Converts, Heretics, and Lepers
Maimonides and the Outsider
Publication Year: 2007
Published by: University of Notre Dame Press
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I have dedicated this book to the memory of my father, Moshe, who devoted himself to providing his children with the opportunities he was denied. Though he endured unimaginable suffering and loss as a result of being a member of a group branded as “outsider” and singly targeted for death simply for having been born, he managed to maintain a genuine smile, an embracing shmeichel throughout his life. In our house...
Abbreviations and Citations
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Over the course of my lengthy, and often interrupted, intellectual journeys I have repeatedly returned to Moses Maimonides and his rich corpus of writings, seeking an anchor for my Judaism. Beginning in the yeshivah, or traditional rabbinical academy, and through numerous detours eventually landing me within the academy, every genre of his thought—be it law, Talmud, exegesis, or philosophy—spoke to me...
Chapter 1: The Convert (Ger): Metaphor of Jewishness
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Our first outsider is the convert to Judaism, who, I argue, is for Maimonides the only true insider, the only authentic Jew to be found in the community of naturally born Jews he has joined. The naturalized Jew in the Maimonidean oeuvre stands as the exemplar of genuine Jewishness for the natural Jew. Within the long tradition of technical legal (halakhic) stare decisis...
Chapter 2: The Leper: Illness as Contemplative Metaphor
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The “leper” in Jewish law represents the second type of outsider I discuss in this book; but here, in contrast to the convert who moves from the outside in, we are presented with a category of outsider that is edged out from the inside. They move in opposing directions, and for Maimonides, from a philosophical vantage point, the leper reverses what the convert...
Chapter 3: Elisha ben Abuyah and the Hubris of the Heretic
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In Maimonides’ hands the convert and the leper were recast to transcend their own particular predicaments and become metaphors for serious philosophical issues of universal import. In this chapter we move from an outsider who has made his way inside (in the case of the convert) and an insider who has been forced out (in the case of the leper) to the heretic who has removed himself from the inside. In a manner similar...
Chapter 4: The King: The Ethics of Imperial Humility
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In this chapter I consider another outsider—namely, the king. Unlike the convert, the heretic, and the leper, the king is an outsider by virtue of who he is and the office he occupies and not by virtue of what he does, thinks, or espouses. Just like the leper and heretic, his presence inside the group poses serious philosophical and theological dangers that threaten the theological fabric of the Jewish faith community. How the king acts...
Chapter 5: The Sage/Philosopher: A Solitude of Universalism
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Maimonides’ introductory letter to his Guide of the Perplexed is addressed to R. Joseph b. Judah,1 thus personalizing the Guide as the fruition of a journey he embarked on, some years prior to its composition, as guide and teacher for a beloved disciple. Despite their physical separation, it is the cultivation of an intimate relationship between master and student...
Chapter 6: God, the Supreme Outsider: Indwelling (Shekhinah) as Metaphor for Outdwelling
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Physical or existential displacement is often the lot of the outsider who defies containment within the narrow confines of the societal norm. The convert’s loss of family can never be fully replaced by his newly adopted family for its cohesion is still largely determined by ancestral roots. The heretic, though sharing those roots, travels in the opposite direction...
Chapter 7: Deconstructing God's Indwelling: The Challenge to Halevi
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In this chapter, I continue with Maimonides’ radical deconstruction of God’s presence in the world. As a direct corollary of the sort of austere presenceless shekhinah explored in chapter 6, Maimonides had to deal with a host of biblical terms commonly used with reference to God. On their face, they undermine his project to “banish” God from...
Chapter 8: Sabbath: The Temporal Outsider
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In the previous chapters of this book, I have focused on types of outsiders, both human and divine. Each was shaped by Maimonides to transcend its own particularity, pointing to some universal philosophical offense or virtue, as the case may be. In this chapter, I turn to a different outsider, the Sabbath, which interrupts the natural rhythm of time and normatively addresses only one people to the juridical exclusion of all others.1 However, its message is a universal one—namely...
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Page Count: 360
Publication Year: 2007