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MAIMONIDES REASON ABOVE ALL Hardcover – 20 Oct 2009

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 1 pages
  • Publisher: GEFEN PUBLISHING HOUSE (20 Oct. 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9652294314
  • ISBN-13: 978-9652294319
  • Product Dimensions: 3.2 x 17.1 x 23.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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About the Author

Dr. Israel Drazin served for thirty-one years in the US military and attained the rank of Brigadier General. He has two Masters, in both psychology and Hebrew literature, a PhD in Judaic Studies, and is an attorney and a rabbi. He developed the legal strategy that saved the military chaplaincy when its constitutionality was attacked in court, and he received the Legion of Merit for his service. Dr. Drazin is the author of twenty-five books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authored with Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of three books on the twelfth-century philosopher Moses Maimonides, the latest being Maimonides: Reason Above All, published by Gefen Publishing House. His website is www.booksnthoughts.com.

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Format: Hardcover
This is the third book in Maimonides series written by Israel Drazin and the fourth on Maimonides and his work. The book is formatted in such a method that it enhances its readability whether the text is used for self study or used as a text book. Though the book stands on its own the author refers to his previous works in such a manner that it is assumed that the reader has read his previous works. On one level this work is an advertisement for his previous publications. But be that as it may they will give a better insight to understanding of those relevant sections where they are referenced.

The diverse subjects covered in this book are divided into four main sections that do not need to be read in any particular order. The first is a short biography of Maimodes' and his son; as well as touching on his family and decedents. The second section includes samples of Maimodes' writings covering such topics as law, medicine, religion and how he saw people based on their perceived intellect. The third section is the author attempts to write using the same rational approach and trying to emulate Maimodes philosophy. And the fourth and final section covers philosophers, both Jewish and Gentile, that disagree with his philosophy.

The author has written and chosen subjects that seem to categorized people into two groups; the intellectual elite and the religious who have faith or "the common people." The later are less likely to follow logic and believe in myths to help them live a stress free life. Yet Maimondes writes and emphasis that religion is an important part of life and that each and every person has something to offer. There is no question that Maimonides philosophy clearly made an impact that has shaped Judaism's development since he published his thoughts in the 12th century.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 10 reviews
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
Incompetent and Dishonest 6 Mar. 2011
By LazerA - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Maimonides was one of the greatest rabbinic figures in history. He made a profound and permanent impact upon the Jewish world, and his influence spread well beyond the borders of the Jewish community. He was universally recognized as a great scholar of the Bible and Talmud, and his works have become basic texts of the Jewish canon. At the same time, Maimonides was an original thinker who put forth a number of opinions that were controversial in his own time and some of these controversies resonate until today. The bulk of the controversy surrounds his efforts, mainly in his great philosophical work, "Guide for the Perplexed," to resolve conflicts between traditional Jewish teachings and Aristotelian philosophy.

Because of the importance of Maimonides and the debates surrounding some of his opinions, a good introductory work to the thought of Maimonides and his contemporaries, clearly explaining where and how he differed from other major figures, would be highly desirable. Unfortunately, that is not what the reader will encounter when reading Israel Drazin's new book, "Maimonides: Reason Above All."

Despite the book's promising description and the author's apparent qualifications, the book not only fails to live up to expectations, but it even fails to attain the most minimal standards of academic competence and intellectual honesty. The book is replete, page after page, with misstatements, distortions, and dishonest citations and quotations. After a great deal of effort, I was forced to conclude that I could not find a single redeeming characteristic in the book.

