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MOSES MAIMONIDES IN THE WRITINGS OF ALEXANDRE

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					Judit TARGARONA et Angel SAENZ-BADILLOS, “Moshé ben Maïmon sous le pou-
   voir almohade” in Nicole S. SERFATY et Joseph TEDGHI ed., Présence juive au
   Maghreb. Hommage à Haïm Zafrani, Paris, Éditions Bouchène, 2004.
Isadore TWERSKY, Introduction to the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah), New
    Haven-London 1980.
Isadore TWERSKY, Rabad of Posquieres. A Twelfth Century Talmudist, Philadelphia
    1980.
Isadore. TWERSKY, “The Mishneh Torah of Maimonides”, Proceedings of the Israel                  MOSES MAIMONIDES IN THE WRITINGS
    Academy of Sciences V 1976, pp. 265-296.
                                                                                                      OF ALEXANDRE SAFRAN
Ephraim-E. URBACH, The tosaphists: their History, writings and methods, Jerusalem
   4ème ed. 1980[in Hebrew].
Dominique URVOY, “Les professions de foi d’Ibn Tumart. Problèmes textuels et                                      CAROL IANCU
  doctrinaux”, in Los Almohades, pp. 739-752.
                                                                                    Moses Maimonides (1138-1204) is omnipresent in the writings of Alexan-
                                                                                    dre Safran (1910-2006). The aim of this paper is threefold:
                                                                                       a. Presenting the first references to Maimonides in the early writings
                                                                                          published in Romania;
                                                                                       b. Analyzing the article that the “Sage of Geneva” specifically dedicated
                                                                                          to the “Sage of Fosfat”
                                                                                       c. Collecting and examining from among the numerous references to
                                                                                          Maimonides in Alexandre Safran’s various works, those that take up
                                                                                          a prominent position.


                                                                                                        I. The early writings in Romania

                                                                                    Before his election as grand rabbi of Romania (in 1940, a position he would
                                                                                    hold until his expulsion from the country by the communist authorities in
                                                                                    1947), Alexandre Safran, who had been a rabbi since the age of 19, became
                                                                                    known as a gifted lecturer both in his native town of Bacău and in Vienna,
                                                                                    where he completed his university and Rabbinical Seminary studies be-
                                                                                    tween 1930 and 1934 (with a PhD in philosophy). A young erudite,
                                                                                    trained by his father Betzelel Zeev Safran, the most important authority on
                                                                                    halakha of his time, Alexandre Safran published, between 1936 and 1938,

                                                                             117
exegetic studies in two Hebrew journals: Darkenu (Our Way) from Czer-                                       genesis of the world is explained in Mifalot Elohim and Shamaim hadashim,
nowitz and Ha-Hed (The Echo) from Jerusalem. Beginning with 1930, he                                        while the issues pertaining to messianism and redemption are dealt with in
collaborated with numerous Judeo-Romanian periodicals (Tribuna Evreea-                                      Mayanei haYeshua, Mashmia yeshua and Yeshuat Meshiho. Like Maimoni-
scă, Curierul Israelit, Hasmonaea, Adam, Ştiri din lumea evrească, Renaşterea                               des, who wished to reconcile reason and faith, he also sought to achieve a
Noastră, Cultura, etc.), where he was fighting a double battle, one in favour                               balance between the Jewish and Aristotelian conceptions. Safran’s con-
of the Zionist idea of a Jewish National Home in Palestine and another for                                  clusion was that, while Abrabanel was neither a doctrinarian nor the author
making Judaism, the religion of Israel, its history, traditions and customs                                 of an original philosophical system, his intellectual legacy was nonetheless
known. A certain number of his articles were dedicated also to Christian                                    rich, a source of inspiration for numerous future scholars.
personalities, friends of Jews (Tolstoy, Massaryk, Arthur James Balfour,                                        The second article, published in Renaşterea Noastră,4 formed the subject
Émile Zola), while others dealt with important Jewish figures throughout                                    of a lecture given within the annual conferences of the teaching staff of the
history: Philo of Alexandria, Chaim Nachman Bialik, Heinrich Heine, Don                                     Jewish community schools in Bucharest. If the content of this education was
Isaac Abrabanel, Martin Buber, etc. 1                                                                       changed numerous times on account of pedagogy, the fundamental, essential
    One should note that, even though among his numerous texts scattered                                    method of Jewish education, as he remarked, did not change throughout
in the Judeo-Romanian periodicals, none is specifically dedicated to Mai-                                   time. Although different forms of education were accepted, the foundation
monides, nevertheless his name remains present, the thinking of the “Syna-                                  remained the same, as for Jews, “education means studying and living the
gogue Eagle” being mentioned primarily in two articles: “Don Isaac Abra-                                    Torah”. That is why, Safran pointed out, the Jews did not have philosophers
banel” and “L’Education et la morale religieuse dans les écoles juives” (“The                               in the proper sense of the word. He quoted Rambam and Hermann Cohen
Moral and Religious Education in Jewish Schools”).                                                          as examples of scholars who had been nourished by foreign philosophical
    In the former, published in the journal Adam,2 after having retraced the                                sources: the former in the Aristotelian school, the latter in the Kantian
voyages of the man who served as the financial administrator of Portugal in                                 thought. “We do not have philosophers or pedagogues to teach us how to
the 15th century, before being forced to quit this country, Alexandre Safran                                live”, he stated, “but it is only us who have given the world prophets who
insisted on the originality of his philosophical and exegetic essays. His                                   teach us what we should do so that our lives should be perfect, ideal, moral”.
