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Maimonides' Cure of Souls: Medieval Precursor of Psychoanalysis edited by David Bakan, Daniel Merkur, David S. Weiss (SUNY Press)

Hava Tirosh-Samuelson. Review of Bakan, David; Merkur, Daniel; Weiss, David S., Maimonides' Cure of Souls: Medieval Precursor of Psychoanalysis. H-Judaic, H-Net Reviews. April, 2011.

Maimonides: A Precursor of Freud?

This book is a genuine collaborative effort of three people, although their authorship differs. Mainly this book was authored by the late David Bakan, an influential psychoanalyst and student of psychology and religion, who devoted over two decades to the study of Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed and Eight Chapters with his chavruta partner, David S. Weiss, a rabbi-psychologist in Toronto. In 2000 Bakan asked Daniel Merkur--a psychoanalyst in private practice who authored several books on comparative religion--to assemble his notes about Maimonides into a book manuscript. After the initial draft was prepared, Bakan asked Merkur to become his coauthor. In 2004 Bakan passed away and Merkur prepared a second draft of the book on the basis of notes and comments that have accumulated since the first draft was made. The second draft was read by Rabbi Weiss who offered many suggestions and also composed a few original passages that included views that Bakan had expressed to him orally during their meetings over the years. The design of the book, the editing, and the final formulation of the arguments are all done by Merkur but the approach to Maimonides is Bakan’s. For the sake of convenience, I will treat the book as if it were authored by one person, Bakan, even though it is a project of three collaborators.

The thesis of the book is that “Maimonides was concerned, above all, with ‘the healing of the soul and its activities’ (Eight Chapters, p. 38) and Freud was indebted to Maimonides’ distinctively psychological version of intellectual mysticism” (p. x). This argument is both historical and phenomenological. Historically the book seeks to prove a causal relationship between Maimonides’ philosophy and the emergence of psychoanalysis, but the evidence for this historical link is to be found in the phenomenological similarity between Maimonides’ and Freud’s interpretation of dreams. Indeed Bakan argues that “Freud’s understanding of dreams was the key to the understanding of Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed” (ibid). There seems to be certain circularity here: on the one hand, Freud’s theory of dreams is utilized to interpret Maimonides “correctly,” and on the other hand, the teachings of Maimonides are presented as the historical sources and indeed the cause of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory about dreams. Let us look at Bakan as interpreter of Maimonides and as a historian of psychoanalysis. 

Bakan is definitely a serious, devoted student of Maimonides, who correctly understands the significance of Maimonides in the history of Judaism. Yet Bakan is not a specialist in medieval Jewish philosophy and his knowledge of the relevant literature is somewhat uneven, giving the book a certain autodidactic quality. Of the long list of scholars who have written extensively on Maimonides during the last four decades Bakan privileges just a few (e.g., Herbert Davidson and David Blumenthal) and as a result his treatment of complex philosophical issues is either incomplete or inadequate. The lack of expertise is even more evident in the treatment of Maimondies’ Greek, Hellenistic, and Arabic sources. Bakan is not fluent in the relevant literature on Aristotle’s psychology and ethics and his interpretation of Maimonides’ Arabic sources (especially Alfarabi and Avicenna) is somewhat dated. Specialists in Maimonides who are`informed about the ongoing debates in the field will not find the book especially innovative, although the book has many interesting insights about specific sections of Maimonides’ Guide. The main argument of the book, namely, that Freuds interpretation of dream is necessary to make sense of Maimonides’ view of prophecy, is not persuasive to experts on Maimonides. The other three claims of the book--that Maimonides was concerned about the cure of souls (i.e., that his project was a “program of psychotherapy” [p. 1]), that he was an intellectual mystic, and that he wrote esoterically--are true, although the scholarly evidence adduced for them is somewhat problematic.

More difficult is the attempt to establish the causal connection between Maimonides’ philosophy and Freud’s psychoanalysis. The last chapter of the book shifts the focus from the interpretation of Maimonides’ ideas to intellectual history in an attempt to establish Freud’s access to the teachings of Maimonides either through translations of his works into European languages or through actual teachers. Bakan highlights the fact that the curriculum of the liberal Jewish school in Vienna presented “the prophets and Maimonides as precursors of Lessing, Kant, Schiller, and Goethe” (p. 140), and he considers the tutelage of Samuel Hammerschlag, who supervised Jewish education in Vienna, to be central to Freud’s access to Maimonides. When Freud became a student at the University of Vienna, he was introduced to the philosophy of Aristotle, Maimonides’ main source, when he studied philosophy under Franz Brentano, a leading neo-Aristotelian. However, mere familiarity with Maimonides or Aristotle does not in itself establish the indebtedness of Freud to Maimonides or to Aristotle, although both are relevant to establish Freud’s wide-ranging education. We should recall that in 1958, Bakan published Freud and the Jewish Mystical Tradition in which he argued that kabbalah, or the Jewish mystical tradition more broadly, was the source of Freud’s psychoanalysis. In the book under review, Maimonides is the primary intellectual source of psychoanalysis, although his ideas were transmitted to Freud through the venue of “the general, nonspecific heritage of kabbalah, Renaissance esotericism and German Romanticism” (p. 137). The current study offers relatively little support for this claim, while adding yet another source to the list of potential channels for the dissemination of Maimonides--Hasidism and especially the Hasidism of Rabbi Nahman of Bratzlav. The fact that Freud’s father, Jacob, was immersed in Hasidism, which he had finally abandoned upon his “second marriage in a Reform Jewish ceremony to Malke Amalie Nathanson” (p. 138), is adduced as evidence to the fact that Freud could have access to Bratzlav Hasidism at home. The degree to which Hasidism incorporates Maimonidean epistemology deserves elaboration as does a reference to other scholars who worked painstakingly on Freud’s intellectual biography (e.g., the late Yosef Hayyim Yerushalmi).

