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.

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

At the UN, Nikki Haley Told the Truth about Israel—and the World Didn’t Burn Down

April 22 2019

Although Nikki Haley had never been to Israel when she took the position of American ambassador to the UN, and had no prior foreign-policy experience, she distinguished herself as one of the most capable and vigorous defenders of the Jewish state ever to hold the position. Jon Lerner, who served as Haley’s deputy during her ambassadorship, sees the key to her success—regarding both Israel and many other matters—in her refusal to abide by the polite fictions that the institution holds sacred:

Myths are sometimes assets in international relations. The fiction that Taiwan is not an independent country, for example, allows [the U.S.] to sustain [its] relationship with China. In other cases, however, myths can create serious problems. On Israel–Palestinian issues, the Trump administration was determined to test some mythical propositions that many had come to take for granted, and, in some cases, to refute them. Haley’s prominence at the UN arose in large part from a conscious choice to reject myths that had pervaded diplomacy on Israel–Palestinian issues for decades. . . .

[For instance], U.S. presidents were intimidated by the argument that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would trigger violent explosions throughout the Muslim world. President Trump and key colleagues doubted this, and they turned out to be right. Violent reaction in the Palestinian territories was limited, and there was virtually none elsewhere in Arab and Islamic countries. . . .

It turns out that the United States can support Israel strongly and still work closely with Arab states to promote common interests like opposing Iranian threats. The Arab street is not narrowly Israel-minded and is not as volatile as long believed. The sky won’t fall if the U.S. stops funding UN sacred cows like the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA). Even if future U.S. administrations revert to the policies of the past, these old assumptions will remain disproved. That is a valuable accomplishment that will last long after Nikki Haley’s UN tenure.

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More about: Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, United Nations, US-Israel relations