Drazin fails to understand the opinions of any the scholars he is discussing, whether it is Maimonides himself, other Jewish scholars, or even non-Jewish philosophers. He appears to have difficulty with even basic reading comprehension. For example, on page 26, Drazin begins a detailed analysis of a statement from "the poet Yehuda Halevi" in which Halevi negatively contrasted Maimonides with his father. This is an amazing statement, in that Yehuda Halevi, one of the greatest Jewish philosophers and poets, died in 1141, when Maimonides was about two years old. (This should be immediately obvious to anyone with even a passing familiarity with Jewish intellectual history.) The quote that Drazin is discussing - which he got from a secondary source (which does not ascribe the quote to Yehuda Halevi) - was actually written by L. M. Simmons, an English rabbi, in the Jewish Quarterly Review in 1890. Drazin's failure in this simple citation is unfortunately typical of his entire work. Over and over again, Drazin makes basic errors of fact and comprehension.

The quality of this work is so poor that it does not really deserve a detailed response. There is, quite literally, not a single issue that Drazin presents accurately. When attempting to present a dispute, Drazin usually gets both sides wrong, and misses the actual point of disagreement entirely. In other cases, Drazin creates disputes where none exist. Drazin's presentation of Maimonides is so heavily biased, that it quickly reaches the point of absurdity.

Drazin effectively attempts to reconstruct Maimonides as a religious naturalist who rejected creation ex nihilo, miracles, providence, prophecy, the existence of the soul, the resurrection of the dead, and any God-oriented purpose in religion. Drazin openly admits that it is only possible to do so by denying many - many!! - of Maimonides' own statements. Drazin believes that Maimonides' was simply lying when he said these things. This is a major theme of Drazin's work, that Maimonides engaged in a "holy lie" (a phrase coined by Nietzsche that Drazin uses repeatedly) and knowingly made completely false statements to deceive the masses (for their own good, of course). Drazin makes this claim not just of some of the more difficult passages in Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed (even this is debatable), but of vast swathes of his writings, including large amounts of material that was unique to Maimonides. For example, Maimonides was the first Jewish scholar to create a formalized dogma of Judaism, his 13 Foundations, which Maimonides argued must be fully accepted in order for one to be a legitimate member of the Jewish faith. This idea was original to Maimonides, and, indeed, many authorities disagreed with his formulation (although, by and large, they agreed with its content). Drazin, however, would have us believe that Maimonides himself did not believe many, possibly most, of these foundations.

Even when Drazin directly quotes Maimonides (and others), he does so dishonestly, carefully editing the quote (using ellipses to remove inconvenient material and inserting material in brackets) to support his point even when the full quote, in context, would not only fail to support Drazin's point, but actually contradict it. This betrayal of the reader's trust is exacerbated by the fact that many of Drayzin's most radical assertions are supported by nothing more than anonymous "scholars" without any reference to who these scholars are, what they actually said, or where and when they said it. Given Drayzin's repeated inability to comprehend the material he is writing about, and his dishonest citations of material that people can actually check for themselves, it is simply impossible to trust his assertion of the opinions of scholars whom he fails to even identify.

If Drazin's presentation of Maimonides is absurd, his presentation of other Jewish thinkers is grotesque. For example, Drazin apparently understands all anthropomorphic depictions of God, midrashic, kabalistic or liturgical, to have been intended in the full literal sense. Thus, his presentation of Lurianic kabbalah on page 241 is beyond laughable; it is a caricature of a caricature.

Even Drazin's discussion of non-Jewish philosophers is incompetent. For some reason, Drazin chose to include an entire chapter on Rene Descartes, apparently to argue that Descartes was not sufficiently "rational". In the course of this discussion, Drazin completely mangles Descartes, and demonstrates a complete failure to grasp even the most basic elements of his thought. Drazin's "refutation" of Descartes' "cogito" - again given in the name of anonymous scholars - is so shallow that it wouldn't past muster in a seventh grade classroom discussion.

If Drazin's work were of a better quality, it would be worthwhile to enter into a deeper discussion of some of the arguments he puts forth. For example, the relationship between the thought of Maimonides and the thought of his son, Abraham, is one that requires serious study. However, Drazin's presentation of the thought of both figures is so distorted that he contributes nothing to the discussion except confusion.