How would Maimonides, kabbalah, Hasidism, Renaissance esotericism, and German romanticism all relate to each other as sources of Freud’s psychoanalysis? The answer lies in the category of “intellectual mysticism,” or “rational mysticism.” According to Bakan, psychoanalysis is “rational mysticism” and Maimonides is the major Jewish example of it. (“Rational mysticism” and “intellectual mysticism” are used interchangeably throughout the work.) The term “intellectual mysticism” was coined by scholars of medieval Muslim philosophy (e.g., George Vajda and Blumenthal) to highlight the unitive aspect of prophecy in which the human intellect conjoins with the Active Intellect. Since Maimonides subscribed to this cognitive theory, labeling him an “intellectual mystic” is appropriate. What is missing in the analysis of intellectual mysticism, however, is the attention to the various readings of Aristotle’s cognitive theory either by his Hellenistic interpreters, Alexander of Aphrodisias and Themestius, or by the Muslim sources of Maimonides, Alfarabi and Avicenna. Maimonides’ cognitive theory cannot be understood without dealing with his complex relationship to Alexander of Aphrodisias, and without recognizing that Maimonides may have concealed his indebtedness to Avicenna. Bakan oversimplifies matters when he presents Avicenna as an “illuminist,” namely, a person who understood knowledge to be the result of divine illumination, a position that Maimonides presumably rejected. Had Bakan been more conversant with medieval Jewish and Muslim philosophy his interpretation of Maimonides would have been more accurate. Because Bakan is keen to present the Active Intellect psychoanalytically, a position that can be traced to Philip Merlan’s Monopsychism, Mysticism, Metaconsciousness: Problems of the Soul in the Neoaristotelian and Neoplatonic Tradition (1969), he claims that the Active Intellect as well as “the rational and the imaginative faculties were credited with unconscious operations in Maimonides’ system” (p. 159). Is this a correct interpretation of Maimonides’ philosophical anthropology? Not entirely, because this reading fails to take into consideration the function of the Active Intellect in the cosmology of Maimonides. The Active Intellect is not just a mental function (as it was for Aristotle and his Hellenistic commentators or medieval Christian readers and their twentieth-century scholars), but a Separate Intelligence that functions as the source of all processes in the sublunar world. Bakan diminishes the cosmological function of the Active Intellect because he wants to present Maimonides as a precursor to Freud. The circularity is inevitable: if one is to show that Maimonides was the source for Freud, one needs to interpret the Active Intellect as manifestation of the unconscious. Once that claim is made, it is just an easy step to the next argument that for Maimonides “the unconscious and its manifestations are inalienably sexual” (ibid.). The Active Intellect was indeed in charge of the processes of generation (which is sexual) but also of all intellectual processes that are not sexual, although they can be discussed by using sexual metaphors. In short, the historical evidence adduced by Bakan to prove the link between Maimonides and Freud is suggestive but not compelling.

The desire to identify the origins of psychoanalysis in Maimonides has led Bakan not only to see the traces of Maimonides in divergent intellectual traditions, but also to commit some of the fallacies that Quentin Skinner has already identified as the pitfalls of the history of ideas: the fallacy of “anticipation” and the fallacy of “influence.”[1] Bakan fails to show direct causal relationship between the ideas of Maimonides and psychoanalytic theories, although he is insightful in showing “similarities” and “convergences” between Maimonides and Freud, in regard, for example, to the privileging of latent dream thought over dream content in Freud’s and Maimonides’ privileging of words over images. Indeed the gist of the attempt to read Freud in light of Maimonides is to present Freud as a person who “wished to reform Judaism” and psychoanalysis as an emancipatory project through which Jews will be once and for all liberated from the negative and repressive tyranny of Moses and the childish fantasies of Judaism taken literally (p. 162). Put differently, Freud intended to do for modern Judaism what Maimonides has partially accomplished for medieval Judaism, that is, articulate a Judaism that is “fit for adults,” a philosophy that cures the soul from mistaken, imaginative fantasies.

Bakan sees psychoanalysis as “rational mysticism” whose therapeutic power lies in the phenomenon of intuition and its interpretation of dreams. According to Bakan, Freud saw “a close proximity between psychoanalysis and mysticism” because “like psychoanalysis, mysticism can provide increased access to the hidden sources of emotional life” (p. 156). But if the emotional (as opposed to the intellectual) life is at stake, it is even more questionable to present Maimonides and his theory of the Active Intellect as a precursor to Freud. Be this as it may, presumably if modern Jews endorse psychoanalysis through the prism of Maimonides, they could reach a more sophisticated, adult version of Judaism and renounce the anthropomorphic Judaism they receive from undereducated and ill-equipped teachers in supplementary schools. But can psychoanalysis (whether it originated in Maimonideanism or in kabbalah) really make contemporary Jews practice Judaism, however intellectualized? Given the inherent secularity of psychoanalysis, this is highly problematic. Psychoanalysis was intended as a replacement of Judaism and indeed of all religions, but Maimonideanism, which solidified the Jewish rabbinic tradition, is fundamentally contradictory to psychoanalysis. The heart of Maimonidean Judaism is not the Guide but the Mishneh Torah, a text that Bakan has not studied with the same alacrity and which he could not treat as an esoteric text, or present as a precursor to psychoanalysis.

