VI. THE MAIMONIDEAN WAR

Maimonides’ influence was felt in Islam and Christendom as well as in the Jewish world. Mohammedan pundits studied the Guide under the direction of Jewish teachers; Latin translations of it were used at the universities of Montpellier and Padua; and it was frequently quoted at Paris by Alexander of Hales and William of Auvergne. Albertus Magnus followed the lead of Maimonides on many points; and St. Thomas often considered the views of Rabbi Moyses, if only to reject them. Spinoza, with perhaps some lack of historical understanding, criticized Maimonides’ allegorical interpretation of the Scriptures as a disingenuous attempt to preserve the authority of the Bible; but he hailed the great rabbi as “the first who openly declared that Scripture must be accommodated to reason”;75 and he took from Maimonides some ideas on prophecy, miracles, and the attributes of God.76

In Judaism itself Maimonides’ influence was revolutionary. His own posterity carried on his work as scholars and Jews: his son Abraham ben Moses succeeded him as Nagid and court physician in 1205; his grandson David ben Abraham and his great-grandson Solomon ben Abraham also succeeded to the leadership of the Egyptian Jews; and all three continued the Mai-monidean tradition in philosophy. For a while it became fashionable to Aristotelize the Bible through allegorical legerdemain, and to reject the historicity of its narratives; Abraham and Sarah, for example, were merely a legend representing matter and form; and Jewish ritual laws had only a symbolical purpose and truth.77 The whole structure of Judaic theology seemed about to fall upon the heads of the rabbis. Some of them fought back vigorously: Samuel ben Ali of Palestine, Abraham ben David of Pos-quières, Meïr ben Todros Halevi Abulafia of Toledo, Don Astruc of Lunel, Solomon ben Abraham of Montpellier, Jonah ben Abraham Gerundi of Spain, and many more. They protested against “selling the Scriptures to the Greeks,” denounced the attempt to replace the Talmud with philosophy, deplored Maimonides’ doubts on immortality, and rejected his unknowable God as a metaphorical abstraction that would never stir a soul to piety or prayer. The followers of the mystic Cabala joined in the attack, and desecrated Maimonides’ tomb.78

The Maimonidean war divided the Jewish communities of southern France precisely when orthodox Christianity was waging there a war of extermination against the Albigensian heresy. And as Christian orthodoxy defended itself against rationalism by banning the books of Aristotle and Averroës from the universities, so Rabbi Solomon ben Abraham of Montpellier—perhaps to forestall Christian attacks upon Jewish congregations as harboring rationalists—took the unusual step of anathematizing the philosophical works of Maimonides, and excommunicating all Jews who should study profane science or literature, or who should treat the Bible allegorically. The supporters of Maimonides, led by David Kimchi and Jacob ben Machir Tibbon, retaliated by persuading the congregations of Lunel, Béziers, and Narbonne in Provence, and those of Saragossa and Lerida in Spain, to excommunicate Solomon and his followers. Solomon now took a still more startling step: he denounced the books of Maimonides to the Dominican Inquisition at Montpellier as containing heresies dangerous to Christianity as well as Judaism. The monks accommodated him, and all procurable publications of the philosopher were burned in public ceremonies at Montpellier in 1234, and at Paris in 1242. Forty days later the Talmud itself was burned at Paris.

These events drove the supporters of Maimonides to bitter fury. They arrested the leading adherents of Solomon at Montpellier, convicted them of informing against fellow Jews, and condemned them to have their tongues cut out; apparently Solomon was put to death.79 Rabbi Jonah, regretting his share in the burning of Maimonides’ books, came to Montpellier, did public penance in the synagogue, and undertook a pilgrimage of repentance to Moses ben Maimon’s grave. But Don Astruc resumed the war by proposing a rabbinical ban on any study of the profane sciences. Nachmanides and Asher ben Yehiel supported him; and in 1305 Solomon ben Abraham ben Adret, the revered and powerful leader of the Barcelona congregations, issued a decree of excommunication against any Jew who should teach, or should before the age of twenty-five dare to study, any secular science except medicine, or any non-Jewish philosophy. The liberals of Montpellier replied by excommunicating any Jew who debarred his son from the study of science.80Neither ban had any wide effect; Jewish youths, here and there, continued to study philosophy. But the great influence of Adret and Asher in Spain, and the growth of persecution and fear throughout a Europe now subject to the Inquisition, drove the Jewish communities back into intellectual as well as ethnic isolation. The study of science declined among them; purely rabbinical studies ruled the Hebrew schools. After its escapade with reason the Jewish soul, haunted with theological terrors and an encompassing enmity, buried itself in mysticism and piety.

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