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Maimonides: Life and Thought Hardcover – November 24, 2013

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press; First Edition edition (November 24, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691158517
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691158518
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #242,573 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


Winner of the 2013 National Jewish Book Award in Scholarship, Jewish Book Council
Honorable Mention for the 2015 PROSE Award in Theology & Religious Studies, Association of American Publishers
One of Choice's Outstanding Academic Titles for 2014

"In his rigorous and insightful study Maimonides: Life and Thought, Moshe Halbertal reintroduces readers to this rabbi-scientist, who insisted that faith should be an enterprise based on reason."--Dara Horn, Wall Street Journal

"[M]agisterial. . . . Halbertal presents a moving and detailed portrait of Maimonides's life as well as his work. . . . Maimonides is not just a titan of Jewish learning; as Halbertal shows in his timely and definitive book, he can be a surprisingly contemporary guide for our times."--David Mikics, Forward

"[Halbertal] pioneers a new path, walking the reader through the different interpretive schools and explaining what supports each one while acknowledging that Maimonides contradicts himself both across and within his many writings--at times purposefully, which inevitably leaves his readers perplexed. Halbertal is a wonderful guide, explaining how different approaches illuminate Maimonides' writings and how certain issues reverberate throughout the sage's work, returning in new forms and contexts. . . . Drawing on all of Maimonides' writings, and especially his many letters, Halbertal crafts a portrait of a refugee who never fully left home and felt the pain of exile for his entire life. . . . [An] extraordinary book."--Jay M. Harris, Foreign Affairs

"In a sea of literature about the great twelfth-century Jewish sage and philosopher, one could do no better than turn to Moshe Halbertal's single volume work on Maimonides. . . . Accessible to both scholar and interested general reader, this book should be the first work on Maimonides for an English reader to approach."--David Tesler, Association of Jewish Libraries Reviews

"If you are going to read only one book about Maimonides, make it Moshe Halbertal’s stunning Maimonides. Even if you have read many other books by and about Maimonides, you have much to learn here."--Menachem Kellner, AJS Review

"Halbertal's book provides an introduction to the complexity of Maimonides's work, and should be studied by any serious Maimonides scholar."--Tamar Rudavsky, Journal of the History of Philosophy

"Maimonides, then, remains an elusive and fascinating figure: his importance is clear, but it's hard to grasp exactly what made him so important. That is why Maimonides: Life and Thought, the new study by Moshe Halbertal, is such a valuable contribution. . . . Readers who are curious about this difficult but rewarding thinker will find Maimonides: Life and Thought a thrillingly lucid introduction."--Adam Kirsch, Barnes & Noble Review

"Moshe Halbertal's Maimonides is a useful guide to the man and his work, with something to offer both novice and scholar. . . . [T]his admirable work invites us to study Moses Maimonides' writings on our own."--Mark Blitz, Weekly Standard

"Halbertal, a professor of both law and Jewish studies, is equipped to grasp the richness of Maimonides's thought, which reflects a potent blend of rabbinic expertise and philosophical acumen. . . . If Halbertal's book accomplishes nothing else but to inspire this Maimonidean approach to life and religion, then he has done his job well."--James A. Diamond, Jerusalem Post

"[S]tudying the Andalusian refugee Maimonides will be revealing and this terrific book by the philosopher Moshe Halbertal is a great place to begin."--Richard Marshall,

"This insightful, well-written book offers a fresh perspective on Maimonides. Halbertal offers an excellent introductory overview of Maimonides's life and contributions to Jewish law, philosophy, medicine, and religious consciousness. He also makes clear how Mainmonides's personality, psychology, and evolving outlook penetrate his oeuvre. . . . The author offers a window into the self-perception of this greatest of medieval rabbinic thinkers, physicians, legalists, and theologians, and the radical transformations he sought to effect in Judaism."--Choice

"[A] valuable and impressive achievement."--Eric Shoag, Jewish Journal

"[A] brilliant tour de force . . ."--Lawrence Kaplan, Jewish Review of Books

"In this excellent study, Moshe Halbertal makes it clear, in keeping with Maimonides, that there is no one way to understand the Jewish tradition."--Jude P. Dougherty, Mary Elizabeth Tetzlaff

"[A]n unusually comprehensive overview of Maimonides achievements."--Berel Dov Lerner, Religion & Theology

From the Back Cover

"In the gorgeous and rugged terrain of Jewish thought, there is no higher mountain to climb than Maimonides, and no more slippery or exhilarating ascent. Halbertal has made it all the way to the top, and his survey of the whole of the Maimonidean landscape is trustworthy and masterful. This is the richest and most intellectually sophisticated book on Maimonides I have ever read."--Leon Wieseltier

"In this learned and penetrating work, Halbertal offers us a Maimonides who draws on the dominant Greco-Islamic thought of his time while creating a system of thought that is fully Jewish. He shows us how the early Commentary on the Mishnah links up with the Mishneh Torah and with the Guide of the Perplexed, written at the end of his life, to form an unexpected and radical intellectual unity. Beautifully written, Maimonides brings out both Maimonides's intellectual success and the paradoxical critical approaches to him after his death."--David J. Wasserstein, Vanderbilt University

"Insightful and learned. Halbertal is perhaps the leading philosopher of Jewish law today. His book on Maimonides, like his other writings, reflects wide erudition and is written clearly and sharply."--Warren Zev Harvey, professor emeritus, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

"Displaying the marvelous depth and clarity that mark all his work, Halbertal explains in abundant detail the transformations that Maimonides sought to effect in the Jewish world. He provides incisive interpretations of both legal and philosophical writings, yet he is also a biographer, binding together Maimonides's life, self-perception, and intellectual agenda. This is an exceptionally rich book, one that offers fresh perspectives for experts and a highly accessible introduction for general readers."--David Shatz, Yeshiva University

"An outstanding and thrilling portrait of Maimonides. Halbertal's analytic lucidity and psychological depth are singular, and his talents are abundantly apparent on every page. This is an extraordinary book."--Menachem Lorberbaum, Tel Aviv University

Customer Reviews

Anyone who is interested in religious history must read this book.
Edward S. Warchaizer
Author and scholar Moshe Halbertal's book provides a penetrating look into the mind of this great religious thinker.
Dr. Debra Jan Bibel
The Guide for the Perplexed was the most esoteric of all of the writings of Maimonides.
Ben Rothke

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

35 of 41 people found the following review helpful By Debra Hindlemann Webster on December 7, 2013
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I suppose it begins with the book jacket, which is elegant, no-nonsense, and straightforward. The content of the book only gets better from there. Mr. Maimon (as I refer to him), happens to be one of my heroes. This volume, which is thorough, laced with appositives and careful elucidating explanations, clearly defines why I feel the way I do.

The author is succinct, logical, exceedingly well organized--no doubt Maimonidean himself--and the book, in my opinion, is exquisitely sensitive to Maimon the man, as well as to the philosopher/logician/astronomer/physician. The book covers his entire life in the initial biographical chapter that is about one quarter of the book. The rest of the book is devoted to Maimonides' most significant works--his "Commentary on the Mishneh," "The Commandments," "The Mishneh Torah" and "The Guide for the Perplexed." Halbertal refers to additional compositions; however, the focus of the book is primarily reflective of these--the best, most influential, and most powerful of Maimonides' writings.

Maimonides, himself, in addition to his incredible mind, was funny, sarcastic, brash, impatient, rude; in short, he was straightforward to a fault, and had no positive sentiment for the "stupid" or the "foolish," as he referred to them. It is important to note that he was as caring and feeling about those whom he loved, as he was passionate about those whose ire he raised. The author covers all aspects of this extraordinarily gifted gentleman; not infrequently exasperating in his insistence that his way was the right and only way: At one moment, Halbertal actually refers to Maimon's behavior as that of a "harebrained amateur!" (This, to add depth of thought, and chuckles, too, regarding the most profound of all medieval thinkers).
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15 of 16 people found the following review helpful By George I. Greene VINE VOICE on January 23, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Professor Halbertal has offered an intriguing book on Maimonides. The book itself can be divided into three parts: his biography, his legal work and The Guide. As to the biographical part, it gives a clear overview of Maimonides' life. At times, it becomes reductive, but one can figure that out as one reads it.

His part on the law is the best part of the book. Professor Halbertal teaches law and it shows through clearly as he explains the originality of Maimonides' thought in this area as Maimonides seeks to reorganize concisely for philosophic purpose.

The weakest part of The book is his section on The Guide. The Guide is a maze. Maimonides made it so intentionally. One should attempt to read it as Maimonides requires. Instead, professor Halbertal provides his own grid consisting of four types of analysis. They are: a skeptical reading, a mystical reading, a conservative reading and a philosophic reading. These types of reading only go so far since they are not Maimonides' way of reading. They also tend to simplify a richness found in the text itself which is undeserved but understandable.

Perhaps, my biggest complaint about this section on The Guide concerns Philosophy. Though I do not believe that Professor Halbertal meant it, the text comes off as though Maimonides provided a doctrine. To me, it seems that Maimonides was teaching a way to think scientifically and not to accept things on authority including himself. It is clear enough that Maimonides is a radical thinker going to the roots. It also appears to me that he seeks those who may surpass him in careful thinking.

This review should not be read disrespectfully. It is clear that Professor Halbertal has great love and respect for Maimonides.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Debra Jan Bibel TOP 500 REVIEWER on May 12, 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In Cordoba, Spain, is a statue of Moses ibn Maimon, Maimonides, for he was born in that Andalusian city during the cosmopolitan Golden Age of Sefarad. The common language was Arabic, even when written in Hebrew letters. The science of experimentation was yet centuries to come but Aristotle and Galen and other Greek thinkers, translated by Muslim scholars, yet offered logic and some understanding of nature, structure, function, and causality. The philosophical Maimonides offered science and knowledge as a key religious path leading to awe and love or compassion. He attacked superstitions, talismans, and causative incantations and any anthropomorphic conception of God, even in use of personal pronouns, as de facto idolatry. He took the Babylonian Talmud and the body of subsequent traditions and created essentially a practical, categorized moral and legal handbook, the Mishneh Torah, separating core teachings from doubtful or obsolete interpretations. Moreover, his Guide to the Perplexed, because of its ambiguity, became a religious map with four interrelated paths whose philosophical, skeptical, mystical, or orthodox approach would depend on an individual's education and provisional predilection. Maimonides had a deep understanding and respect for people's psychological needs, even if contrary to scientific logic. Author and scholar Moshe Halbertal's book provides a penetrating look into the mind of this great religious thinker.

While some of the sections discussing the Mishna Torah become tedious and turbid by its detail legal analysis and historic comparisons of wisdom, the later examination of the Guide to the Perplexed is stunningly clear and comprehensive.
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