work, developed along three directions (the biblical commentaries, philoso-                                 He went on to say that in the Jewish religious education one should take into
phy and history) is under Maimonides’s influence. However, despite the                                      account the fact that only the Jews embraced a religion that united both the
fact that he was in favour of the famous Cordoba physician in the anti-                                     religious feeling and the sense of belonging to the same people. We could not
Maimonidean polemic,3 (in Roch Emuna, he defended the truths expressed                                      think of a Jew who would embrace a religion other than the mosaic one and
in More Neboukhim), he was however critical of him. It is in this light that                                an identity other than the Jewish one. That is why Jews considered education
he reprised Maimonides’s thesis on prophetism in Lahakat haNeviim. The                                      of their children to be particularly important so that they could be called “the
                                                                                                            people of the Book”. The “mission of the Jewish educator” or the one whom
1. Cf. Carol Iancu, Alexandre Safran. Une vie de combat, un rayon de lumière, Montpellier, Univer-          Martin Buber called ”Fortpflanzung der Lehre” was, according to Safran, the
   sité Paul Valéry, 2007, p. 21-39, and the Romanian translation, O viaţă de luptă, o rază de              transmission of the Torah from one generation to the next.
   lumină, Bucureşti, Hasefer, 2008, p. 31-54.
2. Cf. Adam, 15 avril 1937.
3. Cf. Michael Iancu, “The Maimonidean Controversy in Terre d’Oc”, Studia Judaica, Cluj, vol.               4. Cf. Renaşterea Noastră, May 1940. Among the 215 articles published by Alexandre Safran be-
   XVI, p. 107-117. Cf. also the summary of this polemic in Moshe Carmilly-Weinberger, Censor-                 tween 1930 and 1990, 84 are in Romanian, 77 in French, 36 in Hebrew, 8 in Italian, 5 in
   ship and Freedom of Expression in Jewish History, Sepher-Hermon Press, 1977, and the Roma-                  German and 5 in French. Cf. Bezalel Z. Safran, “Reshima bibliografit miKitvei haRav Dr. Alex-
   nian translation Cenzură şi libertate de expresie în istoria evreilor, Bucureşti, Hasefer, 2003, p.48-      andre Safran”, in Ish bi-Gevurot. Studies in Jewish Heritage and History. Presented to Rabbi Alex-
   63.                                                                                                         andre Safran, edited by Moshe Hallamish, Daf-Noy, Jerusalem, 1990, p.17-27.

                                                                                                    119     120
Moses Maimonides is also present in numerous allocutions given by                                                         II. “Maimonides and contemporary science”
Alexandre Safran in his sermons at the Coral Temple, Bucharest’s main sy-
nagogue, or during several reunions with Jewish leaders in the dramatic cir-                            After he was expelled and took up his position as grand rabbi of Geneva,
cumstances of the Second World War. After having succeeded in securing                                  Alexandre Safran gave Maimonides a prominent place in his lectures, in the
the authorization to send aid to the Jews “evacuated” to Transnistria thanks                            works of his synagogue office, in the various Talmudic lessons and seminars
to his interventions, he was successful, following new endeavours and in                                addressed to the youth of the Jewish community, as well as in the Ecu-
coordination with other Jewish leaders, in sending a mission there with the                             menical Institute of Bossey, the various universities, theological institutes
aim of seeing the fate and the needs of the deportees. On the eve of                                    and rabbinical schools and Israeli and American yeshivot where he was in-
departure, the first Jewish delegation to Transnistria, in December 1942,                               vited to teach.
received the blessing of Alexandre Safran during a meeting where the grand                                  The first study dedicated to Maimonides was prepared by Alexandre Sa-
rabbi read the famous Igeret Teiman5 of Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon. This is                                 fran for the inaugural conference of the “Maimonides Year”, organized by
how the head of the delegation, Fred Saraga, evoked this meeting: “The                                  the European Department of Education and Culture through Torah of the
grand rabbi received us with a profound emotion. He did not give us a                                   Jewish Agency, marking the 750th anniversary of his death. This was given
speech. He read and commented for us the letter of the immortal Mai-                                    in Paris on January 24, 1955, before a large audience and published in a
monides sent to the delegation that the Spanish Jews had dispatched to                                  brochure entitled “What the Contemporary World Could Learn from Mai-
comfort their coreligionists in Yemen who were subjected to the persecu-                                monides. Maimonides’s Thought and Contemporary Scientific Thought”.8
tions of the Arabs. Dressed in an ample tallith, tears in his eyes, he em-                              Without the initial introduction that explained the meaning of Maimon-
braced and blessed each and every one of us. We were all crying, as I do                                ides’s commemoration, the text of this conference was published in several
now in this late night hour when I am writing this memoir, not being able                               journals: in Hebrew in Jerusalem (Sinai, May-June 1957) and in French in
to stifle my emotion. We were not aware at that moment either of the diffi-                             Renaissance (March-April 1957), in Brussels, in Syntheses (July-August
culty of our mission or of the risks we exposed ourselves to.” 6 In the Epistle                         1959) and in Rome in Rassegna Mensile di Israel (May-August 1983.9 Fi-
to Yemen, Maimonides was very harsh regarding the Arab persecutors:                                     nally, it was also reprinted in the volume Éthique juive et modernité,10 with
“there never was a nation more hostile to Israel nor a nation that has proved                           the title “Maïmonide et la science contemporaine” (“Maimonides and Con-
a more systematic viciousness in humiliating, hating and shriveling us like                             temporary Science”). What are the main ideas discussed in this piece?
