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Full text of "The Teachings Of Maimonides"

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8]<OU 164680 g 
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OSMANIA UNIVERSITY LIBRARY 
Call No. 'kcession No. 
Author 

Title 




This book should be returned on or before the date 
last marked below. 



THE TEACHINGS 
OF MAIMONIDES 



THE TEACHINGS 
OF MAIMONIDES 



BY 

THE REV. A. COHEN 

M.A. (Cantal.), Ph.D. (Lund.) 



LONDON 

GEORGE ROUTLEDGE & SONS, LTD. 

BROADWAY HOUSE: 68-74 CARTER LANE, B.C. 

1927 



PRINTtn IN GRFAT BRITAIN BY HEADLEY BROTHERS, 
1 8, DEVONSHIRE STREET, E.G. 2 ; AND ASHFORD, KENT, 



TO MY WIFE 



PREFACE 

THIS book is intended to serve a double purpose. It 
firstly presents a summary of the teachings of 
Maimonides on Philosophy, Psychology, Religion and 
Ethics in a systematic classification. Although he 
earned a great and enduring reputation for his 
masterly systematisation of the mass of Rabbinic 
law, he has nowhere left an orderly account of his 
opinions. They have to be collected and pieced 
together from the whole field of his compositions. 
Secondly, the summary is given in the author's words 
by quotations from his writings. The volume, 
accordingly, takes the form of an anthologie raisonnce. 

Despite the existence of English versions of the 
Guide, the Eight Chapters and parts of the Yad, few 
readers are likely to have the patience or inclination 
to go through them from cover to cover. Especially 
is this so with the first-mentioned work which is 
acknowledged to be one of the outstanding philo- 
sophical productions of the Middle Ages and exerted 
a deep influence upon the thought of Jewish and 
Christian theologians. Much in its pages would deter 
the casual reader. The opening chapters in particular 
would probably induce him to lay the book aside as 
being without interest and value. 

That is perhaps the reason why so little is known 
of Maimonides, apart from his name. It is conse- 
quently hoped that the present volume may be the 
means of creating a fuller acquaintance with this 
eminent Jewish thinker. Much of his teaching is, of 

vii 



PREFACE 

course, out of date. There is no longer the necessity 
to harmonise Revelation with Aristotelian philosophy, 
which was the urgent theological problem in his day ; 
but the spirit which animated his mind and pervades 
his writings is as much needed now as ever before. 
His philosophy may be antiquated, but his insistence 
on the supremacy of reason and his emphasis on 
knowledge as the essential preparation for religious 
comprehension are of eternal value. 

I wish to express my thanks to the Chief Rabbi 
(Dr. J. H. Hertz) for his kindness in lending me his 
copy of Lichtenberg's edition of the Responsa, to the 
Librarian of Jews' College (Dr. H. Hirschfeld) for 
sending me the numerous volumes I required in the 
preparation of this book, and to the Rev. S. M. 
Lehrman, B.A., of Manchester, who generously under- 
took the task of correcting the proofs. 



A.C. 



Birmingham, 

February, 1927. 



Vlll 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 

INTRODUCTION 

I THE ORIGINS OF A JEWISH PHILOSOPHY - i 

II MAIMONIDES : His LIFE AND WORK - 7 

III MAIMONIDES' SYSTEM OF THOUGHT - 18 

IV THE INFLUENCE OF MAIMONIDES 27 

THE TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

CHAPTER I : GOD THE CREATOR 31 

i. The Existence of God 2. Proof of 
God's Existence 3. God is the " cause " 
of every event in the world 4. God is the 
life of the Universe 5. Emanation from 
God 6. God not responsible for evil in 
the world 7. All that God made serves 
a useful purpose 8. Is the Universe 
eternal or created ? 9. Design in the 
Universe 10. Purpose of God's Creation 
11. Is the Universe permanent ? 12. 
God's Name 

CHAPTER II : CONSTITUTION OF THE UNIVERSE 65 

i. Threefold Division 2. Intelligences or 
Angels 3. The Spheres 4. The Sub- 
lunary Sphere 5. The Universe a united 
whole 

ix 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 

CHAPTER III : THE ATTRIBUTES OF GOD - 83 

i. Why attributes are ascribed to God 
2. There is no similarity between God's 
attributes and man's 3. An attribute is 
an accident : therefore God has no 
attributes apart from His essence 4. God 
only describable by negative attributes 
5. The Unity of God 6. The Incor- 
poreality of God 7. God is timeless and 
spaceless 8. God and the impossible 
9. God's knowledge 

CHAPTER IV : THE WORSHIP OF GOD - - 107 

i. God alone to be worshipped 2. Prayer 
3. Love and fear of God 4. Different 
degrees in worship of God 5. Judaism 
and other religions 6. Idolatry 7. 
Superstition a form of idolatry 

CHAPTER V : PROPHECY - - - 129 

i. Prophecy a natural gift 2. Three 
views of Prophecy 3. The psychology of 
Prophecy 4. Qualifications of a Prophet 
5- Degrees of Prophecy 6. Test of a 
true Prophet 7. Moses the greatest of 
'the Prophets. 

CHAPTER VI : THE TORAH - ... 152 

i. Torah a Revelation from God 2. Aim 
of the Torah 3. Permanence of the Torah 
4. Study of the Torah 5. Interpreta- 
tion of the Torah 6. Specimens of alle- 
gorical interpretation 7. Commandments 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 

of the Torah 8. Reasons of the command- 
ments 9. Sacrifices 10. Sabbath and 
Festivals. 



CHAPTER VII : DIVINE PROVIDENCE - - 189 

i. God is cognisant of man 2. Problem 
of Divine Providence 3. Five theories on 
Providence 4. Maimonides' views 

CHAPTER VIII : REWARD AND PUNISHMENT - 202 

i. God's justice 2. Why rewards and 
punishments are promised 3. The highest 
form of reward and punishment 4. 
Repentance 5. Free will 6. Prescience 
and Determinism 

CHAPTER IX : ESCHATOLOGY - 220 

i. The coming of the Messiah 2. The 
personality of the Messiah 3. The 
Messianic Era 4. Calculating the time 
of the advent 5. The World to Come 
6. Who will have a share in the World to 
Come 7. The immortal soul 8. Resur- 
rection of the dead 9. Happiness in the 
World to Come 

CHAPTER X : PSYCHOLOGY - - - - 241 

i. The soul and its faculties 2. The 
human intellect 3. The functioning of 
the intellect 4. Sources of true knowledge 
5. Limits of the intellect 
xi 



TABLE OF CONTENTS 

CHAPTER XI : ETHICS 258 

i. Varying dispositions in man 2. Virtues 
and vices 3. The Mean 4. Asceticism 
5. Correct living (physical) 6. Correct 
living (moral) 7. Social life 8. The 
purpose of life 9. The ultimate goal of 
life 

CHAPTER XII : SOME OBITER DICTA - - 307 
NOTES -------- 313 

INDEX 337 



Xll 



MAIMONIDES' WORKS CITED 

GuideGuide for the Perplexed. A complete transla- 
tion was made into English by Dr M. Friedlander 
(3 vols., 1881-85). A revised one-volume edition, 
with the elimination of the notes, was published 
in 1904 (Routledge). The passages quoted are 
given in Friedlander 's translation. 

C M .^Commentary on the Mishnah. Included in the 
work are three essays : (i) Introduction ; (ii) 
Introduction to Helek (i.e., Sanhedrin chap. X). 
An English translation was published in the Jewish 
Quarterly Review, XIX, pp. 28-58. My quotations 
are from this version, by kind permission of the 
Editor, Mr C. G. Montefiore ; (iii) Eight Chapters, 
prefaced to the commentary on tractate Abot. 
The Hebrew text, with an English rendering, was 
published by Dr J. I. Gorfinkle in 1912. This 
translation has been drawn upon by the courtesy 
of Dr Gorfinkle and the Columbia University Press. 

Yad^Yad ha-fyazakah or Mishneh Torah. The first 
of the fourteen books was translated into English 
by E. Soloweyczik (1863) and partly by H. Bernard 
(1832). The section on Almsgiving was translated 
by J. W. Peppercorne (1840). The citations in 
this volume are newly translated. 

Responsa=Kobets Teshubot ha-Rambam, ed. Lichten- 
berg (1859). Besides his letters this collection 
includes some of Maimonides' smaller works, such 
xiii 



MAIMONIDES' WORKS CITED 

as Iggeret Teman, Ma'amar Kiddush ha-Shem, 
Ma'amar Tehiyyat ha-Metim t his Ethical Will, etc. 

Ma'amar ha-Yihudthe Hebrew translation of 
Makalah fi 'l-Tauhid, ed. Steinschneider (1847). 
Despite its title " Essay on the Unity ", it is not, as 
the Jewish Encyclopedia (vol. IX, p. 81) describes, 
" an essay on the unity of God ". It is a summary 
of the contents of the first two sections of the Yad. 

MitswotKitab al-Fara'id, in Hebrew Sefer ha- 
Mitswot, " The Book of the Commandments ". 
The passages cited have been translated from the 
Arabic edition of M. Bloch (1888). 

MillotMillot ha-Higgayon, " The Terminology of 
Logic ". 



xiv 



INTRODUCTION 
I : THE ORIGINS OF A JEWISH PHILOSOPHY 

WHEN the antiquity of the Jewish people is taken 
into account and the place it has occupied in the realm 
of religious thought, it is a remarkable fact that an 
interest in speculative philosophy scarcely manifests 
itself before the tenth century of the present era. 
When once that interest was aroused, it developed 
apace and grew in intensity. The study of philosophy 
was pursued with ardour and attracted many of the 
acutest intellects in Jewry. If the story of the Jewish 
metaphysicians begins late, when once it is commenced, 
the four centuries that follow are made notable by the 
names of eminent thinkers who boldly grappled with 
the riddles of the Universe. They displayed a real 
aptitude for speculative investigation. 

What is the explanation that this aptitude remained 
dormant so long and displayed itself just at the time 
that it did ? Halter's theory 1 is that it was not until 
then that the Jews came into contact with an alien 
system of thought which conflicted with their own and 
were compelled to offer a rational defence of their 
creed or harmonise the two. The premisses from which 
this conclusion is drawn are hardly correct. Jews 
had come into close association with the Greeks and 
Romans in the pre-Christian centuries. 1 Josephus 
knew of Aristotle. 3 The Talmudic literature records 
disputations between Rabbis and heathen philos- 
ophers.* Another cause must be sought. 

i 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

It has often been remarked that the Oriental mind 
prefers the concrete to the abstract ; and if this were 
so, it would be sufficient to account for the absence of 
metaphysical speculation which is directed towards 
the intangible. But a generalisation of this nature 
is usually only a half-truth. It is doubtless correct 
that the Oriental showed preference for the definite 
as against the indefinite. The proverbs of Eastern 
peoples supply ample evidence of this tendency. In 
Rabbinic literature we find " forty " or " sixty " 
where an undetermined number is intended. 

That characteristic is not exclusively typical of 
the Eastern mentality only, but is general and found 
all over the world. It is the mark of the undeveloped 
mind ; so that it is only in comparatively recent times, 
with the growth of education, that the average person 
proves capable of thinking in the abstract. We have 
to search for still another reason to explain the 
phenomenon that although the Jewish people produced 
an ethical and spiritual literature, philosophy was an 
alien importation and not indigenous. 

According to primitive psychology, the seat of the 
intellect was the heart. In the language of the Bible 
a man thinks by " speaking in, or to, his heart ". If 
he has to commit something to memory, he " lays it 
upon his heart ". His ideas and plans originate there. 
The clever man is " wise of heart ", the fool " lacking 
of heart ". Nowhere in the Scriptures is the heart 
of an animal mentioned except as a physical organ. 

This attribution of intellect to the heart was not 
peculiar to the Hebrews. In the view of the Indians, 
the sun of knowledge rises in the ether of the heart. 
The Persians regarded the heart as the soil from which 
the thoughts grew in the same way that trees grow from 
the ground. The idea is found likewise among the 

2 



INTRODUCTION 

early Greeks. An ancient medical work located the 
" intelligent soul " in the left ventricle of the heart. 
Homer describes the inert corpse as a^pcos "without 
heart ", in the sense of without consciousness. The 
use of cor in Latin supports the same view. 5 

What lies at the root of this psychological con- 
ception is that thinking is grounded in, if not actually 
identical with, feeling. What we think is what we 
feel. Our beliefs are determined not by argument 
and demonstration, but by our likes and dislikes. 
Our conclusions are arrived at through intuition and 
not through ratiocination. So long as such a 
psychology persisted, philosophical research and 
logical deduction remained an impossibility, or at 
any rate, a rarity. 

The first blow was dealt at this system by 
Pythagoras (6th cent., B.C.E.) when he located the 
vovs in the brain. As soon as it was believed that the 
seat of the intellect was in the head and not in the 
heart, the road was cleared for the momentous 
discovery that the mind functioned independently of 
the heart, and that reason was distinct from emotion 
and truth was absolute. Hence it was that philosophy 
originated with the Greeks. Aristotle invented the 
syllogism which is the foundation of abstract 
reasoning. 

Under the influence of the Bible the Jews retained 
the older psychology. But there were other forces 
at work which induced them to keep to the concrete 
rather than wander into the unchartered domain of 
the abstract. The acute struggle for self-preservation 
into which the Jewish people was plunged by the 
crisis of the first century a crisis both national and 
religious compelled the Rabbis to concentrate on the 
practical and avoid the theoretical. " Not inquiry 

3 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

but action is the chief thing " 6 became the guiding 
principle. Greek philosophy had not been without 
its devotees among the Jews. Especially in Egypt 
it had found many followers, and the consequences 
had been harmful to their Judaism. The Rabbis 
consequently regarded it as a menace to the preserva- 
tion of the Jewish faith. 

There is a famous passage in the Talmud? which 
relates : " Four men went up into Paradise, viz. Ben 
Azzai, Ben Zoma, After 8 and Rabbi Akiba. . . . 
Ben Azzai gazed and died ; Ben Zoma gazed and 
became demented ; Aher cut the plants ; and Rabbi 
Akiba departed in peace ". Whatever it was that 
these men precisely aimed at, it is clear that they 
embarked on some speculative search with disastrous 
effects. Only one out of the four came through 
unscathed ; and it is noteworthy that it was this 
Rabbi Akiba who gave utterance to the aphorism : 
" Everything is foreseen, yet freedom of choice is 
given ; and the world is judged by grace, yet all is 
according to the amount of the work ".9 

This doctrine touches some of the deepest problems 
in philosophy to which later Jewish thinkers devoted 
considerable attention. How can free will be 
reconciled with God's foreknowledge ? How can 
God be good and just when the righteous experience 
adversity and the wicked prosper ? And yet on such 
perplexities as these, Akiba, perhaps the keenest 
intellect among the Rabbis, has nothing more helpful 
to say than that we are to accept conflicting dogmas 
whether they can be harmonised or not ! His purpose, 
however, is clear : as a practical rule of living we 
must believe that the will is free, that God has 
foreknowledge and that He governs the world wisely 
and justly. It is this practical rule which is of 

4 



INTRODUCTION 

primary importance ; the metaphysical problem is 
only secondary. 

This attitude towards transcendental problems is 
typical of the Rabbis. It is essentially Hebraic. 
They held that there was sufficient in the daily round 
of life to absorb all man's thoughts and energies, and 
no need to try and penetrate the veil which hides from 
him the mysteries of the Universe. There was the 
Biblical teaching : " The heavens are the heavens of 
the Lord, but the earth hath He given to the children 
of men " (Ps. cxv. 16), which was taken as signifying 
that the world is man's sphere and he is incapable of 
comprehending the realms above. 10 Hence his range 
of inquiry is limited to ra <f>va-tKa " the physical " and 
he is cut off from all knowledge of rot /xera TO, </>w**a 
" the metaphysical " what lies beyond the physical. 

It was impossible, however, for the Jews to isolate 
themselves from the currents of thought which were 
sweeping through the countries of their domicile. 
The Aristotelian philosophy had reached the Arabs 
and profoundly influenced their thinkers. The works 
of the Greek master had been translated into Arabic 
and were widely read and discussed. These books 
passed into the hands of Jewish readers and arrested 
their attention. The predilection of the Jews for 
medicine was a contributory cause. They had 
perforce to study the medical works of the Greek 
physicians the standard text-books which were 
available in Arabic translation. An acquaintance 
with scientific method was the result and a desire to 
delve more deeply into the writings of the Greeks. 
A new field of scholarship was revealed to them. They 
discovered a world of thought from which they had 
been hitherto rigorously excluded. Their intellectual 
acumen, so long restricted in its scope, had a 

5 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

gargantuan meal upon which to feast. They ignored 
the cautious advice of their predecessors. They ate 
of the tree of knowledge and their eyes were opened. 

The first contact with Greek thought must have 
proved most disconcerting to them. The very 
foundations of their faith seemed to be shaken. It 
was all so different from what had been traditionally 
handed down from their fathers. The effect might be 
compared to the shock which the religious world 
experienced in the middle of the last century when 
Darwin propounded his theories. It raised similar 
questions. Just as the perplexed religionist then 
asked, How does this new teaching accord with the 
first chapter of Genesis ? the medieval Jew asked, 
How does this philosophy fit in with the Hebrew 
Scriptures ? 

The problem was somewhat simplified for the 
latter because he never for a moment doubted the 
truth of the Bible. The alternatives for him were 
either philosophy was wrong or the Bible and philosophy 
agreed. Of the famous Jewish thinkers only two 
adopted the former alternative. Judah Halevi (born 
1086) rejected the Aristotelian philosophy on intuitive 
rather than rational grounds. It did not satisfy him 
spiritually. To his ardent, poetical temperament the 
cold reasoning of Aristotle proved distasteful. It 
made no provision for the yearning of the human soul 
for communion with God. On the other hand, 
Hasdai Crescas (1340-1410) vehemently attacked 
Aristotle on rational grounds. He analysed his 
system of thought and declared it unsound. 

The majority of Jewish philosophers were fervent 
admirers of Aristotle. 11 They may have criticised his 
teachings on points of detail, but they accepted his 
system as a whole. Their problem, accordingly, was 

6 



INTRODUCTION 

to reconcile his philosophy with the teachings of the 
Bible. The outstanding personality in this School 
of harmonisation was Moses, the son of Maimon, 
better known as Moses Maimonides. IZ 

II : MAIMONIDES : HIS LIFE AND WoRK J 3 

The unique place which Maimonides held in the 
Jewish world of his tftne is indicated by the fact that 
the exact hour of his birth has been preserved. He 
was born in Cordova at i p.m. on the eve of Passover, 
4895, which corresponds to March 30, 1135. His 
family was said to trace its descent through Judah 
the Prince, the compiler of the Mishnah, to the House 
of David. This genealogy may rest on nothing more 
substantial than the unbounded hero-worship of his 
admirers. 

He was certainly a member of a scholarly family, 
and at the conclusion of his Commentary on the 
Mishnah he subscribes himself, " Moses, son of Maimon 
the Dayyan, *4 son of Rabbi Joseph the Sage, son of 
Isaac the Dayyan, son of Joseph the Dayyan, son of 
Obadiah the Dayyan, son of Solomon, son of Obadiah 
the Dayyan ". His father was a mathematician and 
astronomer as well as an expert Talmudist, and from 
him Moses received his instruction in Jewish lore. 

In 1148 the town of Cordova fell into the hands of 
the Almohades, a fanatical sect of Mohammedans, who 
presented the Jewish and Christian inhabitants with 
the alternative of apostacy or death. Maimon, to 
escape forcible conversion or even a pretence of 
accepting Mohammedanism, fled with his family and 
for ten years wandered from town to town in Spain. 
Eventually he decided to leave the country, sailed for 
Morocco and settled in Fez in 1160. 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

Throughout this period of stress and wandering, 
Moses pursued his studies and displayed such 
conspicuous ability that the father and younger son, 
David, engaged in commerce while he devoted himself 
entirely to the accumulation of knowledge. He took 
up the study of medicine as the ultimate means of 
earning a livelihood, although his supreme passion 
was for theology and philosophy. In Fez he made the 
acquaintance of several Mohammedan scholars who 
introduced him to Arabic translations of Aristotle and 
other philosophical works, and aroused in him the 
interest in metaphysics which influenced the rest of 
his life.'S 

Unhappily the religious persecution which had 
made life bitter in Spain spread also to Northern 
Africa, and under extreme pressure many Jews became 
pseudo-Mohammedans. Some scholars have alleged 
that Maimonides was temporarily in this class, but the 
grounds on which they base their conclusion are far 
from decisive. 16 When he escaped martyrdom only 
through the intervention of a Moslem friend, he 
resolved to continue his wanderings. On April 18, 
1165, he with the other members of his family sailed 
for Palestine, and on May 16 landed at Acco. The 
Holy Land was at that time in Christian hands. 

The Jewish savant, Ahad Ha'anVV has put forward 
the theory that the suffering which Maimonides 
experienced under Mohammedan fanaticism was the 
influence which was the turning-point of his intellectual 
life and made him the rationalist he became. The 
case is put forcibly as follows : " He was surrounded 
by lying and religious hypocrisy ; Judaism had to 
hide from the light of day ; its adherents had to wear 
a mask whenever they came out of their homes into 
the open. And why ? Because Mohammed had 

8 



INTRODUCTION 

called himself a prophet, had performed miracles, 
according to his followers, to win their faith, and by 
virtue of his prophetic power had promulgated a new 
Law and revealed new truths, which all men were 
bound to believe, although they were contrary to 
reason. This state of things was bound to make a 
profound impression on a young man like Maimonides, 
with his fine nature and his devotion to truth. He 
could not but feel every moment the tragedy of such 
a life ; and therefore he could not but become 
violently opposed to the source of religious fanaticism 
to that blind faith in the truth of prophecy which 
relies on supernatural ' evidence ', and despises the 
evidence of reason. It was this blind faith that led 
the Moslems to force the Jews into accepting the 
teaching of the new prophet ; and it was this that 
led many of these very Jews, after they had gradually 
become accustomed to their new situation, to doubt of 
their Judaism and ask themselves why they should not 
be able to believe in Mohammed's prophecy, just as 
they believed in that of Moses. If Moses had per- 
formed miracles, then surely Mohammed might have 
done the same ; and how could they decide between 
the one teaching and the other with such certainty as 
to pronounce one true and the other false ? 

" These impressions, which were constantly 
influencing Maimonides' development in his childhood 
and youth, were bound to swing him violently over 
to the other side, to the side of reason. Ultimately 
he was led to subject man and God too, if we may 
say so to that supreme ruler : because Judaism could 
trust reason never to allow any new prophet with his 
new teaching to work it harm. When once Judaism 
had accepted the supremacy of reason and handed over 
to reason the seal of truth, it would never again be 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

difficult to show by rational proof that the first divine 
religion was also the only divine religion, never to be 
displaced or altered till the end of time ; and then, 
even if ten thousand prophets like Mohammed came 
and performed miracles beyond telling, we should 
never believe in their new teaching, because one proof 
of reason is stronger than all the proofs of prophecy ". 

Attractive though the argument be, there are two 
facts which appear to militate against it. The first 
is that Maimonides cannot be considered to have 
condemned persecution as an altogether unjustifiable 
procedure. He admits that it may be necessary in 
certain circumstances to put a person to death for the 
opinions he holds. 18 Tolerant though he undoubtedly 
was to other religions, 1 ? he maintains that the welfare 
of Society may compel the adoption of violent methods 
for the suppression of erroneous beliefs. Was that 
not a plea which the Mohammedan persecutors could 
have urged, and probably did urge, in justification of 
their campaign ? 

The second point is that if the theory were correct, 
Maimonides' logical mind would have forced him to 
reject Revelation, with regard to which he had not 
the slightest doubt. If he believed with a firm faith 
that God had sent the Torah into the world through 
the medium of Moses, he could not deny the a priori 
possibility of a Revelation communicated through 
Mohammed ! But Afrad Ha'am is certainly right 
with respect to prophecy. The insistence that the 
genuineness of a prophet must not be tested by the 
criterion of miracles must be understood as directed 
against the claims of Christianity and Mohammedanism. 

To resume the story of Maimonides' career. His 
stay in the Holy Land was of brief duration. The 
Jewish population was small, barely numbering a 

10 



INTRODUCTION 

thousand families, scattered throughout the country. 
They were poor materially and intellectually, so that 
the environment was uncongenial to him. He 
therefore left for Egypt where there were large Jewish 
communities. He first went to Alexandria, but finally 
settled in Cairo and there spent the remainder of his 
life. He practised as a physician and also lectured 
on philosophical themes. His reputation as a medical 
practitioner spread and he was appointed physician to 
the Grand Vizier. It is stated that Richard I of 
England offered him a similar position but Maimonides 
declined it. 

Besides his professional work there were many 
self -assumed duties which kept him very fully occupied. 
From his youth onwards he was engaged upon the 
gigantic literary works which established his fame as 
the greatest Jewish scholar of his time. He became 
the recognised authority on Rabbinic law, and a 
stream of correspondence flowed to him in which he 
was asked for his opinion on disputed points of 
religious dogma and practice. During the last twenty 
years of his life he was the Nagid, the official head, of 
the Cairo community, and by his broadmindedness 
did much to narrow the breach between the orthodox 
Jews and the Karaites who rejected the authority of 
the Talmud. 

His active and honourable career came to an end, 
after some years of broken health, on December 13, 
1204. His death was followed by an extraordinary 
manifestation of grief in which Moslems as well as 
Jews participated. His earthly remains were conveyed 
to the Holy Land and buried in Tiberias, where his 
tomb is still to be seen. 

Maimonides' life is marked by an almost unceasing 
literary activity. While still in his youth he 

ii 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

contemplated a Commentary on the Mishnah, but it 
was many years before that early ambition was 
achieved. His first works were an essay on the Jewish 
Calendar and a small volume on the terminology of 
Logic, written before he was twenty-three. His 
unrivalled reputation rests on his magnificent trilogy, 
opera magna in every sense of the term. 

The first is Kitab al-Siraj, " The Book of Light ", 
a comprehensive Commentary on the Mishnah, written 
in Arabic. This work, begun when the author was 
only twenty-three and completed ten years later, in 
1168, already displays the characteristics which 
distinguish all his compositions. We find there a 
wonderful mastery of a vast realm of knowledge, 
critical insight, analytical power, independence of 
judgment, clearness of exposition and a gift for 
systematisation. 

He regarded the Rabbis as the heirs of the Prophets, 
and although he emphasised the point that not every 
statement of every Sage was to be venerated as the 
acme of wisdom, yet beneath the surface of their 
teachings is to be discovered a deep well of truth. 
He classified students of Rabbinic literature into three 
groups : "The first class is, as far as I have seen, the 
largest in point of their numbers and of the numbers 
of their compositions ; and it is of them that I have 
heard most. The members of this class adopt the 
words of the Sages literally, and give no kind of 
interpretation whatsoever. With them all impossi- 
bilities are necessary occurrences. This is owing to 
their being ignorant of science and far away from 
knowledge. . . . They think that in all their 
emphatic and precise remarks the Sages only wished 
to convey the ideas which they themselves comprehend 
and that they intended them to be taken in their 

12 



INTRODUCTION 

literalness. And this, in spite of the fact that in their 
literal significance some of the words of the Sages 
would savour of absurdity. . . . 

" The second class of reasoners is also numerous. 
They see and hear the words of the Sages and accept 
them in their literal significations, thinking that the 
Sages meant nothing but what the literal interpreta- 
tion indicates. They consequently apply themselves 
to showing the weakness of the Rabbinical statements, 
their objectionable character, and to calumniate that 
which is free from reproach. They make sport of the 
words of the Sages from time to time, and imagine 
themselves more intellectually gifted and possessed 
of more penetrating minds, whereas they (peace to 
them !) are deceived, shortsighted, ignorant of all 
existing things, and consequently unable to compre- 
hend anything. . . , They are more stupid than 
the first class, and more steeped in folly. . . . 

" The third class of thinkers is (as God liveth I) so 
very small in numbers that one would only call it a 
class in the sense that the sun is termed a species 
(although it is a single object). They are the men 
who accept as established facts the greatness of the 
Sages and the excellence of their thoughts, as found in 
the generality of their remarks, where each word 
points a very true theme. . . . They know that 
they (peace to them !) would not talk absurdities to 
one another. And they are convinced beyond doubt 
that their words have both an outer and an inner 
meaning, and that in all that they said of things 
impossible their discourses were in the form of riddle 
and parable " (C.M., Introd. to Helek). 

This extract discloses his method of approach not 
only to the literature of the Rabbis, but also to the 
Bible. He contemplated writing a treatise on the 

13 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

passages of the Talmud and Midrash which when read 
superficially have little or no meaning, but on a correct 
interpretation convey deep philosophical instruction. 
This intention was not carried out. 

A great deal of the contents of the Siraj is nothing 
more than an exposition of Jewish law as codified in 
the Mishnah and has no bearing on Maimonides' 
system of thought. But he incorporated in it three 
Introductions which are of first-rate importance for 
this purpose. There is firstly the General Introduction 
frequently but incorrectly described as " Intro- 
duction to Zera'im ". zo It is in reality an introductory 
essay on the transmission of the Oral Law from the 
time of Moses down to the age of the Rabbis. In the 
course of it he dwells at length on Prophecy and the 
Prophets and expounds his thoughts on man's place 
in the Universe. He prefaced his Commentary on the 
tenth chapter of Sanhedrin, known as Helek, with an 
essay on the principles of the Jewish Faith. And 
before commenting on the ethical tractate Abot, he 
added Eight Chapters in which he explained his views 
on ethics. These Introductions are invaluable 
sources from which to derive a knowledge of 
Maimonides' teachings. 

His second great work is the Mishneh Torah 
" Deuteronomy ", or Yad ha-hazakah " The Strong 
Hand ". 2I It occupied ten years in compiling and was 
finished in 1180. It is a monumental digest of 
Biblical and Rabbinic law composed in Hebrew. The 
historian Graetz wrote of it : "It is impossible to give 
the uninitiated an idea of this gigantic work, in which 
he collected the most remote things from the vast 
mine of the Talmud, extracting the fine metal from the 
dross, classifying all details under their appropriate 
heads, showing how the Talmud was based on the 

14 



INTRODUCTION 

Bible, bringing its details under general rules, com- 
bining apparently unconnected parts into one organised 
whole, and cementing it into a work of art. . . . 
The Talmud resembles a Daedalian maze, in which 
one can scarcely find his way even with Ariadne's 
thread, but Maimonides designed a well-contrived 
ground-plan, with wings, halls, apartments, chambers, 
and closets, through which a stranger might easily 
pass without a guide, and thereby obtain a survey of 
all that is contained in the Talmud. Only a mind 
accustomed to think clearly and systematically, 
and filled with the genius of order, could have 
planned and built a structure like this ",* 2 In 
the opening two sections he gives a resume in 
popular style of his teaching on theology, cosmology 
and ethics. 

The third and most famous of all his works was 
an Arabic treatise entitled Dalalat al-Ha'irin in 
Hebrew Moreh Nebuchim, " Guide for the Perplexed ". 
Through its translation into Latin, Maimonides' name 
spread to the Christian world and his ideas influenced 
the medieval theologians. It was written for, and 
sent in parts to, his favourite pupil, Joseph ibn Aknin, 
and was completed in 1190. 

The purpose of the book is explained by Maimonides 
in his Introduction : " The object of this treatise is 
to enlighten a religious man who has been trained to 
believe in the truth of our holy Torah, who conscien- 
tiously fulfils his moral and religious duties, and at 
the same time has been successful in his philosophical 
studies. Human reason has attracted him to abide 
within its sphere ; and he finds it difficult to accept 
as correct the teaching based on the literal interpre- 
tation of the Torah, and especially that which he 
himself, or others derived from those homonymous, a 3 

15 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

metaphorical, or hybrid expressions. Hence he is 
lost in perplexity and anxiety. If he be guided solely 
by reason, and renounce his previous views which are 
based on those expressions, he would consider that he 
had rejected the fundamental principles of the Torah ; 
and even if he retains the opinions which were derived 
from those expressions, and if, instead of following his 
reason, he abandon its guidance altogether, it would 
still appear that his religious convictions had suffered 
loss and injury. For he would then be left with those 
errors which give rise to fear and anxiety, constant 
grief and great perplexity. 

" This work has also a second object in view. It 
seeks to explain certain obscure figures which occur 
in the Prophets, and are not distinctly characterised 
as being figures. Ignorant and superficial readers 
take them in a literal, not in a figurative sense. Even 
well informed persons are bewildered if they under- 
stand these passages in their literal signification, but 
they are entirely relieved of their perplexity when we 
explain the figure, or merely suggest that the terms 
are figurative. For this reason I have called this 
Book Guide for the Perplexed ". 

In this culminating work of his life Maimonides 
carries out the main purpose of his career to 
reconcile philosophy and religion as taught in the 
Hebrew Scriptures. The latter was a Revelation from 
God and must necessarily be true. The former, apart 
from details, was proved by reason and must also be 
true. Truth cannot contradict truth ; they must 
agree. If therefore the words of Scripture conflict 
with philosophy, there can be only one conclusion, 
viz., they have been wrongly understood. Find the 
correct interpretation and the contradiction must 
disappear. The inevitable consequence of such a 

16 



INTRODUCTION 

method was that the Bible was twisted and its meaning 
distorted to make it fit into a system which was 
utterly alien to it. 

Every opinion, Maimonides insisted, had to be 
checked by its correspondence with the truth as 
revealed in the Scriptures. To illustrate his uncom- 
promising attitude, the following may be taken as an 
example : " Many declare that there was no actual 
voice at the Revelation on Sinai, only the soul of Moses 
our Teacher was possessed by the higher intellectual 
ideas, and understood and listened by the way of true 
reason, i.e., meditation of the Godly thoughts, in a 
manner it is impossible to grasp. And if the Scriptures 
had not repeatedly declared, ' he heard a voice speaking ' 
I would have accepted that theory " (Responsa II, 
23d). Still more characteristic was the position he 
took up on the question of the eternity of matter. 
He strenuously opposed Aristotle on the point ; but 
he confesses that had that theory been indisputably 
proved he would have been able to harmonise it with 
the Bible. Since it was an unproved and unprovable 
proposition he declined to accept it, and rested content 
with the plain Scriptural teaching that matter was 
created. 2 * 

The Guide is unquestionably Maimonides' master- 
piece. " The spirit of the book is immortal, but much 
of its actual content is obsolete " has been truly said 
of it. It does not answer the perplexities of the 
religious mind to-day. Nevertheless it is a noble plea 
for the exercise of reason and the value of knowledge 
in the realm of religion. 

Apart from a number of treatises on medical and 
allied subjects, he composed a work on the enumera- 
tion of the Biblical commandments and several essays. 
He also left an extensive correspondence on a variety 

17 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

of topics which is a necessary source for the eluci- 
dation of his opinions. 

Maimonides was not a stylist.*5 He aims always 
at clearness rather than elegance. He had no 
appreciation of poetry and little sense of literary form. 
He piles up synonyms unnecessarily, and repeats the 
same words again and again, or presents the same 
thought in different phrases. His sentences are often 
long and involved because of the insertion of 
parentheses to qualify a statement which appeared 
to him too definite. But he achieves his purpose by 
his meticulous care for clarity. Where he is difficult 
to follow the cause is the abstruse nature of the theme 
he treats. He takes the greatest pains to simplify 
the subject by concrete examples and analogies. In 
this respect he compares favourably with other Jewish 
philosophers. 

Ill : MAIMONIDES' SYSTEM OF THOUGHT 
In the same way that a phrase is liable to mis- 
interpretation when taken out of its context, so the 
teachings of Maimonides are apt to be misunderstood 
if removed from their place in his system. A modern 
theologian, e.g., remarks that the " misconception of 
the term ' knowledge of God ' as used in the Bible 
led the leading medieval thinkers of Judaism, 
especially the School of Maimonides, . . . into 
the error of confusing religion and philosophy, as if 
both resulted from pure reason. It is man's moral 
nature rather than his intellectual capacity, that 
leads him 'to know God and walk in His ways'". 26 
Justification of this criticism could easily be found if 
Maimonides' statements on the " knowledge of God " 
are taken separately. He does lay the greatest 
emphasis on intellectual perfection as a pre-requisite 

18 



INTRODUCTION 

for " knowing God ". But in his system it is quite 
evident that the knowledge of God is based on moral 
perfection. The latter is the essential preparation for 
the acquisition of the former, and it is going too far 
to assert, as Kohler does, that the Biblical phrase 
" knowledge of God " has no relationship to intellectual 
capacity. 

Also from the ethical side Maimonides has been 
sharply criticised by a modern ethicist for having 
adopted Aristotle's doctrine of the Mean. "It is 
astonishing", writes this critic,*7 "that Maimonides 
should have failed to note the infinite divergence 
between the Aristotelian and the Jewish moral doctrine 
so completely as to intermingle the two. Thus it 
came about that he could speak of the Aristotelian 
virtues of ' the Mean ' in the same breath, as it were, 
with the divine pattern of true, real ethics, the inner 
profound reason for ethical conduct ". Here, too, there 
is justification for the stricture if Maimonides' treat- 
ment of the virtues and vices according to the 
criterion of the Mean is divorced from his system. 
But when it is viewed from its place in the system, it 
takes on another aspect and fits in perfectly without 
doing violence to the Jewish ethical ideal. 

It is essential, therefore, to keep constantly in 
mind the fact that Maimonides constructed a complete 
system of thought which embraces God and the 
Universe in its entirety. To have accomplished this 
is his supreme achievement. No Jewish philosopher 
before or after him has commanded such a compre- 
hensive field, although some of them may have dealt 
more penetratingly with particular problems. Only 
a master-mind could have carried out such a design, 
and whether his conception of the Universe be correct 
or not, whether his solution of metaphysical problems 

19 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

be sound or fallacious, nothing can detract from the 
greatness of the man's intellect. 

One may fittingly apply to Maimonides what has 
been said of the Greek thinkers : " The modern 
physical philosopher is apt to dwell exclusively on the 
absurdities of ancient ideas about science, on the 
haphazard fancies and a priori assumptions of ancient 
teachers, on their confusion of facts and ideas, on 
their inconsistency and blindness to the most obvious 
phenomena. He measures them not by what 
preceded them, but by what has followed them. He 
does not consider that ancient physical philosophy 
was not a free enquiry, but a growth, in which the 
mind was passive rather than active, and was incapable 
of resisting the impressions which flowed in upon it. 
He hardly allows to the notions of the ancients the 
merit of being the stepping-stones by which he has 
himself risen to a higher knowledge. He never 
reflects, how great a thing it was to have formed a 
conception, however imperfect, either of the human 
frame as a whole, or of the world as a whole ". a8 

In this sympathetic spirit let us view a brief 
outline of Maimonides 1 conception of the Universe. 
First and last it is bound up with the idea of God, the 
Creator of all that exists, the First Cause, the Life of 
the Universe in the sense that it is by His will that 
the Universe continues in existence a God Who is a 
Unity in the absolute signification of that term. He 
is incorporeal and perfect in every respect ; His 
qualities differ from those of man not merely in degree 
but in kind. With the development of the intellect 
this truth becomes more clearly recognised, and then 
one hesitates to attribute positive qualities to God. 
The higher the intellectual progress of man, the more 
he says what God is not rather than what He is. God 

20 



INTRODUCTION 

does not become, through this process of elimination, 
nothing else than a mere negation. " That human 
descriptions are inadequate to express the nature of 
God does not mean that God has no nature. When 
we deny that the human mind can know what God is, 
we are re-asserting the fact that God is non-human ; 
but each negation of inadequate conceptions of God's 
being reaffirms the fact that He exists. Existence in 
the case of God is not an accident ; it is identical with 
His essence. The more we negate the attribute the 
more we affirm the essence, and we are left finally 
with the idea of God as absolute existence ". a 9 

What purpose God had in creating the Universe 
it is impossible to say. It was due to His will which 
is incomprehensible to the finite mind. The Universe 
is constituted, as Aristotle taught, of two elements 
matter (15X77) an d f rm fcZSos). It is essential to 
understand exactly what is to be understood by the 
term "Form" because it plays an all-important part 
in Maimonides' philosophy. An object consists of a 
basic substance, but it is not this substance which in 
itself makes the object what it is, because the object 
may change although the matter remains the same. 
For instance, a piece of copper is dug from the earth 
and converted into an urn. It is afterwards melted 
down and made into a statue. It is again melted 
down and minted into coin. Throughout the series 
of changes the same matter persists, but in each case 
it is used for a different purpose, a different idea is 
attached to it. The combination of matter and idea 
brings the obj ect into being. The idea is not destroyed 
in the process of change ; it is simply replaced by 
another. The technical term for this idea is " form ". 
It is the cause of the essential properties by which a 
thing is what it is (rb rl % 

21 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

According to this theory, " matter as such is an 
unreal or merely potential factor, which becomes a 
definite, concrete reality only through the idea or the 
ideal purpose. The idea of the purpose is not in 
itself real either ; it becomes so only when it is 
realised in matter ".3 Maimonides mentions that 
" Plato and his predecessors called substance the 
female and form the male " (Guide, I, 17). He is 
probably alluding to the passage in the Timaus where 
Plato says, " We may liken the receiving principle to 
a mother and the source or spring to a father ".3 1 
Their union produces the object. 

The Universe as created by God comprises three 
strata. First there are the Intelligences or Angels 
which consist of form without matter. They are the 
medium through which God acts upon the world of 
matter and gives it the form it needs. This corporeal 
world must be thought of as a globe of solid formation, 
containing nine Spheres one within the other. They 
consist of matter and form which are fixed and not 
liable to change. They might be subject to destruc- 
tion, if God so will it, but they are unalterable in their 
constitution. They each revolve in a direction and 
at a speed determined by the Intelligences. The sun, 
moon and stars are attached to these various Spheres. 
Since they are transparent and colourless orbs, man is 
able to view all the heavenly bodies from his place on 
earth. The innermost Sphere holds the Moon. The 
outermost Sphere is divided into twelve sections, and 
from the figure reflected by the stars in each section, 
it is given a distinctive name, e.g., Ram, Bull, etc. 
These are known as the twelve signs of the Zodiac. 

In the centre of the globe, fixed and immovable, 
is the earth. Both the earth and all it contains are 
constituted of form and matter ; unlike the Spheres, 

22 



INTRODUCTION 

however, these are not constant but in a state of flux. 
The forms are continually changing. 

Matter is constructed of four elements fire, air, 
water and earth. The four elements are present in all 
matter but in different proportions, and upon the 
proportion depends the nature of a piece of matter. 
If the element of fire preponderates, as it does in 
animate beings, the quality of warmth is conspicuous. 
When the element of earth is greatest, the preponder- 
ating characteristic is hardness and dryness, as in 
stone. Destruction consists in the rearrangement of 
the elements into different proportions, the elements 
themselves being indestructible. 

Though the Universe is thus divisible into strata 
and capable of various subdivisions, it is " one 
individual being ". Just as the human body is a 
single entity, despite its numerous limbs and organs, 
through the action of the heart, so the Universe with 
all its distinct parts and elements is one harmonious 
whole through a controlling force, viz., God. 

It has already been pointed out that the will of 
God determined that in the sublunary Sphere matter 
and form shall not be constant. The consequence is 
that although species do not disappear, the individual 
members come and go. This is true of animate and 
inanimate objects. 

The human as well as the animal species come 
under the law of matter and form. In both cases the 
body is the matter and the soul is the form. The term 
" soul " is here employed not in its religious conno- 
tation, but in the sense of " the vitality which is 
common to all living, sentient beings". When at 
death the body is decomposed into its elements, the 
soul likewise perishes because form cannot persist, 
except generically, apart from matter constituted into 

23 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

a body. Furthermore, the faculties of the soul are 
alike in man and the animal, except that in each they 
function in a distinctive manner. 

Such a theory as this raises two vital questions, 
and in the treatment of these two problems Maimonides 
parts company with the Aristotelian School and 
elaborates an idea borrowed from the Arab meta- 
physicians. The two questions are : How does man 
differ from the animal ? In what sense is man 
immortal ? Maimonides 1 solution aims at answering 
both questions at once. 

One of the soul's faculties is the rational. Man and 
the animal are endowed with it at birth, but only as a 
potentiality. It is a tabula rasa which is capable of 
use. If at death it remains in its original state, it 
must perish together with the other faculties of the 
soul. Should it, on the other hand, be changed from 
potentiality to actuality, it passes into real existence 
and thus becomes indestructible. We must see how 
Maimonides arrives at such a momentous conclusion. 

It will simplify matters if we apply to the intellect 
the law of matter and form. Think of the intellect 
at birth, which is only a potentiality, as matter which 
is likewise only a potentiality until it is united to form. 
When the intellect passes into action by acquiring true 
ideas, it receives form and then becomes something 
real instead of being a mere capacity. This form can 
only be acquired by man, and in this respect he is 
differentiated from the animal. In fact unless he 
makes this acquisition, he is on the same level as the 
beast. It also follows that this " acquired intellect " 
is the true essence of the man, the quality which 
distinguishes him from his fellows. 

Not all knowledge has this power of transmutation. 
Much of it only serves the purpose of training the 

24 



INTRODUCTION 

intellect to function properly and comprehend true 
ideas. E.g., the study of Logic and Mathematics is 
not an end in itself ; it would not achieve the object 
of giving the intellect real existence. Such study is 
an essential prerequisite as an intellectual exercise for 
the purpose of putting the faculty into perfect working 
order. 

In addition to this intellectual training another 
perfection is required. Body and soul (using this 
term in its psychological connotation) react one on 
the other. There cannot be a perfect soul in an 
imperfect body. Consequently there must be a strict 
discipline which eliminates everything that is injurious 
to the body and soul. As a practical guide to conduct, 
with this end in view, Maimonides recommends 
Aristotle's prescription of the Mean. Avoid all excess, 
and you keep away from what is harmful. He insists 
also on a strict dietetic regimen for the purpose of 
keeping the limbs and organs of the body, which are 
the instruments of the soul, in a healthy state. 

True morality, in the fullest meaning of the word, 
is the very foundation of the Maimonidean system. 
If he is a rationalist in the supreme position he gives 
to intellect, he is a moralist in the emphasis he lays on 
physical and moral perfection, and, as we shall see, 
he is a religionist in the goal to which he directs his 
intellectualism. 

Having prepared his intellect for its true function, 
man is then able to impress his rational soul with the 
" knowledge of God " to comprehend Him so far as 
that is possible to the human being. Since in its 
action the intellect becomes identified with the ideas 
which are acquired, the rational faculty in its now real 
existence has obtained a form which partakes of 
the essence of God. That form is consequently 

25 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

indestructible. It cannot perish with the body ; it 
survives death. 

To help and inspire man in his effort to reach this 
goal, God revealed Himself in the Torah. This 
Revelation has a twofold purpose : first, to impart 
the knowledge of God and thus save man from 
erroneous ideas which would lead him astray ; and 
secondly, to perfect the social order as a means of 
aiding him in the search for the true goal. This is a 
point which Maimonides stresses. Man is a social 
being, and it is only in the life of a Society that he can 
hope to attain to a knowledge of God. Were he to 
dwell in solitude, apart from his fellowmen, his whole 
time and energy would be absorbed in keeping himself 
in physical existence. He would have to construct 
his house, provide material for his clothing, etc. What 
time would be left under these conditions for fulfilling 
the essential purpose of life ? Men must therefore 
join forces, form themselves into communities, submit 
to general laws which govern their corporate life, 
promote justice and order, avoid violence and all other 
disturbing factors. Residing in peace and security, 
they will find the leisure and the inclination to devote 
themselves to a moral and physical training, which 
will help them to undergo the mental preparation that 
leads to the supreme goal the knowledge of God. 
In the acquisition of that knowledge, man has 
accomplished his aim in life. He has justified the 
endowment with which he had been equipped at birth, 
and has secured immortality. 

Such in outline is Maimonides' conception of man 
and the Universe. That it will not stand the search- 
light of modern scientific knowledge is obvious, but 
also irrelevant. To perceive the grandeur of his 
achievement, his system must be judged from his own 

26 



INTRODUCTION 

age, not ours. Viewed in the correct perspective, his 
teachings as a whole reveal a gigantic intellect and a 
noble soul. It is unquestionably true that " with 
Maimonides we reach the high water mark of medieval 
Jewish philosophy ".3* Would much of the truth ot 
this statement be lost if the qualifying adjective 
" Jewish " were omitted ? 

IV : THE INFLUENCE OF MAIMONIDES 
The eminence of Maimonides does not rest upon 
his originality. In fact, his was not an original mind.33 
His gifts were rather in the direction of mastering 
vast fields of knowledge from various sources and 
reducing them to systematic order. Regarded purely 
as a metaphysician he ranks lower than Abraham ibn 
Daud from whom he largely borrowed when treating 
philosophical problems. Some of his successors, as, 
e.g., Levi ben Gerson and Hasdai Crescas, displayed 
superior gifts for speculative research and independent 
thought. What, then, gave him the unique position 
he held ? 

Jewish scholars are agreed on the answer. 
Maimonides had established his reputation as a 
master of Rabbinic law before he wrote his philo- 
sophical treatise, the Guide. The appearance of this 
work, as a natural consequence, created an unusual 
stir. No scholar could afford to ignore it. There was 
eager curiosity to read what the first savant in Jewry 
had to say, even on the part of those who would 
ordinarily have taken no interest in a philosophical 
book. 

It must also be remembered that Maimonides had 
anticipated parts of his Guide in the introductory 
sections of the Yad where he gave a popular outline of 
the accepted teachings on physical science, psychology 

27 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

and ethics, and had dealt with the last-named subject 
in the course of his Commentary on the Mishnah. 
He had thereby created an interest in philosophical 
study among the students of Rabbinic literature who 
might otherwise have held aloof from it. And as they 
looked to him as their master and guide in the 
intricacies of Jewish law, they naturally paid the 
utmost respect to his opinions in other fields of 
knowledge. 

In that fact lay a danger which impressed some of 
his contemporaries strongly. His books might prove 
a guide to some perplexed minds ; but there was also 
the possibility that they would create perplexities and 
doubts in the minds of readers who previously had 
none. Some of his teachings, e.g., on Prophecy and 
Eschatology, might appear to him perfectly in accord 
with orthodox Judaism, but to others they seemed 
thoroughly heretical. The conservative mind which 
looked askance at philosophy and science as injurious 
to faith, grew alarmed at the new impetus that was 
being given to such studies by the writings of 
Maimonides. 

During his lifetime his admirers were in the large 
majority, and the voice of criticism was checked by 
respect for the colossal knowledge and controversial 
prowess of the famous Rabbi. After his death, the 
storm burst with violence. Jewish scholars were riven 
into two camps. One had to be either a Maimonist 
or an anti-Maimonist ; but his supporters won in the 
end.34 Maimonides' reputation survived the contest 
and grew with succeeding generations. His summary 
of the Principles of Judaism was given an honoured 
place in the Prayer Book. 3 5 His Yad became an 
indispensable compendium to every student of 
Talmudic law and remains such to this day. 

28 



INTRODUCTION 

As for the Guide it has had a profound influence 
on many a Jewish thinker. Throughout the centuries 
that followed its author's death, it was the classical 
work on religious philosophy. What was thought of 
Maimonides by his admirers may be judged by the 
following extract from a medieval letter : " It is 
certain that if Joshua the son of Nun arose to forbid 
the Provenal Jews to study the works of Maimonides, 
he would scarcely succeed. For they have the firm 
intention to sacrifice their fortunes and even their 
lives in defence of the philosophical works of 
Maimonides ".3 6 The Guide has been a formative 
influence in the intellectual life of many a Jewish 
thinker. A recent monograph has demonstrated that 
Spinoza owed much to this work.37 The forerunners of 
Jewish emancipation, Solomon Maimon3 8 and Moses 
Mendelssohn,39 received their stimulus for philosophical 
study from it. 

The impression it created was not even limited to 
the Jewish community. In its Latin translation^ it 
influenced Albertus Magnus. It has been said by a 
competent authority, " Maimonides is the precursor 
of Thomas Aquinas, and the Moreh Nebuchim heralded 
and prepared the way for the Summa Theologica "4 1 ; 
for when Aquinas undertook to harmonise Aristotelian 
philosophy with the doctrines of the Church, he used 
Maimonides as his guide and model. 4* Maimonides has 
accordingly been a force in the moulding of religious 
and philosophical thought not only among his own 
people, but throughout the world of scholarship. 



CHAPTER I 
GOD THE CREATOR 

* 

i. The Existence of God. The first Principle of the 
Jewish Faith is formulated by Maimonides in the 
following terms : 

" The existence of the Creator (praised be He), 
i.e., that there is an existent Being invested with the 
highest perfection of existence. He is the cause of the 
existence of all existent things. In Him they exist 
and from Him emanates 1 their continued existence. 
If we could suppose the removal of His existence, then 
the existence of all things would entirely cease and 
there would not be left any independent existence 
whatsoever. But if on the other hand we could 
suppose the removal of all existent things but Him, 
His existence (blessed be He) would not cease to be, 
neither would it suffer any diminution. For He 
(exalted be He) is self-sufficient, and His existence 
needs the aid of no existence outside His. Whatsoever 
is outside Him, the Intelligences (i.e. the Angels) and 
the bodies of the Spheres,* and things below these, all 
of them need Him for their existence. This is the 
first cardinal doctrine of faith, which is indicated 
by the commandment, ' I am the Lord thy God ' 
(Exod. xx. 2) " (C.M., Introd. to Helek). 

With a similar declaration he opened his great 
work, the Mishneh Torah : 

" The foundation of foundations and the pillar of 
the sciences is to know that there is a First Being and 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

that He caused the existence of all beings ; and all 
things that exist from heaven and earth and inter- 
vening space only exist from the reality of His 
existence. If it could be supposed that He is non- 
existent, nothing else could possibly exist ; yet, if it 
could be supposed that all the things existing, except 
Himself, did not exist, He alone would still exist and 
would not cease because of their non-existence. For 
all things existing are dependent upon Him, but He 
(blessed be He) is not dependent upon them, not even 
any one of them. Therefore His reality is not like 
the reality of any one of them. That is the intention 
of the Prophet when he says, ' But the Lord God is 
the trues God ' (Jer. x. 10) He alone is reality and to 
none other is there a reality like His. Similarly 
declares the Torah,4 ' There is none else ' (Deut. iv. 30) 
that is to say, there is no being, beside Himself, 
comparable to Him in reality. 

" This Being is the God of the world, Lord of the 
whole earth. He controls the Universe with a power 
to which there is neither end nor limit, with a power 
unceasing ; for the Universe revolves continuously, 
and it is impossible that it should revolve without one 
to cause it to revolve. It is He (blessed be He) Who 
is the cause of its revolution, without a hand and 
without a body. 

" The recognition of this fact is a positive com- 
mandments ; as it is said, ' I am the Lord thy 
God '. Whoever brings upon his mind that there is 
another God besides Him transgresses a negative 
commandment, viz. ' Thou shalt have no other 
Gods before Me ' (Exod. xx. 3), and denies a cardinal 
doctrine of faith. This is, indeed, the great cardinal 
doctrine upon which all else depends " (Yad, Yesode 
ha-Torah I, 1-6). 

32 



GOD THE CREATOR 

2. Proof of God's Existence. That God exists is not 
merely a dogma of faith. Maimonides held that it 
was capable of rational demonstration. He bases a 
long and intricate argument on twenty-six Propo- 
sitions with which he prefaced Part II of the Guide. 
These, " which are employed in the proof of the 
existence of God, or in the arguments demonstrating 
that God is neither corporeal nor a force connected 
with a material being, or that He is One, have been 
fully established and their correctness is beyond doubt. 
Aristotle and the Peripatetics who followed him have 
proved each of these Propositions ". Maimonides 
accepted twenty-five of them, but to one he demurred, 
" namely, the Proposition which affirms the Eternity 
of the Universe ". 6 

With the aid of these Propositions he establishes 
at one and the same time the proof of God's existence, 
unity and incorporeality, from the motion of the 
Sphere of the Universe. 7 His conclusion is : 

" It may thus be considered as proved that the 
efficient cause of the motion of the Sphere, if that 
motion be eternal, is neither itself corporeal nor does 
it reside in a corporeal object ; it must move neither 
of its own accord nor accidentally ; it must be 
indivisible and unchangeable. 8 The Prime Motor of 
the Sphere is God, praised be His name ! 

" The hypothesis that there exist two Gods is 
inadmissible, because absolutely incorporeal beings 
cannot be counted, except as cause and effect.9 The 
relation of time is not applicable to God, because 
motion cannot be predicated of Him. 10 

" The result of the above argument is consequently 
this : the Sphere cannot move ad infinitum of its own 
accord ; the Prime Motor is not corporeal, nor a force 
residing within a body ; it is One, unchangeable, and 

33 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

in its existence independent of time. Three of our 
postulates are thus proved by the principal philos- 
ophers " (Guide II, i). 

After detailing four proofs of God's Existence 
based on the Propositions, Maimonides offers the 
following argument as his own method of demonstra- 
tion : 

" The heavenly Spheres must either be transient, 
and in this case motion would likewise be temporary, 
or they must be eternal. If the Spheres are transient, 
then God is their Creator ; for if anything comes into 
existence after a period of non-existence, it is self- 
evident that an agent exists which has effected this 
result. It would be absurd to contend that the thing 
itself effected it. If, on the other hand, the heavenly 
Spheres be eternal, with a regular perpetual motion, 
the cause of this perpetual motion, according to the 
Propositions enumerated in the Introduction, 11 must 
be something that is neither a body, nor a force residing 
in a body, and that is God, praised be His name ! 
We have thus shown that whether we believe in the 
creatio ex nihilo, or in the Eternity of the Universe, 
we can prove by demonstrative arguments the 
existence of God, i.e., an absolute Being," Whose 
existence cannot be attributed to any cause, or admit 
in itself any potentiality " (Guide II, 2). 

3. God is the " cause " of every event in the world. 
The Creator of the Universe is not only responsible 
for its origin, but is ultimately the cause of everything 
that exists and comes into being. 

" It has been shown in the science of Physics that 
everything, except the Primal Cause, owes its origin to 
the following four causes : the substance, the form, 
the agens*3 the final cause. These are sometimes 

34 



GOD THE CREATOR 

direct, sometimes indirect causes ; but each by 
itself is called a ' cause '. They (the philosophers) 
also believe and I do not differ from their opinion 
that God Himself is the agens, the formM and the end ; 
therefore they call God ' the Cause ', in order to express 
that He unites in Himself these three causes, viz., that 
He is the agens, the form and the final cause of the 
Universe. . . . 

" Here I wish to show that God is the ' cause ' of 
every event that takes place in the world, just as He 
is the Creator 1 5 of the whole Universe as it now 
exists. It has already been explained in the science 
of Physics that a cause must again be sought for each 
of the four divisions of causes. When we have found 
for any existing thing those four causes which are in 
immediate connexion with it, we find for these again 
causes, and for these again other causes, and so on 
until we arrive at the first causes. E.g., a certain 
production has its agens, this agens again has its agens, 
and so on and on until at last we arrive at a first agens , 
which is the true agens throughout all the intervening 
links. If the letter a be moved by b, b by c, c by d t 
and d by e and as the series does not extend to 
infinity, let us stop at e there is no doubt that the 
e moves the letters a, b, c and d, and we say correctly 
that the a is moved by e. In that sense everything 
occurring in the Universe, although directly produced 
by certain nearer causes, is ascribed to the Creator. 
He is the Agens, and He is therefore the ultimate 
cause " (Guide I, 69). 

4. God is the life of the Universe. In the same 
Chapter of the Guide occurs this passage, amplifying 
the statement in the first Principle of Faith that all 
things exist in God : 

35 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

" Every physical and transient form must be 
preceded by another such form, by which the substance 
has been fitted to receive the next form ; the previous 
form again has been preceded by another, and we 
arrive at length at that form which is necessary for 
the existence of all intermediate forms, which are the 
causes of the present form. That form to which the 
forms of all existing things are traced is God. . . . 

" When we call God the ultimate form of the 
Universe, we do not use this term in the sense of form 
connected with substance, viz., as the form of that 
substance, as though God were the form of a material 
being. It is not in this sense that we use it, but in the 
following : Everything existing and endowed with a 
form is whatever it is through its form, and when that 
form is destroyed its whole existence terminates and 
is obliterated. The same is the case as regards the 
relation between God and all distant causes of existing 
beings. It is through the existence of God that all 
things exist, and it is He Who maintains their 
existence by that process which is called ' emanation '. l6 

" If God did not exist, suppose this were possible, 
the Universe would not exist, and there would be an 
end to the existence of the distant causes, the final 
effects, and the intermediate causes. Consequently 
God maintains the same relation to the world as the 
form has to a thing endowed with a form ; through 
the form it is what it is, and on it the reality and 
essence of the thing depends. In this sense we may say 
that God is the ultimate form, that He is the form of 
all forms ; that is to say, the existence and con- 
tinuance of all forms in the last instance depend on 
Him, the forms are maintained by Him, in the same 
way as all things endowed with forms retain their 
existence through their forms. On that account 

36 



GOD THE CREATOR 

God is called, in the sacred language, ' the life of the 
Universe* 'V7 

5. Emanation from God. In the last-quoted passage, 
Maimonides refers to a " process which is called 
' emanation ' ". It is an idea invented to explain 
how God, Who is incorporeal, can produce His desired 
effects in the Universe. The theory is thus explained : 

" In Physics it has been shown that a body in 
acting upon another body must either directly be in 
contact with it, or indirectly through the medium of 
other bodies. E.g., a body that has been heated has 
been in contact with fire, or the air that surrounds 
the body has been heated by the fire and has com- 
municated the heat to the body ; the immediate cause 
of the heat in this body is the corporeal substance of 
the heated air. The magnet attracts iron from a 
distance through a certain force communicated to the 
air round the iron. The magnet does therefore not 
act at all distances, just as fire does not act at every 
distance, but only as long as the air between the fire 
and the object is affected by the fire. When the air 
is no longer affected by the fire which is under a piece 
of wax, the latter does not melt. The same is the 
case with magnetism. When an object that has 
previously not been warm has now become warm, the 
cause of its heat must now have been created ; either 
some fire has been produced, or the distance of the 
fire from the object has been changed, and the altered 
relation between the fire and the object is the cause 
now created. 

" In a similar manner we find the causes of all 
changes in the Universe to be changes in the combina- 
tion of the elements that act upon each other when one 
body approaches another or separates from it. Th6re 

37 



TEACHINGS OP MUVIMONIDES 

are, however, changes which are not connected with 
the combination of the elements, but concern only the 
forms of the things. They require likewise an efficient 
cause ; there must exist a force that produces the 
various forms. This cause is incorporeal, for that 
which produces form must itself be abstract form. . . . 

"It is now clear that the action of bodies upon 
each other, according to their forms, prepares the 
substance for receiving the action of an incorporeal 
being, or Form. The existence of actions of purely 
incorporeal beings, in every case of change that does 
not originate in the mere combination of elements, 
is now firmly established. These actions do not 
depend on impact, or on a certain distance. They are 
termed ' influence ' (or ' emanation '), on account of 
their similarity to a water-spring. 18 The latter sends 
forth water in all directions, has no peculiar side for 
receiving or spending its contents ; it springs forth 
on all sides, and continually waters both neighbouring 
and distant places. In a similar manner incorporeal 
beings, in receiving power and imparting it to 
others, are not limited to a particular side, distance 
or time. They act continually ; and whenever 
an object is sufficiently prepared, it receives the 
effect of that continuous action, called ' influence ' 
(or ' emanation '). 

" God being incorporeal, and everything being the 
work of Him as the efficient cause, we say that the 
Universe has been created by the Divine influence, 
and that all changes in the Universe emanate from 
Him. In the same sense we say that He caused 
wisdom to emanate from Him and to come upon the 
Prophets. X 9 In all such cases we merely wish to 
express that an incorporeal Being, whose action we 
call ' influence ', has produced a certain effect. The 

38 



GOD THE CREATOR 

term 'influence* has been considered applicable to 
the Creator on account of the similarity between His 
actions and those of a spring. There is no better way 
of describing the action of an incorporeal being than 
by this analogy ; and no term can be found that would 
accurately describe it. For it is as difficult to form 
an idea of that action as to form an idea of the 
incorporeal being itself. As we imagine only bodies 
or forces residing in bodies, so we only imagine actions 
possible when the agent is near, at a certain distance, 
and on a particular side. 

" There are therefore persons who, on learning 
that God is incorporeal, or that He does not approach 
the object of His action, believe that He gives 
commands to Angels, and that the latter carry them 
out by approach or direct contact, as is the case when 
we produce something. These persons thus imagine 
also the Angels as bodies. Some of them, further, 
believe that God commands an action in words con- 
sisting, like ours, of letters and sounds, and that 
thereby, the action is done. All this is the work of the 
imagination, which is, in fact, identical with ' evil 
inclination ' " (Guide II, 12). 

6. God not responsible for evil in the world. Since 
Maimonides lays stress on God as the ultimate cause 
of all that exists, he could not escape the problem 
which is raised by the evil in the world. Is God in 
any way responsible for this evil ? His answer is 
clear and emphatic. Man is alone answerable for 
whatever is bad. Incidentally he insists that the 
good largely preponderates over the bad. 

" Men frequently think that the evils in the world 
are more numerous than the good things ; many 
sayings and songs of the nations dwell on this idea. 

39 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

They say that a good thing is found only exceptionally, 
whilst evil things are numerous and lasting. Not 
only common people make this mistake, but even 
many who believe that they are wise. . . . The 
origin of the error is to be found in the circumstance 
that people judge the whole Universe by examining 
one single person. For an ignorant man believes 
that the whole Universe only exists for him ; as if 
nothing else required any consideration. If, there- 
fore, anything happens to him contrary to his 
expectation, he at once concludes that the whole 
Universe is evil. If, however, he would take into 
consideration the whole Universe, form an idea of it, 
and comprehend what a small portion he is of the 
Universe, he will find the truth. . . . 

