collections > Islam & Middle East > Islamic Influences on Maimonides

Islamic Influences on Maimonides

The National Library of Israel (NLI) is home to one of the world’s finest collections of materials for the study of Jewish intellectual life in the Islamic world and for the comparative study of Judaism and Islam. The NLI collection houses important manuscripts of leading medieval rabbinic thinkers who wrote in Judeo-Arabic (that is, Arabic in Hebrew letters), which was a major language of rabbinic scholarship for several hundred years. The greatest figure in this Jewish intellectual tradition was Moshe ben Maimon, also known as the Rambam or Maimonides (d. 1204). NLI possesses numerous manuscripts of Maimonides’ work, and most importantly, two volumes from Maimonides’ autograph copy of his first major work, Commentary on the Mishnah.
​In December, 2012, a sizeable audience of 120 participants, including scholars and students attended the NLI event, The Arabic Sources of Medieval Jewish Philosophy–   a Symposium on Professor Sarah Stroumsa’s Maimonides in His World: Portrait of a Mediterranean Thinker. NLI Academic Director, Professor Haggai Ben Shammai, hosted the evening, which featured leading scholars of medieval Jewish and/or Islamic philosophy. The speakers examined Professor Stroumsa’s argument that Maimonides’ philosophical and legal approach must be understood and appraised within the context of the Mediterranean Islamic world that he lived and breathed. While numerous scholars have focused on Maimonides’ engagement with Islamic philosophy, Sarah Stroumsa focuses on the theological, political and religious legal currents in the surrounding Muslim culture of Maimonides’ lifetime.  Professor Halbertal of Hebrew University who spoke at the event noted that is extremely rare for a scholar to present innovative and compelling ideas about Maimonides, given the preponderance of Maimonides scholarship, and Professor Stroumsa’s approach enables us to understand some of Maimonides’ more complex positions.
The discussion was complemented by an exhibition of selected manuscripts from the NLI collection, both from Maimonides’ writings as well as from the writings of Muslim scholars that Maimonides cites and/or references by name.
Both the manuscript exhibition and the symposium demonstrate the powerful combination of rich Judaica and Islam collections at NLI, a combination that enables groundbreaking research and cross-cultural understanding.