The Yeshiva University Center for Jewish Law and Contemporary Civilization at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law will be hosting a lecture on Monday, October 20, 2014, 6:30-8:30pm at Cardozo Law School (55 Fifth Avenue) by Yair Lorberbaum of Bar-Ilan Law School. In this year’s installment of the Ivan Meyer Lecture in Jewish Law, Professor Lorberbaum will address “Transcending the Rationales of the Commandments (Ta’amei Ha-Mitzvot).” An outline of the lecture can be found below. Attendance is free but advance registration at or 212-790-0258 is required.

The Guide of the Perplexed III: 31 Maimonides describes a view that treats the rationales of the commandments (ta’amei ha-mizvot) as transcendent. For the people who subscribe to this view the transcendence of the reasons of the commandment is not simply a theological doctrine. Rather, obedience to the mysterious decrees of a sublime and incomprehensible God is the very essence of religious and halakhic life.  I will call this spiritual mood the “halakhic religiosity of transcendence and mystery.”

In chapter 31 Maimonides clarifies the deep irrationality embedded in this religiosity in order to persuade his readers that every commandment has a rational reason, i.e., that the “whole purpose [of the commandments] consists in what is useful for us.”

In the lecture, I will argue that: (1) (halakhic) religiosity of transcendence and mystery is absent from ancient Jewish literature (Bible, Midrashic, Talmudic and Geonic literature), and that it is the innovation of the high middle ages. (2) This halakhic religiosity spread in various Jewish circles during the generations after Maimonides, culminating in the modern era. (3) It has a profound impact on halakhic discourse.


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