A Great Scholar’s Lost Introduction to the Thought of Maimonides

Jan. 11 2021

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.

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More about: Cairo Geniza, Jewish Thought, Judaism, Moses Maimonides

How the Death of Mahsa Amini Changed Iran—and Its Western Apologists

Sept. 28 2022

On September 16, a twenty-two-year-old named Mahsa Amini was arrested by the Iranian morality police for improperly wearing a hijab. Her death in custody three days later, evidently after being severely beaten, sparked waves of intense protests throughout the country. Since then, the Iranian authorities have killed dozens more in trying to quell the unrest. Nervana Mahmoud comments on how Amini’s death has been felt inside and outside of the Islamic Republic:

[I]n Western countries, the glamorizing of the hijab has been going on for decades. Even Playboy magazine published an article about the first “hijabi” news anchor in American TV history. Meanwhile, questioning the hijab’s authenticity and enforcement has been framed as “Islamophobia.” . . . But the death of Mahsa Amini has changed everything.

Commentators who downplayed the impact of enforced hijab have changed their tune. [Last week], CNN’s Christiane Amanpour declined an interview with the Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi, and the Biden administration imposed sanctions on Iran’s notorious morality police and senior officials for the violence carried out against protesters and for the death of Mahsa Amini.

The visual impact of the scenes in Iran has extended to the Arab world too. Arabic media outlets have felt the winds of change. The death of Mahsa Amini and the resulting protests in Iran are now top headlines, with Arab audiences watching daily as Iranian women from all age groups remove their hijabs and challenge the regime policy.

Iranian women are making history. They are teaching the world—including the Muslim world—about the glaring difference between opting to wear the hijab and being forced to wear it, whether by law or due to social pressure and mental bullying. Finally, non-hijabi women are not afraid to defy, proudly, their Islamist oppressors.

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Read more at Nervana

More about: Arab World, Iran, Women in Islam