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The Limits of Orthodox Theology: Maimonides' Thirteen Principles Reappraised (Littman Library of Jewish Civilization) Hardcover – January 2, 2004

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Editorial Reviews


'Inspiring and breath-taking ... highly recommended.' Yisrael Dubitsky, Association of Jewish Libraries Newsletter 'Marc Shapiro puts an explicit contemporary context on this remarkable collection of sources that disagreed with one part or other of Maimonides' Thirteen Principles ... By showing the extent to which past authors disagreed with those Principles, Shapiro seeks to debunk assertions by contemporary writers that place those Principles at the core of Orthodox belief ... the work is astonishing in its rage. Shapiro uses his daunting biographical abilities and his considerable skill as a writer to present his material-well-known and obscure-cogently and entertainingly. To the reader interested in the limits of the theological imagination of Jews, it is not likely to be soon rivalled.' Gidon Rothstein, AJS Review 'A courageous and meticulously research book that straddles two worlds-that of abstract scholarship and of practical religious vision ... The real tour de force of the book is the enormous amount of material he musters to make his case.' Bradley Shavit Artson, Conservative Judaism 'Combines remarkable erudition with clarity of vision.' Menachem Kellner, Edah Journal 'His research is exhaustive, almost encyclopedic, and it is highly convincing ... his aim is truly constructive and his tone is passionately concerned.' Erin Leib, Jerusalem Report 'This exhaustive yet readable study ... is astonishingly well researched ... a polemical work of considerable erudition, which will find a broad audience.' Harvey Belovski, Jewish Chronicle 'Ground-breaking ... As Shapiro so clearly demonstrates in this landmark work, the need is not only for theological discussions, but for theology.' Miriam Shaviv, Jewish Quarterly 'Shapiro's book is doubly remarkable: it is at the same time a commentary on Maimonides' Thirteen Principles, and a successful summary of the central themes of Jewish theology, offering deep insight into what the blurb calls traditional Jewish thoughtA".' Stefan Schreiner, Judaica 'Articulate and thought-provoking ... This book is no less important on social than on scholarly grounds. Shapiro presents his stance with great passion, giving readers the sense that he is involved in a truth spreading mission. His passion appears to me justified and legitimate, since abstract theology is indeed an essential element in the shaping of current Orthodox society, particularly in Israel but also outside it. In sum: this book provides scholars with a justification for a view that most of them had already sensed and accepted and opens up to a broader intellectual public a path to understanding Jewish philosophy.' Dov Schwartz, Review of Rabbinic Judaism

About the Author

Marc B. Shapiro holds the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Chair in Judaic Studies at the University of Scranton, Pennsylvania. A graduate of Brandeis and Harvard universities, he is the author of Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy: The Life and Works of Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg, 1884-1966 (1999), also published by the Littman Library, and is editing the collected writings of Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg, the first volume of which appeared in 1998, and the second in 2003.

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Product Details

  • Series: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization
  • Hardcover: 234 pages
  • Publisher: Littman Library Of Jewish Civilization (January 2, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1874774900
  • ISBN-13: 978-1874774907
  • Product Dimensions: 9.3 x 6.3 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,571,201 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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82 of 93 people found the following review helpful By Israel U. Khachewatsky on February 29, 2004
Format: Hardcover
There are those for whom their belief in religion will never quite approach their scholarly understanding of it. But the opposite is probably more prevalent. Many more people sincerely profess faith but are ignorant of the knowledge that should necessarily underpin such faith.
It is to this latter group that Marc Shapiro is addressing himself in his book, traditional Jews who might know halakha but who are otherwise ignorant of what their great spiritual giants believed for millennia. Many of the beliefs espoused by these great men run counter to the Thirteen Principles set down by Maimonides (some disagreements extending into the present!), a situation that, ostensibly, should have prevented them from an afterlife and which would have excised their souls from the Jewish nation.
Besides proving his point exhaustively, Dr. Shapiro is presenting a fine intellectual history of Jewish thought from the vantage point of its outer limits. The appendix even includes pictures of God on the title pages of sacred books written in the past few hundred years!
There is no doubt that this book, based on a controversial and satisfyingly unsettling essay that Shapiro penned just a few years ago, will both elicit praise and scorn, the scorn manifesting itself in book bannings and in the hiring of scholarly mercenaries who will be asked to trash the book, site unseen, in predetermined reviews.
Well, these reviewers will have their work cut out for them because Shapiro's book is thoughtful and nuanced and, thereby, evades pigeon holing. Besides addressing out-and-out disagreements that people had regarding creed, there is the bigger problem of Maimonides contradicting himself in matters of belief, both within different contexts and at different times in his life.
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31 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Michael Lewyn VINE VOICE on August 27, 2005
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Maimonides asserted that anyone who rejected his Thirteen Principles was a heretic who has removed himself from the Jewish people- yet most of these Principles were at one time or another rejected by leading rabbis both before and after Maimonides.