" We hold that the Universe exists because the 
Creator wills it so ; that mankind is low in rank as 
compared with the uppermost portion of the Universe, 
viz., with the Spheres and the stars ; but, as regards 
the Angels, there cannot be any real comparison 
between man and Angels, although man is the highest 
of all beings on earth ; i.e., of all beings formed of the 
four elements. 21 Man's existence is nevertheless a 
great boon to him, and his distinction and perfection 
is a divine gift. The numerous evils to which 
individual persons are exposed are due to the defects 
existing in the persons themselves. We complain 
and seek relief from our own faults ; we suffer from 
the evils which we, by our own free will, inflict on 
ourselves and ascribe them to God, Who is far from 
being connected with them ! . , . 

" The evils that befall men are of three kinds : 
(i) The first kind of evil is that which is caused to man 
by the circumstance that he is subject to genesis 
and destruction, or that he possesses a body. It is 

40 



GOD THE CREATOR 

on account of the body that some persons happen to 
have great deformities or paralysis of some of the 
organs. This evil may be part of the natural constitu- 
tion of these persons, or may have developed 
subsequently in consequence of changes in the 
elements, e.g., through bad air, or thunderstorms, or 
landslips. We have already shown that, in accordance 
with the divine wisdom, genesis can only take place 
through destruction, and without the destruction of 
the individual members of the species, the species 
themselves would not exist permanently. Thus the 
true kindness, and beneficence and goodness of God 
is clear. He who thinks that he can have flesh and 
bones without being subject to any external influence, 
or any of the accidents of matter, unconsciously 
wishes to reconcile two opposites, viz., to be at the 
same time subject and not subject to change. If man 
were never subject to change, there could be no 
generation ; there would be one single being, but no 
individuals forming a species. . . . 

" (ii) The second class of evils comprises such evils 
as people cause to each other, when, e.g., some of them 
use their strength against others. These evils are 
more numerous than those of the first kind ; their 
causes are numerous and known ; they likewise 
originate in ourselves, though the sufferer himself 
cannot avert them. . . . 

" (iii) The third class of evils comprises those 
which every one causes to himself by his own action. 
This is the largest class, and is far more numerous 
than the second class. It is especially of these evils 
that all men complain only few men are found that 
do not sin against themselves by this kind of evil. 
. . . This class of evil originates in man's vices, 
such as excessive desire for eating, drinking and love ; 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

indulgence in these things in undue measure, or in 
improper manner, or partaking of bad food. This 
course brings diseases and afflictions upon the body 
and soul alike. The sufferings of the body in conse- 
quence of these evils are well known ; those of the 
soul are twofold : First, such evils of the soul as are 
the necessary consequence of changes in the body, 
in so far as the soul is a force residing in the body ; it 
has therefore been said that the properties of the 
soul depend on the condition of the body.* 2 Secondly, 
the soul, when accustomed to superfluous things, 
acquires a strong habit of desiring things which are 
neither necessary for the preservation of the individual 
nor for that of the species. This desire is without a 
limit, whilst things which are necessary are few in 
number and restricted within certain limits ; but what 
is superfluous is without end. E.g., you desire to have 
your vessels of silver, but golden vessels are still better ; 
others have even vessels of sapphire, or perhaps they 
can be made of emerald or rubies, or any other 
substance that could be suggested. Those who are 
ignorant and perverse in their thought are constantly 
in trouble and pain, because they cannot get as much of 
superfluous things as a certain other person possesses. 
They as a rule expose themselves to great dangers, 
e.g., by sea- voyage, or service of kings, and all this 
for the purpose of obtaining that which is superfluous 
and not necessary. When they thus meet with the 
consequences of the course which they adopt, they 
complain of the decrees and judgments of God. . . . 
The error of the ignorant goes so far as to say that 
God's power is insufficient because He has given to 
this Universe the properties which they imagine cause 
these great evils, and which do not help all evil- 
disposed persons to obtain the evil which they seek, 

42 



GOD THE CREATOR 

and to bring their evil souls to the aim of their 
desires. . . . 

" All the difficulties and troubles we meet in this 
respect are due to the desire for superfluous things ; 
when we seek unnecessary things, we have difficulty 
even in finding that which is indispensable. For 
the more we desire to have that which is superfluous, 
the more we meet with difficulties ; our strength 
and possessions are spent in unnecessary things, 
and are wanting when required for that which is 
necessary. 

" Observe how Nature proves the correctness of 
this assertion. The more necessary a thing is for 
living beings, the more easily it is found and the 
cheaper it is ; the less necessary it is, the rarer and 
dearer it is. E.g. , air, water and food are indispensable 
to man : air is most necessary, for if man is without 
air a short time he dies ; whilst he can be without 
water a day or two. Air is also undoubtedly found 
more easily and is cheaper than water. Water is 
more necessary than food ; for some people can be 
four or five days without food, provided they have 
water ; water also exists in every country in larger 
quantities than food and is also cheaper. The same 
proportion can be noticed in the different kinds of 
food ; that which is more necessary in a certain place 
exists there in larger quantities and is cheaper than 
that which is less necessary. No intelligent person, 
I think, considers musk, amber, rubies and emerald as 
very necessary for man except as medicines ; and they, 
as well as other like substances, can be replaced for 
this purpose by herbs and minerals. This shows the 
kindness of God to His creatures, even to us weak 
beings " (Guide III, 12). 

Maimonides also attacks the problem from a 

43 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

different point of view, by contending that evil is a 
negative, not positive, thing. 

" Evils are evils only in relation to a certain 
thing,*3 and that which is evil in reference to a certain 
existing thing either includes the non-existence of 
that thing or the non-existence of some of its good 
conditions. The proposition has therefore been laid 
down in the most general terms, ' All evils are 
negations '. Thus for man death is an evil ; death 
is his non-existence. Illness, poverty and -ignorance 
are evils for man ; all these are privations of properties. 
If you examine all single cases to which this general 
proposition applies, you will find that there is not one 
case in which the proposition is wrong except in the 
opinion of those who do not make any distinction 
between negative and positive properties, or between 
two opposites, or do not know the nature of things 
who, e.g., do not know that health in general denotes 
a certain equilibrium and is a relative term. The 
absence of that relation is illness in general, and death 
is the absence of life in the case of any animal. The 
destruction of other things is likewise nothing but the 
absence of their form.^4 

After these propositions, it must be admitted as a 
fact that it cannot be said of God that He directly 
creates evil, or He has the direct intention to produce 
evil ; this is impossible. His works are all perfectly 
good. He only produces existence, and all existence 
is good ; whilst evils are of a negative character and 
cannot be acted upon. Evil can only be attributed 
to Him in the way we have mentioned. He creates 
evil only in so far as He produces the corporeal element 
such as it actually is ; it is always connected with 
negatives, and is on that account the source of all 
destruction and all evil. Those beings that do not 

44 



GOD THE CREATOR 

possess this corporeal element are not subject to 
destruction or evil ; consequently the true work of 
God is all good, since it is existence. 

" The book which enlightened the darkness of the 
world says therefore, ' And God saw everything that 
He had made, and behold, it was very good ' (Gen. i. 
31). Even the existence of this corporeal element, 
low as it in reality is, because it is the source of death 
and all evils, is likewise good for the permanence of 
the Universe and the continuation of the order of 
things, so that one thing departs and the other 
succeeds " (Guide III, 10). 

With regard to the " acts of God " which are a 
cause of suffering to the human race, he writes : 

" His actions towards mankind also include great 
calamities, which overtake individuals and bring 
death to them, or affect whole families and even entire 
regions, spread death, destroy generation after genera- 
tion, and spare nothing whatsoever. Hence there 
occur inundations, earthquakes, destructive storms, 
expeditions of one nation against the other for the 
sake of destroying it with the sword and blotting out 
its memory, and many other evils of the same kind. 
Whenever such evils are caused by us to any person, 
they originate in great anger, violent jealousy, or a 
desire for revenge. God is therefore called, because 
of these acts, ' jealous ', ' revengeful ', ' wrathful ' and 
' keeping anger ' (Nahum i. 2) ; that is to say, He 
performs acts similar to those which, when performed 
by us, originate in certain psychical dispositions, in 
jealousy, desire for retaliation, revenge or anger ; 
they are in accordance with the guilt of those who are 
to be punished, and not the result of any emotion, for 
He is above all defect ! The same is the case with all 
divine acts ; though resembling those acts which 

45 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

emanate from our passions and psychical dispositions, 
they are not due to anything superadded to His 
essence " (Guide I, 54). 

7. All that God made serves a useful purpose. Since 
God is perfect, His work must be perfect and all that 
He created must have its rightful place in His scheme 
of the Universe. Two passages may be quoted in 
which Maimonides gives expression to this view : 

" I contend that no intelligent person can assume 
that any of the actions of God can be in vain, purpose- 
less or unimportant. According to our view and the 
view of all that follow the Torah of Moses, all actions 
of God are ' exceedingly good '. Thus Scripture says, 
' And God saw everything that He had made, and 
behold, it was very good ' (Gen. i. 31) . And that which 
God made for a certain thing is necessary, or at least 
very useful for the existence of that thing. Thus 
food is necessary for the existence of living beings ; 
the possession of eyes is very useful to man during 
his life, although food only serves to sustain living 
beings a certain time, and the senses are only intended 
to procure to animals the advantages of sensation. 
The philosophers likewise assume that in Nature there 
is nothing in vain, so that everything that is not the 
product of human industry serves a certain purpose, 
which may be known or unknown to us. There are 
thinkers who assume that God does not create one 
thing for the sake of another, *5 that existing things are 
not to each other in the relation of cause and effect ; 
that they are all the direct result of the Will of God, 
and do not serve any purpose. According to this 
opinion we cannot ask why has He made this and not 
that ; for He does what pleases Him, without following 
a fixed system. 

46 



GOD THE CREATOR 

" Those who defend this theory must consider the 
actions of God as purposeless, and even as inferior to 
purposeless actions ; for when we perform purposeless 
actions, our attention is engaged by other things and 
we do not know what we are doing ; but God, accord- 
ing to these theorists, knows what He is doing, and 
knowingly does it for no purpose or use whatever. 
The absurdity of assuming that some of God's actions 
are trivial is apparent even at first sight, and no 
notice need be taken of the nonsensical idea that 
monkeys were created for our pastime. Such opinions 
originate only in man's ignorance of the nature of 
transient beings, and in his overlooking the principle 
that it was intended by the Creator to produce in its 
present form everything whose existence is possible ; 
a different form was not decreed by the divine wisdom, 
and the existence of objects of a different form is 
therefore impossible, because the existence of all 
things depends on the decree of God's wisdom. . . . 

" Whatever God desires to do is necessarily done ; 
there is nothing that could prevent the realisation of 
His will. The object of His will is only that which is 
possible, and of the things possible only such as His 
wisdom decrees upon. When God desires to produce 
the best work, no obstacle or hindrance intervenes 
between Him and that work. This is the opinion held 
by all religious people and by the philosophers ; it is 
also our opinion. For although we believe that God 
created the Universe from nothing, most of our wise 
and learned men believe that the Creation was not the 
exclusive result of His will ; but His wisdom, which 
we are unable to comprehend, made the actual 
existence of the Universe necessary. The same 
unchangeable wisdom found it as necessary that non- 
existence should precede the existence of the Universe. 

47 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

Our Sages frequently express this idea in the explana- 
tion of the words, ' He hath made everything beautiful 
in his time' (Eccles. iii. n) 26 , only in order to avoid 
that which is objectionable, viz., the opinion that God 
does things without any purpose whatever. . . . 
There is no necessity to believe otherwise ; philosophic 
speculation leads to the same result, viz., that in 
the whole of Nature there is nothing purposeless, 
trivial, or unnecessary, especially in the nature of 
the Spheres, which are in the best condition and 
order, in accordance with their superior substance " 
(Guide III, 25). 

Maimonides developed the same theme, with greater 
detail, in another of his works : 

" Know that the ancients carried out a thorough 
investigation, by means of the wisdom and thinking 
powers granted them, so that it was firmly established 
with them that every existing thing must of necessity 
have a purpose on account of which it exists, and 
nothing that exists does so in vain. After this general 
principle had been well founded by them, they began 
to classify all existing things in order to ascertain the 
purpose of each created species. With regard to 
everything that is serviceable, i.e., which has been 
made for a specific work, the purpose of its having been 
made is evident and research is unnecessary in con- 
nection therewith ; because a workman does not 
start on a piece of work unless its purpose is previously 
designed in his mind. E.g., a smith only makes a saw 
after he thinks out how it is possible to sever the 
wood-joints until the idea of a saw occurs to his mind ; 
then he commences to make it as an instrument for 
cutting wood. Hence we know that the design of the 
saw is for cutting down trees, the design of the axe for 
chopping wood, and the design of the needle for 



GOD THE CREATOR 

stitching garments together ; and so to all existing 
things there is a serviceable purpose. 

11 As for the things whose existence is due to God's 
work and Nature's wisdom e.g., the various kinds 
of trees and herbs, metals and stones, the beasts in 
some instances the purpose of their existence is hidden 
and nobody is cognisant of it unless it be ascertained 
through Prophecy or the power of knowing the future. 
It cannot, however, be ascertained through scientific 
investigation, because it is beyond the power of man 
to make such investigation until he understands and 
knows why Nature produced some ants with wings and 
others without wings, why it produced some worms 
with numerous legs and others with few, and what is 
the purpose of the worm and the ant. On the other 
hand, in the case of things greater than these, whose 
utility is more evident, men of wisdom discover the 
benefit derivable from them ; and the wiser the man, 
the greater his desire and the purer his motive to 
learn, the more perfect grows his knowledge. . . . 

" In general it is necessary to know that all things 
in the sublunary world exist only for the sake of man ; 
likewise all species of animals some of them for food, 
like sheep, oxen, etc., others for a use other than food, 
as the ass to bear what he is unable to carry in his 
hand, horses to travel a long distance in a short space 
of time. There are other species whose use we do not 
know, although they have a utility for man which is 
not understood. So also with trees and plants, some 
are for food, others to cure him of illnesses ; and 
similarly with herbs and other species. Wherever you 
find animals or plants which are not suitable for food 
and are useless according to your thinking, know that 
this is due to the weakness of our intellect ; and it is 
impossible for any herb or fruit or living creature, 

49 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

from elephant to worms, to be void of all utility for 
man. The proof of this is that in every generation 
there are discovered by us important uses for herbs 
and various kinds of fruits which were unknown to 
our predecessors. It is not in the power of a man's 
mind to comprehend the use of every plant of the 
earth ; but through experimentation by successive 
generations what is unknown becomes known. 

" If, however, you were to ask, Why have deadly 
poisons been created, like the herb called belladonna 
or the blood-flower (hamanthus), which are fatal to 
man and have no use, it is proper for you to know that 
these do serve a useful purpose ; because though death 
follows the eating of them, it does not when they are 
plastered on the body. And when you understand 
that a great benefit accrues to man through vipers and 
snakes, how much more must this be so with things 
which are less injurious than these ! " (C.M., 
Introduction). 

8. 7s the Universe eternal or created ? This question 
was a source of great trouble to Maimonides. The 
purpose of his Guide was to harmonise the statements 
of Scripture with Aristotelian philosophy. According 
to the traditional interpretation, the Bible teaches 
creation out of nothing, whereas Aristotle held that 
the Universe was eternal and uncreated. Reconcilia- 
tion of the two conflicting doctrines was impossible. 
How, then, does Maimonides deal with the problem ? 
He first of all maintains that, on rational grounds, 
it cannot be solved definitely. " It is well-known to 
all clear and correct thinkers who do not wish to 
deceive themselves, that this question, viz., whether 
the Universe has been created or is eternal, cannot be 
answered with mathematical certainty ; here human 

50 



GOD THE CREATOR 

intellect must pause. . . . The philosophers have 
for the last three thousand years been continually 
divided on that subject, as far as we can learn from 
their works and the record of their opinions " (Guide 
I, 71). Since reason cannot settle the question, there 
is nothing else to do but rely upon the declaration of 
Scripture. 

He declares, however, " We do not reject the 
Eternity of the Universe because certain passages in 
Scripture confirm the Creation, for such passages are 
not more numerous than those in which God is repre- 
sented as a corporeal being; 2 ? nor is it impossible or 
difficult to find for them a suitable interpretation " 
(Guide II, 25). He even maintains that had he 
accepted the Eternity of the Universe, " the Scriptural 
text might have been explained accordingly, and many 
expressions might have been found in the Bible and 
in other writings that would confirm and support this 
theory. But there is no necessity for this expedient, 
so long as the theory has not been proved. As there 
is no proof sufficient to convince us, this theory need 
not be taken into consideration ; we take the text of 
the Bible literally, and say that it teaches us a truth 
which we cannot prove " (Ibid.). 

Hence he teaches dogmatically : 

" Those who follow the Torah of Moses our Teacher 
hold that the whole Universe, i.e., everything except 
God, has been brought by Him into existence out of 
non-existence. In the beginning God alone existed 
and nothing else ; neither Angels nor Spheres, nor the 
things that are contained within the Spheres existed. 
He then produced from nothing all existing things 
such as they are, 28 by His will and desire. Even time 
itself is among the things created*9 ; for time depends 
on motion, i.e., on an accident 3 in things which move, 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

and the things upon whose motion time depends are 
themselves created beings, which have passed from 
non-existence into existence. We say that God 
existed before the creation of the Universe, although 
the verb existed appears to imply the notion of time ; 
we also believe that He existed an infinite space of 
time before the Universe was created ; but in these 
cases we do not mean time in its true sense. We only 
use the term to signify something analogous or similar 
to time. For time is undoubtedly an accident, and, 
according to our opinion, one of the created accidents, 
like blackness and whiteness ; it is not a quality, but 
an accident connected with motion. . . . 

" We consider time a thing created ; it comes into 
existence in the same manner as other accidents, and 
the substances which form the substratum for the 
accidents. For this reason, viz., because time belongs 
to the things created, it cannot be said that God 
produced the Universe in the beginning. Consider 
this well ; for he who does not understand it is unable 
to refute forcible objections raised against the theory 
of Creatio ex nihilo. If you admit the existence of 
time before the Creation, you will be compelled to accept 
the theory of the Eternity of the Universe. For time 
is an accident and requires a substratum.3 1 You will 
therefore have to assume that something beside God 
existed before this Universe was created, an assumption 
which it is our duty to oppose. 

" It is undoubtedly a fundamental principle of the 
Torah of our teacher Moses ; it is next in importance 
to the principle of God's Unity. Do not follow any 
other theory. Abraham, our father, was the first 
that taught it, after he had established it by philo- 
sophical research. He proclaimed, therefore, ' the 
name of the Lord the God of eternity '3* (Gen. xxi. 33) ; 

52 



GOD THE CREATOR 

and he had previously expressed this theory in the 
words, ' The Possessor of heaven and earth ' (ibid. 
xiv. 22) " (Guide II, 13). 

Since the statement " it cannot be said that God 
produced the Universe in the beginning " apparently 
contradicts the opening verse of the Bible, it is 
necessary to understand in which sense Maimonides 
uses this phrase. He explains it thus : 

"There is a difference between first and beginning 
(or principle). The latter exists in the thing of which 
it is the beginning, or co-exists with it ; it need not 
precede it. E.g., the heart is the beginning of the 
living being ; the element is the beginning of that of 
which it is the basis. The term ' first ' is likewise 
applied to things of this kind, but is also employed in 
cases where precedence in time alone is to be expressed, 
and the thing which precedes is not the beginning (or 
the cause) of the thing that follows. E.g., we say 
A was the first inhabitant of this house, after him came 
B ; this does not imply that A is the cause of B 
inhabiting the house. 

" In Hebrew, teliillah is used in the sense of ' first ' ; 
e.g., ' when God first (tehillat) spake to Hosea (Hos. i. 
i) '. The beginning is expressed by vishtt, derived 
from rosh ' head ', the principal part of the living 
being as regards position. The Universe has not 
been created out of an element that preceded it in time, 
since tirtie itself formed part of the Creation. For 
this reason Scripture employs the term ' bereshit * (in 
a principle,) in which the bet is a preposition denoting 
' in '. The true explanation of the first verse of 
Genesis is as follows : ' In creating a principless God 
created the beings above and the things below ' " 
(Guide II, 30). 

Another reason which induced Maimonides to 

53 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

accept the theory of Creation, as against Aristotle's 
doctrine of the Eternity of the Universe, was its 
pragmatic value, i.e., it provided a working hypothesis 
for the solution of other problems. He shows that 
clearly in the following passage : 

" Accepting the Creation, we find that miracles are 
possible, that Revelation is possible, and that every 
difficulty in this question is removed. We might be 
asked, Why has God inspired a certain person and not 
another ? Why has He revealed the Torah to one 
particular nation, and at one particular time ? Why 
has He commanded this and forbidden that ? Why 
has He shown through a Prophet certain particular 
miracles ? What is the object of these laws ? And 
why has He not made the commandments and the 
prohibitions part of our nature, if it was His object 
th,at we should live in accordance with them ? 

" We answer to all these questions : He willed it 
so ; or, His wisdom decided so. He created the 
world according to His will, at a certain time, in a 
certain form ; and as we do not understand why His 
will or His wisdom decided upon that particular form 
and upon that particular time, so we do not know 
why His will or wisdom determined any of the things 
mentioned in the preceding questions. 

" But if we assume that the Universe has the 
present form as the result of fixed laws, there is occasion 
for the above questions ; and these could only be 
answered in an objectionable way, implying denial 
and rejection of the Biblical texts, the correctness of 
which no intelligent person doubts " (Guide II, 25). 

9. Design in the Universe. On the basis of the theory 
of Creation Maimonides is likewise able to argue that 
the Universe shows evidence of design. He declares 

54 



GOD THE CREATOR 

that what Aristotle calls " laws of Nature " are in 
reality the will of God. 

" According to Aristotle, and according to all that 
defend his theory, the Universe is inseparable from 
God ; He is the cause and the Universe the effect ; 
and this effect is a necessary one ; and as it cannot 
be explained why or how God exists in this particular 
manner, viz., being One and incorporeal, so it cannot 
be asked concerning the whole Universe why or how 
it exists in this particular way. For it is necessary 
that the whole, the cause as well as the effect, exist 
in this particular manner ; it is impossible for them 
not to exist, or to be different from what they actually 
are. This leads to the conclusion that the nature of 
everything remains constant, that nothing changes its 
nature in any way, and that such a change is impossible 
in any existing thing. It would also follow that the 
Universe is not the result of design, choice and desire ; 
for if this were the case, they would have been non- 
existing before the design had been conceived. 

" We, however, hold that all things in the Universe 
are the result of design, and not merely of necessity ; 
He Who designed them may change them when He 
changes His design. But not every design is subject 
to change ; for there are things which are impossible, 
and their nature cannot be altered. . . . 

" Everything is, according to Aristotle, the result of 
a law of Nature, and not the result of the design of a 
being that designs as it likes, or the determination of a 
being that determines as it pleases. He has not carried 
out the idea consistently, and it will never be done. 
He tries to find the cause why the Sphere moves from 
east and not from west ;34 why some Spheres move 
with greater velocity, others with less velocity, and he 
finds the cause of these differences in their different 

55 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

positions in reference to the uppermost Sphere. He 
further attempts to show why there are several 
Spheres for each of the seven planets, while there is 
only one Sphere for the large number of fixed stars. 
For all this he endeavours to state the reason, so as to 
show that the whole order is the necessary result of the 
laws of Nature. 

" He has not attained his object. For as regards 
the things in the sublunary world, his explanations are 
in accordance with facts, and the relation between 
cause and effect is clearly shown. It can therefore be 
assumed that everything is the necessary result of the 
motions and influences of the Spheres. But when he 
treats of the properties of the Spheres, he does not 
clearly show the causal relation, nor does he explain 
the phenomena in that systematic way which the 
hypothesis of natural laws would demand. For let 
us consider the Spheres : in one case a Sphere with 
greater velocity is above a Sphere with less velocity, 35 
in another case we notice the reverse ; in a third case 
there are two Spheres with equal velocities, one above 
the other. 3 6 There are, besides, other phenomena 
which speak strongly against the hypothesis that all 
is regulated by the laws of Nature. . . . 

" According to our theory of the Creation, all this 
can easily be explained ; for we say that there is a 
being that determines the direction and the velocity 
of the motion of each Sphere ; but we do not know the 
reason why the wisdom of that being gave to each 
Sphere its peculiar property " (Guide II, 19). 

10. Purpose of God's Creation. That the Creator 
must have had a reason for calling the Universe into 
existence is certain. What was this reason ? 

" Intelligent persons are much perplexed when they 

56 



GOD THE CREATOR 

inquire into the purpose of the Creation. I will now 
show how absurd this question is, according to each 
one of the different theories above-mentioned. 37 An 
agent that acts with intention must have a certain 
ulterior object in that which he performs. This is 
evident, and no philosophical proof is required. It is 
likewise evident that that which is produced with 
intention has passed over from non-existence to 
existence. It is further evident, and generally agreed 
upon, that the being which has absolute existence, 
which has never been and never will be without 
existence, is not in need of an agent. The question, 
' What is the purpose thereof ? ' cannot be asked 
about anything which is not the product of an agent ; 
therefore we cannot ask what is the purpose of the 
existence of God. He has not been created. 

" According to these propositions it is clear that the 
purpose is sought for everything produced intention- 
ally by an intelligent cause ; that is to say, a final 
cause must exist for everything that owes its existence 
to an intelligent being ; but for that which is without 
a beginning, a final cause need not be sought. 

" After this explanation you will understand that 
there is no occasion to seek the final cause of the whole 
Universe, neither according to our theory of the 
Creation, nor according to the theory of Aristotle who 
assumes the Eternity of the Universe. For according 
to Aristotle, who holds that the Universe has not had 
a beginning, an ultimate final cause cannot be sought 
even for the various parts of the Universe. Thus it 
cannot be asked, according to his opinion, What is the 
final cause of the existence of the heavens ? Why are 
they limited by this measure or by that number ? 
Why is matter of this description ? What is the 
purpose of the existence of this species of animals or 

57 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

plants ? Aristotle considers all this as the result of 
a permanent order of things. Natural Philosophy 
investigates into the object of everything in Nature, 
but it does not treat of the ultimate final cause. . . . 

" Now it is clear that man is the most perfect being 
formed of matter ; he is the last and most perfect 
of earthly beings, and in this respect it can truly be 
said that all earthly things exist for man, i.e., that the 
changes which things undergo serve to produce the 
most perfect being that can be produced. Aristotle, 
who assumes the Eternity of the Universe, need there- 
fore not ask to what purpose does man exist, for the 
immediate purpose of each individual being is, 
according to his opinion, the perfection of its specific 
form. Every individual thing arrives at its perfection 
fully and completely when the actions that produce 
its form are complete. The ultimate purpose of the 
species is the perpetuation of this form by the repeated 
succession of genesis and destruction, so that there 
might always be a being capable of the greatest possible 
perfection. It seems therefore clear that, according 
to Aristotle who assumes the Eternity of the Universe, 
there is no occasion for the question what is the object 
of the existence of the Universe. 3 8 

" But of those who accept our theory that the 
whole Universe has been created from nothing, some 
hold that the inquiry after the purpose of the Creation 
is necessary, and assume that the Universe was only 
created for the sake^of man's existence, that he might 
serve God. Everything that is done they believe is 
done for man's sake ; even the Spheres move only for 
his benefit, in order that his wants might be supplied. 

" On examining this opinion, as intelligent persons 
ought to examine all different opinions, we shall 

58 



GOD THE CREATOR 

discover the errors it includes. Those who hold this 
view, viz., that the existence of man is the object of 
the whole Creation, may be asked whether God could 
have created man without those previous creations, 
or whether man could only have come into existence 
after the creation of all other things. If they answer 
in the affirmative, that man could have been created 
even if, e.g., the heavens did not exist, they will be 
asked what is the object of all these things, since they 
do not exist for their own sake, but for the sake of 
something that could exist without them ? Even 
if the Universe existed for man's sake and man existed 
for the purpose of serving God, as has been mentioned, 
the question remains, What is the end of serving God ? 
He does not become more perfect if all His creatures 
serve Him and comprehend Him as far as possible ; nor 
would He lose anything if nothing existed beside Him. 

" It might perhaps be replied that the service of 
God is not intended for God's perfection ; it is intended 
for our own perfection it is good for us, it makes us 
perfect. But then the question might be repeated, 
What is the object of our being perfect ? We must in 
continuing the inquiry as to the purpose of the Creation 
at last arrive at the answer, It was the will of God, 
or His wisdom decreed it ; and this is the correct 
answer. The wise men of Israel have, therefore, 
introduced in our prayers the following passage : 
* Thou hast distinguished man from the beginning, 
and chosen him to stand before Thee ; who can say 
unto Thee, What doest Thou ? And if he be righteous, 
what does he give Thee ? '39 They have thus clearly 
stated that it was not a final cause that determined 
the existence of all things, but only His will. 

" This being the case, we who believe in the Creation 
must admit that God could have created the Universe 

59 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

in a different manner as regard the causes and effects 
contained in it, and this would lead to the absurd con- 
clusion that everything except man existed without any 
purpose, as the principal object, man, could have been 
brought into existence without the rest of the Creation. 
I consider, therefore, the following opinion as most 
correct according to the teaching of the Bible, and best 
in accordance with the results of philosophy, viz., that 
the Universe does not exist for man's sake, but that 
each being exists for its own sake, and not because of 
some other thing " (Guide III, 13). 

11. 7s the Universe Permanent ? We have seen what 
importance Maimonides attaches to the belief that 
the Universe had a beginning and is not eternal. He 
also considers the question whether the world is 
permanent, and concludes that the matter has no 
bearing on one's religious faith. He leaves it an open 
question, although he personally believes in the 
permanence of the Universe. 

" We have already stated that the belief in the 
Creation is a fundamental principle of our religion ; 
but we do not consider it a principle of our faith that 
the Universe will again be reduced to nothing. It is 
not contrary to the tenets of our religion to assume 
that the Universe will continue to exist for ever. It 
might be objected that everything produced is subject 
to destruction, as has been shown ; consequently the 
Universe, having had a beginning, must come to an end. 

" This axiom cannot be applied, according to our 
views. We do not hold that the Universe came into 
existence, like all things in Nature, as the result of the 
laws of Nature. For whatever owes its existence to 
the action of physical laws is, according to the same 
laws, subject to destruction ; the same law which 

60 



GOD THE CREATOR 

caused the existence of a thing after a period of non- 
existence is also the cause that the thing is not 
permanent ; since the previous non-existence proves 
that the nature of that thing does not necessitate its 
permanent existence. According to our theory, 
taught in Scripture, the existence or non-existence of 
things depends solely on the will of God and not on 
fixed laws, and, therefore, it does not follow that God 
must* destroy the Universe after having created it 
from nothing. It depends on His will. He may, 
according to His desire or according to the decree of 
His wisdom, either destroy it or allow it to exist, and 
it is therefore possible that He will preserve the 
Universe for ever, and let it exist permanently as He 
Himself exists. . . . 

" There remains only the question as to what the 
Prophets and our Sages say on this point, whether 
they affirm that the world will certainly come to an 
end or not. Most people amongst us believe that such 
statements have been made, and that the world will 
at one time be destroyed. I will show you that this 
is not the case ; and that, on the contrary, many 
passages in the Bible speak of the permanent existence 
of the Universe. Those passages which, in the literal 
sense, would indicate the destruction of the Universe, 
are undoubtedly to be understood in a figurative sense. 
If, however, those who follow the literal sense of the 
Scriptural texts reject our view, and assume that the 
ultimate certain destruction of the Universe is part 
of their faith, they are at liberty to do so. But we 
must tell them that the belief in the destruction is not 
necessarily implied in the belief in the Creation ; they 
believe it because they trust the writer who used a 
figurative expression, which they take literally. Their 
faith, however, does not suffer by it " (Guide II, 27). 

61 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

12. God's Name. In the view of the ancients, a name 
was not merely a convenient label to distinguish one 
person from another. It had significance and indicated 
some relationship to the nature or characteristic of 
the bearer. Consequently the " name " of God was 
a matter of considerable import to those who 
endeavoured to gain an understanding of His essence. 
Maimonides discusses the distinctive Name used of 
God in the Bible, viz., the Tetragrammaton or Name 
of four letters. 

"It is well-known that all the names of God 
occurring in Scripture are derived from His actions,4<> 
except one, viz., the Tetragrammaton, which consists 
of the letters JHVH. This Name is applied exclu- 
sively to God, and is on that account called Shem 
ha-mephorash,* 1 ' the proper Name '. It is the distinct 
and exclusive designation of the Divine Being ; whilst His 
other names are common nouns, and are derived from 
actions, to which some of our own are similar. . . . 

" The derivation of the Name, consisting of JHVH, 
is not positively known, the word having no additional 
signification. This sacred Name, which, as you know, 
was not pronounced except in the Sanctuary by the 
appointed priests when they gave the sacerdotal 
blessing, 4* and by the High Priest on the Day of 
Atonement,43 undoubtedly denotes something which 
is peculiar to God, and is not found in any other being. 
It is possible that in the Hebrew language, of which we 
have now but a slight knowledge, the Tetragrammaton, 
in the way it was pronounced, conveyed the meaning 
of ' absolute existence '. In short, the majesty of the 
Name and the great dread of uttering it, are connected 
with the fact that it denotes God Himself, without 
including in its meaning any names of the things 
created by Him. . . . 

62 



GOD THE CREATOR 

" It was not known to everyone how the Name 
was to be pronounced, what vowels were to be given 
to each consonant, and whether some of the letters 
capable of reduplication should receive a dageshM 
Wise men successively transmitted the pronunciation 
of the Name ; it occurred only once in seven years 
that the pronunciation was communicated to a 
distinguished disciple. I must, however, add that the 
statement, ' The wise men communicated the Tetra- 
grammaton to their children and disciples once in 
seven years ',45 does not only refer to the pronunciation 
but also to its meaning, because of which the Tetra- 
grammaton was made a nomen proprium of God, and 
which includes certain metaphysical principles " 
(Guide I, 6if). 

In addition to the distinctive Name used in the 
Scriptures, Rabbinical literature mentions, without 
specifying, divine appellations of a mystical character. 
Maimonides refers to these afc follows : 

" Our Sages knew in addition a name of God which 
consisted of twelve letters,4 6 inferior in sanctity to the 
Tetragrammaton. I believe that this was not a single 
noun, but consisted of two or three words, the sum 
of their letters being twelve, and that these words 
were used by our Sages as a substitute for the Tetra- 
grammaton whenever they met with it in the course 
of their reading the Scriptures, in the same manner 
as we at present substitute for it Adonai 'The Lord'. 
There is no doubt that this name also, consisting of 
twelve letters, was in this sense more distinctive than 
the name Adonai ; it was never withheld from any of 
the students ; whoever wished to learn it had the 
opportunity given to him without any reserve. 

" Not so the Tetragrammaton ; those who knew it 
did not communicate it except to a son or a disciple, 

63 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

once in seven years. When, however, unprincipled 
men had become acquainted with that Name which 
consists of twelve letters and in consequence had 
become corrupt in faith as is sometimes the case 
when persons with imperfect knowledge become aware 
that a thing is not such as they had imagined the 
Sages concealed also that name, and only communi- 
cated it to the worthiest among the priests, that they 
should pronounce it when they blessed the people in 
the Temple ; for the Tetragrammaton was then no 
longer uttered in the Sanctuary on account of the 
corruption of the people.47 . . . 

" There was also a name of forty-two Ietters4 8 
known among them. Every intelligent person knows 
that one word of forty-two letters is impossible. But 
it was a phrase of several words which had together 
forty-two letters. There is no doubt that the words 
had such a meaning as to convey a correct notion of 
the essence of God. This phrase of so many letters 
is called a name because, like other proper names, 
they represent one single object, and several words 
have been employed in order to explain more clearly 
the idea which the name represents ; for an idea can 
more easily be comprehended if expressed in many 
words. . . . 

" Many believe that the forty-two letters are 
merely to be pronounced mechanically ; that by the 
knowledge of these, without any further interpretation, 
they can attain to these exalted ends, although it is 
stated that he who desires to obtain a knowledge of 
that name must be trained in the virtues and go through 
great preparations. On the contrary, it is evident that 
all this preparation aims at a knowledge of Metaphysics 
and includes ideas which constitute the ' secrets of 
the Torah ' " (Guide I, 62), 

64 



CHAPTER II 
CONSTITUTION OF THE UNIVERSE 

i. Threefold Division of the Universe. Before 
proceeding with the Attributes of God as defined by 
Maimonides, an account must be given of his views 
on the structure of the Universe. The world, as he 
conceived it, consisted of three strata : 

" The whole Creation is divided into three parts, 
viz., (i) the pure Intelligences; (ii) the bodies of the 
Spheres endowed with permanent forms (the forms 
of these bodies do not pass from one substratum to 
another, nor do their substrata undergo any change 
whatever) ; and (iii) the transient earthly beings, all 
of which consist of the same substance. Furthermore, 
we desire to show that the ruling power emanates from 
the Creator, and is received by the Intelligences 
according to their order ; from the Intelligences part 
of the good and the light bestowed upon them is 
communicated to the Spheres, and the latter, being 
in possession of the abundance obtained of the 
Intelligences, transmit forces and properties unto the 
beings of this transient world "* (Guide II, n). 

" All that the Holy One, blessed be He, created in 
His Universe is divisible into three classes. Some are 
creatures composed of matter* and form, and are 
perpetually coming into existence and perishing ; 
e.g., the bodies of men, animals, plants and minerals. 
Others are creatures composed of matter and form, but 
do not change from body to body and from form to 

65 

5 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

form like the first class. Their form is fixed in their 
matter eternally and they are not liable to change like 
the others. They are the Spheres and the planets 
which are in them. Their matter is also unlike the 
matter of other things, and their form unlike other 
forms. Finally, there are creatures possessing form 
without any matter. Such are the Angels ; because 
the Angels are incorporeal, being merely forms 
distinguished one from another " (Yad, Yesode ha- 
Torah II, 3). 

2. The Intelligences of Angels. The uppermost of the 
three strata is called by Maimonides " the Intelli- 
gences ", a term borrowed from Aristotle, which the 
Jewish philosopher identifies with the " Angels " 
mentioned in the Scriptures. He attaches consider- 
able importance to these supreme creatures as the 
medium through which the divine influences pass to 
earth. 

" The belief in the existence of Angels is connected 
with the belief in the existence of God ; and the belief 
in God and Angels leads to the belief in Prophecy and 
in the truth of the Torah. In order firmly to establish 
this creed, God commanded the Israelites to make over 
the Ark the form of two Angels. 2 The belief in the 
existence of Angels is thus inculcated into the minds 
of the people, and this belief is in importance next to 
the belief in God's existence ; it leads us to believe in 
Prophecy and in the Torah, and opposes idolatry. If 
there had only been one figure of a Cherub, the people 
would have been misled and would have mistaken it 
for God's image which was to be worshipped, in the 
fashion of the heathen ; or they might have assumed 
that the Angel represented by the figure was also a 
deity, and would then have adopted a dualism. By 

66 



CONSTITUTION OF THE UNIVERSE 

making two Cherubim and distinctly declaring ' the 
Lord is our God, the Lord is One ', Moses clearly 
proclaimed the theory of the existence of a number of 
Angels ; he left no room for the error of considering 
those figures as deities, since he declared that God is 
one, and that He is the Creator of the Angels who are 
more than one " (Guide III, 45). 

" The Angels are likewise incorporeal ; they are 
Intelligences without matter, but they are neverthe- 
less created beings, and God created them " (Guide I, 

49)- 

All the Angels are not equal in degree. They fall 

into a series of classes, each class being dependent 
upon the one immediately superior to it. 

" In what, then, are the angelic forms distinguish- 
able one from another, since they are not bodies ? In 
that they are not equal in their status, but each one is 
lower in degree as compared with his fellow and 
exists through the power of the one next above him ; 
but all of them exist through the power and goodness 
of the Holy One, blessed be He. . . . Our state- 
ment ' lower in degree as compared with his fellow ' 
does not refer to degree of place, like a man who sits 
higher than his neighbour. It is used in the same sense 
as when it is said of two wise men, of whom one is 
greater in wisdom than the other, that the former is 
of a higher degree than the latter ; or when it is said 
of the cause that it is superior to the effect. 

" The variety in the names of the Angels is in 
accordance with their varying degrees. Therefore 
they are called Hayyot ha-Kodesh (the holy creatures),3 
which are the highest of all ; Ophannim (wheels) ; 
Erelim (ambassadors ?)4 ; Hashmallim (the shining 
ones ?)S ; Seraphim (the burning ones) 6 ; Malachim 
(messengers)? ; Elohim (the mighty ones) 8 ; Bene 

67 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

Elohim (sons of the mighty) 9 ; Cherubim (those having 
the appearance of children) 10 and I shim (men) 11 . 

" All these ten names by which the Angels are 
called have reference to their ten degrees ; and that 
degree, to which there is none superior than that of 
God, is the degree of the Intelligence designated 
Hayyot. . . . The tenth degree is that of the 
Intelligence which is called Ishim, these being the 
Angels who spoke with the Prophets and appeared to 
them in the prophetic vision. For this reason they 
are designated Ishim (men), because their degree is 
nearest to the degree of the knowledge of human 
beings " (Yad, Yesode ha-Torah II, 5-7). 

Maimonides derived the ten degrees of Angels not 
only from Scripture, but from philosophical literature. 

" The later philosophers assumed ten Intelligences, 
because they counted the Spheres containing stars and 
the all-encompassing Sphere, although some of the 
Spheres included several distinct orbits. There are 
altogether nine Spheres, viz., the all-encompassing 
Sphere, that of the fixed stars, and those of the seven 
planets ; nine Intelligences correspond to the nine 
Spheres ; the tenth Intelligence is the Active Intellect. 
. . . As that which gives form to matter must 
itself be pure form, 1 * so the source of intellect must 
itself be pure intellect, and this source is the Active 
Intellect "13 (Guide II, 4). 

It is through the medium of these Intelligences that 
God's Will operates in the Universe, an idea which is 
found both in Greek and Hebraic speculation. 

" We have already stated above that the Angels 
are incorporeal. This agrees with the opinion of 
Aristotle. There is only this difference in the names 
employed he uses the term ' Intelligences ' and we 
say ' Angels '. His theory is that the Intelligences 

68 



CONSTITUTION OF THE UNIVERSE 

are intermediate beings between the Prime Cause and 
existing things, and that they effect the motion of the 
Spheres, on which motion the existence of all things 
depends. This is also the view we meet with in all 
parts of Scripture ; every act of God is described as 
being performed by Angels. But ' Angel ' means 
' messenger ' ; hence every one that is entrusted with 
a certain mission is an Angel. Even the movements 
of the brute creation are sometimes due to the action 
of an Angel, when such movements serve the purpose 
of the Creator, Who endowed it with the purpose of 
performing that movement (cf. Dan. vi. 22). 
The elements are also called Angels (cf. Ps. civ. 4). 
. . . It is also used of ideals perceived by Prophets 
in prophetic visions^ and of man's animal powers. 1 5 

" When we assert that Scripture teaches that God 
rules this world through Angels, we mean Angels that 
are identical with the Intelligences. In some passages 
the plural is used of God, e.g., ' Let us make man in 
our image ' (Gen. i. 26) ; ' Go to, let us go down and 
there confound their language' (ibid. xi. 7). Our 
Sages explain this in the following manner : God, as 
it were, does nothing without contemplating the host 
above. 16 I wonder at the expression ' contemplating ', 
which is the very expression used by Plato. 1 ? God, 
as it were, ' contemplates the world of ideals, and thus 
produces the existing beings '. In other passages our 
Sages expressed it more decidedly : ' God does nothing 
without consulting the host above 1 . 18 On the words, 
' what they have already made ' (Eccles. ii. 12), the 
following remark is made in Bereshit Rabba and in 
Midrash Kohelet : ' It is not said " what He has made " 
but " what they have made " ; hence we infer that 
He, as it were, with His court, have agreed upon the 
form of each of the limbs of man before placing it in 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

its position^; as it is said, " He hath made thee and 
established thee " (Deut. xxxii. 6) '. In Bereshit 
Rabba it is also stated that whenever the term 'and 
the Lord ' occurred in Scripture, the Lord and His 
court is to be understood. 

" These passages do not convey the idea that God 
spoke, thought, reflected, or that He consulted and 
employed the opinion of other beings, as ignorant 
persons have believed. How could the Creator be 
assisted by those whom He created ! They only show 
that all parts of the Universe, even the limbs of animals 
in their actual form, are produced through Angels ; 
for natural forces and Angels are identical. How bad 
and injurious is the blindness of ignorance 1 Say to a 
person who is believed to belong to the wise men of 
Israel that the Almighty sends His Angel to enter the 
womb of a woman and to form there the foetus, he will 
be satisfied with the account ; he will believe it, and 
even find in it a description of the greatness of God's 
might and wisdom ; although he believes that the 
Angel consists of burning fire and is as big as a third 
part of the Universe, yet he considers it possible as a 
divine miracle. But tell him that God gave the seed 
a formative power which produces and shapes the 
limbs, and that this power is called ' Angel ', or that 
all forms are the result of the influence of the Active 
Intellect, and that the latter is the Angel, the Prince 
of the world, frequently mentioned by our Sages,* 1 
and he will turn away ; because he cannot comprehend 
the true greatness and power of creating forces that 
act in a body without being perceived by our senses. 
Our Sages have already stated for him who has under- 
standing that all forces that reside in a body are 
Angels, much more the forces that are active in the 
Universe " (Guide II, 6). 

70 



CONSTITUTION OF THE UNIVERSE 

" Do not imagine that the Intelligences and the 
Spheres are like other forces which reside in bodies 
and act by the laws of Nature without being 
conscious of what they do. The Spheres and 
the Intelligences are conscious of their actions, 
and select by their own free will the objects 
of their influence, although not in the same 
manner as we exercise free will and rule over other 
things, which only concern temporary beings. . . . 
The difference is that what we do is the lowest stage of 
excellence, and that our influence and actions are 
preceded by non-action ; whilst the Intelligences and 
the Spheres always perform that which is good, they 
contain nothing except what is good and perfect, and 
they have continually been active from the beginning " 
(ibid. II, 7). 

3. The Spheres. The second stratum is called the 
Spheres. They are nine in number. They are to be 
thought of as hollow globes, one within the other after 
the manner of Chinese boxes, or, to use Maimonides' 
simile, the skins of an onion. 

" The Sphere that is nearest to us is the Moon. 
The second above it is the Sphere in which is the 
planet called Kochab (Mercury). The third Sphere 
above this is that in which is Nogah (Venus). The 
fourth is that in which is Ifammah (the Sun). The 
fifth is that in which is Ma'adim (Mars). The sixth 
is that in which is the planet Tsedek (Jupiter). The 
seventh is that in which is Shabbetai (Saturn). The 
eighth is that in which are all the other stars that are 
seen in the firmament. The ninth is the Sphere which 
revolves daily from East to West, and also encompasses 
and surrounds the whole. That you see all the stars 
as if they were entirely in one Sphere is due to the 

7* 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

fact that the Spheres are pure and transparent like 
crystal and sapphire. Therefore the stars which are 
in the eighth Sphere are visible beneath the first 
Sphere. 

" Each of the eight Spheres, in which are the planets, 
is divisible into many more Spheres, one above the 
other, like the skins of onions. Some of them are 
Spheres revolving from West to East, and others 
revolving from East to West, like the ninth Sphere 
which revolves from East to West. Between none of 
them is there a vacuum. 

" All the Spheres are neither light nor heavy ; 
they have neither a red, nor black, nor any other 
colour. That we see them tinged with a bluish 
colour is only an optical illusion due to the height of 
the atmosphere. Similarly they have neither flavour 
nor odour, because these accidents only exist in bodies 
which are beneath them. 

" All these Spheres, which encompass the world, 
are circular like a globe, and the earth is suspended in 
the centre. Some of the planets, however, have small 
Spheres which are fixed in them and do not encompass 
the earth ; but a small Sphere which is non- 
encompassing is fixed in a greater which does encompass 
the earth. 

" The number of all the Spheres which encompass 
the earth is eighteen, and the total of the small 
Spheres which do^not encompass is eight. It is from 
the course of the stars, from knowing the rate of their 
daily and hourly revolutions, from their declension from 
the South to the North, or from the North to the South, 
and from their height above or proximity to the earth, 
that the number of all these Spheres, the form of their 
course and the direction of their revolutions may be 
ascertained this being the science of the calculation 

72 



CONSTITUTION OF THE UNIVERSE 

of the cycles and planets (Astronomy), on which the 
wise men of Greece composed many books. 

"As to the ninth Sphere which encompasses the 
whole, the wise men of old divided it into twelve 
parts, and to each part ascribed an appellation after 
the name of the figure perceived therein reflected by 
the stars which are beneath it. These are the signs 
of the Zodiac, the names of which are Teleh (Ram), 
Shor (Bull), Te'omim (Twins), Sartan (Crab), Aryeh 
(Lion), Betulah (Virgin), Moznayim (Scales), Akrab 
(Scorpion), Keshet (Bow), Gedi (Kid), Deli (Bucket), 
Dagim (Fishes). 

" But in the ninth Sphere itself there is neither 
division nor any of those figures, not even a star. It 
is only by the junction of the constellations which are 
in the eighth Sphere that there appears in its large 
stars the form of these figures or something similar. 
These twelve figures only coincided with those parts 
at the time of the Flood, when these names were 
assigned to them ; but at this time they have moved 
somewhat, since all the stars in the eighth Sphere 
revolve in the same manner as the sun and moon, 
except that they revolve slowly. The part of a circle 
which the sun and moon traverse in a day, each of 
those stars traverses in about seventy years. 

" Of all the visible planets, there are some among 
them which are small, so that the earth is larger than 
any of them ; but there are also among them great 
planets, each of which is many times larger than the 
earth. Now the earth is about forty times larger than 
the moon^ and the sun about a hundred and seventy 
times larger than the earth ; therefore the moon is 
approximately a six thousand and eight hundredth 
part of the sun. There is none among the 
planets larger than the sun, nor is there any planet 

73 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

smaller than Kochab (Mercury), which is in the 
second Sphere. 

" All the planets and Spheres are entities possessed 
of soul, mind and understanding. Moreover they are 
endowed with life.*3 They exist and know the Creator 
of the Universe. Each of them, in proportion to its 
magnitude and degree, praises and glorifies its Creator, 
in the same manner that the Angels do. And just as 
they know the Holy One, blessed be He, so do 
they know themselves, and also know the Angels 
that are above them. The knowledge possessed by 
the planets and Spheres is inferior to the know- 
ledge possessed by the Angels, but is superior to 
the knowledge possessed by human beings " (Yad t 
Yesode ha-Torah III, 1-9). 

What Maimonides intends in this last paragraph 
is elucidated in the following excerpt : 

" The enunciation that the heavenly Sphere is 
endowed with a soul will appear reasonable to all who 
sufficiently reflect on it ; but at first thought they may 
find it unintelligible or even objectionable ; because 
they wrongly assume that when we ascribe a soul to 
the heavenly Spheres we mean something like the 
soul of man, or that of an ox or ass. We merely 
intend to say that the locomotion of the Sphere 
undoubtedly leads us to assume some inherent principle 
by which it moves ; and this principle is certainly a 
soul. For it would be absurd to assume that the 
principle of the circular motion of the Spheres was 
like that of the rectilinear motion of a stone downward 
or of fire upwards, for the cause of the latter motion 
is a natural property and not a soul ; a thing set in 
motion by a natural property moves only as long as 
it is away from the proper place of its element, but 
when it has again arrived theie, it comes to rest ; 

74 



CONSTITUTION OF THE UNIVERSE 

whilst the Sphere continues its circular motion in its 
own place. 

It is, however, not because the Sphere has a soul, 
that it moves in this manner; for animate beings 
move either by instinct or by reason. By ' instinct ' 
I mean the intention of an animal to approach some- 
thing agreeable, or to retreat from something 
disagreeable ; e.g., to approach the water it seeks 
because of thirst, or to retreat from the sun because of 
its heat. . . . The heavenly Sphere does not 
move for the purpose of withdrawing from what is 
bad or approaching what is good. . . . The 
circular motion of the Sphere is consequently due to 
the action of some idea which produces this particular 
kind of motion ; but as ideas are only possible in 
intellectual beings, the heavenly Sphere is an 
intellectual being. *4 But even a being that is endowed 
with the faculty of forming an idea, and possesses a 
soul with the faculty of moving, does not change its 
place on each occasion that it forms an idea ; for an 
idea alone does not produce motion, as has been 
explained in Aristotle's Metaphysics.*5 We can easily 
understand this when we consider how often we form 
ideas of certain things, yet do not move towards them 
though we are able to do so ; it is only when a desire 
arises for the thing imagined that we move in order 
to obtain it. 

" We have thus shown that both the soul, the 
principle of motion and the intellect, the source of the 
ideas, would not produce motion without the existence 
of a desire for the object of which an idea has been 
formed. It follows that the heavenly Sphere must 
have a desire for the ideal which it has comprehended, 
and that ideal, for which it has a desire, is God, 
exalted be His name ! " (Guide II, 4). 

75 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

4. The Sublunary Sphere. The lowest stratum is the 
earth inhabited by the human race. Both the 
terrestrial Sphere and all it contains are formed out 
of four elements fire, air, water and earth which 
are qualities attached to one all-pervading substance. 

" God created beneath the lunar Sphere a matter 
which is unlike the matter of the Spheres. He also 
created four forms for this matter which are unlike 
the forms of the Spheres, and each form is fixed in a 
part of this matter. The first form is that of fire ; it 
was united to a part of this matter and there resulted 
from both of them the body of fire. The second form 
is that of air ; it was united to a part of the matter 
and there resulted from both of them the body of air. 
The third form is that of water ; it was united to a 
part of it and there resulted from both of them the 
body of water. The fourth form is that of earth ; 
it was united to a part of it and there resulted from 
both of them the body of earth. Consequently there 
are beneath the firmament four different bodies, one 
above the other, and each one encompasses that which 
is beneath it on all its sides, like a wheel. The first 
body, which is nearest the lunar Sphere, is the body of 
fire ; beneath it is the body of air ; beneath that is 
the body of water ; and beneath that is the body of 
earth. There is between them no space which is void 
and entirely without matter. 

" These four bodies are not entities possessed of 
soul. They have no understanding or perception, but 
are like inanimate bodies. . . . 

" These four bodies, viz., fire, air, water and earth, 
are the elements of all the created things which are 
under the firmament. Whatever exists, whether it 
be man, cattle, bird, insect, fish, plant, mineral, gems, 
pearls or other stones used for building, mountains, 



CONSTITUTION OF THE UNIVERSE 

lumps of clay the matter of them all is composed of 
these four elements. Consequently all the bodies 
which are under the firmament, these four elements 
excepted, are composed of matter and form, and their 
matter is composed of these four elements. Each of 
the four elements, however, is composed of nothing 
but matter and form alone. 

" The nature of fire and air is that their movement 
is from below, i.e., from the centre of the earth upward 
towards the firmament. The nature of water and 
earth, on the other hand, is to move from under the 
firmament downward as far as the centre, the centre 
of the earth being the nethermost point of all. Their 
motion is not dependent upon their consciousness or 
volition, but only upon a property and characteristic 
which had been implanted in them. The nature of 
fire is hot and dry ; it is the lightest of all the elements. 
Air is hot and moist. Water is cold and moist. Earth 
is dry and cold ; it is the heaviest of them all. Since 
water is lighter than earth, it is as a consequence 
found on top of the earth. Air, being lighter than 
water, consequently floats on the surface of the water. 
Fire is lighter than air. 

" Because these are the elements of all bodies 
under the firmament, every body whether it be that 
of man, cattle, beast, bird, fish, plant, mineral or stone 
will be found to have its matter composed of fire, 
air, water and earth. All these four are intermingled ; 
and at the time that they are mingled together, each 
one of them becomes altered to such an extent that the 
compound of the four is found to have no resemblance 
to any one of them when by itself, and in the mixture 
there is not even a single particle of fire by itself, water 
by itself, earth by itself, or air by itself they are all 
changed and converted into one body, 

77 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

" In every body composed of the four elements 
will be found together cold, warmth, moisture and 
dryness. Yet some of them are bodies in which the 
element of fire predominates, as for instance those 
which possess animal life, and therefore warmth is 
most conspicuous in them. Others are bodies in which 
the element of earth predominates, as stones ; conse- 
quently dryness is most conspicuous in them. Others, 
again, are bodies in which the element of water pre- 
dominates, and therefore moisture will be most 
conspicuous in them. In like manner one body will 
be found to be warmer than another warm body, or 
one dry body with greater dryness than another dry 
body. There will likewise be found bodies in which 
cold alone is perceptible, and bodies in which moisture 
alone is perceptible ; or bodies in which cold and 
dryness are perceptible together and in an equal degree, 
or cold and moisture together and in an equal degree, 
or warmth and dryness together and in an equal 
degree or warmth and moisture together and in an 
equal degree. In proportion to the quantity of the 
element which is in the basis of the mixture will the 
effect of that element and its nature be perceived in 
the component body. 

" Everything that is compounded of these four 
elements must ultimately be dissolved. Some dissolve 
after a few days, others after many years. It is 
impossible for a thing that has been compounded of 
them not to be again decomposed into them ; it is 
not even possible for gold or the ruby not to become 
decomposed and reduced again to its elements, part 
of it returning to fire, part to water, part to air, and 
part to earth. . . . 

" Whatever is destroyed is not reduced to the four 
elements immediately on its destruction ; but when 

78 



CONSTITUTION OF THE UNIVERSE 

destroyed, it first becomes another thing, and that 
other thing becomes still another. Finally, however, 
things must be reduced to their elements, and 
consequently all things pass through a complete 
circle of change. 

" These four elements interchange constantly, 
daily and hourly, but part of them only and not their 
entire mass. For instance, the part of the earth 
nearest to water changes, crumbles to pieces and 
becomes water ; likewise the part of water nearest to 
air changes, vapourises and becomes air. Similarly 
with air, that part of it which is nearest to fire changes, 
whirls about and becomes fire. So also with fire, 
that part of it which is nearest to air changes, whirls 
about, condenses and becomes air. Again, that part 
of air which is nearest to water changes, condenses 
and becomes water ; and finally, that part of water 
which is nearest to earth changes, condenses and 
becomes earth. 

" This change takes place very gradually and over 
a long space of time. Nor is it the entire element that 
is changed, so that the whole of the water should ever 
become air, or the whole of the air fire ; for it is 
impossible that one of the four elements should cease 
to exist. Part only of the fire is changed to air, and 
part only of the air is changed to fire. It is the same 
with each element and the others, an interchange 
being found to occur between all four of them, and they 
for ever pass through a complete circle of change. 

"This change arises from the revolution of the 
Sphere. It is through this revolution that the four 
elements intermingle, and there result from them all 
other substances as men, living creatures, plants, 
stones, minerals. But it is God Who imparts to each 
substance the form which is suitable to it through the 

79 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

medium of the Angels of the tenth degree, viz., the 
Intelligences called I shim (men) " (Yad, Yesode 
ha-Torah III, lo-IV, 6). 

5. The Universe a united whole. Complex though the 
structure of the world be, yet it forms a harmonious 
whole. It is a single entity. Maimonides illustrates 
this truth by drawing an analogy between the Universe 
and the human body. 

" Know that this Universe, in its entirety, is 
nothing else but one individual being ; that is to say, 
the outermost heavenly Sphere, together with all 
included therein, is as regards individuality beyond 
all question a single being. The variety of its 
substances I mean the substances of that Sphere 
and all its component parts is like the variety of the 
substances of a human being ; just as, e.g., A is one 
individual, consisting of various solid substances, 
such as flesh, bones, sinews, of various humours 26 and 
of various spiritual elements. 2 ? In like manner this 
Sphere in its totality is composed of the celestial orbs, 
the four elements and their combinations ; there is 
no vacuum whatever therein, but the whole space is 
filled up with matter. Its centre is occupied by the 
earth, earth is surrounded by water, air encompasses 
the water, fire envelopes the air, and this again is 
enveloped by the fifth substance (quintessence). . . . 

" As the human body consists both of principal 
organs and of other members which depend on them 
and cannot exist without the control of those organs, 
so does the Universe consist both of principal parts, 
viz., the quintessence, which encompasses the four 
elements and of other parts which are subordinated 
and require a leader, viz., the four elements and the 
things composed of them. 

80 



CONSTITUTION OF THE UNIVERSE 

" Again the principal part of the human body, 
viz., the heart, is in constant motion, and is the source 
of every motion noticed in the body ; it rules over the 
other members, and communicates to them through 
its own pulsations the force required for their functions. 
The outermost Sphere by its motion rules in a similar 
way over all other parts of the Universe, and supplies 
all things with their special properties. Every motion 
in the Universe has thus its origin in the motion of 
that Sphere ; and the soul of every animated being 
derives its origin from the soul of that same Sphere. 

" When for one instant the beating of the heart 
is interrupted, man dies, and all his motions and 
powers come to an end. In a like manner would the 
whole Universe perish, and everything therein cease 
to exist, if the Spheres were to come to a standstill. 

" The living being as such is one through the 
action of its heart, although some parts of the body are 
devoid of motion and sensation, as e.g., the bones, the 
cartilage and similar parts. The same is the case 
with the entire Universe ; although it includes many 
beings without motion and without life, it is a single 
being living through the motion of the Sphere, which 
may be compared to the heart of an animated being. 
You must therefore consider the entire globe as one 
individual being which is endowed with life, motion 
and a soul. This mode of considering the Universe 
is indispensable, that is to say, it is very useful for 
demonstrating the Unity of God* 8 ; it also helps to 
elucidate the principle that He Who is One has created 
only one being. . . . 

" There also exists in the Universe a certain force 
which controls the whole, which sets in motion the 
chief and principal parts, and gives them the motive 

81 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

power for governing the rest. Without that force, 
the existence of this Sphere, with its principal and 
secondary parts, would be impossible. It is the 
source of the existence of the Universe in aU its parts. 
That force is God, blessed be His name ! " (Guide I, 
72). 



82 



CHAPTER III 
ATTRIBUTES OF GOD 

MAIMONIDES devotes a long section of his Guide 1 to 
the subject of the divine attributes, because several 
important theological and philosophical problems 
depend for their solution upon the true understanding 
of God's essence. An incorrect comprehension of the 
qualities possessed by God and of His nature must 
react upon one's whole religious mentality. Before 
dealing with the principal attributes ascribed to God, 
it is necessary to grasp the interpretation which 
Maimonides gives to the term. 

i. Why attributes are ascribed to God. If the Deity is 
to be anything more than an abstraction of thought, 
it is inevitable that we should think and speak of 
Him " in the language of the children of men ".* 
From this fact springs the danger of misapprehending 
God, because we view Him through a distort- 
ing medium. The terminology applied to finite 
beings is misleading when used of the Infinite. The 
difficulty cannot be completely obviated ; its worst 
effects can only be guarded against by careful 
reasoning, 

" There is a great difference between bringing to 
view the existence of a thing and demonstrating its 
true essence. We can lead others to notice the 
existence of an object by pointing to its accidents, 
actions, or even most remote relations to other objects. 

83 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

E.g., if you wish to describe the king of a country to 
one of his subjects who does not know him, you can 
give a description and an account of his existence in 
many ways. You will either say to him, the tall man 
with a fair complexion and grey hair is the king, thus 
describing him by his accidents ; or you will say, the 
king is the person round whom are seen a great 
multitude of men on horse and on foot, and soldiers 
with drawn swords, over whose head banners are 
waving, and before whom trumpets are sounded ; 
or it is the person living in the palace in a particular 
region of a certain country ; or it is the person who 
ordered the building of that wall or the construction 
of that bridge ; or by some other similar acts and 
things relating to him. . . . 

" The same is the case with the information 
concerning the Creator given to the ordinary classes 
of men in all prophetical books and in the Torah. 
For it was found necessary to teach all of them that 
God exists, and that He is in every respect the most 
perfect Being, that is to say, He exists not only in the 
sense in which the earth and the heavens exist, but 
He exists and possesses life, wisdom, power, activity, 
and all other properties which our belief in His 
existence must include. That God exists was there- 
fore shown to ordinary men by means of similes taken 
from physical bodies ; that He is living by a simile 
taken from motion, because ordinary men consider 
only the body as fully, truly and undoubtedly existing ; 
that which is connected with a body but is itself not 
a body, although believed to exist, has a lower degree 
of existence on account of its dependence on the body 
for existence. . . . 

" The perception by the senses, especially by 
hearing and seeing, is best known to us ; we have no 



ATTRIBUTES OF GOD 

idea or notion of any other mode of communication 
between the soul of one person and that of another 
than by means of speaking, i.e., by the sound produced 
by lips, tongue and the other organs of speech. When, 
therefore, we are to be informed that God has a 
knowledge of things, and that communication is made 
by Him to the Prophets who convey it to us, they 
represent Him to us as seeing and hearing, i.e., as 
perceiving and knowing those things which can be 
seen and heard. They represent Him to us as 
speaking, i.e., that communications from Him reach 
the Prophets ; that is to be understood by the term 
" Prophecy ", as will be fully explained.3 God is 
described as working, because we do not know any 
other mode of producing a thing except by direct 
touch. He is said to have a soul in the sense that He 
is living, because all living beings are generally 
supposed to have a soul. . . . 

" Again, since we perform all these actions only 
by means of corporeal organs, we figuratively ascribe 
to God the organs of locomotion, as feet and their 
soles4 ; organs of hearing, seeing and smelling as ear, 
eye and nose ; organs and substance of speech as mouth , 
tongue and sound ; organs for the performance of 
work as hand, its fingers, its palm and the arm. In 
short, these organs of the body are figuratively 
ascribed to God, Who is above all imperfection, to 
express that He performs certain acts ; and these acts 
are figuratively ascribed to Him to express that He 
possesses certain perfections different from those acts 
themselves. E.g., we say that He has eyes, ears, 
hands, a mouth, a tongue, to express that He sees, 
hears, acts and speaks ; but seeing and hearing are 
attributed to Him to indicate simply that He perceives. 
. . . Action and speech are likewise figuratively 

85 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

applied to God, to express that a certain influence has 
emanated from Him. 

