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Must A Jew Believe Anything? Paperback – March 4, 1999

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Paperback, March 4, 1999
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 182 pages
  • Publisher: Littman Library Of Jewish Civilization (March 4, 1999)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1874774498
  • ISBN-13: 978-1874774495
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 6.2 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,559,374 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


'An important work in constructive Jewish philosophy by a leading international scholar of the field. It is also important as a document of the kind of thinking that characterizes modern Orthodoxy. The book is intelligent and academically solid as well as thought-provoking and controversial. It is a must read by anyone concerned with modern Jewish life who wants to understand an approach that affirms both Orthodoxy and a pluralistic sense of k'lal Yisrael without compromising integrity and religious commitment.' Norbert Samuelson, CCAR Journal 'Kellner's book makes an important contribution to the possibility of dialogue between the different trends within Judaism and to the possibility of reducing the hostility and tension between them.' Daniel Statman, Ha'aretz 'Kellner is especially provocative. The challenge in his title almost jumps off the page as a cri de coeur, inviting a re-examination of beliefs taken for granted by Orthodox Jews for almost a millennium ... [he] demonstrates with passion and elegance how Maimonides radically transformed Judaism into an ecclesiastical communityA" ... his social critique of the implication of dogma uniquely enhances our understanding of the Maimonidean project ... His thesis is an important one and should be read by all, encouraging urgently needed debate in the academy and the four ells of the yeshiva as well,' James A. Diamond, Jewish History 'A main contribution to a very timely question regarding the proper attitude of orthodox Judaism to non-orthodox and non-observant groups ... written with admirable clarity and touches of a highly relevant topic.' Daniel Statman, Journal of Jewish Studies 'This book has much to recommend it. Both scholarly and accessible, it is marked by a humane vision and a passionate commitment to a vibrant, outward looking Orthodox Judaism.' David Berger, Tradition --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Menachem Kellner is Professor of Jewish Thought at the University of Haifa. He is the author of Dogma in Medieval Jewish Thought and Maimonides' Confrontation with Mysticism and translator of Isaac Abravanel's Principles of Faith, all published by the Littman Library of Jewish Civilization. He is also the author of Maimonides on Human Perfection, Maimonides on Judaism and the Jewish People, and Maimonides on the 'Decline of the Generations' and the Nature of Rabbinic Authority. His translations of Gersonides' Commentary on Song of Songs and Maimonides' Book of Love appeared in the Yale Judaica Series. Professor Kellner's critical editions of the original texts of Abravanel's Principles of Faith and of Gersonides' Commentary on Song of Songs were published in Hebrew. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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20 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Ploni ben Ploni on November 20, 2005
Format: Paperback
In this slim and wonderfully articulate book, Kellner makes a convincing case that Maimonides brought a radical new idea to Judaism: that Aristotelian "perfection" is the highest ideal of the Torah. To achieve this perfection, a Jew must have knowledge of the principles of Jewish faith, and not just any "knowledge," but a philosopher's knowledge, which in the context of medieval science, meant being able to prove each article of the faith axiomatically, working from foundational principles. Kellner argues that Maimonides' introduction of this notion of philosophical "faith" is an innovation, unprecedented in Jewish thought until that point. Like many of the Rambam's innovations, this notion was not universally accepted - and in the cases where it was accepted, it was not accepted in its entirety. Rather, what survived from Maiminides' elaborate architecture of idealism is the prosaic idea that Judaism espouses certain articles of faith, and that deviation from these articles makes one an apikoros, a heretic.

It is the notion of Judaism having a catechism -- a mandatory dogma -- that Kellner spends much of the book arguing against. If we could bracket out the Rambam's influence in this particular area, he suggests, we would have a more authentic Judaism, centered on Talmudic and Gaonic norms, which are more concerned with what one does than what one "believes." More importantly, a halachic, non-dogmatic Judaism could be a bigger tent, more inclusive than the highly factionalized Judaism of today.

It's a lovely idea, generous and humanistic, but it unfortunately founders quickly. Kellner stipulates that the Torah does teach certain normative beliefs, but in the classic rabbinic thinking, these beliefs are not mandatory (i.e.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Michael Lewyn VINE VOICE on June 20, 2006
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is essentially a commentary on the "Thirteen Principles of Faith" discussed by Rambam (aka Maimonides, Moshe ben Maimon). Rambam asserts that any disbeliever in these principles is "a sectarian . . . one is required to hate him and to destroy him." Later commentators generally accepted the majority of the principles as normative Jewish theology, but gutted or narrowed the "hate and destroy" language (as did Rambam himself in later writings, as Kellner points out).

Kellner usefully quotes Rambam's "Thirteen Principles" discussion in his book, and tries to explain Rambam's logic. He doesn't really explain the logic behind each principle very convincingly; to do so would require a longer book with more quotes. I think I would understand Rambam better (and thus understand Kellner's discussion of Rambam better) if Kellner had done so.

But Kellner does explain in a general way why Rambam believed that failure to know of the principles was so harmful. First, Rambam relied on a vague passage in Habbakuk about the righteous "living by their faith" to support his view that incorrect views deprived one of "life" in the world to come. Second, Rambam interpreted a passage on the Talmud about the world to come (a passage which refers to the righteous "enjoying the radiance of the divine presence") as meaning that they "enjoy what they know of the Creator". It followed (according to Kellner's interpretation of Rambam) that people without philosophical knowledge had no share in the world to come - and thus that one who did not know of these principles had no life after death. (Kellner is fair-minded enough to note that other works of Rambam appear to adopt a more traditional interpretation of the afterlife).
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Alan Zamore on March 10, 2000
Format: Paperback
Kellner's book accurately but dispassionately summarizes some of the controversies that swirled around the Rambam in the middle ages. If you want to understand why Maimonides is still considered controversial in some circles, read this work.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Israel Drazin TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 30, 2010
Format: Paperback
Moses Maimonides (1138-1204) composed a list of thirteen basic principles of Judaism in his Commentary on the Mishnah, Introduction to Perek Chelek, which many Jews accept as the basic dogma of Judaism. Menachem Kellner, like Marc B. Shapiro in his The Limits of Orthodox Theology, writes that Don Isaac Abrabanel (1437-1508, in his Rosh Amanah) and many others recognize that Maimonides composed his principles for the less educated public to give them information that would strengthen their belief in Judaism. Abrabanel faults those who take "Maimonides' words at face value."

Leo Strauss and Shlomo Pines, in two introductory essays to the Guide of the Perplexed, 1963, Yeshayahu Leibowitz, in the several books of Conversations with Yeshayahu Leibowitz published between 1995 and 2003, and other scholars posit that there is an "exoteric and esoteric Maimonides." Exoteric statements are ideas that Maimonides writes which he does not consider to be true but rather as necessary to help the less educated masses, the majority of Jews, because he feels that they will be threatened if they are told that these ideas are untrue. The esoteric statements are hints that Maimonides does not state explicitly, but which he expects the learned Jew, who knows both Jewish and non-Jewish studies, to mine from his writings and understand.

This exoteric-esoteric approach to understanding Maimonides is supported by Maimonides' own writings. In his Guide of the Perplexed 3:28, he explains that there are two kinds of beliefs: true beliefs and necessary beliefs. "True beliefs" are statements that express a truth that can help one understand an idea and grow intellectually. These are what Strauss, Pines, Leibowitz and others called esoteric teachings.
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