Page 13 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 11 (1952-1952)

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this world; it held the keys to heaven and the keys to hell, so th a t
whether a man lived here upon this earth or whether he hoped to
ascend into heaven or whether he feared the burning flames of hell,
he had to reckon with the faith-system.
I t was against this faith-system th a t Maimonides’
Moreh
Nebukhim
proved itself to be one of the most dangerous forces
th a t ever appeared in the history of human civilization. I t fought
against this faith-system by its emphasis upon reason, the right
of the individual to think, the determination to harmonize reason
and faith. Ahad Ha-am, in one of his essays, “The Supremacy of
Reason,” says:
“Only a few (in his time and ours) understood tha t Maimonides’
teaching was revolutionary not because of his a ttitude on this or
th a t particular question, but because he dethroned religion al-
together from the supreme judgment-seat, and put reason in its
place: because he made it his basic principle th a t whenever a
Scripture is contradicted by proof we do not accept the Scripture,
but
explain
it in accordance with reason.”
“This emancipation of reason,” continues Ahad Ha-am, “ from
its subordination to an external authority is the great and eternal
achievement which has so endeared Maimonides to all those of our
people who have striven after knowledge and the light.”
Through Thomas Aquinas’ great work,
Summa Theologica>
where Maimonides’ teachings about God, the soul, the reason and
man, found lodgement, the faith-system of the Middle Ages re-
ceived its mortal blow. The walls crumbled and the modern age
may be said to have begun. When Thomas Aquinas absorbed the
Maimonidean and the Aristotelian philosophy of reason, reason
for the first time was raised to challenge faith and the teaching
became this: One can acquire tru th not only through faith, bu t
through the reason th a t God implanted in man’s mind.
Then began the self-criticism of western Europe by men. They
asked why should they be chained to the earth which they plowed
and out of which they painfully drew their sustenance. They
questioned the divine right of kings. They challenged all authority.
Finally the faith-system broke. Out of th a t struggle, rooted in
a dangerous book, came the Renaissance, the Reformation, the
French Revolution (it even worshipped the Goddess of Reason)
and the democratic world th a t we have today, itself now being
challenged and pu t to the test.
II I .
Finally, we come to our own time. What kind of a civilization do
we live in and what is the great danger th a t we face, not only we
here in the United States, but the whole of the western world;
COHEN ---- GREAT JEWI SH BOOKS AND CIVILIZATION 7