" The physical organs which are attributed to God 
in the writings of the Prophets are either organs of 
locomotion, indicating life ; organs of sensation, 
indicating perception ; organs of touch, indicating 
action ; or organs of speech, indicating the divine 
inspiration of the Prophets. The object of all these 
indications is to establish in our minds the notion of 
the existence of a living being, the Maker of every- 
thing, Who also possesses a knowledge of the things 
which He has made " (Guide I, 46). 

2. There is no similarity between God's attributes 
and man's. A point which Maimonides emphasises 
throughout is that a quality ascribed to God has no 
affinity with the same quality as used of the human 
being. The term is the same, because we cannot 
invent intelligible expressions which could be reserved 
exclusively for the Deity. The identity of term does 
not imply identity of quality. 

" Similarity is based on a certain relation between 
two things ; if between two things no relation can be 
found, there can be no similarity between them, and 
there is no relation between two things that have no 
similarity to each other. E.g., we do not say this 
heat is similar to that colour, or this voice is similar to 
that sweetness. This is self-evident. Since the 
existence of a relation between God and man, or 
between Him and other beings, has been denied, 
similarity must likewise be denied. . . . 

" Thus those who believe in the presence of essential 
attributes in God, viz., Existence, Life, Power, Wisdom 
and Will, should know that these attributes, when 
applied to God, have not the same meaning as when 

86 



ATTRIBUTES OF GOD 

applied to us, and that the difference does not only 
consist in magnitude, or in the degree of perfection, 
stability and durability. It cannot be said, as they 
practically believe, that His existence is only more 
stable, His life more permanent, His power greater, 
His wisdom more perfect, and His will more general 
than ours, and that the same definition applies to both. 
This is in no way admissible, for the expression ' more 
than ' is used in comparing two things as regards a 
certain attribute predicated of both of them in exactly 
the same sense, and consequently implies similarity 
between God and His creatures " (Guide I, 56). 

" In the same way as all people must be informed, 
and even children must be trained in the belief that 
God is One, and that none besides Him is to be 
worshipped, so must all be taught by simple authority 
that God is incorporeal ; that there is no similarity 
in any way whatsoever between Him and His creatures; 
that His existence is not like the existence of His 
creatures, His life not like that of any living being, 
His wisdom not like the wisdom of the wisest of men ; 
and that the difference between Him and His creatures 
is not merely quantitative, but absolute as between 
two individuals of two different classes. I mean to 
say that all must understand that our wisdom and 
His, or our power and His, do not differ quantitatively 
or qualitatively, or in a similar manner ; for two 
things, of which the one is strong and the other weak, 
are necessarily similar, belong to the same class, and 
can be included in one definition. . . . Anything 
predicated of God is totally different from our 
attributes ; no definition can comprehend both ; 
therefore His existence and that of any other being 
totally differ from each other, and the term existence is 
applied to both homonymously "5 (Guide I, 35). 

87 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

3. An attribute is an accident ; therefore God has no 
attributes apart from His essence. Not only can no 
comparison be made between God's qualities and 
man's, but He does not possess attributes in the same 
sense that the human being possesses them. 

" It is a self-evident truth that the attribute is 
not inherent in the object to which it is ascribed, but 
it is superadded to its essence, and is consequently an 
accident. 6 If the attribute denoted the essence of the 
object, it would be either mere tautology, as if, e.g., 
one would say ' man is man ', or the explanation of a 
name, as, e.g., ' man is a speaking animal ' ; for the 
words ' speaking animal ' include the true essence of 
man, and there is no third element besides life and 
speech in the definition of man. When he, therefore, 
is described by the attributes of life and speech, these 
are nothing but an explanation of the name ' man ', 
that is to say, that the thing which is called man 
consists of life and speech. 

" It will now be clear that the attribute must be 
one of two things, either the essence of the object 
described in that case it is a mere explanation of 
a name, and on that account we might admit the 
attribute in reference to God, but we reject it from 
another cause, as will be shown7 or the attribute is 
something different from the object described, some 
extraneous superadded element. In that case the 
attribute would be an accident, and he who merely 
rejects the appellation ' accidents ' in reference to the 
attributes of God does not thereby alter their character ; 
for everything superadded to the essence of an object 
joins it without forming part of its essential properties 
and that constitutes an accident " (Guide I, 51). 

" It is known that existence is an accident apper- 
taining to all things, and therefore an element 

88 



ATTRIBUTES OF GOD 

superadded to their essence. This must evidently 
be the case as regards everything the existence of 
which is due to some cause ; its existence is an element 
superadded to its essence. But as regards a being 
whose existence is not due to any cause God alone is 
that being, for His existence, as we have said, is 
absolute existence and essence are perfectly identical. 
He is not a substance to which existence is joined as 
an accident, as an additional element. His existence 
is always absolute, and has never been a new element or 
an accident in Him. Consequently God exists without 
possessing the attribute of existence. Similarly He 
lives without possessing the attribute of life ; knows 
without possessing the attribute of knowledge ; is 
omnipotent without possessing the attribute of omni- 
potence ; is wise without possessing the attribute of 
wisdom. All this reduces itself to one and the same 
entity ; there is no plurality in Him " (Guide I, 57). 

4. God only describable by negative attributes. For the 
reason that human language is misleading when 
applied to God, one approximates most nearly to the 
truth by speaking of Him in negative terms. It is 
preferable to say what He is not than attempt to 
describe what He is. 

" Know that the negative attributes of God are the 
true attributes. They do not include any incorrect 
notions or any deficiency whatever in reference to 
God ; while positive attributes imply polytheism 8 and 
are inadequate. It is now necessary to explain how 
negative expressions can in a certain sense be employed 
as attributes, and how they are distinguished from 
positive attributes. Then I shall show that we cannot 
describe the Creator by any means except by negative 
attributes. 

89 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

" An attribute does not exclusively belong to the 
one object to which it is related ; while qualifying one 
thing, it can also be employed to qualify other things, 
and is in that case not peculiar to that one thing. 
E.g., if you see an object from a distance, and on 
enquiring what it is, are told that it is a living being, 
you have certainly learnt an attribute of the object 
seen, and although that attribute does not exclusively 
belong to the object perceived, it expresses that the 
object is not a plant or a mineral. Again, if a man is 
in a certain house, and you know that something is in 
the house but not exactly what, you ask what is in 
that house and you are told, not a plant nor a mineral. 
You have thereby obtained some special knowledge 
of the thing ; you have learnt that it is a living being 
although you do not yet know what kind of a living 
being it is. The negative attributes have this in 
common with the positive, that they necessarily 
circumscribe the object to some extent, although such 
circumscription consists only in the exclusion of what 
otherwise would not be excluded. In the following 
point, however, the negative attributes are dis- 
tinguished from the positive. The positive attributes 
although not peculiar to one thing, describe a portion 
of what we desire to know, either some part of its 
essence or some of its accidents ; the negative 
attributes, on the other hand, do not, as regards the 
essence of the thing which we desire to know, in any 
way tell us what it is, except it be indirectly, as has 
been shown in the instance given by us. 

" After this introduction, I would observe that 
as has already been shown God's existence is absolute, 
that it includes no composition, and that we comprehend 
only the fact that He exists, not His essence.9 
Consequently it is a false assumption to hold that He 

90 



ATTRIBUTES OF GOD 

has any positive attribute ; for He does not possess 
existence in addition to His essence. It therefore 
cannot be said that the one may be described as 
an attribute of the other ; much less has He in 
addition to His existence a compound essence, con- 
sisting of two constituent elements to which the 
attribute could refer ; still less has He accidents 
which could be described by an attribute. Hence it 
is clear that He has no positive attribute whatever " 
(Guide I, 58). 

" He is not a magnitude that any quality resulting 
from quantity as such could be possessed by Him ; He 
is not affected by external influences, and therefore 
does not possess any quality resulting from emotion. 
He is not subject to physical conditions, and therefore 
does not possess strength or similar qualities; He is 
not an animate being, that He should have a certain 
disposition of the soul or acquire certain properties, 
as meekness, modesty, etc., or be in a state to which 
animate beings as such are subject, as, e.g., in that of 
health or illness. Hence it follows that no attribute 
coming under the head of quality, in its widest sense, 
can be predicated of God. Consequently, these three 
classes of attributes, describing the essence of a thing, 
or part of the essence, or a quality of it, are clearly 
inadmissible in reference to God, for they imply 
composition, which is out of question as regards the 
Creator. We say, with regard to this latter point, 
that He is absolutely One " (Guide I, 52). 

The view which Maimonides held of the divine 
attributes led him to the paradoxical conclusion that 
the greater our knowledge of God, the less are we able 
to affirm of Him. 

" The following question might perhaps be asked : 
Since there is no possibility of obtaining a knowledge 

9* 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

of the true essence of God, and since it has also been 
proved that the only thing that man can apprehend 
of Him is the fact that He exists, and that all positive 
attributes are inadmissible, as has been shown ; what 
is the difference among those who have obtained a 
knowledge of God ? Must not the knowledge obtained 
by our teacher Moses and by Solomon be the same 
as that obtained by any one of the lowest class of 
philosophers, since there can be no addition to this 
knowledge ? But, on the other hand, it is generally 
accepted among theologians and also among philo- 
sophers that there can be a great difference between 
two persons as regards the knowledge of God obtained 
by them. 

" Know that this is really the case, that those who 
have obtained a knowledge of God differ greatly from 
each other, for in the same way as by each additional 
attribute an object is more specified and is brought 
nearer to the true apprehension of the observer, so by 
each additional negative attribute you advance toward 
the knowledge of God, and you are nearer to it than he 
who does not negative, in reference to God, those 
qualities which you are convinced by proof must be 
negatived. There may thus be a man who after having 
earnestly devoted many years to the pursuit of one 
science and to the true understanding of its principles, 
till he is fully convinced of its truths, has obtained as 
the sole result of this study the conviction that a certain 
quality must be negatived in reference to God, and the 
capacity of demonstrating that it is impossible to 
apply it to Him. . . . 

" It will now be clear to you that every time you 
establish by proof the negation of a thing in reference 
to God, you become more perfect ; while with 
every additional positive assertion you follow your 

92 



ATTRIBUTES OF GOD 

imagination and recede from the true knowledge of 
God " (Guide I, 59). 

5. The Unity of God. Having expounded Maimonides' 
general view of God's attributes, we may proceed 
to deal with specific qualities. First in import- 
ance is the Unity of God. Maimonides places it 
second in his enumeration of the Scriptural com- 
mandments. 

" The second ordinance is the commandment which 
He commanded us to believe firmly in the Unity, 
i.e., we should believe that the Maker of existence and 
its First Cause is One ; according to His declaration, 
' Hear, O Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is 
One' (Deut. vi. 4). In many passages of Rabbinic 
literature you will find such statements as, ' On 
condition that you proclaim the Unity of My name ', 
' On condition that you proclaim My Unity ', etc. 
By such a phrase they intend that He in fact redeemed 
us from bondage and performed for us the benefits 
and kindnesses which He did, on the condition that 
we believe in the Unity ; and we are indeed under this 
obligation. The Rabbis often speak of ' the command- 
ment concerning the Unity '. They further designate 
this commandment ' the sovereignty of Heaven ' ; 
they use the expression ' for the purpose of receiving 
upon oneself the yoke of the kingdom of Heaven ' 
meaning the acknowledgment of the Unity 10 and the 
belief therein " (Mitswot, Command. II). 

The Unity of God is likewise the second of the 
Principles of Faith which he formulated, and he 
states it in the following terms : 

" This implies that this Cause of all is one ; not 
one of a genus or of a species, and not as one human 
being who is a compound divisible into many unities ; 

93 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

not a unity like the ordinary material body which is 
one in number but takes on endless divisions and 
parts. But He, the exalted One, is a unity in the sense 
that there is no unity like His in any way. This is 
the second cardinal doctrine of Faith which is 
indicated by the assertion, ' Hear, Israel, the Lord 
is our God, the Lord is One ' " (C.M., Introduction 
to Helek). 

" God is one ; He is not two or more than two, 
but one. The oneness of any of the single things 
existent in the Universe is unlike His Unity. He is 
not one as a species, since this includes numerous 
individuals ; nor one as a body, since this is divisible 
into parts and sections ; but a Unity which is unique 
in the world. 

" If there were several deities, they would neces- 
sarily be corporeal; because things that can be 
numbered, which are alike in their essence, are 
distinguishable one from another only by the accidents 
which occur in bodily forms. If, then, the Creator 
were corporeal, He would have limitations, because 
it is impossible for a body to be without a limit ; and 
everyone whose body has a limit must likewise be 
limited in power. 

" As for our God, blessed be His name, since His 
power is without limit and never ceases, seeing that 
the Sphere revolves continuously, His power must be 
other than physical strength. And since He is not a 
body, the accidents of bodies cannot occur to Him, 
so that He should be divided and distinguished from 
any other being. Consequently it is impossible that 
He should be other than One " (Yad, Yesode ha-Torah 

I. 7). 

Maimonides advances several proofs for God's 
Unity. One which is based on his philosophical 

94 



ATTRIBUTES OF GOD 

Propositions is too intricate to quote ; but the following 
are more easily understood. 

" If there were two Gods, they would necessarily 
have one element in common by virtue of which they 
were Gods, and another element by which they were 
distinguished from each other and existed as two 
Gods. The distinguishing element would either be 
in both different from the property common to both 
in that case both of them would consist of different 
elements and neither of them would be the First Cause, 
or have absolutely independent existence. But their 
existence would depend on certain causes 11 or the 
distinguishing element would only in one of them be 
different from the element common to both : then 
that being could not have absolute independence. 

" Another proof of the Unity of God. It has been 
demonstrated by proof that the whole existing world 
is one organic body, all parts of which are connected 
together" ; also, that the influences of the Spheres 
above pervade the earthly substance and prepare it 
for its forms. Hence it is impossible to assume that 
one deity be engaged in forming one part and another 
deity in forming another part of that organic body, 
of which all parts are closely connected together. A 
duality could only be imagined in this way, either that 
at one time the one deity is active, the other at another 
time, or that both act simultaneously, nothing being 
done except by both together. The first alternative 
is certainly absurd for many reasons ; if at the time 
the one deity be active the other could also be active, 
there is no reason why the one deity should then act 
and the other not ; if, on the other hand, it be impos- 
sible for the one deity to act when the other is at work, 
there must be some other cause besides these deities 
which at a certain time enables the one to act and 

95 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

disables the other. Such difference would not be 
caused by time, since time is without change, and the 
object of the action likewise remains one and the same 
organic whole. Besides, if two deities existed in this 
way, both would be subject to the relations of time, 
since their actions would depend on time T 3 ; they would 
also in the moment of acting pass from potentiality to 
actuality and require an agent for such transition ; 
their essence would besides include possibility of 
existence. H 

" It is equally absurd to assume that both together 
produce everything in existence, and that neither of 
them does anything alone ; for when a number of 
forces must be united for a certain result, none of 
these forces acts of its own accord, and none is by 
itself the immediate cause of that result, but their 
union is the immediate cause. It has, furthermore, 
been proved that the action of the absolute cannot 
be due to an external cause. J 5 The union is also an 
act which presupposes a cause effecting that union, 
and if that cause be one, it is undoubtedly God ; but 
if it also consists of a number of separate forces, a 
cause is required for the combination of these forces, 
as in the first case. Finally, one simple being must 
be arrived at that is the cause of the existence of the 
Universe which is one whole. It would make no 
difference whether we assumed that the First Cause 
had produced the Universe by creatio ex nihilo, or 
whether the Universe co-existed with the First Cause. 
It is thus clear how we can prove the Unity of God 
from the fact that this Universe is one whole " (Guide 
II, i). 

6. The Incorporeality of God. Inseparably connected 
with the doctrine of God's Unity is that of His 

96 



ATTRIBUTES OF GOD 

Incorporeality. Maimonides usually couples them 
together in his philosophical discussions. He makes 
it the third of his Principles of Faith. 

" The removal of materiality from God. This 
signifies that this Unity is not a body nor the power 
of a body, nor can the accidents of bodies overtake 
Him, as, e.g., motion and rest, whether in the essential 
or accidental sense. . . . Wherever in the 
Scriptures God is spoken of with the attributes of 
material bodies, like motion, standing, sitting, speaking 
and such like, all these are figures of speech, as the 
Sages said, ' The Torah speaks in the language of 
men ' " (C.M., Introduction to Helek). 

" Behold it is explicitly taught in the Torah and the 
Prophets that the Holy One, blessed be He, is not 
corporeal ; as it is said, * The Lord He is God in heaven 
above and upon the earth beneath ' (Deut. iv. 39). 
But a body cannot be in two places at the same time ! 
It is further said, ' Ye saw no manner of form ' (ibid., 
15) ; and it is also stated, ' To whom then will ye 
liken Me that I should be equal ? ' (Isa. xl. 25). Were 
He a body, He would be like other bodies. 

" If it be so that He is incorporeal, what of the 
Scriptural phrases : ' under His feet ' (Exod. xxiv. 10), 
' written with the finger of God ' (ibid. xxxi. 18), ' the 
hand of the Lord ' (ibid. ix. 3), ' the eyes of the Lord ' 
(Deut. xi. 12), ' the ears of the Lord ' (Numb. xi. 18), 
and other expressions * like these ? All these terms 
are used in accordance with the mental capacity of 
human beings who can only comprehend corporeal 
beings. The Torah therefore speaks in human 
language, and all these are merely metaphorical 
expressions, the same as ' If I whet My glittering 
sword ' (Deut. xxxii. 41). Has He, then, a sword, or 
does He slay with a sword ! It is only a simile ; and 

97 

7 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

in like manner all the expressions quoted above are 
metaphorical. 

" A proof of this is that one Prophet declares that 
he saw the Holy One, blessed be He, ' His garment 
white as snow ' (Dan. vii. 9), whereas another saw 
Him 'with crimsoned garments' (Isa. Ixiii. i). Moses, 
our teacher, himself saw Him by the Red Sea like a 
warrior waging battle (Exod. xv. 3), and upon Sinai 
like the leader of a congregation wrapped in the Tallit 1 * 
proving that He had neither likeness nor form, but 
all this was only in prophetic imagery and vision " 
(Yad, Yesode ha-Torah, I, 8f). 

As with the Unity of God, Maimonides proves His 
incorporeality with the aid of the philosophical 
Propositions. Another argument offered by him is : 

" Every corporeal object is composed of matter 
and form 1 ? ; every compound of these two elements 
requires an agent for effecting their combination. 
Besides, it is evident that a body is divisible and has 
dimensions ; a body is thus undoubtedly subject to 
accidents. Consequently nothing corporeal can be a 
unity, either because everything corporeal is divisible 
or because it is a compound ; that is to say, it can 
logically be analysed into two elements ; because a 
body can only be said to be a certain body when the 
distinguishing element is added to the corporeal sub- 
stratum, and must therefore include two elements ; 
but it has been proved that the Absolute admits of 
no dualism whatever " (Guide II, i). 

7. God is timeless and spaceless. The fourth of the 
Principles of Faith is called by Maimonides " The 
Priority of God ", which he defines as follows : " This 
means that the Unity Whom we have described is 
first in the absolute sense. No existent thing outside 

98 



ATTRIBUTES OF GOD 

Him is primary in relation to Him" (CM., Introd. to 
IjiileK). Treating this idea from the philosophical 
standpoint, he insists that time has no meaning with 
reference to God. 

" When we say God is the First, to express that He 
has not been created, the term ' First ' is decidedly 
inaccurate, for it can in its true sense only be applied 
to a being that is subject to the relation of time ; the 
latter, however, is an accident to motion which again 
is connected with a body. Besides the attribute 
' first ' is a relative term, being in regard to time the 
same as the terms ' long ' and ' short ' are in regard to 
a line. Both expressions, ' first * and ' created ', are 
equally inadmissible in reference to any being to which 
the attribute of time is not applicable, just as we do 
not say ' crooked ' or ' straight ' in reference to taste, 
' salted ' or ' insipid ' in reference to the voice. 

" These subjects are not unknown to those who 
have accustomed themselves to seek a true under- 
standing of the things, and to establish their properties 
in accordance with the abstract notions which the mind 
has formed of them, and who are not misled by the 
inaccuracy of the words employed. All attributes, 
such as ' the first ', ' the last ', occurring in the 
Scriptures in reference to God, are as metaphorical as 
the expressions ' ear ' and ' eye '. They simply 
signify that God is not subject to any change or 
innovation whatever ; they do not imply that God 
can be described by time, or that there is any 
comparison between Him and any other being as 
regards time, and that He is called on that account 
' the first ' and ' the last ' " (Guide I, 57). 

" It is quite dear that there is no relation between 
God and time or space. For time is an accident 
connected with motion, in so far as the latter includes 

99 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

the relation of anteriority and posteriority, and is 
expressed by number, l8 as is explained in books devoted 
to this subject ; and since motion is one of the 
conditions to which only material bodies are subject, 
and God is immaterial, there can be no relation between 
Him and time. Similarly there is no relation between 
Him and space "*9 (Guide I, 52). 

8. God and the impossible. Although Maimonides 
firmly held the doctrine of divine omnipotence, he yet 
maintains that there are things impossible for God 
to do. 

" That which is impossible has a permanent and 
constant property which is not the result of some 
agent and cannot in any way change, and consequently 
we do not ascribe to God the power of doing what is 
impossible. No thinking man denies the truth of this 
maxim ; none ignore it but such as have no idea of 
Logic. There is, however, a difference of opinion 
among philosophers with reference to the existence of 
any particular thing. Some of them consider its 
existence to be impossible and hold that God cannot 
produce the thing in question, whilst others think that 
it is possible, and that God can create it if He pleases 
to do so. E.g., all philosophers consider that it is 
impossible for one substratum to have at the same 
moment two opposite properties, or for the elementary 
components of a thing, substance and accident, to 
interchange, so that the substance becomes accident 
and the accident becomes substance, or for a material 
substance to be without accident. Likewise it is 
impossible that God should produce a being like 
Himself, or annihilate, corporify or change Himself. 
The power of God is not assumed to extend to any of 

these impossibilities 

100 



ATTRIBUTES OF GOD 

" There are things which are impossible, whose 
existence cannot be admitted, and whose creation is 
excluded from the power of God ; and the assumption 
that God does not change their nature does not imply 
weakness in God or a limit to His power. Conse- 
quently things impossible remain impossible, and do 
not depend on the action of an agent " (Guide III, 15). 

We may here insert Maimonides' explanation of 
miracles. It is based on a Rabbinic theory. The 
difficulty they raise is that a change in the laws of 
Nature seems to imply a change in the will of God and 
would be an imputation against His perfect knowledge. 
If He foresaw the special circumstances which required 
the performance of the miracle, why did He not provide 
in advance means for meeting that contingency ? The 
reply which Maimonides makes is that God did make 
that provision. The miracle was ordained at the time 
of Creation and thus comes within the laws of Nature. 

" Our Sages said very strange things as regards 
miracles they are found in Bereshit Rabba and in 
Midrash Kohelet viz., that the miracles are to some 
extent also natural ; for they say, when God created 
the Universe with its present physical properties, He 
made it part of these properties that they should 
produce certain miracles at certain times, and the sign 
of a Prophet consisted in the fact that God told him to 
declare when a certain thing will take place, but the 
thing itself was effected according to the fixed laws 
of Nature. If this is really the meaning of the passage 
referred to, it testifies to the greatness of the author, 
and sho\vs that he held it to be impossible that there 
should be a change in the laws of Nature or a change 
in the will of God as regards the physical properties 
of things after they have once been established " 
(Guide II, 29), 

101 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

9. God's Knowledge. Maimonides' view on this 
attribute is that it is incomprehensible to the human 
mind, because " knowledge " as ascribed to God has 
no similarity with the knowledge possessed by man. 
God's knowledge is identical with His essence. " He 
is His knowledge, and His Knowledge is He ", is his 
final conclusion (C.M., Eight Chapters VIII). 

"The Holy One, blessed be He, perceives His 
essence and knows it just as it is. But He does 
not know with a knowledge which is distinct from 
Himself in the manner that we know. We and our 
knowledge are not one ; but with the Creator, blessed 
be He, He, His knowledge and His life are one from 
every point of view and in every mode of Unity. If 
He were a living being with life, and cognisant with a 
knowledge, distinct from Himself, there would be 
several deities, viz., He, His life and His knowledge.* 1 
This, however, is not so ; but He is one from every 
point of view and in every mode of Unity. 

" Hence you may say that He is the knower, the 
known and knowledge itself all in one. Such an idea 
as this the mouth has not the power of expressing, 
nor the ear of grasping, nor the human mind of 
perfectly comprehending. ... He does not 
perceive creatures and know them by means of the 
creatures, as we know them ; but He knows them by 
means of Himself, so that from that fact that He knows 
Himself, He knows everything, because everything is 
dependent for its existence upon Him " (Yad, Yesode 
ha-Torah II, 10). 

The statement that God is " the knower, the known 
and knowledge itself all in one " is demonstrated in the 
Guide : 

" There is no doubt that he who has not studied 
any works on mental philosophy, who has not 

102 



ATTRIBUTES OF GOD 

comprehended the nature of the mind, who has no know- 
ledge of its essence, and considers it in no other way 
than he would consider the nature of whiteness and of 
blackness, will find this subject extremely difficult, and 
to him our principle that the intellectus, the intelligent 
and the intelligibile^ are in God one and the same 
thing, will appear as unintelligible as if we said that 
the whiteness, the whitening substance and the material 
which is whitened are one and the same thing. And, 
indeed, many ignorant people refute at once our 
principle by using such comparisons. Even amongst 
those who imagine that they are wise, many find this 
subject difficult and are of opinion that it is impossible 
for the mind to grasp the truth of this proposition, 
although it is a demonstrated truth, as has been shown 
by Metaphysicians. . . . 

" All intellect is identical with its actions ; the 
ihtellect in action is not a thing different from its 
action, for the true nature and essence of the intellect 
is comprehension, and you must not think that the 
intellect in action is a thing existing by itself, separate 
from comprehension, and that comprehension is a 
different thing connected with it ; for the essence of the 
intellect is comprehension. In assuming an intellect 
in action you assume the comprehension of the thing 
comprehended. . . . 

" Now it has been proved that God is an intellect 
which always is in action and that there is in Him at 
no time a mere potentiality, that He does comprehend 
at one time and is without comprehension at another 
time, but He comprehends constantly ; consequently 
He and the things comprehended are one and the same 
thing, that is to say, His essence^ ; and the act of 
comprehending because of which it is said that He 
comprehends, is the intellect itself, which is likewise 

103 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

His essence ; God is therefore always the intettectus, 
the intelligent and the intelligibile. 

" We have thus shown that the identity of the 
intellect, the intelligent and the intelligibile, is not only 
a fact as regards the Creator, but as regards all 
intellect when in action. a 5 There is, however, this 
difference, that from time to time our intellect passes 
over from mere potentiality to reality, and that the 
pure intellect, i.e., the active intellect, finds some- 
times obstacles, though not in itself but accidentally 
in some external cause. . . . God alone, and 
none besides Him, is an intellect constantly in action, 
and there is, neither in Himself nor in anything beside 
Him, any obstacle whereby His comprehension would 
be hindered. Therefore He always includes the 
intelligent, the intellectus and the intelligibile, and His 
essence is at the same time the intelligent, the 
intelligibile and the intellectus, as is necessarily the case 
with all intellect in action " (Guide I, 68). 

If it be true that God's knowledge is identical with 
His essence, it must be absolute. It cannot change 
and it cannot increase ; it remains constant. 

" It is generally agreed upon that God cannot at a 
certain time acquire knowledge which He did not 
possess previously ; it is further impossible that His 
knowledge should include any plurality, even according 
to those who admit the Divine attributes. As these 
things have been fully proved, we, who assert the 
teaching of the Torah, believe that God's knowledge 
of many things does not imply any plurality ; His 
knowledge does not change like ours when the objects 
of His knowledge change. 

" Similarly we say that the various events are 
known to Him before they take place ; He constantly 
knows them, and therefore no fresh knowledge is 

104 



ATTRIBUTES OF GOD 

acquired by Him. E.g., He knows that a certain 
person is non-existent at present, will come to existence 
at a certain time, will continue to exist for some time 
and will then cease to exist. When this person, in 
accordance with God's foreknowledge concerning him, 
comes into existence, God's knowledge is not increased ; 
it contains nothing that it did not contain before, but 
something has taken place that was known previously 
exactly as it has taken place. This theory implies 
that God's knowledge extends to things not in 
existence and includes also the infinite. We never- 
theless accept it, and contend that we may attribute 
to God the knowledge of a thing which does not yet 
exist, but the existence of which God foresees and is 
able to effect. But that which never exists cannot be 
an object of His knowledge ; just as our knowledge 
does not comprise things which we consider as 
non-existing " (Guide III, 20). 

" Our knowledge is acquired and increased in 
proportion to the things known by us. This is not the 
case with God. His knowledge of things is not derived 
from the things themselves ; if this were the case, 
there would be change and plurality in His knowledge ; 
on the contrary, the things are in accordance with His 
eternal knowledge, which has established their actual 
properties and made part of them purely spiritual, 
another part material and constant as regards its 
individual members, a third part material and change- 
able as regards the individual beings according to 
eternal and constant laws. Plurality, acquisition and 
change in His knowledge is therefore impossible. He 
fully knows His unchangeable essence, and has thus a 
knowledge of all that results from any of His acts. 

" It we were to try to understand in what manner 
this is done, it would be the same as if we tried to be 

105 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

the same as God and to make our knowledge identical 
with His knowledge.* 6 Those who seek the truth and 
admit what is true must believe that nothing is hidden 
from God ; that everything is revealed to His knowledge 
which is identical with His essence ; that this kind of 
knowledge cannot be comprehended by us ; for if we 
knew its method, we would possess that intellect by 
which such knowledge could be acquired. Such 
intellect does not exist except in God, and is at the 
same time His essence " (Guide III, 21). 

The problem of God's knowledge and man's free 
will is discussed in Chapter VIII, 6. 



106 



CHAPTER IV 
THE WORSHIP OF GOD 

i. God alone to be worshipped. The fifth Principle of 
Faith declares : 

" That it is He (be He exalted !) Who must be 
worshipped, aggrandised, and made known by His 
greatness and the obedience shown to Him. This 
must not be done to any existing beings lower than 
He not to the Angels nor the Spheres nor the 
elements, or the things which are compounded from 
them. For these are all fashioned in accordance with 
the works they are intended to perform. They have 
no judgment or free will, but only a love for Him 
(be He exalted !). Let us adopt no mediators to 
enable ourselves to draw near unto God, but let the 
thoughts be directed to Him, and turned away from 
whatsoever is below Him. This fifth principle is a 
prohibition of idolatry. The greater part of the Torah 
is taken up with the prohibition of idol-worship" 
(C.M., Introd. to ffelek). 

2. Prayer. Since God is worshipped mainly through 
prayer, we first give Maimonides' teachings on this 
subject. 

" We are told to offer up prayers to God, in order 
to establish firmly the true principle that God takes 
notice of our ways, that He can make them successful 
if we worship Him or disastrous if we disobey Him, 
that success and failure are not the result of chance 

107 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

or accident. . . . For the belief of the people 
that their troubles are mere accidents 1 causes them to 
continue in their evil principles and their wrong actions, 
and prevents them from abandoning their evil ways. 
. . . For this reason God commanded us to pray 
to Him, to entreat Him, and to cry before Him in time 
of trouble " (Guide III, 36). 

This is the lowest form of prayer, viz., petition ; 
the higher form, viz., communion, is indicated in the 
following passage : 

" We must bear in mind that all such religious acts 
as reading the Torah, praying, and the performance of 
other precepts, serve exclusively as the means of 
causing us to occupy and fill our mind with the precepts 
of God and free it from worldly business ; for we are 
thus, as it were, in communication with God and 
undisturbed by any other thing. If we, however, 
pray with the motion of our lips and our face toward 
the wall,* but at the same time think of our business ; 
if we read the Torah with our tongue whilst our heart 
is occupied with the building of our house, and we do 
not think of what we are reading ; if we perform the 
commandments only with our limbs, we are like those 
who are engaged in digging in the ground or hewing 
wood in the forest, without reflecting on the nature of 
those acts, or by Whom they are commanded, or what 
is their object. We must not imagine that in this way 
we attain the highest perfection ; on the contrary, we 
are then like those in reference to whom Scripture 
says, * Thou art near in their mouth, and far from their 
reins ' (Jer. xii. 2). . . . 

" Turn your thoughts away from everything while 
you read the Shema' or during the Tefillahj and do not 
content yourself with being devout when you read the 
first verse of the Shema' or the first paragraph of the 

108 



THE WORSHIP OF GOD 

TefillahA When you have successfully practised this 
for many years, try in reading the Torah or listening 
to it, 5 to have all your heart and all your thought 
occupied with understanding what you read or hear. 
After some time when you have mastered this, accustom 
yourself to have your mind free from all other thoughts 
when you read any portion of the other books of the 
Prophets, or when you say any blessing, and to have 
your attention directed exclusively to the perception 
and the understanding of what you utter. When you 
have succeeded in properly performing these acts of 
divine service, and you have your thought, during their 
performance, entirely abstracted from worldly affairs, 
take then care that your thought be not disturbed by 
thinking of your wants or of superfluous things. In 
short, think of worldly matters when you eat, drink, 
bathe, talk with your wife and little children, or when 
you converse with other people. These times, which 
are frequent and long, I think, must suffice to you for 
reflecting on everything that is necessary as regards 
business, household and health. But when you are 
engaged in the performance of religious duties, have 
your mind exclusively directed to what you are 
doing. 

" When you are alone by yourself, when you are 
awake on your couch, be careful to meditate in such 
precious moments on nothing but the intellectual 
worship of God, viz., to approach Him and to minister 
before Him in the true manner which I have described 
to you not in hollow emotions. This I consider as 
the highest perfection wise men can attain by the above 
training " (Guide III, 51). 

In a remarkable passage in his Pirke ha-Hatslalfrah, 
" Chapters of Bliss ", 6 Maimonides describes the effects 
of ecstatic prayer. 

IOQ 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

praises, glorifies, and yearns with an ardent longing to 
know the great God. As David said, ' My soul thirsteth 
for God, for the living God ' (Ps. xlii. 3). And when 
one reflects upon these very things, he immediately 
starts back, is struck with fear and terror, and is 
conscious that he is a creature insignificant, lowly and 
immature, standing with only a slight and scanty 
knowledge ; as David said, ' When I consider Thy 
heavens, the work of Thy fingers . . . what is 
man that Thou art mindful of him ? ' (Ps. viii. 4f) " 
(Yad, Yesode ha-Torah II, if). 

" He commanded us to love Him (exalted be He), 
in that we should reflect and meditate upon His 
ordinances, decrees and deeds until we comprehend 
Him and delight with extreme pleasure in the compre- 
hension of Him. That is the love prescribed for us. 
. . . The Rabbis declared that this commandment 
also includes the idea that we should invite all mankind 
to His worship and to belief in Him. 8 Exactly as, 
when you love a person, you proclaim his praises and 
eulogise him and invite other people to be friendly 
with him, soby way of simile- when you love God 
truly in accordance with the comprehension of His 
essence which has been attained by you, you will 
undoubtedly invite the careless and ignorant to know 
the truth which you know. . . . 

" He commanded us to believe firmly in the fear 
of Him (exalted be He), and the dread of Him, and 
not be like those confident people who rest in security. 
On the contrary, we should stand in awe of the 
imposition of His punishment at all times " (Mitswot, 
Command. Hlf). 

Although both these emotions are aroused in man, 
the feeling of love should predominate as the motive 
for the worship of God. 

112 



THE WORSHIP OF GOD 

" Let not a man say, I will fulfil the commandments 
of the Torah, occupy myself with its wisdom, for the 
purpose of obtaining all the blessings which are written 
therein, or for the purpose of meriting the life of the 
world to come ; and I will refrain from the trans- 
gressions against which the Torah utters a warning 
for the purpose of escaping the curses which are written 
therein, or for the purpose of not being cut off from the 
life of the world to come. It is not becoming to serve 
God in this manner ; for He who serves God thus 
performs the service from fear, which is" not the 
standard of the Prophets or the wise. Indeed, none 
serve the Lord in this manner except ignorant men, 
or women and children who are taught to serve Him 
from fear, until their mind is developed and they 
serve Him from love. 

" He who serves God from love occupies himself 
with the Torah and the commandments and walks in 
the paths of wisdom, not for the sake of any worldly 
advantage, nor from fear of calamity, nor for the 
purpose of acquiring good fortune ; but he practises 
truth because it is truth, and the good which is its 
consequence follows in due course. This standard is 
exceedingly lofty and not every wise man can attain 
it. This is the standard which the patriarch Abraham 
reached, whom the Holy One, blessed be He, called 
His ' friend ' (Isa. xli. 8), because he had served Him 
only from love. This is the standard which the Holy 
One, blessed be He, ordained for us through Moses ; 
as it is said, ' And thou shalt love the Lord thy God '. 
For when a man loves the Lord with that love which 
is due to Him, he will as a matter of course fulfil all 
the commandments from love. 

" What is the love which is due to Him ? It is 
that one shall love the Lord with a love so great and 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

ardent until his soul is bound up in the love of the 
Lord, and consequently he ever grows in it. He is 
like a love-sick man whose mind is never free from his 
love for a certain woman and grows in it whether 
sitting or rising, both when eating and drinking 
greater even than this must be the love of God in the 
heart of His lovers who continually grow more fervent, 
as He commanded us, ' with all thy heart and with all 
thy soul '. That is what Solomon intended when he 
said metaphorically, ' For I am lovesick ' (Cant. ii. 5). 
The whole of the Song of Songs is an allegory on this 
theme " (Yad, Teshubah X, 1-3). 

4. Different degrees in worship of God. Since the 
worship of God depends upon the " knowledge " of 
God and men inevitably differ in their capacity for 
attaining this knowledge, it must follow that there 
are different degrees in the worship of Him. Maimon- 
ides explains this by means of a parable : 

" A king is in his palace, and all his subjects are 
partly in the country and partly abroad. Of the 
former, some have their backs turned towards the 
king's palace and their faces in another direction ; and 
some are desirous and zealous to go to the palace, 
seeking ' to inquire in his temple ' and to minister 
before him, but have not yet seen even the face of the 
wall of the house. Of those that desire to go to the 
palace, some reach it and go round about in search of 
the entrance gate ; others have passed through the 
gate and walk about in the ante-chamber ; and others 
have succeeded in entering into the inner part of the 
palace and being in the same room with the king in 
the royal palace. But even the latter do not 
immediately on entering the palace see the king or 
speak to him ; for, after having entered the inner part 

114 



THE WORSHIP OF GOD 

of the palace, another effort is required before they can 
stand before the king at a distance or close by hear 
his words, or speak to him. 

" I will now explain the simile which I have made. 
The people who are abroad are all those that have no 
religion, neither one based on speculation nor one 
received by tradition. Such are the extreme Turks 
that wander about in the North,9 the Kushites 10 who 
live in the South, and those in our country who are 
like these. I consider these as irrational beings and 
not as human beings ; they are below mankind but 
above monkeys, since they have the form and shape 
of man and a mental faculty above that of the monkey. 

" Those who are in the country, but have their 
backs turned towards the king's palace, are those who 
possess religion, belief and thought, but happen to 
hold false doctrines, which they either adopted in 
consequence of great mistakes made in their own 
speculations or received from others who misled them. 
Because of these doctrines they recede more and more 
from the royal palace the more they seem to proceed. 
These are worse than the first class, and under certain 
circumstances it may become necessary to slay them 
and to extirpate their doctrines, in order that others 
should not be misled. 11 

" Those who desire to arrive at the palace and to 
enter it, but have never yet seen it, are the mass of 
religious people; the multitude that observe the 
divine commandments but are ignorant. Those who 
arrive at the palace but go round about it are those 
who devote themselves exclusively to the study of the 
practical law; they believe traditionally in true 
principles of faith and learn the practical worship of 
God, but are not trained in philosophical treatment 
of the principles of the Torah, and do not endeavour to 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

establish the truth of their faith by proof. Those who 
undertake to investigate the principles of religion 
have come into the ante-chamber ; and there is no 
doubt that these can also be divided into different 
grades. But those who have succeeded in finding a 
proof for everything that can be proved, who have a 
true knowledge of God so far as a true knowledge can 
be attained, and are near the truth wherever an 
approach to the truth is possible, they have reached 
the goal and are in the palace in which the king lives " 
(Guide III, 51) 

Like Hillel who affirmed that " the ignorant man 
cannot be pious "," Maimonides despised those men 
whose religion consisted in a blind, unquestioning 
performance of ritual without any rational basis to 
support it. In his Ethical Will which he addressed 
to his son, he warns him against intercourse with the 
Jfcws of certain districts, " because they are greater 
fools, in my estimation, than all other men, although 
they are extremely orthodox ; but God being my 
witness, I regard them as no better than the Karaites^ 
who deny the Oral Law, since all their occupation with 
the Torah, Scriptures and Talmud is brainless " 
(Responsa II, 4ob). 

5. Judaism and other Religions. Maimonides 
naturally believed that of all religions Judaism was 
the only Faith revealed by God, and it alone was in 
every respect true. He declared : 

" The desire of the other religions is to make their 
falsehoods resemble the Faith instituted by God ; but 
the divine work cannot be like the handiwork of man 
except to a child who has no knowledge of either. 
The difference between our religion and the other 
religions, to which it is sought to liken them, is none 

116 



THE WORSHIP OF GOD 

other than like the difference between the living, 
sentient man and the image carved by the workman 
from wood, or moulded from such metals as silver or 
gold, or sculptured from a block of marble or other 
stone and shaped into human form. The fool who 
knows neither the divine wisdom nor human work, on 
beholding that image resembling a man in all his visible 
exterior and like to him in build and appearance, 
thinks that it was made in exactly the same way as 
the human being is made, since he is ignorant of the 
internality of both ; but the- wise man, who possesses 
that knowledge, is aware that inside the image there is 
no functioning organ " (Iggeret Teman, Response* II, sa). 

For all his exclusive attachment to Judaism, 
Maimonides adopted a remarkably tolerant attitude 
towards other religions. Although he, of course, 
regarded Jesus and Mohammed as false prophets, 
mainly on the ground that their teachings often 
militated against the unchangeable ordinances of the 
Torah, he yet refers to their activities as being, under 
God's wisdom, " nothing else than a means for 
preparing the way for the king Messiah " (Yad, 
Melachim XI, 4). J 4 In other words, the two daughter- 
religions, were the means of spreading the knowledge 
of Israel's God and thereby hastened the advent of 
His Kingdom. 

In answer to a correspondent he wrote : " It is 
permissible to teach Christians the commandments 
and the doctrine of reward and punishment, for a 
considerable number of them may recant. They 
acknowledge that our Torah was given to us from 
heaven by our teacher Moses (peace be upon him !), 
and it is regarded in its entirety by them as Holy Writ, 
although they at times interpret it wrongly " (Responsa 
I, i4b). 

117 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

Of the Mohammedans he wrote : " They are in no 
way idolaters, and idol-worship has long passed from 
their mouth and heart. They ascribe Unity to God as 
is proper, a Unity without defect. . . . And if 
anyone should say that the temple which they praise 
is a house of idolatry and idol-worship^ is stored 
there which their fathers used to worship ; what if 
they do prostrate themselves before it to-day, so long 
as their heart is directed to heaven ! " (Responsa 

I, 34d.) 

Towards the sect of Karaites, who practised the 
ordinances of the Pentateuch but refused to acknow- 
ledge the authority of the Oral Law as expounded by 
the Rabbis, he likewise assumed a liberal attitude. 
Although most of his contemporaries regarded them 
with bitter hostility, he declared : " These Karaites, 
who reside here in No-Ammon, Egypt, Damascus, 
and other places of Arabia and elsewhere, deserve 
to be treated with respect, and we should associate 
with them and conduct ourselves towards them with 
humility, truth and peace, so long as they, on their 
side, conduct themselves towards us properly, cease to 
slander the Rabbis of our time, and especially with- 
hold their gibes at the words of the sainted Rabbis of 
the Mishnah and Talmud, in whose teachings and 
customs, established for us by their command and by 
the command of Moses, derived from God, we walk. 
On those conditions, it is proper for us to respect 
them, inquire after their welfare even in their own 
homes, circumcise their children even on the Sabbath, ^ 
bury their dead and mourn with them in their bereave- 
ments " (Responsa I, 350). 

In reply to a proselyte who inquired whether, when 
reciting the Hebrew liturgy in private or with the 
Congregation, it was right for him to utter such phrases 

118 



THE WORSHIP OF GOD 

as " Our God and God of our fathers 'V? " Who hast 
sanctified us with Thy commandments and com- 
manded us ", " Who brought us out of the land of 
Egypt ", etc., he wrote : 

11 It is your duty to say them all as prescribed and 
do not change a single word. Exactly as the man 
born an Israelite prays, so do you likewise whether you 
pray in private or whether you conduct a service in 
public. The root of the matter is that our father 
Abraham it was who taught all peoples and informed 
them of the true religion and the Unity of God, spurned 
idolatry and overthrew its worship, brought many 
children beneath the wings of the Shechinah and 
instructed them, and exhorted his sons and the members 
of his household to observe the way of the Lord. 
Therefore every one who becomes a convert until the 
end of all generations, and every one who acknowledges 
the Unity of God as it is written in the Torah, is a 
disciple of our father Abraham and a member of his 
household. . . . Consequently Abraham is the 
father of his seed, the pure ones who walk in his ways, 
and the father of his disciples, viz., proselytes. For 
that reason you have the right to say, ' Our God and 
God of our fathers ', because the patriarch Abraham is 
your father. . . . Let not your descent be 
lightly esteemed in your eyes. If we trace our 
genealogical tree to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, you 
may trace yours to the Creator of the Universe " 
(Responsa I, 34a, b). 18 

In agreement with Rabbinical teaching he main- 
tained : " You must know that the Merciful One 
demands the heart, *9 and the criterion is the intention 
of the heart. Therefore the teachers of truth, our 
Rabbis, declared, ' The pious of the gentiles have a 
portion in the world to come ', ao if they have attained 

119 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

what is due from them to attain relative to a knowledge 
of the Creator, and corrected their soul with the 
virtues. And there is no doubt about the matter 
that whoever corrects his soul with purity of morals 
and purity of knowledge in the faith of the Creator will 
assuredly be of the children of the world to come. On 
that account our Rabbis stated, ' Even the gentile 
who occupies himself with the Torah of Moses is equal 
to the High Priest ' " (Responsa II, 2^d et set].). 

6. Idolatry. The point which is most strongly 
emphasised in the fifth Principle of Faith is that there 
must be no intermediary between God and man. To 
interpose any obj ect of worship is idolatry. Maimonides 
very acutely points out that the idol-worshipper does 
not necessarily believe that the image of wood and 
stone is actually a deity with power to respond to 
prayer, but the image is the intermediary whose task 
it is to act on behalf of the Creator. This is an 
interpretation confirmed by modern anthropological 
science. 

" You must know that idolaters when worshipping 
idols do not believe that there is no God besides them ; 
and no idolater ever did assume that any image made 
of metal, stone or wood has created the heavens and 
the earth, and still governs them. Idolatry is founded 
on the idea that a particular form represents the agent 
between God and His creatures " (Guide I, 36). 

Maimonides attempts to trace how idolatry came 
into the world and corrupted the religious faith of 
mankind. 

" In the days of Enosh,** the sons of men made a 
grievous error. Even the counsel of the wise men of 
that generation was perverted, and Enosh himself 
was also one of those who erred. Their error was this : 

120 



THE WORSHIP OF GOD 

They said, Since God created these planets and 
Spheres to control the Universe, set them in the heights 
and invested them with glory, and they are servants 
which minister before Him, they must be worthy of 
being praised and glorified, and having homage paid 
to them. This must be the will of God, blessed be 
He, that we should exalt and glorify whatever He has 
exalted and made glorious ; just as a king desires that 
those who attend on him should be honoured since 
that is honour paid to the king himself. 

" When this idea entered their mind, they began to 
build temples to the planets, offer sacrifices to them, 
praise them, glorify them with words, and bow down 
to them, for the purpose according to their evil 
thought of obtaining the favour of the Creator. 
This was the fundamental principle of idolatry, and so 
the worshippers who understood its principle used to 
declare. They did not assert that there was no God 
except that planet. . . . 

" Later, as time passed, false prophets arose among 
the sons of men, who said that God had commanded 
them saying, Worship such and such a planet, or all 
the planets ; offer sacrifices and drink-offerings to it in 
such and such a manner, build a temple for it, and 
make an image of it ; so that all the people, women 
and children and all the other inhabitants of the earth 
may bow down to it. 

" The -false prophet displayed to them an image 
which he had invented in his own heart, saying to 
them that this was the image of such and such a 
planet, which had been revealed to him in his prophecy. 
In this manner they began to make images in temples, 
under trees, on the tops of mountains and on hills, to 
assemble together and bow down to them, declaring 
to all the people that this image had the power of 

121 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

doing good and harm, and it was proper to worship 
and fear it. 

" Their priests used to say to them, By this service 
you will multiply and prosper ; do such and such and 
avoid doing such and such* Then other deceivers 
began to arise and declare that the planet itself, or 
some Sphere or Angel, spoke to them, saying, Worship 
me in such and such a manner describing the mode 
of its worship do so and so, avoid doing so and so. 
This thing spread throughout the world, viz., the 
worship of images with rites differing one from the 
other, the offering of sacrifices and prostrating oneself. 
After a time, the glorious and revered Name was 
forgotten from the mouth and mind of all mortals 
and they knew Him not. As the result of this, all the 
people of the earth, the women and children, knew 
only the image of wood and stone, and the temple 
built of stone, to which they were trained from their 
infancy to bow down and worship and swear by its 
name. 

" Even the wise men among them, e.g., their priests, 
imagined that there was no other God except the 
planets and Spheres, for whose sake and in whose 
likeness those images had been made. But as for the 
Rock of the Universe, there was no man who perceived 
or knew Him, apart from a few individuals in the 
world, as, e.g., Enoch, Methuselah, Noah, Shem, and 
Eber. In this manner the world went on revolving 
until the pillar of the world was born, viz., Abraham 
our father " (Yad, Akum I, if). 

7. Superstition a form of idolatry. Consistent with 
the teaching that the destinies of man are decreed by 
God alone, Maimonides denied the existence of influ- 
ences other than those controlled by the Creator 

122 



THE WORSHIP OF GOD 

which can affect the life of the human being. This 
denial cuts at the root of superstition, against which 
he has strong things to say in his writings. Despite 
the fact that even in the literature of the Rabbis 
frequent reference is made to " evil spirits ", he refuses 
to regard them as real entities. Thus the phrase ruafy 
ra'ah is explained by him to mean in one place 
" melancholia " (C.M., Shabbat, II, 5), and in another 
" Any injury which befalls a man not through the 
action of his fellow, whatever the cause be " (C.M., 
Erubin IV, i). 

Although, according to his theory, the Spheres are 
a channel through which the will of the Creator passes 
to earth, he sternly denounces astrology as a delusion 
and a falsehood.*** He considers it as coming within 
the category of idolatry. 

" Witchcraft is intimately connected with astrology; 
those that practise it assign each plant, animal or 
mineral to a certain star, and believe that the above 
processes of witchcraf t*3 are different forms of worship 
offered to that star, which is pleased with that act, 
word, or offering of incense, and fulfils their wishes " 
(Guide III, 37). 

" Thou mayest not believe the absurd ideas of 
astrologers, who falsely assert that the constellation 
at the time of one's birth determines whether one is 
to be virtuous or vicious, the individual being thus 
necessarily compelled to follow out a certain line of 
conduct " (C.M., Eight Chapters VIII). 

" I know that nearly all men are led greatly astray 
in matters of this kind and think there is some reality 
in them ; but it is not so. There are even good and 
pious men of our own Faith who think there is reality 
in these practices, but they are only, forbidden by the 
Torah. They do not understand that these things are 

123 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

hollow frauds, and we are commanded by the Torah 
not to practise them in the same way as it warns us 
against falsehood " (C.M., Abod. Zar. IV, 7). 

" Remove this belief in astrology from your heart, 
cleanse your mind of it, and wash your intellect as 
people remove filth from soiled garments by washing ; 
because there is nothing real in all these things. No 
sound scholars, even those who do not believe the 
Torah, hold them as true ; how much less, then, those 
who accept the Torah " (Iggeret Teman, Responsa 
II, 5b). 

" Know, my masters, that the whole subject of 
astrology, whereby people say so and so will happen 
or not happen, and the constellation at a man's birth 
determines that he should be such and such, and this 
will befall him and not that all these things are not 
science at all but folly ; and I have irrefutable proofs 
with which to destroy their very foundations. Never 
has one of the philosophers of Greece, who were true 
philosophers, occupied himself with this subject or 
written about it in his books. None made the mistake 
of calling it a science with the exception of the Chaldeans, 
Egyptians and Canaanites, to whom it was a religion in 
those days ; but the wise men of Greece, and they were 
philosophers, who composed books on the sciences and 
studied all wisdom, endeavoured with convincing 
proofs to destroy all their theories, root and branch. 
Also the wise men of Persia believed that the astrology 
of the Chaldeans, Egyptians and Canaanites was 
false. . . . Nobody adheres to it except a 
simpleton who believes anything or the person who 
wishes to deceive others " (Responsa II, 25b). 

As with astrology, so with enchantment and omens. 
They are not only forbidden by the Torah, but they 
are meaningless and senseless. 

124 



THE WORSHIP OF GOD 

" We may not practise divination as do the 
heathens ; as it is said, ' Ye shall not practise 
divination' (Lev. xix. 26). What is divination? As, 
e.g., when a person says, Because a piece of my bread 
dropped from my mouth, or my stick dropped from 
my hand, I will not go to-day to a certain place, for 
if I were to go, my business would not be transacted ; 
or, because a fox crossed on my right side, I shall not 
go outside the door of my house to-day, for if I were 
to go out a deceiver will meet me. Similarly those 
who listen to the chirping of birds and say that so and 
so will happen or not happen, such and such is 
advisable to do and something else is not ; or others 
who say, Kill this cock which crowed like a raven, or 
kill this hen which crowed like a cock. So also the 
man who makes omens for himself, saying, If such and 
such a thing happen to me, I will do a certain thing, 
and if it should not happen to me, I will not do it like 
Eleazar, the servant of Abraham (Gen. xxiv.). All 
divinations such as these are prohibited. . . . 

" All these practices are falsehood and deception, 
with which idolaters of old used to mislead the ignorant 
masses to be guided by them. It is unfit for Israelites, 
who are of a higher mental calibre, to be led away by 
these vanities, or bring it upon their minds that there 
is the slightest use in them. Whoever believe in such 
like things and imagine in their heart that they are 
truth and wisdom, but only forbidden by the Torah, 
are nothing but fools and weak-minded, or are of the 
class of women and children whose intellect is imperfect. 
But men of wisdom and enlightened minds know with 
irrefutable evidence that all these things, prohibited 
by the Torah, are not matters of wisdom, but inanities 
by which the weak-minded are led astray, and for the 
sake of which they abandon all ways of truth. . . . 

125 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

Therefore the Torah, in warning us against all these 
vanities, declares, ' Thou shalt be whole-hearted with 
the Lord thy God ' (Deut. xviii. 13) " (Yad, Akum 
XI, 4, 16). 

" He prohibited us against divination, i.e., that 
one should agitate the faculty of conjecture by a mode 
of excitation ; because all who possess such a faculty are 
they who announce what will take place before it 
happens. This is in fact true of them when their faculty 
of conjecture is strong, and in most cases it does hit 
upon the truth and what is correct.^ In this manner 
they perceive what is yet to be ; and they strive for 
superiority in this just as all individual persons strive 
for superiority, one against the other, in the various 
other faculties of the soul. And it is inevitable that 
these possessors of the faculty of conjecture, by the 
procedure which they adopt,*5 agitate their faculty 
an4 display its functioning. 

" Some of them strike violent blows with a rod 
upon the ground, give vent to extraordinary cries, 
make their mind void of thought, and remain silent 
with downcast eyes for a long time until a kind 
of epileptic condition overtakes them ; then they 
announce what will take place. I actually witnessed 
this on one occasion in the extreme part of North 
Africa. Others throw small stones into a leather 
tablecloth and stare at them a long while ; then they 
make an announcement. This was a well-known 
practice in every place I passed through. Others, 
again, throw a long leather strap to the ground, gaze 
at it, and make an announcement. The purpose of 
all this was to agitate the faculty which is in them, 
not that the act itself accomplishes anything or gives 
any indication. 

" On this point the masses are in error, because, 
126 



THE .WORSHIP OF GOD 

when some of these announcements are verified with 
them, they think that it is these acts which give the 
indication as to what will happen. They are then 
induced to proceed still further in their error until 
they imagine that some of these acts are the cause of 
the event happening ; just as the astrologers affirm 
that the decrees of the stars are in the same category, 
meaning, they are a kind of faculty-excitation, and 
therefore individuals are not equal in the correctness 
of the announcements they make although they are 
equal in the science of the laws. 

" Whoever performs any of these acts or anything 
similar which falls in the same class is called a 
' diviner ' ; and He declared, ' There shall not be 
found among you one that useth divination " (Deut. 
xviii. 10). . . . 

" He prohibited us against the practice of astrology, 
i.e., that we should say, This day is lucky for such and 
such a task and we propose to do it ; or this day is 
unlucky to do such and such a task and we will defer 
it. This is what the Torah refers to in the statement, 
' There shall not be found among you a soothsayer ' 
(ibid.) " (Mitswot, Prohib. XXXLf). 

In similar manner he denounces charms and amulets, 
especially those in which the divine Name is used. 

" You must beware of sharing the error of those who 
write amulets. Whatever you hear from them or 
read in their works, especially in reference to the names 
which they form by combination, is utterly senseless ; 
they call these combinations shemot (' names ') and 
believe that their pronunciation demands sanctifica- 
tion and purification, and that by using them they are 
enabled to work miracles. Rational persons ought 
not to listen to such men, nor in any way believe their 
assertions" (Guide I, 61). 

127 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

" They who write inside the Mezuzah** the names 
of Angels or the names of saints, or a Scriptural verse, 
or sections of the liturgy, are in the class of those who 
have no share in the world to come. Not enough for 
these fools that they set at nought the divine com- 
mands, but they treat a great precept, viz., the 
proclamation of God's Unity and the duty to love and 
serve Him, as though it were an amulet for their own 
profit, thinking in their folly that this is a thing that 
will gain them advantage in the matter of the vain 
things of the world " (Yad, Tefillin V, 4). 

And, finally, all superstitious use of the text of the 
Bible is sternly decried. 

" Whoever whispers a charm over a wound by 
quoting a verse from Scripture, and likewise whoever 
reads a Scriptural verse over an infant that it be not 
terrified, or places a scroll of the Torah or phylacteries 
on a child so that it should sleep not only are such 
persons in the category of diviners and soothsayers, 
but they are also to be included in the class of those 
who deny the Torah ; because they use the words of 
Torah for the healing of the body, whereas they were 
only intended for the healing of souls " (Yad, Akum 
XI, 12). 



128 



CHAPTER V 
PROPHECY 

T. Prophecy a natural gift. Maimonides' teachings 
on Prophecy will probably come as a surprise to the 
reader who meets with them for the first time. They 
were not original with him, but had previously been 
advanced by Abraham ibn Daud. The first intention 
of Maimonides was to write a separate treatise on 
Prophecy. In his Introduction to Helek he mentions 
" the book on Prophecy which I have begun " (see 
also Eight Chapters I), but he abandoned the plan 
and incorporated his material in Part II of the Guide 
(Chaps. XXXII-XLVIII). 

In brief, Maimonides maintained that Prophecy 
was not in essence an endowment bestowed by God 
upon a few selected individuals, but a degree of mental 
and moral perfection to which all may aspire. Man 
by his own will and effort created the potential gift 
of Prophecy which God converted into an actuality. 
He embodies his opinions in his sixth Principle of 
Faith: 

" Prophecy. This implies that it should be known 
that among this human species there exist persons of 
very intellectual natures and possessing much per- 
fection. Their souls were pre-disposed for receiving 
the form of the intellect. Then this human intellect 
joins itself with the Active Intellect, and an exalted 
emanation is shed upon them. 1 These are the 

129 

9 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

Prophets. This is Prophecy and this is its meaning " 
(CM., Introd. to Helek). 

2. Three views of Prophecy. Maimonides enumerates 
three opinions on the subject. 

" (i) Among those who believe in Prophecy, and 
even among our co-religionists, there are some ignorant 
people who think as follows : God selects any person 
He pleases, inspires him with the spirit of Prophecy, 
and entrusts him with a mission. It makes no 
difference whether that person be wise or stupid, old 
or young ; provided he be, to some extent, morally 
good.* For these people have not yet gone so far as 
to maintain that God might also inspire a wicked 
person with His spirit. They admit that this is 
impossible, unless God has previously caused him to 
improve his ways. 

* " (ii) The philosophers3 hold that Prophecy is a 
certain faculty of man in a state of perfection, which 
can only be obtained by study. Although the faculty 
is common to the whole race, yet it is not fully 
developed in each individual, either on account of the 
individual's defective constitution, or on account of 
some other external cause. This is the case with every 
faculty common to a class. It is only brought to a 
state of perfection in some individuals, and not in all ; 
but it is impossible that it should not be perfect in 
some individual of the class4 ; and if the perfection is 
of such a nature that it can only be produced by an 
agent, such an agent must exist. Accordingly, it is 
impossible that an ignorant person should be a 
Prophet ; or that a person being no Prophet in the 
evening should, unexpectedly on the following morning, 
find himself a Prophet, as if Prophecy were a thing 
that could be found unintentionally. But if a person, 

130 



PROPHECY 

perfect in his intellectual and moral faculties, and 
also perfect, as far as possible, in his imaginative 
faculty, prepares himself in the manner which will 
be described, he must become a Prophet ; for Prophecy 
is a natural faculty of man. It is impossible that a 
man who has the capacity for Prophecy should prepare 
himself for it without attaining it, just as it is impossible 
that a person with a healthy constitution should be 
fed well and yet not properly assimilate his food. 

" fiii) The third view is that which is taught in 
Scripture, and which forms one of the principles of 
our religion. It coincides with the opinion of the 
philosophers in all points except one. For we believe 
that, even if one has the capacity for Prophecy and 
has duly prepared himself, it may yet happen that he 
does not actually prophesy. It i? in that case the will 
of God that withholds from him the use of the faculty. 
According to my opinion, this fact is as exceptional 
as any other miracle and acts in the same way. For 
the laws of Nature demand that everyone should be a 
Prophet who has a proper physical constitution, and 
has been duly prepared as regards education and 
training. . . . 

" There are, however, numerous passages in 
Scripture as well as in the writings of our Sages, which 
support the principle that it depends chiefly on the 
will of God who is to prophesy, and at what time, and 
that He only selects the best and the wisest. We hold 
that fools and ignorant people are unfit for this dis- 
tinction. It is as impossible for any one of these to 
prophesy as it is for an ass or a frog ; for Prophecy 
is impossible without study and trainings ; when these 
have created the possibility, then it depends on the 
will of God whether the possibility is to be turned 
into reality " (Guide II, 32). 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

3. The Psychology of Prophecy. The Greek philo- 
sophers classified the activities of the soul under five 
heads, one of them being imagination. 6 According 
to Maimonides, Prophecy receives its stimulus from 
the imaginative faculty. 

" Prophecy is, in truth and reality, an emanation 
sent forth by the Divine Being through the medium 
of the Active Intellect, in the first instance to man's 
rational faculty, and then to his imaginative faculty. 
It is the highest degree and greatest perfection man 
can attain ; it consists in the most perfect develop- 
ment of the imaginative faculty. Prophecy is a 
faculty that cannot in any way be found in a person, 
or acquired by man, through a ciilture of his mental 
and moral faculties ; for even if these latter were as 
good and perfect as possible, they would be of no avail, 
unless they were combined with the highest natural 
excellence of the imaginative faculty. 

" You know that the full development of any 
faculty of the body, such as the imagination, depends 
on the condition of the organ by means of which the 
faculty acts. This must be the best possible as regards 
its temperament and its size, and also as regards the 
purity of its substance. Any defect in this respect 
cannot in any way be supplied or remedied by 
training. For when any organ is defective in its 
temperament, proper training can in the best restore 
a healthy condition to some extent, but cannot make 
such an organ perfect. But if the organ is defective 
as regards size, position, or as regards the substance 
and the matter of which the organ is formed, there is 
no remedy. 

" Part of the functions of the imaginative faculty 
is to retain impressions by the senses, to combine 
them, and chiefly to form images. The principal and 

132 



PROPHECY 

highest function is performed when the senses are at 
rest and pause in their action, for then it receives to 
some extent, divine inspiration in the measure as it is 
predisposed for this influence. This is the nature 
of those dreams which prove true, and also of Prophecy, 
the difference being one of quantity, not of quality. 
Thus our Sages say that dream is the sixtieth part of 
Prophecy? ; and no such comparison could be made 
between two things of different kinds, for we cannot 
say the perfection of man is so many times the perfec- 
tion of a horse. 

