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The following is the second in a series that examines through the prism of a key figure each century of the millennium now coming to a close. David Novak considers the twelfth century and Moses Maimonides. Next month: Romanus Cessario on the thirteenth century and Thomas Aquinas.
—The Editors

About Moses Maimonides there is an old Jewish folk saying: “From Moses to Moses there was none like Moses.” No one brought forth the teaching of Moses and his prophetic and rabbinic successors more comprehensively and systematically than did Maimonides. More has been said and written about him than any other Jewish thinker throughout history. Indeed, many great debates since his death have revolved around the question of just who interpreted Maimonides correctly and who did not. To get Maimonides right has been for many to get Judaism right. His role in the history of Jewish thought is comparable to the role of Thomas Aquinas in Catholic thought. Just as Aquinas (who was influenced by Maimonides) treated with respect all great theologians and philosophers irrespective of religious differences with them, Maimonides did the same with the pagans, Christians, and Muslims, saying about them: “Accept the truth, whatever its source.” Indeed, Maimonides himself is a marvelous companion for anyone searching for truth. He could well be considered the outstanding thinker of the twelfth century in the West. His unsurpassed contributions to both Judaism and Western thought left neither quite the same.

His actual name was Moses son of Rabbi Maimon the Spaniard, “Maimonides” being the name his Latin translators gave him, namely, “son of Maimon.” (Jews have traditionally referred to him by the acronym Rambam.) We know very little about his early life. He was born in 1135 into a distinguished family of rabbinic scholars in Cordoba in Andalus, then part of Muslim (or “Moorish”) Spain. His father was his first and most significant teacher. No doubt he was a very precocious youth; he wrote a treatise on proper linguistic usage of theological terms that he probably completed around the age of sixteen. Because of the persecution of non-Muslims by the fanatical Almohad sect, Maimonides and his family were forced to leave Spain when he was in his late teens. They wandered for years in North Africa, where it seems they frequently had to pose as Muslims. After living for a time in the land of Israel, the family finally settled permanently in Fustat, the old city of Cairo in Egypt.

It was Maimonides’ good fortune that he did not have to earn a living during his intellectually formative years; his older brother David, a wealthy pearl merchant, supported him. But David died in a shipwreck in the Indian Ocean when Moses was about thirty and his comfortable life was shattered, both financially and emotionally. For about a year, it seems, he remained sunk in a deep depression, during which time he accomplished almost nothing. Eventually his emotional health was restored, and his highly creative career thenceforth moved on at a steady pace. (His advice concerning the treatment of melancholia bears the unmistakable stamp of personal experience and practice.)

Until rather late in the Middle Ages, rabbis were not paid for their services—since Moses taught the Torah for free, so should his successors. For that reason, Maimonides like any other rabbi had to adopt a profession in the world, and like many intellectually gifted medieval rabbis he became a physician. His medical reputation seems to have grown with his reputation as a teacher of the Jewish tradition. His speciality was gastroenterology and a number of short treatises he wrote have survived and are useful even today, due to his emphasis on preventive medicine. His advice on proper diet and healthy activities has a very contemporary ring to it. He rose to become the court physician to the political head of his society, the Sultan, and to his court. He was also the acknowledged religious leader of his own Egyptian Jewish community. Soon his fame spread to other Jewish communities, whose leaders consulted him about the most significant questions of law and theology—although a number of Jewish authorities bitterly opposed him as a dangerous radical. For years he maintained a grueling professional schedule, combining his medical practice, community leadership, scholarship, teaching, and an international correspondence.

The last few years of his life were devoted to what we would call today a charity clinic. It seems that he regarded his main intellectual work to have by then been completed and he wanted to devote the rest of his life to putting into practice the theory of imitatio Dei he had presented at the end of his major work in philosophical theology, the Guide of the Perplexed. Maimonides died in 1204, and, according to tradition, was buried in Tiberius in the land of Israel. His immediate intellectual successor was his only son, Abraham, a gifted scholar though no match for his father.

