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Rambam and Mesorah
In a long thread of comments a few posts back, one of the commentors expressed shock when I mentioned that Rambam developed various concepts for which he had no mesorah from Chazal, and even employed various phrases, principles and laws from the Gemara with a meaning that Chazal did not intend. The person asked if I was accusing Rambam of being a liar or an idiot.
Although I was tempted to simply dismiss the person as an ignoramus, I should be more sympathetic. After all, fifteen years ago, I probably would have had the same reaction.
If one studies Rambam in depth, one realizes that much of his system of thought was taken from Aristotle and various Muslim philosophers. From his extraordinary interpretation of Maaseh Bereishis and Maaseh Merkavah to his understanding of (the non-existence of) demons and the supernatural, it all came from Greco-Muslim philosophy and was not a mesorah that had reached Rambam through the generations.
But Rambam was not dishonest. He did not believe that he was reforming Judaism. Rather, he felt that this was the original, authentic Judaism, which had been lost over the generations.
Rambam believed that the Nevi'im possessed this knowledge. It is widely held that he believed the same about (most of) Chazal, but I just came across this article by Yair Lorberbaum where he makes a case for saying that Rambam later came to believe that Chazal had already lost this knowledge, and that much of the Guide was a critique of Chazal.
A while back, somebody from a yeshivishe background who came to learn all the above had a different question for me. If all this is true, why do the works of Rambam matter? It's just an outdated way of reconciling Torah with an obsolete system of thought!
I believe that this is a mistaken perspective. And I don't just mean that studying the history of beliefs is scholarship, whether they are true or false. The fact of Rambam's system of thought being based on an obsolete framework does not mean that there is nothing valuable in it. While Greco-Muslim philosophy is obsolete, many of the challenges that it raises are similar to those raised by modern scientific thought. There is thus much in Rambam's approach that still proves valuable. Furthermore, since Judaism is a way of life that places great emphasis on traditional figures of authority, being able to demonstrate that approaches to modern challenges have precedents in the writings of Rambam gives them greater credibility and authority. These are the reasons why I believe that it is beneficial and important to study and teach Rambam's approach.