them”.7                                                                                                     Starting from the brief introduction, the author reminds that Maimon-
                                                                                                        ides built his work “with the calm attitude of the scientist” and states that
                                                                                                        we are on the eve of a new, radically different era, influenced by the “tre-
5. Cf. Moses Maimonides, Moses Maimonides' Epistle to Yemen: The Arabic Original and the Three          mendous increase in the power of science”, in a world where, “for the first
                                                                                                        time, science decides the fate of mankind”.11 In the first part, the science is
   Hebrew Versions, Edited from Manuscripts with Introduction and Notes by Abraham S. Halkin,
   and an English Translation by Boaz Cohen. New York: American Academy for Jewish Research,
   1952.                                                                                                approached in its historical development, from Antiquity to the present
6. Carol Iancu, “Observations sur l’aide apportée aux déportés juifs en Transnistrie”, article forth-   day, five aspects being mentioned: source, subject, method, aim and the
   coming in the Papers of the International Conference Transnistria. Vanished Landscapes of His-
   tory and Memory, Jerusalem, 2008, 23 p. and “Solidaritatea cu evreii deportati în Transnistria.
   Rolul lui Alexandru Safran”, paper presented at the workshop organized by the Elie Wiesel In-        8. I would like to thank my friend, professor Gerard Nahon, for having given me a copy of this
   stitute for the Study of the Holocaust in Romania, Bucharest, 6-7 October 2008, forthcoming.            rare brochure containing 21 pages of text and two pages of notes.
   Cf. also M. H. Bady, Din trecutul iudaismului român, Tel Aviv, 1985, p. 108.                         9. La Rassegna Mensile di Israel, Rome, 1983, vol. 49, n° 5-6-7-8, p. 475-500.
7. Maïmonide, Epitre au Yémen, dans Epitres, translated from Hebrew by Jean de Hulster, Paris,          10. Cf. Alexandre Safran, Ethique juive et modernité, Albin Michel, 1998, p. 119-146.
   Gallimard, collection Tel1, 1993, p.105.                                                             11. Ibid., p.119.

                                                                                                121     122
condition of the scientist. From Socrates to Laplace, the source of science       world: “Whatever God wishes is necessarily done and there is nothing that
would reside in our reason, while for the scholars of Middle Ages it resided      could prevent His will from being accomplished. (At the same time, God
in the divine. From the scientific conception of the Greeks to the modern         does not want that which is possible; not everything that is possible, but
materialism, in a closed world, the object of science is represented by an        only that which is demanded by His wisdom)”.15 Still in reference to the
investigation of reality, of substance, its method being founded on analysis      act of creation, Safran writes: “We act in a created life, we transmit it, we
and synthesis, deduction and intuition. From Aristotle, Newton and Des-           transform it, but we do not create it. We should therefore reach God this
cartes, we live “in a mechanical world where the laws of cause and effect in-     way”.16
effably govern the organic and inorganic life”,12 in a word, a world where            Referring to the question of the source of knowledge and the dangers
everything is determined. That is why Safran concludes on an ironic note          entailed by the scientists’ research (nuclear science in particular), Safran
concerning the state of science in our age: “Its source? A man who is dei-        highlights Maimonides’s work, his philosophy of science: “Our scientific
fied. Its object? An fabricated idol. A cult that he follows blindly and dog-     age”, he writes, “confirms his general views on science: the determination
matically.”13                                                                     associated to freedom (what Einstein called fundamental determinism and
    In the new coming age, the intellect, the pure reason is not the only         probabilistic interpretation)”.17 Safran reminds that the motto placed at the
source of science, there is no longer a universal reason, contrary to what the    beginning of Sefer haMada (The Book of Knowledge) which opens his
Greek logicians and certain mathematicians of the 19th century believed.          Michne Torah (Yad haHazaka) is a verse from the Psalms (36, 11): “Send
Safran insists on this aspect, highlighting the fact that Einstein’s personal     Your justice to those who know you. Your justice in their just hearts”. In
reasoning corrected Newton’s or Euclid’s: “It is quite interesting to won-        other words, knowledge is a grace coming from God; this is something he
der”, he states, ”why Einstein accomplished a revolution in the sciences pre-     explicitly states in Guide of the Perplexed,18 where he also states that “no
cisely through his theory of relativity and why Bergson accomplished the          action of God is without purpose”.19 Safran remarks that, for Maimonides,
same revolution in the philosophy of science through his Intuition. It is be-     a rationalist par excellence, who even requires “the confirmation of the
cause they experimented, even without being fully aware of it, a conception       truths of the Torah through real speculation” [Guide of the Perplexed, III,
of science that was personally and historically inculcated in them by Juda-       LIV, Michné Torah, Hilkhot Meila, VIII, 8], who states that the intellect
ism; it is the conception of an open cosmos which is morally perfectible.         that God endowed us with is the link between us and Him [Guide of the
The philosophers of contemporary science no longer deny the exercise of           Perplexed, III, LI], for this man, this physician, who was used to a methodi-
