Maimonides the Universalist

BookMaimonides the Universalist

Maimonides the Universalist

The Ethical Horizons of the Mishneh Torah

The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization


November 4th, 2020



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Maimonides ends each book of his legal code the Mishneh torah with a moral or philosophical reflection, in which he lifts his eyes, as it were, from purely halakhic concerns and surveys broader horizons. Menachem Kellner and David Gillis analyse these concluding paragraphs, examining their verbal and thematic echoes, their adaptation of rabbinic sources, and the way in which they coordinate with the Mishneh torah’s underlying structures, in order to understand how they might influence our interpretation of the code as a whole—and indeed our view of Maimonides himself and his philosophy.
Taking this unusual cross-section of the work, Kellner and Gillis conclude that the Mishneh torah presents not only a system of law, but also a system of universal values. They show how Maimonides fashions Jewish law and ritual as a programme for attaining ethical and intellectual ends that are accessible to all human beings, who are created equally in the image of God.
Many reject the presentation of Maimonides as a universalist. The Mishneh torah especially is widely seen as a particularist sanctuary. This study shows how profoundly that view must be revised.


'Kellner and Gillis have written an impressive book that enables readers to enter more deeply into Rambam’s religious worldview. At a time when Rambam is subject to so much misrepresentation and misunderstanding, it is heartening to read a book that seeks to present Rambam’s teachings in a clear, genuine and convincing manner.'
Rabbi Marc D. Angel, Jewish Ideas

'This book belongs in the hands of anyone who teaches the philosophic halakhah of Maimonides, anyone who teaches topics such as slavery, ethics, or messianism in Maimonidean philosophic law. This book should be a valuable part of the essential library of the High School rabbi or pulpit rabbi looking to give a universalist defense of Judaism. The authors of this book have a sharp eye and acute ear for parallels between passages and echoes to discussions elsewhere in the text. As a literary reading of Maimonides the book is without equal.'
Alan Brill, Kavvanah

'The book most reads easily, making it accessible to readers not intimately acquainted with Mishneh Torah. And the book’s extensive cross-references to Rambam’s other works a are source of delight to scholars of Maimonidean studies.'Eugene Korn, H-Judaic

'By treating these sermonettes to an in-depth study, the authors reveal how they can enhance our understanding of the MT itself and of Maimonides’ philosophical outlook. [...] Kellner and Gillis demonstrate that the reflective endings of MT reveal his understanding of Judaism as an ever-expanding intellectual horizon upon which halakhah was the means not the end in itself. Highly recommended for all libraries.'David B Levy, Association of Jewish Libraries News and Reviews

Author Information

Menachem Kellner is chair of the Department of Philosophy and Jewish Thought, Shalem College, Jerusalem and Wolfson Professor Emeritus of Jewish Thought, University of Haifa. David Gillis studied English in Oxford and received his Ph.D. summa cum laude from the University of Haifa with a dissertation on Maimonides. He lives in Tel Aviv.

Table of Contents

Section TitlePage
Note on Transliteration
1. Knowledge: To Know
Is To Love
2. Love: Abraham, Moses, and the Meaning of Circumcision
3. Seasons: Hanukah
and Purim Reconfigured
4. Women: Marital and
Universal Peace
5. Holiness: Commandments as Instruments
6. Asseverations:
Social Responsibility and Sanctifying God's Name
7. Agriculture: Sanctifying All Human Beings
8. Temple Service: The Divinity of the Commandments
9. Offerings: The Morality of the Commandments
10. Ritual Purity: Intellectual and Moral Purity
11. Damages: Who Is a Jew?
12. Acquisition: Slavery versus Universal Humanity
13. Civil Laws: God of Aristotle in the God of Abraham
14. Judges: Messianic Universalism
Appendix: Maimonides' Cosmic Paradigm
Index of Citations
Index of Subjects