Aside from treatises and responsa on a variety of religious and scientific topics, Maimonides wrote three major works. His first was a commentary on the Mishnah, which is the second-century compendium upon which the discussions in the Talmud are based. Next to Scripture, the Mishnah is the most important book in Judaism. Though it is called a “commentary,” this first great work of Maimonides is actually more of a digest of the main points of the Mishnah and their subsequent development in the Talmud than it is an actual line-by-line exegesis of an older text. It could well be seen as preparatory for his second major work, what Maimonides himself called “our great compilation,” Mishneh Torah, the fourteen-volume systematization of all Jewish law from Scripture to his own day. (The relation of the first work to the second work could be compared to Aquinas’ commentary on the Sentences of Peter Lombard in relation to his “great compilation,” the Summa Theologiae.) Mishneh Torah is a theological as well as a legal work; Maimonides thought that Jewish theology, itself mandated by the law, should aspire to the precision that characterizes discussions of the law.

Finally, there is his third great work, Guide of the Perplexed, the product of his later period. It is devoted to what he considered to be the most important philosophical questions concerning Jewish theology, especially as those questions relate to the text of Scripture. The Guide, when translated from its original Arabic into Hebrew during Maimonides’ lifetime, became the most important work in philosophical theology for Jews thereafter; and when it was translated into Latin shortly after his death, it was taken most seriously by Aquinas and a number of later Christian thinkers. (The irony of this fame is that Maimonides wrote the Guide for only a select number of his disciples, those worthy of being initiated into the “secrets of the Torah.”) The Guide is also the book that the renegade from Judaism, Baruch Spinoza, felt had to be overcome if philosophy was ever to become independent of revelation.

Maimonides’ work itself might be seen as a response to three challenges to his understanding of Judaism: 1) the Jewish tradition itself, 2) Greek natural science, metaphysics, and ethics/politics (“philosophy” in the broad Platonic-Aristotelian sense) as transmitted through Arabic sources, and 3) Christianity and Islam.

The Jewish tradition, itself built upon the discussions of the ancient rabbis in the Talmud and related literature, posed the greatest difficulty for the philosophical mind of Maimonides. The challenge was to organize in an architectonic structure a vast body of data that, on the surface anyway, appears to be hopelessly disjointed and even random. Others before him had tried to tackle this problem—most notably, Isaac Alfasi as regards the legal data and Saadiah Gaon as regards the theological data. Their impressive efforts were still piecemeal compared to that of Maimonides. Alfasi essentially paraphrased rabbinic texts (and not on every subject at that), and gave them a partial topical order. Maimonides was convinced that the philosophical assumptions of Saadiah were too eclectic to sustain the truly systematic theology the Torah required. For these philosophical assumptions Maimonides turned to Plato, the Arabic neo-Platonist Alfarabi, and even more to Aristotle and the Arabic neo-Aristotelian Ibn Sina (Avicenna).

Although not a slavish follower of Aristotle by any means, as we shall soon see, Maimonides was nevertheless convinced by Aristotle’s assumption of universal teleology, i.e., that every living entity in the universe has a natural final state. Creatures below the moon begin moving toward their destiny at birth and continue a linear developmental trajectory consummated and sustained in maturity, what Aristotelians see as a movement from potency to act. In plants and animals, such movement is unconscious and instinctual, frustrated only by external impediments. In humans, however, that movement is conscious and to a certain extent free, and thus can be frustrated by bad choices as well.

Between God, who transcends all creaturely categories (hence Maimonides’ famous assertion that we can only speak negatively about God, i.e., what He is not rather than what He is), and humans stand the heavenly bodies. These bodies are themselves higher intelligences, living beings who orbit in an unending circle motored by their unending and perfect knowledge of God. These intelligences, traditionally called “angels,” are the models to which humans aspire in their quest for the summum bonum—to know God. Maimonides likens the righteous who attain this in the world-to-come to such angels in their beatific consummation. What the angels are, humans desire to become.

In this world, the immediate task of humans is to discover just what acts contribute to this overall process and how to perform them properly. Jews discover this in the Torah, the tradition stemming from it, and what also is constructed for the sake of the ends of the Torah. Thus Maimonides’ positive task as a theologian-jurist was to justify intellectually the commandments of the Torah and the supplementary edicts of the rabbis. He used teleology as the principle which both ordered and applied the law. Here Maimonides’ thought is the most significant point of development in the rabbinic doctrine of the “reasons of the commandments.” But whereas many of the rabbis assumed that only some of the commandments have reasons intelligible to human minds, Maimonides was convinced that all of the commandments have such reasons. To assume anything less would be to imply that God has less wisdom than a wise human lawgiver.

