Sunday, December 27, 2015

A little bit less perplexed #1

This is the first of an occasional series on Maimonides' Guide to the Perplexed for those who find it, well, perplexing.

My goal is not to wade into all manner of dense scholarly arguments, but to provide interesting and accessible insights from this very important work of Judaic learning.

So, I'm labeling these posts "A little bit less perplexed". It is not a systematic presentation, but sort of "a taste of".

 I will begin by posting a link to a brief overview of the book and its impact by Rabbi Dr. Nissan Mangel:

  A few apologies: The Guide was written in Arabic, which I don't read, so I'm relying on several Hebrew translations (Ibn Tibbon, Kapach, Schwartz) and the English one by Shlomo Pines. I'm hoping comparing multiple translations will help get me to the heart of the various matters. There are also many variant texts from different manuscripts.

 Secondly, inasmuch as I'm restating things in my own words please do correct me if you think I've deviated from Maimonides' meaning. Please post all comments on the blog, where I will do my best to engage.

 Thirdly, my primary focus is on Maimonides' approach to issues in Judaism rather than his approach to issues of Aristotelian thought so I don't intend to dwell on that vector more than necessary.

 Fourth, I will clearly mark them as such - but where articles address a topic so much better than I can, I'll post those.

In the  "Opening" or "Introduction": Maimonides defines the Guide as having several goals:

 The first being to define the true meaning of various nouns and verbs found in the Scripture. A correct. non-superficial understanding of these words leads a person to a correct understanding of the Torah.

He argues here that perceived contradictions between reason -(as Maimonides defines it, an understanding of philosophy) and the seeming plain meaning of the Torah can be resolved by understanding what the words and terms from Tanach (or the Sages, for that matter) in question truly mean.

 A very powerful idea articulated here is that reason and Torah cannot contradict. As we shall see, this does not mean that reason itself cannot show us that which we cannot know -but that a fundamental contradiction between the two systems: Divine revelation (Torah) and Reason (philosophy) cannot possibly exist.

 In this vein he describes a second purpose to the Guide, which is to demonstrate that the contradiction of Reason with various accounts in Scripture can be solved by understanding that many of these accounts are actually written in the first case as metaphors.

 Since the Guide was written, the realm of Reason has vastly expanded.. This actually gives the basic approach of the Guide even more room to work with than when it was originally composed.

I hope G-d willing, to share some of these "updates in the spirit of the Guide" as this project continues.