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A t present, Jewish life is marked by a serious difficulty in dealing with the outside, non-Jewish world and by an equally difficult internal series of intractable conflicts waged within the Jewish community. These conflicts, internal andexternal,bespeakaparticularandinsularvisionofJudaismthatjudgestheexternalasproblematic .Toooften,otherapproachestoJewishlifeareignored,even thoughtheyevolvedfromthesamebiblicalandrabbinicantecedents. In the centuries following the production of the Babylonian Talmud, an acculturation took place in the Middle Eastern and Mediterranean Jewish world, a world that was linked by a dynamic and creative rabbinical culture with its roots in the old Levant. This acculturation eventuallyledtowhatscholarshavecalled “Arabization.”AsrabbisandJewishlaypeopleoftheMediterraneanbasinandNearEastadoptedtheArabiclanguageinthewakeoftheIslamicconquests ,tumultuous changes took place that culminated in the achievements of Moses Maimonides (1138-1204),afigurewhotraveledfromSpainintheWestacrossNorthAfricatoEgypt. HistorianshavedistortedMaimonides’shistoricalinfluenceinadesperateattempttomisreadthe immediatedevelopmentsintheEuropeanJewishworldrelatingtohisteachingsandvaluesystem. Religious Humanism Today the supremacy of Maimonides is often taken for granted, whereas his actual teaching has been occluded. Maimonides developed a Judaism typified by the Religious Humanism that had been articulated by Middle Eastern thinkers in a polyglot form of Arabic culture.ThisHumanisminfusedthevarioussacredtextsandtraditionsoftheregion’smonotheisticreligionswithGreco -Romanscienceandrationalism. Religious Humanism is a critically important category that is rarely articulated in its precise senseandisevenlessunderstoodasabasisforJewishself-understanding.Theseideasintegrate theparochialvaluesofreligionwiththeuniversalaspectsofhumancivilization. Afairlyrepresentativeexampleofwhatthisconceptsignifiescanbefoundinthefollowingtwo passages,thefirstofwhichcomesfromMaimonideshimselfandthesecondfromMosesAngel: It was not the object of the Prophets and our Sages in these utterances to close the gate of investigation entirely, and to prevent the mind from comprehending what is within its reach,asisimaginedbysimpleandidlepeople,whomitsuitsbettertoputforththeirignoranceandincapacityaswisdomandperfection ,andtoregardthedistinctionandwisdom of others as irreligion and imperfection, thus taking darkness for light and light for darkness . The whole object of the Prophets and the Sages was to declare that a limit is set to humanreasonwhereitmusthalt(GuideofthePerplexed1:32). Then, charity, which in the doctrine of abstract faith, means love for universal mankind, shallceasetobewhatconcretereligionmadeit,loveonlyforselfandself’simitators.Then, 56 T I K K U N W W W. T I K K U N . O R G J A N U A R Y / F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 0 ABrokenFrame: SephardiOcclusionandtheRepairing ofJewishDysfunction by David Shasha David Shasha is the director of the Center for Sephardic Heritage in Brooklyn, New York. The center publishes a weekly e-mail newsletter, Sephardic Heritage Update (http://groups.google.com/ group/Davidshasha), and promotes cultural events. Religion_1.qxd:Politics rev. 12/15/09 3:52 PM Page 56 manshallacknowledgethattrueGod-worshipconsistsnotinobservanceofany particular customs, but in the humble, zealous cultivation of those qualities by which the Eternal has made himself known to the world. The members of one creed shall not arrogate to themselves peculiar morality and peculiar salvation, denying both to the members of other creeds; but they shall learn that morality andsalvationarethecauseandeffectofallearnestendeavorstorisetotheknowledgeofrevelation .Menshallceasetoattemptthesubstitutionofonesetofforms foranothersetofforms;theyshallsatisfythemselveswithbeinghonestanddignified exponents of their own mode of belief, and shall not seek to coerce what heaven has left unfettered—the rights of conscience. They shall strive to remove all obstacles to the spread of God-worship, by showing how superior the happiness , the intellectuality, the virtue of its professors; but they shall stop there, not evenforthesakeofsecuringtheirobjectpreferringtheirownfaithforthatofanother . This was the original combination under which Christianity was called into existence; this was the power which enabled it to survive the shock which haddestroyedallelse,andtothismustitreturnbeforeitsmissioncanbeperfectly accomplished. What the teachings of Sinai were to the children of Abraham, the teachings of the other mount were to be to the rest of the world; one was not to supersede the other, but to render it accessible (The Law of Sinai and its AppointedTimes ,288–289). Religious Humanism is the place where our traditional religious tenets meet with the universal aspects of science and rational culture. The teachings of Maimonides represent for Judaism a significant efflorescence of Religious Humanism, and the struggleagainstMaimonideswasamajorattempttosuppressit. The Maimonidean Controversy At the outset of any discussion of Religious Humanism, we have what has become known as “The Maimonidean Controversy,” which, though accepted as axiomatic,isalsomurkiertoustodaythanitwaswhenitfirstemerged. Whatwasattherootofthiscontroversy,andwhattranspiredinitswake? CentraltotheproblemweretheclashingJewishvisionsofthetwodifferentrabbinical traditionsthat emerged fully inthe wake of the variousbans and counter-bansthat roseupaftertheMaimonideanoeuvrewaspublished. In the century before Maimonides’s ministry, an Ashkenazi rabbinical school was foundedbyRashi(1040–1145)andbuiltupbyRabbiJacobTam(circa1100–1171)and the members of his Tosafist group. The following basic principles were central to the teachings of the school: a fierce sense of talmudic essentialism, which sought to replicate behaviors, concepts, and beliefs of the ancient talmudic society; an interpretive methodology known as pilpul, which adapted this talmudism to the socio-culturalneedsofthecommunity ;andahermeticsystemthatsealedrabbinicalstudyoff from outside influences and marked talmudic interpretation as...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2164-0041
Print ISSN
0887-9982
Pages
pp. 56-78
Launched on MUSE
2016-07-06
Open Access
No
Archive Status
Archived
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