The difference between reason and revelation is not between what is intelligible and what is inherently “mysterious.” Reason is an arduous step-by-step process that attempts to understand the content revealed in a prophetic event. For Maimonides, prophecy is something possible (but not voluntary, ultimately being a gift of grace) for any human being, that is, any human being first possessing some very high moral and intellectual prerequisites. Much of this sounds quite similar to how the philosopher-guardians of Plato’s Republic first ascend an intellectual ladder by means of dialectic until some of them see with the eye of the intellect the supreme form: the Good. This similarity is no accident, inasmuch as Maimonides’ political theory was heavily influenced by Arabic Platonism.

Disagreeing with one prominent rabbinic opinion, Maimonides did not regard the possibility of prophecy to have vanished with the destruction of the Second Temple in a.d. 70, and unlike a great theological predecessor a century earlier, Judah Halevi, he did not regard true prophecy to be confined to the Jews. The superiority of Jewish prophecy to him is a difference of degree rather than of kind. This was important, as we shall soon see, in Maimonides’ treatment of Christianity and Islam, the two other monotheistic faiths.

Maimonides’ teleology is constituted at two levels. At the first level, he attempts to discern what might be called the “perennial” reasons of the commandments, those based on permanent features of human nature pertaining either to the relationship with God or to relationships among human persons in society. The former he called the “repair of the soul”; the second he called the “repair of the body” (as in the body politic). As an example of his reasoning on this first level, he notes that even though there are worse crimes than murder—especially idolatry, which unlike murder or any other prohibition is exceptionless—human society must take the prohibition of murder most seriously since without it even a rudimentary human society is impossible. Indeed, Maimonides learned much about political order from both Plato and Aristotle, both of whom were at least participants in idolatry if not actually committed to it in spirit themselves. To cite another example, although the strict observance of the Sabbath is considered by the Talmud to be for Jews alone, Maimonides saw great human value in the way the Sabbath teaches human beings to appreciate divine creation of the universe and the way it creates true rest for human beings, enabling them to interact regularly with each other in a way based more on spiritual equality and less on physical inequality.

At the second level, Maimonides’ teleology is much more historically contingent, for there are many details of the Torah that cannot be explained by their immediate value to human nature per se. About some of these details, such as those pertaining to intricacies of the sacrificial system or the system of ritual purity, Maimonides confesses ignorance. He admits that he can explain only more general institutions and not every particularity within them. Regarding institutions like the sacrificial system, whose reasons seem obscure, Maimonides resorts to a certain amount of historical speculation. He is convinced, for instance, that because of the Jewish people’s long exposure to idolatrous practices with their emphasis on physical worship, the Torah could not have successfully commanded the Jews to adopt a purely spiritual form of worship, consisting solely in the adoration of the transcendent God. Essentially, the Torah had to make a kind of cultural compromise, keeping the form of worship to which the people were accustomed, but purging it of its idolatrous intentions. In this way, Maimonides seems to have followed the talmudic principle: the law has to take the evil inclination into consideration. Accordingly, the third main purpose of the Torah is to wean the people away from idolatry by not only prohibiting its theory and practice, but also ruling out the cultural symptoms of idolatry that have appeared in history, especially at the origins of Jewish history.

This does not mean, however, that Maimonides was thereby making the Torah into a historically contingent teaching. He regarded idolatry itself to be a perennial problem of human nature, because humans always need to relate themselves to their Creator, and there is a right way and a wrong way to do so. Maimonides thought that idolatry was often a more immediately attractive option to human beings than the proper worship of God, which is harder and more demanding of the intellect. Idolatry is an ineradicable human problem because it results from the inappropriate use of human imagination, and yet humans cannot very well live without imagination. That is why one can only treat the symptoms of idolatry at any given historical moment and hope that such treatment will prevent this endemic disease of human nature from worsening or spreading. For this reason one can see why there is no inconsistency between Maimonides’ explanation of idolatry along the lines of cultural anthropology and his eschatological hope for the restoration of the Temple cult with its full system of animal sacrifice, a feature of the liturgy since long before Maimonides’ time. The symptoms of idolatry are no accident and, hence, the ancient practices mandated by the Torah are still the best prophylactic against this treatable but permanently incurable disease.

