Torah in the Observatory: Gersonides, Maimonides, Song of Songs

Torah in the Observatory: Gersonides, Maimonides, Song of Songs

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Menachem Kellner

Series: Emunot: Jewish Philosophy and Kabbalah
ISBN: 9781934843802 (hardcover)
Pages: 376 pp.
Publication Date: July 2010

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Rabbi Levi ben Gershom (Ralbag, Gersonides; 1288-1344), one of medieval Judaism’s most original thinkers, wrote about such diverse subjects as astronomy, mathematics, Bible commentary, philosophical theology, “technical” philosophy, logic, Halakhah, and even satire. In his view, however, all these subjects were united as part of the Torah. Influenced profoundly by Maimonides, Gersonides nevertheless exercised greater rigor than Maimonides in interpreting the Torah in light of contemporary science, was more conservative in his understanding of the nature of the Torah’s commandments, and was more optimistic about the possibility of widespread philosophical enlightenment. Gersonides was a witness to several crucial historical events, such as the expulsion of French Jewry in 1306 and the “Babylonian Captivity” of the papacy. Collaborating with prelates in his studies of astronomy and mathematics, he had an entree into the papal court at Avignon. Kellner portrays Gersonides, revered among Jews as the author of a classic commentary on the latter books of the Bible, as a true renaissance man, whose view of Torah is vastly wider and more open than that held by many of those who treasure his memory.


Born and educated in the United States, Menachem Kellner (PhD Washington University in St. Louis, 1973) has lived in Israel for the last 30 years. Author, editor, or translator of 16 books and over 100 scholarly articles, Kellner’s most recent book is Maimonides’ Confrontation with Mysticism (2006).


Professor Kellner is one of the more productive and creative scholars in medieval Jewish thought. Over the years he has published many important essays on various aspects of medieval Jewish philosophy, especially on Gersonides and Maimonides. These studies are fundamental readings for any student of medieval Jewish philosophy. This anthology of his writings is a most valuable contribution to our understanding of these two thinkers.
— Seymour Feldman, Professor of Philosophy, Emeritus, Rutgers University
Gersonides (1288-1344) was, in my view, the most original philosopher in medieval Judaism. However, he has not been studied to the same extent as other Judaic luminaries, and only his Commentary on the Song of Songs has been (magnificently!) translated into English (1998), after an excellent Hebrew edition of the Introduction was published (1989), both the work of Menachem Kellner. This new volume by Menachem Kellner explores some of the most important questions raised by Gersonides: Providence, Mosaic Prophecy, Miracles, the Messiah and Resurrection, Astronomy and Metaphysics, Politics and Perfection. . . It is not by chance that Menachem Kellner has devoted so much to the study of Gersonides. Like Gersonides, Kellner has firmly in hand the knowledge of the Bible and of the traditional literature of Judaism, he is well trained in philosophy and science, and his broad interests make him the best and most penetrating champion of a great philosopher and an outstanding student of human thought.
— Colette Sirat, directeur d’etudes a l’Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes,Sorbonne et chercheur associe a l’Institut de Recherche et d’Histoire des Textes (CNRS, Paris)