Page 74 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 54

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On the Assessment of
R. Moses ben Nahman
(Nahmanides) and His
Literary Oeuvre
In the eight hundred
years since his birth,
R. Moses b. Nahman (1194-1270) has come to be known as a
major intellectual 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
predecessors and to defend or elucidate their writings, than to
rule independendy or with innovative flair 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 developments
of medieval Jewish rationalism. In addition, 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 Provengal predecessor, R. Avraham b.
David (Rabad) of Posquieres, despite some obvious similarities in
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 .
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