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Maimonides: Life and Thought [Hardcover]

Moshe Halbertal
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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Book Description

24 Nov 2013

Maimonides was the greatest Jewish philosopher and legal scholar of the medieval period, a towering figure who has had a profound and lasting influence on Jewish law, philosophy, and religious consciousness. This book provides a comprehensive and accessible introduction to his life and work, revealing how his philosophical sensibility and outlook informed his interpretation of Jewish tradition.

Moshe Halbertal vividly describes Maimonides's childhood in Muslim Spain, his family's flight to North Africa to escape persecution, and their eventual resettling in Egypt. He draws on Maimonides's letters and the testimonies of his contemporaries, both Muslims and Jews, to offer new insights into his personality and the circumstances that shaped his thinking. Halbertal then turns to Maimonides's legal and philosophical work, analyzing his three great books--Commentary on the Mishnah, the Mishneh Torah, and the Guide of the Perplexed. He discusses Maimonides's battle against all attempts to personify God, his conviction that God's presence in the world is mediated through the natural order rather than through miracles, and his locating of philosophy and science at the summit of the religious life of Torah. Halbertal examines Maimonides's philosophical positions on fundamental questions such as the nature and limits of religious language, creation and nature, prophecy, providence, the problem of evil, and the meaning of the commandments.

A stunning achievement, Maimonides offers an unparalleled look at the life and thought of this important Jewish philosopher, scholar, and theologian.


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (24 Nov 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691158517
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691158518
  • Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 16.5 x 24.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 335,368 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

Winner of the 2013 National Jewish Book Award in Scholarship, Jewish Book Council

"In his rigorous and insightful study Maimonides: Life and Thought, Moshe Halbertal reintroduces readers to this rabbi-scientist, who insisted that faith should be an enterprise based on reason."--Dara Horn, Wall Street Journal

"Maimonides, then, remains an elusive and fascinating figure: his importance is clear, but it's hard to grasp exactly what made him so important. That is why Maimonides: Life and Thought, the new study by Moshe Halbertal, is such a valuable contribution. . . . Readers who are curious about this difficult but rewarding thinker will find Maimonides: Life and Thought a thrillingly lucid introduction."--Adam Kirsch, Barnes & Noble Review

"Moshe Halbertal's Maimonides is a useful guide to the man and his work, with something to offer both novice and scholar. . . . [T]his admirable work invites us to study Moses Maimonides' writings on our own."--Mark Blitz, Weekly Standard

"[M]agisterial. . . . Halbertal presents a moving and detailed portrait of Maimonides's life as well as his work. . . . Maimonides is not just a titan of Jewish learning; as Halbertal shows in his timely and definitive book, he can be a surprisingly contemporary guide for our times."--David Mikics, Forward

"[Halbertal] pioneers a new path, walking the reader through the different interpretive schools and explaining what supports each one while acknowledging that Maimonides contradicts himself both across and within his many writings--at times purposefully, which inevitably leaves his readers perplexed. Halbertal is a wonderful guide, explaining how different approaches illuminate Maimonides' writings and how certain issues reverberate throughout the sage's work, returning in new forms and contexts. . . . Drawing on all of Maimonides' writings, and especially his many letters, Halbertal crafts a portrait of a refugee who never fully left home and felt the pain of exile for his entire life. . . . [An] extraordinary book."--Jay M. Harris, Foreign Affairs

"Halbertal, a professor of both law and Jewish studies, is equipped to grasp the richness of Maimonides's thought, which reflects a potent blend of rabbinic expertise and philosophical acumen. . . . If Halbertal's book accomplishes nothing else but to inspire this Maimonidean approach to life and religion, then he has done his job well."--James A. Diamond, Jerusalem Post

"[S]tudying the Andalusian refugee Maimonides will be revealing and this terrific book by the philosopher Moshe Halbertal is a great place to begin."--Richard Marshall, 3ammagazine.com

"In a sea of literature about the great twelfth-century Jewish sage and philosopher, one could do no better than turn to Moshe Halbertal's single volume work on Maimonides. . . . Accessible to both scholar and interested general reader, this book should be the first work on Maimonides for an English reader to approach."--David Tesler, Association of Jewish Libraries Reviews

"This insightful, well-written book offers a fresh perspective on Maimonides. Halbertal offers an excellent introductory overview of Maimonides's life and contributions to Jewish law, philosophy, medicine, and religious consciousness. He also makes clear how Mainmonides's personality, psychology, and evolving outlook penetrate his oeuvre. . . . The author offers a window into the self-perception of this greatest of medieval rabbinic thinkers, physicians, legalists, and theologians, and the radical transformations he sought to effect in Judaism."--Choice

"[A] valuable and impressive achievement."--Eric Shoag, Jewish Journal

"Halbertal's book provides an introduction to the complexity of Maimonides's work, and should be studied by any serious Maimonides scholar."--Tamar Rudavsky, Journal of the History of Philosophy

"[A] brilliant tour de force . . ."--Lawrence Kaplan, Jewish Review of Books

"In this excellent study, Moshe Halbertal makes it clear, in keeping with Maimonides, that there is no one way to understand the Jewish tradition."--Jude P. Dougherty, Mary Elizabeth Tetzlaff

"[A]n unusually comprehensive overview of Maimonides achievements."--Berel Dov Lerner, Religion & Theology

From the Inside Flap

"In the gorgeous and rugged terrain of Jewish thought, there is no higher mountain to climb than Maimonides, and no more slippery or exhilarating ascent. Halbertal has made it all the way to the top, and his survey of the whole of the Maimonidean landscape is trustworthy and masterful. This is the richest and most intellectually sophisticated book on Maimonides I have ever read."--Leon Wieseltier

"In this learned and penetrating work, Halbertal offers us a Maimonides who draws on the dominant Greco-Islamic thought of his time while creating a system of thought that is fully Jewish. He shows us how the early Commentary on the Mishnah links up with the Mishneh Torah and with the Guide of the Perplexed, written at the end of his life, to form an unexpected and radical intellectual unity. Beautifully written, Maimonides brings out both Maimonides's intellectual success and the paradoxical critical approaches to him after his death."--David J. Wasserstein, Vanderbilt University

"Insightful and learned. Halbertal is perhaps the leading philosopher of Jewish law today. His book on Maimonides, like his other writings, reflects wide erudition and is written clearly and sharply."--Warren Zev Harvey, professor emeritus, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

"Displaying the marvelous depth and clarity that mark all his work, Halbertal explains in abundant detail the transformations that Maimonides sought to effect in the Jewish world. He provides incisive interpretations of both legal and philosophical writings, yet he is also a biographer, binding together Maimonides's life, self-perception, and intellectual agenda. This is an exceptionally rich book, one that offers fresh perspectives for experts and a highly accessible introduction for general readers."--David Shatz, Yeshiva University

"An outstanding and thrilling portrait of Maimonides. Halbertal's analytic lucidity and psychological depth are singular, and his talents are abundantly apparent on every page. This is an extraordinary book."--Menachem Lorberbaum, Tel Aviv University


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Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I loved it. A clear and very logically laid out guide to the big ideas in Maimonides's Guide for the Perplexed, Mishneh Torah, Book of Commandments and the Commentary on the Mishnah. The biographical stuff is also good and provides an insight into the formation of the subject's worldview. This really is a book of ideas, though. It also does well in explaining what position Maimonides intended his halakhic works to have in Jewish life, and his reconciliation of Aristotelian philosophy with Judaism.
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  18 reviews
34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Maimonides: Life and Thought, by Moshe Halbertal--the Best! 8 Dec 2013
By Debra Hindlemann Webster - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I suppose it begins with the book jacket, which is elegant, no-nonsense, and straightforward. The content of the book only gets better from there. Mr. Maimon (as I refer to him), happens to be one of my heroes. This volume, which is thorough, laced with appositives and careful elucidating explanations, clearly defines why I feel the way I do.

The author is succinct, logical, exceedingly well organized--no doubt Maimonidean himself--and the book, in my opinion, is exquisitely sensitive to Maimon the man, as well as to the philosopher/logician/astronomer/physician. The book covers his entire life in the initial biographical chapter that is about one quarter of the book. The rest of the book is devoted to Maimonides' most significant works--his "Commentary on the Mishneh," "The Commandments," "The Mishneh Torah" and "The Guide for the Perplexed." Halbertal refers to additional compositions; however, the focus of the book is primarily reflective of these--the best, most influential, and most powerful of Maimonides' writings.

Maimonides, himself, in addition to his incredible mind, was funny, sarcastic, brash, impatient, rude; in short, he was straightforward to a fault, and had no positive sentiment for the "stupid" or the "foolish," as he referred to them. It is important to note that he was as caring and feeling about those whom he loved, as he was passionate about those whose ire he raised. The author covers all aspects of this extraordinarily gifted gentleman; not infrequently exasperating in his insistence that his way was the right and only way: At one moment, Halbertal actually refers to Maimon's behavior as that of a "harebrained amateur!" (This, to add depth of thought, and chuckles, too, regarding the most profound of all medieval thinkers).

I think one has to be a little bit peculiar to relish such a book as this--printed by Princeton, that seems to do a wonderful job of choosing its authors--because Maimonides in today's world, by many would be deemed as somewhat esoteric; even among Jews, themselves. Mr. Maimon took no prisoners when he wrote, slammed head-on into the established Jewish scholars of his day; and those with whom he took issue, all the way back to the time of the "other" Moses. Had he been burned at the stake or excommunicated, it would have been fitting, albeit so hideously wrong. However for me, being an eccentric, I fairly swoon over his principles: Provincially Jewish to the core; but grounded, developed, and enhanced by the classical thinkers of Greece, Rome, and the golden age of Islam.

I say this book "rocks."

It is at once an introduction to the magnificence of Maimonides, and it is a summation, too; depending upon the reader. For the novice such as myself, who craves information about Mr. Maimon, Halbertal's volume is superb. I would imagine that for the knowledgeable reader, "Maimonides: Life and Thought" would be a sublime refresher, synthesizer, and assistant with insightful information.