Maimonides’ Cure of the Soul, then, is not simply a study about Maimonides or about Maimonides and Freud, but an attempt to anchor Bakan’s own approach to psychoanalysis as “rational mysticism” in Jewish sources in order to prove that “psychoanalysis was a profoundly Jewish innovation” (p. 140). Bakan is absolutely right to remind all readers of the Jewish settings within which Freud (who was a member of the Bnai Brith Society in Vienna) developed his ideas and the predominantly Jewish audience of his early lectures. But even if psychoanalysis was a Jewish innovation, why should committed Jews today turn to psychoanalysis to articulate an intellectually sophisticated Judaism? Jews who wish to intellectualize Judaism could read Maimonides without the prism of psychoanalysis and rethink it in light of contemporary science or philosophy of science. Bakan’s project of reading Maimonides through the lens of Freud or Freud through the lens of Maimonides is suggestive, but it falls short of the real intent of the book, namely, “to create a meaningful and unified understanding of Jewish spirituality and provide the multitude of perplexed Jews with the foundation insights to help them out of their perplexity” (p. xii). It is very plausible, by contrast, that for Judaism to survive and continue to evolve, perplexity must remain, inviting Jews over and over again to address it through interpretation, using all cultural tools at their disposal. There is no compelling reason to privilege psychoanalysis as the best solution to contemporary perplexity.


[1]. See Quentin Skinner, “Meaning and Understanding in the History of Ideas,” History and Theory 8, no. 1 (1969): 3-53. 

The Cultures of Maimonideanism: New Approaches to the History of Jewish Thought  by James T. Robinson (Supplements to the Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy: Brill Academic) In the history of Jewish thought, no individual scholar has exercised more influence than Maimonides (1138-1204)—philosopher and physician, legal scholar and communal leader. This collection of papers, originating at the 2007 EAJS colloquium, places primary emphasis on this influence—not on Maimonides himself, but on the many movements he inspired. Using Maimonideanism as an interpretive lens, the authors of this volume—representing a variety of fields and disciplines—develop new approaches to and fresh perspectives on the peculiar dynamic of Judaism and philosophy. Focusing on social and cultural processes as well as philosophical ideas and arguments, they point toward an original reconceptualization of Jewish thought.

James T. Robinson, Ph.D. (2002) in Near Eastern Language and Civilizations, Harvard University, is assistant professor of the History of Judaism at the University of Chicago, The Divinity School. He has written extensively on medieval Jewish philosophy and exegesis, including Samuel Ibn Tibbon's Commentary on Ecclesiastes: The Book of the Soul of Man  by James T. Robinson (dies in Medieval & Early Modern Judaism: Mohr ebeck, 2007).

Excerpt: In this brief preface, I would like to provide a few preliminary reflections on some of the main themes, concerns, problems, and also opportunities, that emerged during the colloquium and which are developed in the papers that follow. I will try to identify and highlight common features I find in many of the chapters, certain patterns emerging in the his-tory of Maimonideanism. Although the chapters are organized more or less chronologically, these brief remarks will be presented syntheti-cally, organized around four main areas: reception; accommodation; cultural mentalities that is, the way Maimonides emerged in various contexts as cultural hero or emblematic figure; and application: the way the Guide was read, adapted, revived, and recreated throughout history in light of contemporary debates and ideologies, providing a "cure" for the illnesses of the time, a treatment for symptoms of intellectual malaise, a bulwark against superstition and the irrational, and—to focus on its most common use—a remedy for the perplexities of faith and reason.


It is one of many paradoxes or ironies in Jewish history that Mai-monides, the elitist and pedagogical pessimist (if we accept Frank Griffel's characterization of him in Chapter 1), became the Teacher par excellence, ha-Rav ha-Moreh and Moreh Tsedeq, the inspiration of countless popular movements extending from the thirteenth century to the twentieth, from Western Europe to the Yemen, from Spain to the New World.

As described by Howard Kreisel (in Chapter 2), in some ways the emergence of a Maimonidean tradition was quite simple and straight-forward, and followed naturally from the work of Maimonides himself. This, at least, was the case in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries when Maimonidean enthusiasts in Spain, Provence, and Italy devoted themselves to the translating, explaining, imitating, defending, expand-ing, and extending of the work of the Master, creating the material foundation for an intellectual tradition. Often this meant completing a project begun by Maimonides, such as the philosophical explication of the "work of the beginning" and "work of the chariot." It moved in more general directions as well: writing a detailed Maimonidean commentary on the Bible, a full Maimonidean explication of Rabbinic midrash and aggadah, and completing the theological system only partially constructed by the Master. It is for the latter reason that even Gersonides might be considered a true Maimonidean following some of the suggestions by Roberto Gatti (in Chapter 5) even though Gersonides developed a new method, worked within a different philo-sophical framework, and arrived at very different conclusions than his predecessor.

