Maimonidean Controversy

Maimonidean Controversy were Jewish controversies concentrating on the themes of the philosopher Maimonides.

The philosopher initiated the controversies himself when he attacked the geonim, honorary title of leaders of Jewish academies, by describing the gaon Samuel b. Ali as «one whom people accustom from his youth to believe that there is none like him in his generation,» and he sharply attack the «monetary demands» of the academies.

In return, Maimonides own Mishneh Torah was fiercely condemned by Abraham b. David of Posquieres; and scholars such as Meir Abulafia were appalled by Maimonides rejection of the doctrine of the «resurrection of the dead.» A herem, excommunicatory ban, was pronounced on Maimonides’ philosophical work. Nahmanides was aware that Maimonides’ ideas were welcomed by the assimilated and prosperous Jews of Spain and Provence, and argued that «but for the fact they lived out of the mouth of his works…they would have slipped almost entirely.» Nonetheless, he believed that Maimonides’ ideas were heretical.

In the West, the controversy was halted by the burning of Maimonides’ books by Christian Dominicans in 1232. Abraham, Maimonides’ son, continued fighting for his father’s beliefs in the East, although the desecration of Maimonides’ tomb at Tiberias was a profound shock to all concerned.

The controversy flared up once more at the beginning of the fourteenth century when Solomon b. Abraham Adret issued a herem on «any member of the community who, being under twenty-five years, shall study the works of the Greeks on natural science and metaphysics.»

Such tension between the anti-rationalists and rationalists continued through the Middle Ages, and could be recognized in the sixteenth-century disputes between Moses Isserles and Solomon b. Jehiel. A.G.H.


Bowker, John, The Oxford Dictionary of World Religions, New York, Oxford University Press, 1997, p. 605