" In Bereshit Rabba the following saying of our 
Sages occurs : ' Dream is the nobelet (the unripe fruit) 
of Prophecy '. 8 This is an excellent comparison, for 
the unripe fruit (nobelet) is really the fruit to some 
extent, only it has fallen from the tree before it was 
fully developed and ripe. In a similar manner the 
action of the imaginative faculty during sleep is the 
same as at the time when it receives a Prophecy, only 
in the first case it is not fully developed, and has not 
yet reached its highest degree. But why need I 
quote the words of the Sages when I can refer to the 
following passage of Scripture : ' If there be among 
you a prophet, I, the Lord, do make Myself known 
unto him in a vision, I do speak with him in a dream ' 
(Num. xii. 6). Here the Lord tells us what the real 
essence of Prophecy is, that it is a perfection acquired 
in a dream or in a vision ; the imaginative faculty 
acquires such an efficiency in its action that it sees the 
thing as if it comes from without, and perceives it as 
if through the medium of bodily senses " (Guide II, 36). 

Since the Prophet is possessed of the highest degree 
of intellectual perfection and speaks under the direct 
influence of the divine Spirit, his utterances as a 
Prophet are unchallengeable when once his claim to 

133 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

the dignity is admitted. Therefore Prophecy must 
be the supreme source of human knowledge. 

" You must know that there is a degree of 
knowledge higher than the degree of the philosophers, 
and that is Prophecy. Prophecy belongs to a separate 
world where proof and debate do not apply ; for when 
it is once made clear that it is a prophetic utterance, 
there is no room left for proof. Consequently you 
find that men never demand proof of a Prophet 
except concerning the Prophecy itself whether it is a 
Prophecy or not ; and that is what is called a sign. 
But they do not seek a proof beyond the Prophecy, 
because the Prophecy is superior to the proof and not 
vice versa. ... To debate a prophetic utterance 
on the basis of philosophy, which is of a lower degree, 
can lead to no clear decision, since it cannot attain its 
heights. It is like one who proposes to collect all the 
waters of the world into a single small flask " 
(Responsa II, 23c). 

" The true Prophets undoubtedly conceive ideas 
that result from premisses which human reason could 
not comprehend by itself ; thus they tell things which 
men could not tell by reason and ordinary imagination 
alone ; for the action of the Prophets' mental capacities 
is influenced by the same agent that causes the 
perfection of the imaginative faculty, and that enables 
the Prophet thereby to foretell a future event with 
such clearness as if it was a thing already perceived 
with the senses, and only through them conveyed to 
his imagination. This agent perfects the Prophet's 
mind, and influences it in such a manner that he 
conceives ideas which are confirmed by reality, and are 
so clear to him as if he deduced them by means of 
syllogisms " (Guide II, 38). 

Being thus endowed, the Prophets must necessarily 

134 



PROPHECY 

be the supreme authorities on questions of religious 
beliefs, and reliance should be placed on their 
teaching. 

" Just as a blind man is saved from stumbling 
when he depends on a seeing man by walking behind 
him, because he knows that he lacks the sight which 
would indicate the right way to him ; just as the 
invalid who is ignorant of medical science is saved 
when he obeys the advice of the doctor who prescribes 
for him, since he himself does not know which things 
kill and which cure, and therefore listens to all that the 
physician tells him ; so it is proper for the multitude 
to place full reliance in the Prophets, the men possessed 
of real eyes, and be content when these teach that a 
certain doctrine is true and another false " (Iggeret 
Teman, Responsa II, 5d). 

But on matters which come within the domain of 
reason, the Prophet speaks with no exceptional 
authority and his opinion may be rejected if proved 
unsound. 

" In the matter of opinion the Prophet is like the 
rest of men. If a Prophet expresses an opinion and a 
non-Prophet likewise expresses an opinion, and should 
the former declare, ' The Holy One, blessed be He, has 
informed me that my view is correct ', do not believe 
him. If a thousand Prophets, all of the status of 
Elijah and Elisha, were to entertain an opinion and a 
thousand and one Sages held the opposite, we must 
abide by the majority and reject the view of the 
thousand distinguished Prophets " (C.M., Introduction). 

4. Qualifications of a Prophet. The Prophet must be 
perfect in every respect. Even his physical constitu- 
tion must be such as to make a perfect instrument for 
the activities of his soul. 

135 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

" The substance of the brain must from the very 
beginning be in the most perfect condition as regards 
purity of matter, composition of its different parts, 
size and position ; no part of his body must suffer 
from ill-health ; he must in addition have studied and 
acquired wisdom, so that his rational faculty passes 
from a state of potentiality to that of actuality ; his 
intellect must be as developed and perfect as human 
intellect can be ; his passions pure and equally 
balanced ; all his desires must aim at obtaining a 
knowledge of the hidden laws and causes that are in 
force in the Universe ; his thoughts must be engaged 
in lofty matters; his attention directed to the 
knowledge of God, the consideration of His works, 
and of that which he must believe in this respect. 
There must be an absence of the lower desires and 
appetites, of the seeking after pleasure in eating, 
drinking and cohabitation ; and, in short, every 
pleasure connected with the sense of touch. . . . 

" It is further necessary to suppress every thought 
or desire for unreal power and dominion9 ; that is to 
say, for victory, increase of followers, acquisition of 
honour, and service from the people without any 
ulterior object. ... A man who satisfies these 
conditions, whilst his fully developed imagination is in 
action, influenced by the Active Intellect according to 
his mental training such a person will undoubtedly 
perceive nothing but things very extraordinary and 
divine, and see nothing but God and His Angels. His 
knowledge will only include that which is real 
knowledge, and his thought will only be directed to 
such general principles as would tend to improve the 
social relations between man and man " I0 (Guide 

ii, 36). 

" There are some who direct all their mind toward 
136 



PROPHECY 

the attainment of perfection in Metaphysics, devote 
themselves entirely to God, exclude from their thought 
every other thing, and employ all their intellectual 
faculties in the study of the Universe, in order to derive 
therefrom a proof for the existence of God, and to 
learn in every possible way how God rules all things 11 ; 
they form the class of those who have entered the 
palace, viz., the class of Prophets " (Guide III 51). 

" No Prophet received the gift of Prophecy unless 
he possessed all the mental virtues and a great majority 
of the most important moral ones." ... It is 
not an indispensable requirement that a Prophet 
should possess all the moral virtues, and be entirely 
free from every defect, for we find that Scripture 
testifies in reference to Solomon, who was a Prophet, 
that ' the Lord appeared to Solomon in Gibeon ' 
(i Kings iii. 5), although we know that he had the 
moral defect of lust, which is plainly evident from the 
fact that he took so many wives, a vice springing from 
the disposition of passion which resided in his soul. 
. . . Thou must not be surprised to learn, however, 
that a few moral imperfections lessen the degree of 
prophetic inspiration ; in fact, we find that some 
moral vices cause Prophecy to be entirely withdrawn. 
Thus, for instance, wrath may do this, as our Rabbis 
say, ' If a Prophet becomes enraged, the spirit of 
Prophecy departs from him ' X 3 . . . Grief and 
anxiety may also cause a cessation of Prophecy, as in 
the case of the patriarch Jacob who, during the days 
when he mourned for Joseph, was deprived of the Holy 
Spirit, until he received the news that his son lived, 
whereupon Scripture says, ' The spirit of Jacob, their 
father, revived ' (Gen. xlv. 27), which the TarguwM 
renders, ' And the spirit of Prophecy descended upon 
their father, Jacob '. The Sages, moreover, say 

137 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

1 The spirit of Prophecy rests not upon the idle, nor 
upon the sad, but upon the joyous J 5 ' " (CM., Eight 
Chapters, VII). 

5. Degrees of Prophecy. Not all Prophets are on the 
same plane of equality, because the term " Prophecy " 
does not denote always exactly the same thing. 
Maimonides enumerates no fewer than eleven degrees, 
and he utters the warning note : 

" Not all the degrees of Prophecy which I will 
enumerate qualify a person for the office of a Prophet, 
The first and second degrees are only steps leading to 
Prophecy, and a person possessing either of these two 
degrees does not belong to the class of Prophets whose 
merits we have been discussing. When such a person 
is occasionally called Prophet, the term is used in a 
wider sense, and is applied to him because he is almost 
a Prophet. ... It is possible for a Prophet to 
prophesy at one time in the form of one of the degrees 
which I am about to enumerate, and at another time 
in another form. In the same manner, as the Prophet 
does not prophesy continuously, but is inspired at 
one time and not at another, so he may at one time 
prophesy in the form of a higher degree, and at 
another time in that of a lower degree ; it may happen 
that the highest degree is reached by a Prophet only 
once in his lifetime, and afterwards remains inacces- 
sible to him, or that a Prophet remains below the 
highest degree until he entirely loses the faculty ; for 
ordinary Prophets 16 must cease to prophesy a shorter 
or longer period before their death " (Guide II, 45). 

There follows in the Chapter an enumeration of the 
eleven degrees of which a summary is here given : 

(i) " The first degree of Prophecy consists in the 
divine assistance which is given to a person, and 

138 



PROPHECY 

induces and encourages him to do something good and 
grand, e.g., to deliver a congregation of good men from 
the hands of evil-doers ; to save one noble person, or 
to bring happiness to a large number of people ; he 
finds in himself the cause that moves and urges him to 
this deed. This degree of divine influence is called 
' the spirit of the Lord ' ; and of the person who is 
under that influence we say that the spirit of the Lord 
came upon him, clothed him, or rested upon him, or 
the Lord was with him, 1 ? and the like ". 

In this class the " judges of Israel and noble chiefs " 
are to be included. " This faculty was always 
possessed by Moses from the time he had attained the 
age of manhood ; it moved him to slay the Egyptian, 
and to prevent evil from the two men that quarrelled. 
It was so strong that, after he had fled from Egypt 
out of fear and arrived in Midian, a trembling stranger, 
he could not restrain himself from interfering when he 
saw wrong being done ". l8 When David was anointed 
by Samuel, he was likewise filled with this spirit. 1 9 

(ii) " The second degree is this : A person feels as 
if something came upon him, and as if he had received 
a new power that encourages him to speak. He treats 
of science, or composes hymns, exhorts his fellow-men, 
discusses political and theological problems. All this 
he does while awake, and in the full possession of his 
senses. Such a person is said to speak by the Holy 
Spirit. David composed the Psalms, and Solomon the 
Book of Proverbs, Ecclesiastes and the Song of Solomon 
by this Spirit ; and Daniel, Job, Chronicles and the 
rest of the Hagiographa were written in this Holy 
Spirit ; therefore they are called Ketubim (writings, 
or written), i.e., written by men inspired by the Holy 
Spirit. Our Sages mention this expressly concerning 
the Book of Esther. . . . 

139 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

" We must especially point out that David, 
Solomon and Daniel belonged to this class, and not 
to the class of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Nathan the Prophet, 
Ahijah the Shilonite," and those like them. . . . 
There is no doubt that this is one degree below that 
form of Prophecy to which the words, ' I do speak 
with him in a dream ' are applied. For this reason 
the nation desired to place the Book of Daniel among 
the Hagiographa and not among the Prophets.** I 
have, therefore, pointed out to you, that the Prophecy 
revealed to Daniel and Solomon, although they saw an 
Angel in the dream, was not considered by them as a 
perfect Prophecy, but as a dream containing correct 
information. They belonged to the class of men that 
spoke, inspired by the ruafy ha-kodesh t ' the Holy 
Spirit '. Also in the order of the holy writings, no 
distinction is made between the Books of Proverbs, 
Ecclesiastes, Daniel, Psalms, Ruth and Esther ; they 
are all written by divine inspiration. The authors of 
these Books are called Prophets in the more general 
sense of the term." 

(iii) " The third class is the lowest class of actual 
Prophets, i.e., of those who introduce their speech 
by the phrase, ' And the word of the Lord came 
unto me ', or a similar phrase. The Prophet sees 
an allegory in a dream under those conditions which 
we have mentioned when speaking of real Prophecy 
and in the prophetic dream itself the allegory is 
interpreted. Such are most of the allegories of 
Zechariah." 

(iv) "The Prophet hears in a prophetic dream 
something clearly and distinctly, but does not see the 
speaker. This was the case with Samuel in the 
beginning of his prophetic mission." 

(v) "A person addresses the Prophet in a dream, 
140 



PROPHECY 

as was the case in some of the prophecies of Ezekiel ." 
Cf. Ezek. xl. 4. 

(vi) " An Angel speaks to him in a dream ; this 
applies to most of the Prophets." Cf. Gen.xxxi. n. 

(vii) " In a prophetic dream it appears to the 
Prophet as if God spoke to him." Cf. Isa. vi. i, 8, 
i Kings xxii. 19. 

(viii) " Something presents itself to the Prophet 
in a prophetic vision ; he sees allegorical figures, such 
as were seen by Abraham in the vision ' between the 
pieces ' (Gen. xv. gf) ; for it was in a vision by day- 
time, as is distinctly stated." 

(ix) " The Prophet hears words in a prophetic 
vision." Cf. ibid. 4. 

(x) " The Prophet sees a man that speaks to him 
in a prophetic vision." (Cf. ibid, xviii. i ; Josh. v. 13.) 

(xi) " He sees an Angel that speaks to him in the 
vision, as was the case when Abraham was addressed 
by an Angel at the sacrifice of Isaac (Gen. xxii. 15). 
This I hold to be if we except Moses the highest 
degree a Prophet can attain according to Scripture, 
provided he has, as reason demands, his rational 
faculties fully developed. But it appears to me 
improbable that a Prophet should be able to perceive 
in a prophetic vision God speaking to him ; the action 
of the imaginative faculty does not go so far, and 
therefore we do not notice this in the case of the 
ordinary Prophets. Scripture says expressly, ' I do 
make Myself known unto Him in a vision, I do speak 
with him in a dream ' ; the speaking is here connected 
with dream, the influence and the action of the intellect 
is connected with vision. 

" When 1, therefore, met with statements in 
Scripture that a Prophet heard words spoken to him 
and that this took place in a vision, it occurred to me 

141 



TEACHINGS OP MAIMONIDES 

that the case in which God appears to address the 
Prophet seems to be the only difference between a 
vision and a dream, according to the literal sense of the 
Scriptural text. But it is possible to explain the 
passages in which a Prophet is reported to have heard 
in the course of a vision words spoken to him, in the 
following manner : at first he had a vision but subse- 
quently fell into a deep sleep, and the vision was 
changed into a dream. Thus we explained the words, 
' A deep sleep fell upon Abram ' (Gen. xv. 12) ; and 
our Sages remark thereon, ' This was a deep sleep of 
Prophecy. '*3 According to this explanation, it is 
only in a dream that the Prophet can hear words 
addressed to him ; it makes no difference in what 
manner words are spoken. Scripture supports this 
theory, ' I do speak with him in a dream '. But in a 
prophetic vision only allegories are perceived, or 
rational truths are obtained, that lead to some know- 
ledge in science, such as can be arrived at by reasoning. 
This is the moaning of the words, ' I do make Myself 
known unto him in a vision '. According to this 
second explanation, the degrees of Prophecy are 
reduced to eight, the highest of them being the 
prophetic vision, including all kinds of vision, even 
the case in which a man appears to address the 
Prophet ". 

In a striking and picturesque passage one of the 
very rare specimens of fine writing in his compositions 
Maimonides thus describes the difference between 
men with respect to the illumination which constitutes 
Prophecy : 

" At times the truth shines so brilliantly that we 
perceive it as clear as day. Our nature and habit 
then draw a veil over our perception, and we return 
to a darkness almost as dense as before. We are like 

142 



PROPHECY 

those who, though beholding frequent flashes of 
lightning, still find themselves in the thickest darkness 
of the night. On some the lightning flashes in rapid 
succession, and they seem to be in continuous light, 
and their night is as clear as the day. This was the 
degree of prophetic excellence attained by Moses, the 
greatest of Prophets, to whom God said, ' But as for 
thee, stand thou here by Me ' (Deut v. 31; Heb. 28), 
and of whom it is written ' the skin of his face shone ' 
(Exod. xxxiv. 29). Some perceive the prophetic flash 
at long intervals ; this is the degree of most Prophets. 
By others only once during the whole night is a flash 
of lightning perceived. This is the case with those 
of whom we are informed, ' They prophesied, and they 
did so no more ' (Num. xi. 25). There are some to 
whom the flashes of lightning appear with varying 
intervals ; others are in the condition of men whose 
darkness is illumined not by lightning, but by some 
kind of crystal or similar stone, or other substances 
that possess the property of shining during the night ; 
and to them even this small amount of light is not 
continuous, but now it shines and now it vanishes, 
as if it were ' the flame of the rotating sword ' " (Guide, 
Introduction). 

6. Test of a true Prophet. The criterion of a true 
Prophet is not his ability to work miracles, but to 
foretell the future in detail. The verification of his 
statements is the guarantee of his genuine call. 

" Any Prophet that may rise up for us and declare 
that the Lord had sent him need not perform a sign, 
like one of the signs of Moses our teacher, or like the 
signs of Elijah and Elisha which involved a change 
in the course of Natures ; but his sign should be the 
announcement of events which are to happen in the 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

world and the verification of his words. Therefore if 
a man who is worthy of Prophecy come with a mission 
from God, and if he come not to add or diminish but 
to serve the Lord with the commandments of the 
Torah, we should not say to him, ' Divide the sea for 
us ', or ' Revive a dead body ', or so on ; ' then we 
shall believe you '. What we should say to him is, 
' If you are a prophet, foretell events that are to 
happen ', and he tells them. We then wait to see 
whether his words will come to pass or not ; should 
even the least part of what he foretold fail, it is certain 
that he is a false prophet. If all his words come to 
pass, he must be regarded by us as faithful^ ; but 
we must examine him several times, and if all his 
prediction prove to be correct, then he is a true 
Prophet. 

" But do not the soothsayers and diviners foretell 
'that which is to happen !* 6 What difference, then, is 
there between the Prophet and them ? With sooth- 
sayers, diviners and such men, part of their words 
is fulfilled and part is not. ... It is also possible 
that none of their words should be fulfilled at all, but 
they are entirely erroneous. ... In the case of 
the Prophet, however, all his words are fulfilled. 
. . . When, therefore, a Prophet rises up for us, 
it is only to inform us of things which are to happen 
in the world, such as plenty or famine, war or peace, 
etc. He may even inform us of things concerning an 
individual, just as Saul, when he sustained a loss, 
went to a Prophet that he might inform him of the 
place where the lost thing was to be found.*7 It is 
things like this that a Prophet is to declare, and not 
by any means to establish a new religion,* 8 or add or 
abrogate any commandment. 

" With regard to threats of punishment which the 
144 



PROPHECY 

Prophet utters, as, e.g., if he were to predict that 
such and such a person will die, or that in such and such 
a year there will be a famine or war, etc. ; and if it 
happen that his words do not come to pass, this is not 
necessarily a refutation of his Prophecy, and we must 
not say, ' Behold, he has spoken and it has not come 
to pass ! ' Because the Holy One, blessed be He, is 
slow to anger and of great kindness and relents con- 
cerning threatened calamity. It is therefore possible 
that the sinners had repented and had been forgiven, 
like the people of Nineveh (Jonah iii. 10) ; or it may 
be that He allowed them a respite, as with Hezekiah 
(2 Kings xx. 5). If, however, the Prophet assured 
them of something good, saying that such and such 
will happen, but the good did not come to pass, then 
it is certain that he is a false prophet ; because every 
good thing which God decrees, though it be conditional, 
He never retracts. a 9 . . . Hence we learn that the 
prophet can only be tested by the good which he 
foretells. . . . 

" If a Prophet receives the testimony of another 
Prophet that he is a true Prophet, he is thereby 
confirmed as such, and it is unnecessary to submit him 
to examination ; for behold, Moses our teacher 
testified on behalf of Joshua and all Israel believed in 
him, even before he produced a sign. Such is the rule 
for future generations, viz., when a Prophet has become 
known for his Prophecy and his words have been 
repeatedly believed in ; or when a Prophet testified 
for him and he has been walking in the ways of 
Prophecy it is then unlawful to doubt or suspect 
whether his Prophecy is untrue. It is further unlawful 
to test him more than is necessary, so that we must 
not be constantly proving him ; but when it has once 
become known that this man is a Prophet, they are 

145 

10 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

to believe and know that the Lord is among them, and 
they must not doubt or suspect him " (Yad, Yesod6 
ha-Torah, X ; C.M., Introduction). 

7. Moses the greatest of the Prophets. Maimonides 
attached such importance to the uniqueness of Moses 1 
status as a Prophet, that he formulated it into a 
Principle of Faith. He was doubtless led to do 
this because of the rival claim of each of the 
daughter-religions that it had produced a prophet 
greater than he. The seventh Principle, accordingly, 
declares : 

" The Prophecy of Moses our teacher. This 
implies that we must believe that he was the father 
of all the Prophets before him, and those who came 
after him were all beneath him in rank. He was 
chosen by God from the whole human kind. He 
comprehended more of God than any man in the past 
or future ever comprehended or will comprehend. 
And we must believe that he reached a state of 
exaltedness beyond the sphere of humanity, so that he 
attained to the angelic rank and became included in 
the order of the Angels. There was no veil which he 
did not pierce. No material hindrance stood in his 
way, and no defect whether small or great mingled 
itself with him. The imaginative and sensual powers 
of his perceptive faculty were stripped from him. 
His desiderative power was stilled and he remained 
pure intellect only. It is in this significance that it is 
remarked of him that he discoursed with God without 
any angelic intermediary. , . . 

" The Prophecy of Moses differs from that of all 
other Prophets in four respects : 

" (i) Whosoever the Prophet, God spake not with 
him but by an intermediary. But Moses had no 

146 



PROPHECY 

intermediary, as it is said, ' Mouth to mouth did I speak 
with him ' (Num. xii. 8). 

" (ii) Every other Prophet received his inspiration 
only when in a state of sleep ... or in the day 
when deep sleep has fallen upon the Prophet and his 
condition is that in which there is a removal of his 
sense-perceptions, and his mind is a blank like a 
sleep. . . . But to Moses the word came in the 
day-time when ' he was standing between the two 
Cherubim ' (see Exod. xxv. 22 ; Num. xii. 6-8). 

" (iii) When the inspiration comes to the Prophet, 
although it is in a vision and by means of an Angel, 
his strength becomes enfeebled, his physique becomes 
deranged. And very great terror falls upon him, so 
that he is almost broken through it. . . . But not 
so with Moses. The word came unto him and no 
confusion in any way overtook him, as we are told in 
the verse, ' And the Lord spake unto Moses face unto 
face as a man 'speaketh unto his neighbour ' (Exod. 
xxxiii. n). This means that just as no man feels 
disquieted when his neighbour talks with him, so he 
(peace to him !) had no fright at the discourse of God, 
although it was face to face ; this being the case by 
reason of the strong bond uniting him with the 
intellect, as we have described. 

" (iv) To all the Prophets the inspiration came 
not at their own choice but by the will of God. The 
Prophet at times waits a number of years without an 
inspiration reaching him. And it is sometimes asked 
of the Prophet that he should communicate a message 
he has received, but the Prophet waits some days or 
months before doing so, or does not make it known at 
all. We have seen cases where the Prophet prepares 
himself by enlivening his soul and purifying his spirit, 
as did Elisha in the incident when he declared, ' But 

147 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

now bring me a minstrel ! ' (2 Kings iii. 15), and then 
the inspiration came to him. He does not necessarily 
receive the inspiration at the time that he is ready for 
it. But Moses our teacher was able to say at whatso- 
ever time he wished, ' Stand, and I shall hear what God 
shall command concerning you ' (Num. ix. 8). It is 
again said, ' Speak unto Aaron thy brother that he 
come not at all times into the sanctuary ' (Lev. xvi. 2) ; 
with reference to which verse the Talmud remarks that 
the prohibition, ' that he come not at all times ', 
applies only to Aaron. But Moses may enter the 
sanctuary at all times "3 (C.M., Introd. to Helek). 

A phrase used in the above extract needs elucida- 
tion, viz., " There was no veil which he did not pierce ". 
The term faijab, " veil " or " barrier ", through which 
man contemplates the Deity, was borrowed by 
Maimonides from Mohammedan theology. The 
Koran, e.g., states, " It is not fit for man that God 
should speak with him but by vision or from behind a 
veil " (Sura XLII). Man's defects throw up barriers 
or veils which separate between him and God ; 
consequently the elimination of vices causes the 
removal of the partitions and brings about the 
approximation of man to God. Moses being superior 
in moral and intellectual attainments to the other 
Prophets, what intervened between him and God was 
thinner, and therefore his vision was more distinct. 

" Many passages are found in the Midrash, the 
Haggadah, and also the Talmud, which state that some 
of the Prophets beheld God from behind many barriers, 
and some from behind only a few, according to the 
proximity of the Prophet to Him and the degree of his 
prophetic power. Consequently, the Rabbis said that 
Moses, our teacher, saw God from behind a single, 
clear, that is transparent, partition. As they express 

148 



PROPHECY 

it, 'He (Moses) looked through a translucent specu- 
laria '.3* Specularia is the name of a mirror made of 
some transparent body like crystal or glass. . . . 

" When Moses, our teacher, discovered that there 
remained no partition between himself and God which 
he had not removed, and when he had attained per- 
fection by acquiring every possible moral and mental 
virtue, he sought to comprehend God in His true 
reality, since there seemed no longer to be any hindrance 
thereto. He, therefore, implored of God, ' Show me, 
I beseech Thee, Thy glory ' (Exod. xxxiii. 18). But 
God informed him that this was impossible, as his 
intellect, since he was a human being, was still 
influenced by matter. So, God's answer was, ' For no 
man can sees* Me and live ' (ibid. 20). Thus, there 
remained between Moses and his comprehension of the 
true essence of God only one transparent obstruction, 
which was his human intellect still resident in matter. 33 

" God, however, was gracious in imparting to him, 
after his request, more knowledge of the divine than 
he had previously possessed, informing him that the 
goal he sought was impossible of attainment, because 
he was yet a human being. ... It is impossible 
for mortal man to attain this high degree of compre- 
hension, though Moses (peace be upon him) almost, 
but not quite, reached it " (C.M., Eight Chapters VII). 

How is this unique claim made on behalf of Moses 
established ? Maimonides answers the question in 
this way : 

" The Israelites did not believe Moses, our teacher, 
in consequence of the signs which he performed ; for 
he whose belief rests on signs must still have a suspicion 
in his mind of the possibility that the sign might have 
been performed by magic or wizardry. All the signs 
which Moses performed in the wilderness he did 

149 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

through necessity and not to adduce evidence of his 
Prophecy. When it was necessary to drown the 
Egyptians, he divided the sea and plunged them into 
it. When we had need for food, he brought us down 
manna. When they were thirsty, he split the rock 
for them. When the band led by Korah denied him, 
the earth swallowed them up. And so it was with all 
the other signs. 

" On what ground, then, did they believe in him ? 
It was in consequence of their presence at Mount 
Sinai ; when our own eyes, and not another's, beheld, 
and when our own ears, and not another's, heard, the 
fire and the thunderings and the lightnings, whilst he 
approached the thick darkness and the Voice spake 
unto him in our own hearing, ' Moses, Moses 1 go and 
say unto them thus '. . . . But how do we know 
th^t their presence at Mount Sinai alone was evidence 
of his Prophecy that it was true beyond all suspicion ? 
Because it is said, ' Lo, I come unto thee in a thick 
cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with 
thee, and may also believe thee for ever ' (Exod. xix. 9). 
It is to be inferred that previous to this, they did not 
believe him with a perfect and lasting faith, but with 
a belief which was still open to doubt and suspicion. 

" Consequently the very men to whom he was sent 
are the witnesses to the truth of his Prophecy, and it 
was unnecessary to perform any other sign for them, 
since both they and he were witnesses in the matter. 
Just as two witnesses who together saw an incident 
mutually testify, each to the other, that they speak 
the truth, and neither of them need give proof to the 
other, so with regard to Moses, our teacher, after their 
presence at Mount Sinai, all the Israelites became his 
witnesses and there was no need for him to perform 
any sign for them. . . . 

150 



PROPHECY 

" It follows that if a Prophet were to arise and 
perform great signs and wonders, but sought to refute 
the Prophecy of Moses, our teacher, we are not to 
listen to him, and we are to know with certainty that 
those signs had been performed by magic and wizardry, 
because the Prophecy of Moses, our teacher, was not 
established by signs, so that we could compare the 
signs of one with those of the other. But with our 
own eyes we saw and with our own ears we heard, just 
as Moses himself heard. . . . Therefore the Torah 
said that even if the sign or the wonder came to pass, 
you shall still not hearken unto the words of that 
prophet (cf. Deut. xiii. 3f). For lo, this man came to 
you with a sign or wonder to refute what you saw with 
your eyes ; and since we only believe a sign in conse- 
quence of the commandment which Moses has ordained 
for us, how can we receive the sign of a man who comes 
to refute the Prophecy of Moses, our teacher, which 
we saw and heard ! " (Yad, Yesode ha-Torah VIII). 



CHAPTER VI 

\ 

THE TORAH 

i. The Torah a Revelation from God. The verbal 
inspiration of the Torah is the very foundation of 
Maimonides' whole system of thought. In every 
letter it is the work of God. He was led to stress this 
doctrine probably because the Mohammedans made a 
similar claim for the Koran. They declared that it 
wa& eternal and uncreated. It existed everlastingly 
in writing upon a vast table which was located by 
God's throne, and a transcript was brought from heaven 
to' earth by the angel Gabriel. 1 The prophet did not 
compose a single word of it. The form in which 
Maimonides enunciated his eighth Principle of Faith 
was no doubt determined by the claim which was made 
on behalf of the Koran : 

" That the Torah has been revealed from heaven. 
This implies our belief that the whole of this Torah 
found in our hands this day is the Torah that was 
handed down by Moses and that it is all of divine 
origin. By this I mean that the whole of the Torah 
came unto him from before God in a manner which is 
metaphorically called ' speaking ', but the real nature 
of that communication is unknown to everybody 
except to Moses (peace to him !) to whom it came. In 
handing down the Torah, Moses was like a scribe 
writing from dictation the whole of it, its chronicles, 
its narratives and its precepts. It is in this sense 
that he is termed ' lawgiver ', w 



THE TORAH 

" And there is no difference between verses like 
' and the sons of Ham were Cush and Mizraim, Phut 
and Canaan ' (Gen. x. 6), or ' And his wife's name was 
Mehetabel, the daughter of Hatred ' (ibid, xxxvi. 39), 
or ' And Timna was concubine ' (ibid. 12), and verses 
like ' I am the Lord thy God ' (Exod. xx. 2), and ' Hear, 
O Israel ' (Deut. vi. 4). They are all equally of divine 
origin and all belong to ' The Torah of God which is 
perfect, pure, holy and true '.* In the opinion of 
the Rabbis, Manasseh was the most renegade and the 
greatest of all infidels, because he thought that in the 
Torah there was a kernel and a husk, 3 and that these 
histories and anecdotes have no value and emanate 
from Moses. This is the significance of the expression 
* The Torah does not come from heaven ',4 which, say 
the Rabbis, is the remark of one who believes that all 
the Torah is of divine origin save a certain verse which 
(says he) was not spoken by God but by Moses himself. 
And of such a one the verse says ' He hath despised 
the word of the Lord ' (Num. xv. 31). May God be 
exalted far above and beyond the speech of the 
infidels ! For truly in every letter of the Torah there 
reside wise maxims and admirable truths for him to 
whom God has given understanding. You cannot 
grasp the uttermost bounds of its wisdom. 'The 
measure thereof is longer than the earth, and broader 
than the sea ' (Job xi. 9). Man has but to follow in 
the footsteps of the anointed one of the God of Jacob, 
who prayed ' Open Thou mine eyes that I may behold 
wondrous things out of Thy Torah ' (Ps. cxix. 18). 

" The interpretation of traditional law is in 
like manner of divine origin. And that which we 
know to-day of the nature of Succah, Lulab, Shofar, 
Fringes and PhylacteriesS is essentially the same as 
that which God commanded Moses, and which the 

153 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

latter told us. In the success of his mission Moses 
realised the mission of a ' trusted servant of God * 
(cf. Num. xii. 7) " (C.M., Introd. to Helek). 

Such is the sanct^ of the Torah that Maimonides 
informed a correspondent that the script used in the 
Synagogue Scrolls should not be employed for secular 
purposes. 

" It is right for you to know that this script which 
is called ketab ashuri 6 inasmuch as the Torah was 
given in it and the tables of the Covenant were written 
in it should properly only be used for the Scriptures. 
From the olden days Jews have been scrupulous in 
this matter, and their writings, scholarly compositions 
and secular documents were written in the ketab 'ibril. 
You therefore find engraven upon the holy shekel 
secular phrases written in the ketab 'ibri ; but we never 
find a single letter of the ketab ashuri on any Israelite 
antiquity which has been discovered, neither on a 
coin nor on stone, but they are all in the ketab 'ibri. 
For this reason the Sephardim 8 have altered their 
script and so changed the letters of the alphabet until 
they appear as an entirely different writing, in order 
to permit of their use for secular matters " (Responsa 
I, 3b, c). 

2. Aim of the Torah. What is the purpose of the 
divine Revelation ? What does it aim at effecting in the 
life of the human being ? This is Maimonides' reply : 
" The general object of the Torah is twofold : the 
well-being of the soul and the well-being of the body. 
The well-being of the soul is promoted by correct 
opinions communicated to the people according to 
their capacity. Some of these opinions are therefore 
imparted in a plain form, others allegorically ; because 
certain opinions are in their plain form too strong for 

154 



THE TORAH 

the capacity of the common people. The well-being 
of the body is established by a proper management of 
the relations in which we live one to another. This we 
can attain in two ways : first by removing all violence 
from our midst ; that is to say, that we do not do 
every one as he pleases, desires, and is able to do ; 
but every one of us does that which contributes towards 
the common welfare. Secondly, by teaching every 
one of us such good morals as must produce a good 
social state. . . . 

" The latter object is required first ; it is also 
treated in the Torah most carefully and most minutely, 
because the well-being of the soul can only be obtained 
after that of the body has been secured. For it has 
already been found that man has a double perfection : 
the first perfection is that of the body, and the second 
perfection is that of the soul. The first consists in the 
most healthy condition of his material relations, and 
this is only possible when man has all his wants 
supplied as they arise ; if he has his food and other 
things for his body, e.g., shelter, bath and the like. 
But one man alone cannot procure all this ; it is 
impossible for a single man to obtain this comfort ; 
it is only possible in society, since man, as is well-known, 
is by nature social.9 

" The second perfection of man consists in his 
becoming an actually intelligent being ; i.e., he knows 
about the things in existence all that a person perfectly 
developed is capable of knowing. This second perfec- 
tion certainly does not include any action or good 
conduct, but only knowledge, which is arrived at by 
speculation or established by research. . . . 

" The true Torah, which as we said is one, and 
beside which there is no other Torah, viz., the Torah 
of our teacher Moses, has for its purpose to give us the 

155 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

twofold perfection. It aims first at the establishment 
of good mutual relations among men by removing 
injustice and creating the noblest feelings. In this 
way the people in every land are enabled to stay and 
continue in one condition, and every one can acquire 
his first perfection. Secondly, it seeks to train us in 
faith, and to impart correct and true opinions when 
the intellect is sufficiently developed " (Guide III, 27). 

" It is also the object of the perfect Torah to make 
man reject, despise and reduce his desires as much 
as is in his power. He should only give way to them 
when absolutely necessary. It is well known that it 
is intemperance in eating, drinking and sexual inter- 
course that people mostly rave and indulge in ; and 
these very things counteract the ulterior perfection of 
man, 10 impede at the same time the development of 
his first perfection, 11 and generally disturb the social 
order of the country and the economy of the family. 
For by following entirely the guidance of lust, in the 
manner of fools, man loses his intellectual energy, 
injures his body, and perishes before his natural time ; 
sighs and cares multiply ; there is an increase of envy, 
hatred and warfare for the purpose of taking what 
another possesses. The cause of all this is the circum- 
stance that the ignorant considers physical enjoyment 
as an object to be sought for its own sake. God in 
His wisdom has therefore given us such commandments 
as would counteract that object, and prevent us 
altogether from directing our attention to it and has 
debarred us from everything that leads only to 
excessive desire and lust. This is an important thing 
included in the objects of our Torah " (Guide III, 33). 

" The ordinances of the Torah are not an infliction 
on the world, but a medium of mercy, kindness and 
peace in the world " (Yad, Shabbat II, 3). 

156 



THE TORAH 

" Every narrative in the Torah serves a certain 
purpose in connection with religious teaching. It 
either helps to establish a principle of faith, or to 
regulate our actions, and to prevent wrong and 
injustice among men " (Guide III, 50). 

3. Permanence of the Torah. Confronted as Judaism 
was by the claim of Christianity and Mohammedanism 
that each had brought a new dispensation to man 
which superseded the Revelation at Sinai, it was 
inevitable that Maimonides should make the immut- 
ability of the Torah a Principle of Faith. His ninth 
Principle is on 

" The abrogation of the Torah. This implies that 
this Torah of Moses will not be abrogated and that no 
other Torah will come from God. Nothing is to be 
added to it nor taken away from it, neither in the 
written nor oral law, as it is said, ' Thou shalt not add 
thereto nor dimmish from it ' (Deut. xiii. i) " (C.M., 
Introd. to Helek). 

" It is a clear and explicitly stated feature of the 
Torah that it is an ordinance to endure for all eternity, 
and it does not admit of any alteration, diminution 
or addition. . . . Hence we learn that no Prophet 
has permission to introduce any innovation at any 
future time. Should, therefore, a man arise, either 
from among the nations or from among Israel, and 
perform any sign or wonder and declare that the Lord 
has sent him to add any commandment or to abrogate 
any commandment or to explain any of the command- 
ments otherwise than we have heard from Moses; 
or should he declare that the commandments 
which have been ordained for the Israelites are 
not for; all time and for all generations, but were only 
temporary enactments ; behold this man is a false 

157 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

prophet, for he indeed comes to refute the Prophecy 
of Moses. 1 * The penalty to which he is liable is death 
by strangulation, J 3 because he presumed to speak in 
the name of the Lord that which He had not com- 
manded him. For He, blessed be His Name, had 
commanded Moses that this ordinance should be for 
us and our children ' for ever ', and God is not a man 
that He should lie " (Yad, Yesode ha-Torah IX, i). 

Maimonides, on the other hand, allows the possi- 
bility of temporary abrogation, or the adaptation of a 
law, should circumstances demand it, provided that 
this is sanctioned by competent authority. 

" When a Prophet's status has been confirmed in 
the manner we have established, and he has made a 
reputation like Samuel or Elijah or others, he has the 
power to do with the Torah what no other being is 
able to do. What I mean is, when he commands to 
abrogate temporarily one of the positive command- 
ments or permits something which is forbidden by a 
negative commandment, it is obligatory upon us to 
hearken to his word and obey his order ; and whoever 
disregards him is liable to death ' at the hand of 
Heaven '. The exception is a command to practise 
idolatry. That is what the Rabbis declare, ' In 
whatever a Prophet tells you to do involving a trans- 
gression of the words of the Torah obey him, except in 
the matter of idolatry *.*4 There is, however, a proviso, 
viz., that the Prophet's order shall not be permanent, 
that he shall not say that the Holy One, blessed be He, 
commanded to abrogate this ordinance for ever, but 
that He commands so for a special reason and for the 
needs of the moment " (C.M., Introduction). 

" God knew that the judgments of the Torah will 
always require an extension in some cases and curtail- 
ment in others, according to the variety of places, 

158 



THE TORAH 

events and circumstances. He therefore cautioned 
against such increase and diminution, and commanded, 
' Thou shalt not add thereto nor diminish from it ' ; 
for constant changes would tend to disturb the whole 
system of the Torah, and would lead people to believe 
that the Torah is not of Divine origin. But permission 
is at the same time given to the wise men, i.e., the 
great court (Synhedrion) of every generation to make 
fences round the judgments of the Torah for their 
protection, and to introduce bye-laws (fences) in order 
to ensure the keeping oi the Torah. Such fences once 
erected remain in force for ever. The Mishnah there- 
fore teaches : ' And make a fence round the Torah '.*S 
" In the same manner they have the power 
temporarily to dispense with some religious act 
prescribed in the Torah, or to allow that which is 
forbidden, if exceptional circumstances and events 
require it ; but none of the laws can be abrogated 
permanently. By this method the Torah will remain 
perpetually the same, and will yet admit at all times 
and under all circumstances such temporary modifica- 
tions as are indispensable. If every scholar had the 
power to make such modifications, the multitude of 
disputes and differences of opinion would have 
produced an injurious effect. Therefore it was 
commanded that of the Sages only the great Synhedrion 
and none else, should have this power ; and whoever 
would oppose their decision should be killed. 16 For 
if any critic were allowed to dispute the decision of the 
Synhedrion, the object of this Torah would not be 
attained ; it would be useless " (Guide III, 41). 

4. Study of the Torah. Judaism attaches great 
importance riot only to the practice of the Torah, but 
alsd to its study. The fulfilment of its ordinances 

159 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

should be intelligent, not mechanical. A point like 
this would naturally make a strong appeal to a man 
of the type of Maimonides, and he often refers to it in 
his writings. 

" Every Israelite is under the obligation to study 
the Torah, whether he be poor or rich, whether in good 
or bad health, whether young or in extreme age when 
his powers are on the wane, even if he be a poor man 
who is supported by charity and begs from door to 
door. Even the father of a family is under the 
obligation to fix a time for study of the Torah day and 
night ; as it is said, ' Thou shalt meditate therein day 
and night ' (Josh. i. 8). 

" Some of the eminent Sages of Israel were hewers 
of wood, others were drawers of water, and others 
even blind ; still they devoted themselves to the 
study of the Torah day and night. They belong to 
the class who handed down the tradition from man to 
man, direct from the mouth of Moses our teacher. 

" Up to what time has a man the duty to study the 
Torah ? Until the day of his death ; as it is said, 
' Lest they depart from thy heart all the days of thy 
life ' (Deut. iv. 9). All the time that he is not occupy- 
ing himself with study, he is liable to forget. He must 
divide the time of his study into three parts : a third 
for study of the written law, a third for the oral law, 
and a third for reflection and consideration of what 
follows from the premisses to draw inferences and 
make comparisons, and understand the hermeneutical 
rules by which the Torah is expounded, 1 ? until he knows 
the principle of these rules, and how he is to conclude 
what is lawful and what unlawful and such like matters 
based on tradition " (Yad, Talmud Torah I, 8-n). 

" Among ail the commandments there is none 
which is of equal importance with that of studying the 

160 



THE TORAH 

Torah ; this equals in importance all the command- 
ments put together, 18 because study leads to practice. 
Hence study in every case takes precedence over 
practice "" (ibid. Ill, 3). 

5. Interpretation of the Torah. Maimonides insists 
that when a Scriptural passage is quoted to support 
an argument, great care must be exercised that it is 
not given a meaning which it could not bear in its 
context. His canon of exegesis is thoroughly sound : 

" Know that it is not permitted anyone to take 
one word from a passage, the whole of which is closely 
connected, to use as an argument and a support ; but 
it is proper for him to study the context. That is to 
say, he should first study the word on which he intends 
to rely from the beginning of the phrase how it fits 
in there to the end of the phrase ; then he will know 
the intention of the speaker of the passage and he can 
extract proof from it. It is improper, however, to 
extract proof from a word which is torn from what 
precedes and follows " (Iggerei Teman, Responsa II, ^b\. 

As for the obscure and difficult passages which are 
to be found in the Scriptures, he gives his son this 
advice : 

" Whenever you find a deep verse and an obscure 
passage in the Torah or in the Prophets, or in the books 
of the Sages which you do not understand and whose 
hidden meaning you cannot perceive, and it appears 
as if it contradicted the fundamental doctrines of the 
Torah or is apparently nonsense, be not moved from 
your faith and let not your mind be confused. Remain 
firm in your conviction and ascribe the deficiency to 
yourself. Set it aside, and do not contaminate your 
whole faith for lack of understanding of some profound 
subject " (Ethical Will, Responsa II, 38 b, c). 

161 

11 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

The full meaning of the Scriptures is not to be read 
on the surface. One has to penetrate to the depths to 
understand clearly what is taught. The literal 
interpretation is consequently often superficial, and 
one must resort to an allegorical exposition to grasp 
the import of a passage. 

"We read in Midrash Shir ha-Shirim Rabba,*9 
' To what were the words of the Torah to be compared 
before the time of Solomon ? To a well the waters 
of which are at a great depth, and though cool and 
fresh, yet no man could drink of them. A clever man 
joined cord to cord, and rope to rope, and drew up and 
drank. So Solomon went from figure to figure, and 
from subject to subject, till he obtained the true sense 
of the Torah '. So far go the words of our Sages. I 
do not believe that any intelligent man thinks that 
' the words of the Torah ', mentioned here as requiring 
the application of figures in order to be understood, 
can refer to the rules for building tabernacles, for 
preparing the Lulab or for the four kinds of trustees. 21 
What is really meant is the apprehension of profound 
and difficult subjects, concerning which our Sages 
said, ' If a man loses in his house a sela' or a pearl, 
he can find it by lighting a taper worth only one issar. 
Thus the parables in themselves are of no great value, 
but through them the words of the holy Torah are 
rendered intelligible '. 

" These likewise are the words of our Sages ; 
consider well their statement, that the deeper sense 
of the words of the holy Torah are pearls, and the 
literal acceptation of a figure is of no value in itself. 
They compare the hidden meaning included in the 
literal sense of the simile to a pearl lost in a dark room 
which is full of furniture. It is certain that the pearl 
is in the room, but the man can neither see it nor know 

162 



THE TORAH 

where it lies. It is just as if the pearl were no longer 
in his possession, for, as has been stated, it affords him 
no benefit whatever until he kindles a light. The 
same is the case with the comprehension of that which 
the simile represents " (Guide, Introduction). 

In his search for " the deeper sense " of the 
Scriptures, Maimonides occasionally displays a boldness 
which shocked many of his contemporaries. He even 
dared to suggest that the opening chapter of the 
Bible was not to be understood literally. 

" The account given in Scripture of the Creation 
is not, as is generally believed, intended to be in all 
its parts literal. For if this were the case, wise men 
would not have kept its explanation secretes and our 
Sages would not have employed figurative speech in 
treating of the Creation in order to hide its true meaning, 
nor would they have objected to discuss it in the 
presence of the common people. The literal meaning 
of the words might lead us to conceive corrupt ideas 
and to form false opinions about God, or even entirely 
to abandon and reject the principles of our Faith. It 
is therefore right to abstain and refrain from examining 
this subject superficially and unscientifically. We must 
blame the practice of some ignorant preachers and 
expounders of the Bible, who think that wisdom 
consists in knowing the explanation of words, and that 
greater perfection is attained by employing more words 
and longer speech. It is, however, right that we should 
examine the Scriptural texts by the intellect, after 
having acquired a knowledge of demonstrative science, 
and of the true hidden meaning of Prophecies " 
(Guide II, 29). 

Several supernatural incidents recorded in the 
Bible are explained by Maimonides as having occurred 
not actually but in a vision. 

163 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

" When it is said in reference to Jacob, ' And there 
wrestled a man with him ' (Gen. xxxii. 25), this took 
place in a prophetic vision, since it is expressly stated 
in the end (v. 31) that it was an Angel. . . . 

" That which happened to Balaam on the way, and 
the speaking of the ass, took place in a prophetic 
vision, since further on, in the same account, an Angel 
of God is introduced as speaking to Balaam. 

" I also think that what Joshua perceived when ' he 
lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold there stood 
a man over against him ' (Josh. v. 13) was a prophetic 
vision, since it is stated afterwards (v. 14) that it was 
' the captain of the host of the Lord ' " (Guide II, 42). 

Referring to the book of Job, he writes : " Accord- 
ing to both theories, viz., the theory that Job did exist 
and the theory that he did not exist, the introduction 
to the book is certainly a fiction ; I mean the portion 
which relates to the words of the adversary, the words 
of God to the former, and the handing of Job to him " 
(Guide III, 22). 

6. Specimens of allegorical interpretation. In Maimon- 
ides' writings we meet with allegorical interpretations 
of Biblical passages after a style with which Philo has 
familiarised us. The following are specimens : 

" How wonderfully wise is the simile of King 
Solomon, in which he compares matter to a faithless 
wife*4 ; for matter is never found without form, and 
is therefore always like such a wife who is never without 
a husband, never single ; and yet, though being 
wedded, constantly seeks another man in the place of 
her husband ; she entices and attracts him in every 
possible manner till he obtains from her what her 
husband has obtained. The same is the case with 
matter. Whatever form it has, it is disposed to 

164 



THE TORAH 

receive another form ; it never leaves off moving and 
casting off the form which it has in order to receive 
another. . . . 

" As regards the portion beginning, ' A woman of 
valour who can find ? '*5 it is clear what is meant by the 
figurative expression ' a woman of valour '. When 
man possesses a good sound body that does not over- 
power him nor disturb the equilibrium in him, he 
possesses a divine gift. In short, a good constitution 
facilitates the rule of the soul over the body, but it is 
not impossible to conquer a bad constitution by 
training " (Guide III, 8). 

On Proverbs vii. 6-26 he comments : " The general 
principle expounded in all these verses is to abstain 
from excessive indulgence in bodily pleasures. The 
author compares the body, which is the source of all 
sensual pleasures, to a married woman who at the 
same time is a harlot. . . . All obstacles which 
prevent man from attaining his highest aim in life, 
all the deficiencies in the character of man, all his evil 
propensities, are to be traced to the body alone. The 
predominant idea running throughout the figure is, 
that man shall not be entirely guided by his animal or 
material nature ; for the material substance of man is 
identical with that of the brute creation" (Guide t 
Introduction). 

More remarkable still are the following : " Know, 
my son Abraham, (the blessed God be merciful to you) 
that the Tabernacle and its furniture are symbolic 
of the body of an honourable man. It first mentions 
the Ark which is doubtless the heart, since that too is 
the first organ in the body. In the Ark were likewise 
the tables of the covenant which correspond to the 
human intellect. When it is stated ' the cherubim 
shall spread out their wings on high ' (Exod. xxv. 20), 

165 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

the symbol is here sound condition. The table of 
shew-bread alludes to the liver, the candelabrum to the 
gall. The altar of burnt-offering, of which it is said 
' Fire shall be kept burning upon the altar continually, 
it shall not go out ' (Lev. vi. 6), has a symbolic reference 
to man's natural heat. The altar of incense is the 
emanation from God to man " (Ethical Will, Responsa 

II, 39d). 

" The seven-branched candelabrum is a symbol 
of the five senses and the powers of the soul, all 
functioning in the service of Him Who is blessed " 
(Pirke ha-Hatslafyah, Responsa II, 32b). 

" Know, my son, that the kings of the house of 
David are emblematic of one aspect of the human 
intellect, viz., when it is said of them, ' He did that 
which was right in the eyes of the Lord ' it is the 
intellect engaged with the divine emanation. The 
reverse is that which is devoted to physical lusts ; and 
when it is mentioned that a heathen king came to fight 
against them, it doubtless refers to the Yetser ha-ra 
(the evil propensity in man). Know, further, my son, 
(may the blessed God preserve you) that Samaria is a 
symbol of the debased and accursed matter over which 
only wicked kings have dominion they are the 
lusts " (Ethical Will, Responsa II, 390). 

In the same passage he treats several Biblical 
narratives in an emblematic manner for the purpose 
of deriving moral truths. E.g., he makes Pharaoh 
represent the Yetser Art-ra,Israel the truth, Moses the 
divine intellect, Egypt the body and Goshen the heart. 
Truth, residing in the heart, is enslaved by evil desire 
in the body, and is released by the intervention of the 
divine intellect. 

The story of Saul and David is similarly treated. 
David is truth and Saul the evil impulse. The latter 

166 



THE TORAH 

pursued truth to a place called Secu (i Sam. xix. 22) 
which denotes the heart. But truth (David) had gone 
to Ramah (' a high place ', i.e., the brain) to be with 
Samuel (v. 22), the emblem of the divine intellect. 
Finding himself powerless against his intended victims, 
Saul ' stripped off his clothes ' (v. 24), i.e., the evil 
impulse divested itself of its base lusts. 

7. The Commandments of the Torah. Study must 
lead to practice. The Torah does not only offer food 
for the mind and soul, but it presents man with a 
complete guide of life. Its ordinances are numerous, 
but they were not intended by God to be a yoke 
pressing heavily upon the human being. Maimonides 
contends that the reverse is true. The Torah in fact 
lightened the load which mankind was carrying at the 
time of the Revelation. 

" I maintain that the Torah which was revealed to 
Moses our teacher, and which is called by his name, 
aims at facilitating the service and lessening the 
burden ; and if a person complains that certain 
precepts cause him pain and great trouble, he cannot 
have thought of the habits and doctrines that were 
general in those days. Let him consider the difference 
between a man burning his own son in serving his god, 
and our burning a pigeon to the service of our God. 
Scripture relates, ' For even their sons and their 
daughters do they burn in the fire to their gods ' (Deut. 
xii. 31). This was the way in which the heathen wor- 
shipped their gods, and instead of such a sacrifice we 
have the burning of a pigeon or a handful of flour in 
our worship " (Guide III, 47). 

The commandments were intended to be a source 
of happiness to man, and it is in that spirit alone that 
the ordinances of the Torah can be properly fulfilled. 

167 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

" The joy with which a man rejoices in the per- 
formance of the commandments and in the love of God 
Who ordained them is a great service. Whoever 
withholds himself from this joy deserves punishment ; 
as it is said, ' Because thou didst not serve the Lord 
thy God with joy fulness and with gladness of heart 
. . . therefore shalt thou serve thy enemy ' (Deut. 
xxviii. 47f). The person who makes his mind haughty 
and thinks himself too proud in these circumstances 
is a sinner and a fool. Against this fault does Solomon 
utter a warning in the words, ' Glorify not thyself in 
the presence of the King' (Prov. xxv. 6). But the 
person who lowers his dignity and abases himself in 
these circumstances is the truly great and honourable, 
serving God from a motive of love. Similarly said 
David, king of Israel, ' I will be yet more vile than 
this, and will be base in mine own sight ' (i Sam. vi. 
22) ; for true greatness and honour is but to rejoice 
before the Lord " (Yad, Lulab VIII, 15). 

" When a man performs any of the commandments 
from no other motive than love of God and His service, 
he therebj' publicly sanctifies His Name " (Ma'amar 
Kiddush ha-Sheni, Response* II, I4b). 

8. Reasons of the Commandments. An important 
section of the Guide is concerned with the reasons 
underlying specific ordinances of the Torah. Maimon- 
ides held firmly that, with rare exceptions, the motive 
of the enactment could be discovered by research. 
His method is particularly interesting because he 
anticipated the modem study of comparative religion. 
He maintains the theory that many Biblical ordinances 
have a relationship with the practices of idolatry and 
were intended to wean mankind from heathenish rites ; 
consequently it is necessary to study idolatrous 

168 



THE TORAH 

systems to gain an insight into the Pentateuchal 
legislation. In one of his letters he states : " I also 
read deeply subjects connected with idolatry, until I 
imagine that there is not a single book on this theme 
in Arabic, translated from other languages, which I 
have not read and fathomed to its depths. From these 
books there has become clear to me the reason of all 
the commandments, although all men think that they 
are without reason and merely the decrees of Scripture " 
(Responsa II, 25b). 

Elsewhere he insists : " Although all the statutes 
of the Torah are divine decrees, it is proper to reflect 
upon them and assign a reason wherever it is possible " 
(Yad, Temurah IV, 13). Another reference to the 
same subject is : " It is proper for a man to reflect 
upon the laws of the holy Torah and understand their 
purpose to the utmost of his ability. But in those 
instances where he cannot find a reason and cannot 
understand the cause, let them not be light in his eyes, 
nor let him presume ' to break through to go up to the 
Lord lest He break forth upon him ' (cf. Exod. xix. 2 if ); 
nor should his thoughts in connection with them be the 
same as with secular subjects. See how strict the 
Torah is on the matter of Me'ilah* 6 If wood and stones 
and dust and ashes since the name of the Lord of 
the Universe had been called over them only in words 
become holy things, and whoever employs them for 
secular purposes commits a ' transgression ' and even 
if he had done so in error he must undergo expiation ; 
how much more so must a man not spurn the command- 
ments which God has ordained because he does not 
understand their reason, and invent explanations 
concerning God which are incorrect, applying to them 
his ideas on secular subjects " (Yad, Me'ilahVIII, 8). 

"As Theologians are divided on the question 
169 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

whether the actions of God are the result of His wisdom, 
or only of His will without being intended for any 
purpose whatever, so they are also divided as regards 
the object of the commandments which God gave us. 
Some of them hold that the commandments have no 
object at all, and are only dictated by the will of God.*7 
Others are of opinion that all commandments and 
prohibitions are dictated by His wisdom and serve a 
certain aim ; consequently there is a reason for each 
one of the precepts ; they are enjoined because they 
are useful. All of us, the common people as well as 
the scholars, believe that there is a reason for every 
precept, although there are commandments the reason 
of which is unknown to us, and in which the ways of 
God's wisdom are incomprehensible. . . . 

" There are commandments which are called 
hukkim ' ordinances ', like the prohibition of wearing 
garments of wool and linen, boiling meat and milk 
together, and the sending of the goat into the wilderness 
on the Day of Atonement.* 8 Our Sages use in 
reference to them phrases like the following : ' These 
are things which I have fully ordained for you, and 
you dare not criticise them ' ; ' Your evil inclination 
is turned against them ' ; and ' Non- Jews find them 
strange '. 2 9 But our Sages generally do not think 
that such precepts have no cause whatever and serve 
no purpose ; for this would lead us to assume that 
God's actions are purposeless. On the contrary, they 
hold that even these ordinances have a cause, and are 
certainly intended for some use, although it is not known 
to us, owing either to the deficiency of our knowledge 
or the weakness of our intellect. 

" Consequently there is a cause for every com- 
mandment ; every positive or negative precept serves 
a useful object. In some cases the usefulness is evident, 

170 



THE TORAH 

e.g., the prohibition of murder and theft ; in others 
the usefulness is not so evident, e.g., the prohibition of 
enjo)dng the fruit of a tree in the first three years 
(Lev. xix. 23), or of a vineyard in which other seeds 
have been growing (Deut. xxii. 9). Those command- 
ments, whose object is generally evident, are called 
1 judgments ' (mishpatim) ; those whose object is not 
generally clear are called ' ordinances ' (fyukkim). . . . 

" I will now tell you what intelligent persons ought 
to believe in this respect ; viz., that each command- 
ment has necessarily a cause, as far as its general 
character is concerned, and serves a certain object ; 
but as regards its details we hold that it has no 
ulterior object. Thus killing animals for the purpose 
of obtaining good food is certainly useful ; that, how- 
ever, the killing should not be performed by poleaxing 
but by cutting the neck, and by dividing the oesophagus 
and the windpipe in a certain places these regulations 
and the l'ke are nothing but tests for man's obedience " 
(Gride III, 26). 

" The reason of a commandment, whether positive 
or negative, is clear and its usefulness evident, if it 
directly tends to remove injustice, or to teach good 
conduct that furthers the well-being of society, or to 
impart a truth which ought to be believed either on 
its own merit or as being indispensable for facilitating 
the removal of injustice or the teaching of good morals. 
There is no occasion to ask for the object of such 
commandments ; for no one can, e.g., be in doubt as 
to the reason why we have been commanded to believe 
that God is one ; why we are forbidden to murder, to 
steal, and to take vengeance, or to retaliate, or why we 
are commanded to love one another. 

" But there are precepts concerning which people 
are in doubt and of divided opinions, some believing 

171 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

that they are mere commands and serve no purpose 
whatever, whilst others believe that they serve a 
certain purpose which, however, is unknown to man. 
Such are those precepts which in their literal meaning 
do not seem to further any of the three above-named 
results : to impart some truth, to teach some moral 
or to remove injustice. They do not seem to have any 
influence upon the well-being of the soul by imparting 
any truth, or upon the well-being of the body by 
suggesting such ways and rules as are useful in the 
government of a state, or in the management of a 
household. Such are the prohibitions of wearing 
garments containing wool and linen ; of sowing divers 
seeds, or of boiling meat and milk together ; the 
commandment of covering the blood of slaughtered 
beasts and birds, the ceremony of breaking the neck of 
a calf in case of a person being found slain, and the 
murderer being unknown ; the law concerning the 
first-born of an ass, and the like. I am prepared to 
tell you my explanation of all these commandments, 
and to assign for them a true reason supported by 
proof, with the exception of some minor rules and of a 
few commandments. I will show that all these and 
similar laws must have some bearing upon one of the 
following three things, viz., the regulation of our 
opinions, or the improvement of our social relations, 
which implies two things, the removal of injustice and 
the teaching of good morals " (Guide III, 28). 

Here follow some examples of the method by which 
Maimonides endeavoured to assign reasons to the 
commandments : 

Circumcision. Two purposes are suggested for 
this rite : (i) " I think that one of its objects is to limit 
sexual intercourse and to weaken the organ of genera- 
tion as far as possible, and thus cause man to be 

172 



THE TORAH 

moderate. Some people believe that circumcision is 
to remove a defect in man's formations* ; but every 
one can easily reply : How can products of Nature be 
deficient so as to require external completion, especially 
as the use of the foreskin to that organ is evident. 
This commandment has not been enjoined as a 
complement to a deficient physical creation, but as a 
means for perfecting man's moral shortcomings. The 
bodily injury caused to that organ is exactly that which 
is desired ; it does not interrupt any vital function, 
nor does it destroy the power of generation. Circum- 
cision simply counteracts excessive lust ; for there is 
no doubt that circumcision weakens the power of 
sexual excitement and sometimes lessens the natural 
enjoyment ; the organ necessarily becomes weak when 
it loses blood and is deprived of its covering from the 
beginning. . . . 

(ii) " It gives to all members of the same faith, 
i.e., to all believers in the Unity of God, a common 
bodily sign, so that it is impossible for any one that is 
a stranger to say that he belongs to them.3 For 
sometimes people say so for the purpose of obtaining 
some advantage, or in order to make some attack 
upon the Jews. No one, however, should circumcise 
himself or his son for any other reason but pure faith ; 
for circumcision is not like an incision on the leg, or a 
burning in the arm, but a very difficult operation. It 
is also a fact that there is much mutual love and assist- 
ance among people that are united by the same sign 
when they consider it as the symbol of a covenant. 
Circumcision is likewise the symbol of the covenant 
which Abraham made in connection with the belief 
in God's Unity. So also every one that is circumcised 
enters the covenant of Abraham to believe in the Unity 
of God, in accordance with the words of the Torah, 

173 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

' To be a God unto thee and to thy seed after thee ' 
(Gen. xvii. 7). This purpose of the circumcision is as 
important as the first, and perhaps more important. 

" This law can only be kept and perpetuated in 
its perfection, if circumcision is performed when the 
child is very young, and this for three good reasons. 
First, if the operation were postponed till the boy had 
grown up, he would perhaps not submit to it.33 
Secondly, the young child has not much pain, because 
the skin is tender and the imagination weak ; for 
grown-up persons are in dread and fear of things which 
they imagine are coming, some time before these 
actually occur. Thirdly, when a child is very young, 
the parents do not think much of him ; because the 
image of the child, that leads the parents to love him, 
has not yet taken a firm root in their minds. That 
image becomes stronger by the continual sight ; it 
grows with the development of the child, and later on 
the image begins again to decrease and to vanish. 
The parents' love for a new-born child is not so great 
as it is when the child is.pne year old ; and when one 
year old, it is less loved by them than when six years 
old. The feeling and love of the father for the child 
would have led him to neglect the law if he were allowed 
to wait two or three years, whilst shortly after birth 
the image is very weak in the mind of the parent, 
especially of the father who is responsible for the 
execution of this commandment "34 (Guide III, 49). 

Prohibition against eating blood. " In ancient days 
people were very eager and anxious to eat blood as a 
kind of idolatrous ceremony as is explained in the 
book Tomtom35 ; and therefore the prohibition of 
eating blood is made very stringent " (Guide III, 41). 

" Although blood was very unclean in the eyes of 
the Sabeans,3* they nevertheless partook of it, because 

174 



THE TORAH 

they thought it was the food of the spirits37 ; by eating 
it man has something in common with the spirits, 
which join him and tell him future events, according 
to the notion which people generally have of spirits. 
There were, however, people who objected to eating 
blood, as a thing naturally disliked by man ; they 
killed a beast, received the blood in a vessel or in a 
pot, and ate of the flesh of that beast whilst sitting 
round the blood. They imagined that in this manner 
the spirits would come to partake of the blood which 
was their food, whilst the idolaters were eating the 
flesh ; that love, brotherhood and friendship with the 
spirits were established, 3 8 because they dined with the 
latter at one place and at the same time ; that the 
spirits would appear to them in dreams, inform them 
of coming events, and be favourable to them. Such 
ideas people liked and accepted in those days ; they 
were general, and their correctness was not doubted 
by any one of the common people. The Torah, which 
is perfect in the eyes of those who know it and seeks 
to cure mankind of these lasting diseases, forbade the 
eating of blood, and emphasised the prohibition exactly 
in the same terms as it emphasises idolatry " (Guide 

III, 46). 

Dietary Laws. " I maintain that the food which 
is forbidden by the Torah is unwholesome. There is 
nothing among the forbidden kinds of food whose 
injurious character is doubted, except pork (Lev. xL 7) 
and fat (ibid. vii. 23). But also in these cases the doubt 
is not justified. For pork contains more moisture than 
necessary for human food, and too much of superfluous 
matter. The principal reason why the Torah forbids 
swine's flesh is to be found in the circumstance that 
its habits and its food are very dirty and loathsome. 
It has already been pointed out how emphatically 

175 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

the Torah enjoins the removal of the sight of loath- 
some objects, even in the field and in the camp39 ; 
how much more objectionable is such a sight in towns. 
But if it were allowed to eat swine's flesh, the streets 
and houses would be more dirty than any cesspool, 
as may be seen at present in the country of the 
Franks.4o A saying of our Sages declares, ' The mouth 
of a swine is as dirty as dung itself '.4* 

" The fat of the intestines makes us full, interrupts 
our digestion and produces cold and thick blood ; it 
is more fit for fuel than for human food. 