In short, Drazin's book is so... awful... that readers will not only learn nothing new, but, far worse, they will learn a large number of things that are not so. If a reader wishes to educate himself about the thought of Maimonides, there are many vastly superior works. My personal recommendation as a basic introduction would be "A Maimonides Reader" by Isadore Twersky.

(This review was written for the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program and can also be read at my blog.)
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
Arrogant, Disrespectful and of No Scholarly Worth 5 Mar. 2012
By Chaim M. Dienstag - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Please see my review for Drazin's first book in his Maimonides Series, "An Exceptional Mind". Again it is worth noting that none of the approbations in the flaps of the books in his Maimonides Series are for the books themselves, rather they are approbations given to some of his other works. Besides for being dishonest and misleading, it is highly telling that he could not find a single person of note willing to give these books a positive review. I am thankful to Eliezer Abrahamson for taking the time to provide a comprehensive review/critique of the book and saving me the time for having to do the same.
6 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Rationalism, Mysticism and Benevolence 26 Aug. 2010
By John L. Leland - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book is written about an important Jewish philospher by a modern Jewish scholar who is very familiar not only with Maimonides but with the whole Jewish tradition. However, its aggressively rationalist attitude makes it uncomfortable reading. Personally, I am not a rigid scriptural literalist nor a practicing mystic, but Drazin's open contempt for more traditional interpretations and especially mysticism, which he wrongly equates with a passive attitude that eschews benevolent action, becomes very tiresome as he loses no opportunity to assert Maimonides endorses his views (which I doubt). He ignores the evidence of Wlliam James, E. Underhill and others that mystics are often highly active in the world. His dismissal of Pascal's gamble in favor of "Drazin's bet" in favor of active benevolence omits the fact that Pascal gave up his own home to people who needed it --I would personally bet that Drazin has never been that benevolent.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
Studying Maimonides and Jewish philosophy with Rabbi Israel Drazin 23 Feb. 2015
By Robin Friedman - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Kindle Edition
"Maimonides: Reason Above All" (2009) is the final book of a trilogy on the medieval Jewish thinker Moses Maimonides (1138? -- 1204) by the American Rabbi, scholar, and lawyer Israel Drazin (b. 1935. After reading and reviewing the first two volumes, "Maimonides: The Exceptional Mind" and "Maimonides and the Biblical Prophets" I turned eagerly to this third volume. I have got to know Drazin through reviewing here on Amazon, and he kindly sent me his Maimonides trilogy to read and review.

The first book in the trilogy offers an overview of Maimonides' thought while the second book concentrates on Biblical interpretation in a manner Drazin finds Maimonidean. This third and overly-provocatively titled book, "Reason above All", primarily examines Maimonides' thought by contrasting it with the thinking of others that Drazin largely rejects. Drazin sees Maimonides as teaching a highly this-worldy approach to Judaism which extolls knowledge and scientific study and rejects mysticism, subjectivity, and the quest for faith. Drazin understands Maimonides as a deist who created the world and then left its operation to natural laws without interference with natural or human affairs. Man's goal under this cosmic plan is to improve understanding and to better oneself and one's society.

In his study, Drazin compares and contrasts Maimonides with a number of other thinkers, beginning with Plato and Aristotle. Many people tend to divide thinking between Platonic and Aristotelian approaches, and Drazin places Maimonides firmly in the tradition of Aristotle, with his non-mystical bent and his search for knowledge in the sciences. The most interesting and detailed of the discussions in Drazin's book are of Maimonides' father, Maimon and, more so, of his son, Abraham Maimonides. From his writings that have survived, Maimon was a traditional faith-based thinker. Maimonides son, Abraham, did a good deal of writing. While he revered his father, Abraham taught a mystical doctrine that owed a great deal to Sufi mysticism. Drazin does not criticize Abraham for learning from the Sufis any more than Maimonides is to be criticized for learning from Aristotle and from other strands of Muslim thought. Drazin, however, is harsh on what he sees as the mystical, self-centered, unproductive character of Sufi mysticism. The Sufis, of course, still have many admirers in the West. Even more so, many Americans are attracted to other forms of Eastern spirituality such as Buddhism which Drazin would appear to reject. I have studied Buddhism myself for many years and it has taught me a great deal. It is possible to understand Drazin's critique while finding it overstated. The critique lies in uneasy tension with Drazin's repeated statements that there are a number of competing and plausible approaches to the truth.

