Strengthening Constitutional Self-Government

No Left Turns


This favorable book review of Sherwin B. Nuland’s Maimonides reminds me to say that I have read the book and also think it is a good introduction to the man and the endlessly fascinating times (and places) in which he lived. While Nuland’s book is not an attempt to understand Maimonides’s difficult mind, he touches on some core issues raised by him (as well as Averroes, Avicenna, and then Aquinas) regarding the connection between faith and reason. At least part of the three centuries represented by these minds came alive for me in reading Nuland’s book. And some passing facts stand out: There were 20,000 people in Marseilles in the first half of the fourteenth century and only five percent of them were Jewish. There were 23 physicians in the city, and 10 of them were Jewish. Why? Nuland (also a physician, as was Maimonides) explains. The reviewer says this is his favorite paragraph from Maimonides:

"There is a group of human beings who consider it a grievous thing that causes should be given for any law; what would please them most is that the intellect would not find a meaning for the commandments and prohibitions. What compels them to feel thus is a sickness that they find in their souls, a sickness to which they are unable to give utterance and of which they cannot furnish a satisfactory account. For they think that if those laws were useful in this existence and had been given to us for this or that reason, it would be as if they derived from the reflection and the understanding of some intelligent being. If, however, there is a thing for which the intellect could not find any meaning at all and that does not lead to something useful, it indubitably derives from God; for the reflection of man would not lead to such a thing. It is as if, according to these people of weak intellects, man were more perfect than his Maker; for man speaks and acts in a manner that leads to some intended end, whereas the Deity does not act thus but commands us to do things that are not useful to us and forbids us to do things that are not harmful to us."

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