Monday, December 08, 2008

Rabbi Dr. Israel Drazin and Maimonides - An Unexceptional Book About An Exceptional Mind.

A new book on Rambam that has been published recently, “Maimonides, The Exceptional Mind” by Rabbi Dr. Israel Drazin of Jerusalem and Boca Raton was recently brought to my attention. After reading about 30 pages, I was ready to put it down as I felt that the author distorts Rambam’s positions while he insults the great Rishonim who disagreed with him. I then thought about it and decided that I can use his misreading and distortions as a tool to explore Rambam’s real positions. Now we all know that Rambam in all his writings is very subtle and leaves room for different readings of the same text. But there is a legitimate and responsible way of reading him and there are irresponsible ways. Rabbi Dr. Drazin ways are irresponsible. I believe that unlike when there is a legitimate disagreement about Rambam’s position, the obvious misinterpretations by this author are a good opportunity to flesh out Rambam’s thinking while at the same time highlight the peril of reading him superficially. Furthermore, under the guise of teaching the masses, Rabbi Drazin writes in his introduction, “Therefore, I thought it proper to address this book to the general public and to minimize footnotes”. The lack of footnotes however also takes away the ability of an uninformed reader of checking out the sources and deciding for himself whether the author interpreted correctly. I will try to rectify this omission and turn to the sources.

Let me say a few words about process. As I am writing these posts while simultaneously reading the book, there may be subjects the author addresses further again. I will therefore try to limit each post to one subject and if as I proceed the subject is reopened and I want to add to it or change, I will refer to the earlier post and link the two.

Already on page 3, there are already a few mistakes that I attribute to poor editing. The book reads, “The great nineteenth century rabbi Maharam of Rotenberg….” He lived in the thirteenth century (1215-1293).

On the same page, Drazin writes, “Maimonides’ disciple Joseph Ibn Caspi wrote to his son….” Joseph Ibn Caspi was a Maimonidean scholar in the 13th and fourteenth centuries in Southern France and not Rambam’s disciple. Rambam’s disciple was R. Joseph ben Yehudah, a North African who eventually settled in Aleppo and later Baghdad.

In the upcoming posts I plan to address the more substantive issues raised by this book.


  1. I believe the problem lies deeper than a superficial reading of the Rambam. In my humble opinion Rabbi Drazin's concept of the "rational" is superficial and highly circular and his presentation of "opposing" views is even more superficial - this can be seen in his book, "A Rational Approach to Judaism...". I also noted a lack of editing in that book as well. I can't bring any examples at the moment because I returned the book to the store.

  2. I agree that the way he deals with opposing viewpoints seems to indicate a lack of scholarship and a lack of derech eretz.

    From what little I saw, before putting the book back on the shelf, he states what he believes and then dismisses all other opinions by the Rabbis as having been invented after the fact, meaning that they are unworthy of serious consideration by someone as rational and brilliant as himself.

  3. This author has another book "Rational Approach to Torah Commentary" which is likewise fraught with factual errors, weak arguments and misunderstandings of sources. I have been disappointed with his work and your post solidifies my impressions.

  4. I am very interested in your post. I read the book by Israel Drazin. It was very informative, I disagreed with some points, but where are the "distortions" or lack of derech eretz?

    Yes, the Rambam's views were/are very radical, 90% of which did not take hold in the Jewish world. Rambam wrote in a style that leaves a lot of room for discussion, however, that doesn't mean one interpretation is a distortion.

    Without the personal criticism, what do you think is so distorted about Israel Drazin's approach?

  5. jason please read all four posts on the Drazin label in my sidebar and you will see that Drazin is not very knowledgeable. Rambam is at times hiding things from the simple reader but this is not one of them. If you want to verify please read the sources in context.