Maimonides on Israel

Rambam believed the Land of Israel does not have objective importance.

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Reprinted with the permission of The Continuum International Publishing Group from The Encyclopedia of Judaism, edited by Jacob Neusner, Alan Avery-Peck, and William Scott Green.


The major innova­tion in Maimonides' treatment of the concep­tual significance of the Holy Land lies in his disregard for the issue. In his greatest philo­sophical work, Guide of the Perplexed, Mai­monides conducts a profound discussion of numerous areas in Judaism, but nowhere in that framework does he deliberately discuss the Land of Israel. In fact, he demonstrates that one can engage in a philosophical dis­cussion of Judaism without even touching on the Holy Land.

Accordingly, Maimonides' view of the Land of Israel may only be deter­mined from sources of two categories, direct and indirect: One includes various conceptual and national considerations that depend for their definitions and realization on the Land of Israel; the other includes the halakhic [legal] material pertaining to the Land of Israel, as expressed in his legal writings.

The Land as Instrument

We begin with the first category. Maimonides presents a series of objectives that can be achieved only on national soil. Clearly, here, the Land of Israel is understood in a purely instrumental sense: It permits the re­alization of certain ends.

land of israelThese objectives are as follows:

The historiosophical approach of auto­nomy and exile. According to Maimonides, adversity and persecution prevent the per­fect person from devoting himself to the acquisition of knowledge. Insofar as proph­ecy depends on intellectual virtues, stressful situations such as exile do not further its re­alization. Thus the intellectual perfection of any individual is dependent on leading an au­tonomous, peaceful existence in the Land of Israel

Importance of the political dimension in religious and intellectual life. Scholars do not agree on the significance of political aims in Maimonides' thought. Some consider the ultimate Maimonidean political end to be creation of a just government, while others see political perfection as merely a step on the way to individual perfection.

In either case, the political dimension is essential to Maimonidean thought, as it is a major sta­tion on the road to perfection. Government and leadership are also considered part of the personal ideal of imitatio Dei [emulating God]. The Land of Israel makes it possible to establish a proper government and is therefore of paramount significance for realization of the political ideal.

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Dov Schwartz

Dov Schwartz is a professor in the philosophy department at Bar Ilan University.