Page 166 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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On the Assessment of R. Moses ben
Nahman (Nahmanides) and His
Literary Oeuvre
t h e e i g h t h u n d r e d
years since his birth, R. Moses b.
Nahman (1194-1270) has come to be known as a major intel­
lectual force in the medieval Jewish world, second perhaps only
to Maimonides. Ramban excelled as a talmudist, biblical exegete,
kabbalist, disputant and man of letters. The unusual breadth
of Ramban’s expertise coupled with his remarkable intellectual
agility render the study of his works both an adventure and
a challenge.
Nahmanides earned muted praise, however, from those who
wrote during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries about
medieval rabbinic literature and thought. Some stressed that
Nahmanides was more inclined to proclaim loyalty to his prede­
cessors and to defend or elucidate their writings, than to rule
independently or with innovative flare in matters of Jewish law
and custom. Others maintained that Nahmanides pursued and
embraced forms of kabbalistic thought which at best tolerated,
and at worst ignored or even negated, the tenets and devel­
opm en ts o f medieval Jew ish ra tiona lism . In add ition ,
Nahmanides adopted a measured position in the Maimonidean
controversy that could in no way be construed as an unqualified
endorsement of the heroic Maimonides.1
And yet, Nahmanides fared far better in the historiography
of this period than did his Provencal predecessor, R. Avraham
b. David (Rabad) of Posquieres, despite some obvious similarities
in their relationship to the Maimonidean corpus and their pro­
clivities in Jewish thought.2The sheer volume of Nahmanides’
1. See e.g., Heinrich Graetz,
Divrei Yemei Yisrael,
v. 5 (Warsaw, 1897), pp.
45-58, 83; I.H. Weiss,
Dor Dor ve-Dorshav,
v. 5 (New York, 1923), pp. 4-20.
2. See Isadore Twersky,
Rabad of Posquieres
(revised edition, Philadelphia,
1980), pp. 56-59, 84-85, 183-90, 348.