The Ban on Philosophy
Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet (a.k.a. the Rashba 1235-1310) was born in an age of controversy. The Jewish world was still unsettled over the first blend of “philosophy and Torah” produced by Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides/Rambam – 1135-1204) in the late 12th century. While some scholars saw Maimonides’ Mishnah Torah and Guide For The Perplexed (Moreh Nevuchim) as brilliant, others felt they were close to heretical. The controversy persisted long after the Rambam had passed away.
The Rashba lived his entire life in Barcelona and was a student of both Rabbi Moses ben Nachman (Nachmanides/Ramban) and Rabbeinu Yonah of Gerona. He was greatly acclaimed for his scholarship and wrote thousands of responsa (halachic decisions to specific questions). Additionally, the Rashba wrote numerous other works, including a commentary on the Talmud and a book on kashrut. He was known as El Rab d’España, the Rabbi of Spain.
The Rashba is often associated with his reaction to the Maimonidean controversy. In 1305, on the 25th of Tammuz, the Rashba proposed a compromise and ruled that Jews could study the sciences of medicine and astronomy at will, but the study of physics and philosophy could only be undertaken by those over the age of 25. Additionally, the study of the Rambam’s Guide For The Perplexed was reserved for mature scholars.
In order to truly understand this ban, one must also know that the Rashba was well educated in Torah, philosophy and science. Nevertheless, he was as concerned about, and actively opposed, the intense spiritualism of those who promoted kabala and messianism.
In declaring his limited ban on the study of philosophy, the Rashba was seeking to make certain that Jews first had a firm grasp on Torah and halacha, before delving into the confusing study of philosophy.
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