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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » The Limits of Orthodox Theology: Maimonides' Thirteen Principles Reappraised (Littman Library of Jewish Civilization) » User review

Shapiro reveals important information

  • Apr 30, 2010
Rating:
+5
Studying Maimonidean thought means coming into contact with rational ideas that are not always considered mainstream in Jewish philosophy. How common is it for different and even conflicting beliefs to be simultaneously accepted as Jewish?

Marc B. Shapiro addresses this question in his easy to read and very informative The Limits of Orthodox Theology: Maimonides' Thirteen Principles Reappraised. He examines the thirteen principles of faith that Moses Maimonides (1138-1204) outlines in his Commentary on the Mishnah, Introduction to Perek Chelek. These thirteen principles have become basic tenets for many Jews - so significant, in fact, that two versions of the list were placed in the siddur, the daily prayer book: one is called Ani Ma'amin ("I believe") and the other is the chant Yigdal ("God is exalted"). Yet, although it may surprise many people who think that the thirteen principles are sacrosanct, not everyone accepts these thirteen principles, and many who reject them are well respected Orthodox Jews.

Shapiro examines traditional Orthodox sources and finds that even undisputed Orthodox Jewish authorities, great rabbis, dispute Maimonides' beliefs radically and, at times, even vituperatively. Shapiro's analysis shows that Orthodox Jews can hold nonconforming and dissenting views - even on fundamental beliefs - without being considered rebels against Judaism.

Shapiro teaches that many Jews, including rabbis, do not realize that Judaism allows a wide spectrum of beliefs. Their ignorance is caused by their narrow focus on the Talmuds, codes of Jewish law and responsa literature, while ignoring the theological literature. Shapiro cites an example of one of the greatest recent halakhic authorities, Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, who comes to erroneous conclusions about Maimonides' philosophy. "He was therefore able to state that Maimonides believed in the protective power of holy names and names of angels, as used in amulets." This is directly opposite Maimonides' teaching in Mishnah Sotah 7:4 and the Guide of the Perplexed 1:61, 62.

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About the reviewer
Israel Drazin ()
Ranked #67
Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of twenty books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four … more
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'Inspiring and breath-taking ... highly recommended.' Yisrael Dubitsky, Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter 'Marc Shapiro puts an explicit contemporary context on this remarkable collection of sources that disagreed with one part or other of Maimonides' Thirteen Principles ... By showing the extent to which past authors disagreed with those Principles, Shapiro seeks to debunk assertions by contemporary writers that place those Principles at the core of Orthodox belief ... the work is astonishing in its rage. Shapiro uses his daunting biographical abilities and his considerable skill as a writer to present his material-well-known and obscure-cogently and entertainingly. To the reader interested in the limits of the theological imagination of Jews, it is not likely to be soon rivalled.' Gidon Rothstein, AJS Review 'A courageous and meticulously research book that straddles two worlds-that of abstract scholarship and of practical religious vision ... The real tour de force of the book is the enormous amount of material he musters to make his case.' Bradley Shavit Artson, Conservative Judaism 'Combines remarkable erudition with clarity of vision.' Menachem Kellner, Edah Journal 'His research is exhaustive, almost encyclopedic, and it is highly convincing ... his aim is truly constructive and his tone is passionately concerned.' Erin Leib, Jerusalem Report 'This exhaustive yet readable study ... is astonishingly well researched ... a polemical work of considerable ...
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ISBN-10: 1874774900
ISBN-13: 978-1874774907
Author: Marc B. Shapiro
Publisher: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization

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