It's tough going on the one hand; I find myself wanting the primary sources. On the other, it's deliciously rich, beautifully written, not without witty similes and metaphors. It's terrific! What can I say? As for the translator (the book was originally published in 2009, in Hebrew), the 2014 (yes) English edition's eloquence is clean, fluid, and filled with fun vocabulary to delight: Three cheers for Joel Linsider!

So for me, I think "Maimonides: Life and Thought," by Moshe Halbertal, is a million times better than any Harry Potter tome; and between us, many times more spellbinding... Enjoy.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Maimonides Reconsidered 23 Jan 2014
By George I. Greene - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Professor Halbertal has offered an intriguing book on Maimonides. The book itself can be divided into three parts: his biography, his legal work and The Guide. As to the biographical part, it gives a clear overview of Maimonides' life. At times, it becomes reductive, but one can figure that out as one reads it.

His part on the law is the best part of the book. Professor Halbertal teaches law and it shows through clearly as he explains the originality of Maimonides' thought in this area as Maimonides seeks to reorganize concisely for philosophic purpose.

The weakest part of The book is his section on The Guide. The Guide is a maze. Maimonides made it so intentionally. One should attempt to read it as Maimonides requires. Instead, professor Halbertal provides his own grid consisting of four types of analysis. They are: a skeptical reading, a mystical reading, a conservative reading and a philosophic reading. These types of reading only go so far since they are not Maimonides' way of reading. They also tend to simplify a richness found in the text itself which is undeserved but understandable.

Perhaps, my biggest complaint about this section on The Guide concerns Philosophy. Though I do not believe that Professor Halbertal meant it, the text comes off as though Maimonides provided a doctrine. To me, it seems that Maimonides was teaching a way to think scientifically and not to accept things on authority including himself. It is clear enough that Maimonides is a radical thinker going to the roots. It also appears to me that he seeks those who may surpass him in careful thinking.

This review should not be read disrespectfully. It is clear that Professor Halbertal has great love and respect for Maimonides. He shows great learning and I have learned much from this book. For those interested, I would urge finding additional readings concerning The Guide's literary character as a means to enter the text. Here one may begin to see how Maimonides writes to unpuzzle it. There is nothing like reading The Guide except perhaps Torah as Maimonides suggests.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Religious Path Through Science 12 May 2014
By Dr. Debra Jan Bibel - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
In Cordoba, Spain, is a statue of Moses ibn Maimon, Maimonides, for he was born in that Andalusian city during the cosmopolitan Golden Age of Sefarad. The common language was Arabic, even when written in Hebrew letters. The science of experimentation was yet centuries to come but Aristotle and Galen and other Greek thinkers, translated by Muslim scholars, yet offered logic and some understanding of nature, structure, function, and causality. The philosophical Maimonides offered science and knowledge as a key religious path leading to awe and love or compassion. He attacked superstitions, talismans, and causative incantations and any anthropomorphic conception of God, even in use of personal pronouns, as de facto idolatry. He took the Babylonian Talmud and the body of subsequent traditions and created essentially a practical, categorized moral and legal handbook, the Mishneh Torah, separating core teachings from doubtful or obsolete interpretations. Moreover, his Guide to the Perplexed, because of its ambiguity, became a religious map with four interrelated paths whose philosophical, skeptical, mystical, or orthodox approach would depend on an individual's education and provisional predilection. Maimonides had a deep understanding and respect for people's psychological needs, even if contrary to scientific logic. Author and scholar Moshe Halbertal's book provides a penetrating look into the mind of this great religious thinker.

While some of the sections discussing the Mishna Torah become tedious and turbid by its detail legal analysis and historic comparisons of wisdom, the later examination of the Guide to the Perplexed is stunningly clear and comprehensive. The book examines Maimonides' views on evil and its personal, legal, and biological forms; on destiny of individuals and of species; on cosmic origins; on miracles versus logic and knowledge; on divine punishment and reward for governance and social order versus personal spiritual developmental gains and blocks; and on love and awe as steps toward perfection and experiencing the divine. The medieval mind and social outlook is revealed yet the reader also finds modern thinking and connections to the later Jewish philosopher, Spinoza. I grew up hearing about Maimonides without actually knowing anything about his great writings. Halbertal fills that void with an insightful book. Maimonides now become relevant to my own religious pursuits.
9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars great clear and subtle intro to maimonodes 21 Dec 2013
By israel fink - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
great introduction to Maimonides life and thought in clear yet subtle language
I particularly enjoyed the author's approach to the guide of the perplexed giving us 4 ways to read this masterpiece of jjewish thought
and never eschewing the problems of each of the different possible readings
4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant, Creative, and Intriguing 22 Jan 2014
By David - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Brilliant, Creative, and Intriguing.

Halbertal brings fascinating perspective and insight to this intellectual biography of Maimonides.

I recommend it highly.

What's missing -- maddeningly -- is footnotes (beyond a bare minimum, that is), which were omitted for the sake of readability, but are essential for the more scholarly reader who wishes to see Halbertal's sources in context, especially due to Halbertal's creative understandings of sometimes familiar texts.
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