In the Jewish tradition, idolatry, literally called avodah zarah, “strange worship,” takes two forms. One form is the worship of “other” gods, a substitution for the one, unique, uncreated Infinity by something plural, generic, created, and finite. Such idolatry is the worship of those whom we call “pagans.” For Maimonides, those who worship the heavenly intelligences are guilty of making absolute those forces which are under the total control of the one God. That is the essential difference between monotheism, of which Judaism is the highest but not the only example, and all polytheisms ancient and contemporary. The second form of idolatry, however, is a good deal more subtle than the pagan form, and is a constant temptation even to the adherents of monotheistic religions. For this form of idolatry does not err in the object of its worship but, rather, it errs in worshiping this true God in a way inconsistent with what little we know about God and his interest in the world.

For Maimonides, this second type of idolatry has its real origin in bad monotheistic theology that takes the anthropomorphic language of Scripture literally. Good theology takes scriptural language that attributes physical properties of God to be largely figurative. It is a concession to human imagination, which even philosophers have to deal with because of the humanity they share with all other humans. At most, what philosophical monotheists can do is reconstrue scriptural God-talk as being either an imaginatively appealing description of the effects of God’s creative action on the world, or as a negation of ascribing to God any of the limitations of his creatures. For Maimonides, to say that “God is good” is to say either that God is the cause of what we take to be good in the world, or else to say that God is not bad.

At the practical level, Maimonides carried this out by attempting to purge Judaism of any superstitions he thought had accrued to it over the ages. He especially lacked patience for much of the poetry that had found its way into the liturgy. Like Plato, whose political philosophy had such an influence on his own political thought, it seems that Maimonides too would have banished the poets from the optimal city, which for him is the society constituted by the Torah. He could do only so much along these lines since some of this poetry was too ensconced in the tradition to be entirely rooted out.

Against this backdrop, the theology or theosophy of the Kabbalah, which began to appear after Maimonides’ time, might well be seen as nothing less than the return of the repressed. Indeed, even today one can see the two main options in Jewish God-talk as being either Maimonidean or Kabbalistic. Whereas Kabbalah holds that all the language of revelation is a positive description of the inner life of God, Maimonides and his followers hold that the language of Scripture is about the world and only speaks of God by means of effect or negation (the via negativa).

Even though Maimonides did not think that all philosophers are necessarily prophets, he did think that all prophets are necessarily philosophers. “Philosophy” in Maimonides’ day meant natural science, metaphysics, and ethics/politics. In terms of his theology, this meant that there could not be a lasting impasse between the truth derived from philosophy and the truth derived from the Torah. Thus philosophy in this full sense posed a great challenge to Maimonides. For it was philosophy that had perplexed Maimonides’ student, Rabbi Joseph son of Rabbi Judah, and some others like him, and Maimonides intended in the Guide, which is addressed as an epistle to Rabbi Joseph, to lead them out of this spiritual dilemma.

The Torah might not be worldly in its origins and in its ultimate end; nevertheless, it is still in the world and must be understood by secular criteria. Like the world, the Torah is a created entity; as the rabbis put it, the Torah speaks in human language, a principle Maimonides reworked philosophically. The Torah, then, must be grasped in the same way one grasps created nature. Thus Maimonides would not have accepted, as many who have followed Kant have, that there is an absolute difference between the world constituted by natural science and the world constituted by those disciplines that include human action. Whereas Kant and his followers (and there have been many among Christians and Jews) could believe in a natural world in which everything is causally determined and a moral world in which there is freedom and call this impasse an antinomy, Maimonides and his followers could not accept freedom in the moral world unless there is also less than absolute determinism in the natural world.

In this area, Maimonides’ main problem was what to do when the Torah and philosophy seem to contradict one another, which usually arose over issues of natural science. The most serious such contradiction Maimonides faced was that the Torah is traditionally interpreted to teach that the universe is the result of a pure act of divine creation, an act having no preconditions, hence creation “out of nothing.” But Aristotle, who for Maimonides is the most convincing natural scientist, taught that the universe is eternal, without beginning and without end.

Here Maimonides boldly asserts that if Aristotle had convincingly demonstrated his theory of the eternity of the universe, then one would have to reinterpret the Torah accordingly (something that was actually done by the fourteenth-century Jewish theologian and natural scientist Gersonides). Maimonides had to say this since, for him, both the Torah and nature are created entities, hence subject to the same basic methodology to bring out their inherent intelligibility. And since we are in the world known by philosophy before we are able to receive the Torah (remember: the prophets must first be philosophers), the method for understanding the Torah is derived from our method for understanding the world, not vice versa. Maimonides accepted the authority of tradition only in matters of law. In matters of science, however—and he would consider most of theology to be a science—there are no authorities. One must be convinced by whatever is most rationally convincing here and now, however much it might go against traditionally accepted opinions. Accordingly, to the chagrin of a number of traditionalists, he refused to assign any authority at all to the natural science of the rabbis of the Talmud, even though he fully accepted their legal authority in providing indispensable rules and principles for current legal decision-making.

