Oy Bay!

"My heart is in the east, and I in the uttermost west." — Yehudah Ha-Levi

From Aristotle, to Moshe, there was none like Crescas.

Posted by minsky on October 9, 2007

maimonides.jpgFrom Moshe to Moshe there was none like Moshe. So the saying goes.

Arguably, there are few Rabbis as well known and silently respected, as Moshe ben Maimon (Rambam). With his Sefer Hamitzvot, we obtained our 613 mitzvot. With the Mishneh Torah, our Basic Principles of Faith. With the Moreh Nevuchim, we obtained Aristotle.

That’s right, Aristotle. Hence I said, silently respected.

The problem didn’t begin, with Rambam’s conversion to Islam, nor the language in which he wrote all his works -Arabic; nor with his precursor Saadi Gaon , an exemplar of the pervasive influence of contemporary Islamic thought upon medieval Judaism.

The problem began a great deal earlier. For before Allah, there was

What Averroes and Avicena did for Islam, Maimonides would do for Judaism- reconcile it with Aristotle.

This was far from everyone’s liking, and some went as far as to support Rabbi Shlomo Adret’s call for the excommunication of all Jews under age 25 who studied the Great Peripatetic!

Maimonides would have none of it, and according to a bitter critic, reduced the Torah to Greek philosophy.

This critic, Hasdai Crescas penned Or Hashem, and pulled Judaism away from Aristotle by substituting Rambam’s 13 Principles of Faith with 6 principles of his own:

1) G-d’s omniscience,

2) providence,

3) omnipotence;

4) the belief in prophecy,

5) Free will, and that

6) the world was created for a purpose.

More importantly, Crescas rejected Maimonides’ claim that the ultimate bond between Man and G-d, was knowledge. He tauted another bond, far more powerful than knowledge – that of Love.

Making me wonder, whether the maxim From Moshe to Moshe there was none like Moshe, aught to be changed to
From Aristotle, to Moshe, there was none like Crescas?

More bluntly, will preoccupation with Rambam lead to the Greeks, and interest in Crescas lead to the Gospels?

Help me out here.

8 Responses to “From Aristotle, to Moshe, there was none like Crescas.”

  1. Oyster said

    I disagree with your depiction of Rambam as a convert to Islam.

    If Rambam converted to Islam (there’s little non-Muslim evidence to support this), he did so at the end of a sword. And as soon as he and his family moved to less radical lands, he was a fully observant Jew. He served as the head of the Egyptian Jewish community (the “Nagid”), until his death.

  2. minsky said

    1) He wouldn’t have been alive if his family hadn’t converted.
    2) He devoted considerable attention to the problem of Islamic forced conversion
    3) Islamic understanding of his conversion explains his prominance with the Auybid court.
    4) Islamic understanding of such conversion in Egypt is very different from the Almohad. It is a formal declaration of shared values.

    Most importantly, Muslims do consider Maimonides Muslim. He is part of their pantheon. Do you think they just co-opted him? How often does that happen?


    The best secular source for his Conversion is:

    Moses Maimonides: An Intellectual Portrait in The Cambridge Companion to Maimonides pp. 16-17 (2005)

    Also, mentioned in Oxford Toxicology profiles.


    Anyway, I think there is more to my post than Islam. I wanted discussion of Torah and Philosophy.

  3. lchaimlover said

    Let’s put aside this bizarre and unimportant subject of Rambam as a Muslim. Let me, if I may, attack the main article.

    Rambam was greatly influenced by Aristotle. Key Word: INFLUENCED.

    While Rambam was influenced by Aristotle, it is a mistake to say that Rambam “reduced Torah to Greek philosophy” as many of us have influences which comprise our ideas. That’s like giving the credit of Shakespeare entirely to the Greek myths. The Greek myths may have been the influence, but someone (maybe named shakespeare) used these influences to create the greatest works in English literature. Rambam took the Aristotle influence, and created a great Jewish work. If it was entirely Aristotle we would all be walking around not knowing if we believed in G-d or not and making little cults to ourselves all over the world.

