New Maimonidean insights into the Torah

Judaism Reclaimed: Philosophy and Theology in the Torah, Shmuel Phillips, Mosaica, £19.99


 It is a brave author who looks to match aspects of the worlds of philosophy and theology to each and every parashah in the Torah. To do so and come up with unreserved plaudits from such authoritative yet diverse readers as Lord Sacks and Charedi sometime Scotland soccer fan Rabbi Zev Leff suggests this author has indeed achieved his goal

Those of us who have followed Rabbi Phillips’s earlier literary career remember him some 25 years ago as the founding editor of the Junior Barnet FC Fanzine. No game was beyond his black and yellow heroes and no opponent too daunting for his sharp wit. He has brought that indefatigable optimism to this his latest project.

Is there really anything new to say about Maimonides’s view of the Torah. The answer is a resounding “yes”. Nearly 60 references later the reader will have discovered innovative Maimonidean approaches to many of stories and theological anomalies of the Torah. If you want responses to academic challenges to Orthodox Judaism, Phillips gives you 12 opportunities to consider whether his skill as an apologist remains unblunted after 20 years studying in yeshivah.

The book has not been to everyone’s taste. While the doyen of Orthodox bloggers, Gil Student (Torah Musings) enthusiastically embraced the book, Rationalist Judaism, aka Rabbi Natan Slifkin, took a rather dim view. Slifkin concluded that people who are already well-read and intellectually open will be turned off by many aspects of it

Certainly the book is of little interest to anyone unable to share Phillips’s pantheon of thinkers who matter. If you do not think the rabbinic canon is uniquely important then Judaism Reclaimed will merely aggravate. It is worth remembering though that a mind which is so open that it yields to no antecedent authorities is perhaps a mind so open that it has become truly vacant.

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