Nevertheless, despite this possibility of revising much of traditional creation theory along Aristotelian lines, Maimonides rejects the eternity of the world, not because he opts for tradition over Aristotle, but because Aristotle did not satisfactorily demonstrate his own thesis. Aristotle made an unconvincing (to Maimonides) inference from his natural science to a metaphysical conclusion. As a result, Aristotle’s eternity thesis was just as plausible or implausible as the traditional Jewish (and Christian and Muslim thereafter) doctrine of creation ex nihilo. If so, then there is an historical advantage to sticking with the traditional view since when it comes to change, the burden of proof is more on those who would change than on those who would maintain the status quo.

Even though Maimonides could have left the question at that point, he wanted to move in an intellectually more satisfying direction. So he presses Aristotle on his own ground: teleology. Maimonides argues that Aristotle is not teleological enough. For whereas Aristotle could constitute an immanent teleology in the universe, he could not constitute a teleology for the universe. That is, he could not locate a purpose for the universe as a whole. He could not do that because his God is too immanent; his God is still part of the universe, even if at its very apex.

For Maimonides, only a God who utterly transcends the universe could have created it with a purpose that transcends anything internal to it: the purpose is to know God. This transcendence of cosmic purpose and the transcendence of God are correlated. The teleology that Aristotle partially, and so accurately, constituted in the world is now to be constituted as being given to the world as a whole from beyond. Thus Maimonides shows that not only is the doctrine of creation not at odds with cosmic teleology, it actually carries it beyond the limitations of Aristotle’s theory. Maimonides never says that creation out of nothing can be proved. For how could it be proved when proof is what can be shown in a relation of entities within the world itself? Nevertheless, creation theory provides an overall paradigm that brings out more of the intelligibility of the universe precisely because it can relate it as a whole to what is beyond it. Hence a doctrine of faith helps expand the very horizon of reason.

Maimonides’ approach to the two other monotheistic faiths, Christianity and Islam, is quite similar to his approach to philosophy. (He saw no value at all in polytheistic faiths.) Like philosophy, Christianity and Islam are true when they are variations of themes most completely presented in Judaism; and they are in error when they contradict Judaism. Furthermore, like his treatment of philosophy and, indeed, like his treatment of Judaism itself, Maimonides judges these other communities based on a criterion of the relation of theory and practice. On this central point, Maimonides is very much the Platonist and not the consistent Aristotelian some scholars have thought him to be.

In the Republic, Plato sees the philosopher-guardian’s function to be both practical and theoretical. He is to provide the best possible practical rule of the polity because of his insight into the theoretical foundations of the good life, and he is to provide the practical means for would-be philosophers to be able to pursue the true life of the intellect. Theory (in Greek, “to gaze”—in Plato’s usage to gaze at the eternal Forms) grounds practice, and practice is for the sake of theory. Practical excellence without theoretical excellence gives us competent politicians without real vision, and theoretical excellence without practical excellence gives us incompetent dreamers. For Aristotle, conversely, such a combination is an impossibility because practical excellence makes one see theory as unrealistic and theoretical excellence makes one see practice as boring. Nevertheless, for Maimonides, what might not be possible in a purely human polity, especially one with an erroneous theological tradition, is possible in a polity directly related to God through prophecy. Instead of accepting Aristotle’s political skepticism, Maimonides carries Plato’s politics even further, doing what he did to Aristotle’s metaphysics, namely, carrying it beyond its original limits. Maimonides is quite clear that a normative teaching is considered divine not so much because of its origins in revelation, but, rather, because it directs a human community to ends first human (“the repair of the body”), then divine (“the repair of the soul”). By this criterion Judaism becomes the best divine law, but not the only one.