such an influence on the structure of human thought”.14 Given the fact            cal, meticulous and inquisitive work in the natural sciences – knowledge
that in our time, we admit that we can no longer achieve mass starting from       itself is an “illumination”, an intuition, a “star that shines” – we could say
energy, it is possible to conclude that the world was created without the         that for him, knowledge is not only an intellectual act, but also a mystical,
necessity of a pre-existing matter, so the creation ex nihilo should be taken     even “prophetic” one.20 The author insists on the fact that the knowledge
into consideration. We can admit the “novelty” of the world and, for the          of God is Maimonides’s first commandment, for whom truth and faith are
first time, Safran quotes Maimonides’s Guide of the Perplexed (More Nevou-
khim), where the latter, starting from the miracle of Creation, uses an ex-
pression that is specific to him: “that which is possible”. Actually, we under-   15. Moïse Maïmonide, Le Guide des égarés, suivi du Traité des huit chapitres, ed. Verdier, 1979, p.
                                                                                      500.
stand, through Maimonides’s writing, speaking about the novelty of the            16. Alexandre Safran, Ethique juive et modernité, op. cit., p.123.
                                                                                  17. Ibid., p.124.
12. Ibid., p.121.                                                                 18. Moïse Maimonide, Le Guide des égarés, op. cit., II, 37, p. 368-370.
13. Ibid., l. cit.                                                                19. Ibid. III, 25, p. 497-501.
14. Ibid., p.122.                                                                 20. Alexandre Safran, Ethique juive et modernité, op. cit., p.124-125.

                                                                           123    124
not subordinated one to the other, but they identify. He mentions the cri-          the knowledge of the Eternal. For Maimonides, the scientist is the one who
tiques of the Montecallemins (Muslim scholars who revisited theories taken          possesses both moral and intellectual qualities.
from the ancient Greek philosophers) constructed by Maimondes in what                   The second, shorter part of his expose deals with science that has no
concerns their conceptions on the indivisibility of atoms in space and of           moral purpose, actually with the dangers of scientific discoveries whose ap-
instances in time, and their assertion on the inadmissibility of the infinite.      plications could be unpredictable and terrifying, as was the case with the
Through this position, Safran writes, Maimonides anticipates Einstein, who          thermonuclear inferno. The scientist, Safran notes, runs the risk of destroy-
reversed the classical notions of time and space by uniting them in one             ing the planet he lives on, certain “scientists” availed themselves in recent
common structure. These two scholars “have an encounter with each other             times of the term “humanism” in order to create a “new order” and to cre-
across the centuries in the Judaic conception that acknowledges one God             ate a “better, superior race”. The scientist that lacks morals and the faith in
and identifies absolute Time and Space with His Name”.21 By stating that            God could believe he is God and wants to replace Him; a “scientific oligar-
whatever is infinite would not be encompassed by science, Maimonides                chy”, Safran remarks, with (or without) the implication of state structures
presents, according to Safran, the difficulties that contemporary science           could dispose of humanity as he pleases. These dangers have already been
faces as far as the universe of the atom which is infinite and remains unfa-        foretold by Maimonides and could only be avoided through love and
thomable is concerned.                                                              knowledge of God, the scientists possessing these being able to become the
    The scientist can only establish relative truths, as “the absolute truth lies   prophets of a new age. The Guide of the Perplexed, which ends with the eu-
with God”. Thus, Maimonides emphasizes the limits of man’s science in               logy for the union between science and morals whose common source lies
comparison to that of God. By using several quotes taken from the Guide of          in God, could serve as apologetic breviary to the disparaged Jews, while the
the Perplexed, Safran insists upon the limits of human knowledge and at the         other important treatise, Michne Torah, could serve as practical code to the
same time on the moral grandeur of man who discovers, as Maimonides                 oppressed Jews. According to Safran Maimonides the visionary foretold not
wrote, that his science is insignificant in relation to the Science of God.         only the dangers of science, but also the advantages of scientific and techno-
Knowledge leads to love and it is not by accident, Safran notes, that the           logical progress especially in his presentation of the messianic age.23 Mai-
order of the first two books by Moshe ben Maimon in Michne Torah are                monides’s greatness also lies in the fact that he intuited that all the inhabi-
entitled Mada (Knowledge) and Ahava (Love). This fact refers to the reun-           tants of the Earth, not only the scientists, could benefit from the progress of
ion between knowledge and the love of God, which represents Yediat                  science in a society based on morals and justice. Safran draws a parallel be-
haShem, the knowledge of God.                                                       tween the messianic age described by Maimonides and the present times
    Another section is dedicated to the purpose of science that cannot lie, as      where the prospects of general, material and cultural well-being are greater
some philosophers think, in the happiness of the scientist or in the power it       than ever, but where a great part of humanity still remains illiterate, suffer-
confers; rather, according to Safran, its purpose should be moral above all,        ing from famine and lacking elementary educational institutions.
