In 1963, a new translation of the medieval Jewish philosopher and halakhist Moses Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed, rendered into Arabic from English by Shlomo Pines, with a seminal introduction by the political scientist Leo Strauss. The late orientalist S.D. Goitein—who did more than anyone to bring to light and interpret the treasure of the Cairo Genizah, and thus to illuminate the world in which Maimonides lived—wrote a review of the translation, recently made available online with an introduction by Warren Zev Harvey, in Philadelphia’s Jewish Exponent. In his review, Goitein sums up the book’s aim:
The Guide—we should remember—was intended to give an answer to the questions of the perplexed not of our own time, but of those of the 12th century. At that time there were many educated Jews who had studied the sciences and Greek philosophy and were also versed in the Bible and post-biblical Jewish writings. Such people were very much disturbed by the obvious discrepancies between rational thinking and many passages in the Hebrew scriptures. Maimonides’ first aim was the demonstration of the rationality of the Jewish religion. For, according to him, religion is not a faith opposed to rational thinking, but represents the highest form of rational thinking itself.
However, it would be entirely erroneous to assume that Maimonides solely intended to restore the “peace of mind” to the Jewish intellectuals of his time. Maimonides’ ultimate goal was the guidance of the select few to the highest possible level of spirituality the human mind is able to attain.
It was not only moral perfection, utmost justice, and lovingkindness in relation to our fellowmen, which was postulated by Maimonides. This, according to him, was only a preparatory stage, to be complemented by the struggle for spiritual perfection, the constant pursuit of a life with God.
This insistence on incessant striving for one’s own perfection is an ideal valid for all times.