A second part of Drazin's book offers discussions of some of Maimonides' writings, including his medical writings, analyses of various texts and translations of the Bible, and interpretations of several difficult Biblical passages. Some of these materials expand upon Drazin's earlier book about Scriptural interpretation. The material is interesting in itself and shows Drazin's commitment to a rationalistic approach to reading the Bible. An important chapter in the book is titled, "Did Hatred destroy the Second Temple?" which has many contemporary ramifications. Again, Drazin repeatedly rejects what he sees as mystical approaches to understanding.

In the final part of this work, Drazin returns to comparing Maimonides with other thinkers. He first considers the great Platonic Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandria who read Scriptural texts in an allegorical way. Philo too is someone I have long admired. Drazin argues that the Rabbis were not fully comfortable with Philo's allegorical interpretations. It would also be correct to say that Philo was lost and unknown to Judaism until the 16th Century, but that, as Drazin points out, he heavily influenced Christianity. I wasn't sure at the end of the discussion about how Drazin saw Philo in relation to Maimonides.

Drazin also offers discussions of several philosophers Leo Strauss considered in an early book about Spinoza, the most interesting of which is the Greek thinker Epicurus. This is as close as Drazin comes to considering non-religious thinkers. One might reasonably expect more as Drazin's approach remains religious in character with all its emphasis on rationality, and he needs to develop how and why his position differs from non-theistic, non-traditional approaches. What Drazin says is valuable, but he moves far too quickly. A final chapter of the book contrasts Maimonides with Descartes, who is widely regarded as the founder of modern philosophy. Descartes received heavy criticism from his own day to the present -- with most contemporary thinkers doing their best to avoid thinking in a "Cartesian" way. Drazin favors Maimonides over Descartes, with some justification. There isn't enough in the book, however, to explain the difference between Maimonides' medieval thinking and what many thinkers see as modern thought. Aristotle and his disciples, including Maimonides, had a broadly teleological view of nature which was rejected with modern science. The concept of "reason" and of "rationality" changed. Thinkers, including Drazin and others, still try to figure it out and to find what, if anything, is left in Aristotelian reason with its limited syllogistic logic, its focus on substance, its elitist tendencies in stratifying people, and its teleology.

In a chapter critical of the Jewish Nazarites, Essenes, and their modern-day mystical successors, Drazin tells a little parable of a man who came before God and said he had engaged in many acts of self-denial in pursuit of his faith. God asks:

"I want to know if you appreciated what I gave you and enjoyed it, or whether you thought of Me as a fool who laid out harmful earthly bounty for you. Did you take walks in the fields and eat its fruits? Did you enjoy My wine? Did you listen to the classical music that I made possible? Did you read the good literature that I inspired, the great classics as well as modern writings? Did you develop your mind to understand what I put in the world?"

These are critically important questions to ask, and they include much of Drazin's approach in his books.

Of the three books in Drazin's Maimonides trilogy, I found this final volume the most absorbing and the most provocative. The book is clearly written and aims to be unequivocal in its views of what is "rational" and what is outside of "reason". The author does recognize, however, that reason is not quite as simple or clear as it may appear. I learned a great deal from Drazin's study of Maimonides.

Robin Friedman
7 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Cleverly exploring and exposing the Maimonidean approach via contrast and extension. 26 Mar. 2010
By Gil Yehuda - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
First I'll summarize the structure and content of this book.
Then I'll suggest why I think it is an important book.
Finally I'll comment on the challenges this book poses to the reader.