There were other ways to follow Maimonides, less straightforward, but no less significant; for example the rewriting of his ideas within a more traditional context, the use of his methods to achieve seemingly non-Maimonidean goals, or the defending of his positions by appeal-ing to authorities with disparate intellectual affinities from Saadia Gaon to Abraham Ibn Ezra to Immanuel Kant. Nor was the simple straightforward translating and publishing of Maimonides' writings distinct from contemporary philosophical and ideological debates. This is certainly the case with the seventeenth-century Latin translations of Maimonides' writings mentioned by Yaacov Dweck (in Chapter 9), or the eighteenth-century editions of the Guide discussed by Abraham Socher (in Chapter 10). To what extent the republication of the Guide, together with commentaries by Moses Narboni and Solomon Maimon, determined the course of Guide scholarship in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is a fascinating subject; it highlights, among other things, the cultural power exerted by a publisher.


The examples discussed thus far I would consider first-order Mai-monideanism, that is, the conscious and intentional creation of a tra-dition of philosophy and exegesis by countless and often anonymous translators, philosophers, theologians, exegetes, preachers, popular edu-cators, propagators of wisdom and defenders of the faith. As discussed in many of the papers in this volume, there was also a second-order Maimonideanism. I refer to the way that Maimonides, through both his Mishneh Torah and Guide, forced or encouraged a completely new understanding of the canon. After Maimonides, Bible and rabbinic literature could no longer be read the same way. Earlier medieval authors, moreover, were brought into conversation with the Master, transformed into his allies and initiates.

This is certainly the case with Ibn Ezra who, as explained by Maiás Visi (in Chapter 4), was transformed into a Maimonidean commentator on the Bible. It was also the case with Judah Halevi—a more unlikely Maimonidean. As discussed by Maud Kozodoy (in Chapter 6), in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries the Kuzari experienced something of a revival in Provence and Spain, but seems not to have offered a real living alternative to Maimonides. Unlike the nationalistic Halevi of reli-gious Zionism (as discussed briefly by Dov Schwartz in Chapter 16) or the romantic Halevi of Rosenzweig (as mentioned by Hanoch Ben-Pazi in Chapter 14), Halevi's medieval commentators tended to transform his anti-philosophical work into a Maimonidean text: they explained it in light of the Guide and the works of Samuel Ibn Tibbon, Jacob Anatoli, Levi b. Abraham and others. Even Halevi's polemic against Aristotle in Book 5 was transformed into an introductory textbook on Aristotelian philosophy!

Still more complex are examples of syncretism—the mixing of Maimonides with intellectual traditions seemingly opposed, often contrary, to the spirit of the Master. Well-known is the example of Maimonides' own descendents who, by focusing on the mystical terminology of Guide 3:51, created a Sufi Maimonideanism, which would become the preferred tradition of Bet ha-the fourteenth century The example of Kabbalah is even more interesting. Mor Altshuler's identification (in Chapter 8) of Maimonidean patterns and ideals playing out in practice with Joseph Karo is quite remark-able, and should be followed up more generally in the history of later Kabbalah and Messianism. If Jonathan Dauber is correct (see Chapter 3), we have something more than syncretism: the organic development of Kabbalah out of Mamonides, at least concerning ideas about the unity of God and divine attributes. The same might be suggested of Meister Eckhert's negative theology and other mystical developments, Jewish and Christian alike.


Yet to be a Maimonidean does not require that one write a commen-tary on the Guide, a philosophical explication of Bible and Midrash, or even a supercommentary on Ibn Ezra. In fact, as shown by the papers in this volume, one can join the ranks of the Maimonideans without really understanding Maimonides or even reading him. This was already true early in the thirteenth century when Aaron b. Meshullam defended the Master as if he were no different than Saadia Gaon. It continued into the later medieval, early modern and modern periods as well, as exemplified by the popular liturgical dogmatics of Yigdal and Ani ma'amin (as discussed by Abraham Melamed in Chapter 7), the purely symbolic Maimonides of the eighteenth century, and the thoroughly "yeshivish" Maimonides of the twentieth.

I think the importance of the "cultural" or "rhetorical" Maimonides is clearly supported indirectly by the work of George Kohler and Gorge Hasselhoff (Chapters 12-13). That the Guide was studied seriously and philosophically beginning only in the nineteenth century I think is cogently argued. But one could add that Maimonides' work could be read philosophically in the nineteenth century only because of the cultural work done in the eighteenth and the debate and discussion surrounding the Guide in the nineteenth (as discussed by Michah Gottlieb in Chapter 11). The philosophical reading of the Guide in the late nineteenth century and into the twentieth (with the work of Strauss and Levinas, as discussed by Benjamin Wurgaft in Chapter 15) emerges after more than one hundred years of debate and discus- sion over the contested space that was Maimonides. In other words, one might hypothesize that cultural image as much as philosophical content played a key role in the development of reading practices and philosophical doctrines.

Medicine for the Soul

This brings us to the fourth category: the Guide as cure, as a remedy of sorts, a form of therapy, which Maimonides prescribed for the ill-nesses of his age, the deep amdeties—as Gad Freudenthal described it in his opening remarks at the colloquium caused by the inconsistency between religion and philosophy.

In light of the papers in this volume, I think we can say that the Guide is not a single cure but many different cures, a pharmacy of sorts, a pharmacopeia; it is many medicines which, when mixed properly by the skilled physician, can cure a large assortment of diseases. Maimonides himself addresses the many different ailments in his own time, includ-ing unreflective conventional practice; biblical and rabbinic literalism; the "sickness" that is Kalam; idolatry and superstition (as represented by Sabianism); anthropocentricism and materialism. In later generation the list grew longer. The Christians considered the Guide a cure of Jewish literalism, Leone Modena thought it a remedy for Kabbalah, while Reformers in the nineteenth century focused their attention on a pilpulistic orthodoxy that seemed a mere shell of the Bible's authentic ethical monotheism, as already pointed to so they claimed—by Maimonides in the Guide and elsewhere.

