Maimonides' Conception of God

Maimonides' theology tells us more about what God isn't than what God is.

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The way that we come to know God and the world is through a com­bination of revelation and reason. Prophecy, for example, is not merely a gift from God processed through the human imagination. According to Maimonides, prophecy also requires perfection of wisdom and morality as well as a developed imagination. And that gift from God is passed through the mediation of the Active Intellect (a "rational emana­tion" of the presence of the Almighty in the world), so reason must always play a part.

Indeed, reason must play a role in the love of God, Maimonides holds. It is in large part through the intellect that we attain religious and spiritual goals. By the same token, he says, the sacred writings of Judaism are truthful and do not require us to accept anything that can­not be proven by reason. Where they appear otherwise, we are to read them as allegory. For this reason, study of Torah is one way of achieving greater knowledge of God, engaging the intellect in the search. Faith and reason are not enemies but, in Maimonides' thought, essential to each other if we are to understand God.

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George Robinson

George Robinson, author of Essential Judaism, is the recipient of a Simon Rockower Award for excellence in Jewish journalism from the American Jewish Press Association. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsday, Jewish Week, and The Detroit Jewish News.