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Gersonides: Judaism within the Limits of Reason (Littman Library of Jewish Civilization) [Hardcover]

Seymour Feldman
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

September 9, 2010 1904113443 978-1904113447 0
Gersonides (1288-1344), known also as Ralbag, was a philosopher of the first rank as well as an astronomer and biblical exegete, yet this is the first English-language study of the significance of his work for Jewish thought. Seymour Feldman, the acclaimed translator of Gersonides' most important work, The Wars of the Lord - a complete philosophical system and astronomical encyclopedia - has written a comprehensive picture of Gersonides' philosophy that is both descriptive and evaluative. Unusually for a Jewish scholar, Gersonides had contacts with several Christian notables and scholars. It is known that these related to mathematical and astronomical matters - the extent to which these contacts also influenced his philosophical thought is a matter of some controversy. Unquestionably, however, he wrote a veritable library of philosophical, scientific, and exegetical works that testify not only to the range of his intellectual concerns but also to his attempt to forge a philosophical-scientific synthesis between these secular sciences and Judaism. Unlike many modern scientists or philosophers, who either scorn religion or compartmentalize it, Gersonides did not see any fundamental discrepancy between the pursuit of truth via reason and its attainment through divine revelation: there is only one truth, with which both reason and revelation must agree. As a philosopher-scientist and biblical exegete, Gersonides sought to make this agreement robustly evident. While philosophical and scientific ideas have progressed since Gersonides' time, his work is still relevant today because his attempt to make prophecy and miracles understandable, in terms of some commonly held philosophical or scientific theory, is paradigmatic of a religion that is not afraid of reason. His general principle, that reason should function as a 'control' of what we believe, has interesting and important implications for the modern reader. Indeed, some of his basic arguments are favored by many contemporary thinkers who attempt to incorporate modern science into their religious belief system. He was not afraid to make religious beliefs philosophically and scientifically credible. One could say that Gersonides pursued an 'ethics of belief' in that he held that there are constraints to what is believable, especially in religion. In this respect, he was a precursor of Kant and Hermann Cohen: Judaism is or should be a religion of reason. 'An extremely welcome, important, and long-overdue addition to the literature . . . the first monograph in English to look at a broad range of Gersonides' philosophical ideas . . . Feldman does a terrific job of exposition and philosophical examination.' Steven Nadler, British Journal for the History of Philosophy

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About the Author

Seymour N. Feldman taught philosophy at Rutgers University from 1963 until his retirement. He is the author of The Wars of the Lord by Levi ben Gershom (Gersonides) (1984-99) and Philosophy in a Time of Crisis: Don Isaac Abravanel-Defender of the Faith (2003), and editor of both Spinoza's The Ethics, Select Letters and Treatise on the Emendation of the Intellect (1992) and his Theological-Political Treatise (second edition, 1998).

Product Details

  • Series: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization
  • Hardcover: 268 pages
  • Publisher: Littman Library Of Jewish Civilization (September 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1904113443
  • ISBN-13: 978-1904113447
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,130,783 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Levi ben Gershom, Gersonides in Latin, (1288-1344), was one of several great Jewish rational philosophers. He lived in Provence, France, and wrote books on philosophy, science, and Bible commentary. He wasn't as deep a thinker as Maimonides and ibn Ezra, who preceded him, but far more intellectual and innovative than most people. All three had unconventional opinions that the public don't know or misunderstand: ideas about God, creation, miracles, prophecy, life, death, the functioning of the world, and human responsibilities. Everyone should know these things. Seymour Feldman gives readers an excellent introduction to Gersonides, describes his thoughts in language appropriate for scholars and the general community, and compares his views with those of other thinkers. The following are some of them.

The three great rationalists stressed the use of reason. Human perfection, they wrote, is based on an improved and effective use of reason, not tradition or beliefs. Individuals must study the sciences, how the world functions. The Torah begins by teaching about creation to emphasize the importance of understanding science. Reason even supersedes the literal meaning of the Bible: "For when the Torah, interpreted literally, seems to conflict with doctrines that have been proved (to be true) by reason, it is proper to interpret these passages according to philosophical understanding" and not accept the biblical words literally.

The Bible
Gersonides was convinced that the Bible teaches philosophy, not only history and laws. But while Maimonides and most ancient thinkers, Jewish and non-Jewish, recognized that the majority of people lack the education and intellect to understand philosophy, Gersonides felt that they could and should understand it.
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