In light of the chapters in this volume one might also identify a history of reading the Guide that corresponds closely with various and diverse movements of renewal and reform with small case "r." To say it differently: everyone had their favorite chapter in the Guide which sup-ported their own ideas and aspirations. To give a few examples: The Sufi descendents of Maimonides preferred Guide 3:51, as did Ibn Tibbon, who termed it the "noblest chapter in the noble treatise." Ibn Tibbon's son-in-law Jacob Anatoli was attracted mainly to Guide 1:31-34 and its complex discussion of education and the limitations of knowledge. The Kabbalists, as well as the modern reformers, were drawn to the chapters on divine attributes, while in the seventeenth century, among Jews and Christians alike, it was Maimonides' historicizing account of

biblical law that was considered most important. A history of reading the Guide, I think, would go a long way toward mapping or rather,

indexing a historical topography of Jewish thought.

These are just a few general categories and concerns. There are many others that will emerge in the following chapters, such as the problems of elite vs. popular culture, the close relation between tradition and censorship (on many levels), the various processes of canonization, and the complex relation between master and disciple, charismatic figure and social-religious movement. But what I hope these remarks can do, simple and schematic as they are, is provide some orienting framework for the discussion that follows—in this book, and hopefully in many future studies of and conferences devoted to this very fruitful subject of Maimonideanism.


"The Literary Character of The Guide for the Perplexed" evoked a reaction of doubt and disbelief more than shock. Expecting "a war" to break out, Strauss evidently softened the blow, perhaps under the influ-ence of Glatzer's astute warning. He decided to write an esoteric inter-pretation of The Guide of the Perplexed, which "seems to be not only advisable, but even necessary."99 Although the essay had a mixed recep-tion at the time, by now the general principle of exoteric writing and use of Strauss's hermeneutic methods have taken root among scholars dealing with these questions. The main criticism of Strauss's interpretation was that it was uncertain, even arbitrary. Strauss argued that all interpretations are uncertain, but it is better to follow the author's instructions about how he wanted to be read rather than to disregard them.

In the section "Secrets and Contradictions," Strauss gave hints as to how one might decode the secrets of The Guide of the Perplexed. Look for intentional lack of order and irregularities, as well as repetitions of the same subject with slight variations. For example, Maimonides gave three opinions on creation in Guide (II, 13) and referred to that enumer-ation when he gave three opinions on prophecy in Guide (II, 32). He gave five opinions on providence in Guide (III, 17) and then five again in (III, 23). Maimonides wanted us to compare the chapters because different ordering of the enumerations introduced concealed points of view. For instance, matching the three opinions on creation with the three on prophecy in (II, 13) and (II, 32) intimates Maimonides's acceptance of the Platonic theory of creation.' Other means of conveying esoteric messages are enigmas, obscurity of plan, contradiction, inexact repeti-tions, odd expressions, misquotations, allusions, pregnant silences, and so on.

Furtive messages are conveyed by what Strauss calls "ambiguous words" or, we may say, "equivocal terms." Observing that Maimonides was Spinoza's guide in addressing the multitude, Yirmiyahu Yovel counts as a key feature of philosophic rhetoric the use of "metaphoric-systematic equivalence." Spinoza translated metaphors into philo-sophical language, transferring the semantic nucleus from the realm of the imagination to the realm of reason. A term has two meanings, a tra-ditional meaning (e.g., "God's will") and a philosophical meaning into which it can be transferred, acquiring its new meaning. For instance, for Spinoza God's intellect/mind means the totality of adequate ideas in their interrelations. God's decrees/laws/precepts are the eternal laws of nature. God is nature. Maimonides used biblical "Rider of the Clouds ('aravot)" for the One who dominates the highest heaven, or heavenly sphere." Metaphoric-systematic equivalence obtains between the God of Abraham and the First Mover or Necessary Being.'s The divine actions are the natural actions.

Strauss called attention to the importance of the addressee for under-standing the message of The Guide of the Perplexed. Joseph ben Judah is the primary "you" addressed in the treatise. Maimonides wrote it for Joseph and for those like him. He tells us the type of person Joseph was, what he knows, what he does not yet know, what perplexes him, and how he should proceed in his studies. Maimonides said the main aim of The Guide of the Perplexed is to explain the Account of the Beginning and the Account of the Chariot with a view to him for whom it has been composed.

Strauss's great contribution was to focus our attention on "the art of writing" and "the literary character" of premodern philosophical writ-ings, written at times when free speech was denied. However, Strauss did not relate his hermeneutic method to literary analysis and to crypto-logical writing by authors who were not philosophers, such as Dante and Shakespeare. Persecution was not the only reason for cautious writ-ing. Another reason was to preserve society from the corrosive effect of philosophical questioning opinions necessary for order and survival.

A third reason was educational, leading potential philosophers from conventional opinions to the eternal questions of philosophy by the various tactics of exoteric writing. These irritants do not disturb the dogmatic slumber of the credulous, those who have eyes and cannot see, but arouse the vigilant."° Exotericism in nonliberal societies uses education to reconcile order that is not oppressive with freedom that is not chaotic. Strauss also mentioned social acceptance, which has not received attention yet it is a primary motive for exoteric writing. David Hume and contemporaries, who shared his atheism, wanted to secure the favored opinion of mankind and therefore masked their true doctrines.

