Sunday, November 9, 2008

Two New Book Reviews

Maimonides: The Life and World of One of Civilization's Greatest Minds

First off is a new book by Joel Kraemer about the Rambam; "Maimonides: The Life and World of One of Civilization's Greatest Minds ". I looked through some of it and find it much more readable than, say, some of the books that were written about Maimonides early in the previous century. I mean first of all, that style is a bit stale, second of all a good book about Maimonides hasn't really come out in a little while. Not to mention this book is a lot better than the others because the author brings in a lot of the information about the rivalry and peer-environment that one of the greatest thinkers of Judaism lived in and around (..I obviously should like getting around to reading the whole thing).

The Rambam is one of the main people whom my thought pattern of Judaism is based on. That being so, it would be a good idea to find out as much about him and his motives as I can. For example, it seems like there were a few Spanish Jews in his time who converted to Islam, and even authored philosophical works about why Judaism became obsolete with the coming of Islam. ..reading those, and understanding what the Rambam wrote with that sort of backdrop in mind might prove interesting...

All about the Beat: Why Hip-Hop Can't Save Black America
OK, now this is one black guy I not only respect, but who I kind of even look to for rational opinions and judgments about things. And he, of course, is John McWhorter. I don't know what it is about him, but he seems to have extremely well thought out opinions about many of the realities of our times (aside from his illuminating research on language of course).

His new book "All about the Beat: Why Hip-Hop Can't Save Black America", has somewhat to do with what I see as the potential for an "Obama phenomenon" in Black America. The phenomenon I'm envisioning is African Americans looking at Barack Obama, and at his success, and how he earned it, and see a new potential in 'normative' ways of gaining wealth and prestige, as opposed to the 'gangster oriented' way that's being preached so much in Black media today.

I was on a train recently, and in walked a large, muscular black man with a 'do-rag' on his head, who looked like he wanted to start some trouble. He sat down...took out his text book, and studiously plugged away at it, while referring to his notes at times, until his stop came. : ). I'm not saying that that's at all uncommon, but with Barack Obama as a role model for American 'Blacks', that image might become a formidable opponent to the 'gangster' definition of what's cool in Black America.


Rachel said...

Jews/Islam... that's in the book or somewhere else?

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

What? ..I'm not sure what you're asking; yes, the book talks about some Jews who converted to Islam at that time, and how some of the writings are a response to them. (?)

Rachel said...

I was just sorta confused about whether you meant this topic is discussed in the book, or whether the book discussed Rambam's response to these people. (I'm not sure if you can get that. Forget it.)

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

The Rambam never csame in contact with those people (he did have dealings with Karaites though), but his writtings hidenly addressed them.

Rachel said...

"The Rambam is one of the main people whom my thought pattern of Judaism is based on."

So, lo and behold, today I was struck with great interest in Rambam. 'cept I hardly know about his philosophy. Direct me to some works.... I wanna see if I can at least take a glance at it.

You're thought pattern being based on Rambam.... Developed on your own from reading his stuff or developed from your schooling?

(You're not Teymani, are you?)

הצעיר שלמה בן רפאל לבית שריקי ס"ט said...

Haha, I'm not Temani but my half brother is! (My mother was married to a Yemenite guy before she married my father so..).

Well, I once was also very curious about what the Rambam was all about. ..I'm nt really sure what people read to find out about the thing I can say is that yeshivot don't do any kind of job teaching it..

You know there's an old Lithuanian Rabbinical adage (is that a word?) about what would happen when Rav Chaim Soloveichik (the rosh yeshiva of Brisk) 'came to shamayim' (after having passed away); G-d asks him if he learned Torah. He answers "of course! I spent my whole life delving into and explaining the works of the Rambam!" So G-d calls in the Rambam to examine Rav Chaim's written explanations, and after a period of meditating on the works the Rambam exclaims "that's not what I meant!"

So, it's easy to be misguided about what the Rambam 'meant' to say..

One thing I'm tempted to venture and say, is that it's much easier to grasp the 'spirit' of the Rambam if you can appreciate his usage of the Hebrew language (and even the things that are translated from Arabic to Hebrew are much clearer in Hebrew than in, say, English).

I suppose a few of the writings that sort of opened my eyes to what the Rambam was about were, of course, 'sefer hamada' (which I never really 'stop' reading!), 'hakdamah lamishna' (shmone prakim), ..'more navokhim' is good if you understand what he's getting at..

...I suppose that's good for starters! more thing I should say I admire about the Rambam, is that he was one of the greatest 'rationalists' in Jewish rabbinic history (without 'sacrificing' his 'orthodoxy' let's say..). So, someone who's waiting to hear all kinds of kabilistic, inspirational sort of stuff is not really going to find it if they look at the Rambam honestly. ..the same with the 'yeshivish' (as I mentioned), if you're looking for some great Talmudical insights..I'm not saying 'you're not going to find it' in the Rambam..but again, much of what you might find might be a little 'dishonest'...the same with the 'dogmatists' (where am I getting these fake words?!), if they're looking to a strict adherence to belief, they too will be disappointed (like the 'Vilna Gaon'), so...

Rachel said...

Y'know, the more I hear about him, the more I wonder how orthodoxy holds him with such high esteem while simultaneously being so... shocked (?) by him.