Friday, October 10, 2008

R' Yehuda Halevi, Ramban and Maharal - Threefold, yet unified

I was reading Prof. Twersky's article on Maimonides and Eretz Yisroel and I came across the following intriguing statement (pg. 261 fn.10):

"In many respects, R. Judah Halevi, Nahmonides, and Maharal constitute a special strand in Jewish thought-threefold, yet unified."

I'd like to try to expand on this.

Threefold - This is obvious. R' Yehudah Halevi represents the philosophic view, Ramban the Kabbalistic (there are various anti-Maimonidean statements throughout the commentary but cf. his famous letter of compromise during the First Maimonidean Controversy.), and Maharal a complex synthesis of the two.

yet unified - I would identify this with what Shadal called Abrahamism [1] (see at length in Marc Gopins outstanding diss.) I think the important points here is 1- all three thinkers view the realtionship with God as personal, rather then the more "abstract" system of Rambam or Ibn Ezra (perhaps father/son as compared to servant/master.) [2] 2 - All three of the above have a highly Judeo-centric view of the universe.

[1]Shadal places Avraham Avinu, Rashi and R' Yehuda HaLevi as the main representatives of Abrahmism. See Gopin on the significance of the placement of Avrahma rather then Moshe as the founder of Judaism.

[2] Another point - in line with the above - For Halevi and the Jewish mystics, Holiness is ontologically innate, a state that inheres in Jewish prophets, places, or sanctified artifacts of their very nature. It "reflects a reality which is really 'out there,' an actual facet of the cosmos, even if not accessible to our senses." The aspect of "holiness" that impinges most robustly upon our contemporaneous sociopolitical lives is surely the Land of Israel, especially Jerusalem. In his day, Kellner observes, Halevi endorsed this stance without qualification. On the other hand, consistent with his conceptualization of holiness in other spheres, Maimonides appears to view the sanctity of the Land as conditional. - Review of Maimonides confrontation with Mysticism - Midstream.


Moti Kagan said...

"Shadal places Avraham Avinu, Rashi and R' Yehuda HaLevi as the main representatives of Abrahmism."
Which of Shadal's works is this in? I'm interested and would like to read it, if only for the enormous affection that betrays for Rashi.

"perhaps father/son as compared to servant/master" I know too little about Rambam's philosophy, but I think this characterization does it an injustice. Master/slave is as anthropomorphic as father/son, but a strongly un-anthropomorphic approach seems central to Rambam.

Thank you for your great writing--I really love your blog.

Wolf2191 said...


You are essentially correct.According to Rambam(according to my very limited understanding) there is no relationship per se- but rather each person strives to achieve a sort of comprehension of the infinite (perhaps - man reaching up as opposed to Yehuda Halevi's God reaching down.)but my basic point is still valid (personal vs. abstract)

I was actually thinking of the difference between a Avraham centered religion (relationship) to a Moshe centered religion (commandments) when I wrote that sentence.

Shadal has the sentiment scattered throughout his writings - I am thinking of his correspondence with Shir - but I think it may be in Yesodei Torah as well. Gopin is the best study of Shadallian philosophy.

Anonymous said...

Ralbag, the arch-Maimonidean, believed that certain geographical locations, i.e. Erez Yisrael in general and specific locations therein in particular, inherently have special "spiritual" (for want of a better word) qualities. He utilizes this concept throughout his Commentary on the Torah. e.g.:

בראשית פרק י"ב פסוק ח'

ונטה אהלו שם ... לראותו שהמקום ההוא יותר נאות שישפע בו השפע האלקי. ולזה בנה שם מזבח לשם יתברך והתפלל שם אליו להיות המקום ההוא ראוי שישלם בו הדבקות, אשר בעבורו ישמע ד' לתפלת בני האדם. וספר שמסעות אברם כלם היו ללכת לפאת דרום, לבחור המקום היותר נאות בארץ כנען שישלם בו הדבקות האלקי. כי כבר ימצאו מקומות מוכנים לזה יותר מזולתם כטעם אין זה כי אם בית אלקים.

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