which “implies a commitment with regard to something that surpasses us,                 Maimonides decried the weakness of Jewish science in the Diaspora and
something that transcends us…such a commitment is only possible with                expressed his hope in the restoration of the Jewish state whose objective
regard to God”.22 The Geneva scholar is on the same page as the Fostat              should be “revealing the truth, filling the world with justice and destroying
master who, in the Guide of the Perplexed, states that “man’s supreme virtue
is that of being similar to God” (I, 54), the ultimate goal of science being        23. Cf. David Banon, “Le messianisme dans la pensée de Maïmonide”, in D. Banon (éd), Inquisi-
                                                                                        tion et pérennité, Cerf, 1992. On the messianic idea for the kabbalists, see Moshe Idel, Meshi-
                                                                                        hiut uMistika, Tel Aviv University, 1992, translated into French by Catherine Chalier (Messi-
21. Ibid., p.127.                                                                       anisme et mystique, Cerf, 1994), and in Romanian by Ţicu Goldstein (Mesianism şi mistică,
22. Ibid., p.132.                                                                       Hasefer, 1996).

                                                                             125    126
tyranny” (Michne Torah, “Hilkhot Techouva”, IX, 2). Safran concludes his                              Torah but is not opposed to institutional Judaism. Finally, the last idea dis-
study by stating that Maimonides still remains topical and could even play                            cussed in the Introduction of this first work refers to the kabala as the heri-
“the role of reformer”: “Until now, the role of Rambam was limited to that                            tage of all Jews, as the Torah was revealed to the whole of Israel “in its visi-
of a primordial factor, but a conservative one, a factor that coordinates our                         ble, literal coat and with its invisible, mystical content”.29 For Safran, the
spiritual Jewish life. He has hardly entered the western Christian thought                            great ideals of the kabala , expressed in three words, Torah, mitzvoth and
through the medieval scholars, especially Thomas Aquinas. Nowadays, the                               devekut, are those of the historical, biblical and Talmudic Judaism. In the
Jewish people no longer needs to spend all its energy on an apologetic work                           two parts of the work, “The Unity of the kabala ” and “The Doctrine of the
or on defending its values, but they have the possibility of focusing on a                            kabala ”, each consisting of two chapters, the author does not limit himself
constructive work of spreading its values. Maimonides could thus fully as-                            to a historical description, a critical expose of Jewish mysticism, he offers us
sume its role as reformer, an essentially universalist role”.24                                       a complete and harmonious vision of the Hebrew Tradition from its be-
                                                                                                      ginnings to the present day. It is in the first chapter of the first part, “Tradi-
                                                                                                      tion, Law and History”, that Maimondes is quoted for the first time, during
                         III. The essays on Jewish mysticism                                          the presentation of Abraham who applied the Torah before its promulga-
                                                                                                      tion on Mount Sinai. For Safran, Abraham, who had been tempted by ido-
                                        1. The Kabala                                                 latry, had the “cognitive intuition of the Creator’s existence”. Departing
                                                                                                      from the Michne Torah, (“Hilkhot Avoda Zara”, I, 3), he summarises the
In his introduction to the first book on the kabala, published in 1960, the                           religious evolution of the father of monotheism as follows: “His assiduous
author clearly defines the essential elements of the Jewish mystic doctrines                          research and his spontaneous discovery of God were followed by the divine
by stating that the true object of the kabala25 is represented by the Torah,                          revelation”.30
which, as cosmic law, “encloses to its last letter and accent, the very forces                            By presenting the Torah, the written law, Safran insists on the impor-
that govern the world of nature and the principles that guide the moral life                          tance of the prophets, while remarking that the Jerusalem and Babylon
of every Israelite and are addressed to every man and all peoples”.26 “For the                        Talmuds only “comprise one insignificant part of the oral law”.31 This
man of the kabala”, Safran declares, “omniscience is unachievable; but the                            statement is based on an explicit reference to Rambam’s work: Michne To-
absence of knowledge is unpardonable: he is the alert researcher, he wants                            rah, “Hilkhot kidouch haHodech”, XVII, 24, as well as to the Guide of the
to know as much as possible”.27 Therefore, what we have here is a concep-                             Perplexed (II, 11). “Learn the truth from the one who tells it to you”,32
tion of the world where knowledge remains the primary matter, as Andrei                               Maimonides’s exhortation in the Introduction to the Treaty of Eight Chapters
Marga has recently shown.28 This question of knowledge remains essential                              is quoted by Safran in the paragraph dedicated to the idea of the anonymity
for the Jewish mystics. The originality of the “man of the kabala” lies in the                        that the “man of the kabala” aspires to. They hide their identity in the title
fact that he does not practice solely an “inner mysticism”, he interprets the                         of their works by abbreviating their names or by giving it a symbolic repre-
                                                                                                      sentation. By making their names disappear, they prove their altruism.
