Maimonides’ Grand Epistle to the Scholars of Lunel: Ideology and Rhetoric

Maimonides’ Grand Epistle to the Scholars of Lunel: Ideology and Rhetoric

from 32.00

Charles H. Sheer

ISBN: 9781618119605 (hardcover) / 9781618119612 (paper)
Pages: 100 pp.; 1 illus.
Publication Date: April 2019

Add To Cart

When Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah (Code of Jewish Law) reached Lunel, France, a group of scholars composed twenty-four objections to his positions. Surprisingly, Maimonides’ rejoinder opened with an unusual rhymed prose epistle with effusive praise for his correspondents and artistic and complex language. In this book, Charles Sheer offers the first annotated translation of the entire epistle: he uncovers the biblical and midrashic passages modified by Maimonides that became the language of his Iggeret, and explicates its ideas in the context of Maimonides’ other works and compositions of the late Middle Ages.  He illustrates how Maimonides, in a most personal fashion, shared with these scholars his ideological struggle between his love for Torah study and “hokhmah” (philosophy, wisdom).  This Grand Epistle reveals much about this towering figure and provides a moving portrait of him during his last decade.

Rabbi Charles Sheer holds an M.A. in Talmudic Literature from Bernard Revel Graduate School of Jewish Studies, and Ordination from Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary. For 34 years he was campus rabbi at Columbia University and Barnard College. He currently serves at a medical center as chaplain and member of the bioethics faculty. His publications include “Bikkur Holim: The Origin of Jewish Pastoral Care” and “Torah u-Madda and the Brain Death Debate,” in Halachic Realities: Collected Essays on Brain Death (Maggid Books, 2015).


Sheer’s book makes a significant contribution to the study of Maimonides’ correspondence with the sages of southern France. It is based on up-to-date research and excellent footnotes.
— Mitchell First, Jewish Link of New Jersey
Maimonides’ epistle to the scholars of Lunel, like all the master’s works, is a highly polished gem of scholarship that comes in an unexpectedly elegant rhetorical setting. Charles Sheer’s translation and study of this little work makes it available in its entirety and intelligible to the English reader for the first time. Sheer’s study is particularly valuable for its treatment of the literary form of the epistle, an aspect of Maimonides’ writing often neglected in works intended even for a scholarly, let alone a lay, audience. The work is invaluable for anyone who wants to understand Maimonides’ mind.
— Raymond Scheindlin, Professor Emeritus of Medieval Hebrew Literature, Jewish Theological Seminary
Rabbi Charles Sheer has greatly contributed to our understanding of a very important letter by Maimonides. With great depth, painstaking textual analysis, profound thoughtfulness, stylistic sensitivity, exhaustive investigation, and careful attention, Rabbi Sheer has highlighted its meaning and significance. We are all in his debt.
— Jacob J. Schacter, Professor of Jewish History and Jewish Thought, Yeshiva University

Table of Contents


Maimonides and the Lunel Scholars                                                             
The Correspondence between Maimonides and French Scholars

1) Maimonides’ Grand Iggeret to R. Jonathan of Lunel                                 
2) The First Half of the Iggeret in Rhymed Prose                                         
3) Maimonides’ Unanticipated and Problematic Style Reversal                   
4) Maimonides’ Letter to Judge Anatoli                                                                   
5) The Letters from R. Jonathan of Lunel                                                                 
6) The Second Half of the Iggeret in Unadorned Prose                                  
7) Maimonides and the Lunel Scholars—Reconsidered