This is the third in a series Dr. Drazin authored about Maimonides; it's the fourth if you include his book "A Rational Approach to Judaism and Torah commentary" which is topically related. The book is stylistically similar to Drazin's other books, but its contents are unique. It references his other books - so readers might consider getting them too. In this book Drazin addresses additional context that helps us explore Maimonides' innovative contributions by contrasting and extending it.

The book contains four sections, each with many short chapters and a few tangential excursions into related topics. The first section discusses Maimonides in context of his family. It includes a chapter about his father Maimon and a few about his son Abraham. Other chapters describe his family life, wives, bother David, grandchildren, and the general society. This section also contains a chapter on Aristotle - who was an influential ancestor to Maimonides' thinking.

The second section highlights some of Maimonides' writings. Included are nearly 20 chapters on topics related to law, medicine, intellectualism, and Maimonides' unique interpretation of many biblical ideas. Drazin hardly shies away from the difficult questions. In fact, each chapter challenges conventional thought and provides insight into a rationalistic approach to religion. It becomes quite clear why Maimonides is both celebrated by many, and was also victim to many attempts to ban his books (and in one famous case in France sometime around 1235 even has his books burned by church officials upon the advice of some rabbis).

In the third section, Drazin proposes his own thoughts that are logically extensions of Maimonides' rationalistic approach. It's a bit of a head-game here, and I'd caution the reader that it makes little sense to read this section without first reading the first two sections (or Drazin's other books on Rationalism).

The fourth section covers some important Jewish and non-Jewish philosophers who disagree with Maimonides. You'll note that the book has a cyclical feel to it, as you will find that the two main characters in the first section - Maimonides' father and son are two great philosophers who are also in the category of people who disagree with Maimonides' philosophy.

A nice feature of the book's arrangement is that you can read it in parts, and you can pick it up in the middle. Drazin's style is accessible. Each chapter introduces a topic, lists provocative questions, provides fascinating discussions that address the questions, and concludes with a summary. Drazin expects the reader to have some background in Judaism, but he translates and explains all Judaic terms so that this book reaches a wide audience. Footnotes are provided, but not as many as you'd find if this was targeted to academics. There is an extensive section listing additional readings, but no index.

Why is this book important?

Maimonides struggled with two groups of people. The first wanted to follow the religious teachings they grew up with, to be good people, and earn a first-class seat in heaven. But they entertained mystical and in many cases, non-Jewish ideas about demons and angels; they were fascinated with magic, loved miraculous stories, and harbored fatalistic ideas about God's predetermined plans for each blade of grass. Maimonides did not see the world as these people did. He was an intellectual, highly educated, and well versed in the philosophy of the ancients (the Greek masters) and his contemporaries (the great Muslim thinkers of his age). But Maimonides struggled with the philosophers too. He felt many had lost sight of religious values by using their philosophical arguments and scientific facts to reject the deep wisdom of religion. And he also rejected the pseudo-philosophers who using the fancy dressings of philosophy to dishonestly clothe primitive and popular mystical ideas.

Maimonides followed a third way - and argued that this path is actually the original intent of the Rabbis - and of God. His way holds steadfast to the notion that religion is relevant and important, but rejects (or at least carefully avoids) the irrationality associated with religion. Maimonides was well aware that rabbinic literature is full of mystical and magical stories, but he asserted that these are deliberately crafted to contain deep meaning to the intellectual while being palatable to the non-intellectual masses. The "noble lie" hides truth in a package that common folk will accept, and the true scholar will understand.

The two classes of people Maimonides encountered are alive and well today. The first category contains religious adherents - most prevalent with those who find religion later in life. They are taught to believe many illogical and anti-scientific ideas. Moreover, many are programmed to believe that their very identity as a religious person is connected to their ability to reject logic. And thus logical conversation with them is futile.