24. Alexandre Safran, Ethique juive et modernité, op. cit., p. 144.                                   What is important, Safran insists, “is truth itself and the disinterest of the
25. The Hebrew term kabala is translated into French by “cabale” or “kabbale”. We have chosen
    the latter version, while the quotes present one version or the other, according to the various
    editions of Alexandre Safran’s work.                                                              29. Alexandre Safran, La Cabale, op. cit., p. 32.
26. Alexandre Safran, La Cabale, Payot, 2nd edition revised and updated. With the collaboration       30. Ibid., p.38.
    of Esther Starobinski-Safran, 1972, p. 15.                                                        31. Ibid., p. 80.
27. Ibid., p.21.                                                                                      32. Ibid., p. 94. Munk’s French translation is slightly different: “Accepte la vérité de quiconque l’a
28. Andrei Marga, “What is Kabbalah ?”, Studia Judaica, Cluj, vol. XVI, 2008, p. 25.                      énoncé”. Cf. Moïse Maïmonide, Le Guide des égarés…, op. cit., p. 644.

                                                                                              127     128
one expressing it”.33 In the last paragraph of this first chapter, Safran em-     But, by its very nature, the mahloket (controversy) refuses integration in a
phasizes the value of the Torah “in the present days”: each Jew should live       rigid system. In the oral Torah, it represents a manifestation of life”.35. Af-
the revelation of the Torah, he must study and understand it, something           terwards, Safran summarises in an eloquent manner Maimonides’s position
that Maimonides insists on in Michne Torah (“Hilkhot Sefer Tora”, VII, 2).        in relation to the oral law and the kabala: “Rambam’s great religious code,
    In the second chapter, “History, Nature and Torah”, the references to         Michne Torah, was, all in all, designed to put an end to the halakhic contro-
Rambam’s writings are more numerous and extensive. Safran argues that it          versies (one needs only read the introduction to this work!). At that mo-
is the possession of the Torah, this moracha (heritage) of the community of       ment, the oral Torah ran the risk ‘of dying’, as the enemies of the eminent
Israel that implies and guarantees the continuity of the kabala and, when         theorist thought; without controversies, it would wilt away: not being oral
dealing with the issue of the Torah commandments, he quotes Rambam in             anymore, it could not encompass the Torah in its entirety”.
the following way: “The ‘renewed’ mitzvoth (cheNithadchou) – as they had              The kabala, which constantly draws its essence from the Torah, formu-
already been virtually contained in the Sinaitic laws – should not be taken       lates a lively theory of the halakhic mahloket that Rambam himself could
as mitzvoth which complete those in the Torah”, Rambam argues in Intro-           subscribe to. Far from disturbing the rigid order he wished halakha to es-
duction to the Michne Torah and More Nevoukhim, III, 41. (For example,            tablish, it brings forth a way of life. In addition, in the Hilkhot Talmud To-
the mitzvah that requires the reading of the Scroll of Esther or the mitzvah      rah [I, 11-12; cf. also Hilkhot Yessodei haTora, IV, 13], the “Laws on the
that requires the lighting of the candles on Hanukah, the feast of the Mac-       teaching of the Torah” included in his code, Maimonides develops his ideas
cabies). These mitzvoth were formulated during the Sinaitic revelation,           on the inner unity of the Talmud, on the harmony of the rational rigor and
therefore they were not new.                                                      mystic finesse. In his view, the Talmud has a primarily rational character,
    Hidden in the depths of the written Torah, they make an appearance in         but it also includes some issues pertaining to the foundations of Jewish
precise historical moments in the form of the oral Torah. They were trig-         mysticism. (Here the reference is made especially about the “tale of crea-
gered by particular events caused, in turn, by God’s deliberate intervention      tion” and the “tale of the chariot”). For Maimonides, the two aspects of the
or by the human free action.34 In addition to the fulfilling of the mitzvoth,     Gmara, the rational aspect and the mystical one are intersected and united
Safran shows, the intellectual labour done in a pure and disinterested man-       under the sign of personal freedom. Man reflects on the thinking of others
ner allows one to acquire the holy spirit (rouah hakodech). With regard to        through his own intelligence, but also with all the force of his being with
the same question, Rambam points out to the environment of a pure soci-           the intent of gaining a deeper knowledge of it.36
ety (Introduction to the Mishna: Michne Torah, “Hilkhot Mamrim”, I, 2).               With regard to the strict warning lo tassour (“do not stray away from
    Describing the kabalistic conception of the controversy, Safran argues        your path”) found in the Deuteronomy (17, 8-11) which serves as legal ba-
straight away that Maimonides’s theory on the halakhic controversies is           sis for a series of laws issued by the rabbis, Safran compares Maimonides’s
very arduous, especially with regard to the effort of constantly trying to sys-   position with that of the rabbi and poet Yehudah Halevi (c. 1075 – 1141):
tematize the principles of Jewish religious law. Therefore, he has no hesita-     “As for Rambam, the rationalist, who, in the history of Jewish thought is
tion in making the following critical remark: “If Rambam had expressed a          opposed to Rabbi Yehuda ha-Levy, he is nonetheless in agreement with the
more nuanced conception on the halakhic controversies, they would have            latter in the manner of conceiving the biblical lo tassour”.
corresponded better to the open spirit of the oral Torah. However, he es-             Actually, Maimonides shows in his commentary on the Mishna [Ad
tablished a quasi-principle that he inserted in a rigorous juridical system.      Sanhedrin, XI] that this warning is designed to protect the oral Torah from

33. Alexandre Safran, La Cabale, op. cit., p. 94.                                 35. Ibid., p.142.
34. Ibid., p.126                                                                  36. Ibid., l. cit.

                                                                           129    130
attacks on the part of the literal, integral observers of the Bible, such as the   it, the non-existence is the active source of existence. The Being emerges
saducens, who were hostile to the rabbinical interpretation of the Torah.          into existence without changing its structure for this purpose, despite his
Meanwhile, unlike Rabbi Yehuda ha-Levi, Rambam only wanted to limit                passage from unity to plurality. […] ‘All the lights of existence’ depend on
the freedom of judgment and the personal sovereignties. That is why, while         the Ain. The Ain itself is compared to the darkness, because ‘darkness is the
giving the proper importance to the negative commandment of lo tassour,            source of all light’”.39 Safran adds that, in order to illustrate the creation ex
what he sees in it is primarily the legal source of the obligation that a Jew      nihilo, the image of darkness as generator of light was particularly appreci-
has to obey the decisions of the Sanhedrin or of the Beit din ha-gadol che-be-     ated by the kabalists of Gerona (13th century). Actually, both the thesis on
Yirouchalaïm, “the grand court of Jerusalem”. Not only does this court             the origins of light in darkness, and the one stating that the origins of light
meet on the location chosen by the Eternal, not only does it represent that        are based on clarity draw on the Zohar, something that was already dis-
highest Jewish judicial instance, “but it embodies the principle of the oral       cussed at length by Rambam in his Guide of the Perplexed (I, 40 and III, 6).
Torah: it is on the Torah that the columns of the Law rest…” [Rambam,              His analysis is riddled with Hebrew words that have a particular signifi-
Michné Torah, “Hilkhot Mamrim”, I, 2 and More Nevoukhim, III, 41]”.37              cance in the conception of the man of the kabala and he concludes the
    In the first chapter, “From Man to God” that opens the second part of          question of the relations between the Ain, the void and Ein Sof, the infinite,
the work, the author reviews the way God was conceived by a number of              in the following manner: “Although the Zohar and other kabbalistic works
philosophers (Pascal, Descartes, Jaspers), before summarizing the thinking         identify the Ain with the Ein Sof, we believe that the latter contains a Being
of the “man of the kabala”. For the latter, “God is beyond any categorical         that is more clearly inclined towards creation, stronger oriented towards the
mathematical demonstration, as well as beyond any ordinary experimental            existence of the Ain”.40
verification. Nothing ‘forces’ Him to exist; God exists, but not because He            Following the analysis of the “restitution of the world to God” in the
has to exist, but because His existence as Principle or as Cause reveals itself    Zohar, Safran remarks that it is through an incorrect and selfish use of the
to be indispensable”.                                                              freedom given to him that man brought about his own fall; by separating
    The author dwells on the concepts of émet-émouna, the “faith” united           the tree of the knowledge of good and evil from the tree of life, man took
with “truth”. This is an opportunity for him to offer Rambam’s explana-            into consideration his own desire. Starting from this moment, man be-
tion: “Faith”, argues Maimonides, “is not something that we express in             comes aware of his sin, of his responsibility towards God, as Rambam had
words, but something that we feel in the heart. The emouna, which is yedia,        already shown in the Guide of the Perplexed (I, 2). This elaborate work in
is ha’amana: the ‘faith’, which is ‘knowledge’, is ‘verified’. The emouna is       which there are numerous bibliographic references reveals to us a world
permanent. But the ha’amana, the ‘verification of the faith’, is renewed and       where the union between matter and spirit, nature and history becomes
renders the faith unique every time. The faith of man is in God, who ‘su-          self-evident, the kabala it introduces us to also representing a “total” science
pervises’ him without respite. God is a protecting presence for the entire         of reality.
