Maimonides: Faith in Reason by Alberto Manguel - review by Carlos Fraenkel

Carlos Fraenkel

Sage of Sepharad

Maimonides: Faith in Reason

By

Yale University Press 256pp £16.99
 

Did you know that John Milton cited the medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides to justify his radical views on divorce after Mary Powell, his estranged wife, left him? On Maimonides’s authority, Milton reported that Moses had ruled that ‘peace and quiet in the family’ are more important than holding on to a mismatched union. It’s one of dozens of appearances Maimonides makes in the works of the world’s greatest writers, from Thomas Aquinas and Leibniz to Kafka and Derrida. These are catalogued by Alberto Manguel in the last chapter of his book on Maimonides, part of Yale University Press’s Jewish Lives series. To find Maimonides in such illustrious company is not surprising, given that Manguel is one of the greatest bibliophiles of our time. A cosmopolitan Jew originally from Argentina (he read to the blind Jorge Luis Borges in Buenos Aires as a teenager and later became director of the National Library of Argentina), he at one time owned a collection of over 35,000 books. Some of his best-known works (A History of Reading, The Library at Night) are declarations of love to libraries and reading. Here, his erudition sparkles in freewheeling associations – he invokes Socrates, Seneca, Coleridge, Cynthia Ozick and many others – that shine a light on Maimonides’s life and work.

Maimonides (1138–1204) was the foremost Jewish philosopher of the Middle Ages. Like his Muslim colleague Averroes (1126–98), he was born in Córdoba in the twilight of the ‘golden age’ of Muslim Spain (known as Sepharad in Hebrew and Al-Andalus in Arabic). As members of the Spanish school of Arabic

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