Strauss's final contribution to Maimonidean studies was "How to Begin to Study The Guide of the Perplexed, which is too long and complex to be discussed here. After presenting the plan of The Guide of the Perplexed as it had become clear to him "in the course of about twenty-five years of frequently interrupted but never abandoned study, he observed that it consists of seven sections, each divided into seven subsections or, in one case, into seven chapters. He explained that Maimonides achieved secrecy in three ways: selecting every word with exceeding care, self-contradictions, and scattering the "chapter headings" of the secret teachings throughout the book.

"Exoteric writing is a written imitation, as far as that is possible, of the oral Socratic method" (262). Kochin covers all five chapters of Persecution and has a superb analysis of Maimonides (275). Steven Jay Lenzner, in his dis-sertation, Leo Strauss and the Problem of Freedom of Thought, stresses the motivations of education and freedom of thought.

In "How to Begin to Study," Strauss made ample use of numerical symbolism, which alienated the essay for many readers. Maimonides used numerical symbolism to serve as a mnemonic device for memorizing large amounts of material, as an authorial signature and an aid for scribes, and as a way of conveying hidden meanings. Numerical symbolism goes back to the Pythagoreans, is found in Plato, was continued by the Neopythagoreans and by Augustine, Dante, Machiavelli, Shakespeare (especially the Sonnets), and others.

The Cambridge Companion to Leo Strauss by Steven B. Smith (Cambridge Companions to Philosophy)

The essays contained in this volume attempt to canvass the wide range of Strauss's interests. Although Strauss's writings typically took the form of the commentary — a form to which he gave very high philosophical expression — I have preferred to avoid reprising his often dense and detailed interpretations of specific figures within the tradition (Plato, Maimonides, Hobbes, Nietzsche) and to focus instead on the general themes or problems that these writings are intended to illustrate. I believe this approach follows Strauss's own method that always regarded his case studies in the history of ideas as the best means of stimulating awareness of the "fundamental" or "permanent" problems of philoso-phy. This approach should give readers a sense of the scope and breadth of the problems that Strauss felt it important to address.

The essays in the first half of this volume deal broadly with Strauss's various contributions to the history of philosophy (ancient, medieval, modern), the theologico-political predicament, the recovery of esoteri-cism, and the modernity problem, to name just the most prominent. Those in the second half of the book survey his views on politics and twentieth-century thought, in particular. These include his views on his German contemporaries, on modern political ideologies (Liberal-ism, Communism, National Socialism), his judgment on America as a regime, his critique of the social sciences, and his views on the role of education and the university in a free society. The volume concludes with a consideration of Strauss's legacy.

This volume opens with a biographical essay by the editor that puts Strauss's writing in the context of an extraordinary life that moved from a small town in Germany to Berlin, Paris, and England, and from there to New York, Jerusalem, and Chicago. Strauss's life intersected with some of the giants of twentieth-century European thought includ-ing not only Husserl, Heidegger, and Cassirer but Gershom Scholem, Alexandre Kojève, and Hans-Georg Gadamer. Special attention is given to the decade Strauss spent at the New School for Social Research, where he first began to develop his distinctive approach to philosophy.

Leora Batnitzky then takes up Strauss's understanding of the theologico-political predicament. She argues that although Strauss ini-tially examined this problem within the context of German Jewry, he came to regard it as expressing the enduring challenge posed by re-velation to the claims of reason and philosophy. As such, the term "theologico-political predicament" links Strauss's early development to his later themes, including his revival of the great "quarrel between the ancients and the moderns," the relation between Jerusalem and Athens, and his diverse studies in the history of political philosophy. Her essay concludes that the challenge posed by revelation remains of enduring significance not just for believers but especially for nonbelievers.

Laurence Lampert addresses the controversial theme of Strauss's "recovery" of esotericism. Drawing heavily upon Strauss's recently pub-lished correspondence and especially the letters to his friend Jacob Klein from 1938 to 1939, these letters record Strauss's excitement at the dis-covery of esoteric writing first in Maimonides and later in Plato and other classical Greek writers. Strauss's recovery of the esoteric tradi-tion is then illustrated by a close reading of his essay on Judah Halevi's Kuzari, composed originally in 1943. Lampert argues that following his great medieval and classical masters, Strauss decided to practice his own form of esoteric writing, having deemed that the reasons for the practice were still valid in an age that regarded itself as open to the expression of all views, however heterodox.

Catherine Zuckert considers Strauss's repeated and widely discussed proposals for a "return" to premodern thought. Focusing on his lecture "Progress or Return," she argues that Strauss's call for a return was based on a new understanding of both of the "roots" of the Western tradition, namely biblical morality and Greek rationalism. Strauss presents the history of the West as a series of attempts to harmonize or synthesize these conflicting tendencies, but because ancient philosophy is funda-mentally incompatible with the biblical conception of the Creator God, these attempts have failed. It is the tension between rather than any synthesis of these roots that is the secret of the vitality of the West and the best promise for its future.

