its use of violence derailed that concept, but it established Hamas as a political alternative.

Ever since, the use of force and violence has been an integral part of Hamas’s strategy. . . . Indeed, one lesson from October 7 is that while Hamas maintains its military and violent capabilities, it will remain capable of shaping the political reality. To be defeated, Hamas must be denied that. This can only be done through the use of force.

Any illusions that Palestinian and Israeli societies can now trust one another or even develop a level of coexistence anytime soon should be laid to rest. If it can ever be reached, such an outcome is at best a generational endeavor. . . . Hamas triggered war and still insists that it would do it all again given the chance, so it will be hard-pressed to garner a following from Palestinians in Gaza who suffered so horribly for its decision.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Gaza War 2023, Hamas, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict