web analytics
September 2, 2014 / 7 Elul, 5774
At a Glance
InDepth
Sponsored Post
Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat (L) visits the JewishPress.com booth at The Event. And the Winners of the JewishPress.com Raffle Are…

Congratulations to all the winners of the JewishPress.com raffle at The Event



Did The Rambam Really Say That? – An Interview With Professor Daniel Rynhold


Professor Daniel Rynhold may teach modern Jewish philosophy, but his recently published book is titled, An Introduction to Medieval Jewish Philosophy.

At the behest of the book’s publisher, Palgrave MacMillan, Rynhold authored a primer for laymen on some of the main issues discussed in such famous medieval Jewish philosophical works as Rav Sadia Gaon’s Emunot Vedeot, Rabbi Yehuda HaLevi’s Kuzari, Rambam’s Moreh Nevuchim, and Ralbag’s Milchamot Hashem.

A lecturer at Yeshiva University’s Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, Rynhold previously wrote Two Models of Jewish Philosophy: Justifying One’s Practices (Oxford University Press, 2005) and serves on the editorial boards of Le’ela and the Journal of the London School of Jewish Studies.

The Jewish Press recently spoke with him.

The Jewish Press: What’s your background? How did you wind up becoming a professor of Jewish philosophy?

Rynhold: Between high school and university I spent a year in Israel at a yeshiva called Hakibbutz Hadati, and there was a shiur there on the Kuzari. The person teaching it was a rationalist, so he was also teaching us, simultaneously, Maimonides’s problems with the Kuzari.

I had never before encountered Jewish philosophy, and I was fascinated by this shiur. It changed my career direction. I was holding a place at Cambridge to study natural sciences and, literally, as a result of this shiur, I decided I didn’t want to be a scientist. I wanted to study and teach Jewish philosophy. So I decided to pursue a philosophy degree at Cambridge.

In An Introduction to Medieval Jewish Philosophy, you discuss a lot of controversial issues. For instance, although almost every Jew assumes that creation ex nihilo (something from nothing) is a fundamental Jewish belief, the Ralbag, in fact, holds the Platonic view that God created the world from preexisting matter. You write that even the Rambam, who disagrees, maintains that one can be a believing Jew and reject ex nihilo.

It’s actually not a particularly radical view. There are midrashim that Maimonides mentions in the Guide to the Perplexed that look at the creation story this way.

What’s more interesting, but also more controversial, is the idea that Maimonides countenances the possibility of an eternal universe. The way Maimonides writes the Guide lends itself to varied interpretations [since Maimonides explicitly states that in "speaking about very obscure matters it is necessary to conceal some parts"]. And there are a number of respected scholars who argue that buried deeply beneath the surface, Maimonides is expressing the Aristotelian view that the world is eternal.

What is this preexisting matter that Plato and the Ralbag speak of?

It’s very difficult to say exactly, but just like a potter takes unformed clay and makes it into a pot, by analogy God took some unformed matter and formed it into the world.

In the book, you also write about Ralbag’s controversial view that God does not have detailed knowledge of events on Earth. Can you elaborate?

There’s a very well-known problem concerning the clash between God’s foreknowledge and human free will. If God genuinely knows and has known for all eternity everything that will occur, then the fact is that God knew for all eternity that at this point in time we would now be speaking. Therefore, come this point in time, however we might feel about it, there was no question we would end up speaking.

Now there are all sorts of attempts to squirm one’s way out of this dilemma, but evidently the Ralbag accepted it as a genuine dilemma and therefore something had to give. He could say, “Well, if God does genuinely know everything that will occur, then human beings don’t have free will as we ordinarily understand it.” The Ralbag, however, takes the other path, which is to deny that God knows that we are now talking. God does not actually have knowledge of particular things and particular events.

To some people this view sounds blasphemous.

Absolutely, and one shouldn’t pretend it didn’t sound blasphemous to certain people back then. Chasdai Crescas [14th century] attacks him for it in his work, Or Hashem. Crescas tries to squirm his way out of the dilemma by taking the alternative route, which is to deny the ordinary common sense understanding of free will.

About the Author: Elliot Resnick is a Jewish Press staff reporter and author of “Movers and Shakers: Sixty Prominent Personalities Speak Their Mind on Tape” (Brenn Books).


If you don't see your comment after publishing it, refresh the page.

Our comments section is intended for meaningful responses and debates in a civilized manner. We ask that you respect the fact that we are a religious Jewish website and avoid inappropriate language at all cost.

If you promote any foreign religions, gods or messiahs, lies about Israel, anti-Semitism, or advocate violence (except against terrorists), your permission to comment may be revoked.

No Responses to “Did The Rambam Really Say That? – An Interview With Professor Daniel Rynhold”

Comments are closed.

SocialTwist Tell-a-Friend

Current Top Story
Along the Israel-Syrian border.
Jihadist Threat Rising on Israel’s Northern Border
Latest Indepth Stories
0.5-Shekel-hatasham-RJP

The War projects to lower Israel’s 2014 GDP 0.5% but will have little influence on foreign investors

The_United_Nations_Building

It is in the nature of the Nations of the World to be hostile towards the Jewish People.

champions

Hamas and Islamic Jihad are actually fighting to “liberate Jerusalem and all Palestine.”

IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz reviewing maps on the Golan Heights.

The bad news is that ISIS and Al Qaeda are on the Syrian Golan. The good news is that every terrorist in Syria is killing each other.

The congregants, Ethiopians spanning generations, were beaming with joy and pride.

The withdrawal from the Gaza Strip nine years ago did not enhance Israel’s security.

How does a soldier from a religious home fall in love with a soldier from a non- religious kibbutz?

In 19th century entire ancient Jewish communities fled Palestine to escape brutal Muslim authorities

Responsibility lies with both the UN and Hamas, and better commitments should have been demanded from both parties in the ceasefire.

But the world is forever challenging our Jewish principle and our practices.

If this is how we play the game, we will lose. By that I mean we will lose everything.

Reportedly, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have formed a bloc that seeks to counter Islamist influence in the Middle East.

One wonders how the IDF could be expected to so quickly determine the facts.

While there is no formula that will work for everyone, there are some strategies that if followed carefully and consistently can help our children – and us – gain the most from the upcoming school year.

More Articles from Elliot Resnick
Ben Cohen

If you remember, in 2006, a Jewish kid in Paris, Ilan Halimi, was abducted, beaten, and held hostage for three weeks… These are the kinds of people attending these Gaza solidarity rallies.

Rabbi Berel Wein

King Solomon said it long ago: “Cast your bread upon the waters” because you don’t know when you’ll hit something. Our job is to do.

Formerly an attorney at the prestigious law firm Proskauer Rose for 40 years – six of those years as its chairman – Fagin holds degrees from both Columbia and Harvard Universities. He retired in 2013 to devote more time to the Jewish community.

The message is that Zionism, which used to be great, is today very institutionalized and [consists of a] bunch of people who are just squabbling over titles and budgets.

For Steinsaltz, the Rebbe was no less than “the greatest man I have ever met,” as he writes in the preface to his book.

If a child is seldom required to yield his desires and needs to those of others, surely doing so as an adult will not come naturally to him.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/interviews-and-profiles/did-the-rambam-really-say-that/2009/11/11/

Scan this QR code to visit this page online: