Reading Maimonides' Mishneh Torah

BookReading Maimonides' Mishneh Torah

Reading Maimonides' Mishneh Torah

Littman Library of Jewish Civilization

2015

January 8th, 2015

£39.50

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In this highly original study, David Gillis demonstrates that the Mishneh torah, Maimonides’ code of Jewish law, has the structure of a microcosm. Through this symbolic form, Maimonides presents the law as designed to perfect the individual and society by shaping them in the image of the divinely created cosmic order. The commandments of the law thereby bring human beings closer to fulfilling their ultimate purpose, knowledge of God. This symbolism turns the Mishneh torah into an object of contemplation that itself communicates such knowledge. In short, it is a work of art.
Gillis unpacks the metaphysical and cosmological underpinnings of Maimonides’ scheme of organization with consummate skill, allowing the reader to understand the Mishneh torah’s artistic dimension and to appreciate its power. Moreover, as he makes clear, uncovering this dimension casts new light on one of the great cruxes of Maimonides studies: the relationship of the Mishneh torah to his philosophical treatise The Guide of the Perplexed. A fundamental unity is revealed between Maimonides the codifier and Maimonides the philosopher that has not been fully appreciated hitherto.
Maimonides’ artistry in composition is repeatedly shown to serve his aims in persuading us of the coherence and wisdom of the halakhic system. Gillis’s fine exegesis sets in high relief the humane and transcendental purposes and methods of halakhah as Maimonides conceived of it, in an argument that is sure-footed and convincing.

Reviews

‘David Gillis proves, not that Mishneh Torah 'also' contains philosophy over and above its halakhic content (as is often claimed), but that the very structure of the entire work reflects both Maimonides’ Neoplatonism and his artistry. This work will surely force a paradigm shift in the way in which Mishneh Torah is read and studied. It is written with the confidence of a mature and seasoned scholar, and with the verve of a master stylist: just as Gillis shows that Maimonides brought artistry to bear on the composition of Mishneh Torah, so does Gillis himself bring artistry to bear on the writing of this exciting book.’
Menachem Kellner

‘Novel, fresh, and creative as well as cogently argued. It is an original contribution to the study of Maimonides in particular and of medieval Jewish thought in general . . . shows how philosophy informs the entire Mishneh Torah from beginning to end in an exquisite structure that is Aristotelian in number and Plotinian in order . . . Gillis does not just present purely theoretical theses but applies them in order to resolve some of the problems that have engaged both scholars and the rabbinic world in making sense of various anomalies, inconsistencies, and contradictions in the Maimonidean corpus.’
James A. Diamond

‘A brilliant piece of work . . . it will have a major impact on the study of Maimonides and on the larger realm of Jewish and cosmopolitan scholarship . . . Gillis pries open a window that affords broad vistas of forests, valleys, mountains, and the heavens themselves.’
Lenn E. Goodman

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Author Information

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.