Great Jewish Thinkers

Great Jewish Thinkers

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This four part series focuses on great Jewish thinkers, including Maimonides, Baruch Spinoza, Moses Mendelssohn and Abraham Joshua Heschel.

Maimonides, known, after the initial letters of his name (Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon, “Rabbi Moses son of Maimon”) as Rambam, is generally acknowledged to be the greatest Jewish thinker, Talmudist, and codifier in the Middle Ages. His controversial works such as Mishneh Torah are now considered the go-to-texts for Jewish life today.

Once upon a time, Jews were nominally all Orthodox. Not Baruch Spinoza, considered by some to be the father of a naturalistic/humanistic approach to Judaism, Jewish ethics, biblical scholarship and more. Baruch Spinoza was not appreciated in his lifetime, but now he is a pillar of modern Jewish thinking.

It has been argued that Moses Mendelssohn was the first Jew to bring secular culture to those living an Orthodox Jewish life. His rationalist approach to revelation (arguing that what makes Judaism unique is its divine revelation of a code of law) actually falls in line with earlier Jewish thinkers who sough to combine Judaism and philosophy. Nonetheless, Mendelssohn is the father of the Jewish Enlightenment.

Theologian. Author. Civil rights activist. These are just a few ways of describing Abraham Joshua Heschel, a professor of Jewish mysticism at JTS (the seminary of Conservative Judaism), who authored a number of widely read books on Jewish thinking including God In Search of Man, The Sabbath and Man Is Not Alone.