Page 58 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 9 (1950-1951)

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(On the Occasion of the 150th Anniversary of His Death)
a m u e l
t l a s
h e autobiography of Solomon Maimon is full of paradoxes,
the like of which are not to be found in the life of any philo-
sophical writer. With great interest we read the biographical ref-
erences scattered through the works of Kant, Descartes and
Spinoza. The lives of Descartes and Kant, however, are more
or less “normal,” running along a regular course without great
conflicts. And Spinoza’s life, after he broke his ties with the Jew-
ish community, was as “normal” and free from conflict as that
of the contemplative and retired life of any other philosopher.
But Maimon’s career presents a series of cruel paradoxes. It is
the tragedy of a unique struggle with adverse circumstances by
a beggar, in the most literal and prosaic sense of the term, to-
wards the highest peak of philosophical culture of his time; and
it was an era of outstanding achievements in the field of philosophy.
The period from the appearance of Kant’s
Kritik der reinen Ver-
in 1781 until the development of Fichte’s system in the
1790’s is certainly one of the most productive and creative periods
in the history of human thought.
Apart from the individual and personal aspect, there is a general
national aspect to the tragedy of Maimon’s life; it symbolizes
the struggle of the wandering Jew for the liberation of his creative
mind from the shackles of the ghetto. His autobiography con-
tains a wealth of valuable historical material concerning the social,
economic and cultural conditions of Poland and of its Jewry in
the second half of the 18th century. Maimon treats the social
and cultural conditions of his time as a background for the por-
trayal of his personal life. And what a social setting it was, that
world into which Maimon was born and in which he was brought
up! While Maimon was revolting against the negative aspects
of ghetto life, he retained throughout his life a great appreciation
of Judaism, of the eternal truths contained in prophetic mono-
theism as well as the ethico-religious teachings of the Talmud
and Rabbinic writings.
Maimon was born in 1753 in a village near Nieswiez and Mir
in the district of Nawaradok (Nowogrodek) in Lithuania which