Review: Maimonides: Reason Above All

Maimonides: Reason Above All by Israel Drazin

This is an odd little volume on the great Jewish thinker, the Rambam. This book is worth a read for someone like me who is a novice Jewish scholar. There is a lot of good introductory material here, but the book is kind of all over the place. Chapters focus on the biography of Maimondies, his influence on his son, philosophers who agree with Maimondes, and those who do not, plus a whole lot more. It feels that much of Judaism gets five pages, but almost none of Judaism get more. The book attempts to address big questions, like the role of mysticism and rationality in Judaism, and small details like why we put salt on our bread on Shabbat.

If anything holds the book together it is Drazin’s conception of Maimonides as the great hero of a rational Judaism. If you have any interest in Judaism or Jewish thought, you know Maimonides, one of the greatest philosopher scholars in the history of Judaism his works, most notably the Guide for the Perplexed are still read today. As a Jew, (yes, my name is Sean and yes I am Jewish. It’s a long story) one of the most compelling aspects of the religion for me is that it welcomes an intellectual approach to a religious practice. Approaching Judiaism as a set of rational guidelines for living owes much to the Rambam, and it is very much the way that I practice Judaism. Drazin spends a lot of time on this rational Judaism that has developed out of Maimonides and the book’s discussions of it are informative. But I wish Drazin delved more into the distinctions between a rational approach and a mystical approach to the religion.  Perhaps that is too much to ask from a single book.

For someone like me who is just starting to dig into Jewish thought and history, it is a helpful, if scattershot, introduction. Perhaps it isn’t the best first book one should read on the Rambam, but I found it accessible and informative.

– Sean

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2 responses to “Review: Maimonides: Reason Above All

  1. “It feels that much of Judaism gets five pages, but almost none of Judaism get more.” Five pages of what? Of Pentateuch?

  2. Five pages on the Pentateuch, then five on the Talmud, then five more on the rise of kabbalistic mysticism, etc etc. It is a nice overview, but I was left wanting more.

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