Stanley Rosen reprises Strauss's analysis of the problem of modernity by drawing attention to the two modern thinkers who arguably exercised the greatest influence on Strauss: Nietzsche and Heidegger. Modernity, they agreed, was marked by the steady triumph of scientific and techno-logical progress, while being simultaneously incapable of understanding the very works that constitute that progress. This inability is represented by the terms "relativism" and "historicism," which claim there is no stable basis for ranking values in accordance with excellence; the resulting denial can only lead to nihilism. Rosen concludes that Strauss's analysis of the modernity problem is itself a characteristically modern trope and that he fails to prove the superiority of the Socratic-Platonic alternative.

Joel Kraemer considers one of Strauss's most enduring intellectual legacies, his recovery of the "medieval Enlightenment" in Jewish and Arabic thought. Turning to Strauss's 1935 book Philosophy and Law, Kraemer argues that Strauss's understanding of Maimonides's Guide of the Perplexed ("the classic of rationalism") was decisively shaped by his reading of Alfarabi and the Arabic Falasifa (philosophers). Like his brother-in-law Paul Kraus, Strauss helped to direct attention to the Arabic contribution to philosophy and in so doing come to a richer understanding of philosophy. Because Islam and Judaism both have the character of a comprehensive body of Law (Sharia, Torah) and not a faith or creedal religion like Christianity, each helps vividly to illus-trate the enduring tensions between philosophy and revelation. Strauss's approach to the medievals was not that of a conventional historian of ideas but rather of a philologically gifted philosopher challenging the attack on classical rationalism by the modern Enlightenment.

The second half of this volume begins with two essays on Strauss's politics and his relation to both his country of birth and his adopted homeland. Susan Shell discusses Strauss's views on the German philos-ophy of the early twentieth century that helped give rise to Hitler and National Socialism. She focuses on Strauss's 1941 lecture on "German Nihilism," in particular his use of the Virgilian motto, "to crush the proud and spare the vanquished." She argues this essay marks the turn in Strauss's thought where he distanced himself from his earlier harsh criticism of liberal democracy and the doctrine of the "rights of man," as expressed in his now widely cited letter to Karl Lowith of 1933, to his unhesitating support of liberal democracy as a vehicle for civilized statecraft.

William Galston disagrees with those critics who regard Strauss as a dangerous enemy of liberal democracy. Galston maintains that Strauss valued the U.S. Constitution as a bulwark against the tyrannies of both the Left and the Right, but he did so for positive reasons as well. Strauss endorsed the public-private distinction so valuable to liberalism, as the best way of reducing — even if not completely eliminating — the vari-ous forms of discrimination and social injustice. This separation also helps ensure the survival of certain distinctive forms of liberal virtue necessary for the survival of self-government. Strauss emphasized that liberal democracy is the modern regime that is the closest approxima-tion of the ancient idea of politeia or mixed government, and to this extent it remained open to the claims of human excellence. Galston concludes that Strauss provided a "qualified embrace" of liberal democ-racy, qualified only by his fears about modern democracy's tendency toward complacency, philistinism, and mass conformity.

Nasser Behnegar explores Strauss's interest in the modern social sci-ences, examining his critique of behavioral and Weberian social science, respectively. Both are understood in the light of Strauss's attempt to restore classical political science, especially in its Aristotelian visage. Strauss's critique centered on the modern social scientific endorsement of the fact/value distinction and the claim that only the "Is" can be an object of knowledge, whereas the "Ought" belongs to the irrational sphere of private values. He once colorfully compared this situation to "beings who are sane and sober when engaged in trivial business and who gamble like madmen when confronted with serious issues — retail sanity and wholesale madness. Behnegar also explains the close kin-ship between Strauss and Edmund Husserl and the reasons for Strauss's preference for classical political science over phenomenology.

In his essay, Timothy Fuller places Strauss among the distinguished scholars who restored political philosophy to a central place in the university study of politics in the years after World War II, advocating also the complementary restoration of the classical tradition of liberal learning. Strauss was not only a teacher; he reflected carefully on teaching as a vocation and on the aims of liberal education in the context of a liberal democracy. What he offered as a scholar was complemented by what he wrote on teaching and learning. He insisted on clearly distinguishing the study of politics from the life of action while recognizing that these distinct teachings are dialectically related.

One of the most controversial aspects of Strauss's legacy is that group known as "Straussians." Michael Zuckert attempts to dispel both the notion that there exists a single-minded clique of followers of Strauss and the mystery surrounding the existence of several groups or factions of Straussians. Although the number of those influenced by Strauss is now quite large and their interests diverse, Zuckert attempts to get to the heart of the matter by identifying two issues upon which they disagree, namely morality and religion. He attempts to show that these disagreements derive at least in part from certain unresolved puzzles in Strauss's own thinking. The different factions of Straussians — the East Coast and West Coast as well as different Straussian grouplets — derive not only from issues in Strauss's thought but center on some of the most significant and abiding human questions.

These issues and others have intrigued and perplexed Strauss's readers from the time of his earliest publications. Strauss was the author of more than a dozen books and around a hundred articles and reviews, among which the best known are On Tyranny (1948), Persecution and the Art of Writing (1952), Natural Right and History (1953), Thoughts on Machiavelli (1958), What Is Political Philosophy (1959), and Liberalism Ancient and Modern (1968). These works and many others have been reissued several times over the years and are now widely translated into a number of European and Asian languages. New editions and collections of Strauss's works are being made available, and conferences have been devoted to his ideas in countries throughout the world. What is clear is that Strauss's writings and teachings — rivaling that of other giants of twentieth-century political thought such as Isaiah Berlin, Hannah Arendt, and John Rawls — have had a major impact on the revival of political philosophy in our time.

