Persecuting Ideas: The Case of Maimonides

By :  Alan Mittleman Aaron Rabinowitz and Simon H. Rifkind Emeritus Professor of Jewish Philosophy Posted On Nov 7, 2022 / 5783 | Dangerous Ideas Monday Webinar | Philosophy

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Part of the series, “Dangerous Ideas: Censorship Through a Jewish Lens”

With Dr. Alan Mittleman, Aaron Rabinowitz and Simon H. Rifkind Professor of Jewish Philosophy

Maimonides, the greatest Jewish figure of the Middle Ages, incorporated philosophy into his work. Both during his lifetime and afterwards, especially in Europe, Maimonides’ embrace of philosophy aroused opposition. A great controversy, lasting more than a century after his death, broke out in four distinct waves. The most philosophical sections of his work were banned, as was the study of philosophy and teaching of it to youth. There were also counterbans promulgated by his supporters against their opponents. In 1232, his works were burned by the Dominicans, although the role of Jewish agitation in that catastrophe remains unclear. The Maimonidean Controversy is about ideas, but also about power and authority, faith and reason, revelation and science, as well as the very nature of Judaism. Insofar as these matters remain contentious, the controversy endures. 


Throughout Jewish history, certain texts and ideas have been deemed too dangerous to circulate—whether by outsiders who banned Jewish writings, or Jewish leaders who suppressed ideas considered heretical or beyond the pale. In this series, JTS scholars will examine efforts to control knowledge from ancient to contemporary times, exploring the ways in which censorship both reflects and shapes broader ideological struggles. They will discuss the varying motivations for controlling or revising narratives, and consider whether and under what circumstances it might make sense to suppress certain ideas. These discussions will illuminate past struggles and help us understand the battles over censorship and free expression playing out today. 


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