Books on Maimonides
Moshe Halbertal’s Hebrew biography, Rambam (Merkaz Zalman Shazar), is characteristically brilliant. Although the first and longest chapter, nearly 70 pages, chronicles the Rambam’s life and his role as a communal leader, the book is primarily an intellectual biography, based on Rambam’s major works. Each chapter is sharp and probing, providing thoughtful insights into the Rambam’s ideas, goals, and accomplishments. I would hesitate, however, to recommend this book as an introduction to Rambam’s thought, as it strikes me as too sophisticated for the lay reader. Those with a basic appreciation for the Rambam’s writings and ideas, however, will certainl enjoy this compelling biography.
Menachem Kellner’s Science in the Bet Midrash: Studies in Maimonides (Academic Studies Press) is a collection of previously published English essays, organized around 4 major themes: Approaches to the Study of Maimonides; Religious Faith and Dogma; Science and Torah; and Universalism. Fans of Kellner’s writings, including myself, will surely recognize that these themes (particulary dogma and universalism) were also the subject of some of his acclaimed (and sometimes controversial) books. Those who have read those books may find some of the articles superfluous (sometimes they reflect earlier drafts, other times slight amendments or clarifications), but they remain probing and stimulating. The articles are intended for the scholarly or sophisticated lay reader.
The Jewish Publication Society has republished two important works by David Hartman on Rambam: Torah and Philsophical Quest and Epistles of Maimonides: Crisis and Leadership (with Abraham Halkin). They remain important works, and the former remains a classic work regarding how Rambam reconciled his philosophical and halakhic commitments.
Prof. Yaakov (Gerald) Blidstein, Israel Prize laureate and member of Tradition’s editorial board, published a collection of his Hebrew articles, Studies in Halakhic and Aggadic Thought (Mossad Bialik), which include many imporant studies on Rambam. Blidstein, who might be the most important scholar on Mishneh Torah in his generation, includes several seminal studies, including the Rambam’s eschatolgoical vision of universal political dominion, his understanding of the Oral Law, the status of Islam, living in Eretz Yisrael, and many other important topics. The collection, however, also highlights his expertise in other areas of rabbinic literature, including articles on rabbinic autonomy and collective punishment.
More recently, Blidstein’s students, colleagues, and admirers published a festchrift in his honor, By the Well: Studies in Jewish Philosophy and Halakhic Thought Presented to Gerald J. Blidstein, ed. Uri Ehrlich, Howard Kreisel, and Daniel J. Lasker, (Mossad Bialik), including over 30 Hebrew studies related to his broad interests. Highlight articles include:
Alon Goshen-Gottstein: Other Gods in Ramban’s Thought (including implications for contemporary interfaith dialogue); David Henschke: Rambam’s Sefer Ha-Mitzvot and its role in Rambam’s legal thought; Daniel Lasker: Ahavat Hashem and Kiddush Hashem according to R’ Yehuda Halevi and Rambam; Enat Navot: Rav Herzog’s Perspective on Testimony by Sabbath desecrators; Menachem Kellner: Rambam in the eyes of Rav Aharon Kotler; and many other interesting studies.
The work also includes a bibliography of Blidstein’s many publications, including a few in Tradition. The work is a fitting tribute to this important scholar.
Since we are discussing Mossad Bialik, we should note that they have been publishing a series of medieval works of Jewish philosophy, prepared and edited by members of the Jewish philosophy department at Ben-Gurion University. Two recent works include: Levi Ben Avraham’s Livyat Hen: The Quality Prophecy and the Secrets of the Torah, ed. Howard Kreisel, and The Writings of R. Moshe Ibn Tibbon, ed. Howard Kreisel, Colette Sirat, and Avraham Israel.
The Eight Chapters of the Rambam is an English translation by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman of Shemoneh Perakim. Additionally, the footnotes include reflections on how the Rambam’s teachings can improve our own behavior.