" Blood (Lev. xvii. 12) and nebelah, i.e., the flesh 
of an animal that died of itself (Deut. xiv. 21), are 
indigestible and injurious as food. Trefah, an animal 
in a diseased state (Exod. xxii. 30) is on the way of 
becoming a nebelah. 

" The characteristics given in the Torah (Lev. xi. 
and Deut. xiv.) of the permitted animals, viz., chewing 
the cud and divided hoofs for cattle, and fins and scales 
for fish, are in themselves neither the cause of the 
permission when they are present, nor of the prohibi- 
tion when they are absent ; but merely signs by which 
the recommended species of animals can be discerned 
from those that are forbidden. . . . 

" It is prohibited to cut off a limb of a living animal 
and eat it,4* because such act would produce cruelty 
and develop it. Besides, the heathen kings used to 
do it ; it was also a kind of idolatrous worship to cut 
oil a certain limb of a living animal and to eat it.43 

" Meat boiled in milk is undoubtedly gross food 
and makes overfull ; but I think that most probably 
it is also prohibited because it is somehow connected 
with idolatry, forming perhaps part of the service, or 
being used on some festival of the heathen.44 . . 

" The commandment concerning the killing of 
176 



THE TORAH 

animals45 is necessary, because the natural food of 
man consists of vegetables and of the flesh of animals ; 
the best meat is that of animals permitted to be used 
as food. No doctor has any doubts about this. Since, 
therefore, the desire of procuring good food necessitates 
the slaying of animals, the Torah enjoins that the death 
of the animal should be the easiest. It is not allowed 
to torment the animal by cutting the throat in a 
clumsy manner, by poleaxing or by cutting oft a 
limb whilst the animal is alive " (Guide III, 48). 

Miscellaneous Laws. "It is prohibited to round 
the corners of the head and to mar the corners of the 
beard,4$ because it was the custom of idolatrous 
priests.47 For the same reason, the wearing of 
garments made of linen and wool is prohibited4 8 ; the 
heathen priests adorned themselves with garments 
containing vegetable and animal material,49 whilst 
they held in their hand a seal made of a mineral. This 
you find written in their books. The same is also the 
reason of the precept, ' A woman shall not wear that 
which pertaineth unto a man ' (Deut. xxii. 5). You 
find it in the book Tomtom that a male person should 
wear coloured woman's dress when he stands before 
Venus, and a female, when standing before Mars, 
should wear a buckler and other armour. 5 I think 
that this precept has also another reason, viz., that the 
interchange of dress creates lust and leads to 
immorality " (Guide III, 37), 

" He who strikes his father or his mother is killed 
on account of his great audacity, and because he under- 
mines the constitution of the family, which is the 
foundation of the state " (Guide III, 41). 

" The great men among our Sages would not 
uncover their heads because they believed that God's 
glory was round them and over them "5 1 (Guide III, 52). 

177 

12 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

9. The Sacrifices. Maimonides makes the bold 
statement that " burnt-offering and sacrifice are of 
secondary importance " (Guide III, 32) ; and in this 
Chapter of the Guide he works out his theory that the 
sacrifices were not an end in themselves, but a means 
to an end. 5* 

" It is impossible to go suddenly from one extreme 
to the other ; it is therefore according to the nature 
of man impossible for him suddenly to discontinue 
everything to which he has been accustomed. Now 
God sent Moses to make the Israelites a kingdom of 
priests and a holy nation (Exod. xix. 6) by means of 
the knowledge of God. . . . But the custom which 
was in those days general among all men, and the 
general mode of worship in which the Israelites were 
brought up, consisted in sacrificing animals in those 
temples which contained certain images, to bow down 
to those images and to burn incense before them ; 
religious and ascetic persons were in those days the 
persons that were devoted to the service in the 
temples erected to the stars. 

" It was in accordance with the wisdom and plan 
of God, as displayed in the whole Creation, that He 
did not command us to give up and to discontinue all 
these manners of service, for to obey such a command- 
ment would have been contrary to the nature of man, 
who generally cleaves to that to which he is used ; it 
would in those days have made the same impression 
as a Prophet would make at present if he called us to 
the service of God and told us in His name that we 
should not pray to Him, not fast, not seek His help 
in time of trouble ; that we should serve Him in 
thought and not by any action. For this reason God 
allowed these kinds of service to continue ; He 
transferred to His service that which had formerly 

178 



THE TORAH 

served as a worship of created beings, and of things 
imaginary and unreal, and commanded us to serve 
Him in the like manner, viz., to build unto Hima temple, 
to have the altar erected to His name, to offer the 
sacrifices to Him, to bow down to Him and to burn 
incense before Him. . . . 

f< By this divine plan it was effected that the 
traces of idolatry were blotted out, and the truly great 
principle of our Faith, the Existence and Unity of 
God, was firmly established ; this result was thus 
obtained without deterring or confusing the minds of 
the people by the abolition of the service to which they 
were accustomed and which alone was familiar to them. 

" I know that you will at first thought reject this 
idea and find it strange ; you will put the following 
question to me in your heart : How can we suppose 
that divine commandments, prohibitions and import- 
ant acts, which are fully explained and for which 
certain seasons are fixed, should not have been 
commanded for their own sake, but only for the sake 
of some other thing ; as if they were only the means 
which He employed for His primary object ? What 
prevented Him from making His primary object a 
direct commandment to us, and to give us the capacity 
of obeying it ? Those precepts which in your opinion 
are only the means and not the object would then have 
been unnecessary. 

" Hear my answer, which will cure your heart of 
this disease and will show you the truth of that which 
I have pointed out to you. There occurs in the Torah 
a passage which contains exactly the same idea ; it is 
the following : ' God led them not by the way of the 
land of the Philistines, although that was near ; for 
God said, Lest peradventure the people repent when 
they see war, and they return to Egypt ; but God led 

179 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

the people about by the way of the wilderness by the 
Red Sea ' (Exod. xiii. iji). Here God led the people 
about, away from the direct road which He originally 
intended, because He feared they might meet on that 
way with hardships too great for their ordinary 
strength ; He took them by another road in order to 
obtain thereby His original object. 

" In the same manner God refrained from 
prescribing what the people by their natural disposition 
would be incapable of obeying, and gave the above- 
mentioned commandments as a means of securing His 
chief object, viz., to spread a knowledge of Him among 
the people, and to cause them to reject idolatry. It is 
contrary to man's nature that he should suddenly 
abandon all the different kinds of Divine service and 
the different customs in which he has been brought 
up, and which have been so general, that they were 
considered as a matter of course. It would be just as 
if a person trained to work as a slave with mortar and 
bricks, or similar things, should interrupt his work, 
clean his hands, and at once fight with real giants. . . 

" As the sacrificial service is not the primary object 
of the commandments about sacrifice, whilst supplica- 
tions, prayers, and similar kinds of worship are nearer 
to the primary object, and indispensable for obtaining 
it, a great difference was made in the Torah between 
these two kinds of service. The one kind, which 
consists in offering sacrifices, although the sacrifices 
are offered to the name of God, has not been made 
obligatory for us to the same extent as it had been 
before. We were not commanded to sacrifice in every 
place, and in every time, or to build a temple in every 
place or to permit any one who desires to become 
priest and to sacrifice. On the contrary, all this is 
prohibited unto us. Only one temple has been 

180 



THE TORAH 

appointed, ' in the place which the Lord shall choose ' 
(Deut. xii. 26) ; in no other place is it allowed to 
sacrifice ; and only the members of a particular family 
were allowed to officiate as priests. All these restric- 
tions served to limit this kind of worship, and keep it 
within those bounds within which God did not think 
it necessary to abolish sacrificial service altogether. 
But prayer and supplication can be offered anywhere 
and by every person " (Guide III, 32). 

Maimonides occasionally points out that the 
sacrifices and other ceremonial acts have a moral 
significance which is capable of wide application. 
Dealing with the ritual of the scapegoat on the Day of 
Atonement (Lev. xvi.), he declares : " There is no 
doubt that sins cannot be carried like a burden, and 
taken off the shoulder of one being to be laid on that 
of another being. But these ceremonies are of a 
symbolic character, and serve to impress men with a 
certain idea and to induce them to repent ; as if to 
say, we have freed ourselves of our previous deeds, 
have cast them behind our backs, and removed them 
from us as far as possible " (Guide III, 46). 

As the offering had to be perfect and of the best 
of its species, " the same principle applies to every- 
thing that is done in the name of God it must be of 
the best. If a man build a house of prayer, it must be 
more beautiful than his place of residence. When he 
feeds the hungry, it must be of the finest and most 
tasty that is on his table. When he clothes the naked, 
it must be with the best of his garments. When he 
devotes a thing to a holy purpose, it must be from the 
best of his possessions" (Yad, Issure ha-Mizbeafr 
VII, ii) 

Dealing with the laws of impurity, he remarks : 
" It is quite obvious that the regulations concerning 

181 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

impurities and purities come within the category of 
' statutes ' and do not belong to subjects which can 
be rationally explained. Thus the act of immersion, to 
rid oneself of impurity, is in that class, because the de- 
filement is not material filth which can depart from the 
body ; but the rite is dependent upon the intention of 
the heart. On that account the Sages declared, ' If 
a man took the immersion without the intention of 
becoming ritually clean, it is as though he had not 
taken it '.53 Nevertheless there is symbolical signifi- 
cance in this matter. In the same way that a person 
directs his heart to self-purification and attains 
cleanliness by immersion although there has been no 
physical change, so the person who directs his heart 
to purify his soul from spiritual impurities, viz., wrong 
thoughts and bad morals, becomes clean when he 
determines in his heart to hold aloof from those 
courses and bathe his soul in the waters of knowledge " 
(Yad, Mikwaot XI, 12). 

10. The Sabbath and Festivals. The following are 
passages which deal with the holy days of the year, 
and treat of their significance and the proper spirit 
in which they are to be observed : 

" The purpose of the Sabbath is none other than to 
teach us to rest and abstain from the matters which 
trouble us during the working-days and withhold us 
from communing with God, viz., the affairs of the 
material world. It urges us to attach ourselves to 
His service in place of bondage to a Pharaoh ; as it is 
stated in the Decalogue in Deuteronomy, ' And thou 
shalt remember that thou wast a servant in the land 
of Egypt, and the Lord thy God brought thee out thence 
by a mighty hand and by an outstretched arm ; there- 
fore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the 

182 



THE TORAH 

Sabbath day ' (Deut. v. 15). The other reason upon 
which the observance is based is that mentioned in the 
other passage, ' For in six days the Lord made heaven 
and earth ', etc. (Exod. xx. n). The mystic intention 
here is this : You shall attain sanctification through 
My work, and it shall be on the day when I perfected 
My creation. On that day shall you perfect your 
souls by abstaining from mundane affairs, to rest from 
activities and labours to serve and commune with Me 
that being the truly perfect rest. Then shall your 
rest be twofold, of the body and the soul " (Ethical 
Will, Responsa II, 3gb). 

" The commandments relating to the observance of 
the Sabbath and abstention from idolatry are each 
equal in weight to all the other ordinances of the 
Torah put together. The Sabbath is the sign between 
the Holy One, blessed be He, and between us for ever. 
Therefore, whoever transgresses any of the ordinances 
comes within the class of ' the wicked of Israel ' ; but 
he who publicly desecrates the Sabbath is similar in 
every respect to an idolater. 

" Everyone who observes the Sabbath in the 
proper manner, honouring it and delighting in it in 
accordance with his means, the reward which is 
attributed to him by the Prophet is greater in this 
world than even that reserved for the world to come ; 
as it is said, ' Then shalt thou delight thyself in the 
Lord, and I will make thee to ride upon the high places 
of the earth, and I will feed thee with the heritage of 
Jacob thy father ; for the mouth of the Lord hath 
spoken it ' (Isa, Iviii. 14) " (Yad, Shabbat XXX, 15). 

Of the proper way to observe the Festivals, he 
writes : 

" When a man eats and drinks on the Festival, he 
is under the obligation to feed the stranger, the orphan 

183 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

and the widow, together with the other destitute poor. 
But if he locks the door of his court and eats and drinks 
in the company of his wife and children, without 
providing for the poor and distressed, that is not 
' the joy of the commandment ' but the joy of his 
stomach. To such as him do the Prophet's words 
apply, ' Their sacrifices shall be unto them as the 
bread of mourners, all that eat thereof shall be 
polluted ; for their bread shall be for their appetite ' 
(Hos. ix. 4). Rejoicing of this kind is a disgrace to 
such people. . . . 

" Although eating and drinking on the Festivals 
comes within the class of positive commandments, a 
man should not eat and drink throughout the day. 
But such is the proper procedure : In the morning, all 
the people repair early to the places of worship, read 
from the Torah the portion of the day, return home 
from their meal, then go back to the House of Study to 
read and learn until midday. When midday has 
passed, they say the afternoon prayer (Minhah) and 
then wend their way to their homes, and eat and drink 
for the rest of the day until night. 

" When a man eats and drinks and rejoices on a 
Festival, he is not to indulge immoderately in wine 
and laughter and levity, saying that to increase in 
these things is to increase in the fulfilment of the 
command to rejoice. Drunkenness and excessive 
joviality are not rejoicing, but ' madness and folly ' 
(Eccles. i. 17) . It was not for this we were commanded, 
but for that rejoicing in which there is the service of 
the Creator " (Yad, Yom Tab VI, 18-20 ; Mitswot, 
Command. LIV). 

" They (the Festivals) promote the good feeling 
that men should have to each other in their social and 
political relations " (Guide III, 43). 

184 



THE TORAH 

The Passover. " It is kept seven days, because the 
period of seven days is the unit of time intermediate 
between a day and a month. It is also known how 
great is the importance of this period in Nature54 and 
in many religious duties. 55 For the Torah always 
follows Nature and in some respects brings it to 
perfection ; for Nature is not capable of designing and 
thinking, whilst the Torah is the result of the wisdom 
and guidance of God, Who is the Author of the 
intellect of all rational beings " (Guide, loc. cit.). 

Another reason is suggested for the seven days' 
observance. " If the eating of unleavened bread on 
Passover were only commanded for one day, we should 
not have noticed it, and its object would not have been 
manifest. For it frequently happens that we take the 
same kind of food for two or three days. But by our 
continuing for a whole period of seven days to eat 
unleavened bread, its object becomes clear and 
evident " (ibid). 

The Torah ordains the counting of the days that 
intervene between Passover and the next Festival, viz., 
the Feast of Weeks. 5 6 The explanation which 
Maimonides suggests for this counting is : " In order 
to raise the importance of this day, we count the days 
that pass since the preceding Festival, just as one who 
expects his most intimate friend on a certain day counts 
the days and even the hours. This is the reason why 
we count the days that pass since the offering of the 
Omer, between the anniversary of our departure from 
Egypt and the anniversary of the Lawgiving. The 
latter was the aim and object of the exodus from 
Egypt " (ibid). 

The New Year. "It is a day of repentance, on 
which we are stirred up from our forgetfulness. For 
this reason the ShofarS7 is blown on this day " (ibid). 

185 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

The message of theShofar is thus explained by him : 
" Awake, ye sleepers, from your sleep ; and ye who are 
sunk in slumber, arouse yourselves and examine your 
actions. Turn in repentance and remember your 
Creator, ye who are forgetful of the truth because of 
transient vanities, and go astray the whole year after 
vain and idle things which are of no use and cannot 
deliver you. Look to your souls, amend your ways 
and deeds, and let every one of you forsake his evil 
way and his impure thoughts ! 

" Therefore every man should regard himself during 
the whole year as though he were half innocent and 
half guilty, and also to regard the entire world in the 
same light ; so that were he to commit but one sin 
more, he would incline himself and the entire world 
towards the scale of guilt and cause its destruction. 
On the other hand, were he to perform one command- 
ment, he would incline himself and the entire world 
towards the scale of merit and bring salvation and 
deliverance to himself as well as to others ; for it is 
said, ' The righteous is an everlasting foundation ' 
(Prov. x. 15) i.e., the man who acts righteously 
inclines the entire world towards merit and secures its 
deliverance. On this account the House of Israel has 
made it a practice to increase charity and good deeds, 
and to engage in pious acts from the New Year to the 
Day of Atonement, to a greater extent than during the 
rest of the year. The custom has likewise been 
established for all to rise in the night during these 
ten days, and to pray in the Synagogues with words 
of supplication and earnest pleading until daylight " 
(Yad, Teshubah III, 4). 

Day of Atonement. " The Fast creates the sense 
of repentance. It is the same day on which the chief 
of all the Prophets came down from Sinai with the 

186 



THE TORAH 

second tables, and announced to the people the divine 
pardon of their great sin.5 8 The day was therefore 
appointed for ever as a day devoted to repentance and 
true worship of God. For this reason all material 
enjoyment, all trouble and care for the body, are inter- 
dicted, no work may be done ; the day must be spent 
in confession ; every one shall confess his sins and 
abandon them " (Guide III, 43). 

" He commanded us to confess the sins which we 
had committed before God, giving utterance to them 
with contrition. This is the form of the confession 
and its intention : He should say, ' O God, I have 
sinned, I have committed iniquity, I have transgressed, 59 
and I have done so and so '. He should prolong the 
utterance and beg forgiveness in this intention with 
all the eloquence his tongue can command " (Mitswot, 
Command. LXXIII). 

Feast of Tabernacles. " The Feast of Tabernacles, 
which is a feast of rejoicing and gladness, is kept 
seven days, in order that the idea of the Festival may 
be more noticeable. The reason why it is kept in the 
autumn is stated in the Torah, ' when thou gatherest 
in thy labours out of the field ' (Exod. xxiii. 16) ; 
that is to say, when you rest and are free from pressing 
labours. Aristotle, in the ninth book of his Ethics, 
mentions this as a general custom among the nations. 
He says, ' In ancient times the sacrifices and assemblies 
of the people took place after the ingathering of the 
corn and the fruit, as if the sacrifices were offered on 
account of the harvest *. 6 Another reason is this : 
in this season it is possible to dwell in tabernacles, as 
there is neither great heat nor troublesome rain. 

" The two Festivals, Passover and the Feast of 
Tabernacles, imply also the teaching of certain truths 
and certain moral lessons. Passover teaches us to 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

remember the miracles which God wrought in Egypt, 
and to perpetuate their memory ; the Feast of 
Tabernacles reminds us of the miracles wrought in 
the wilderness. The moral lesson derived from these 
Feasts is : man ought to remember his evil days in his 
days of prosperity. He will thereby be induced to 
thank God repeatedly, to lead a modest and humble 
life. We eat, therefore, unleavened bread and 
bitter herbs on Passover in memory of what has 
happened unto us, and leave our houses on Succot in 
order to dwell in tabernacles, as inhabitants of deserts 
do that are in want of comfort. We shall thereby 
remember that this has once been our condition, 
although we dwell now in elegant houses, in the best 
and most fertile land, by the kindness of God and 
because of His promibes to our forefathers. . . . 

" I believe that the four species 61 are a symbolical 
expression of our rejoicing that the Israelites changed 
the wilderness, ' no place of seed or of figs, or of vines, 
or of pomegranates, or of water to drink ' (Num. xx. 5), 
for a country full of fruit-trees and rivers. In order 
to remember this we take the fruit which is the most 
pleasant of the fruit of the land, branches which smell 
best, most beautiful leaves, and also the best of herbs, 
i.e., the willows of the brook. These four kinds have 
also those three purposes ; First, they are plentiful 
in those days in Palestine, so that every one could 
easily get them. Secondly, they have a good appear- 
ance, they are green ; some of them, viz., the citron 
and the myrtle, are also excellent as regards their 
smell, the branches of the palm-tree and the willow 
having neither good nor bad smell. Thirdly, they 
keep fresh and green for seven days, which is not the 
case with peaches, pomegranates, asparagus, nuts 
and the like " (Guide III, 43). 

188 



CHAPTER VII 
DIVINE PROVIDENCE 

i. God is cognisant of man. The tenth Principle of 
Faith declares : 

" That He, the exalted One, knows the works of 
men and is not unmindful of them. Not as they 
thought who said, ' The Lord hath forsaken the land ' 
(Ezek. viii. 12 ; ix. 9), but as he declared who 
exclaimed ' Great in counsel, and mighty in work ; 
Whose eyes are open upon all the ways of the sons of 
men ' (Jer. xxxii. 19). It is further said, 'And the 
Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the 
earth ' (Gen. vi. 5) ; and again, ' the cry of Sodom and 
Gomorrah is great ' (ibid, xviii. 20) " (C.M., Introd. to 
Helek). 

Although this dogma is stated thus baldly, 
Maimonides was aware that it raises difficult problems 
on the meaning and scope of Divine Providence. He 
declares that " on this question the words of those who 
are expert in philosophy are wonderful and very 
profound ; and he who is familiar with the sciences, 
and the intelligent men eager for understanding, 
should pay attention to their arguments, and unite 
their opinions with the words of Scripture, ' Behold I 
have set before thee this day life and good ' (Deut. 
xxx. 15)" (C.M., Berachot IX, end). He devotes 
three chapters to this discussion in Part III of the 
Guide. 

189 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

2. The Problem of Divine Providence. He states the 
problem with his usual fairness and analytical skill : 

" At first thought we notice an absence of system 
in human affairs. Some pious men live a miserable 
and painful life, whilst some wicked people enjoy a 
happy and pleasant life. On this account the 
philosophers assumed as possible the cases which you 
will now hear. They said that only one of two things 
is possible, either God is ignorant of the individual or 
particular things on earth and does not perceive them, 
or He perceives and knows them. These are all the 
cases possible. They then continued thus : If He 
perceives and knows all individual things, one of the 
following three cases must take place : (i) God arranges 
and manages human affairs well, perfectly and fault- 
lessly ; (ii) He is overcome by obstacles and is too 
weak and powerless to manage human affairs ; (iii) 
He knows all things and can arrange and manage them, 
but leaves and abandons them, as too base, low, and 
vile, or from jealousy ; as we may also notice among 
ourselves some who are able to make another person 
happy, well knowing what he wants for his happiness, 
and still in consequence of their evil disposition, their 
wickedness and jealousy against him, they do not help 
him to his happiness. 

" This is likewise a complete enumeration of all 
possible cases. For those who have a knowledge of a 
certain thing necessarily either (i) take care of the 
thing which they know and manage it, or (ii) neglect 
it (as we, e.g., neglect and forget the cats in our house, 
or things of less importance) ; or (iii) while taking care 
of it, have not sufficient power and strength for its 
management, although they have the will to do so. 

" Having enumerated these different cases, the 
philosophers emphatically decided that of the three 

190 



DIVINE PROVIDENCE 

cases possible as regards the management of a thing 
by one who knows that thing, two are inadmissible in 
reference to God viz., want of power or absence of 
will ; because they imply either evil disposition or 
weakness, neither of which can by any means be 
attributed to Him. Consequently there remains 
only the alternative that God is altogether ignorant of 
human affairs, or that He knows them and manages 
them well. Since we, however, notice that events 
do not follow a certain order, that they cannot be 
determined by analogy, and are not in accordance 
with what is wanted, we conclude that God has no 
knowledge of them in any way or for any reason. This 
is the argument which led the philosophers to speak 
such blasphemous words. . . . 

" You must notice with surprise that the evil into 
which these philosophers have fallen is greater than 
that from which they sought to escape, and that they 
ignore the very thing which they constantly pointed 
out and explained to us. They have fallen into a 
greater evil than that from which they sought to escape, 
because they refuse to say that God neglects or forgets 
a thing, and yet they maintain that His knowledge is 
imperfect, that He is ignorant of what is going on here 
on earth, that He does not perceive it. They also 
ignore what they constantly point out to us, inasmuch 
as they judge the whole Universe by that which befalls 
individual men, although, according to their own view, 
frequently stated and explained, the evils of man 
originate in himself or form part of his material nature. 
We have already discussed this sufficiently. 1 After 
having laid this foundation, which is the ruin of all 
good principles and destroys the majesty of all true 
knowledge, they sought to remove the opprobrium 
by declaring that for many reasons it is impossible 

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TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

that God should have a knowledge of earthly things, 
for the individual members of a species can only be 
perceived by the senses, and not by reason ; but God 
does not perceive by means of any of the senses " 
(Guide III, 16). 

3. Five Theories on Providence. This subject was 
keenly debated not only by the Greek philosophers 
but also by Mohammedan theologians who split into 
two sects on the question. Maimonides is accordingly 
able to enumerate five distinct theories respecting 
the problem : 

(i) " There is no Providence at all for anything in 
the Universe ; all parts of the Universe, the heavens 
and what they contain, owe their origin to accident 
and chance ; there exists no being that rules and 
governs them or provides for them. This is the theory 
of Epicurus, who assumes also that the Universe 
consists of atoms, that these have combined by chance, 
and have received their various forms by mere accident.? 
There have been atheists among the Israelites who 
have expressed the same view ; it is reported of them, 
' They have denied the Lord and said He is not ' (Jer. 
v. 12). Aristotle has proved the absurdity of the 
theory that the whole Universe could have originated 
by chance.3 He has shown that, on the contrary, 
there is a being that rules and governs the Universe ".4 

(ii) " Whilst one part of the Universe owes its 
existence to Providence, and is under the control of a 
ruler and governor, another part is abandoned and 
left to chance. This is the view of Aristotle about 
Providence, and I will now explain to you his theory. 
He holds that God controls the Spheres and what they 
contain : therefore the individual beings in the Spheres 
remain permanently in the same form. . . . From 

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DIVINE PROVIDENCE 

the existence of the Spheres other beings derive 
existence, which are constant in their species but not 
in their individuals. In the same manner it is said 
that Providence sends forth from the Spheres to the 
earth sufficient influence to secure the immortality 
and constancy of the species, without securing at the 
same time permanence for the individual beings of 
the species. But the individual beings in each species 
have not been entirely abandoned ; that portion of the 
materia prima which has been purified and refined, and 
has received the faculty of growth, is endowed with 
properties that enable it to exist a certain time, to 
attract what is useful and to repel what is useless. 

" That portion of the materia prima which has 
been subject to a further development, and has 
received the faculty of sensation, is endowed with other 
properties* for its protection and preservation ; it has 
a new faculty of moving freely toward that which is 
conducive to, and away from that which is contrary to, 
its well-being. Each individual being received besides 
such properties as are required for the preservation of 
the species to which it belongs. The portion of the 
materia prima which is still more refined, and is 
endowed with the intellectual faculty, possesses a 
special property by which each individual, according 
to the degree of his perfection, is enabled to manage, 
to calculate, and to discover what is conducive both 
to the temporary existence of the individual and to 
the preservation of the species. All other movements, 
however, which are made by the individual members 
of each species, are due to accident ; they are not, 
according to Aristotle, the result of rule and manage- 
ment. 

"E.g., when a storm or gale blows, it causes 
undoubtedly some leaves of a tree to drop, breaks off 

193 

18 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

some branches of another tree, tears away a stone from 
a heap of stones, raises dust over herbs and spoils them, 
and stirs up the sea so that a ship goes down with the 
whole or part of her contents. Aristotle sees no 
difference between the falling of a leaf or a stone and 
the death of the good and noble people in the ship ; 
nor does he distinguish between the destruction of a 
multitude of ants caused by an ox depositing on them 
his excrement and the death of worshippers killed by 
the fall of the house when its foundations give way ; 
nor does he discriminate between the case of a cat 
killing a mouse that happens to come in her way, or 
that of a spider catching a fly, and that of a hungry 
lion meeting a Prophet and tearing him.5 

" In short, the opinion of Aristotle is this : Every- 
thing is the result of management which is constant, 
which does not come to an end and does not change 
any of its properties, as, e.g., the heavenly beings, 
and everything which continues according to a certain 
rule, and deviates from it only rarely and exceptionally, 
as is the case in objects of Nature. All these are the 
result of management, i.e., in a close relation to Divine 
Providence. But that which is not constant and 
does not follow a certain rule, as, e.g., incidents in the 
existence of the individual beings in each species of 
plants or animals, whether rational or irrational, is 
due to chance and not to management ; it is in no 
relation to Divine Providence. 6 Aristotle holds that 
it is even impossible to ascribe to Providence the 
management of these things." 

(iii) "This theory is the reverse of the second. 
According to this theory, there is nothing in the whole 
Universe, neither a class nor an individual being, 
that is due to chance ; everything is the result of will, 
intention and rule. It is a matter of course that he 

194 



DIVINE PROVIDENCE 

who rules must know that which is under his control. 
The Mohammedan Ash'ariyah? adhere to this theory, 
notwithstanding evident absurdities implied in it ; 
for they admit that Aristotle is correct in assuming 
one and the same cause (viz., the wind) for the fall of 
leaves from the tree, and for the death of a man 
drowned in the sea. But they hold at the same time 
that the wind did not blow by chance ; it is God that 
caused it to move ; it is not therefore the wind that 
caused the leaves to fall ; each leaf falls according to 
the Divine decree ; it is God Who caused it to fall at 
a certain time and in a certain place ; it could not have 
fallen before or after that time or in another place, as 
this has previously been decreed. 

"The Ash'ariyah were therefore compelled to 
assume that motion and rest of living beings are 
predestined, and that it is not in the power of man to 
do a certain thing or leave it undone. The theory 
further implies a denial of possibility in these things ; 
they can only be either necessary or impossible. The 
followers of this theory accepted also the last-mentioned 
proposition, and say that we call certain things possible, 
as, e.g., the facts that A stands and that B is coming ; 
but they are only possible for us, whilst in their 
relation to God they cannot be called possible ; they 
are either necessary or impossible. 

" It follows also from this theory that precepts are 
perfectly useless, since the people to whom any law is 
given are unable to do anything : they can neither do 
what they are commanded nor abstain from what they 
are forbidden. The supporters of this theory hold that 
it was the will of God to send Prophets, to command, 
to forbid, to promise and to threaten, although we have 
no power over our actions. A duty would thus be 
imposed upon us which is impossible for us to carry 

195 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

out, and it is even possible that we may suffer punish- 
ment when obeying the command and receive reward 
when disobeying it. According to this theory, it must 
also be assumed that the actions of God have no final 
cause. . . . When we see a person born blind or 
leprous, who could not have merited a punishment for 
previous sins, they say, It is the will of God ; when a 
pious worshipper is tortured and slain, it is likewise 
the will of God ; and no injustice can be asserted of 
Him for that, for according to their opinion it is proper 
that God should afflict the innocent and do good to 
the sinner/ 1 

(iv) " Man has free will ; it is therefore intelligible 
that the Torah contains commands and prohibitions, 
with announcements of reward and punishment. All 
acts of God are due to wisdom ; no injustice is found in 
Him and He does not afflict the good. The Mu'tazila 8 
profess this theory, although they do not believe in 
man's absolute free will.9 They hold also that God 
takes notice of the falling of the leaf and the destruction 
of the ant, and that His Providence extends over all 
things. 

" This theory likewise implies contradictions and 
absurdities. The absurdities are these : The fact 
that some persons are born with defects, although they 
have not sinned previously, is ascribed to the wisdom 
of God, it being better for those persons to be in such a 
condition than to be in a normal state, though we do 
not see why it is better ; and they do not suffer thereby 
any punishment at all, but, on the contrary, enjoy 
God's goodness. In a similar manner the slaughter of 
the pious is explained as being for them the source of 
an increase of reward in future life. They go even 
further in their absurdities. We ask them why is God 
only just to man and not to other beings, and how has 

196 



DIVINE PROVIDENCE 

the irrational animal sinned that it is condemned to be 
slaughtered, and they reply it is good for the animal, 
for it will receive reward for it in the world to come ; 
also the flea and the louse will there receive compensa- 
tion for their untimely death. The same reasoning 
they apply to the mouse torn by a cat or vulture ; 
the wisdom of God decreed this for the mouse, in order 
to reward it after death for the mishap. . . . 

" I do not consider it proper to blame the followers 
of any of the last-named three theories on Providence, 
for they have been driven to accept them by weighty 
considerations. Aristotle was guided by that which 
appears to be the nature of things. The Ash'ariyah 
refused to ascribe to God ignorance about anything 
and to say that God, whilst knowing one individual 
being or one portion of the Universe, is ignorant of 
another portion ; they preferred to admit the above- 
mentioned absurdities. The Mu'tazilites refused to 
assume that God does what is wrong and unjust ; on 
the other hand, they would not contradict common 
sense and say that it was not wrong to inflict pain on 
the guiltless, or that the mission of the Prophets and 
the giving of the Torah had no intelligible reason. 
They likewise preferred to admit the above-named 
absurdities. But they even contradicted themselves, 
because they believe on the one hand that God knows 
everything, and on the other hand that man has free 
will." 

(v) " This is our 10 theory, or that of our Torah. 
. . . The theory of man's perfectly free will is one 
of the fundamental principles of the Torah of our 
teacher Moses, and of those who follow the Torah. 
According to this principle, man does what is in his 
power to do, by his nature, his choice and his will ; 
and his action is not due to any faculty created for the 

197 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

purpose." All species of irrational animals likewise 
move by their own free will. This is the Will of God : 
that is to say, it is due to the eternal divine will that all 
living beings should move freely, and that man should 
have power to act according to his will or choice within 
the limits of his capacity. Against this principle we 
hear, thank God, no opposition on the part of our 
nation. 

"Another fundamental principle taught by the 
Torah of Moses is this : Wrong cannot be ascribed to 
"God in any way whatever ; all evils and afflictions as 
well as all kinds of happiness of man, whether they 
concern one individual person or a community, are 
distributed according to justice ; they are the result 
of a strict judgment that admits of no wrong whatever. 
Even when a person suffers pain in consequence of 
a thorn having entered into his hand, although it is at 
once drawn out, it is a punishment that has been 
inflicted upon him for sin, and the least pleasure he 
enjoys is a reward for some good action. All this is 
meted out by strict justice ; as is said in Scripture, ' All 
His ways are judgment ' (Deut. xxxii. 4) ; we are 
only ignorant of the working of that judgment " (Guide 

in, 17). 

4. Maimonides' views. 1 * " My opinion on this 
principle of Divine Providence I will now explain to 
you. In the principle which I now proceed to expound 
I do not rely on demonstrative proof, but on my con- 
ception of the spirit of the Divine Torah and the 
writings of the Prophets. The principle which I 
accept is far less open to objections, and is more 
reasonable than the opinions mentioned above. It is 
this : In the lower or sublunary portion of the Universe, 
Divine Providence does not extend to the individual 

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DIVINE PROVIDENCE 

members of species except in the case of mankind. It 
is only in this species that the incidents in the existence 
of the individual beings, their good and evil fortunes, 
are the result of justice, in accordance with the words, 
' For all His ways are judgment '. 

" But I agree with Aristotle as regards all other 
living beings, and a fortiori as regards plants and all the 
rest of earthly creatures. For I do not believe that it 
is through the interference of Divine Providence that 
a certain leaf drops from a tree, nor do I hold that when 
a certain spider catches a certain fly, that this is the 
direct result of a special decree and will of God in that 
moment ; it is not by a particular divine decree that 
the spittle of a certain person moved, fell on a certain 
gnat in a certain place, and killed it ; nor is it by the 
direct will of God that a certain fish catches and 
swallows a certain worm on the surface of the water. 
In all these cases the action is, according to my opinion, 
entirely due to chance, as taught by Aristotle. 

" Divine Providence is connected with divine 
intellectual influence, and the same beings which are 
benefited by the latter so as to become intellectual, 
and to comprehend things comprehensible to rational 
beings, are also under the control of Divine Providence, 
which examines all their deeds in order to reward or 
punish them. It may be by mere chance that a ship 
goes down with all her contents, as in the above- 
mentioned instance, or the roof of a house falls upon 
those within ; but it is not due to chance, according 
to our view, that in the one instance the men went 
into the ship, or remained in the house in the other 
instance ; it is due to the will of God and is in accord- 
ance with the justice of His judgments, the method of 
which our mind is incapable of understanding. I have 
been induced to accept this theory by the circumstance 

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TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

that I have not met in any of the prophetical books 
with a description of God's Providence otherwise than 
in relation to human beings. The Prophets even 
express their surprise that God should take notice of 
man, who is too little and too unimportant to be 
worthy of the attention of the Creator ; how, then, 
should other living creatures be considered as proper 
objects for Divine Providence ! J 3 . . . 

" It cannot be objected to this theory, Why should 
God select mankind as the object of His special 
Providence, and not other living beings ? For he who 
asks this question must also inquire, Why has man 
alone, of all species of animals, been endowed with 
intellect ? The answer to the second question must 
be, according to the three afore-mentioned theories : 
It was the Will of God, it is the decree of His wisdom, 
or it is in accordance with the laws of Nature. The 
same answers apply to the first question. 

" Understand thoroughly my theory, that I do not 
ascribe to God ignorance of anything or any kind of 
weakness. I hold that Divine Providence is related 
and closely connected with the intellect, because 
Providence can only proceed from an intelligent being, 
from a being that is itself the most perfect Intellect. 
Those creatures, therefore, which receive part of that 
intellectual influence, will become subject to the action 
of Providence in the same proportion as they are acted 
upon by the Intellect. . . . 

" Hence it follows that the greater the share is 
which a person has obtained of this divine influence, 
on account of both his physical predisposition and his 
training, the greater must also be the effect of Divine 
Providence upon him, for the action of Divine 
Providence is proportional to the endowment of 
intellects The relation of Divine Providence is 

200 



DIVINE PROVIDENCE 

therefore not the same to all men ; the greater the 
human perfection a person has attained, the greater 
the benefit he derives from Divine Providence. . . . 

" When we see that some men escape plagues and 
mishaps whilst others perish by them, we must not 
attribute this to a difference in the properties of their 
bodies, or in their physical constitution, ' for not by 
strength shall man prevail ' (i Sam. ii. 9) ; but it must 
be attributed to their different degrees of perfection, 
some approaching God, whilst others move away from 
Him. Those who approach Him are best protected, 
and 'He will keep the feet of His holy ones' (ibid.)} 
but those who keep far away from Him are left 
exposed to what may befall them ; there is nothing 
that could protect them from what might happen ; 
they are like those who walk in darkness and are 
certain to stumble. . . . 

" Now consider how by this method of reasoning 
we have arrived at the truth taught by the Prophets, 
that every person has his individual share of Divine 
Providence in proportion to his perfection. For 
philosophical research leads to this conclusion, if we 
assume, as has been mentioned above, that Divine 
Providence is in each case proportional to the person's 
intellectual development. It is wrong to say that 
Divine Providence extends only to the species and not 
to individual beings, as some of the philosophers teach. 
For only individual beings have real existence, and 
individual beings are endowed with Divine Intellect ; 
Divine Providence acts, therefore, upon these 
individual beings " (Guide III, iji). 



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CHAPTER VIII 
REWARD AND PUNISHMENT 

i. God's Justice. Closely allied to the subject of 
Divine Providence is that of Reward and Punishment. 
It formed an important feature in Maimonides' theory 
as expounded in the last Chapter. It is the theme of 
his eleventh Principle of Faith : 

" That He, the exalted One, rewards him who 
obeys the commands of the Torah, and punishes him 
who transgresses His prohibitions. That God's 
greatest reward to man is ' the future world ', and that 
His strongest punishment is ' cutting off '. . . . 
The Scriptural verses in which the Principle is pointed 
out are : ' Yet now if Thou wilt forgive their sin ; 
and if not, blot me out of Thy book ' (Exod. xxxii. 32). 
And God replied to him, ' Whosoever hath sinned 
against Me, him will I blot out of My book ' (ibid. 33). 
This is a proof of what the obedient and the rebellious 
each obtain. God rewards the one and punishes the 
other " (C.M., Introd. to Helek). 

' ' When the Scriptures state of God, * Who respecteth 
not persons nor taketh a bribe* (Deut. x. 17), the 
reference cannot be to His acceptance of a bribe to 
avert justice, for that would be nonsense and an 
impossibility with God, something that could not in 
any way be imagined. For how can bribery be 
ascribed to Him ? What form could it take ? The 
meaning is that He will not accept good deeds as a 

202 



REWARD AND PUNISHMENT 

bribe to overlook the bad. If, e.g., a man should 
perform a thousand good acts and a single bad deed, 
God will not pardon the one transgression because of 
the numerous good acts, even by deducting one or more 
of them ; but He will punish him for this one wrong 
action and reward him for the good " (C.M., Abot 
IV, 29). 

So firm is his belief in God's strict justice, that 
Maimonides feels certain that He would bestow reward 
on an Israelite for secret obedience of the Torah, even 
if he were compelled in time of persecution outwardly 
to profess another religion. " If, according to the 
Rabbis, 1 notorious evil-doers (like Esau, Ahab and 
Nebuchadnezzar) are rewarded by God for a trifling 
good deed which they performed, when Jews are forced 
to apostasise and perform the commandments in secret, 
how is it possible that He will not reward them ! " 
(Kiddush ha-Shem, Responsa II, i3c). 

" The man whose sins exceed his merits dies at 
once in consequence of his wickedness. Similarly a 
country whose sins are in excess perishes. So it is 
also with regard to the whole world ; if its sins exceed 
its merits, it is doomed to immediate destruction. 
The balancing of sins and merits is not quantitative but 
qualitative. There may be one good deed which 
outweighs many sins ; and again there may be one sin 
which outweighs many meritorious actions.* The 
deeds can therefore only be balanced by the mind of 
the God of all knowledge, and He alone is cognisant 
how good deeds are to be estimated against sins " 
(Yad t Teshubah III, 2). 

2. Why Rewards and Punishments are promised. The 
doctrine of Reward and Punishment is apparently at 
variance with that great ideal of Judaism that God 

203 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

should be served purely from love and without 
ulterior motive.3 Maimonides therefore explains that 
the Torah instituted Rewards for the incentive of those 
who have not reached the stage of perfection where 
they avoid the bad and adhere to the good on ethical 
grounds only. Rewards and Punishments were 
intended merely as a temporary expedient ; and he 
illustrates this thought by means of a parable :4 

" Figure to yourself a child young in years brought 
to a teacher to be instructed by him in the Torah. 
But the child, on account of the fewness of his years 
and the weakness of his intellect, does not grasp the 
measure of that benefit, or the extent to which it leads 
him towards the attainment of perfection. The 
teacher must therefore necessarily stimulate him to 
learning by means of things in which he delights by 
reason of his youth. Thus he says to him, ' Read, and 
I shall give you nuts or figs, or a bit of sugar '. The 
child yields to this. He learns diligently, not indeed 
for the sake of the knowledge itself, as he does not know 
the importance of it, but merely to obtain that 
particular dainty (the eating of that dainty being more 
relished by him than study, and regarded as an 
unquestionably greater boon). And consequently he 
considers learning as a labour and a weariness to which 
he gives himself up in order by its means to gain his 
desired object, which consists of a nut, or a piece of 
sugar. 

" When he grows older and his intelligence 
strengthens, he thinks lightly of the trifle in which he 
formerly found joy and begins to desire something new. 
He longs for this newly-chosen object of his, and his 
teacher now says to him, ' Read, and I shall buy you 
pretty shoes, or a coat of this kind ! ' Accordingly he 
again exerts himself to learn, not for the sake of the 

204 



REWARD AND PUNISHMENT 

knowledge, but to acquire that coat ; for the garment 
ranks higher in his estimation than the learning and 
constitutes the final aim of his studies. When, how- 
ever, he reaches a higher stage of mental perfection, 
this prize also ranks little with him, and he sets his 
heart upon something of greater moment. So that 
when his teacher bids him, ' Learn this section or that 
chapter and I will give you a dinars or two ', he learns 
with zest in order to obtain that money which to him 
is of more value than the learning, seeing that it 
constitutes the final aim of his studies. 

" When, further, he reaches the age of greater 
discretion, this prize also loses its worth for him. He 
recognises its paltry nature and sets his heart upon 
something more desirable. His teacher then says to 
him, ' Learn, in order that you may become a Rabbi 
or a Judge ; the people will honour you and rise before 
you ; they will be obedient to your authority, and 
your name will be great, both in life and after death, 
as in the case of so and so '. The pupil throws 
himself into ardent study, striving all the time to 
reach this stage of eminence. His aim is that of 
obtaining the honour of men, their esteem and 
commendation. 

" But all these methods are blameworthy. For 
in truth it is incumbent upon man, considering the 
weakness of the human mind, to make his aim in his 
acquisition of learning something which is extraneous 
to learning. And he should say of anything which 
is studied for the sake of gaining reward, ' Of a truth 
this is a silly business '. This is what the Sages 
meant when they used the expression shello lishmah 
' not for its own sake '. They meant to tell us that 
men obey the laws of the Torah, perform its precepts, 
and study and strive, not to obtain the thing itself, 

205 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

but for a further object. The Sages prohibited this to 
us in the remark, ' Make not of the Torah a crown 
wherewith to aggrandize thyself, nor a spade where 
with to dig '. 6 They allude to that which I have 
made clear to you, viz., not to make the be-all and 
end-all of learning either the glorification of man or 
the acquisition of wealth. Also not to adopt the 
Torah of God as the means of a livelihood,? but to 
make the goal of one's study the acquisition of know- 
ledge for its own sake. 

" Similarly, the aim of one's study of truth ought 
to be the knowing of truth. The laws of the Torah are 
truth, and the purpose of their study is obedience 
to them. The perfect man must not say, * If I per- 
form these virtues and refrain from these vices which 
God forbade, what reward shall I receive ? ' For 
this would resemble the case of the lad who says, 
' If I read, what present will be given me ? ' and 
he receives the reply that he will get such and such a 
thing . . . The Sages warned us against this also, 
viz., against a man making the attainment of some 
worldly object the end of his service to God, and his 
obedience to His precepts. And this is the meaning 
of the dictum of that distinguished and perfect man 
who understood the fundamental truth of things 
Antigonus of Socho 'Be not like servants who 
minister to their master upon the condition of receiv- 
ing a reward ; but be like servants who minister to 
their master without the condition of receiving a 
reward '. 8 They really meant to tell us by this that 
a man should believe in truth for truth's sake " 
(C.M., Introd. to Helek). 

However worthy this principle may be as an ideal, 
it can only be reached by a comparative few. The 
multitude can only be withheld from wrong-doing by 

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REWARD AND PUNISHMENT 

means of threats and induced to obedience of the 
commandments by the hope of reward. 

" Our Sages knew how difficult a thing this was 
(to be ' a server of God from motives of pure love ') and 
that not every one could act up to it. They knew 
that even the man who reached it would not at 
once accord with it and think it a true article of faith. 
For man only does those actions which will either 
bring him advantage or ward off loss. All other 
actions he holds vain and worthless. Accordingly, 
how could it be said to one who is learned in the 
Torah, ' Do these things, but do them not out of fear 
of God's punishment, nor out of hope for His reward ' ? 
This would be exceedingly hard, because it is not 
every one that comprehends truth, and becomes like 
Abraham our father.9 Therefore, in order that the 
common folk might be established in their convictions, 
the Sages permitted them to perform meritorious 
actions with the hope of reward, and to avoid the 
doing of evil out of fear of punishment. They 
encourage them to these conceptions and their opin- 
ions become firmly rooted, until eventually the 
intelligent among them come to comprehend and 
know what truth is and what is the most perfect 
mode of conduct. 

" It is exactly the way in which we deal with the 
lad in his studies, as we have explained in our fore- 
going simile. . . . The people at large are not 
one jot the worse off through their performance 
of the precepts of the Torah by reason of their fear 
of punishment and expectation of reward ; for they 
are in a state of imperfection. On the contrary, 
they are by this means drawn to cultivate the necessary 
habits and training for acting in loyalty to the Torah. 
They bring themselves over to an understanding of 

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TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

truth, and become ' servers out of pure love '. And 
this is what the Sages meant by their remark, ' Man 
should ever engage himself in the Torah, even though 
it be not for the Torah's sake. Action regardless of 
the Torah's sake will lead on to action regardful of 
it ' "w (op. cit.). 

3. The Highest Form of Reward and Punishment. 
For the man who has passed the stage where he is 
attracted by material reward or deterred by fear 
of penalty, there is a sense in which he may still be 
spurred on by recompense to do what is right. 

" As regards the promises and threats alluded to 
in the Torah, their interpretation is that which I 
shall now tell you. It says to you, ' If you obey 
these precepts, I will help you to a further obedience 
of them and perfection in the performance of them. 
And I shall remove all hindrances from you '. For 
it is impossible for man to do the service of God when 
sick or hungry or thirsty or in trouble, and this is 
why the Torah promises the removal of all these 
disabilities and gives man also the promise of health 
and quietude until such a time as he shall have 
attained perfection of knowledge and be worthy of 
the life of the world to come. 

" The final aim of the Torah is not that the earth 
should be fertile, that people should live long, and that 
bodies should be healthy. It simply helps us to the 
performance of its precepts by holding out the 
promise of all these things. Similarly, if men 
transgress, their punishment will be that all these 
hindrances will come into being, rendering them 
powerless to do righteousness ; as we read, 
' Because thou didst not serve the Lord thy God 
with joyfulness. . . . Therefore shalt thou serve 

208 



REWARD AND PUNISHMENT 

thine enemy whom the Lord shall send against thee ' 
(Deut. xxviii., 47). 

" If you give this matter more than ordinary 
consideration, you will find it to be equivalent to being 
told, ' If you carry out a portion of these laws with 
love and diligence, we shall help you to a perform- 
ance of all of them by removing from you all diffi- 
culties and obstacles ; but if you abandon any of 
them out of disdain we shall bring hindrances into 
your path that will prevent you from doing any of 
them, so that you will gain neither perfection nor 
eternity '. This is what is meant by the assertion of 
the Rabbis, ' The recompense of a precept is a precept, 
and the recompense of transgression is transgression ' " xx 
(C.M., Introd. to Helek). 

" When we perform all the commandments of the 
Torah, the good things of this world will fall to our 
lot ; and when we transgress them, the calamities 
recorded in the Torah will befall us. Nevertheless, 
those good things are not the ultimate reward of 
obeying the commandments ; nor are those calami- 
ties the ultimate punishment for transgressing all 
the commandments. The solution of the matter is 
as follows. 

" The Holy One, blessed be He, has given us this 
Torah, which is a tree of life to everyone who performs 
all that is written therein. Whoever knows it with 
a perfect and correct knowledge thereby merits 
the life of the world to come, and does so in proportion 
to the greatness of his deeds and the abundance 
of his wisdom. God has assured us in the Torah 
that if we perform it joyfully and with a willing spirit, 
constantly meditating on its wisdom, He will remove 
from us everything which withholds us from per- 
forming its ordinances, such as illness, war, famine 

209 

14 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

and the like ; and He will grant us all the good things 
which strengthen our hands to perform the Torah, 
such as plenty, peace, and abundance of silver and 
gold ; to the end that we shall not, throughout our 
life, occupy ourselves with the needs of the body, 
but dwell in leisure to study wisdom and perform 
the commandments, thereby meriting the life of the 
world to come. . . . 

" He has likewise informed us in the Torah that 
if we wilfully abandon it and occupy ourselves with 
the vanities of the time, the true Judge will remove 
from those who abandon the Torah all the good things 
of this world which strengthened their hands to spurn 
it ; and He will bring upon them all the calamities 
which prevent them from acquiring the world to come, 
to the end that they may perish in their wickedness " 
(Yad t Teshubah IX, i). 

The form which the penalty inflicted upon the 
wicked will take is thus described : 

" The consummate evil (of punishment) consists 
in the cutting off of the soul, its perishing and its 
failure to attain durability. This is the meaning of 
' cutting oft ' mentioned in the Torah. The meaning 
is the cutting off of the soul, as the Torah manifestly 
declares, ' That soul shall surely be cut off ' (Num. 
xv. 31). And the Sages remarked : ' cut off ' in this 
world, ' surely cut off ' in the world to come" . . . 
All those who devote themselves to bodily pleasures, 
rejecting truth and choosing falsehood, are cut off 
from participation in that exalted state of things 
and remain as detached matter merely " (C.M., 
Introd. to Helek). 

" This ' cutting off ' will apparently take place 
after the sinner has suffered punishment for his mis- 
deeds. But Maimonides is very vague deliberately 

210 



REWARD AND PUNISHMENT 

so, no doubt on this point. All he tells us is : 
" Gehinnom is an expression for the suffering that will 
befall the wicked. The nature of this suffering is not 
expounded in the Talmud. One authority there 
states that the sun will draw near the wicked and 
burn themes He gets his proof from the verse, 
' For behold the day cometh, it burneth as a furnace ' 
(Mai. iii. 19). Another asserts that a strange heat 
will arise in their bodies and consume them. He 
derives proof for this from the phrase, ' Your breath 
is a fire that shall devour you ' (Isa. xxxiii. n) " 
(ibid.). 

4. Repentance. Man is granted one means of escape 
from punishment for his evil deeds, and that is sincere 
repentance. 

" Repentance is one of those principles which are 
an indispensable element in the creed of the followers 
of the Torah. For it is impossible for man to be 
entirely free from error and sin ; he either does not 
know the opinion which he has to choose, or he adopts 
a principle, not for its own merits, but in order to 
gratify his desire or passion. If we were convinced 
that we could never make our crooked ways straight, 
we should for ever continue in our errors, and perhaps 
add other sins to them since we did not see that any 
remedy was left to us. But the belief in the effect 
of repentance causes us to improve, to return to the 
best of the ways, and to become more perfect than 
we were before we sinned " (Guide III, 36). 

"At this time, when the Temple no longer 
exists and we have no atoning altar, there remains 
nothing but repentance. Repentance atones for 
all transgressions. Even he who has been wicked 
throughout his life, and at last repents, has not 

211 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

the least part of his wickedness recorded against 
him. 

" What constitutes perfect repentance ? It is 
when a temptation befalls him who has previously 
succumbed to it and he has the possibility of repeating 
his offence, but he abstains from doing so from 
repentance, and not from fear or lack of ability. If 
one repent only in old age, at a time when it is not 
possible for him to do what he has been in the habit 
of doing, although this is not an ideal form of repent- 
ance, it avails him and he is a penitent. Even if he 
had been a sinner all his life, and repented on the day 
of his death so that he die in penitence, all his sins 
are pardoned. . . . 

" What is repentance ? It is that the sinner 
abandon his sin, remove it from his mind, and also 
resolve in his heart never to do it again. He must 
likewise feel contrition for having transgressed, 
and call Him Who knoweth all secrets to witness that 
he will never repeat this sin. He must also make a 
verbal confession and give utterance to the resolu- 
tions which he had determined in his heart. Whoever 
confesses with words, without resolving in his heart 
to abandon his sins, is like one who undergoes immer- 
sion while clutching the unclean thing in his hand. J 4 
The immersion is useless to him- until he throw 
away the unclean thing. . . . 

" It is of the manifestations of repentance that the 
penitent should cry unremittingly before God with 
weeping and supplications, practise charity accord- 
ing to his means, keeping himself far from the object 
of his sin, and alter his name as though to say, I am 
a different person and not the same man who com- 
mitted those actions. He must amend his whole 
conduct and turn towards the right path. Another 

212 



REWARD AND PUNISHMENT 

thing he should do is to leave the place of his domicile, 
because exile atones for iniquity,^ since it causes a 
man to be humbled and thus become meek and lowly 
of spirit. 

" It is most commendable for the penitent to make 
his confession publicly, and proclaim his trans- 
gressions, disclosing to others the offences existing 
between himself and his fellow-creatures in such 
terms as these, ' In truth I have sinned against so 
and so ; such and such have I done to him ; but to-day 
I repent and regret it '. As for the man who is proud 
and refuses to proclaim his transgressions but con- 
ceals them, his repentance is not genuine. This, 
however, applies only to transgressions between man 
and man ; but with regard to transgressions between 
man and God, he need not make them public. Rather 
would it be effrontery on his part, if he were to 
disclose them ; but he should repent only to God 
and enumerate his sins before Him, only making a 
general confession in public. It is preferable that his 
sin be not published " (Yad, Teshubah I, 3, II, 1-5). 

Maimonides maintains that sometimes God 
penalises a heinous sinner by checking his will to 
repent so that he should die in his wickedness and 
receive punishment for his misdeeds. 

" God at times punishes man by withholding 
repentance from him, thus not allowing him free 
will as regards repentance, x 5 a for God, blessed be He, 
knows the sinners, and His wisdom and equity mete 
out their punishment. Sometimes He punishes 
only in this world, sometimes only in the world to 
come, sometimes in both. Furthermore, His punish- 
ment in this world is varied, sometimes being 
bodily, sometimes pecuniary, and sometimes both at 
once. ... It is not necessary for us to know 

213 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

about God's wisdom so as to be able to ascertain why 
He inflicts precisely such punishment as He does and 
no other, just as little as we know why one species 
has a certain particular form and not another. It is 
sufficient for us to know the general principle, that 
God is righteous in all His ways, that He punishes 
the sinner according to his sin, and rewards the pious 
according to his righteousness " (C.M., Eight Chapters 
VIII.). 

5. Free Will. The whole doctrine of Reward and 
Punishment rests upon the supposition that man is 
endowed with free will and has unhampered choice 
of action to do good or evil, Maimonides accordingly 
emphasises human freedom in this respect. 

" Free will is granted to every man. If he wish 
to direct himself to the good way and become right- 
eous, the will to do so is in his hand ; and if he wish 
to direct himself to the bad way and become wicked, 
the will to do so is in his hand. That is what is 
written in the Torah, ' Behold, the man is become 
as one of us, to know good and evil ' (Gen. iii. 22) 
that is to say, the human species has become unique 
in the world and there is no other species like it in this 
respect, viz., in knowing by itself, by its own know- 
ledge and reflection, what is good and what is evil, 
and in doing whatever it wishes without there being 
anyone to withhold it from doing the good or the evil. 

" Let there not enter your mind the assertion ol the 
fools of other peoples and also of the many uninformed 
men among the Israelites, viz., that the Holy One, 
blessed be He, decrees concerning the human being, 
from his birth, whether he is to be righteous or wicked. 
The matter is not so ; but every man has the possi- 
bility of becoming as righteous as Moses our teacher 

214 



REWARD AND PUNISHMENT 

or as wicked as Jeroboam, wise or stupid, kind or 
cruel, miserly or generous, and similarly with all the 
other qualities. There is no one to compel, decree 
or determine him as to either of the two ways ; but 
it is he, of his own accord and mind, who inclines 
towards whichever way he prefers. That is what 
Jeremiah said, ' Out of the mouth of the Most High 
proceedeth not evil and good ' (Lam. iii. 38) l6 , 
meaning, the Creator does not decree concerning a 
man that he should be either good or bad. It con- 
sequently follows that the sinner caused his own 
downfall. It therefore behoves him to weep and 
lament over his sins and for having done violence 
to his soul. Hence the quotation proceeds, ' Where- 
fore doth a living man complain ', etc. ; and Jeremiah 
goes on to say, since our will is under our control 
and we have consciously committed all the wicked 
deeds, it behoves us to turn in repentance and 
abandon our wickedness, because the choice is now 
in our hands. That is what the text continues, 
' Let us search and try our ways, and return to the 
Lord ' (ibid. 40). 

"This subject is a most important Principle 
of Faith ; it is a pillar of the Torah and of the 
commandments. ... If God were to decree 
concerning man whether he is to be righteous or 
wicked, or if there were anything in the nature of his 
nativity which impelled him to either of the two 
ways, or to a particular quality, or to a particular 
disposition, or to a particular action, as the foolish 
astrologers invent in their minds, how could He 
have commanded us through the Prophets, Do 
this and avoid that, mend your ways and go not after 
your wickedness, if from the outset of his existence 
his fate had been decreed for him or his nativity 

215 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

impels him to something from which he cannot possibly 
desist ? What place would there have been for the 
whole of the Torah ? And by what justice, or by 
what right, could He punish the wicked or reward 
the righteous ? ' Shall not the Judge of all the earth 
do justly ? ' (Gen. xviii. 25). 

" Do not say in surprise, How can a man do all 
that he desires and his actions be under his control ? 
Can he do anything in the world without the per- 
mission and will of his Creator ; as Scripture declares, 
' Whatsoever the Lord pleased, that hath He done 
in heaven and in earth ' (Ps. cxxxv. 6) ? Know that 
everything is done according to His will, although 
our actions are under our control. How is this ? 
In the same way that the Creator willed that fire and 
air should move upward, that water and earth should 
move downward, that the Sphere revolve in a circle, 
and that all other things which were created in the 
Universe should have the tendency which He desired, 
so did He desire that a man should be possessed of free 
will, that all his actions should be under his control, 
and that there should not be anything to compel 
or withhold him, but that of his own accord and by 
the mind with which God had endowed him, he should 
do all that man is able to do. For this reason is 
man judged according to his actions ; if he has done 
what is good, good is done to him ; and if he has done 
what is evil, evil is done to him " (Yad, Teshubah V, 

1-4). 

"The Rabbis expatiate very much upon this 
subject in the Midrash Kohelet and in other writings, 
one of their statements in reference to this matter 
being, ' Everything follows its natural course '. f 7 
In everything that they said, you will always find 
that the Rabbis, peace be upon them, avoided 

216 



REWARD AND PUNISHMENT 

referring to the Divine Will as determining a particular 
event at a particular time. When, therefore, they 
said that man rises and sits down in accordance 
with the will of God, their meaning was that, when 
man was first created, his nature was so determined 
that rising up and sitting down were to be optional 
to him ; but they as little meant that God wills at 
any special moment that man should or should not 
get up, as He determines at any given time that a 
certain stone should or should not fall to the ground. 18 

" The sum and substance of the matter is, then, 
that thou shouldst believe that just as God willed 
that man should be upright in stature, broadchested, 
and have fingers, likewise did He will that man 
should move or rest of his own accord, and that his 
actions should be such as his own free will dictates 
to him, without any outside influence or restraint " 
(C.M., Eight Chapters VIII). 

A correspondent, however, questioned him as to 
hpw it was possible to reconcile the doctrine of free 
will with the Rabbinic statement that "marriages 
were made in heaven ". X 9 His reply is rather curious : 

" When the Sage stated that the daughter of A 
is the predestined bride of B t this comes under the 
heading of Reward and Punishment ; for if this man 
or woman acted meritoriously entitling them to the 
reward of a fine and praiseworthy marriage, He 
couples them together. Similarly if He has to punish 
them with a marriage which is to be productive 
of constant strife, He couples them " (Responsa I, 



6. Prescience and Determinism. Free will raises the 
difficult problem of God's foreknowledge of events. 
Maimonides' treatment of the subject was considered 

217 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

by subsequent Jewish philosophers as weak and 
unphilosophical, since he takes refuge in an agnostic 
attitude and avoids the issue. His solution is as 
follows : 

" The reason for their belief (that man is deter- 
mined in his actions) they base on the following 
statement. ' Does God know or does He not know 
that a certain individual will be good or bad ? If 
thou sayest He knows, then it necessarily follows 
that man is compelled to act as God knew beforehand 
he would act, otherwise God's knowledge would be 
imperfect. If thou sayest that God does not know in 
advance, then great absurdities and destructive 
religious theories will result '. Listen, therefore, 
to what I shall tell thee, reflect well upon it, for it is 
unquestionably the truth. 

" It is, indeed, an axiom of the science of the divine, 
i.e., metaphysics, that God, may He be blessed, 
does not know by means of knowledge, and does 
not live by means of life, so that He and His know- 
ledge may be considered two different things in the 
sense that this is true of man 20 ; for man is distinct 
from knowledge, and knowledge from man, in 
consequence of which they are two different things. 
If God knew by means of knowledge, He would 
necessarily be a plurality, and the primal essence 
would be composite, that is, consisting of God 
Himself, the knowledge by which He knows, the life 
by which He lives, the power by which He has strength, 
and similarly of all His attributes. I shall only 
mention one argument, simple and easily understood 
by all, though there are strong and convincing 
arguments and proofs that solve this difficulty. It 
is manifest that God is identical with His attributes 
and His attributes with Him, so that it may be said 

218 



REWARD AND PUNISHMENT 

that He is the knowledge, the knower and the known, 
and that He is the life, the living and the source 
of His own life, the same being true of His other 
attributes. . . . 

" Another accepted axiom of metaphysics is that 
human reason cannot fully conceive God in His true 
essence, because of the perfection of God's essence 
and the imperfection of our reason, and because 
His essence is not due to causes through which it may 
be known. Furthermore, the inability of our reason 
to comprehend Him may be compared to the inability 
of our eyes to gaze at the sun,* 1 not because of the 
weakness of the sun's light, but because that light 
is more powerful than that which seeks to gaze into it. 

" From what we have said, it has been demon- 
strated also that we cannot comprehend God's 
knowledge, that our minds cannot grasp it at all, 
for He is His knowledge and His knowledge is He. 
. . . Reflect, then, upon all that we have said, 
viz., that man has control over his actions, that it 
is by his own determination that He does either 
the right or the wrong, without, in either case, being 
controlled by fate, and that, as a result of this divine 
commandment, teaching, preparation, reward and 
punishment are proper. Of this there is absolutely 
no doubt. As regards, however, the character of 
God's knowledge, how He knows everything, this is, 
as we have explained, beyond the reach of human 
ken " (C.M., Eight Chapters VIII, end). 



219 



CHAPTER IX 
ESCHATOLOGY 

i. The Coming of the Messiah. Maimonides con- 
cludes his formulation of the cardinal principles of 
Judaism with a reference to Eschatology, i.e., the 
doctrine of the last things, the final state of humanity 
as a whole as well as of the individual in the here- 
after. His twelfth Principle of Faith deals with : 

" The days of the Messiah. This involves the 
belief and firm faith in his coming, and that we should 
not find him slow in coming. 'Though he tarry, 
wait for him ' (Hab. ii. 3). No date must be fixed 
for his appearance, neither may the Scriptures be 
interpreted with the view of deducing the time of his 
coming. 1 The Sages said, ' A plague on those who 
calculate periods' (for Messiah's appearance).* We 
must have faith in him, honouring and loving him, 
and praying for him according to the degree of 
importance with which he is spoken of by every 
Prophet, from Moses unto Malachi. He that has 
any doubt about him or holds his authority in light 
esteem imputes falsehood to the Torah, which clearly 
promises his coming in ' the Chapter of Balaam '3 
and in ' Ye stand this day all of you before the 
Lord your God '4. From the general nature of this 
Principle of Faith we gather that there will be no 
king of Israel but from David and the descendants 
of Solomon exclusively. Every one who disputes 

220 



ESCHATOLOGY 

the authority of this family denies God and the words 
of His Prophets" (C.M., Introd. to Ifelek). 

