Meir Buzaglo on Micah Goodman’s The Secrets of the ‘Guide to the Perplexed’‏

Book Review of New Book on Maimonides by Micah Goodman, the director of Ein Prat– The Israeli Academy for Leadership, where religious and secular learn Jewish texts together. Articles about the place in ynet and NJJN.
Interesting article on his family background in Hebrew. And Hebrew article in Maariv.

Sodotav shel Moreh Hanevukhim (The Secrets of the ‘Guide to the Perplexed’‏),
by Micah Goodman. Dvir Publishing House ‏(Hebrew), 383 pages, 92 NIS

Dr. Micah Goodman, a rising star in the field of Jewish thought, has something new to say. He thinks that perplexity is, indeed, one of the fundamental elements of the “Guide for the Perplexed.” …

The Rambam’s work promised to be a guide that would enable one to bypass both popular folk religion and atheism, and to build a narrow bridge over doubt.

The book begins with a presentation of the crucial problem of faith in a transcendent God. Such a removed God presents “the greatest threat to religion,” says the author; the solution he offers is that Maimonides had as his goal the creation of a new hero of faith; and faith in God is not a matter of passive waiting, but rather a function of human initiative, a heroic undertaking in which man creates his own personality. In the same way, redemption is seen not as the result of miraculous intervention that transpires as a result of divine beneficence, but rather is a natural result of man’s striving, his commitment of all his resources to the search for God. Redemption is a natural process in which the redeemed is also the redeemer.

“Guide for the Perplexed” leads the reader to a Socratic conundrum in which a person knows that he does not know, yet does not give up on the possibility of knowledge. Despair about great ideologies, which comes to us courtesy of postmodernism, derives from a loss of the possibility of knowledge, which is also the possibility of doubt. In Goodman’s view, this despair can be converted into an enabling form of perplexity.

As the author sees it, there is no contrast between revelation and wisdom, since wisdom is that which has been revealed. And what about the Torah? In the book’s second part, after reviewing analogies between the Torah and nature, the author interprets Maimonides as implying that the Torah is divine, but not written by God. Moses observed nature scrupulously and wrote the Torah, and since nature required the existence of God, the Torah has to be divine.

It is in its third part that the book reaches its pinnacle, as it presents a discussion of the concept of perplexity that distinguishes between forms of confusion and identifies a form of redemptive perplexity, enabling us to keep a distance from the cult of reason and from the paralyzing authority of tradition; this state of perplexity propels an individual on a journey of self-growth. Influenced by the late philosopher Shlomo Pines, Goodman suggests that the aim of this journey is to identify the limits of knowledge and allow elements of mystery to enter an individual’s spiritual life. A fulfilling intellectual life brings wonder into an individual’s existence. This is a life in which the individual does not view himself as the center; it is life lived in the constant awareness of mystery.

The concept of an individual who creates his own personality has about it an air of existential analysis, but we should be wary of attributing an atheistic form of existentialism to Goodman’s text… nor does the analysis depend upon a Lurianic kabbalistic view of divine contraction in order to provide room for individual autonomy. “On the contrary,” writes Goodman. “The huge majesty of God is what frees the world from its dependence on [God], and provides free space for individual creativity.”

We thus face an interesting question: To what extent is this theological idea that an individual’s self-realization renders him closer to God akin to everyday popular metaphors about “the creation of personality”? To what extent is the presumably secular idea of self-realization consistent with the religious idea maintaining there is only one way of heeding an absolute commandment? It is on this level, I believe, that the allure of secularism needs to be compared with the allure of Maimonides.

The natural situation of the human being, before sin, is one of closeness. From the moment that sin, materialism and the expulsion from Eden are created, distance comes into being. Thus the differences between the doctrine of tzimtzum, or divine contraction, promulgated by Rabbi Yitzhak Luria and that espoused by the Rambam are minor, because this doctrine sees the need to explain how there can be places where God is only partially present.
Read the Full Version Here.

Dr. Meir Buzaglo researches the philosophy of Judaism, language and mathematics at Hebrew University.

3 responses to “Meir Buzaglo on Micah Goodman’s The Secrets of the ‘Guide to the Perplexed’‏

  1. Based on the review, it seems this book is less about the Guide than it is “The Guide as it struck Micah Goodman.”

  2. This isn’t my area at all and I haven’t read the book but….

    It is puzzling that a book that according to the review seeks to rescue one from the cult of reason via a seemingly existentialist approach to the self retreats from Kierkegaard in order to resolve the basic tensions of religion by means of a rational approach to revelation which returns revelation to a natural process. To dissolve a key tension between reason and faith seems to sacrifice Kierkegaard’s project at the altar of reason.

    Maybe the review is confusing but the book is not. It does seem (as do many recent attempts at Jewish theology) like a deliberate philosophical mashup that may not work except for those willing to take the author’s word for how to read certain texts and reconcile certain ideas. Maybe there is also something particularly uncompromising about Kierkegaard that makes him a bad candidate for sampling from.

    I wish the review did a better job of hinting at how recognizing the limits of reason frees one from the “paralyzing authority of tradition.” This sounds like an inversion of Soloveitchik. But again, I am probably reading too much into a short review.

  3. I originally did not mention the book, but it is getting a lot interest, maybe because of his institute. It does seem to not be interested in history, rather Maimonides for today. (1) I think you are correct that he is on a course of a Rav Soloveitchik-David Hartman reading of Maimonides- when he isn’t differing with it. (2) He works the minimal theology of Tzimzum, Rav Nahman, and doubt into Maimonides. (3) There is a theology of “the potential human” which sounds like part of his institute lectures. (4) He follows a Pines reading of the impossibility of knowledge of God and metaphysics.
    The reviewer Buzaglo is a serious philosopher, but I dont think he has given a complete review.
    I expect several more works on Maimonides, Nahmanides, and Zionism from Goodman in the upcoming years, so start figuring him out now.

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