For example, Shapiro writes that even the view that "the Torah in our hands is exactly the same as the Torah that Moses presented to the Children of Israel" has been widely disputed. To be sure, pre-Reform Jews universally accepted the Torah as Divine and as roughly the same as the original text. But Shapiro asserts that historically there have been minor deviations in Torah scrolls, and that even today nine letters in Yemenite Torahs differ from those in those used by the rest of Jewry. Shapiro also cites numerous medieval commentators' assertions that some non-halakhic portions of the Torah, although true and divinely inspired, were written by Joshua or Ezra rather than Moses.

Shapiro also asserts that some of the Principles were arguably contradicted even by Maimonides' own later writings.

A minor quibble: Shapiro's discussion would have been clearer if he had put Maimonides' own language in his book as an appendix.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Michael M on April 21, 2008
Format: Hardcover
This book is absolutely fascinating, and a must-buy for those who wish to know the details of Judaism's principles of faith. Dr. Shapiro does not merely bring obscure opinions rejected in their own time, but rather strongly-held opinions of prominent authorities of yore which are still alive and well for the learned.

It is interesting that just this past weekend, I first saw this book, and I happened to read the exact same chapter as Mr. Lewyn describes in his review below. I will elaborate on Mr. Lewyn's sample, for the interest of those who want a more extensive sample of this book:

Dr. Shapiro notes that Rambam himself knew as much, if not more than, anyone else of his time, about the different textual variants of the Torah, as Rambam was involved in arbitrating between different Masoretic texts available to him. So he could not possibly have meant to declare that no textual errors have crept into our Torah. In fact, Rambam's son refused (if I remember correctly) to arbitrate between alternative accepted texts.

However, Rambam DID mean to say that no post-Moshe additions were (permissibly) deliberately made (presumably, they could be made, just as textual errors can be made, as this is the real world with real humans, but this would be a violation of the law). However, ibn Ezra says that individual verses could be permissibly post-Moshe, and Rabbi Yehuda heChasid says entire sections of narrative could be post-Moshe. Another view opines that Ezra haSofer could not add to the mitzvot, but he could add to the narratives. Most importantly, the Gemara itself has one view that the account of Moshe's death was written by Yehoshua. Dr.
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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: Hardcover
Studying Maimonidean thought means coming into contact with rational ideas that are not always considered mainstream in Jewish philosophy. How common is it for different and even conflicting beliefs to be simultaneously accepted as Jewish?

Marc B. Shapiro addresses this question in his easy to read and very informative The Limits of Orthodox Theology: Maimonides' Thirteen Principles Reappraised. He examines the thirteen principles of faith that Moses Maimonides (1138-1204) outlines in his Commentary on the Mishnah, Introduction to Perek Chelek. These thirteen principles have become basic tenets for many Jews - so significant, in fact, that two versions of the list were placed in the siddur, the daily prayer book: one is called Ani Ma'amin ("I believe") and the other is the chant Yigdal ("God is exalted"). Yet, although it may surprise many people who think that the thirteen principles are sacrosanct, not everyone accepts these thirteen principles, and many who reject them are well respected Orthodox Jews.

Shapiro examines traditional Orthodox sources and finds that even undisputed Orthodox Jewish authorities, great rabbis, dispute Maimonides' beliefs radically and, at times, even vituperatively. Shapiro's analysis shows that Orthodox Jews can hold nonconforming and dissenting views - even on fundamental beliefs - without being considered rebels against Judaism.

Shapiro teaches that many Jews, including rabbis, do not realize that Judaism allows a wide spectrum of beliefs. Their ignorance is caused by their narrow focus on the Talmuds, codes of Jewish law and responsa literature, while ignoring the theological literature.
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