2. The Personality of the Messiah. The fullest 
expression of his views on this subject is found in 
the Letter addressed by him to the Community of 
Yemen which had been disturbed by the appearance 
of a claimant to the Messiahship. Maimonides 
denounces him as an impostor because his qualifica- 
tions were not those which must be possessed by 
the true Messistfi. 

" The Messiah will be a very great Prophet, 
greater than all the Prophets with the exception of 
Moses our teacher. . . . His status will be higher 
than that of the Prophets and more honourable, 
Moses alone excepted. The Creator, blessed be He, 
will single him out with features wherewith He had 
not singled out Moses ; for it is said with reference 
to him, ' And his delight shall be in the fear of the 
Lord ; and he shall not judge after the sight of his 
eyes, neither decide after the hearing of his ears ' 
(Isa. xi. 3). It is likewise said, ' And the spirit of 
the Lord shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom 
and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, 
the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord ' 
(v. 2) ; and ' Righteousness shall be the girdle of his 
loins and faithfulness the girdle of his reins ' (v. 5). 
The Holy One applied six names to him : ' Wonderful, 
Counsellor, God, Mighty, Everlasting Father, Prince 
of Peace ' (ibid. ix. 5). His being called ' God ' 
is hyperbolical, and intimates that his greatness will 
be superior to that of all men. 

" It is one of the known conditions with us that 
every Prophet must have reached mental perfection 
before God endows him with Prophecy ; for it is a 

221 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

fundamental principle with us that Prophecy only 
alights upon a man who is wise, mighty and rich, 
i.e., mighty in self-control, rich in knowledge.5 But 
when a man arises who is not renowned for wisdom, 
claiming to be a Prophet, we do not believe him. 
How much less do we believe one of the common 
people (amme ha-arets) who claims to be the Messiah. 

" One of the evidences that such a man belongs 
to ' the common people ' is that he commands his 
fellowman to part with all his money by distributing 
it among the poor. 6 All who obey him are fools, 
and he is a sinner who acts contrary to the Torah. 
According to our Torah it is not proper to spend all 
one's possessions in charity but only a part of it 
not more than one-fifth? . . . 

" As regards the origin of the Messiah and the place 
of his appearance, he will first manifest himself in 
the land of Israel ; as it is said, ' And the Lord, 
whom ye seek, will suddenly come to His temple ; 
and the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in, 
behold, he cometh ' (Mai. iii. i). But with respect 
to his origin, you cannot know it beforehand, until 
it is declared of him that he is the son of so and so 
and from such and such a family. A man will arise 
who is unknown before his manifestation, and the 
signs and marvels which will be seen through him 
will be proof of the validity of his claim. 8 . For so 
has the Holy One, blessed be He, informed us on this 
matter : ' Behold, a man whose name is the Shoot, 
and who shall shoot up out of his place ' (Zech. vi. 12). 
Similarly declared Isaiah, ' For he shot up right forth 
as a sapling ' (liii. 2). . . . 

" The special feature with respect to him is that 
at the time when he manifests himself, all the kings 
of the earth will be stirred at the report of him and 

222 



ESCHATOLOGY 

will be filled with dread ; their Tdngdoms also will 
be stirred. They will conspire how to withstand 
him either by the sword or by other means ; that is 
to say, they will not be able to dispute his claims 
or deny him, but they will be stirred by the miracles 
which will be evidenced by him and place their hand 
upon their mouth (cf. Isa. lii. 15). He will put to 
death by his word whoever wishes to kill him without 
possibility of escape ; as it is said, ' And he shall 
smite the land with the rod of his mouth, and with 
the breath of his lips shall he slay the wicked ' 
(Isa. xi, 4) " (Iggeret Teman, Responsa II, Gc-ya). 

" Let it not enter thy mind that the King Messiah 
must necessarily perform signs and wonders, display 
some novelty in the world, revive the dead, or do 
something similar. It is not so ; for Rabbi Akiba 
was among the greatest of the Sages of the Mishnah, 
yet he was the armour-bearer of Ben Koziba, and 
acknowledged him as King Messiah.9 Both he and 
all the other Sages 10 thought him to be the King 
Messiah until he was slain for his sins ; when he fell 
in battle it was known that he was not the Messiah. 
The Sages never demanded of him a sign or 
miracle. . . . 

" If there arise a king from the house of David 
who meditates in the Torah, occupies himself with 
the commandments after the manner of his ancestor 
David, in accord with both the written and the oral 
law, induces all Israel to walk therein and repair its 
breach, and fights the battles of the Lord, it may 
be presumed of him that he is the Messiah. If he 
succeed in rebuilding the Temple on its site and 
gathering the dispersed of Israel, he is certainly the 
Messiah. But if he does not succeed to this extent 
or is slain, it is certain that he is not the Messiah 

223 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

promised in the Torah. He is to be considered like 
all the other pious and upright kings of the house of 
David who died, and the Holy One, blessed be He, 
only raised him up to try the multitude ; as it is 
said, ' And some of them that are wise shall stumble, 
to refine among them, and to purify, and to make 
white, even the time of the end ; for it is yet for the 
time appointed ' (Dan. xi. 35). 

" Even of him who imagined that he was the 
Messiah, but was put to death by the Court, 11 Daniel 
had previously prophesied ; as it is said, ' Also the 
children of the violent among thy people shall lift 
themselves up to establish the vision ; but they 
shall stumble ' (ibid. 14). Has there ever been a 
greater stumbling than this ? For all the Prophets 
declared that the Messiah would be the deliverer of 
Israel and their saviour, gathering their dispersed ones 
and confirming the commandments. But he caused 
Israel to perish by the sword, their remnant to be 
dispersed and humbled. He induced them to change 
the Torah and led the greater part of the world to 
err and serve another than God. 

" No human being, however, is capable of fathom- 
ing the designs of the Creator ; for their ways ate 
not His ways, neither are His thoughts their thoughts. 
All these events, and even those relating to him who 
succeeded the one referred to, 1 * were nothing else 
than a means for preparing the way for the King 
Messiah. It will reform the whole world to worship 
the Lord with one accord ; as it is said, ' For then will 
I turn to the peoples a pure language, that they may 
all call upon the name of the Lord to serve Him with 
one consent ' (Zeph. iii. 9). How will this be ? The 
entire world has been filled with the doctrine of the 
Messiah, the Torah and the commandments. The 

224 



ESCHATOLOGY 

doctrines have been propagated to the distant isles 
and among many peoples, uncircumcised of heart 
and flesh. They discuss these subjects which con- 
tradict the Torah. Some declare these command- 
ments were true, but are abrogated at the present 
time and have lost their force ; while others assert 
there are occult significations in them and they are 
not plain of meaning the king has already come 
and revealed their hidden significance.^ But when 
the king Messiah will in fact arise and succeed, be 
exdlted and lifted up, they will immediately all 
recant and acknowledge the falsity of their asser 
tion " (Yad, Melachim XI, 3f). 

3. The Messianic Era. " The days of the Messiah 
will be the time when the kingdom will revert to 
Israel who will return to the Holy Land. The king 
who will then reign will have Zion as the capital of 
his realm. His name will be great and fill the earth 
to its uttermost bounds. It will be a greater name 
than that of King Solomon and mightier. The 
nations will make peace with him, and lands will 
obey him by reason of his great rectitude and the 
wonders that will come to light by his means. Any 
one that rises up against him God will destroy and 
make him fall into his hand. All verses of Scripture 
testify to his prosperity and our prosperity in him. 

" So far as existing things are concerned, there 
will be no difference whatever between now and then, 
except that Israel will possess the kingdom. And 
this is the sense of the Rabbis' statement, 'There 
is no difference between this world and the days of the 
Messiah except the subjugation of the kingdom 
alone '. X 4 In his days there will be both the strong 
and the weak in their relations to others. But 

225 

15 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

verily in those days the gaining of their livelihood 
will be so very easy to men that they will do the lightest 
possible labour and reap great benefit. It is this 
that is meant by the remark of the Rabbis, ' The 
land of Israel will one day produce cakes ready 
baked, and garments of fine silk >X 5 . . . 

"The great benefits that will accrue to us at 
'that epoch will consist in our enjoying rest from the 
work of subjugating the kingdoms of wickedness, 
a work which prevents us from the full performance 
of righteous action. Knowledge will increase, as it 
is said, ' For the earth shall be full of the knowledge 
of the Lord ' (Isa. xi. 9). Discords and wars will 
cease, as it is said, ' Nation shall not lift up sword 
against nation ' (Micah iv. 3). Great perfection 
will appertain to him that lives in those days, and he 
will be elevated through it to the ' life of the world 
to come '. But the Messiah will die, and his son and 
son's son will reign in his stead. God has clearly 
declared his death in the words, ' He shall not fail 
nor be crushed, till he have set the right in the earth ' 
(Isa. xlii. 4). His kingdom will endure a very long 
time and the lives of men will be long also, because 
longevity is a consequence of the removal of sorrows 
and cares " (C.M., Introd. to Helek). 

" The King Messiah will arise and restore the 
kingdom of David to its former position and original 
dominion. He will rebuild the Temple and gather 
the dispersed of Israel. All the ordinances will 
come into force in his days as they used to be in the 
olden times ; sacrifices will again be offered ; the 
year of release and the Jubilee 16 will be again observed 
according to their commandments as stated in the 
Torah. . . . 

" Let it not enter the mind that in the days of the 
226 



ESCHATOLOGY 

Messiah anything in the world's system will cease to 
exist, or any novelty be introduced into the scheme 
of the Universe ; but the world will go on as usual. 
The statement of Isaiah, ' The wolf shall dwell with 
the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the 
kid ' (xi. 6), is a metaphorical expression signifying 
that Israel will dwell in safety among the wicked 
of the heathens who are likened to wolves and 
leopards (cf. Jer. v. 6) l6a . They will be converted 
to the true religion, and will no more plunder and 
destroy, but will live honestly and quietly like 
Israel. . . . 

" The Sages and Prophets did not long for the days 
of the Messiah for the purpose of wielding dominion 
over all the world, or of ruling over the heathens, 
or being exalted by the peoples, or of eating and 
drinking and rejoicing; their desire was to be free 
to devote themselves to the Torah and its wisdom, 
without anyone to oppress and disturb them, in order 
that they might merit the life of the world to come. 

" In that era, there will not be famine or war, 
jealousy or strife. Prosperity will be widespread, 
all comforts found in abundance. The sole occupa- 
tion throughout the world will be to know the Lord. 
Hence Israelites will be very wise, learned in things 
that are now hidden, and will attain a knowledge 
of the Creator to the utmost capacity of the human 
being ; as it is said, ' For the earth shall be full of 
the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the 
sea ' (Isa. xi. 9) " (Yad, Melachim XI, i ; XII, i, 4f). 
" On this account all Israel, their Prophets and 
their Sages, longed for the days of the Messiah. It 
was for the purpose of obtaining relief from the 
kingdoms which do not allow them to. occupy them- 
selves with the Torah and the commandments in a 

227 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

proper manner ; to the end that they may experi- 
ence quietness and increase in wisdom, and so merit 
the life of the world to come. . . . The ultimate 
reward and final bliss, to which there is neither 
cessation nor diminution, is the life of the world to 
come ; whereas the days of the Messiah belong to 
this world, and the Universe will continue as usual, 
except that the sovereignty will revert to Israel " 
(Yad, Teshubah IX, 2). 

Maimonides apparently associates the Garden of 
Eden (Paradise) with the Messianic Era and not 
with the world to come, because he locates it in the 
sublunary world. 

" As for the Garden of Eden, it is a fertile spot 
on the earth's Sphere rich in streams and fruits. 
God will of a certainty disclose it to man one day, 
and will show him the path leading to it. Man will 
reap enjoyment within it, and there may possibly 
be found therein plants of a very extraordinary sort, 
great in usefulness and rich in pleasure-giving 
properties, in addition to those which are renowned 
with us. All this is not impossible nor far-fetched. 
On the contrary, it is quite near possibility, and 
would be so even if the Torah failed to allude to it. 
How much more is it the case seeing that it has a clear 
and conspicuous place in the Torah ! " (C.M., Introd. 
to Ifelek). 

In addition to the fact that the Torah mentions 
the Garden of Eden as a place located on earth, 
Maimonides was doubtless influenced by the thought 
which he stresses that physical pleasures are unknown 
in the world to come. 1 ? 

4. Calculating the Time of the Advent. Considerable 
mischief was sometimes done by attempts to foretell 

228 



ESCHATOLOGY 

by means of abstruse calculations when the Messiah 
would come. The approach of the date would 
create expectation in the hearts of the people, and, 
what was worse, induce an impostor to put himself 
forward as the awaited deliverer. It was in cir- 
cumstances of this kind that, in 1172, Maimonides 
addressed a Letter to the Jews of Yemen, in which 
he warned them : 

" It is your duty to know that it is not proper 
for any man to endeavour to ascertain when the 
' end ' will truly come ; as Daniel explained, ' The 
words are shut up and sealed till the time of the 
end ' (xii. 9). But some of the learned have indulged 
in much speculation on this question and imagined 
they had solved it ; as the Prophet foretold, ' Many 
shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased ' 
(v. 4) meaning, the opinions and conjectures on 
this point will be increased. The Holy One, blessed 
be He, had previously declared through His Prophets 
that some men will calculate ' ends ' for the Messiah, 
but these will pass by without fulfilment. After 
that, He warned us not to despair on account of this, 
saying, Do not distress yourselves if their calculation 
proves wrong, but however long the Messiah delay, 
heighten your hope in him. Thus it is said, ' For 
the vision is j^et for the appointed time, and it 
declareth of the end, and doth not lie ; though he 
tarry, wait for him because he will surely come, he 
will not delay ' (Hab. ii. 3). . . . 

" Daniel has explained to us the profundity of the 
knowledge concerning the ' end ', and that it was 
' shut up ' and concealed. For that reason the 
Sages withheld us from calculating the advent of 
the Messiah, since it becomes a stumbling-block 
to the masses and leads them to make mistakes 

229 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

when the foretold ' end ' arrives, when in fact it has 
not. And so the Sages exclaimed, 'A plague on 
those who make such calculations ! ' " l8 (Iggeret 
Teman, Responsa II, 5a). 

Despite this strong stand against working out a 
date for the coming of the Messiah, the same Letter 
contains a calculation, supposed to have been made 
by Maimonides himself : 

" We have a tradition on this matter that the 
saying of Balaam, ' Now (lit. like the time) is it said 
of Jacob and of Israel, What hath God wrought 1 ' 
(Num. xxiii. 23), contains a secret that from that 
time is to be reckoned the same period that had 
elapsed up to then from the Creation of the world, 
and then the Prophets will say to them, ' What hath 
God wrought ! ' This Prophecy was uttered in the 
fortieth year from the Exodus from Egypt ; and you 
will find that from the beginning of the era up to that 
time was 2,488 years. According to this analogy 
and explanation, the Prophecy will be fulfilled in 
Israel in the year 4,976 from the Creation of the 
world " (op. cit. t 5b, c). 

This date corresponds with the year 1216 of the 
current era. But it hardly seems possible that 
Maimonides should have practised in the same letter 
the very thing which he wrote the letter to denounce. 
As Dr. Friedlander, the translator of the Guide, 
points out, " The inconsistency is so obvious that it is 
impossible to attribute this passage to Maimonides 
himself. It is probably spurious, and has, perhaps, 
been added by the translator ". X 9 

5. The World to Come. It is to be gathered from the 
quotations in 3 that Maimonides regarded the 
Messianic Era as a helpful preparation to the attain- 

230 



ESCHATOLOGY 

ment of the bliss of the world to come ; but whereas 
the former is a condition to be experienced in the 
lifetime of man, the latter awaits the righteous after 
death. 

" The good which is treasured up for the righteous 
is the life of the world to come ; it is a life which is 
deathless and a happiness free from all adversity. 
. . . The reward of the righteous is their meriting 
this bliss and enjoying this happy state. The punish- 
ment of the wicked is that they do not merit this 
higher form of life, but are cut off and die. Whoever 
does not merit that life suffers death without ever 
recovering life again ; he is cut off in his wickedness 
and perishes like the beast " ( Yad, Teshubah VIII, i). 

" The reason why the Sages called it ' the world to 
come ' was not because it does not exist now, and this 
world must first perish and after that the other world 
comes into being. That is not so ; but it is actually in 
existence. The only reason the Sages called it ' the 
world to come ' was because that life comes to man 
subsequently to the life of this world in which we 
exist both with body and soul, and is the first stage of 
existence through which all men pass " (ibid. 8). 

6. Who will have a share in the world to come. " All 
the wicked (of Israel), though their sins be numerous, 
are judged according to their wrongdoings, but still 
have a share in the world to come ; because all Israel 
have a share therein, although they have sinned. 
. . * Likewise the pious of the nations of the world 
have a share in it. ao 

" The following (Israelites) have no share in the 
world to come, but are cut off, perish and are con- 
demned for all eternity because of their great 
wickedness and sinfulness ; viz., infidels and heretics, 

231 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

they who deny the Torah, they who deny the resurrec- 
tion of the dead and the coming of the Redeemer, 
apostates, they who cause the public to sin, they who 
deviate from the accepted practices of the Community, 
he who commits transgressions presumptuously and 
openly like Jehoiakin, informers, they who overawe 
the Community, not for a religious purpose, they who 
shed blood, slanderers, and he who obliterates the 
mark of his circumcision " ( Yad, Teshubah III, 5f). 

" Our statement that none of these sinners has a 
share in the world to come applies only when he dies 
without repentance ; but if he turn from his wickedness 
and die a penitent, he is of the sons of the world to 
come, because there is nothing which can stand 
against repentance. Even if one denied a fundamental 
principle of religion all his life but finally repented, he 
has a share in the world to come " (ibid. 14). 

Martyrdom is a certain qualification for the bliss 
of the hereafter. " The man whom God makes worthy 
to ascend to this highest degree, viz., to be slain for the 
sanctification of the Name, even were his iniquities 
to be like those of Jeroboam the son of Nebat and his 
associates, he is destined for the world to come. This 
is so, even if he were not learned in the Torah ; for thus 
said the Sages,* 1 ' No creature can attain the height 
which is achieved by those who are slain by an 
idolatrous government ' " (Kiddush ha-Shem, Responsa 
II, I 4 c). 

The performance of a single commandment from 
disinterested motives will also secure a person that 
happiness. " It is a cardinal principle of faith in the 
Torah that should a man fulfil one of the 613 command- 
ments in a proper manner, without associating with 
it any worldly motive whatever, but performing it 
for its own sake from a sentiment of love, he merits by 

232 



ESCHATOLOGY 

that act the life of the world to come " (CM., Makkot 
III, end). 

7. The Immortal Soul. Maimonides does not specify 
the immortality of the soul as a separate Principle of 
Faith, because it is clearly implied in that relating to 
the Resurrection of the Dead. But with reference to 
immortality he understands " soul " in a special sense. 

" The soul that remains after the death of man is 
not the soul that lives in a man when he is born. The 
latter is a mere faculty, while that which has a separate 
existence after death is a reality. M Again, the soul 
and the spirits of man during his life are two different 
things ; therefore the souls and the spirits are both 
named as existing in man ; but separate from the 
body only one of them exists 3 4 " (Guide I, 70). 

Maimonides identifies the immortal soul with the 
rational faculty. 

" The soul of all flesh is the form*5 thereof which 
God gave to it ; and the superior knowledge which is 
found in the soul of man is the form of the man who is 
perfect in his knowledge. Concerning this form it is 
said in the Torah, ' Let us make man in our image, 
after our likeness ' (Gen. i. 26), a6 meaning that man 
should possess a form that is able to know and compre- 
hend the Intelligences which are incorporeal like the 
Angels, who are form without matter, until he becomes 
like them. This does not refer to that form which is 
perceptible to the eye, viz., the mouth, the nose, the 
cheek-bones, or the other features of the body, the term 
for which is toar, ' shape '. Nor does it refer to the 
' soul ' which is common to all living creatures, by 
which it eats, drinks, propagates, feels and reflects*? ; 
but it refers to the knowledge which is the form of the 
soul, 38 and it is of the form of the soul that Scripture 

233 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

declares 'in our image, after our likeness'. This 
form is of ten called nephesh and also ruafy. . . . 

"This form of the soul is not composed of the 
elements, so that it ever could be decomposed into 
them ; nor does it proceed from the power of the 
breath of life (neshamah), so that it should stand in 
need of the breath of life in the same manner that the 
breath of life stands in need of the body. But it issues 
from God, from Heaven ; therefore when the matter, 
which is composed of the elements, becomes decomposed, 
and when the breath of life also perishes since it 
cannot exist apart from the body, and is in need of the 
body in all its functions this form is not destroyed, 
because it is not in need of the breath of life in its 
functions, but knows and comprehends the Intelli- 
gences that are separate from matter, and knows the 
Creator of all things. It endures for all eternity " 
(Yad, Yesode ha-Torah IV, 8f). 

" Whenever the expression nephesh is used in this 
connection, it does not refer to the breath of life which 
is in need of a body, but to the form of the soul, viz., 
the intelligence which comprehends the Intelligences 
that are separate from matter, as well as other created 
things " (Yad, Teshubah VIII, 3). 

" When it is established that this soul (which is 
identical with the rational faculty) is in no way matter 
and is not dependent on matter, it cannot be doubted 
that when it parts from the body, it returns to the 
original source whence it issued and remains immortal 
for all eternity " (Ma'amar ha-Yifyud, pp. 



8. Resurrection of the Dead. Maimonides 1 last 
Principle of Faith contains nothing more than this : 
"The resurrection of the dead. We have already 
explained this ". The explanation alluded to is that 

234 



ESCHATOLOGY 

given earlier in the Introduction to gelek in the 
following terms : " The Resurrection of the Dead is 
one of the cardinal doctrines of the Torah of Moses. 
He who does not believe in this has no religion, and no 
bond with the Jewish Faith. But it is the reward of 
the righteous only, as is shown by the statement in 
Bereshit Rabba : ' The great benefits of rain are for 
both the righteous and the wicked, but the resurrec- 
tion of the dead applies to the righteous only '.*9 And 
forsooth how shall the evil-doers live after death, 
seeing that they were dead even in life ; as the Sages 
said, ' The wicked are called dead even during their 
lives, but the good are called living even after death '.3 
And know that man is bound to die and become 
dissolved into his component parts ". 

Maimonides' statements with reference to this 
subject created the impression that he doubted the 
resurrection of the human being, and in reply to a 
challenge on the point, he composed in 1191 his 
Ma'amar Tehiyyat ha-Metim, " Essay on the Resur- 
rection of the Dead ", to refute the charge. But in 
this essay he insists that there are no material enjoy- 
ments after death, and he regards that as a conclusive 
argument that there are no bodies in the world to 
come. 

"Behold it has been explained that the entire 
necessity for the existence of the body is for one 
function, and that is the reception of food for the 
preservation of the body and the propagation of its 
kind for the preservation of the species. When that 
function is removed because its necessity no longer 
exists, viz., in the world to come as our Sages have 
informed us, ' In the world to come there is no 
eating, drinking or sexual intercourse '3' that is clear 
evidence of the non-existence of the body. Because 

335 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

God brings nothing into existence to serve no purpose 
whatsoever, and does nothing only on account of 
something else.S" Far be it from Him that His works 
should be modelled on those of idol-worshippers whose 
images have unseeing eyes, unhearing ears and a nose 
that smells not. Similarly, in the view of these people, 
God creates bodies, i.e., organs, not to function at all 
in the way for which they were created, nor for any 
purpose. And if the people of the world to come are 
not, in the opinion of these persons, possessed of 
organs, but are just bodies perhaps solid globes, or 
pillars or cubes this is simply ludicrous " (Tetyyyat 
ha-Metim, Responsa II, gc). 

He attaches no importance to the matter as a 
doctrine of religion, and we find him telling a 
correspondent : 

" It will not harm your religious faith to think 
that in the world to come people will have bodies. 
. . . Even if you were to hold that they eat and 
drink and propagate in the high heavens or in the 
Garden of Eden, as some declare, it would not injure 
jour faith " (Responsa II, i6c). 

9. Happiness in the World to Come. For all that, 
Maimonides is very firm in his teaching that bodies 
do not exist in the hereafter, nor are physical joys 
experienced. 

" Know that just as a blind man can form no idea 
of colours, nor a deaf man comprehend sounds, nor a 
eunuch feel the desire for sexual intercourse, so the 
bodies cannot comprehend the delights of the soul. 
And even as fish do not know the element fire because 
they exist ever in its opposite, so are the delights of the 
world of spirit unknown in this world of flesh. Indeed 
we have no pleasure in any way except what is bodily, 

236 



ESCHATOLOGY 

and what the senses can comprehend of eating, 
drinking and sexual intercourse. Whatever is outside 
these is non-existent to us. We do not discern it, 
neither do we grasp it at first thought, but only after 
deep penetration. And truly this must necessarily 
be the case. For we live in a material world and the 
only pleasure we can comprehend must be material. 

" But the delights of the spirit are everlasting and 
uninterrupted, and there is no resemblance in any 
possible way between spiritual and bodily enjoyments. 
We are not sanctioned either by the Torah or by the 
divine philosophers to assert that the Angels, the stars, 
and the Spheres enjoy no delights. In truth they have 
exceeding great delight in respect of what they compre- 
hend of the Creator. This to them is an everlasting 
felicity without a break. They have no bodily 
pleasures, neither do they comprehend them, because 
they have no senses like ours, enabling them to have 
our sense-experiences. 

" And likewise will it be with us too. When after 
death the worthy from among us will reach that 
exalted stage, he will experience no bodily pleasures, 
neither will he have any wish for them, any more than 
would a king of sovereign power wish to divest 
himself of his imperial sway and return to his boyhood's 
games with a ball in the street, although at one time 
he would without doubt have set a higher worth upon 
a game with a ball than on kingly dominion, such being 
the case only when his years were few and he was 
totally ignorant of the real significance of either 
pursuit, just as we to-day rank the delights of the body 
above those of the soul. 

" And when you will give your consideration to the 
subject of these two pleasures, you will discover the 
meanness of the one and the high worth of the other. 

237 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

And this applies even to this world. For we find in 
the case of the majority of men that they all burden 
their souls and bodies with the greatest possible labour 
and fatigue in order to attain distinction or a great 
position in men's esteem. This pleasure is not that of 
eating and drinking. Similarly, many a man prefers 
the obtaining of revenge over his enemies to many of 
the pleasures of the body. And many a man, again, 
shuns the greatest among all physical delights out of 
fear that it should bring him shame and the reproach 
of men, or because he seeks a good reputation. 

" If such, then, is our condition in this world of 
matter, how much more will it be our case in the world 
of the spirit, viz., the world to come, where our souls 
will attain to a knowledge of the Creator as do the 
higher bodies, or more. This pleasure cannot be 
divided into parts. It cannot be described, neither 
can anything be found to compare with it. It is as 
the Prophet exclaimed, when admiring its great glories : 
' Oh, how abundant is Thy goodness which Thou hast 
laid up for them that fear Thee, which Thou hast 
wrought for them that take refuge in Thee, in the sight 
of the sons of men ' (Ps. xxxi. 20). And in a similar 
sense the Sages remarked, ' In the world to come there 
will be no eating and no drinking, no washing and no 
anointing and no marriage ; but only the righteous 
sitting with crowns on their heads enjoying the 
splendour of the Shechinah '.3 By their remark, 
' their crowns on their heads ', is meant that those 
souls will reap bliss in what they comprehend of the 
Creator, just as the holy Hayyot and the other ranks 
of Angels enjoy felicity in what they understand of 
His existence. 

" And so the felicity and the final goal consist in 
reaching to this exalted company and attaining to 

238 



ESCHATOLOGY 

this high pitch. The continuation of the soul is 
endless, like the continuation of the Creator Who is 
the cause of its continuation in that it comprehends 
Him, as is explained in elementary philosophy. This is 
the great bliss with which no bliss is comparable and 
to which no pleasure can be likened. For how can the 
enduring and infinite be likened to a thing which has a 
break and an end ? This is the meaning of the 
Scriptural phrase, ' That it may be well with thee and 
that thou mayest prolong thy days ' (Deut. xxii. 7), 
for which we possess the traditional interpretation : 
' That it may be well with thee in the world which 
is all good ; and that thou mayest prolong thy days 
in a world which is of unceasing length ' "33 (C.M., 
Introd. to Helek). 

" In the world to come there is no bodily form, 
but the souls only of the righteous without body, like 
the ministering Angels. Since there are no bodies in 
it, there can likewise be neither eating nor drinking 
nor any other of the things which the bodies of men 
need in this world. Nor can any of the accidents to 
which bodies are subject in this world, such as sitting, 
standing, sleep, death, pain, laughter, etc., occurthere. 

" Perhaps that bliss will be lightly esteemed by you, 
and you will think that the reward for fulfilling the 
commandments and for being perfect in the ways of 
truth consists in nothing else than indulging in fine 
food and drink, enjoying beautiful women, wearing 
raiment of fine linen ^.nd embroidery, dwelling in 
apartments of ivory, and using vessels of silver and gold 
or similar luxuries, as those foolish and ignorant Arabs 
imagine who are steeped in sensuality.34 But wise 
and intelligent men know that all these things are 
nonsense and vanity and quite futile ; since with us, 
in this world, they are only considered as something 

239 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

desirable because we possess bodily forms, and because 
all these things are needs of the body, whereas the 
soul neither longs nor yearns for them apart from the 
cravings of the body, so that its desires may be 
gratified and it be preserved in a perfect state. At 
a time, however, when there is no body, all these 
things must necessarily cease to exist. 

" As for the great bliss which the soul is to enjoy 
in the world to come, there is no possibility of compre- 
hending or knowing it in this world ; because in this 
world we are only cognisant of the welfare of the 
body and for that we long. But the bliss of the world 
to come is exceedingly great and cannot bear comparison 
with the happiness of this world except in a figurative 
manner. Actually, however, to compare the bliss of 
the soul in the world to come with the happiness of 
the .body in this world by means of eating and drinking 
is quite incorrect. That heavenly bliss is great beyond 
limit, and there is nothing to be compared or likened 
to it " (Yad, Teshubah VIII, 2, 6). 



240 



CHAPTER X 
PSYCHOLOGY 

i. The Soul and its Faculties. In his teachings on 
Psychology, Maimonides closely follows the system of 
Aristotle as expounded in De Anima. By the term 
" soul " as used with reference to Psychology, 
Maimonides means something different from that part 
of the human constitution which makes man God-like 
and survives death. It is the nephesh which human 
beings, as well as all living creatures, possess. It is 
" the vitality which is common to all living, sentient 
beings" (Guide I, 41). 

The soul is a unity. " Know that the human soul 
is one, but that it has many diversified activities. 
Some of these activities have, indeed, been called 
souls, which has given rise to the opinion that man 
has many souls, as was the belief of the physicians, 
with the result that the most distinguished of them 1 
states in the introduction to his book that there are 
three souls, the physical, the vital and the psychical. 
These activities are called faculties and parts, so that 
the phrase ' parts of the soul ', frequently employed 
by philosophers, is commonly used. By the word 
' parts ', however, they do not intend to imply that the 
soul is divided into parts as are bodies, but they 
merely enumerate the different activities of the soul 
as being parts of a whole, the union of which makes 
up the soul* " (C.M., Eight Chapters I). 

241 

16 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

Five Faculties of the Soul. " The soul has five 
faculties : the nutritive, the sensitive, the imaginative, 
the appetitive, and the rational.3 . . . The 
nutritive faculty by which man is nourished is not the 
same, for instance, as that of the ass or the horse. 
Man is sustained by the nutritive faculty of the human 
soul, the ass thrives by means of the nutritive faculty 
of its soul, and the palm-tree flourishes by the nutri- 
tive faculty peculiar to its soul. Although we apply 
the same term nutrition to all of them indiscriminately, 
nevertheless, its signification is by no means the same. 
In the same way, the term sensation is used homony- 
mously4 for man and beast ; not with the idea, how- 
ever, that the sensation of one species is the same as 
that of another, for each species has its own 
characteristic soul distinct from every other, with the 
result that there necessarily arises from each soul 
activities peculiar to itself " (ibid.). 

The Nutritive Faculty. " The nutritive faculty 
consists of (i) the power of attracting nourishment to 
the body, (ii) the retention of the same, (iii) its 
digestion, (iv) the repulsion of superfluities, (v) growth, 
(vi) procreation, and (vii) the differentiation of the 
nutritive juices that are necessary for sustenance from 
those which are to be expelled " (ibid.). 

The Sensitive Faculty. " The faculty of sensation 
consists of the five well-known senses of seeing, 
hearing, tasting, smelling and feeling, the last of 
which is found over the whole surface of the body, 
not being confined to any special member, as are the 
other four faculties" (ibid.). 

The Imaginative Faculty. " The imagination is 
that faculty which retains impressions of things 
perceptible to the mind, after they have ceased to 
affect directly the senses which conceived them. 

242 



PSYCHOLOGY 

This faculty, combining some of these impressions and 
separating others from one another, thus constructs 
out of originally perceived ideas fresh ideas of which 
it has never received any impression, and which it 
could not possibly have perceived. For instance, one 
may imagine an iron ship floating in the air, or a man 
whose head reaches the heaven and whose feet rest on 
the earth, or an animal with a thousand eyes, and many 
other similar impossibilities which the imagination 
may construct and endow with an existence that is 
fanciful " (ibid.). 

On this point Maimonides clashed with a class of 
Mohammedan philosophers, called MutakallimunJ 
who held " that all creations of the imagination were 
possible" (ibid.). This theory he criticises in the 
following terms : 

" If you know the nature of the soul and its 
properties, and if you have a correct notion of every- 
thing which concerns the soul, you will observe that 
most animals possess imagination. As to the higher 
classes of animals, that is, those which have a heart, 
it is obvious that they have imagination. Man's 
distinction does not consist in the possession of 
imagination, and the action of imagination is not the 
same as the action of the intellect, but the reverse 
of it. For the intellect analyses and divides the 
component parts of things, it forms abstract ideas of 
them, represents them in their true form as well as in 
their causal relations, derives from one object a great 
many facts, which for the intellect totally differ 
from each other, just as two human individuals appear 
different to the imagination ; it distinguishes that 
which is the property of the genus from that which is 
peculiar to the individual and no proof is correct 
unless founded on the former; the intellect further 

243 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

determines whether certain qualities of a thing are 
essential or non-essential. 

" Imagination has none of these functions. It 
only perceives the individual, the compound in that 
aggregate condition in which it presents itself to the 
senses ; or it combines things which exist separately, 
joins some of them together, and represents them all 
as one body or as a force of the body. Hence it is that 
some imagine a man with a horse's head, with wings, 
etc. This is called a fiction, a phantasm ; it is a thing 
to which nothing in the actual world corresponds. 
Nor can imagination in any way obtain a purely 
immaterial image of an object, however abstract the 
form of the image may be. Imagination yields there- 
fore no test for the reality of a thing " (Guide I, 73 
Note to Tenth Proposition). 

" Part of the functions of the imaginative faculty 
is to retain impressions by the senses, to combine them, 
and chiefly to form images. The principal and highest 
function is performed when the senses are at rest and 
pause in their action, for then it receives, to some 
extent, divine inspiration in the measure as it is 
predisposed for this influence. 6 This is the nature of 
those dreams which prove true, and also of Prophecy, 
the difference being one of quantity, not of quality " 
(Guide II, 36). 

The Appetitive Faculty. "The appetitive is that 
faculty by which a man desires or loathes a thing, and 
from which there arises the following activities : the 
pursuit of an object or flight from it, inclination and 
avoidance, anger and affection, fear and courage, 
cruelty and compassion, love and hate, and many other 
psychic qualities. All parts of the body are subservient 
to these activities, as the ability of the hand to grasp, 
that of the foot to walk, that of the eye to see, and that 

244 



PSYCHOLOGY 

of the heart to make one bold or timid. Similarly, 
the other members of the body, whether external or 
internal, are instruments of the appetitive faculty " 
(C.M., Eight Chapters I). 

The Rational Faculty. " Reason, that faculty 
peculiar to man, enables him to understand, reflect, 
acquire knowledge of the sciences, and to discriminate 
between proper and improper actions. Its functions 
are partly practical and partly speculative, the practical 
being, in turn, either mechanical or intellectual. By 
means of the speculative power, man knows things as 
they really are, and which, by their nature, are not 
subject to change. These are called the sciences in 
general. The mechanical power is that by which the 
arts, such as architecture, agriculture, medicine and 
navigation are acquired. The intellectual power is 
that by which one, when he intends to do an act, 
reflects upon what he has premeditated, considers the 
possibility of performing it, and, if he thinks it possible, 
decides how it should be done " (ibid.). 

2. The Human Intellect. The endowment of man 
which places him in a separate class, and the highest 
class of creatures, is the intellect. 

"Man, before he develops understanding and 
acquires knowledge, is accounted as the beast. He is 
only distinguished from the rest of the animal creation 
by the consciousness that he is a living being possessed 
of intellect that is to say, by the consciousness 
whereby he formulates ideas to his soul. And the 
supreme idea which he has to formulate to his soul is 
the Unity of God and all the divine concepts which are 
associated with that thought " (C.M., Introduction). 

" On this account, i.e., on account of the divine 
intellect with which man has been endowed, he is said 

245 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

to have been made in the form and likeness of the 
Almighty " (Guide I, i). 

Since the supreme purpose of intellect is to direct 
the soul to God, it must be the connecting link 
between Him and man. 

" The intellect which emanates from God unto us 
is the link that joins us to God. You have it in your 
power to strengthen that bond, if you choose to do so, 
or to weaken it gradually till it breaks, if you prefer 
this. It will only become strong when you employ it 
in the love of God and seek that love ; it will be 
weakened when you direct your thoughts to other 
things " (Guide III, 51). 

Maimonides gives the following analysis of the 
intellectual virtues : 

" They are (i) wisdom , which is the knowledge of 
the direct and indirect causes of things based on a 
previous realisation of the existence of those things, 
the causes of which have been investigated ; (ii) reason, 
consisting of (a) inborn, theoretical reason, that is 
axioms, (b) the acquired intellect, and (c) sagacity and 
intellectual cleverness, which is the ability to perceive 
quickly, and. to grasp an idea without delay, or in a 
very short time " (C.M., Eight Chapters II). 

As regards wisdom, it " is used of four things : 
(i) it denotes the knowledge of those truths which lead 
to the knowledge of God ; (ii) also knowledge of any 
workmanship ; (iii) the acquisition of moral principles ; 
(iv) cunning and subtlety" (Guide III, 54). 

What is intended by inborn reason is explained in 
this passage of the Guide : " Thfcre are many things 
whose existence is manifest and obvious ; some of 
these are innate notions or objects of sensation, others 
are nearly so ; and in fact they would require no proof 
if man had been left in his primitive state. Such are 

246 



PSYCHOLOGY 

the existence of motion, of man's free will,7 of phases 
of production and destruction, and of the natural 
properties perceived by the senses, e.g., the heat of 
fire, the coldness of water, and many other similar 
things " (I, 51). 

The acquired intellect is " not a power inherent in 
the body, but a power which is absolutely separate 
from the body, and is from without brought into 
contact with the body " (Guide I, 72). Since it is a 
power " absolutely separate from the body ", it is 
capable of surviving the body's dissolution, and is, in 
fact, the immortal element in man. As the name 
suggests, it is acquired by the conversion of potentiality 
into actuality. It is the result of the addition of 
" form ", derived from the Intelligences, to the hylic 
intellect? 4 which is the peculiar possession of the 
human being. The function of the hylic intellect is 
thus described : 

" An animal does not require for its sustenance any 
plan, thought or scheme ; each animal moves and 
acts by its nature, eats as much as it can find of 
suitable things, it makes its resting-place wherever it 
happens to be, cohabits with any mate it meets while 
in heat in the periods of its sexual excitement. In 
this manner does each individual conserve itself for a 
certain time, and perpetuates the existence of its 
species without requiring for its maintenance the 
assistance or support of any of its fellow-creatures ; 
for all the things to which it has to attend it performs 
by itself. 

" With man it is different ; if an individual had a 

solitary existence, and were, like an animal, left without 

guidance, he would soon perish, he would not endure 

even one day, unless it were by mere chance, unless 

-he happened to find something upon which he might 

247 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

feed. For the food which man requires for his 
subsistence demands much work and preparation, 
which can only be accomplished by reflection and by 
plan ; many vessels must be used, and many 
individuals, each in his peculiar work, must be 
employed. It is therefore necessary that one person 
should organise the work and direct men in such a 
manner that they should properly co-operate, and that 
they should assist each other. The protection from 
heat in summer and from cold in winter, and shelter 
from rain, snow and wind, require in the same manner 
the preparation of many things, none of which can 
properly be done without design and thought. 

" For this reason man has been endowed with 
intellectual faculties which enable him to think, 
consider and act, and by various labours to prepare 
and procure for himself food, dwelling and clothing, 
and to control every organ of his body, causing both 
the principal and the secondary organs to perform 
their respective functions. Consequently, if a man, 
being deprived of his intellectual faculties, only 
possessed vitality, he would in a short time be lost " 
(Guide I, 72). 

Closely allied to man's intellect is his intuitive 
faculty. "All possess it, but in different degrees. 
Man's intuitive power is especially strong in things 
which he has well comprehended, and in which his 
mind is much engaged. Thus you may yourself guess 
correctly that a certain person said or did a certain 
thing in a certain matter. Some persons are so strong 
and sound in their imagination and intuitive faculty 
that, when they assume a thing to be in existence, 
the reality either entirely or partly confirms their 
assumption. Although the causes of this assumption 
are numerous, and include many preceding, succeeding 

248 



PSYCHOLOGY 

and present circumstances, 8 by means of the intuitive 
faculty the intellect can pass over all these causes, and 
draw inferences from them very quickly, almost 
instantaneously. This same faculty enables some 
persons to foretell important coming events " (Guide 
II, 38). 

3. The Functioning of the Intellect. Maimonides 
crystallised the purpose of mind in the statement, 
" It is the function of the intellect to discriminate 
between the true and the false " (Guide I, 2). He 
followed the Greek thinkers in his psychological 
analysis of the working of the intellect. 

" Man, before comprehending a thing, comprehends 
it in potential when, however, he comprehends a 
thing, e.g., the form of a certain tree which is pointed 
out to him, when he abstracts its form from its 
substance, and reproduces the abstract form, an act 
performed by the intellect, he comprehends in reality, 
and the intellect which he has acquired in actuality 
is the abstract form of the tree in man's mind. For in 
such a case the intellect is not a thing distinct from the 
thing comprehended. 10 It is therefore clear to you 
that the thing comprehended is the abstract form of the 
tree, and at the same time it is the intellect in action ; 
and that the intellect and the abstract form of the tree 
are not two different things, for the intellect in action 
is nothing but the thing comprehended, and that 
agent by which the form of the tree has been turned 
into an intellectual and abstract object, viz., that 
which comprehends, is undoubtedly the intellect in 
action. 

"All intellect is identical with its action; the 
intellect in action is not a thing different from its action, 
for the true nature and essence of the intellect is 

249 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

comprehension, and you must not think that the 
intellect in action is a thing existing by itself, separate 
from comprehension, and that comprehension is a 
different thing connected with it ; for the very essence 
of the intellect is comprehension. In assuming an 
intellect in action you assume the comprehension of 
the thing comprehended. This is quite clear to all 
who have made themselves familiar with the figurative 
language common to this discipline. You therefore 
accept it as proved that the intellect consists in its 
action, which is its true nature and essence. Conse- 
quently the very thing by which the form of that tree 
has been made abstract and intelligible, viz., the 
intellect, is at the same time the intelligens, for the 
intellect is itself the agens which abstracts the form 
and comprehends it, and that is the action on account 
of which it is called the intelligent ; but itself and 
its action are identical ; and that which is called 
intellect in action consists, in the above-mentioned 
instance, of nothing else but of the form of the tree. 

" It must now be obvious to you that whenever 
the intellect is found in action, the intellect and the 
thing comprehended are one and the same thing; 
and also that the function of all intellect, viz., the act 
of comprehending, is its essence. The intellect, viz., 
that which comprehends and that which is compre- 
hended, are therefore the same, whenever a real 
comprehension takes place. But when we speak of 
the power of comprehension, we necessarily distinguish 
two things : the power itself and the thing which can 
be comprehended ; e.g., that hylic intellect 12 of A is 
the power of comprehension, and this tree is, in like 
manner, a thing which is capable of being compre- 
hended ; these, undoubtedly, are two different things. 
When, however, the potential is replaced by the actual, 

250 



PSYCHOLOGY 

and when the form of the tree has really been compre- 
hended, the form comprehended is the intellect, and 
it is by that same intellect, by the intellect in action, 
that the tree has been converted into an abstract idea 
and has been comprehended. 

" For everything in which a real action takes place 
exists in reality.^ On the other hand, the power 
of comprehension and the object capable of compre- 
hension are two things ; but that which is only 
potential cannot be imagined otherwise than in 
connexion with an object possessing that capacity, 
as, e.g., man, and thus we have three things : the 
man who possesses the power and is capable of 
comprehending ; that power itself, viz., the power of 
comprehension ; and the object which presents itself 
as an object of comprehension and is capable of being 
comprehended. To use the foregoing example, the 
man, the hylic intellect and the abstract form of the 
tree are three different things. They become one 
and the same thing when the intellect is in action, and 
you will never find the intellect different from the 
comprehensible object, unless the power of compre- 
hending and the power of being comprehended be 
referred to " (Guide I, 68). 

The powers of the intellect are subject to the same 
conditions as the physical organs. Overstrain leads 
to defective functioning. 

" Mental perception, because connected with 
matter,^ is subject to conditions similar to those to 
which physical perception is subject. That is to say, 
if your eye looks around, you can perceive all that is 
within the range of your vision ; if, however, you 
overstrain your eye, exerting it too much by attempt- 
ing to see an object which is too distant for your eye, 
or to examine writings or engravings too small for 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

your sight, and forcing it to obtain a correct perception 
of them, you will not only weaken your sight with 
regard to that special object, but also for those things 
which you otherwise are able to perceive : your eye will 
have become too weak to perceive what you were 
able to see before you exerted yourself and exceeded 
the limits of your vision. 

" The same is the case with the speculative 
faculties of one who devotes himself to the study of 
any science. If a person studies too much and 
exhausts his reflective powers, he will be confused, 
and will not be able to apprehend even that which had 
been within the power of his apprehension. For the 
powers of the body*5 are all alike in this respect. 

" The mental perceptions are not exempt from a 
similar condition. If you admit the doubt, and do 
not persuade yourself to believe that there is a proof 
for things which cannot be demonstrated, or to try 
at once to reject and positively to deny an assertion 
the opposite of which has never been proved, or attempt 
to perceive things which are beyond your perception, 
then you have attained the highest degree of human 
perfection ; then you are like Rabbi Akiba who ' in 
peace entered (the study of these theological problems) 
and came out in peace \ l6 If , on the other hand, you 
attempt to exceed the limit of your intellectual power, 
or at once to reject things as impossible which have 
never been proved to be impossible, or which are 
in fact possible, though their possibility be very 
remote, then you will be like Elisha After ; you will 
not only fail to become perfect, but you will become 
exceedingly imperfect. Ideas founded on mere 
imagination will prevail over you ; you will incline 
towards defects, and towards base and degraded 
habits, on account of the confusion which troubles 

252 



PSYCHOLOGY 

the mind, and of the dimness of its light ; just as 
weakness of sight causes invalids to see many kinds of 
unreal images, especially when they have looked for a 
long time at dazzling or at very minute objects " 
(Guide I, 32). 

This psychological fact leads to the practical 
conclusion that the burden placed upon the intellect 
must be proportionate to its power of sustaining it. 
Hence the study of philosophical and theological 
problems must be graduated and should be commenced 
in the earlier stage of life. 

"It is necessary to initiate the young and to 
instruct the less intelligent according to their compre- 
hension ; those who appear to be talented and have 
the capacity for the higher method of study, i.e., that 
based on proof and true logical argument, should be 
gradually advanced towards perfection, either by 
tuition or *by self-instruction. He, however, who 
begins with Metaphysics, will not only become 
confused in matters of religion, but will fall into 
complete infidelity. I compare such a person to an 
infant fed with wheaten bread, meat and wine ; it 
will undoubtedly die, not because such food is naturally 
unfit for the human body, but because of the weakness 
of the child, who is unable to digest the food and 
cannot derive benefit from it " (Guide I, 33). 

4. Sources of True Knowledge. There are three 
channels through which accurate knowledge is 
derivable : 

" Know that it is not proper for a man to believe 
except one of three things : (i) that for which the mind 
offers clear proof, as, e.g., arithmetic, geometry and 
astronomy ; (ii) that which he can grasp through the 
five senses ; e.g., he knows and sees that this is black 

253 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

and that red, etc., through the vision of the eye, or 
he tastes that this is bitter and that sweet, or he feels 
that this is hot and that cold, or he hears that this 
sound is clear and that blurred, or he smells that this 
is malodorous and that pleasant, and so on ; (iii) that 
which is received from the Prophets and righteous 
men. 1 ? 

"It is necessary that a man should be mentally 
able to classify in his mind and thought all that he 
believes, and say, ' This I believe because it is handed 
down from the Prophets ; this I believe from my 
senses ; and this I believe from reason '. But whoever 
believes anything which does not fall within these three 
categories, to him applies the dictum, ' The thought- 
less belie veth every word ' (Prov. xiv. 15) " (Responsa 
II, 2 5 a). 

With regard to the first source, Maimonides 
attaches supreme importance to the power of logical 
reasoning as a factor in attaining true knowledge of 
God. He remarks : " We can only obtain a knowledge 
of Him through His works ; His works give evidence 
of His existence, and show what must be assumed 
concerning Him that is to say, what must be 
attributed to Him either affirmatively or negatively. 
It is thus necessary to examine all things according 
to their essence, to infer from every species such true 
and well-established propositions as may assist us in 
the solution of metaphysical problems. . . . 
Consequently he who wishes to attain to human 
perfection must therefore first study Logic, next the 
various branches of Mathematics in their proper 
order, then Physics, and lastly Metaphysics " l8 (Guide 

I, 34)- 

In placing reliance upon the senses as a source of 
knowledge, Maimonides opposed the doctrine of the 

254 



PSYCHOLOGY 

Mutakallimun, who held that "the senses mislead, 
and are in many cases inefficient ; their perceptions, 
therefore, cannot form the basis of any law, or yield 
data for any proof " (Guide I, 73 Twelfth Proposition). 
Finally, the teachings of the Prophets must be a 
medium of true knowledge since, on his hypothesis, 
the gift of Prophecy presupposes a perfect intellectual 
endowment. J 9 

5. Limits of the Intellect. Ardent rationalist though 
he was, Maimonides admits that " a limit is set to 
human reason where it must halt " (Guide I, 32). 

" I declare that there is a limit to the knowledge 
of man, and so long as the soul is in the body, it 
cannot know what is beyond Nature. Since knowledge 
resides in Nature, it cannot perceive beyond it. 
Therefore when the mind essays to contemplate what 
is beyond, it is unable to do so for the reason that the 
matter is too high for it ; but whatever is in Nature, 
it is able to know and reflect upon " (Responsa II, 23b). 

" Know that for the human mind there are certain 
objects of perception which are within the scope of 
its nature and capacity; on the other hand, there are, 
amongst things which actually exist, certain objects 
which the mind can in no way and by no means grasp : 
the gates of perception are closed against it. Further, 
there are things of which the mind understands one 
part, but remains ignorant of the other ; and when 
man is able to comprehend certain things, it does not 
follow that he must be able to comprehend everything. 
This also applies to the senses : they are able to 
perceive things, but not at every distance ; and all 
other powers of the body are limited in a similar way. 
. , . How individuals of the same species surpass 
each other in these sensations and in other bodily 

255 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

faculties in universally known, but there is a limit to 
them, and their power cannot extend to every distance 
or to every degree. 

" All this is applicable to the intellectual faculties 
of man. There is a considerable difference between 
one person and another as regards these faculties, 
as is well-known to philosophers. While one man 
can discover a certain thing by himself, another is 
never able to understand it, even if taught by means 
of all possible expressions and metaphors, and during 
a long period ; his mind can in no way grasp it, his 
capacity is insufficient for it. This distinction is not 
unlimited. A boundary is undoubtedly set to the 
human mind which it cannot pass. There are things 
(beyond that boundary) which are acknowledged to 
be inaccessible to human understanding, and man 
does not show any desire to comprehend them, being 
aware that such knowledge is impossible, and that 
there are no means of overcoming this difficulty " 
(Guide I, 31). 

The imperfect capacity of the human mind is the 
source of error; but that is not its only cause. 
Maimonides enumerates three suggested by Alexander 
Aphrodisius* and himself proposes a fourth : 

" There are three causes which prevent men from 
discovering the exact truth : first, arrogance and 
vain-glory; secondly, the subtlety, depth and 
difficulty of any subject which is being examined ; 
thirdly, ignorance and want of capacity to comprehend 
what might be comprehended. 

" At the present time there is a fourth cause not 
mentioned by him, because it did not then prevail, 
viz., habit and training. We naturally like what we 
have been accustomed to, and are attracted towards 
it. This may be observed amongst villagers ; though 

256 



PSYCHOLOGY 

they rarely enjoy the benefit of a douche or bath, and 
have few enjoyments, and pass a life of privation, 
they dislike town-life and do not desire its pleasures, 
preferring the inferior things to which they are 
accustomed to the better things to which they are 
strangers ; it would give them no satisfaction to live 
in palaces, to be clothed in silk, and to indulge in 
baths, ointments and perfumes. 

" The same is the case with those opinions of man 
to which he has been accustomed from his youth ; 
he likes them, defends them, and shuns the opposite 
views. This is likewise one o'f the causes which prevent 
men from finding truth, and which make them cling 
to their habitual opinions " (ibid.). 



257 

17 



CHAPTER XI 
ETHICS 

i. Varying Dispositions in Men. If all men were 
exactly the same in physical constitution and tempera- 
ment, they would act alike in the same set of 
circumstances. But dispositions vary widely, and 
consequently there is variety in conduct. 

" Individuals are possessed of very varying 
temperaments, differing widely one from the other to 
an extreme degree. Some are passionate and in a 
constant state of irritation. Others are composed of 
mind and are hardly ever irritated ; and should they 
be put out, it will be very slightly during a long period 
of time. Some there are of an extremely proud 
nature ; others are very humble. Some are addicted 
to voluptuousness, whose appetites are never sated ; 
while others are of a very pure heart and do not long 
even for the few things which the body requires. 

" Again, there are men so avaricious that they 
would not be satisfied with all the wealth in the world ; 
but others curtail their desires, and are contented even 
with a little which does not suffice for their needs and 
do not strive to obtain all they require. Some there 
are who rather afflict themselves with hunger to hoard 
wealth, and do not spend the smallest coin on them- 
selves without considerable pain ; whereas others 
deliberately squander all their possessions. It is the 
same with all other dispositions, e.g., the jovial and 

258 



ETHICS 

morose, miserly and generous, cruel and kind, faint- 
hearted and brave, etc. 

" Between each disposition and its opposite extreme 
there are intermediate qualities which also vary one 
from the other. Of all the dispositions, some are 
innate in man according to his physical constitution ; 
others are such that the nature of certain men is more 
readily inclined to adopt than other dispositions ; and 
there are still others which are not innate in man but 
acquired by example, or voluntarily adopted because 
of his ideas, or through having heard that such a 
disposition is good and proper for him to follow, and 
he accustoms himself to it until it is fixed in his heart " 
(Yad, Deot I, if). 

Maimonides is emphatic that the human being is 
not born either good or evil. " He is not endowed 
with perfection at the beginning, but at first possesses 
perfection only in potentia, not in fact. 1 ... If 
a man possesses a certain faculty in potentia, it does 
not follow that it must become in him a reality. He 
may possibly remain deficient either on account of 
some obstacle, or from want of training in practices 
which would turn the possibility into a reality " 
(Guide I, 34). In the same way, any evil disposition 
with which he may have been endowed need not 
necessarily become an overpoweringly strong force in 
his life. 

" It is impossible for man to be born endowed by 
nature from his very birth with either virtue or vice, 
just as it is impossible that he should be born skilled 
by nature in any particular art. It is possible, how- 
ever, that through natural causes he may from birth 
be so constituted as to have a predilection for a 
particular virtue or vice, so that he will more readily 
practise it than any other. For instance, a man whose 

259 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

natural constitution inclines towards dryness, whose 
brain-matter is clear and not overloaded with fluids, 
finds it much easier to learn, remember, and under- 
stand things than the phlegmatic man whose brain is 
encumbered with a great deal of humidity. But, if 
one who inclines constitutionally towards a certain 
excellence is left entirely without instruction, and if 
his faculties are not stimulated, he will undoubtedly 
remain ignorant. On the other hand, if one by 
nature dull and phlegmatic, possessing an abundance 
of humidity, is instructed and enlightened, he will, 
though with difficulty, it is true, gradually succeed in 
acquiring knowledge and understanding. 

" In exactly the same way, he whose blood is some- 
what warmer than is necessary has the requisite 
quality to make of him a brave man. Another, 
however, the temperament of whose heart is colder 
than it should be, is naturally inclined towards 
cowardice and fear, so that if he should be taught and 
trained to be a coward, he would easily become one. 
If, however, it be desired to make a brave man of 
him, he can without doubt become one, providing he 
receive the proper training which would require, of 
course, great exertion. 

" I have entered into this subject so that thou 
mayest not believe the absurd ideas of astrologers, 
who falsely assert that the constellation at the time of 
one's birth determines whether one is to be virtuous 
or vicious, the individual being thus necessarily 
compelled to follow out a certain line of conduct. We, 
on the contrary, are convinced that our Torah agrees 
with Greek philosophy, 2 which substantiated with 
convincing proofs the contention that man's conduct 
is entirely in his own hands, that no compulsion is 
exerted, and that no external influence is brought to 

260 



ETHICS 

bear upon him that constrains him to be either 
virtuous or vicious, except inasmuch as, according to 
what we have said above, he may be by nature so 
constituted as to find it easy or hard, as the case may 
be, to do a certain thing ; but that he must necessarily 
do, or refrain from doing, a certain thing is absolutely 
untrue " (C.M., Eight Chapters VIII). 

Hereditary forces, therefore, are not the deciding 
factor of a man's conduct in life. Ultimately he 
himself determines the course he follows and the 
responsibility of choice is his alone. Commenting on 
the verse, " Be ye not as the horse or as the mule which 
have no understanding ; whose mouth must be held 
with bit and bridle " (Ps. xxxii. 9), Maimonides 
remarks : " This means that what restrains beasts 
from doing harm is something external, as a bridle 
and a bit. But not so with man. His restraining 
agency lies in his very self, I mean in his human 
framework. When the latter becomes perfected it is 
exactly that which keeps him away from those things 
which perfection withholds from him and which are 
termed vices ; and it is that which spurs him on to 
what will bring about perfection in him, viz., virtue " 
(C.M., Introd. to Helek). 

" Man's shortcomings and sins are all due to the 
substance of the body and not to its forms ; while all 
his merits are exclusively due to his form. Thus the 
knowledge of God, the formation of ideas, the mastery 
of desire and passion, the distinction between that 
which is to be chosen and that which is to be rejected, 
all these man owes to his form ; but eating, drinking, 
sexual intercourse, excessive lust, passion, and all 
vices have their origin in the substance of his body. 
Now it was clear that this was the case it was 
impossible, according to the wisdom of God, that 

261 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

substance should exist without form, or any of the 
forms of the bodies without substance, and it was 
necessary that the very noble form of man, which is 
the image and likeness of God, as has been shown by 
us, should be joined to the substance of dust and 
darkness, the source of all defect and loss. For these 
reasons the Creator gave to the form of man power, 
rule and dominion over the substance ; the form can 
subdue the substance, refuse the fulfilment of its 
desires, and reduce them, as far as possible, to a just 
and proper measure " (Guide III, 8). 

Maimonides discusses the question as to who is 
on a higher ethical plane : the saintly man who feels 
no evil desire, or the man who experiences such a 
desire but refuses to yield to it. The Greek philo- 
sophers award the palm to the former ; the Rabbis, 
apparently, reverse this estimate ; and Maimonides 
reconciles the conflicting opinions. 

" Philosophers4 maintain that though the man of 
self-restraint performs moral and praiseworthy deeds, 
yet he does them desiring and craving all the while 
for immoral deeds, but, subduing his passions and 
actively fighting against a longing to do those things 
to which his faculties, his desires, and his psychic 
disposition excite him, succeeds, though with constant 
vexation and irritation, in acting morally. The 
saintly man, however, is guided in his actions by 
that to which his inclination and disposition prompt 
him, in consequence of which he acts morally from 
innate longing and desire. Philosophers unanimously 
agree that the latter is superior to, and more perfect 
than, the one who has to curb his passions, although 
they add that it is possible for such a one to equal the 
saintly man in many regards. In general, however, 
he must necessarily be ranked lower in the scale of 

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ETHICS 

virtue, because there lurks within him the desire to 
do evil, and, though he does not do it, yet because his 
inclinations are all in that direction, it denotes the 
presence of an immoral psychic disposition. . . 

" When, however, we consult the Rabbis on this 
subject, it would seem that they consider him who 
desires iniquity, and craves for it (but does not do it) 
more praiseworthy and perfect than the one who 
feels no torment at refraining from evil ; and they 
even go so far as to maintain that the more praise- 
worthy and perfect a man is, the greater is his desire 
to commit iniquity, and the more irritation does he 
feel at having to desist from it. This they express by 
saying, ' Whosoever is greater than his neighbour has 
likewise greater evil inclinations '.5 Again, as if this 
were not sufficient, they even go so far as to say that 
the reward of him who overcomes his evil inclination 
is commensurate with the torture occasioned by his 
resistance, which thought they express by the words, 
' According to the labour is the reward '. 6 Further- 
more, they command that man should conquer his 
desires, but they forbid one to say, ' I, by my nature, 
do not desire to commit such and such a transgression, 
even though the Torah does not forbid it '. Rabbi 
Simeon ben Gamaliel summed up this thought in the 
words, ' Man should not say, " I do not want to eat 
meat together with milk ; I do not want to wear 
clothes made of a mixture of wool and linen ; I do not 
want to enter into an incestuous marriage ", but he 
should say, " I do indeed want to, yet I must not, for 
my Father in Heaven has forbidden it " '.7 

" At first blush, by a superficial comparison of the 
sayings of the philosophers and the Rabbis, one might 
be inclined to say that they contradict one another. 
Such, however, is not the case. Both are correct and, 

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TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

moreover, are not in disagreement in the least, as the 
evils which the philosophers term such and of which 
they say that he who has no longing for them is more 
to be praised than he who desires them but conquers 
his passion are things which all people commonly 
agree are evils, such as the shedding of blood, theft, 
robbery, fraud, injury to one who has done no harm, 
ingratitude, contempt for parents, and the like. The 
prescriptions against these are called commandments 
(Mitswot), about which the Rabbis said, ' If they had 
not already been written in the Torah, it would be 
proper to add them ' 8 . . . 

" When, however, the Rabbis maintain that he 
who overcomes his desire has more merit and a greater 
reward (than he who has no temptation), they say so 
only in reference to laws that are ceremonial prohi- 
bitions. This is quite true, since, were it not for the 
Torah, they would not at all be considered transgres- 
sions. Therefore, the Rabbis say that man should 
permit his soul to entertain the natural inclination for 
these things, but that the Torah alone should restrain 
him from them " (C.M., Eight Chapters VI). 

Another question discussed is how is a man's 
conduct to be estimated by the number of his good 
actions, or their quality ? Maimonides decides in 
favour of the former criterion.9 

" Man's virtues do not accrue to him in accordance 
with the qualitative magnitude of a single action but 
in accordance with the numerical magnitude of his 
actions. This is to say, the virtues really accrue by 
reason of the frequent repetition of good deeds and 
thereby man attains a strong position ; but not 
through the performance of merely one great act of 
goodness does a man attain a strong position. 

" This may be illustrated by the case of a man who 
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ETHICS 

gives a deserving person, on a single occasion, a 
thousand gold pieces, but to another he gives nothing. 
By this one great act he does not acquire the quality 
of generosity as does a man who donates a thousand 
gold pieces on a thousand occasions, giving away each 
gold piece through a generous feeling. The latter has 
repeated his generous act a thousand times and 
attained a strong position ; but as for the other, on 
one occasion only was his heart deeply moved to 
perform a kind action, and after that it ceased. 
Similarly in the Torah, the reward of a man who 
redeemed a captive for a hundred dinars, 10 or per- 
formed charity to a poor man to the extent of a hundred 
dinars sufficient for his needs, is not the same as the 
reward of a man who redeemed ten captives or supplied 
the needs of ten poor persons, each at a cost of ten 
dinars ; and so on. Hence the Sages declared, ' All 
is according to the numerical value (rob) of the deed ', 
not ' according to the greatness (godel) of the deed ' " 
(C.M., Abot III, 19). 

2. Virtues and Vices. Of the five soul-faculties 
enumerated in Chap. X, i only two come within the 
purview of Ethics. 

" Know that transgressions and observances of the 
Torah have their origin only in two of the faculties of 
the soul, viz., the sensitive and the appetitive, and that 
to these two faculties alone are to be ascribed all 
transgressions and observances. The faculties of 
nutrition and imagination do not give rise to observance 
or transgression, for in connection with neither is there 
any conscious or voluntary act. That is, man 
cannot consciously suspend their functions, nor can 
he curtail any one of their activities. The proof of 
this is that the functions of both these faculties, the 

265 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

nutritive and the imaginative, continue to be operative 
when one is asleep, which is not true of any other of 
the soul's faculties. 