The problem with these adherents is twofold: First. Many adhere to religious notions that are not actually Jewish while rejecting notions that are. And this erodes the religion by blurring its message. However these adherents are usually unwilling to divorce themselves from their worship of foreign ideas - since they reject any logical exploration of beliefs. They only believe what their rabbi tells them - and their rabbi may not be educated enough to even know when he is misguiding his flock.

The second problem arises when a life event triggers this religious adherent to reconsider. He then realizes that his religious beliefs are illogical, and then joins the ranks of the secular intellectuals who already rejected religion as being illogical and therefore wrong.

Maimonides challenged both approaches by developing a thoroughly religious experience that was also logical, rational, and pro-science.

This approach implies two expected results. One is that Maimonides would carve a place for only a very small group of people who thought like he did. The Rabbis would excommunicate him for challenging their teachings. And his peer intellectuals would not understand why such a smart guy like Maimonides still holds on to the primitive rituals that are oh, so, outdated.

The other outcome is that Maimonides' message would be so subtle and beautiful that most people would simply not understand it anyway. It is the great tragedy when brilliant people share their ideas with the foolish world.

In the case of Maimonides, both happened. During his life and many years afterwards, Maimonides was the subject of heated debate. Over time, the debate eroded into near-universal appreciation. In irony, most branches of Judaism, even those he might distance himself from, lay claim to being the spiritual heirs of his philosophy. The highly mystical Sephardim are quick to remind us that Maimonides was Sephardic. The Kabalistic and their Chassidic decedents freely quote him in their literature. The yeshivish world, and in particular those who follow the Brisker methodology could not go a day without casting Maimonides as "one of them". So will the real Maimonides please stand up!

Drazin continues his attempt to shine a clear light on the real Maimonides. And this is important. Not only for the honesty of this approach, but because his message of creating a rational path in religion is incredibly relevant to the polarized and blurred Judaism of today.

I fully expect that some people will find this book shocking and provocative - it is so intended. They will not be equipped to handle the challenge to the very ideas that they believe their religion rests upon. But those who have confidence in their convictions and faith in their faith will be amazed that they don't have to suppress their beliefs in order to find religion. And they will be inspired to learn new insight in to the very religious notions they always held true.

When reading a book about a remarkable person, one should take note of the author and wonder what it is about the subject that connects the two. Maimonides was clearly an exceptional and remarkable man. He represents a philosophical viewpoint that has shaped Judaism's development considerably. He is widely recognized for his landmark work to singlehandedly document, categorize, and clarify the entire gamut of Jewish Law. He is also celebrated as the greatest Jewish philosopher. His writings are required study for anyone interested in Judaism, and his works are the basis of deeper study by most elements of Torah scholarship. And yet, his persona does not fit the standard mold of the typical medieval rabbi/scholar. He was a physician by profession. This was due to his strong belief that one must study the natural sciences, maintain a healthy personal lifestyle, and earn a secular living so that one is neither a burden to society, nor profits from teaching Torah. Not typical at all.

Rabbi Dr. Israel Drazin does not enjoy the fame and celebrity of Maimonides. But he is also a remarkable person. In addition to being an ordained Rabbi (from the Ner Israel Yeshiva), and an acclaimed scholar in many areas of Jewish studies (most notably an expert in the largely ignored but highly important Onkelos translations of the Torah), he is also highly secularly educated (JD and PhD) and was one of the highest ranking Jews in the US Army - a Brigadier General. He too does not fit the mold of the typical Rabbinic scholar. And like the subject of his book, he too boldly challenges conventional mythology in order to find religious truth.

What this means: if you are a fan of Drazin's works, then get this book - you'll love it. If you appreciate this book, you'll want to get his others too. If you think the book is anti-religious and attacks the notions you believe in, that's OK too. Judaism is capable of including Maimonides' voice despite the fierce opposition to his ideas. Maimonides survived it, and I suspect Drazin will survive his critics too. Personally I find Drazins' book to be a great Bar or Bat Mitzvah present. Kids should read it as they form their religious identity, adults even more so.
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