Strauss's own achievements cannot be entirely divorced from the phenomenon known as "Straussianism." To be sure, this has been exac-erbated recently by certain high-profile discussions of Strauss and his alleged influence from beyond the grave on American policymakers in the Bush administration.' Of course, what Strauss would have thought of this is impossible to know. What is clear is that these discussions have often ended up reifying Straussianism by turning it into some sort of monolith. There are many different types of Straussians with quite different interests; there are liberal Straussians and conservative Straussians, Democratic Straussians and Republican Straussians, secu-lar Straussians and religious Straussians. With some plausibility, all can claim to find their ideas and positions ratified by Strauss's own writings.

Strauss was a teacher and, like all great teachers, he attracted stu-dents. Many of these students have gravitated to the university and can be found in departments of political science, philosophy, classics, and even literature; others can be found in the world of journalism, think tanks, and public administration. This diversity is represented by the various contributors to this volume, all of whom have been inspired in one way or another by the work of Strauss. This does not mean that they understand Strauss in the same way or even that they agree about the overall purpose of his work. Any attempt to impose some type of unity of perspective would be false to the subject. Some of the contributors were students of Strauss, others students of his students, and still others simply found their way to Strauss's writings on their own. There is no individual known to me who can claim mastery of all of the subjects about which Strauss wrote. Therefore, each contributor has been chosen for their command of one or the other of the wide range of problems and themes that constituted Strauss's life's work.

Strauss did not see himself as offering a road map to utopia. There are no books by Strauss with titles like A Theory of justice or Anarchy, State, and Utopia. He eschewed the temptation to engage in ambitious, reconstructive efforts to remake society in accordance with a theory or a program. At certain times, he even denied that he was a philoso-pher at all, preferring to regard himself as a "scholar" or, even better, as a teacher and reserving the term philosopher only for the greatest thinkers.9 Strauss did not write analytical treatises on politics nor did he, except indirectly, attempt to give practical guidance to statesmen and fellow citizens. His writings remain firmly nested within the genre of the commentary, leading some critics to wonder whether he should even be considered a philosopher at all. Nevertheless, Strauss often spoke of the commentary as a unique form of philosophical communication — a form brought to perfection by the great medieval Arabic Platonist Alfarabi — and which he sought to renew in our age.

Strauss did not offer a philosophy of politics in the conventional sense of the term. He was concerned instead with the prior and almost unasked question, "What is political philosophy?" a term that he did more than anyone else to revive. The question to which he devoted his life and that shaped his work was the classic theme of the relation between philosophy and the city. What is philosophy and how does it differ from other forms of knowledge and ways of life? What benefits, if any, does philosophy confer on the city? Strauss presented philosophy and the philosophical way of life as an alternative to two powerful but deeply felt delusions to which human beings are perpetually attracted. I think it is best to conclude by letting Strauss speak in his own voice:

Men are constantly attracted and deluded by two opposite charms: the charm of competence which is engendered by mathematics and everything akin to mathematics, and the charm of humble awe, which is engendered by meditation on the human soul and its experiences. Philosophy is characterized by the gentle, if firm, refusal to succumb to either charm. It is the highest form of the mating of courage and moderation. In spite of its highness or nobility, it could appear as Sisyphean or ugly, when one contrasts its achievement with its goal. Yet it is necessarily accompanied, sustained, and elevated by eros. It is graced by nature's grace. ( Strauss, "What Is Political Philosophy and other Studies (1959) .





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The Cultures of Maimonideanism: New Approaches to the History of Jewish Thought  by James T. Robinson (Supplements to the Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy: Brill Academic) In the history of Jewish thought, no individual scholar has exercised more influence than Maimonides (1138-1204)—philosopher and physician, legal scholar and communal leader. This collection of papers, originating at the 2007 EAJS colloquium, places primary emphasis on this influence—not on Maimonides himself, but on the many movements he inspired. Using Maimonideanism as an interpretive lens, the authors of this volume—representing a variety of fields and disciplines—develop new approaches to and fresh perspectives on the peculiar dynamic of Judaism and philosophy. Focusing on social and cultural processes as well as philosophical ideas and arguments, they point toward an original reconceptualization of Jewish thought.

Maimonides' Cure of Souls: Medieval Precursor of Psychoanalysis edited by David Bakan, Daniel Merkur, David S. Weiss (SUNY Press) This book is a genuine collaborative effort of three people, although their authorship differs. Mainly this book was authored by the late David Bakan, an influential psychoanalyst and student of psychology and religion, who devoted over two decades to the study of Maimonides’ Guide of the Perplexed and Eight Chapters with his chavruta partner, David S. Weiss, a rabbi-psychologist in Toronto. In 2000 Bakan asked Daniel Merkur--a psychoanalyst in private practice who authored several books on comparative religion--to assemble his notes about Maimonides into a book manuscript. After the initial draft was prepared, Bakan asked Merkur to become his coauthor. In 2004 Bakan passed away and Merkur prepared a second draft of the book on the basis of notes and comments that have accumulated since the first draft was made. The second draft was read by Rabbi Weiss who offered many suggestions and also composed a few original passages that included views that Bakan had expressed to him orally during their meetings over the years. The design of the book, the editing, and the final formulation of the arguments are all done by Merkur but the approach to Maimonides is Bakan’s. For the sake of convenience, I will treat the book as if it were authored by one person, Bakan, even though it is a project of three collaborators.