    And I think it is important to note that while Aristotle may have been greatly respected, it was at the feet of the Kohen Gadol thats Alexander that Great (a self proclaimed god) bowed down at, not at his master’s.

    Finally, your argument is a little antiquated. If Rambam’s influence were still a problem in Modern Judaism then why would Rambam be so heartily quoted, taught, and respected among today’s Jews. And as for Crescas- while he is known among learned Jews, he is almost a footnote in Jewish learning.

  4. minsky said

    My argument? Hardly antiquated. You just proved it. Maimonides is quoted, Crescas is not.

    BTW, I didn’t have an argument to begin with. I am informing readers, about a fascinating period in history, and also about the mechanics of Jewish theology.

    When you visit the Oy-Bay page, there is a quote in the header, from Yehuda Ha-Levi.
    The man dedicated an entire tractate to dissuade contemporary Jews from studying Philosophy, particularly Aristotle. Maimonides would have none of it.

    As for the Stagirite’s influence. I think that when one defines the “soul” and the “good” according to Aristole, and not Torah, that goes a bit beyond influence, doesn’t it?

    Here is a primer.

    To fully appreciate what this is about, check out what’s in yellow at: http://www.google.com/search?q=cache:kjeG-FfofrsJ:faur.derushah.com/downloads/essays/Monolingualism%2520and%2520Judaism.pdf+anti-maimonideans&hl=en&ct=clnk&cd=6&gl=us

    Not only was anti-Maimonism a very powerful movement, it defined Judaism for centuries. It still defines it if one accounts for rejection. It was in rejection to Maimonides that Judaism found its spiritual path. It was in rejection of Aristotle.

  5. lchaimlover said

    Do you require that only religious Jews be quoted in religious lectures? Do you have a problem with the fact the Rambam quoted one of the more interesting non-Jewish philosophers? Is it that it was Aristotle, or that is was a non-Jew?

    And no, I feel that even if we lift definitions, this is exactly what “influence” is. You have brought us to an age old discussion about originality, which this “thought” lacks, as it as you put it, is centuries old. Who can be original when thousands of years of thinkers preceded us?

    Maybe you should read the primer, as it follows my original point “Following generally in the footsteps of Aristotle, he deserts him only when approaching the domain of G-d’s law.” And for the Jews learning Rambam, G-d’s law would be the most important piece of the puzzle.

    So to answer your question, I don’t feel that learning from non-Jewish sources will make us either Greek or Xian. To follow this line of thought, we might as well all be chareidi.

  6. Yaakov said

    Ramba”m was influenced by Aristotle in the same way we are influenced by Newton. “Aristotle” meant “science.”
    Any intelligent person in Haramba”m’s time would live his life and think in function of Aristotelian thinking.

    Just like we live our own lives taken into consideration the concept of gravity, the laws of conservation, etc.

    I am afraid that stating that Haramba”m was “influenced” by Aristotle is either ill-intended or Naive.
    There has never been a more traditional rabbi that Ramba”m. He would often contradict himself (Ramba”m, the great logician) in order to be loyal to two opposing rabbinic sources he held as authoritative and binding.

  7. Oyster said

    There has never been a more traditional rabbi that Ramba”m

    So who excommunicated the Rambam, Yaakov? The Reform Jews?

    Oh, whoops. they didn’t exist back then… so much for that dead horse.

  8. Friar Yid said

    Any intelligent person in Haramba”m’s time would live his life and think in function of Aristotelian thinking.

    Just like we live our own lives taken into consideration the concept of gravity, the laws of conservation, etc.

    I am afraid that stating that Haramba”m was “influenced” by Aristotle is either ill-intended or Naive.

    Please explain how your first and last sentences aren’t contradictory. I’m having real trouble here.

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