"As regards the rational faculty, uncertainty 
prevails (among philosophers), but I maintain that 
observance and transgression may also originate in 
this faculty, in so far as one believes a true or a false 
doctrine, though no action which may be designated 
as an observance or a transgression results therefrom 11 . 
Consequently, as I said above, these two faculties 
(the sensitive and the appetitive) alone really produce 
transgressions and observances. . . . 

" Moral virtues belong only to the appetitive 
faculty to which that of sensation in this connection 
is merely subservient. The virtues of this faculty are 
very numerous, being moderation, liberality, honesty, 
meekness, humility, contentedness, courage, faithful- 
ness, and other virtues akin to these. The vices of 
this faculty consist of a deficiency or of an exaggeration 
of these qualities. 

" As regards the faculties of nutrition and imagina- 
tion, it cannot be said that they have vices or virtues, 
but that the nutritive functions work properly or 
improperly ; as, for instance, when one says that a 
man's digestion is good or bad, or that one's imagina- 
tion is confused or clear. This does not mean, how- 
ever, that they have virtues or vices " (C.M., Eight 
Chapters II). 

Vice is a disease of the soul, while virtue is a 
manifestation of the soul's healthy state. 

" The ancients 1 * maintained that the soul, like 
the body, is subject to good health and illness. The 
soul's healthful state is due to its condition, and that 
of its faculties, by which it constantly does what is 
right, and performs what is proper, while the illness 

266 



ETHICS 

of the soul is occasioned by its condition, and that of 
its faculties, which results in its constantly doing 
wrong, and performing actions that are improper. 

" The science of medicine investigates the health 
of the body. Now, just as those, who are physically 
ill, imagine that, on account of their vitiated tastes, 
the sweet is bitter and the bitter is sweet and likewise 
fancy the wholesome to be unwholesome and just as 
their desire grows stronger, and their enjoyment 
increases for such things as dust, coal, very acidic and 
sour foods, and the like which the healthy loathe and 
refuse, as the} are not only not beneficial even to the 
healthy, but possibly harmful so those whose souls 
are ill, that is the wicked and the morally perverted, 
imagine that the bad is good, and that the good is 
bad. The wicked man, moreover, continually longs 
for excesses which are really pernicious, but which, 
on account of the illness of his soul, he considers to be 
good " (C.M., Eight Chapters III). 

3. The Mean. Since a moral vice is defined as " a 
deficiency or an exaggeration of the moral qualities ", 
it must follow that virtue consists in the happy medium, 
or to use Aristotle's term " the Mean " (/teo-orj??). 
This criterion for determining the right path to follow 
and the right action to perform is advocated by 
Maimonides. 

" The right way is the middle course in every one 
of the dispositions in man ; it is that disposition 
which is equidistant between the two extremes, so 
that it is not nearer to one than to the other. The 
Sages of old have therefore recommended that a man 
should always keep estimating his dispositions, 
calculating and directing them into the middle course, J 3 
so that he may be perfect in his bodily constitution. 

267 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

How is this meant ? He should not be passionate 
and easily irritated, nor like a corpse which is without 
feeling; but he should hold the Mean between the 
two, not giving way to vexation except in some serious 
matter where it is proper for him to be vexed, in order 
that a similar thing may not be repeated " (Yad, 
Deot I, 4). 

" Good deeds are such as are equibalanced, 
maintaining the Mean between two equally bad 
extremes, the too much and the too little. Virtues are 
psychic conditions and dispositions which are mid-way 
between two reprehensible extremes, one of which is 
characterised by an exaggeration, the other by a 
deficiency. Good deeds are the product of these 
dispositions. To illustrate, abstemiousness is a 
disposition which adopts a mid-course between in- 
ordinate passion and total insensibility to pleasure. J 4 
Abstemiousness, then, is a proper rule of conduct, 
and the psychic disposition which gives rise to it is an 
ethical quality ; but inordinate passion, the extreme 
of excess, and total insensibility to enjoyment, 
the extreme of deficiency, are both absolutely 
pernicious. The psychic dispositions, from which 
these two extremes, inordinate passion and insensi- 
bility, result the one being an exaggeration, the 
other a deficiency are alike classed among moral 
imperfections. 

" Likewise, liberality is the Mean between sordid- 
ness and extravagance ; courage, between reckless- 
ness and cowardice ; dignity, between haughtiness 
and loutishness ; humility, between arrogance and 
self-abasement ; contentedness, between avarice and 
slothful indifference ; and magnificence, between 
meanness and profusion. Gentleness is the Mean 
between irascibility and insensibility to shame and 

268 



ETHICS 

disgrace ; and modesty, between impudence and 
shamefacedness. So it is with the other qualities. 

" It often happens, however, that men err as 
regards these qualities, imagining that one of the 
extremes is good, and is a virtue. Sometimes, the 
extreme of the too much is considered noble, as when 
temerity is made a virtue, and those who recklessly 
risk their lives are hailed as heroes. Thus, when 
people see a man, reckless to the highest degree, who 
runs deliberately into danger, intentionally tempting 
death, and escaping only by mere chance, they laud 
such a one to the skies, and say that he is a hero. r 5 At 
other times, the opposite extreme, the too little, is 
greatly esteemed, and the coward is considered a man 
of forbearance ; the idler, as being a person of a 
contented disposition ; and he, who by the dullness 
of his nature is callous to every joy, is praised as a 
man of moderation. In like manner, profuse liber- 
ality and extreme lavishness are erroneously extolled 
as excellent characteristics. This is, however, an 
absolutely mistaken view, for the really praiseworthy 
is the medium course of action to which every one 
should strive to adhere, always weighing his conduct 
carefully, so that he may attain the proper Mean " 
(C.M., Eight Chapters IV). 

Since Maimonides holds that heredity is not the 
all-powerful factor in determining a man's actions, he 
concludes that environment must be that force. 
Virtues and vices are fixed by constant repetition of 
acts of goodness or wickedness respectively, and a 
man's surroundings will be such as to give him scope 
for good or evil, as the case may be. 

" It is the innate characteristic of man to be drawn 
in his dispositions and in his actions after the example 
of his friends and associates, and conduct himself 

269 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

according to the customs of his countrymen. A man 
ought therefore to associate with the righteous and be 
constantly in the company of the wise, so that he may 
learn from their actions. He must likewise keep far 
from the wicked who walk in darkness, so that he 
should not learn from their actions. . . . Conse- 
quently if he is in a country where the customs are 
evil and the inhabitants do not walk in the right way, 
he should go to a place where the inhabitants are 
righteous and conduct themselves in the way of good 
men. 

" If, however, the inhabitants of all the countries 
which he knows, and the report of which he has heard, 
conduct themselves in a way which is not good, as in 
our days, or if he be unable to go to a country where 
the customs are good, in consequence of hostile troops 
or illness, he should lead a solitary life. And if his 
countrymen be so wicked and sinful that they do 
not allow him to dwell in that land unless he mingle 
with them and conform to their evil customs, he 
should repair to caves, thickets, and deserts rather 
than conform to the way of sinners " (Yad, Deot VI, i). 

Association with good and wise men, or the avoid- 
ance of the wicked, is, accordingly, the first step to 
the acquisition of virtues and the eradication of vices. 
Maimonides included this duty of associating with the 
wise in his list of the Biblical ordinances : 

" The commandment which orders us to mingle 
with the learned, associate with them, be continually 
in their society and company in every possible way, 
in the matter of food and drink and business trans- 
action, that by these means there result to us the 
imitation of their deeds and belief in true ideas from 
their words . That is what He, exalted be He, declared, 
' To Him shalt thou cleave ' (Deut. x. 20) ; and the 

270 



ETHICS 

ordinance was repeated likewise in the phrase ' to 
cleave to Him ' (ibid. xi. 22). And the explanation of 
this latter phrase occurs thus : ' Cleave to the wise and 
their disciples ' this being the expression of the 
Sifr& l6 They similarly deduce proof of the duty to 
marry the daughter of a learned man and give one's 
daughter in marriage to a learned man, to feed the 
learned and have transactions with them, from the 
statement ' To Him shalt thou cleave ', declaring, ' Is 
it then possible for a man to cleave to the Shechinah ? 
For lo, it is written, " The Lord thy God is a devouring 
fire ' ' ! (ibid, i v. 24) . But whoever marries the daughter 
of 1 ? a learned man, transacts business for the learned 
and allows them to enjoy his possessions, the Scriptures 
account it to him as though he clave to the Shechinah 
(Mitswot, Command. VI). 

A second and more drastic method of acquiring 
virtue and eradicating vice is to undergo " a cure, 
exactly as he would were his body suffering from an 
illness. So, just as when the equilibrium of the 
physical health is disturbed, and we note which way 
it is tending in order to force it to go in exactly the 
opposite direction until it shall return to its proper 
condition, and, just as when the proper adjustment 
is reached, we cease this operation, and have recourse 
to that which will maintain the proper balance, in 
exactly the same way must we adjust the moral 
equilibrium. 

" Let us take, for example, the case of a man in 
whose soul there has developed a disposition of great 
avarice on account of which he deprives himself of 
every comfort in life, and which, by the way, is one of 
the most detestable of defects, and an immoral act. 
If we wish to cure this sick man, 18 we must not 
command him merely to practise deeds of generosity, 

271 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

for that would be as ineffective as a physician trying 
to cure a patient consumed by a burning fever by 
administering mild medicines, which treatment would 
be inefficacious. We must, however, induce him to 
squander so often, and to repeat his acts of profusion 
so continuously until that propensity which was the 
cause of his avarice has totally disappeared. Then, 
when he reaches that point where he is about to become 
a squanderer, we must teach him to moderate his 
profusion, and tell him to continue with deeds of 
generosity, and to watch out with due care lest he 
relapse either into lavishness or niggardliness. 

" If, on the other hand, a man is a squanderer, he 
must be directed to practise strict economy, and to 
repeat acts of niggardliness. It is not necessary, 
however, for him to perform acts of avarice as many 
times as the mean man should those of profusion. 
This subtle point, which is a canon and secret of the 
science of medicine, tells us that it is easier for a man 
of profuse habits to moderate them to generosity, 
than it is for a miser to become generous. Likewise, 
it is easier for one who is apathetic to be excited to 
moderate enjoyment, than it is for one, burning with 
passion, to curb his desires. Consequently, the 
licentious man must be made to practise restraint 
more than the apathetic man would be induced to 
indulge his passions J and, similarly, the coward 
requires exposure to danger more frequently than the 
reckless man should be forced to cowardice. The 
mean man needs to practise lavishness to a* greater 
degree than should be required of the lavish to practise 
meanness. This is a fundamental principle of the 
science of curing moral ills, and is worthy of remem- 
brance " (CM., Eight Chapters IV). 

The standard of the Mean is the prudent course to 
272 



ETHICS 

adopt, but Maimonides concedes the praiseworthiness 
of those who allow themselves to be deviated in 
moderation therefrom to the right side. 

" He who is extremely punctilious with himself 
and departs from the middle course slightly towards 
either side is termed fyasid ' saint '. For instance, 
whoever holds aloof from haughtiness for the opposite 
extreme and becomes exceedingly humble earns the 
title of hasid ; and that is the quality of saintliness. 
If, however, he holds aloof from haughtiness for the 
middle course only and becomes meek, he earns the 
title of hacham ' wise ' ; and that is the quality of 
wisdom. It is the same with all other dispositions. 
The saints of old used to incline their dispositions from 
the Mean towards the two extremes. Some disposi- 
tions they would incline towards the second extreme 
(of excess), while others they would incline towards 
the first extreme (of deficiency). This is the meaning 
of the phrase ' within the line of the law '. We are 
commanded to walk in the middle path, which is the 
good and right path " (Yad, Deot I, 5). 

He further admits that the Mean is not always 
the correct attitude to adopt. With some moral 
qualities a tendency towards excess is desirable. 

" There are some dispositions, in regard to which 
man is forbidden to adopt the middle course, but 
should rather remove from one extreme to the other. 
This is the case with haughtiness of mind ; because it 
is not the good way for a man to be merely meek, but 
to be of humble mind and exceedingly lowly of spirit. 
Therefore it is said of Moses our teacher that he was 
not just meek, but very meek (Num. xii. 3). Conse- 
quently the Sages exhorted us, ' Be exceedingly lowly 
of spirit *. I 9 They further declared, ' Whoever makes 
his heart haughty denies a cardinal doctrine ; for it is 

273 

18 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

said, " Then thy heart be lifted up and thou forget 
the Lord thy God" (Deut. viii. 14)'.* They also 
taught, ' Whoever is possessed of haughtiness of spirit 
deserves excommunication '. 3I 

" Anger is likewise a most evil quality, and man 
should keep aloof from it to the opposite extreme, and 
train himself not to be vexed even by a thing over 
which it would be legitimate to be irritated. Should 
he desire to impress fear upon his children, his 
household or the community if he be their leader 
and wish to display anger against them that they 
return to good behaviour he may show himself in 
their presence as though he were angry for the purpose 
of reproving them, but he ought nevertheless to be 
composed within himself, like a man who pretends to 
be vexed though really he is not. The Sages of old 
said, ' Whoever gives way to anger is as though he were 
an idolater ', M ' Whoever gives way to anger, if he be a 
wise man his wisdom departs from him, and if he be a 
Prophet his Prophecy departs from him ',*3 ' The life 
of the passionate man is not truly life ' M The Sages 
have therefore ordered that a man should keep tar 
from anger until he accustom himself not to take 
notice even of things that provoke irritation : this 
being the good way. 

" The way of the righteous is this : they may be 
insulted but they do not insult, they hear themselves 
reviled but make no retort. They act from Love of God 
and are happy under affliction " (Yad, Deot II, 3). 

4. Asceticism. To one deviation from the mean 
Maimonides devotes special attention, because it was 
generally considered to be a characteristic of saintly 
men, viz., the ascetic life. He distinguishes between 
true and false asceticism. 

274 



ETHICS 

" When, at times, some of the pious ones deviated 
to one extreme by fasting, keeping nightly vigils, 
refraining from eating meat or drinking wine, renounc- 
ing sexual intercourse, clothing themselves in woollen*5 
and hairy garments,* 6 dwelling in the mountains, and 
wandering about in the wilderness, they did so, partly 
as a means of restoring the health of their souls, as 
we have explained above, and partly because of the 
immorality of the townspeople. When the pious saw 
that they themselves might become contaminated by 
association with evil men, or by constantly seeing their 
actions, fearing that their own morals might become 
corrupt on account of contact with them, they fled 
to the wilderness far from their society. . . . 

" When the ignorant observed saintly men acting 
thus, not knowing their motives, they considered their 
deeds to be virtuous, and so, blindly imitating their 
acts, thinking thereby to become like them, chastised 
their bodies with all kinds of afflictions, imagining 
that they had acquired perfection and moral worth, 
and that by this means man would approach nearer 
to God, as if He hated the human body and desired its 
destruction. It never dawned upon them, however, 
that these actions were bad and resulted in moral 
imperfection of the soul. 

" Such men can only be compared to one who, 
ignorant of the art of healing, when he sees skilful 
physicians administering to those at the point of death 
such purgatives as colocynth, scammony, aloe, and the 
like, and depriving them of food, in consequence of 
which they are completely cured and escape death, 
foolishly concludes that since these things cure 
sickness, they must all the more be efficacious in 
preserving health, or prolonging life. If a person 
should take these things constantly, and treat himself 

275 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

as a sick person, then he would really become ill. 
Likewise, those who are spiritually well, but have 
recourse to remedies, will undoubtedly become 
morally ill. 

" The perfect Torah which leads us to perfection 
. . . recommends none of these things. On the 
contrary, it aims at man's following the path of 
moderation, in accordance with the dictates of Nature, 
eating, drinking, enjoying legitimate sexual intercourse, 
all in moderation, and living among people in honesty 
and uprightness, but not dwelling in the wilderness or 
in the mountains, or clothing oneself in garments of 
hair and wool, or afflicting the body " (C.M., Eight 
Chapters IV). 

On this principle Maimonides denounces the 
spending of all one's possessions on religious objects. 

" A man should never devote all his possessions to 
religious purposes. To act thus is to transgress the 
intention of the Scriptural verse which states, ' Of all 
that he hath ' (Lev. xxvii. 28) not ' all that he hath ', 
as the Sages comment. 2 ? This is not piety but folly, 
because he deprives himself of all his money and has 
to resort to assistance from his fellowmen. On such 
a man we are to have no pity, for he belongs to the 
class, described by the Sages, ' Pious fools who destroy 
the world '.* 8 

" Whoever wishes to spend his money on religious 
objects should not exceed one-fifth, and thus resemble 
the man whom the Prophets commend, ' that ordereth 
his affairs rightfully ' (Ps. cxii. 5), both in religious and 
worldly affairs. Even in the matter of the sacrifices 
which a man was in duty bound to bring, the Torah 
has consideration for his resources and regulates them 
according to his means.*9 How much more so, then, 
in matters where there is not the obligation apart from 

276 



ETHICS 

a vow which he places upon himself, should he not vow 
more than is commensurate with his means " (Yad, 
Arachin VIII, 13). 

Luxuries and comforts, if they are not made the 
be-all and end-all of one's activities and desires, may 
even serve a beneficial purpose from the ethical 
standpoint. 

"There are, indeed, times when the agreeable 
may be used from a curative point of view, as, for 
instance, when one suffers from loss of appetite, it 
may be stirred up by highly seasoned delicacies and 
agreeable, palatable food. Similarly, one who suffers 
from melancholia may rid himself of it by listening to 
singing and all kinds of instrumental music, by 
strolling through beautiful gardens and splendid 
buildings, by gazing upon beautiful pictures, and other 
things that enliven the mind and dissipate gloomy 
moods. The purpose of all this is to restore the 
healthful condition of the body, but the real object in 
maintaining the body in good health is to acquire 
wisdom. Likewise, in the pursuit of wealth, the main 
design in its acquisition should be to expend it for 
noble purposes, and to employ it for the maintenance 
of the body and the preservation of life, so that its 
owner may obtain a knowledge of God, in so far as 
that is vouchsafed unto man. . . . 

" Our Rabbis of blessed memory say, ' It is becom- 
ing that a Sage should have a pleasant dwelling, a 
beautiful wife, and domestic comfort '3<> ; for one 
becomes weary, and one's mind is dulled by continued 
mental concentration upon difficult problems. Thus; 
just as the body becomes exhausted from hard 
labour, and then by rest and refreshment recovers, 
so it is necessary for the mind to have relaxation 
by gazing upon pictures and other beautiful objects, 

277 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

that its weariness may be dispelled " (C.M., Eight 
Chapters V). 

On the other hand, Maimonides clearly recognises 
that self-indulgence is inimical to mental and moral 
development. 

" With the formation of intellectual concepts, one 
is obliged to abstain from most physical enjoyments, 
because the beginning of intellect is to formulate the 
idea that the mortification of the soul is brought about 
by care for the body and mortification of the body 
by care for the soul. When a man follows his lusts, 
allows his desires to master his thoughts, and sets aside 
his intellect for his cravings, until he returns to the 
level of the beast which formulates no other longing 
to its soul than eating, drinking and sexual inter- 
course, then the divine power, i.e., the intellect, cannot 
manifest itself, and he becomes a mere creature 
swimming in the sea of matter " (C.M., Introduction). 

5. Correct Living (Physical). The doctrine of mens 
sana in corpore sano is stressed in Maimonides 1 
teaching. The effect of the physical condition upon 
the functioning of the soul is clearly perceived by him. 
He lays down the principle : " The well-being of the 
soul can only be obtained after that of the body has 
been secured " (Guide III, 27). 

" Know that the perfection of the body precedes 
the perfection of the soul, and is like the key which 
opens the inner chamber. Let, then, the chief aim 
of your discipline be the perfecting of your body and 
the correcting of your morals, to open before you the 
gates of Heaven " (Ethical Will, Responsa II, 38a, b) 

" Man's only design in eating, drinking, cohabiting, 
sleeping, waking, moving about, and resting should 
be the preservation of bodily health; while, in turn, 

278 



ETHICS 

the reason for the latter is that the soul and its 
agencies may be in sound and perfect condition, so 
that he may readily acquire wisdom, and gain moral 
and intellectual virtues, all to the end that man may 
reach the highest goal of his endeavours " (C.M., 
Eight Chapters V). 

He advised his son : " Eat that you may live and 
condemn excess. Believe not that much eating and 
drinking makes the body grow and enlarges the 
understanding, like a sack which is filled by what is 
put into it. It is just the reverse. By moderate 
eating the stomach acquires strength to receive it 
and, through the natural heat, to digest it. Then a 
man grows in physical health and his mind is settled. 
But if he eat more than is necessary, the stomach 
cannot receive it and the natural heat cannot digest 
it ; it will come out before him. c It is a vile thing ; 
it shall not be accepted ' (Lev. xix. 7). His body will 
be emaciated, his understanding negligible, his purse 
empty. Take care, then, that you do not eat except 
what you can digest, because it is injurious to the body 
and purse, and it is the cause of most illnesses " 
(Ethical Will, Responsa II, aga). 

Such importance did Maimonides attach to this 
matter, that he included a long list of dietetic rules 
in his codification of Rabbinic law. Some of them 
occur in the Talmud, but he considerably elaborated 
them. As he was a noted physician, his regulations 
are not without interest. 

" Since the preservation of the body in a healthy 
and perfect state belongs to the way of life prescribed 
by God since it is impossible for a man to understand 
or have any knowledge of the Creator when he is in 
poor physical condition it is consequently necessary 
that he should keep himself aloof from things which 

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TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

are injurious to the body and accustom himself 
to the use of things which are healthful and 
invigorating. 

" They are as follows : A man should never eat 
except when he is hungry, nor drink except when he 
is thirsty ; and he should not delay the performance 
of the act of purgation.3 1 ... He should not 
keep on eating until his stomach is filled, but leave 
about a fourth part of his appetite unsatisfied. He is 
not to drink water during a meal,3* but only a little 
water mixed with wine. When the food begins to 
digest, he may drink as much as is proper ; much 
water, however, should not be drunk even when the 
food is digesting. He should not eat until he is 
completely assured that he has no need of performing 
his natural functions. He should not eat until he has 
walked before the mealss a sufficient distance for the 
body to begin feeling warm, or do some kind of work, 
or undergo another form of exertion. The general 
rule is, he should exercise his body and tire it daily in 
the morning, until it begins to feel warm, rest a little 
until he is refreshed, and then have his meal. To take 
a hot bath after exercise is a good thing, but after it 
he should wait a little before having a meal. 

" One should always remain seated while eating 
or recline on his left side ; he should not walk, ride, 
undergo exertion and induce perspiration. He should 
not walk about until the food becomes digested ; and 
whoever walks about or exerts himself immediately 
after a meal brings on himself serious illnesses. 

" Day and night being twenty-four hours, it is 
enough for a person to sleep a third part thereof, viz., 
eight hours. These hours should be towards the end 
of the night, so that there are eight hours from the 
beginning of his sleep to sun-rise, and he consequently 

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ETHICS 

gets up from his bed before the sun rises. It is not 
proper to sleep lying on one's face or back34, but on 
the side at the beginning of the night on the left, and 
at the end of the night on the right side. He should 
not retire to sleep immediately after a meal, but wait 
about three or four hours. He should also not sleep 
during the day. 

" Things which are laxative, e.g., grapes, figs, 
mulberries, pears, melons and all kinds of cucumbers 
and gurkins, one may eat as hors d'ceuvre, not partaking 
of them together with the food, but waiting a little 
while and then eating his meal. Things of a costive 
tendency, such as pomegranates, quinces, apples and 
Paradise-pears he may eat immediately after a meal, 
but should not overindulge in them. 

" If one wish to partake of poultry and meat at 
the same meal, he should eat the poultry first. 
Similarly in the case of eggs and poultry, he should 
eat the eggs first ; lamb and beef, he should give 
precedence to the former. A person should always 
partake of the lighter food first and then the 
heavier. 

" During the Summer he should eat cooling things 
and not take too much spice ; but he may use vinegar. 
During the Winter he should eat warmth-giving 
food, use much spice, and take a little mustard and 
asafcetida. He should follow these directions in cold 
countries and hot, in each place according to the local 
conditions. 

" There are foods which are exceedingly harmful 
and a person should never eat them ; e.g., large, salted 
and stale fish, salted stale cheese, mushrooms and all 
fungi, stale salted meat, wine fresh from the press, 
and cooked food which has been standing until its 
flavour has gone ; likewise any food which is 

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TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

malodorous or excessively bitter is to the body like a 
deadly poison. There are, on the other hand, foods 
which are injurious, though not to the same extent as 
the former ; therefore it is right that a person should 
indulge in them sparingly and at rare intervals. He 
should not accustom himself to the use of them as food, 
or frequently eat them with his food. In this 
category are large fish, cheese, milk which has stood 
more than twenty-four hours from the time of milking, 
meat of big bulls and rams, beans, lentils,35 chick-peas, 
barley bread, unleavened bread, cabbage, leek, onions, 
garlic, mustard and raddish. All these are harmful 
food of which one should eat but very little indeed, 
and only in Winter. In Summer one ought not to eat 
them at all. Beans and lentils by themselves should 
not be eaten in Summer or Winter ; gourds, however, 
may be eaten in Summer. 

" There are some foods which are injurious, though 
not to the extent of the above-mentioned ; e.g., water- 
fowl, small pigeons, dates,3 6 bread toasted in oil or 
kneaded in oil, fine flour which has been so thoroughly 
sifted as to leave not even a particle of bran, brine 
and pickle. One should not overindulge in them ; 
and the man who is wise, curbs his desire and is not 
carried away by his appetite, abstaining from them 
altogether unless he requires them as medicine, is 
'mighty '.37 

" A person should always withhold himself from 
fruit of the trees and not eat much of them even dried, 
still less fresh ; but before they are thoroughly ripe, 
they are like swords to the body. Similarly carobs 
are always harmful ; likewise all sour fruits are bad and 
should only be eaten in small quantities in Summer 
and in hot climates. Figs, grapes and almonds are 
always beneficial, whether fresh or dried. One may 

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ETHICS 

eat of them as much as he needs ; but he must not 
keep continually eating them, although they are more 
beneficial than all other fruits of trees. 

" Honey and wine are bad for the young, but 
beneficial to the old, especially in Winter. One need 
eat in Summer two-thirds of what he eats in Winter. 

" There is another rule stated in connection with 
the healthy condition of the body : As long as a person 
works and takes plenty of exercise, does not eat to 
satiety, and his bowels are regular, no ailment will 
befall him and his strength keeps developing, even if 
he eat unwholesome food. But whoever sits idle 
and does no work, or defers the natural functions or 
is of a costive nature, even if he eat wholesome food 
and take care of himself according to medical regula- 
tions, will suffer all his life and his strength will grow 
weaker. Excessive eating is to the body of a man like 
deadly poison and is the root of all diseases. Most 
illnesses which befall men arise either from bad food 
or from immoderate indulgence in food, even of the 
wholesome kind. . . . 

" The rule about the baths* is this : A man ought 
to enter the bath-house each week, but he should not 
enter it immediately after a meal, nor when he is 
hungry, but when the food begins to digest. He 
should bathe the whole of his body in hot water, but 
not of a heat to scald the body. The head only is 
to be washed in very hot water. After that he should 
bathe in luke-warm water, then in water still cooler, 
until he finally bathes in cold water. The head, 
however, should not be immersed in luke-warm or 
cold water. One should not bathe during Winter in 
cold water, nor take the bath until the whole body is in 
a state of perspiration and has been shampooed. He 

283 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

should not stay long in the bath, but as soon as his 
body perspires and has been shampooed, he should have 
a shower-bath, and go out. . . . 

" When he leaves the bath, he should dress and 
cover his head in the outer room, so as not to catch 
cold ; even in Summer he must be careful. After 
leaving the bath, he should wait a while until he has 
refreshed himself, his body has rested and the heat 
departed ; then he may take a meal. If he can sleep 
a little on leaving the bath, before his meal, this is very 
beneficial. He should not drink cold water when he 
comes out of the bath, much less drink it while in the 
bath ; but if he is thirsty on leaving the bath and 
cannot resist drinking, he should mix the water with 
wine or honey and drink. If he anoint himself with 
oil in the bath, during Winter after he has had a 
shower-bath, it is beneficial. 

" A person should not accustom himself to constant 
blood-letting ; he should only be cupped in a case of 
great urgency. He should not undergo it either in 
Summer or Winter, but a little during the days of 
Nisan and a little in the days of Tishri.39 After fifty 
years of age one should not submit to blood-letting. 
Nor should a person have cupping and enter the bath 
on the same day, nor cup and go on a journey, nor have 
it on the day he returns from a journey. On the day 
he has blood-letting he should eat and drink less than 
usual ; he should rest on that day, not tire himself, 
nor do exercise and walking. 

" Whoever conducts himself according to the rules 
we have prescribed, I guarantee that he will not be 
afflicted with illness all his days until he reaches 
advanced age and dies. He will not need a physician, 
but always enjoy good health, unless he was physically 
weak from birth, or gave way to evil habits from early 

284 



ETHICS 

youth, or some plague or drought befall the world " 
(Yad, Deot IV, 1-18, 20). 

6. Correct Living (Moral). In general, man's life 
should be motived, and his actions guided, by three 
God-like qualities, viz., besed " kindness ", tsedakah 
" righteousness " and mishpat " judgment ". Mai- 
monides gives the following definition of the terms : 

" Hesed is especially used of extraordinary kind- 
ness. Lovingkindness is practised in two ways : first, 
we show kindness to those who have no claim what- 
ever upon us ; secondly, we are kind to those to whom 
it is due, in a greater measure than is due to them. . . . 

" The term tsedakah is derived from tsedek 
' righteousness ' ; it denotes the act of giving every 
one his due, and of showing kindness to every being 
according as it deserves. In Scripture, however, the 
expression tsedakah is not used in the first sense, and 
does not apply to the payment of what we owe to 
others. When we therefore give the hired labourer 
his wages, or pay a debt, we do not perform an act of 
tsedakah. But we do perform an act of tsedakah when 
we fulfil those duties towards our fellow-men which 
our moral conscience imposes upon us ; e.g., when we 
heal the wound of the sufferer. Thus Scripture says, 
in reference to the returning of the pledge to the poor 
debtor, ' It shall be tsedakah unto thee ' (Deut. xxiv. 
13). When we walk in the way of virtue, we act 
righteously towards our intellectual faculty and pay 
what is due unto it ; and because every virtue is thus 
tsedakah, Scripture applies the term to the virtue of 
faith in God. Comp. ' And he believed in the Lord, 
and He accounted it to him for tsedakah ' (Gen. xv. 6). 

" The noun mishpat ' judgment ' denotes the act 
of deciding upon a certain action in accordance 

285 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

with justice which may demand either mercy or 
punishment. 

" We have thus shown that fyesed denotes pure 
charity ; tsedakah kindness, prompted by a certain 
moral conscience in man, and being a means of 
attaining perfection for his soul ; whilst mishpat may 
in some cases find expression in revenge, in other cases 
in mercy " (Guide III, 53). 

Maimonides in the passage just cited restricts his 
definition of tsedakah to its connotation in the 
Scriptures. In Rabbinic Hebrew it acquired the 
meaning of " benevolence ". This quality must be 
a conspicuous feature of the moral life. 

" The law of the Torah commanded us to practise 
tsedakah, support the needy and help them financially. 
The command in connection with this duty occurs in 
various expressions ; e.g., ' Thou shalt surely open thy 
hand unto him ' (Deut. xv. 8), ' Thou shalt uphold 
him ; as a stranger and a settler shall he live with 
thee ' (Lev. xxv. 35) . The intention in these passages 
is identical, viz., that we should console the poor man 
and support him to the extent of sufficiency. . . . 
The saying has come down to us that even if he were a 
poor man who is maintained by charity, this duty, viz., 
of tsedakah, is obligatory upon him, whether it be to 
one who is worse off than he or in a similar state to 
himself, though it be with a trifling amount " (Mitswot, 
Command. CXCV). 

After detailing the laws regulating the giving of 
alms to the poor, he concludes : 

" We are in duty bound to be more careful with 
the fulfilment of the commandment relating to alms 
than all the other commandments, for almsgiving is 
the characteristic of the righteous man of the seed of 
Abraham, our father ; as it is said, ' For I know him 

286 



ETHICS 

to the end that he command his children and his 
household after him, that they may keep the way of 
the Lord, to do tsedakah ' (Gen. xviii. 19). Nor can the 
throne of Israel be firmly established and the true 
Faith stand by any other means than tsedakah ; as 
it is said, ' In tsedakah shalt thou be established ' (Isa. 
liv. 14). Further, Israel will only be redeemed by the 
same virtue ; as it is said, ' Zion shall be redeemed with 
justice, and they that return of her with tsedakah ' 
(ibid. i. 27). 4<> 

" A man is never impoverished through almsgiving, 
nor is evil or injury ever caused through it ; as it is 
said, ' The work of tsedakah shall be peace ' (ibid. 
xxxii. 17). Who displays mercy shall have mercy 
displayed towards him ; as it is said, ' And show thee 
mercy and have compassion upon thee, and multiply 
thee ' (Deut. xiii. 18). Whoever is hardhearted and 
merciless gives cause for suspecting his pure Israelite 
descent, because hardheartedness is only found among 
gentiles ; as it is said, ' They are cruel and have no 
compassion ' (Jer. vi. 23) . Whereas all Israel and those 
who ally themselves to them are like brothers ; as it 
is said, ' Ye are .children of the Lord your God ' (Deut. 
xiv. i), and if brother is not merciful to brother, who 
should be merciful to him ! To whom, then, should the 
poor of Israel raise their eyes in pleading ? To the 
gentiles who hate and persecute them ! Surely their 
eyes can only be raised to their brethren. 

" Whoever closes his eyes against charity is called, 
like the idol-worshipper, impious. . . . Whoever 
gives alms to the poor with bad grace and downcast 
looks, though he bestow a thousand gold pieces, all 
the merit of his action is lost ; but he must give with 
good grace, gladly, sympathising with the poor man in 
his trouble. If a poor man solicit alms of you and you 

287 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

have nothing to give him, console him with words ; 
and it is forbidden to upbraid the poor or raise the 
voice against him, since his heart is broken and crushed. 
. . . Woe, then, to the person who shames the 
poor man ! Be to him, rather, like a parent whether 
in compassion or in kindly words. . . . 

" There are eight degrees in alms-giving, one 
higher than the other : Supreme above all is to give 
assistance to a co-religionist who has fallen on evil 
times by presenting him with a gift or loan, or entering 
into a partnership with him, or procuring him work, 
thereby helping him to become self-supporting. 

" Inferior to this is giving charity to the poor in 
such a way that the giver and recipient are unknown 
to each other. This is, indeed, the performance of a 
commandment from disinterested motives ; and it is 
exemplified by the Institution of the Chamber of the 
Silent which existed in the Temple, where the righteous 
secretly deposited their alms and the respectable poor 
were secretly assisted.4* 

" Next in order is the donation of money to the 
charitable fund of the Community, to which no 
contribution should be made without the donors 
feeling confident that the administration is honest, 
prudent and capable of proper management. 

" Below this degree is the instance where the donor 
is aware to whom he is giving the alms but the recipient 
is unaware from whom he received them ; as, e.g., the 
great Sages who used to go about secretly throwing 
money through the doors of the poor.4* This is quite 
a proper course to adopt and a great virtue where the 
administrators of a charitable fund are not acting 
fairly. 

" Inferior to this degree is the case where the 
recipient knows the identity of the donor, but not 

288 



ETHICS 

vice versa ; as, e.g., the great Sages who used to tie 
sums of money in linen bundles and throw them 
behind their backs for poor men to pick up, so that they 
should not feel shame43. 

" The next four degrees in their order are : the man 
who gives money to the poor before he is asked ; the 
man who gives money to the poor after he is asked ; the 
man who gives less than he should, but does it with 
good grace ; and lastly, he who gives grudgingly " 
(Yad, Mattenot Aniyyim X, 1-14). 

Another important virtue of the moral life is 
chastity. 

" It is proper for a man to practise self-control and 
exercise himself in additional holiness and pure thought 
and correct morals to be saved from going astray. 
He must guard against intimacy which is the great 
cause of sinning. He should likewise accustom himself 
to keep far from levity, intemperance and erotic 
subjects, because these are important factors which 
conduce to immorality. Nor should he live un- 
wedded ; since marriage tends to purity. But above 
all this, advised the Rabbis, let him turn himself and 
his thoughts to the study of the Torah and enlarge 
his mind with wisdom44 ; for lustful desire only 
prevails in a heart which is empty of wisdom " (Yad t 
Issure Biah XXII, 2of). 

A forgiving disposition is likewise advocated. " It 
is forbidden a man to be hard and unrelenting. He 
should, on the contrary, be easily appeased and hard 
to provoke ; and when the offender begs his pardon, 
he should forgive wholeheartedly and willingly. Even 
though the man may have grievously injured or offended 
him, he ought not to avenge himself nor bear a grudge, 
this being the characteristic of the seed of Israel and 
their uprightness of heart " (Yad, Teshubah II, 10). 

289 

19 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

Another moral virtue is the correct use of the 
power of speech. 

" A fence to wisdom is silence.45 A man should 
therefore not be hasty in replying, nor talk too much. 
He should teach his pupils in a quiet and pleasant 
manner, without shouting and without prolixity. 
As Solomon said, ' The words of the wise are spoken 
in quiet ' (Eccles. ix. 17). 

"It is forbidden a man to accustom himself to 
words of flattery or seduction ; nor should he be 
otherwise in his speech than he is in his heart, but 
alike within as without, so that what is in his heart is 
identical with the words in his mouth. 

" It is forbidden to deceive one's fellow-creatures, 
even a gentile. For instance, a man should not sell 
to a gentile the flesh of a beast which died of itself 
as the flesh of a slaughtered beast, or a shoe made of 
the hide of a beast which died of itself as the shoe 
made of the hide of a slaughtered beast. He may not 
press his friend to eat with him when he knows that 
he will not eat with him, nor continue to urge gifts on 
him when he knows that he will not accept them ; 
nor open casks for him which he is obliged to open for 
the purpose of sale, in order to deceive him that it was 
in his honour that he had opened them ; and so on. 
Even a single word of seduction or deception is pro- 
hibited. Instead there should be truthful speech, an 
upright spirit, and a heart pure from treachery and 
mischief " (Yad, Diot II, 5!). 

Maimonides draws a detailed picture of the 
manner of living to which the " wise " man should 
conform. He, first of all, rigorously submits to the 
rules of correct physical living. He also adopts the 
following outward characteristics : 

" A wise man should not shout or be noisy when 
290 



ETHICS 

he speaks, like animals, nor should he raise his voice 
too high ; but his speech with all people should be 
quiet. When speaking in a quiet tone, he must take 
care not to exaggerate, so as to appear as one talking 
haughtily. He also anticipates every man with his 
greeting, so that all are favourably disposed towards 
him.46 He judges every man leniently,47 recounts the 
praise of his friend but on no account says whatever is 
discreditable. He loves peace and pursues it.48 jf h e 
perceives that his words are helpful and listened to he 
gives utterance to them, otherwise he keeps silent. 
For instance, he will never attempt to pacify his 
neighbour whilst the latter is angry, or question him 
concerning his vow at the time he made it, but waits 
until his mind has grown calm and composed. He 
does not comfort the mourner while the dead body 
still lies in his presence, because the mourner is too 
overcome before the burial; and so on. He does not 
enter the presence of his friend at the time of the 
latter's disgrace, but averts his eyes from him.49 He 
does not depart from his word, neither adding to it 
nor subtracting from it, except when peace is involved.5 
In general, he only speaks on scholarly subjects or to 
practise benevolence. He does not converse with a 
woman in a public place, even if it be his wife, sister 
or daughter. 5 1 

" A wise man should not walk with a haughty 
demeanour ; nor should he walk with slow and 
measured gait like women and proud people ; nor 
run about in public roads like madmen ; nor stoop 
like a hunchback ; but he should gaze downwards as 
though standing in prayer, and walk in the street 
like a man occupied in business. From the manner 
of a man's walking, it may be perceived whether he 
is wise and intellectual or foolish and ignorant.5* 

291 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

" The dress of a wise man should be suitable and 
clean. It is forbidden that stains or grease-marks 
should be found on his garment.53 He should not 
wear the apparel of princes, e.g., garments of gold 
and purple, to attract the attention of people, nor the 
clothes of paupers which bring disrespect on the 
wearer ; but his garments should be of a medium 
character and suitable for him. His flesh should not 
be visible through his apparel, like the very fine linen 
garments made in Egypt ; nor should his dress drag 
along the ground like that of the haughty, but should 
only reach to the heel and the sleeves to the tips of the 
fingers. He should not wear his TallitS* conspicuously 
long because it appears like haughtiness, except on 
Sabbath if he has no other in its place. He should 
not wear patched shoes in Summer, but if he is a poor 
man he may wear them in Winter. 55 He should not 
go out into the street perfumed, nor with scented 
garments, nor use any perfume for his hair, but it is 
allowable if he anointed his body with perfume to 
remove the bad odour. 5 6 He should not go out alone 
at night unless there be a fixed time when it is his habit 
to go out to attend to his study.57 All these rules are 
intended to avoid suspicion. 

" A wise man measures his words with judgment, 
eats and drinks and supports his household according 
to his means and prosperity, and does not encumber 
himself with unnecessary burdens. . . , The 
Sages recommended that a man should spend upon 
food less than his means, upon dress up to his means, 
and expend in honour of his wife and children more 
than his means. 5 8 

" The course adopted by a man of intelligence is 
first to determine upon an occupation to maintain 
himself, then to purchase a dwelling-house and then 

292 



ETHICS 

to marry. 59 . . . But fools first marry, then if 
they can afford it acquire a dwelling-house, and 
afterwards when advanced in years go about to find a 
trade or have to be supported from charity. . . . 

" All transactions of the wise man must be in truth 
and integrity. 60 His nay should be nay, his yea yea. 
In financial calculations he must be strict with 
himself but generous with others. 61 He pays the 
purchase-money immediately 6 * ; he does not make 
himself a surety or responsible for others, nor undertake 
the liability of a power of attorney. 6 3 He does not 
enter in the course of business into such obligations as 
the Torah has not imposed upon him, so that he may 
abide by his word and not depart from it. If others 
are legally indebted to him, he grants them an extension 
to pay, is forgiving and lends graciously. He does not 
interfere with the business of his neighbours, and never 
acts harshly towards anybody. In general, he is 
rather of the persecuted than of the persecutors, of the 
offended not of the offenders " 6 4 ( Yad, Deot V, 7-13). 

The highest incentive to correct moral living is the 
consciousness of being always in the presence of God. 

" We do not sit, move and occupy ourselves when 
we are alone and at home, in the same manner as we 
do in the presence of a great king ; we speak and 
open our mouth as we please when we are with the 
people of our own household and with our relatives, 
but not so when we are in a royal assembly. If we 
therefore desire to attain human perfection, and to be 
truly men of God, we must awake from our sleep, and 
bear in mind that the great King that is over us, and 
is always joined to us, is greater than any earthly 
king, greater than David and Solomon. The King 
that cleaves to us and embraces us is the Intellect that 
influences us, and forms the link between us and God. 

293 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

We perceive God by means of that light that He sends 
down unto us, wherefore the Psalmist says, ' In Thy 
light do we see light ' (Ps. xxxvi. 10) ; so God looks 
down upon us through that same light, and is always 
with us beholding and watching us on account of this 
light. 

" When the perfect bear this in mind, they will be 
filled with fear of God, humility and piety, with true, 
not apparent, reverence and respect of God, in such a 
manner that their conduct, even when alone with their 
wives or in the bath, will be as modest as they are in 
public intercourse with other people " (Guide III, 52). 

7. Social Life. Like Aristotle who described man as 
a " social animal ", Maimonides declares of him that 
he "is naturally a social being, that by virtue of his 
nature he seeks to form communities ; man is there- 
fore different from other living beings that are not 
compelled to combine into communities " (Guide II, 40). 

" It is well known that man requires friends all his 
lifetime. . . . When man is in good health and 
prosperous, he enjoys the company of his friends ; in 
time of trouble he is in need of them ; in old age, 
when his body is weak, he is assisted by them. This 
love is more frequent and more intense between 
parents and children, and among other relations. 
Perfect love, brotherhood, and mutual assistance are 
only found among those near to each other by relation- 
ship. The members of a family united by common 
descent from the same grandfather, or even from some 
more distant ancestor, have towards each other a 
certain feeling of love, help each other, and sympathise 
with each other. To effect this is one of the chief 
purposes of the Torah " (Guide III, 49). 

It is the duty of man to take his place in the social 
294 



ETHICS 

life around him and contribute his share towards its 
well-being. To live idly and depend on charity is a 
degradation to man. 

" A man should ever suffer the deepest privations 
rather than have recourse to his fellowmen or throw 
himself Upon the Community. Thus the Sages 
exhorted, ' Make thy (living on the) Sabbath as on a 
week-day, and be not dependent upon thy fellow- 
men '. 6 5 Even if he be wise and honoured, should he 
grow poor he must engage in a trade, however lowly, 
rather than have recourse to charity. ' Flay a carcass 
in the street and earn a living, and say not, " I am a 
great man and the work is below my dignity 11 !' 66 
Some of the great Sages were hewers of wood, carriers 
of logs, drawers of water for the gardens, metal- 
workers, smiths ; but they asked nothing from the 
community and refused whatever was offered to 
them " 6 7 (Yad, Mattenot Aniyyim X, 18). 

To the question, Why did not God create all men 
lovers of knowledge and highly endowed intellect- 
ually ? Maimonides gave this answer : 

" If all men were seekers of wisdom and philosophy, 
the social order would be destroyed and the human 
race quickly disappear from the world ; because man 
is very helpless and needs many things. Consequently 
it would be necessary for him to learn ploughing, 
reaping, threshing, grinding, baking and how to 
fashion implements for these tasks, for the purpose of 
securing his food-supply. Similarly he would have to 
learn spinning and weaving to clothe himself, the 
building art to provide a shelter, and to fashion tools 
for all these works. 

"But the life of Methuselah would not be 
sufficiently long to learn all these occupations which 
are indispensable to human existence. When, in these 

295 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

conditions, would he find leisure to study and acquire 
wisdom ? Consequently, there is necessity for other 
types of men to follow these occupations which are 
essential in a city, so that the student may have his 
wants provided, the land may be inhabited and 
wisdom found among men " (C.M., Introduction). 

He denounced gambling as an anti-social act, 
because no advantage accrued from it to the advance- 
ment of civilisation ; and he continued : " It is a 
fundamental teaching of the Torah that a man should 
properly only occupy himself in this world with one of 
two things : either in Torah for the purpose of 
perfecting his soul in its wisdom ; or in an occupation 
which helps him to gain a regular living, or in trade and 
commerce. But it is right to decrease the time spent 
in obtaining a livelihood and increase the time devoted 
to Torah " (C.M., Sanhedrin III, 3). 

On social relationship with a man's neighbours 
Maimonides writes : 

" It is a commandment upon each man to love his 
brother-Israelite like himself. 68 A man ought there- 
fore to recount his neighbour's praise and be 
scrupulous with his money as with his own, and be 
concerned for his honour as he is concerned with his 
personal honour. 6 9 Whoever glories in the shame of 
his fellowman has no share in the world to come.7 

" Love of the stranger who comes and enters 
beneath the wings of the Shechinahl 1 is ordained in 
two commandments : First, because the stranger is 
included in the definition of ' neighbour ' (Lev. xix. 
1 8) ; and secondly, because as a stranger he is included 
in the command ' Love ye therefore the stranger ' 
(Deut. x. 19). . . . 

" Anyone who hates his fellow-Israelite in his 
heart transgresses a prohibition ; for it is said, ' Thou 

296 



ETHICS 

shalt not hate thy brother in thine heart ' (Lev. xix. 
17). . . . If a man is injured by another, he 
should not bear hatred towards him in silence ; but 
he is commanded to acquaint him with his grievance 
and say to him, Why have you done so to me ? Why 
have you injured me by such a thing ? And if the 
other repent and ask his pardon, he must forgive him 
and not be hard.7* 

" Whoever sees his fellowmen commit a sin, or 
walk in the way which is not good, is under the 
obligation to bring him back to the proper way and to 
make known to him that by his wicked actions he sins 
against himself. He who rebukes his fellow, whether 
in matters between man and man or between man and 
God, should rebuke him in private, talk to him quietly 
and in gentle language, and let him know that he is 
only telling him this for his own good, for the purpose 
of bringing him to the life of the world to come. If 
the other listen to him, well and good ; but if not, 
he should rebuke him a second and a third time ; and 
so he must rebuke him continually until the offender 
strikes him and says, I will not listen. But he in 
whose power it is to prevent others from sinning, but 
does not do so, becomes himself responsible for the 
iniquity, because it was possible for him to have 
prevented them.73 

" He who rebukes his fellow should not at first 
talk to him harshly so as to put him to shame. . . . 
It is forbidden a man to put an Israelite to shame, least 
of all in public ; for although shaming a fellowman is 
not an offence punishable by flagellation, it is never- 
theless a great sin. Thus the Sages declare, ' He who 
puts his fellowman to shame in public has no share 
in the world to come '.74 Consequently a man should 
be very careful not to shame his neighbour publicly, 

297 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

whether he be an inportant person or insignificant. 
He must not call him by any name of which he is 
ashamed, nor relate in his presence anything of which 
he may be ashamed. 75 

" This, however, applies only to matters between 
man and man ; but as regards matters relating to God, 
if he does not recant as the result of private rebuke, 
we may put him to shame publicly, proclaim his sin, 
reprove him in his presence, disgrace and denounce 
him until he amend, in the manner that the Prophets 
acted against Israel. 

" If a person has been injured by his fellow and 
does not wish to reprove him, or mention it at all, 
because the offender is too vulgar a person or of 
disordered mind, but pardons him in his heart without 
hating or reproaching him, behold this is the degree of 
saintliness? 6 " (Yad, Deot VI, 3-9). 

8. The Purpose of Life. Maimonides devotes 
attention to the question for what purpose man 
exists. The answer to this question must be the basis 
of the ultimate problem of Ethics, viz., What should 
be the goal of human endeavour. His answer is based 
on the assertion, " Man is not endowed with perfection 
at the beginning, but at first possesses perfection in 
potentia, not in fact " (Guide I, 34). His purpose is 
therefore to convert potentiality into actuality. 

" When the philosophers discovered that the end 
of all things in the Universe was to provide for the 
existence of man, they were compelled to continue 
their investigation and determine why man exists 
and what is the reason for his creation. After long 
research into this problem, they found that man 
possessed numerous activities, whereas all other 
animals and plants possessed only one or two directed 



ETHICS 

to one end. We, e.g., see that the palm has no other 
activity than to produce dates, and similarly with 
the other trees. Likewise with animals, we find that 
some only spin, like the spider ; some build, like the 
swallow which constructs nests in Summer ; others 
store up food on which to subsist, like the ant. 

" Man, on the other hand, performs many activities 
of a varied nature. The philosophers, accordingly, 
investigated all his activities seriatim to discover from 
them the purpose of his creation. They found that 
his purpose resolved itself into one function only on 
account of which he was created, and the rest of his 
activities were merely to maintain his stability so that 
he may thereby fulfil that one function which is, to 
formulate in his soul concepts of the intellectual 
mysteries and to ascertain the exact truths. For it 
is self-evident how utterly false it is that the purpose 
of man should be eating, drinking and cohabiting, or 
building a wall or being a king ; because all these 
occurrences happen to him without developing his 
inner power, and also in these matters he is allied to 
most creatures. But it is wisdom which develops 
his inner power and removes him from a lowly 
to a dignified status, since he was only man in 
potentia, but has become man in reality" (C.M., 
Introduction). 

" It was impossible, according to the wisdom of 
God, that substance should exist without form, or any 
of the forms of the bodies without substance, and it 
was necessary that the very noble form of man, which 
is the image and likeness of God, should be joined to 
the substance of dust and darkness, the source of all 
defect and loss. For these reasons the Creator gave 
to the form of man power, rule and dominion over the 
substance ; the form can subdue the substance, refuse 

299 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

the fulfilment of its desires, and reduce them, as far 
as possible, to a just and proper measure. 

" The station of man varies according to the exercise 
of this power. Some persons constantly strive to 
choose that which is noble, and to seek perpetuation 
in accordance with the direction of their nobler part 
their form ; their thoughts are engaged in the formation 
of ideas, the acquisition of true knowledge about 
everything, and the union with the divine intellect 
which flows down upon them, and which is the source 
of man's form. Whenever they are led by the wants of 
the body to that which is low and avowedly disgraceful, 
they are grieved at their position, they feel ashamed 
and confounded at their situation. They try with all 
their might to diminish this disgrace, and to guard 
against it in every possible way. . . . 

" Some consider all wants of the body as shame, 
disgrace, and defect to which they are compelled to 
attend ; this is chiefly the case with the sense of touch, 
which is a disgrace to us according to Aristotle, and 
which is the cause of our desire for eating, drinking 
and sensuality. Intelligent persons must, as much as 
possible, reduce these wants, guard against them, feel 
grieved when satisfying them, abstain from speaking 
of them, discussing them, and attending to them in 
company with others. Man must have control over all 
these desires, reduce them as much as possible, and only 
retain of them as much as is indispensable. His aim 
must be the aim of man as man, viz., the formulation 
of ideas, and nothing else " (Guide III, 8). 

On this view, the world is man's training-ground in 
spiritual development, and only when it is regarded as 
such are the opportunities it offers rightly used. 

" After death there is no opportunity for man to 
attain perfection or increase of virtue ; he can only 

300 



ETHICS 

do so in this world. Solomon hints at this when he 
says, ' There is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, 
nor wisdom in the grave whither thou goest ' (Eccles. 
ix. 10) ; but these objects, which a man should pursue, 
remain for him so long as he lives. Therefore it is 
obligatory that he should strive for them during his 
brief span of life and not waste his time in the acquisi- 
tion of anything but the virtues ; because his loss is 
great if he neglects his opportunities, since he can 
never repair it. 

" When the saints perceived this, they took care 
not to spend their life except in acquiring wisdom and 
increase of the virtues, and devoted all their time to 
following the path of truth, and squandered none of it 
in the pursuit of material things, apart from the very 
minimum which necessity demanded. Others, how- 
ever, spent all their time on material things only, and 
left this world as they entered it, thereby incurring 
eternal loss. But the masses invert the truth in this 
connection and maintain that the former class (the 
saints) wasted their life in this world, while the latter 
made the most of it. The contrary is the truth, as 
we have declared ; for these men make darkness for 
light and light for darkness. Woe to them who 
destroy the truth ! " (C.M., Abot IV, 22). 

9. The Ultimate Goal of Living. All that has been 
prescribed to guide man in the right way of life, 
physically and morally, is but the means to an end. 
These rules of conduct are the necessary preparation 
for the attempt to reach an ultimate goal which 
must be man's constant ideal throughout his life. 

" It is possible for one to shape one's conduct 
entirely from the point of view of utility, as we have 
stated, with no aim beyond that of maintaining the 

301 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

health of the body, or guarding against disease. Such 
a one does not deserve to be called virtuous, for, just 
as he strives for the enjoyment of good health, another 
like him may have as his aim the gratification of eating, 
or of sexual intercourse, none of which actions leads 
towards the true goal. The real duty of man is, that 
in adopting whatever measures he may for his well- 
being, and the preservation of his existence in good 
health, he should do so with the object of maintaining 
a perfect condition of the instruments of the soul, 
which are the limbs of the body, so that his soul may 
be unhampered, and he may busy himself in acquiring 
the moral and mental virtues. 

" So it is with all the sciences and knowledge man 
may learn. Concerning those which lead directly to 
this goal, there is naturally no question ; but such 
subjects as Mathematics, etc., which do not tend 
directly towards that goal, should be studied for the 
purpose of sharpening the mind, and training the 
mental faculties by scientific investigations, so that 
man may acquire intellectual ability to distinguish 
demonstrative proofs from others, whereby he will 
be enabled to comprehend the essence of God" 
(C.M., Eight Chapters V). 

" Man ought to direct his heart and all his actions 
solely towards knowing God, blessed be He 1 so that 
his sitting down, and his rising up, and his conversa- 
tion should altogether tend to this goal. For instance, 
when he engages in business transactions or manual 
labour for remuneration, the intention in his heart 
should not be merely to accumulate money ; but he ought 
to do these things with the view of providing for his 
physical wants, such as food, drink, a home and 
marriage. Similarly, when he eats or drinks or cohabits, 
his purpose should not simply be physical gratification, 

302 



ETHICS 

so that he does not eat or drink except what is pleasant 
to the palate . . . ; but he sets as his purpose 
when eating or drinking nothing else than the preser- 
vation of his body and limbs in good health. . . . 
" He who conducts himself according to medical 
regulations, if he make it his object merely that his 
whole body and his limbs be perfect and that he 
should have sons to do his work and labour for his 
requirements, this is not the right way. He must 
intend that his body should be perfect and strong to 
the end that his soul may be fit to know the Lord ; 
because it is impossible for him to reflect and study 
the sciences when he is hungry, or ill, or any one of his 
limbs aches. He must likewise intend to have a son 
in the hope that he will be wise and a great man in 
Israel. Consequently, he who walks in this way 
throughout his life serves the Lord continually, even 
at the time when he is engaged in commerce, even when 
performing his marital duties ; because his object in 
all this is to provide his needs, so that his body may be 
perfect to serve the Lord. Even at the time when he 
sleeps provided he sleeps that both his mind and body 
may enjoy rest, so that he may not become ill and be 
unable to serve the Lord when he is unwell his very 
sleep will be found to be a service of the Omnipresent, 
blessed be He ! In this respect the Sages have 
commanded, ' Let all thine acts be for the sake of 
God '.77 And this is likewise what Solomon said in his 
wisdom, ' In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He 
will direct thy paths ' (Prov. iii. 6) " (Yad, Deot III, 2f). 

Maimonides sums up his whole teaching in the 
concluding chapter of the Guide, where he enumerates 
four types of perfection and argues that the fourth is 
the true one after which man should aspire : 

" The ancient and the modern philosophers have 

303 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

shown that man can acquire four kinds of perfection. 
The first kind, the lowest, in the acquisition of which 
people spend their days, is perfection as regards 
property the possession of money, garments, furni- 
ture, servants, land, and the like ; the possession of 
the title of a great king belongs to this class. There 
is no close connection between this possession and its 
possessor ; it is a perfectly imaginary relation when 
on account of the great advantage a person derives 
from these possessions, he says, This is my house, this 
is my servant, this is my money, and these are my hosts 
and armies. For when he examines himself he will 
find that all these things are external, and their 
qualities are entirely independent of the possessor. 
When, therefore, that relation ceases, he that has been 
a great king may one morning find that there is no 
difference between him and the lowest person, and yet 
no change has taken place in the things which were 
ascribed to him. The philosophers have shown that 
he whose sole aim in all his exertions and endeavours 
is the possession of this kind of perfection, only seeks 
perfectly imaginary and transient things ; and even 
if these remain his property all his lifetime, they do 
not give him any perfection. 

" The second kind is more closely related to man's 
body than the first. It includes the perfection of the 
shape, constitution, and form of man's body ; the 
utmost evenness of temperaments, and the proper 
order and strength of his limbs. This kind of per- 
fection must likewise be excluded from forming our 
chief aim ; because it is a perfection of the body, and 
man does not possess it as a man, but as a living being ; 
he has this property besides in common with the lowest 
animal ; and even if a person possesses the greatest 
possible strength, he could not be as strong as a mule, 

304 



ETHICS 

much less can he be as strong as a lion or an elephant ; 
he, therefore, can at the utmost have strength that 
might enable him to carry a heavy burden, or break a 
thick substance, or do similar things, in which there is 
no great profit for the body. The soul derives no 
profit from this kind of perfection. 

" The third kind of perfection is more closely 
connected with man himself than the second per- 
fection. It includes moral perfection, the highest 
degree of excellency in man's character. Most of the 
precepts aim at producing this perfection ; but even 
this kind is only a preparation for another perfection, 
and is not sought for its own sake. For all moral 
principles concern the relation of man to his neighbour ; 
the perfection of man's moral principles is, as it were, 
given to man for the benefit of mankind. Imagine a 
person living alone, and having no connection what- 
ever with any other person ; all his good moral princi- 
ples are at rest, they are not required, and give man no 
perfection whatever. These principles are only necessary 
and useful when man comes in contact with others. 

" The fourth kind of perfection is the true perfec- 
tion of man ; the possession of the highest intellectual 
faculties ; the possession of such notions which lead to 
true metaphysical opinions as regards God. With 
this perfection man has obtained his final object ; it 
gives him true human perfection ; it remains to him 
alone ; it gives him immortality,? 8 and on its account 
he is called man. Examine the first three kinds of 
perfection; you will find that, if you possess them, 
they are not your property, but the property of others ; 
according to the ordinary view, however, they belong 
to you and to others. But the last kind of perfection 
is exclusively yours ; no one else owns any part, of it, 
' They shall be only thine own, and not strangers' with 

305 

20 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

thee ' (Prov. v. 17). Your aim must therefore be to 
attain this fourth perfection that is exclusively yours, 
and you ought not to continue to work and weary your- 
self for that which belongs to others, whilst neglecting 
your soul till it has lost entirely its original purity 
through thedominion of the bodily powersoverit. . . . 

" The Prophets have likewise explained unto us 
these things, and have expressed the same opinion on 
them as the philosophers. They say distinctly that 
perfection in property, in health, or in character, is 
not a perfection worthy to be sought as a cause of 
pride and glory for us ; that the knowledge of God, 
i.e., true wisdom, is the only perfection which we 
should seek and in which we should glorify ourselves. 
Jeremiah, referring to these four kinds of perfection, 
says : ' Thus saith the Lord, Let not the wise man 
glory in his wisdom,79 neither let the mighty man 
glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his 
riches ; but let him that glorieth glory in this, that he 
understandeth and knoweth Me that I am the Lord 
Who exercise lovingkindness, judgment and righte- 
ousness in the earth ; for in these things I delight, 
saith the Lord ' (Jer. ix. 22f). . . . 

" The object of the above passage is to declare that 
the perfection, in which man can truly glory, is 
attained by him when he has acquired as far as this 
is possible for man the knowledge of God, the 
knowledge of His Providence, and of the manner in 
which it influences His creatures in their production 
and continued existence. Having acquired this 
knowledge he will then be determined always to seek 
lovingkindness, judgment and righteousness, and 
thus to imitate the ways of God.". 8 

On this exalted note the Guide ends. It is the 
culminating point of Maimonides' system of teaching. 

306 



CHAPTER XII 
SOME OBITER DICTA 

WHEN I have a difficult subject before me when I 
find the road narrow, and can see no other way of 
teaching a well-established truth except by pleasing 
one intelligent man and displeasing ten thousand fools 
I prefer to address myself to the one man and to 
take no notice whatever of the condemnation of the 
multitude (Guide, Introd.). 



A truth, once established by proof, does neither 
gain force nor certainty by the consent of all scholars, 
nor lose by the general dissent (ibid. II, 15). 



The fact that a certain proposition has been proved 
by a dialectical argument will never induce me to 
accept that proposition, but, on the contrary, will 
weaken my faith in it and cause me to doubt it. For 
when we understand the fallacy of a proof, our faith 
in the proposition itself is shaken (ibid. II, 16). 



If a person studies too much and exhausts his 
reflective powers, he will be confused, and will not be 
able to apprehend even that which had been within 
the power of his apprehension (ibid. I, 32). 

307 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

It is in fact ignorance or a kind of madness to 
weary our minds with finding out things which are 
beyond our reach, without having the means of 
approaching them (ibid. II, 24). 



He who has studied insufficiently, and teaches and 
acts according to his defective knowledge, is to be 
considered as if he sinned knowingly (ibid. Ill, 41). 



Do not consider a thing as proof because you find 
it written in books ; for just as a liar will deceive 
with his tongue, he will not be deterred from doing 
the same thing with his pen. They are utter fools 
who r accept a thing as convincing proof because it is 
in writing (Iggeret Teman, Responsa II, 5d). 



The truth of a thing does not become greater by 
its frequent repetition, nor is it lessened by lack of 
repetition (Tehiyyat ha-Metim t Responsa II, gd). 



Whenever the words of a person can be interpreted 
in such a manner that they agree with fully established 
facts, it is the duty of every educated and honest man 
so to interpret them (Guide III, 14). 



It is through the intellect that the human being 
has the capacity of honouring God (C.M., Hagigah II,i). 

The heart is the tabernacle of the human intellect 
(Ethical Will, Responsa II, 39c). 

308 



SOME OBITER DICTA 

The wise man is a greater asset to a nation than is 
a king (C.M., Horayot III, end). 



A man should never cast his intellect behind him ; 
his eyes are in front, not behind (Responsa II, 26b). 

Wisdom is the consciousness of self (Guide I, 53). 



Let the truth and right by which you are 
apparently the loser be preferable to you to the 
falsehood and wrong by which you are apparently the 
gainer (Ethical Will, Responsa II, 38c). 



Moral conduct is a preparation for intellectual 
progress, and only a man whose character is pure, 
calm and steadfast can attain to intellectual perfection 
that is, acquire correct conceptions (Guide I, 34). 



A miracle cannot prove that which is impossible ; 
it is useful only as a confirmation of that which is 
possible (ibid III, 24). 

Make matter subject to the intellect, i.e. the body 
to the soul ; for this subjection is your freedom in 
this world and the world to come (Ethical Will, 
Responsa II, 38d). 

It is of great advantage that man should know 
his station, and not erroneously imagine that the 
whole Universe exists only for him (Guide III, 12). 

309 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

The multitude does not estimate man by his true 
form, but by the perfection of his bodily limbs and the 
beauty of his garments (ibid. Ill, 45). 



It is to be feared that those who become great in 
riches and comfort generally fall into the vices of 
insolence and haughtiness, and abandon all good 
principles (ibid. Ill, 39). 