Within this overall scheme, one can see Maimonides’ consistent treatment of Islam, a religious community he lived under all his life. Maimonides sees the relation of Islam to Judaism as primarily theoretical. With the strict monotheism of Islam, Maimonides has no quarrel. Indeed, he could not have formulated his monotheistic theology if he had not learned his philosophical method for theology from Muslims. Maimonides finds fault, however, with the practical politics of Muslim regimes. He considered Islamic ethics and politics to be inferior to their Jewish counterparts. As much as he possibly could as a second-class citizen in a Muslim society, Maimonides expressed his displeasure with the decided lack of virtue in the way Muslims rule their societies and relate to one another.

Concerning Christianity, with which he probably had no real contact, Maimonides’ views underwent a decided change over time. In his aversion to what he considered to be Christian dilutions of pure monotheism, especially in its doctrine of the Trinity, much of Maimonides’ philosophical critique of Christian theology is similar to Islamic arguments against it. In his earlier work, Maimonides translated his theoretical disdain of Christianity into practice. He deemed Christians to be idolators and bemoaned the fact that political necessity forced many European Jews to live in Christian societies.

Nevertheless, this is not the whole picture. At the end of his great code, Mishneh Torah, in his discussion of the political-legal role of the Messiah-to-come, Maimonides makes a predictable concession to Islam, but a surprising concession to Christianity. He argues that despite the errors of Jesus and Muhammad, the religions that emerged from their respective teachings are instruments of divine providence for bringing all of humankind to the worship of the one true God. Now it is obvious from this concession to Christianity that he no longer regarded it to be a form of idolatry, the worship of a “strange” god. Surely no form of radical idolatry could possibly be the means for the universal spread of monotheism. (Ironically enough, the Christian censors of the printed editions of Mishneh Torah forced the publishers to remove that passage.)

Moreover, in a responsum written after the publication of Mishneh Torah, Maimonides rules that Jews may teach the Torah to Christians but not to Muslims because Christians believe Hebrew Scripture in toto to be the revealed word of God, whereas Muslims believe that primary text to be the Quran; for them, Hebrew Scripture is a flawed revelation. Thus Jews and Christians share a common revelation in a way that Jews share with no other religious community. Furthermore, Maimonides believes that Jews can best proselytize Christians because of this common text. All Jews need do is show Christians how they have misinterpreted that common text (the New Testament being the erroneous Christian interpretation or midrash he has in mind) and how Judaism’s interpretation of it is ultimately more convincingly accurate. (Using the same logic, Christians have frequently regarded Jews as the most logical objects of their own proselytizing efforts.) The Jewish problem with Christianity, for Maimonides, is largely a matter of exegesis, and the differences there are more theoretical than practical. True idolators, on the other hand, could hardly have accepted Hebrew Scripture as the word of God.

So, what is Maimonides’ legacy? For Jews, Maimonides is such a part of the tradition that he has long been inextricable from it. But he also has a legacy for those who are not part of these intimately Jewish conversations. That legacy, it seems to me, is his methodology. He was convinced that the highest human task, from the first humans in the Garden of Eden to the righteous in the world-to-come, is to pursue truth. Here and now that pursuit is to be conducted in the created order, which includes the historical communities in which we live and from whose members we have learned to speak, most importantly about God. That created order consists of the findings of reason and what revelation teaches. The way we understand our world and the way we understand revelation is the same. Such a process of understanding need not accept any obscurity from the authorities of the past. The human intellect is free to soar as long as it understands that a goal awaits its efforts and that it is responsible to the other humans similarly engaged—wherever and whenever they happen to have been situated. To claim to able to speak de novo about anything, much less about God, as Descartes and his followers have claimed, would have struck Maimonides as utterly unnatural.

It is a mistake of many current followers of Maimonides to think they can conduct the search for truth using the same tools he used. Maimonides relied on philosophical paradigms of his own day (especially cosmic teleology) that have long since lost their value for us at a different point in history. Indeed, Maimonides himself advised us to use the most coherent philosophical paradigms at hand, and for us that must include the findings of both the natural and the human sciences (including historical-critical research) that were not available to him and his age. In this sense, Maimonides would not have wanted us to be literal “Maimonideans”; he would have wanted us to imitate him more than follow him. At a time when it is fashionable for many intellectuals to dismiss the existence of truth altogether, Maimonides encourages us to search for truth, which is to search for God. His faith, both religious and philosophic, inspires us to believe with him that God has put us in this world for nothing less.

David Novak holds the J. Richard and Dorothy Shiff Chair of Jewish Studies at the University of Toronto.

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