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On Reason and Religion

Many Jews were troubled by the apparent contradictions between traditional Jewish teachings and philosophical reason, the "secular science" of the era.

Moses Maimonides (1135-1204), one of the greatest Jewish thinkers of the Middle Ages, set out to demonstrate that philosophy and Judaism could be reconciled.

This passage comes from Maimonides' introduction to his Guide of the Perplexed, a work written in Arabic in order to reach as many Jewish readers as possible.


The object of this treatise is to enlighten a religious man who has been trained to believe in the truth of our holy Law [the Torah], who conscientiously fulfills his moral and religious duties, and at the same time has been successful in his philosophical studies.

Human reason has impelled him to abide within its sphere; and, on the other hand, he is disturbed by the literal interpretation of the Law, and by the ideas formed by himself or received from others. . . . Hence he is lost in perplexity and anxiety.

If he be guided solely by reason, and renounce his previous views which are based on those expressions, he would consider that he had rejected the fundamental principles of the Law; and even if he retain the opinions which were derived from those expressions, and if, instead of following his reason, he abandon its guidance altogether, he would still feel that his religious convictions had suffered loss and injury. He would then be left with those errors which give rise to fear and anxiety, constant grief and great perplexity.