It is in the nature of man to strive to gain money 
and to increase it ; and his great desire to add to his 
wealth and honour is the chief source of misery for 
man (ibid. loc. cit). 



Ease destroys bravery, whilst trouble and care for 
food create strength (ibid. Ill, 24). 



It is a natural phenomenon that we find consola- 
tion in our misfortune when the same misfortune or a 
greater one has befallen another person (ibid. Ill, 40). 



It is indeed a fact that the transition from trouble 
to ease gives more pleasure than continual ease 
(ibid. Ill, 24). 



When we continually see an object, however 
sublime it may be, our regard for that object will be 

310 



SOME OBITER DICTA 

lessened, and the impression we have received of 
it will be weakened (ibid. Ill, 47). 



The sight of that to which a person has been 
accustomed for a long time does not produce such an 
ardent desire for its enjoyment as is produced by 
objects new in form and character (ibid. Ill, 49). 



NOTES 
INTRODUCTION 

1 See Encyclopaedia of Religion and Ethics, IX, p. 873. 

2 Cf. Radin, Jews among the Greeks and Romans. 

3 See Contra Apionem I, 22. 

4- E.g., j. Betsah II, 5, 6ic (a philosopher and Bar Kappara), 
Abodah Zarah 540 (philosophers in Rome and the Rabbis), 
Genesis Rabba XI, 6 (a philosopher and Rabbi Hoshayah). 

5 See Delitzsch, Biblical Psychology, pp. 292^. 

6 Abot I, 17 (Authorised Prayer Book, ed. Singer, p. 186). 

7 Hagigah I4b. 

8 Literally " another ", the nickname given to Elisha ben 
Abuyah when he " cut the plants ", i.e., abandoned Judaism. 
He was then considered as having become a different person. 

9 Abot III, i$ (Singer, p. 194). 

10 Even Maimonides comments in a similar strain on this 
verse : " God alone has a perfect and true knowledge of the 
heavens, their nature, their essence, their form, their motions 
and their causes ; but He gave man power to know the things 
which are under the heavens ; here is man's world, here is 
his home, into which he has been placed, and of which he is 
himself a portion " (Guide II, 24). In one of his letters he 
states : " Whatever is beyond Nature no savant or philosopher 
is able to establish with clear proof, but whatever is in Nature 
is not hidden from his eyes " (Responsa II, 24b). If Maimon- 
ides had been charged with inconsistency in holding such an 
opinion and yet indulging in philosophical speculation, his 
answer would probably have been as follows : I admit the 
limited range of which the human intellect is capable and I 
have pointed out in my works (cf. Chap. X, 5) that it is 
idle to attempt to penetrate the mysteries of God. All I 
have done is to extract from His revealed word the utmost 
it contains and applied my intellect to the fullest possible 
development of its teachings. 

11 Maimonides writes of Aristotle that his intellect reached 
the highest plane of perfection attainable by man, apart from 
the Prophets who had been directly inspired by God (Responsa 
II, 28d). 

12 Only the briefest outline of the subject could be given 
in this Introduction. The story of the Jewish philosophers 
is fully told in Husik, History of Medieval Jewish Philosophy. 

*3 For a fuller account of his biography, the reader is 
referred to the excellent monograph by David Yellin and 
Israel Abrahams. 

J 4 Literally " judge ", i.e., member of a Rabbinic court. 

313 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

In the Guide II, 9 he mentions " Ibn Aflafc of Seville 
with whose son I was acquainted . . . also the excellent 
philosopher Abu-Bekr ibn Alzaig, one of whose pupils was 
'tiy f ello\v -student." 

16 The question is examined by Friedlander in the preface 
to his translation of the Guide (3 vol. edition, I, p. XXXIII) and 
Margoliouth in the Jewish Quarterly Review (old series), vol. 
XIII. They both give their decision in favour of Maimonides. 

*7 Norn de plume of Asher Ginzberg, one of the foremost 
of modern Jewish writers. See his fine essay, " The Supremacy 
of Reason " in Essays on Zionism and Judaism, especially 
pp. igSff. 

18 See p. 115. 

J 9 See Chap. IV, 5. 

20 The first of the six Orders into which the Mishnah is 
divided. 

21 It is in fourteen books, hence the name Yad which in 
Hebrew has the numerical value of fourteen. 

22 History of the Jews (American edition) III, pp. 466f . 

2 3 See p. 320, note 5. 
2 * See p. 51. 

2 5 An interesting essav by Israel Friedlander on the way 
Maimonides' style reflects the character of the man is con- 
tained in the memorial work Moses ben Maimon, I, pp. 42Qff. 

26 Kohler, Jewish Theology, p. 30. 

2 ? Lazarus, Ethics of Judaism, I, pp. 274! 

28 Jowett, Dialogues of Plato, III, pp. 4i5f. 

2 9 Roth, Spinoza Descartes and Maimonides, p. 77. 
3 Paulsen, Introduction to Philosophy, p. 282. 

3i Jowett, III, p. 470. 
3 Husik, op. cit., p. 236. 

33 Joel, Die Peligionsphilosophie des Maimonides, p. 4. 
3+ An account of this intellectual warfare is given by 
Schechter, Studies in Judaism (fiist series), pp. iggff. 

35 Cf. Singer's edition, pp. 2f. and 8gf. 

3 6 Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, p. 371. 

37 Roth, Spinoza Descartes and Maimonides. 

3 8 This great genius, one of the finest exponents of Kant's 
philosophy, was a Lithuanian Jew, born in 1754 and later 
migrated to Germany. A sympathetic sketch of him is given 
by Zangwill in Dreamers of the Ghetto. Out of admiration 
for the author of the Guide he assumed the name of Maimon. 
He states in his autobiography : " My reverence for this 
great teacher went so far that I regarded him as the ideal of a 
perfect man, and looked upon his teachings as if they had been 
inspired with Divine Wisdom " ; Lebensgeschichte II, p. 3. 

39 He studied the Guide in his boyhood. See Jewish 
Encyc., VIII, p. 479. 

4 Two Latin translations were published, one by Justini- 
anus in 1520 based on an earlier version, the other by the 
younger Buxtorf in 1629. 

* z Yellin and Abrahams, p. 157. 

4 2 Husik, p. 306. 

314 



NOTES 



CHAPTER I 



1 An explanation of this term will be given below in 5. 

2 On the Intelligences or Angels and the Spheres, see 
Chap. II. 

3 Maimonides reads into the Hebrew word emet " truth " 
its later philosophical connotation, viz., reality. 

* In its narrower sense, Torah (lit. teaching, direction) 
denotes the Five Books of Moses as distinct from the rest of 
the Scriptures. In its wider sense, it signifies the whole 
corpus of Jewish law and doctrine which is based on the 
Pentateuch. 

3 The ordinances of the Torah are divided into two classes : 
(i.) commandments of Do, i.e., positive commands, and (ii.) 
commandments of Do not, i.e., negative commands or pro- 
hibitions. The former number 248, the latter 365. 

6 For a discussion of this point where Maimonides disagreed 
with Aristotle, see below 8. 

? The Propositions are too long, and the argument which 
Maimonides bases upon them too intricate, to be quoted 
in extenso. The reader will find a good summary in Husik, 
Medieval Jewish Philosophy, pp. 254ff. 

8 This deduction follows from Prop. VII : " Things which 
are changeable are at the same time divisible. Hence every- 
thing that moves is divisible and consequently corporeal ; 
but that which is indivisible cannot move and cannot therefore 
be corporeal " ; and from Prop. V : " Motion implies change 
and transition from potentiality to actuality." The reason 
why changeability implies divisibility is that the change is not 
instantaneous over the entire object. There must be a 
moment when part is changed and part unchanged ; therefore 
the object is capable of division. Motion is a form of change. 

9 Prop. XVI states : " Incorporeal bodies can only be 
numbered when they are forces situated in a body ; the several 
forces must then be counted together with substances or 
objects in which they exist. Hence purely spiritual beings, 
which are neither corporeal nor forces situated in corporeal 
objects, cannot be counted, except when considered as causes 
and effects." If, then, there be two gods, i.e., two incorporeal 
and infinite beings, only one of them can be regarded as the 
First Cause, because one can only be distinguished from the 
other by the relationship of cause and effect. One must, in 
fact, have brought the other into existence. 

10 This is a deduction from Prop. XV : " Time is an 
accident that is related and joined to motion in such a manner 
that the one is never found without the other. Motion is only 
possible in time, and the idea of time cannot be conceived 
otherwise than in connection with motion ; things which 
do not move have no relation to time ". 

11 Prop. VIII states : "A thing that moves accidentally 
must come to rest, because it does not move of its own accord ; 
hence accidental motion cannot continue for ever ". A 
material body can only have accidental motion, because it 

315 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

does not move unless something or somebody sets it in motion. 
Since its motion is accidental, it cannot be perpetual. Simi- 
larly a force within a body can only cause accidental motion, 
since it can only move with the motion of the body, which 
consequently cannot be perpetual. Therefore if the heavenly 
Spheres have perpetual motion, the cause cannot be a body 
or a force within a body. The cause must be incorporeal. 

12 By an " absolute " Being is meant a Being independent 
of all cause and accident. 

*3 By the agens is meant what the philosophers called 
causa efficiens, the " efficient ", or producing, cause. Aristotle 
(Physics II, 7) describes the four causes as matter, form, 
that which moves, and that for the sake of which a thing 
subsists. 

T * For the meaning of " form ", see the Introduction, 
p. 2 1 . The sense in which God is spoken of as the form of the 
Universe is explained in the next . 

J 3 It is essential to regard God as both " cause " and 
Creator. If He were only the Creator, it would be possible 
to believe that the Universe could exist without Him, in the 
same way that a building can continue in existence when the 
builder dies. But if God is the " cause " which includes the 
" form " of the Universe, His non-existence must also involve 
its non-existence. 

16 Denned in 5. 

J 7 Daniel xii. 7. There the phrase is usually rendered 
" He that liveth for ever." Cf. also Prayer Book, ed. Singer, 
pp. 17, 36. 

18 The root-meaning of Paid in Arabic and Shtfa* in Hebrew 
is rather of " abundance ", and when applied to a water- 
spring it describes its overflow rather than its flow. 

*9 Cf . line 6 of the Prayer Book version of his Principles of 
Faith (ed. Singer, p. 3) : " The Shtfa' of His Prophecy He gave 
unto the men of His choice ". 

20 Several sayings to this effect are, e.g., found in Gabirol's 
Choice of Pearls. Cf. Nos. 510, 536!, 556. Plato likewise 
declares : " We acknowledge the world to be full of many 
goods and also of evils, and of more evils than goods " ; 
Laws X, Jowett, V, p. 293. 

21 See Chap. II. 

22 See Chap. XI, 5. 

2 3 He means that they are not evil in themselves, but only 
in respect to the absence of good. 

2 4 See Introduction, p. 21. 

2 5 See below 10. 

26 See Midrash ad he. 

*? And yet we believe in the incorporeality of God, because 
it is possible to interpret these expressions in such a manner 
that they do not conflict with that doctrine. 

28 By the words " such as they are ", he means in their 
present state as consisting of form and matter. God not only 
created the form but also the basic substance. 

316 



NOTES 

*9 Plato also taught that time was created. He wrote 
in the Tim&us : " There were no days and nights and months 
and years before the heaven was created, but when he con- 
structed the heaven he created them also . . . Time, 
then, and the heaven came into being at the same instant 
in order that, having been created together, if ever there 
was to be a dissolution of them, they might be dissolved 
together ". Jowett III, pp. 456! 

3 The philosophical term " accident " is denned by 
Maimonides as follows : "A peculiarity which is found in 
many of a species or a few of it, and does not constitute it 
as a species, is called an accident. . . . Accidents are of 
two kinds : (i.) inseparable from the object, as, e.g., the 
blackness of pitch, the whiteness of snow, the heat of fire ; 
(ii.) separable, as, e.g., standing or sitting in the case of a 
person, the heat of iron and stone " (Millot, Chap. X). With 
this may be compared Aristotle's definition. He also dis- 
tinguishes two kinds : (i.) " that which attaches to some- 
thing and can be truly asserted, but neither of necessity nor 
usually " ; (ii.) " what attaches to each thing in virtue of 
itself but is not in its essence " (Metaphysics V, 30). 

3 1 Just as whiteness cannot exist as an abstraction apart 
from matter, so time could not exist as an abstraction. 
Consequently if there were time before the Creation, there 
must also have been matter and motion. 

3 2 The Hebrew word 'olam means " Universe " and also 
" eternity ". Maimonides gives it the latter signification in 
this verse. 

33 The meaning seems to be that by creating the materia 
prima which is the basic substance of the entire Universe, 
the Creation of the beings above and the things below became 
possible. 

34 This refers to the apparent daily motion of the heavenly 
bodies from east to west, ascribed to the motion of the outer- 
most Sphere in this direction (Friedlander). 

35 The Sphere of Mercury, according to the opinion of the 
ancient astronomers, was above that of the Sun, and yet the 
Sun moves with greater velocity than Mercury. Maimonides 1 
own opinion was that the Sphere of the Sun is above that of 
Mercury (see p. 71) (Friedlander). 

3 6 Maimonides refers here to the Sphere of the Sun and that 
of Venus which complete their course in the circle of the Zodiac 
in about the same time (Friedlander). According to Plato : 
" Three planets (Sun, Mercury and Venus) he made to move 
with equal swiftness, and the remaining four (Moon, Saturn, 
Mars and Jupiter) to move with unequal swiftness to the 
three and to one another, but in due proportion " (Tim&us, 
trans. Jowett III, p. 455). 

37 i.e., the theory of the Creation and that of the eternity 
of the Universe. 

3 8 Those who assume the eternity of the Universe recognise 
only changes in the individual members of each species, and 

317 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

can consistently only inquire into the object of these changes. 
They rest content when these are satisfactorily explained by 
the perpetuation of the species and the production of the most 
perfect form in each species. It would be inconsistent with 
their theory of the eternity and stability of the species and the 
whole Universe to ask for the purpose of these permanent 
beings (Fried lander). 

39 This passage occurs in the concluding service of the Day 
of Atonement. See Prayer Book, p. 267. There are variants 
in the readings. 

4 i.e., are descriptive of His deeds, e.g., King, Judge, 
Merciful, etc. They are not used exclusively of God. 

4* This phrase means " the name which is set apart ", i.e., 
reserved for God and applied to none but Him. 

4* Sotah VII, 6, Tamid VII, 2. 

43 Yoma VI, 2. 

44 i.e., a point in the letter to double its sound. Gutturals 
and an initial could not have the dagesh, so the only letter 
possible of reduplication would be the third, and the word 
pronounced Yehavveh. 

45 Kiddushin 71 a. The translation of shabua* by " seven 
years " is more correct than " week " given in the Jewish 
Encyc. XI, p. 263. It is so rendered in Vol. IX, p. 162. 

4 6 The name consisting of twelve letters is not specified 
in the Talmud (Kiddushin 71 a). Maimonides therefore 
conjectures that it did not consist of a single word but of an 
entire phrase. Narboni in his commentary on the Guide 
is surprised that Maimonides ignored the form of the name 
which is mentioned in the SSfer ha-Bahir (a mystical work) 
in the name of R. Nehunyah ben Hakanah, and consisted 
of the Tetragrammaton pronounced in three different ways, 
viz., YiHVoH, YaHVeH, YaHaVaH (Friedlander). 

47 The priests discontinued the use of the Tetragrammaton 
forty years before the destruction of the Second Temple 
(Yoma 39b). 

4 8 Kiddushin 71 a. What these letters were is not known 
with certainty. For the Kabbalistic form of the name of 
forty-two letters, see Jewish Encyc. IX, p. 164. 



CHAPTER II 
A similar idea is found in Plato. See Timaus, Jowett, 



I, pp. 
* The 



he Cherubim, Exod. xxv. i8ff. 

3 These, the Ophannim and Cherubim occur in Ezekiel's 
visions (Chap, i, and x.). The ffayyot ha-kodesh and Ophannim 
are mentioned together in an old liturgical poem ; see Prayer 
Book, p. 129 bot. 

4 Derived from the Hebrew word occurring in Isa. xxxiii. 7. 
Its use to designate Angels must have been fairly early, because 
when Rabbi Judah the Prince died, about 200 C.E., the dirge 
was uttered over him, " The Erelim and mortals struggled 

318 



NOTES 

for the divine ark (i.e., the Rabbi), but the former were the 
victors " ; Ketubot i04a. 

3 The word denotes a glittering substance and occurs in 
Ezek. i. 4, 27. On the basis fo the word Hashmal, these 
Angels have been defined in the Talmud (Hagigah i3a) as 
IfAyyot eSH meMALlelot, i.e., " creatures of fire which speak ", 
or 'ittim IfASHot 'ittim meMALlelot, i.e., " sometimes they 
are silent and sometimes speak ". 

* Cf. Isa. vi. 2, 6. 

7 The Common Biblical word for Angel. 

8 The word is so interpreted in Ps. xcvii. 7. But 
Maimonides probably has in mind the phrase elohi elohim 
" God of gods " in Deut. x. 17, which some commentators 
explained as " God of the angelic host " (see Ibn Ezra on 
Gen. i. i). 

9 Cf. Job i. 6, ii. i, xxxviii. 7. 

10 This definition of the word is given in the Talmud, 
IJagigah i3b. 

11 This term for Angels is not found in Biblical and Rabbinic 
literature. Maimonides is possibly thinking of Biblical 
passages where the Angel is called 7s h "man"; e.g., Gen. 
xviii. 2, xxxii. 25 ; Josh. v. 13 ; Ezek. ix. 3, x. 2 ; Dan. x. 5. 

" See Chap. I, 5. 

X 3 Through the Intelligences the human being derives his 
intellect in potentia, but through the influence of the Active 
Intellect that potentiality is converted into actuality. 

x * The reference is to the Ithim, the lowest of the ten 
degrees of Angels. 

x * It is not certain what Maimonides means. He is 
perhaps thinking of the narratives (e.g., Gen. xviii. 
Judg. xiii.) where an Angel announces the birth of a son to 
a barren woman. 

16 Sanhedrin 38b ; cf. Genesis Rabba VIII, 8. In both 
passages the word used is " consulting " not " contemplating ". 
Maimonides often quotes loosely (probably from memory) 
from Talmud and Midrash. 

V It is doubtful whether Maimonides is actually quoting 
Plato. It has been plausibly suggested that Arab writers 
often confused Plato with Plotinus, and attributed ideas to 
the former which belong to the Neo-platonists. The idea 
Maimonides expounds here is found in Philo : " God having 
determined to found a mighty state, first of all conceived its 
form in His mind, according to which form He made a world 
perceptible only by the intellect, and then completed one 
visible to the external senses, using the first one as a model " 
(On the Creation of the World, IV). 

18 Sanhedrin 38b. 

X 9 Koh&et Rabba ad he., Genesis Rabba XII, i. The 
word " king " in the verse is applied to God. 

20 LI, 2. 

* x Cf. Yebamot i6b, ijullin 6oa. 

319 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

22 Actually the moon is about one-fiftieth the size of the 
earth ; but Maimonides underestimates the immensity of the 
sun as compared with the earth. 

2 3 This is a thought borrowed from the Greek philosophers. 
Plato described the planets as " living creatures having 
bodies fastened by vital chains " (Timaus, Jowett, III, p. 457). 
Aristotle speaks of the heaven as being " animated " (On the 
Heavens, II 2). He adds that we must " consider (the Spheres) 
as participating in action and life " (ibid. II, 12), and "it is 
necessary to think that the action of the stars is similar to that 
of animals and plants " (loc. cit). 

2 * Two kinds of intellect were assumed in the explanation 
of the perpetual motion of the Spheres ; the intellect which 
the Spheres possess, i.e., the faculty of forming ideas, and the 
Intellect or Intelligence which is purely spiritual, separate 
from the Spheres. The former alone could not produce 
perpetual motion, according to Prop. VIII (quoted on p. 315, 
note n), because it participates accidentally in the motion of 
the Spheres. The cause of the perpetual motion of the 
Sphere must be a purely spiritual being that does not parti- 
cipate in the motion of the Sphere (Friedlander). 

2 5 The reference is to Metaphysics XII, 6 : "If there is 
something which is capable of moving things or acting on them, 
but is not actually doing so, there will not necessarily be 
movement ; for that which has a potency need not exercise 
it " (trans. Ross). 

26 The ancient physicians thought that there were in the 
human being four humours, coloured respectively red, white, 
green, black ; and his disposition varied according to the 
colour which predominated. 

2 ? In one of his medical treatises Maimonides wrote : 
" What the medical men call ' spirits ' are vapours which 
exist in the bodies of animals. . . The vapours in the blood 
of the liver and the veins which issue from it are called the 
physical spirit ; in the heart and the arteries they are called 
the vital spirit ; in the inner part of the brains and in the 
canals of the nerves they are called animal spirit " 
(Friedlander). 

28 For the proof of the Unity of God based on the oneness 
of the Universe, see Chap. Ill, 5. 

CHAPTER III 

1 Part I, Chap. 46f, 51-60. 

2 A Rabbinic aphorism (Berachot 3ib) which Maimonides 
is fond of quoting when treating of anthropomorphisms in 
the Scriptures. 

3 See Chap. V, 3. 

* " Soles " are mentioned in Ezek. xliii. 7. 

5 A homonym is defined as " a noun used with several 
significations " (Millot, chap. XIII). The opening chapters 
of the Guide are devoted to the discussion of the homonyms 
used in the Bible as applied to God. 

320 



NOTES 

6 See p. 317, note 30. 

7 In the Guide I, 52, he argues that definition by means 
of affirmative attributes is impossible with God. 

If we ascribe to God a positive attribute, it must have 
existed eternally together with His essence. But it is the very 
basis of the monotheistic creed that nothing existed eternally 
apart from God's essence. 

9 This is reminiscent of Philo's teaching that we know 
that He is, but cannot know what He is. Cf. Drummond, 
Philo JudcBus, II, pp. iSff. 

10 The expression " receive upon oneself the yoke, etc." 
is commonly used to denote the reading of the Shema 1 , the 
declaration of faith in the Unity. Cf. Berachot isb. 

11 This follows from Prop. XIX : "A thing which owes 
its existence to certain causes has in itself merely the possi- 
bility of existence ; for only if these causes exist, the thing 
likewise exists. It does not exist if the causes do not exist 
at all, or if they have ceased to exist, or if there has been 
a change in the relation which implies the existence of that 
thing as a necessary consequence of those causes." 

See Chap. II, 5. 

*3 It would then follow that time preceded the existence of 
the deities or co-existed with them eternally. But philosophers 
agree that time was created. See Chap. I, 8. 

x * Consequently their existence would not be absolute ; 
but if God exists at all His existence must be absolute. Cf. 
Chap. I, 2. 

*5 Based on Prop. XX : "A thing which has in itself 
the necessity of existence cannot have for its existence any 
cause whatever ". 

16 A mantle of wool with " fringes " at the four corners, 
worn at the time of prayer. God is depicted as wrapped in 
the Tallit in Rosh Hashanah lyb. 

17 Prop. XXII states : " Material objects are always 
composed of two elements, and are without exception subject 
to accidents. The two component elements of all bodies 
are substance and form. The accidents attributed to material 
objects are quantity, geometrical form and position ". 

18 The idea of expressing motion by number is illustrated 
by a cinematograph film. The moving object in passing from 
point to point is represented in a series of pictures which can 
be numbered. Time is called an accident of motion because 
it is inseparable from it although not forming part of its 
essence. 

*9 Space is an accident of a physical body. If God is 
incorporeal, the idea of space is inapplicable to Him. 
ao Cf. Genesis Rabba V, 5. 

21 Because each of these qualities would have had to be 
co-existent with God and therefore eternal. 

22 i.e., the intellect, the being exercising intelligence and 
the idea formed by the intellect. 

321 

21 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

2 3 Since the ideas formed by the intellect are identical with 
the intellect, and since the action by which the idea is formed 
is also identical with the intellect, it follows that the intellect 
is identical with its action. 

*4 If the essence of intellect is comprehension and God 
comprehends constantly and He and the things comprehended 
are one and the same, the conclusion is that He is intellect, 
the Being exercising intellect and the idea formed by the 
intellect. 

*5 What is true of God is true also of the human being 
when his intellect is functioning. With man, however, the 
intellect is not always in action, as, e.g., during times of 
unconsciousness. 

26 Maimonides confesses, " How God rules the Universe 
and provides for it is a complete mystery ; man is unable to 
solve it " (Guide I, 72). 

CHAPTER IV 

1 He contraverts this view in Chap. VII, 4. 

2 An attitude based on the action of Hezekiah (Isa. 
xxxviii. 2 ; 2 Kings xx. 2). The Talmud accordingly 
teaches that nothing should intervene between one who 
prays and the wall (Berachot 5b). 

3 The Shema' is the daily affirmation of belief in God's 
Unity. See Prayer Book, pp. 42ff. The Tefillah, or " prayer ", 
is a collection of benedictions which forms the central part of 
the daily devotions (Prayer Book, pp. 44-54). 

* According to the Rabbinic decision, the law is fulfilled 
if only the first verse of the Shema' is uttered with Kawwanah, 
i.e., with the deliberate intention of performing the religious 
duty of recital, and with concentration of mind (Berachot I3b). 
Maimonides declares that the requirement of the law must 
be exceeded in this matter. 

5 When it is read in the Synagogue in the course of the 
Service on Sabbaths, Festivals, Mondays and Thursdays. 

6 The Maimonidean authorship of this small treatise has 
been questioned by the historian Graetz ; but see Bacher's 
defence in the Jewish Quarterly Review (old series), vol. IX. 

7 i.e., he loses consciousness of his body and its physical 
senses which pull the soul away from the purely spiritual 
beings, the Intelligences, with which it is akin, so that it is 
enabled to merge itself in them. 

8 Cf. Sifr to Deut. vi. 5 : " Make Him loved by all His 
creatures, as did the Patriarch Abraham ". 

9 He alludes to them again in Guide III, 25 as being among 
the " ignoble remnants of the nations left in the remote 
corners of the earth ". FriedlSnder suggests that he has in 
mind Ezek. xxxviii. 6, " the house of Togarmah in the 
uttermost parts of the north ". 

10 The Ethiopians. 

11 Ahad Ha'am comments on this passage : " We of the 
present day feel our moral sense particularly outraged by 

322 



NOTES 

his cruel treatment of the second class ' those who happen to 
hold false doctrines ' though we can understand that a 
logical thinker like Maimonides, who always went the whole 
length of his convictions, was bound to draw this conclusion 
from his philosophical system. For that system regards 
' true opinions * as something much more than ' opinions ' : 
it attributes to them the wonderful power of turning the reason- 
ing faculty into a separate and eternal being, and sees therefore 
in the opposite opinions a danger to life in the most real sense. 
But in Maimonides' day the persecution of men for holding 
false opinions was a common thing (though it was done in the 
name of religion, not of philosophy) ; and even this piece of 
philosophic ruthlessness created "no stir and aroused no 
contemporary protest " . Essays on Zionism and Judaism, 

P. 193- 

12 Abot II, 6 (Singer's Prayer Book, p. 187). 

*3 They were the medieval successors of the Sadducees and 
denied the authority of the Rabbinic code of law. 

x * The passage is quoted in full in Chap. IX, 2. 

X 5 The reference is to the Kaabeh or " black stone " at 
Mecca, around which the Moslem pilgrims walk seven times 
and kiss the stone in each round. 

x6 The point of the words " even on the Sabbath " is that 
the law only permits this in the case of an Israelite. Maimon- 
ides is therefore willing to recognise the Karaite who does 
not openly deride Rabbinism as a brother- Jew. 

x ? The ancestors of the proselyte having been, of course, 
heathens. 

18 Maimonides explains that the command to love the 
GY (proselyte) is specifically mentioned in the Torah 
although he is included in the general precept " love thy 
neighbour as thyself ", because additional love must be shown 
to him (Mitswot, Command. CCVII). 

X 9 Sanhedrin io6b. 

20 Tosifta Sanhedrin XIII, 2. 

21 Sifra, Ahan? Mot, 143. Our texts read " who performs " 
not " who occupies himself with ". 

22 The son of Seth (Gen. v. 6). 

* 2a Lecky, Rationalism in Europe (1910 ed. II, p. 282, 
note) remarks, " Maimonides wrote a letter on the vanity of 
astrology which two popes applauded ". It is quoted below: 

2 3 In the passage preceding this quotation he describes 
certain practices connected with witchcraft. 

2 * In Maimonides' psychology, one of the intellectual 
virtues is " sagacity and intellectual cleverness " (see p. 246), 
and Aristotle regarded sagacity as " a species of happy con- 
jecture" (Eth. Nic. VI, 10). This faculty, if strongly developed, 
" enables some persons to foretell important coming events " 
(Guide II, 38). 

a * From the description that follows one gathers that the 
procedure induced auto-hypnosis. 

26 A case, containing a piece of parchment on which is 
inscribed Deut. vi. 4-9, xi. 13-21, affixed to the door-post. 



21a 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

CHAPTER V 

1 See Chap. I, 5. 

2 Maimonides himself makes a somewhat similar state- 
ment in his Ma'amav ha-Yihud, Chap. II. " Know that it 
is one of the cardinal principles of this Torah that thou 
shouldest be aware that the Creator confers the prophetic 
gift on whomsoever He wishes and speaks to whomsoever 
He chooses of the children of men, only that Prophecy 
alights on one who is worthy of it." He continues to urge 
that, according to the Rabbis, it is a condition that the man 
should possess mental and moral virtues. 

3 viz., the Aristotelians. 

4 These philosophers taught that nothing could be 
possible with a class without at least one member of that class 
achieving it. 

3 The idea that study is an essential pre-requisite of Pro- 
phecy is also found in Rabbinic teaching. " If there were no 
children, there would be no pupils ; without pupils there 
would be no Sages ; without Sages there would be no Elders ; 
without Elders there would be no Prophets " (Genesis Rabba 
XLII, 3). 

6 See Chap. X, i. 

? Berachot 5yb. 

8 Genesis Rabba XVII, 5. 

9 This is evidently an allusion to the imperialistic ambitions 
of Mohammed. 

10 This is an important point. According to Maimonides, 
one of the great purposes of the Torah is the improvement 
of the social relationship between man and man (see Chap. VI, 
2). A true Prophet cannot act contrary to the teachings of 
the Torah. Therefore if a man, claiming to be a prophet, by 
his doctrines creates dissension between men, he cannot be a 
true prophet. 

11 But this is something impossible of achievement. Says 
Maimonides elsewhere, " How God rules the Universe and 
provides for it is a complete mystery ; man is unable to solve 
it " (Guide I, 72). 

12 This qualifying clause is necessary, because " there 
is not a righteous man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth 
not " (Eccles. VII. 20). 

*3 Pesahim 66b. 

T * The Aramaic translation of the Pentateuch which 
embodies the Rabbinic exegesis. 

*5 Shabbat 3ob, Pesahim nya. The Talmudic text 
reads " Shechinah " in place of " spirit of Prophecy ". 

16 By " ordinary Prophets " he means all with the excep- 
tion of Moses of whom it is recorded, " his eye was not dim, nor 
his natural force abated " (Deut. xxxiv, 7). 

V These and similar expressions are often found in the Book 
of Judges (cf. ii. 18, vi. 34, xiv. 6). 

18 Referring to the assistance he gave to Jethro's daughters 
against the shepherds (Exod. ii. 17). 

324 



NOTES 

*9 i Sam. xvi. 13. 

20 Megillah 7a. 

21 Cf. i Kings xi. 296*, xii. 15, xiv. 2ff. 

22 In the Greek version, the Septuagint, Daniel is placed 
between Ezekiel and Hosea ; but the Talmud (Baba Batra 
i4b) inserts it between Lamentations and Esther. 

2 3 Genesis Rabba XLIV, 17. 

2 * Maimonides depreciates the value of miracles as a sign 
of the prophet's claim because such evidence was used both 
by Christians and Mohammedans in support of Jesus and 
Mohammed respectively. He could not prove that they had 
not performed the wonders credited to them, and was there- 
fore compelled to deny the validity of this criterion. He was 
further influenced by the teaching of the Torah in Deut. xiii. 2. 
See Introduction, pp. gi. 

2 5 Cf. Deut. xviii. 2if. 

26 Maimonides admits this as a possibility. Cf . Chap. IV, 7. 
*t i Sam. ix. 6ff. 

28 Clearly a hint at the activities of Jesus and Mohammed. 

2 9 A Rabbinic dictum ; Berachot 7a. 

30 Sifra ad loc. 

3* Yebamot 49b. 

3 2 Maimonides explains that see " refers to perception by 
the intellect, and by no means to perception with the eye as 
in its literal meaning " (Guide I, 4). 

33 Cf. Guide III, 9, "The corporeal element in man is a 
large screen and partition that prevents him from perfectly 
perceiving abstract ideals ". 

CHAPTER VI 

1 See Nicholson, Literary History of the Arabs, pp. 163, 368. 
Ia Deut. xxxiii. 21. The Targum renders by " Moses 

the great scribe of Israel ". 

2 Ps. xix. 8, 10. 

3 Sanhedrin ggb. 

4 Mishnah Sanhedrin X, i ; Sanhedrin gga. 

5 The Biblical passages where these are ordained (Lev. 
xxiii. 42 ; ibid., v. 40 ; ibid., v. 24 ; Num. xv. 38 ; Deut. 
vi. 8) give no detailed account how these commandments are 
to be carried out. The manner of their observance is tradi- 
tional and, according to the Rabbis, was explained to Moses 
on Mt. Sinai. 

6 " Assyrian script ", viz., the form of the alphabet in 
which the Scroll of the Law is written. It is also known 
as ketab merubba' " square script ". 

7 " Hebrew script ", i.e., the old Hebrew form of the char- 
acters which was preserved by the Samaritans. There is a 
statement in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 2ib) to the effect : 
" Originally the Torah was given to Israel in the ketab ( ibri 
and Hebrew language ; it was retransmitted to them in the 
days of Ezra in the ketab ashuri and Aramaic language ". 

325 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

8 The Jews who traced their descent from the community 
in Spain. Other Jews also have adopted a different script for 
secular use. 

9 See Chap. XI. 7. 

10 viz., his spiritual and intellectual perfection. 

11 viz., the physical, since excess is harmful. 
w See Chap. V, 6. 

X 3 Sanhedrin goa. 
X 4 Sanhedrin, loc. cit. 

Abot I, i (Singer's Prayer Book, p. 184). 
16 Sanhedrin XI, 2. 

x ? There are thirteen such rules, and they will be found in 
the Prayer Book, pp. i3f. 

18 Peah I, i (Prayer Book, p. 5). 
X 9 To I, i, 8. 

20 See p. 188. 

21 Exod. xxii. 6-14. 

22 A silver coin worth 96 issar, the Roman as. In the 
Midrash (Shir, loc. cit.) the text reads " gold coin ". 

2 3 The doctrine associated with ma'aseh berfchit " the work 
of creation " formed a branch of the occult lore. 

2 4 Prov. ii. i6ff. Maimonides' interpretation is doubtless 
suggested by the Platonic comparison of matter to woman 
and form to man. See Introduction p. 22. 

2 5 Prov. xxxi. 10. 

26 The offence of using for a private purpose what had been 
donated to the Sanctuary. See Lev. v. i5ff. 

2 ? This was the opinion of the orthodox school of Moham- 
medan theologians, the Ash'ariyah. Cf. Chapter VII, 3, 
Third Theory. A similar conception is sometimes found in 
Rabbinic literature. E.g., "Why do we silence a man who 
says in his prayer ' To a bird's nest do Thy mercies extend ' ? 
Because he makes the ordinances of the Holy One, blessed 
be He, to be simply acts of mercy, whereas they are injunc- 
tions " (not necessarily with a purpose) ; Berachot 330. 

28 Maimonides offers explanations for all of these. 

2 9 Yoma 6yb, Numbers Rabba XIX, 5. 

3 He however suggests a reason for this below. 

3 X Such an opinion is held by Saadya, Emunot III, 10. 

3 2 If Maimonides is thinking only of the physical sign, his 
argument loses force owing to the fact that other peoples, 
e.g., the Mohammedans, also practise circumcision. 

33 But it is known that among the Mohammedans cir- 
cumcision is usually performed when the boy is five or six 
years old, and among the peasants not infrequently at the 
age of twelve or even fourteen. See Lane, Modern Egyptians, 
Chap. II. The real reason why the Bible ordains that it should 
be done on the eighth day is that for the first seven days the 
child, or young of an animal, was not regarded as having an 
independent existence. Cf. Exod. xxii. 30 (Heb. 29), 
Lev. xxii. 27. 

34 Kiddushin 2ga. 

326 



NOTES 

33 This was a work on magic translated into Arabic from 
an Indian original. Maimonides refers to it three times in 
the Guide. 

36 The people of Saba or Sheba in S. W. Arabia. He intends 
the heathen Arabs of pre-Mohammedan times. 

37 The same idea is found among the ancient Greeks. 
Cf. Odyssey XI where the blood of a slain sheep is poured into 
a trench to attract the spirits of the dead. 

3 8 Cf. Frazer, Folklore in Old Testament, III, pp. 2998. 

39 See Deut. xxiii. i3f. 

4 al-Ifrang, orginally the French, but generally applied 
to all Europeans who do not belong to the Turkish Empire. 
The Mohammedans do not eat swine's flesh. 

4 1 Berachot 25a. 

4* This is not explicitly commanded in the Torah, but the 
Rabbis derived it from Deut. xji. 23 (Hullin loib). The 
prohibition is one of the " seven commandments of the sons 
of Noah " (Sanhedrin 56a). 

43 See Robertson Smith, Religion of the Semites, p. 343. 

44 Exod. xxiii. 19, xxxiv. 26 ; Deut. xiv. 21. Radin in 
American Journal of Semitic Languages, XL, pp. 209-218, 
associates the practice with the Orphic-Dionysiac mysteries. 

45 No description of the method of slaughter is given in the 
Pentateuch, but the Rabbis inferred that instructions had been 
given orally to Moses on Mt. Sinai from the statement, " thou 
shalt kill of thy herd and of thy flock ... as I have 
commanded thee " (Deut. xii. 21), the last words being under- 
stood in the sense, " according to the method I commanded " 
(Hullin 28a). 

4 6 Lev. xix. 27. 

47 He repeats that explanation in Yad, Akum XII, 7. 
Herodotus (III, 8) reports of certain Arab tribes that they 
"cut their hair in a ring away from the temples" in honour 
of their god. Numerous superstitions are associated with 
cutting the hair ; cf. Frazer, Folklore in Old Testament, III, 
Part IV, Chap. IV, and Smith, Religion of the Semites, pp. 3236". 

4 8 Lev. xix. 19 ; Deut. xxii. u. 

49 Elsewhere he declared, " This is a well known practice 
tfi-day among the Coptic monks in Egypt " (Mitswot, Prohib. 
XLII). 

5 The traditional Jewish interpretation of " that which 
pertaineth unto a man " is armour. See the Targum and 
Nazir 59a where it is explained that women may not fight in 
the ranks of an army. In the Talmudic passage it is also 
suggested that the purpose of the enactment is to check lust. 

5 1 Kiddushin 31 a. 

5* The theory that the purpose of the sacrificial system 
was to divert the Israelites from the worship of idols is found in 
Leviticus Rabba XXII, 5. 

53 Hagigah iga. 

34 The changes of the moon are marked by periods of seven 
days. A leper was examined each seventh day (Lev. xiii.) 
as a turning-point in the progress of the disease. 

327 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

53 E.g., the Sabbath, Passover and Tabernacles. Cf. 
also Lev. xii. 2. 
& Lev. xxiii. 15. 

57 The ram's horn. 

5 8 This is according to Rabbinic tradition. The Revelation 
occurred on Sivan 6th ; Moses stayed on the Mount forty 
days and descended on Tammuz fyth when he broke the 
tables. He then spent forty days in prayer on behalf of 
Israel, ascending the Mount for the second tables on Ellul ist 
and descending on Tishri loth. 

so These were the words used by the High Priest in the 
confession he made on that day (Yoma III, 8). 

60 The passage Maimonides cites occurs at the end of the 
eighth Book of the Ethics and reads : " For the ancient festivals 
and assemblies seem to take place after the gathering in of the 
harvest, being of the nature of a dedication of the first fruits, 
as it was at these seasons that people had most leisure ". 

61 Used in the lulab, Lev. xxiii. 40. 



CHAPTER VII 

1 Cf. Chap. I. 6. 

2 He expounds this view as held by Mohammedan thinkers 
in the Guide I, 73, First Proposition. 

3 Physics II, 5f., Metaphysics XI, 8. Aristotle contends 
that there cannot be a science of the accidental, i.e., of what 
exists by chance. 

4 The term Providence in the philosophical system of 
Aristotle has not the same meaning as it has in theology. 
Whilst in the latter it is chiefly to the changes and vicissitudes 
in human life that the term is applied, in the system of Aris- 
totle Providence is the cause of the continual existence of 
everything that is either permanent or changes in accordance 
with certain constant laws (Friedlander). 

5 i Kings xiii. 24. Note especially v. 26, " the Lord 
hath delivered him unto the lion ". 

6 Aristotle admits that Providence watches over men who 
are worthy, because he declares, " The wise man is the most 
beloved of heaven and therefore the happiest " (Eth. Nic. X, 8). 

? A sect of theologians founded by al-Ash'ari. They 
held the doctrine of Predestination and denied the reality of 
free will. " They believe that when a man has the will to do 
a thing and, as he believes, does it, the will has been created 
for him, then the power to conform to the will, and lastly 
the act itself. The act is not accomplished by the power 
created in man ; for, in reality, no act can be ascribed to that 
power " (Guide I, 73, Sixth Proposition). Cf. Macdonald, 
Muslim Theology, p. 192. 

8 Literally " secessionists ". They were the opponents 
of the Ash'ariyah and denied Predestination. 

9 They " contend that man acts by virtue of the power 
which has been created in him " (Guide, loc. cit.). God, as 

328 



NOTES 

it were, created the free will for each act which man per- 
formed voluntarily. 

10 i.e., the Jewish theory generally held. He advances 
views of his own which differ from those held by Jewish 
teachers. 

11 This is in contrast to the Mu'tazilite theory. 

12 The points on which Maimonides diverges from his 
Jewish predecessors are : (i.) Providence is restricted to human 
beings ; (ii.) it varies with human beings according to their 
state of perfection. 

*3 He goes on to point out that the Biblical passages 
which speak of God's mercy to animals (e.g., Ps. civ. 21, 
cxlv. 1 6, cxlvii. Q) do not contradict his theory, because 
they refer to species and not to individual animals. 

** This is precisely Aristotle's view. See p. 328, note 6. 



CHAPTER VIII 

1 Tanhuma, Kedoshim, 15 ; Ta'anit 25b; Sanhedrin Q6a. 

2 This does not agree with the passage cited from C.M., 
Abot. 

3 See Chap. IV, 3. 

4 Bachya uses a similar illustration in his Duties of the 
Heart, Section IV, Chap. IV. 

5 The Roman denarius, which was both a silver and gold 
coin. The silver denarius was about the size of a sixpence. 

6 Abot IV, 7 (Singer's Prayer Book, p. 196). 

7 Maimonides held strongly that one should not take pay 
for teaching the Torah (C.M., Abot IV, 7). 

8 Abot I, 3 (Prayer Book, p. 184). 

9 He is held up by the Rabbis as the pattern of one who 
served God purely from love (Sotah 31 a). 

10 Pesahim 5ob. In the Talmudic text it is " Torah and 
the commandments ", i.e., both study and practice. 

" Abot IV, 2 (Prayer Book, p. 195). 

ia Sanhedrin 64b, 9ob. According to the exegesis of the 
Rabbis there is not a superfluous word in the Torah. Therefore 
the addition of " surely " to " cut off " must have signifi- 
cance. The Hebrew is'literally " cutting shall be cut off ", 
the word " cut " occuring twice. Hence there must be two 
excisions, viz., one in this world and the second in the world 
to come. 

X 3 Abodah Zarah 3b, Nedarim 8b. The verse in Malachi 
concludes : "It shall leave them neither root nor branch ", 
on which the Talmud comments : "no root " in this world, 
" no branch " in the world to come. 

* Ta'anit i6a. 

Berachpt 56a. 

X 3* That is how Maimonides explains the hardening of 
Pharaoh's heart by God. " Pharaoh and his followers, 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

already of their own free will, without any constraint what- 
ever, had rebelled by oppressing the strangers who were in 
their midst. . . The punishment which God then inflicted 
upon them was that He withheld from them the power of 
repentance, so that there should fall upon them that punish- 
ment which justice declared should be meted out to them " 
(C.M., Eight Chapters VIII). 

16 The R.V. rendering is : " Out of the mouth of the Most 
High cometh there not evil and good ? " and " evil " means 
calamity. 

# Abodah Zarah 54b. 

*8 See Chap. VII, 3. 

X 9 Mo'ed Katon i8b ; see Abrahams, Book of Delight, 
pp. xyaff. 

20 See Chap. Ill, 2, 9. 

21 That analogy was used by R. Joshua ben Hanayah in 
an argument with a Roman Emperor (Hullin 5Qb). 

CHAPTER IX 

1 See below, 4. 

2 Sanhedrin 97b. 

3 In Yad, Melachim XI, i, he writes : " The doctrine of 
the coming of the Messiah is also mentioned in the Chapter 
of Balaam, and there he prophesies concerning the two 
Messiahs the first being David who saved Israel from the 
hand of his enemies, and the second being one who will arise 
from among his descendants and save Israel. He declared, 
'I see him, but not now* (Num. xxiv. 17), i.e., David; 
' I behold him, but not nigh ' i.e., king Messiah. ' There 
shall step forth a star out of Jacob ' i.e., David ; ' and a 
sceptre shall rise out of Israel ' i.e., king Messiah." 

4 i.e., the section comprising Deut. xxix. g-xxx. 20. 
The verse he is referring to in particular is xxx. 3, " the 
Lord thy God will turn thy captivity " etc., to which he 
attaches a Messianic significance (Yad, loc. cit.). 

5 See Chap. V, 4. 

6 He is evidently thinking of Jesus ; see Luke xviii. 22. 

7 See Chap. XI, 4. 

8 These signs and marvels will not consist of miracles in 
the ordinary sense of the term, since these are no valid proof 
of a prophet's claim (see Chap. V, 6). The conclusive proof 
of the truth of the Messiah will be seen in the effect of his 
advent. 

9 " Armour-bearer " means supporter. Akiba hailed Bar 
Koziba, or Bar Kochba, as the expected Messiah, and applied 
to him the phrase, " There shall step forth a star out of Jacob " 
(see above, note 3); j. Ta'anit IV, 68d. 

10 This is not quite accurate. The Talmud (loc. cit.) 
records that when Akiba acclaimed Bar Kochba as the 
Messiah, Rabbi Johanan ben Torta retorted, " Akiba, grass 
will grow in thy cheeks and still the son of David will not 
come ". 

330 



NOTES 

i.e., Jesus. 

12 i.e., Mohammed. 

X 3 The allusion here is to the Christian and Mohammedan 
attitude towards the legislation of the Pentateuch. 

*4 Berachot 340, Shabbat 6$&. 

*5 Shabbat sob. 

16 See Lev. xxv. 

l6d Maimonides defends this metaphorical interpretation 
against critics in his Maamar Tehiyyat ha-Mdtim (Responsa 
II, gd, loa), and repeats it in the Guide III, n. 

J 7 See 9 below. 

18 Sanhedrin gyb. 

X 9 Introduction to his translation, p. XXI. Kaufmann 
also pronounces the passage to be an interpolation (Revue 
destudes Juives XXIV, pp. H2ff). 

20 Tosifta Sanhedrin XIII, 2. 

21 Pesahim 5oa. 

22 Maimonides adopts Aristotle's view that the human 
soul at birth is a tabula rasa. It is consequently only a 
potentiality. The knowledge acquired during life converts 
it into reality, and that reality survives death. See Intro- 
duction, pp. 24! 

2 3 The nephe^h and ruah, the former being the vitality 
which ends with death and the latter the immortal element. 

2 * viz. : the niah. In Guide I, 40, one of the meanings he 
gives to this term is " that which remains of man after his 
death and is not subject to destruction ". Cf. Ecclcs. xii. 7. 

2 5 See Introduction, pp. 2 if. 

26 Explaining the word " image ", Maimonides remarks : 
" the term signifies ' the specific form ' of man, viz. his 
intellectual perception " (Guide I, i). 

2 ? See Chap. X, i. 

28 Since knowledge is the essential quality which con- 
stitutes the soul as a reality, it bears to it the same relationship 
tl'at form does to matter. 

2( > The source of the quotation is Ta'anit ya. 

3" Berachot i8a. 

3 1 Berachot iya ; cf. Matthew xxii. 30. 
3i* See Chap. I, 10. 

3 2 Berachot iya. 

33 Kiddushin 39b, Hullin I42a. 

34 Compare the description of Paradise in the Koran 
(Sura LV), " They shall repose on couches, the linings of 
which shall be of thick silk interwoven with gold . . . 
Therein shall receive them beauteous damsels, refraining their 
e,\res from beholding any besides their spouses . . . having 
Complexions like rubies and pearls ". 

CHAPTER X 

1 i.e., Hippocrates. 

2 This was Aristotle's view. He maintained " numerically 
( ey (viz., the vital principles) are one and the same part, 

331 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

although in their mode of expression they are manifold and 
different " (de Juventute I). 

3 In Aristotle's analysis he includes motion and omits 
imagination (de Anima II, 3). But Maimonides regarded 
motion as not a soul-faculty but " an accident pertaining to 
living things actuated by physical needs or the desire to escape 
what is injurious " (Guide I, 26). 

4 See p. 320, note 5. 

5 Literally " they who dispute ". They were scholastic 
theologians concerned with the philosophy of Mohammedanism. 

6 See Chap. V, 3. 

7 But there were men who denied free will (see pp. 1942) 
and there were philosophers, e.g., Zeno, who denied the 
reality of motion (Aristotle, Physics VI, 2). 

7a From OXi; " matter ", because it is, as it were, the 
basic substance which receives the form from the Intelligences 
to produce ideas. See Introduction, p. 24. 

8 i.e., premisses, conclusions and inferences. 

9 i.e., his intellect possesses the capacity of compre- 
hension. The possibility of comprehending the thing exists ; 
but the act of comprehension turns the possibility into 
actuality. 

10 Through the activity of the mind, the comprehension 
has become identified with the intellect. 

" Cf. Chap. Ill, 9. 

12 See above p. 247. 

X 3 When the intellect performs the action of compre- 
hending, it becomes something in reality, not merely in 
capacity. 

x * Since the mind necessarily resides in a body. 

X 3 The Sciences deal with physical objects and their study 
falls within the scope of the imaginative faculty which is a 
" faculty of the body . . . (and) depends on the con- 
dition of the organ by which the faculty acts " (Guide II, 36). 

16 The reference is to the passage in the Talmud (I^agigah 
i4b) which relates that " four men went up into Paradise ". 
See Introduction, p. 4. 

V See Chap. V, 3. 

18 In a letter to his pupil, Joseph ibn Aknin, prefaced to 
the Guide, he wrote : " Observing your great fondness for 
Mathematics, I let you study them more deeply . . . 
Afterwards I took you through a course of Logic . . . and 
I considered you fit to receive from me an exposition of the 
esoteric ideas contained in the prophetic books ". Else- 
where he declared : " Such subjects as Mathematics, the study 
of Conic Sections, Mechanics, the various problems of Geo- 
metry, Hydraulics, and many others of a similar nature . . . 
should be studied for the purpose of sharpening the mind, 
and training the mental faculties by scientific investigations 
so that man may acquire intellectual ability to distinguish 
demonstrative proofs from others, whereby he will be enabled 
to comprehend the essence of God " (C.M., Eight Chapters V). 

332 



NOTES 

Commenting on his parable of the king in his palace whose 
audience is sought by his subjects (see pp. 114!), he states : 
" When you understand Physics, you have entered the hall ; 
and when, after completing the study of Natural Philosophy, 
you master Metaphysics, you have entered the innermost 
court and are with the king in the same palace " (Guide III, 51). 

*9 See Chap. V, 4. 

20 Alexander of Aphrodisius (his birthplace) was the lead- 
ing exponent of Aristotle's philosophy. He was the head of 
the Lyceum at Athens about 200 C.E. 

CHAPTER XI 

1 It is with perfection as with intellect. See Chap. X, 2f. 
3 See Chap. VII, 3. 

3 i.e., the intellectual faculty. 

4 He is referring to Aristotle's Eth. Nic. VII. 

5 Sukkah 52a. 

6 Abot V, end (Singer's Prayer Book, p. 204). 

I Sifra to Lev. xx. 26. The teacher's name is Eleazar 
ben Azariah not Simeon ben Gamaliel. 

8 Yoma 67b. The Jewish theologians, following the lead 
of Saadya (Emunot III, 2) classify the commandments into 
rational and revealed. The latter may or may not have a 
rational basis, but they are only incumbent because they are 
commanded by God. 

9 Cf. Chap. VIII, i. 

10 This would be the golden denarius worth twenty-four 
times the silver coin, about thirteen shillings. 

II Cf. Guide III, 27 : " This second perfection (i.e., of the 
Intellect) certainly does not include any action or good 
conduct ". 

12 i.e., the Greek philosophers, as contrasted with the later 
Arab metaphysicians. 

*3 The principal passage in the Talmudic literature where 
the middle course is advocated is : " This Torah is com- 
parable to two paths, one of fire, the other of snow. Should 
a man turn aside to the former he will be consumed by the fire, 
and if to the latter he will perish from cold. What, then, 
should he do ? Walk in the middle way " (j. Hagigah II, i , 770). 

x + Aristotle denies the existence of men insensible to 
pleasure. He says : " We never find people whose love of 
pleasures is deficient, and whose delight in them is less than 
it ought to be. Such insensibility to pleasures is not human " 
(Eth. Nic. Ill, 14). 

*3 Aristotle says of the man who fears nothing that he is 
either a madman or insensible to pain (ibid., Ill, 10), and in 
the subsequent chapter he distinguishes five spurious forms of 
courage. 

16 Sifrfe ad loc. ; ed. Friedmann, p. 85a. 

** The text of the Talmud (Ketubot nib) reads " who- 
ever gives his daughter in marriage to ". 

333 



TEACHINGS OF MAIMONIDES 

18 Aristotle held that avarice was incurable (Eth. NIC IV, 3). 
*9 Abot IV, 4 (Singer's Prayer Book, p. 195). 
20 Sotah 4b. 
2 * Ibid., 5a. 

22 Nedarim 22a. 

2 3 Pesahim 66b. 
2 * Ibid., U3b. 

2 5 The mention of " wool " is probably meant as a refer- 
ence to the Suns, the Mohammedan ascetics. 

26 Usually worn by Christian ascetics. 

2 7 Sifra dd he. 

28 Sotah III, 4. 

2 9 See, e.g., Lev. v. 7, u. 

3 Shabbat 25b. It is also said, " Three things make 
the mind cheerful ; a beautiful home, a beautiful woman, 
beautiful utensils " (Berachot 5yb). 

3 1 It causes dropsy and jaundice (Berachot 25a). 

3 2 This is at variance with Talmudic teaching, viz., " He 
who makes his food float in water will not suffer with indiges- 
tion " (ibid., 4oa). 

33 Ibid., 23b. 

34 Lying on the back is actually denounced (ibid. I3b). 

35 The Talmud declares, " He who makes it a habit to 
eat lentils once in thirty days keeps croup away from his 
house ; but not every day. . . It is bad for the breath 
of the mouth " (ibid. 4oa). Mustard should also be used 
sparingly because it is bad for a weak heart (ibid.). Cabbage 
is nourishing, but " woe to the body through which vege- 
tables keep constantly passing " (ibid 44b). 

3 6 Dates are one of the things which " enter the body 
without its deriving any benefit therefrom " (ibid. 57b). 

37 As that term is defined in Abot IV, i, (Prayer Book, 
p. 195) : " Who is mighty ? He who curbs his desire ". 

3 8 He refers to a vapour-bath. 

39 i.e., Spring and Autumn. 

4 In all these passages Maimonides gives the word tsedakah 
its later signification. , 

4 1 Tosifta Shekalim II, 16. This system of charity was 
adopted outside the Temple in several Palestinian and 
Babylonian cities. 

4 2 Ketubot 6;b. 

43 loc. tit. 

44 Cf. Abot II, 2 (Prayer Book, p. 187). 

45 Abot III, 17 (Prayer Book, p. 193). 

4 6 It is recorded of Rabban Johaiian ben Zakkai that he 
never allowed anybody to greet him first, not even the 
heathen in the street (Berachot I7a). 

47 Abot I. 6 (Prayer Book, p. 185). 

48 Ibid., I, 12 (Prayer Book, p. 185). 

49 lbid. t IV, 23 (Prayer Book, pp. I97f). 

50 Yebamot 65b. 

5* Abot I, 5 (Prayer Book, p. 185), Berachot 43b. 

334 



NOTES 

5* Cf . Berachot 43b. 

53 Shabbat 1143.. 

54 See p. 321, note 16. 

55 Berachot 43b. 

56 Ibid. 

57 Ibid. 

5 8 Cf. Baba Metsia' 52a. But in Genesis Rabba XX, 12, 
man is advised to spend according to his means on food, less on 
clothing, and more on his house. 

59 Sotah 44a. In Abot V, 24 (Prayer Book, pp. 2031) there 
is a teaching which apparently contradicts this. The passage 
is usually translated, " At eighteen for marriage, at twenty 
for seeking a livelihood ". But Herford, in his edition, p. 144, 
renders, on the authority of Rashi, " at twenty for pursuit of 
righteousness." 

60 Yoma 86a. 

* Cf. Megillah 28a. 

62 Cf. Yoma 86a. 

6 3 Yebamot xoga. 

6 4 Baba Kama 93a, Sanhedrin 49a. 

6 5 Shabbat n8a. 

66 Pesahim 1133, Baba Batra noa. 

6 7 See p. 329, note 7. 

68 Maimonides refers to Lev. xix. 18, " Thou shalt love 
thy neighbour as thyself ". He evidently understands 
" neighbour " to mean brother-Israelite, as many modern 
exegetes do. Although Jewish ethics stresses the duties of the 
Jew to his coreligionist, it emphatically declares that those 
obligations extend to all men (Gittin 6ia). 

6 9 Abot II, 17, 15 (Prayer Book, p. 189). 
7<> j. Hagigah II, i, 770. 

7 1 i.e., proselytes. See Chap. IV, 5. 
7a Baba Kama VIII, 7. 

73 Arachin i6b. 

74 Baba Metsia' 59a. 

75 Ibid., 59b. 

76 Cf. Arachin i6b. 

77 Abot II, 17 (Prayer Book, p. 189). 

7 8 Since it is the rational soul that survives. See Chap. IX, 7. 

79 For the definition of " wisdom " see Chap. X, 2. 

80 The " imitation of God " is the eighth commandment 
in his Mitswot. 



335 



INDEX 



Abraham, 52, 119, 122, 141, 

207 

Abraham ibn Daud, 27, 129 
" Accident/' 317 
Ahad Ha'am, 8ff., 322 
Aher (Elisha ben Abuyah) 4, 

252 

Akiba, Rabbi, 4, 223, 252, 330 
Albertus Magnus, 29 
Alexander Aphrodisius, 256, 

333 

Almohades, 7 

Angels, s.v. Intelligences 

Anger, 274 

Anthropomorphisms, 9/f. 

Apostates, 203 

Aquinas, 29 

Aristotle, i, 3, 5, 6, 8, 17, 19, 

21, 33. 50. 55, 57*-. 68 > 
75, 187, 192*1., 241, 313, 
316, 317, 323, 328, 331, 

332, 333. 334 
Asceticism, 274*1. 
Ash'ariyah, 195, 326, 328 
Astrology, i23f., 260 
Atonement, day of, 186 

Bachya, 329 
Balaam, 164 
Behaviour, correct, 2906*., 



Blood, eating the, 1741., 327 
Body, care of, 283! 

Charity, 222, 286ff. 

Chastity, 289 

Christians, attitude towards, 

117 

Circumcision, 1726*., 326 
Comfort, value of, 277 
Commandments, purpose of, 



Confession, 187, 213 
Conic Sections, 332 



Creation, from nothing, 50*1.; 
purpose of, 566. ; Biblical 
account of, 163 

Daniel, 140 

David, I39f., i66f., 220 
Design in Universe, 546*. 
Determinism, 217*1. 
Dietary laws, 175! 
Dietetic rules, 2785. 
Divination, 125*1., 144 
Dress, correct, 292 

Eden, garden of, 228 

Emanation, 37*1., 132 

Epicurus, 192 

Evil, problem of, 396*., 198 

Evil spirits, 123 

Error, sources of, 256 

" Fence " to the Torah, 159 
Festivals, the, i83f. 
Forgiveness, 289 
" Form," 2if., 36, i64f. 
Freewill, 4, 40, 196*1., 214*1. 
Future, foretelling the, 134, 
1431., 175, 249 

Gabirol, 316 

Gehinnom, 211 

Geometry, 332 

God, knowledge of, i8f., 227 ; 
attributes of, 21, 836*. ; 
existence, 316. ; unity, 33, 
93*1. ; cause of the Uni- 
verse, 34f. ; " form " of 
the Universe, 36 ; not 
cause of evil, 39*! ; His 
work purposeful, 46if. ; 
existed before the Uni- 
verse, 5 iff. ; names of, 
62 ff. ; incorporeality, 
g6ff. ; eternity, 98*!. ; 
omnipresence, loof. ; His 



337 



INDEX 



knowledge, 1026*., 2i8f. ; 
love and fear of, noff., 
2O4ff. ; revealed the 
Torah, I52ff. ; cognisant 
of man, 189!!. ; Divine 
Providence, 1926*. ; 
justice of, 202f. ; with- 
holds power of repentance, 
2i3f. ; consciousness of, 
293f. ; imitation of, 306, 
335 

Hasdai Crescas, 6, 27 

Heart, in primitive psy- 
chology, 2f. 

Hebrew' language, 62 ; 
script, 154, 325 

Herodotus, 327 

Hippocrates, 331 

Homer, 3, 327 

Homonym, 320 

Humility, 273 

Hydraulics, 332 

Idolatry, I2off., 158, 169, 177 
Imagination, 132, 242!!. 
Imitation of God, 306, 335 
Immortality, 233f. 
Intellect, 245fL, 249!?., 255!, 

3o8f. ; the Active, 129, 

130, 136 
Intelligences, the, 31, 39, 40, 

65if., 238, 319 
Interpretation of Scripture, 

i6iff. 
Isaiah, 140 

Jacob, 137, 164 

Jeremiah, 140 

T esus, 117, 224, 325, 330 

ob, 164 

osephus, i 

oshua, 145, 164 

udah Halevi, 6 

udaism, n6f. 

Karaites, 11, 116, 118 

Kindness, 285 

Knowledge, sources of, I33f., 

253*- 
Koran, 148, 152, 331 



Labour, 295 

Levi ben Gerson, 27 

Life, purpose of, 2<)8ff. ; goal 

of, 30 iff. 
Logic, 254, 332 
Lulab, 1 88 



Man, 40^., 49!, 58!!., 113, 155, 

245ff., 258ff., 310 
Marriage, 217, 293 
Martyrdom, 232 
Mathematics, 254, 302, 332 
Matcria prima, 76, 193, 317 
Matter, eternity of, 17, 5off. ; 

constitution of, 76ff . 
" Mean," the, 19, 2676. 
Mechanics, 332 
Messiah, 22of. 
Metaphysics, 64, 137, 253, 

254, 333 

Miracles, 9, 54, 101, 223, 309 
Mohammed, 8fL, 117, 224, 

3^4, 325 
Mohammedans, 118, 239, 323, 

325, 326 
Moses, 9f., 17, 139, 143, 145* 

1466., 152, 221 
Mutakallimun, 243, 255 
Mu'tazila, 196! 

Nature, 43, 46, 49, 55!, 60, 

101 
New Year, 1851. 

Passover, 185, 187 
Perfection, kinds of, 3045. 
Philo, 319, 321 
Physics, 34f., 37, 333 
Plato, 22, 69, 316, 317, 318, 

319, 320, 326 
Predestination, 4, 2176*. 
Prescience and determinism, 

2176*. 
Prophets and Prophecy, 9f., 

12, 38, 49, 68, 69, 85, 

I29ff., I57f., 22if., 254, 

324*- 

Proselytes, n8f., 296, 323 
Providence, 
Pythagoras, 3 



338 



INDEX 



Reason, 9!, 15, 245 
Resurrection, 2 3 4ft. 
Repentance, 186, 21 iff., 232 
Revelation, 17, I52ff. 
Reward and punishment, 

202ff. 

Righteousness, 285 

Saadya, 326, 333 
Sabbath, i82f. 
Sacrifices, 178*1., 226 
Saintliness, 273, 301 
Scriptures, the Hebrew, i6i., 
5of., 61, i52ff., 2o8ff., 276, 

324 

Shofar, iStf. 
Sin, 203, 21 if., 261, 297 
Social life, 294if . 
Solomon, 137, i39f., 162, 164, 

220, 225 
Soul (spiritual) 210, 233f. ; 

(psychological) 24 iff. 
Spheres, the, 31, 33!, 55f., 58, 

65, 7iff., I92f., 317, 320 
Speech, correct, 290 
Spirits, communication with, 

175 



Study, of Torah, 

purpose of , 302 
Sufis, 334 
Superstition, I22ff. 
Synhedrion, 159 



Tabernacle, symbolism of, 



Tabernacles, feast of, 
Tetragrammaton, 62ff., 318 
Time, created, 5 if., 317 



Universe, created, soff. ; 
permanent, 6off. ; a unity, 
8off. 



Vices, 265ff. 
Virtues, 265^. 

Weeks, feast of, 185 

Witchcraft, 123 

World to come, 23off., 235tf. 

Zechariah, 140 
Zodiac, 73 



339