existence [More Nevoukhim, III, 51]”.38
    The second and last chapter, “From God to Man”, begins with a beauti-
ful paragraph, “From Nothingness to Existence”, which evokes the position
of the kabala: “The kabala”, Safran reveals, “subordinates existence to non-
existence, the yech to the ain; it distinguishes between the two. According to

37. Ibid., p.169.                                                                  39. Ibid., p. 316.
38. Ibid., p.263.                                                                  40. Ibid., p.317.

                                                                            131    132
                                 2. Wisdom of the Kabala                                             scientific”, “between the imaginary and the real”. It is here that Rambam
                                                                                                     intervenes: “In fact, man can only imagine that which is possible, virtually
After the reprinting of the Kabala in 1972 and 1979 (the work was also                               real”, Maimonides the rationalist observes.
translated in numerous languages),41 the author reprised the topic in the                                When speaking about the “Mysteries of the Torah and Mysteries of the
Wisdom of the Kabala, two volumes printed by Stock in 1986 and 1987.                                 World”, Safran observes that, starting with the biblical prophets to the rab-
    In the first volume, he highlights the great axes of Jewish mysticism by                         bis of the 20th century, the progress of knowledge precedes biblical wisdom:
minutely commenting on the fundamental themes starting from the                                      “From Daniel to Maimonides, from Maimonides to Rav Kook, going
courses taught with the University of Geneva and Bar Ilan University in                              through all the Jewish mystics and rationalists, the “growth” of the data, of
Israel. The Introduction is dedicated to a doctrinal and historical general                          “knowledge”, especially that of sciences, has been done under the aegis of
survey of the kabala, in Hebrew kabalah (or qabbalah) is a term that signi-                          the Hohmot, the “wisdoms of the Torah that the kabala deepened”.43 In
fies tradition, but in the Talmudic language, it is used to define Jewish mys-                       the paragraph dealing with the science that is “infinite” and that is “unat-
ticism and the esoteric traditions of Judaism. Safran argues that the kabala                         tainable in the infinite”, Safran differentiates between the human science
is a doctrine of unity. The reality is a whole in which the visible and the                          and the science of God by placing himself behind Rambam and the kabbal-
invisible, the material and the spiritual intermingle and unite.                                     ists: “God, who is Knowledge, knows Himself and knows everything that
    The first part of the book tries to answer the following question: “To                           exists, because everything that exists, exists through Him, Maimonides says,
what extent is the kabala knowledge?”. It starts with a quote from the Zo-                           and in Him, add the kabbalists”.44
har, HaSod hou haYessod (“The mystery is the foundation”). Starting from                                 The second part of the book deals with a complementary question: “To
this principle that forms the basis of all Jewish mystical thought, Alexandre                        what extent is kabala knowledge?” and begins with this statement: “Wis-
Safran concludes that “the kabala draws man’s attention to the mystery he                            dom forms the essence of the kabala teaching, as well as its finality. Wis-
contains within himself and which surrounds him”.42 In a similar way, the                            dom has its roots in the divine Will and Thought which are “concentrated”
thinking of the kabala dwells on the dialectic between “interiority” and “ex-                        in the Torah”.45 Some of the subjects dealt with here are: the mitzvoth, the
teriority”, of “the hidden” and “the obvious”. Among other topics dis-                               free will, ethics and saintliness, time, God’s creation, Israel called on to “re-
cussed, one can find: nature and society, man, nature and the ecologic de-                           new” time, the teshouva, (the “return” to God, to the “source of time”),46
mands, the tree of knowledge of good and evil and the tree of life, the Mes-                         the service of God (Avodat HaChem) that the man of the kabala commits
siah personifying the “mystery of knowledge”, the intersection of the kabala                         himself to ceaselessly, the Shema, the Jewish profession of faith, the deve-
and science or the deterioration and the restoration of God’s creation by                            kut, the attachment of the soul to God, a specifically Jewish mystical expe-
man. With regard to this last question, Safran adds that the process of                              rience, etc. The masters referred to are few – Maimonides is not included –
“reparation” or “restoration” of the world is, according to the kabala, a                            and the majority of the names belong to modern times (Yitzhak Louria,
process of clarification driven by man. Once the clarification is complete,                          Josef Caro, Ba’al Shem Tov, the founder of Hassidism, Chneour Zalman
the kingdom of God would become established: “A perfect unity would                                  de Liady, the founder of the Habad Hassidism, rabbi Mendel de Kotzk, the
manifest itself: between the body and the soul (between the orot, “the                               Gaon of Vilna, etc.).
lights” and the kelim, “the vases”); between the “interiority” and the “exte-                            In the second volume of the Wisdom of the kabala , the author brings to-
riority”, between the fantastic and the rational, between the poetic and the
                                                                                                     43. Ibid., p. 91.
41. In German (1966), in English (1975), in Spanish (1976), in Italian (1981), in Japanese (1994),   44. Ibid., p. 95.
    in Portuguese (1996), in Romanian (1996) and in Hebrew (1996).                                   45. Ibid., p.107.
42. Alexandre Safran, Sagesse de la Kabbale, Stock, 1986, vol. 1, p.54.                              46. Ibid., p.121.

                                                                                             133     134
gether numerous chosen pieces taken from the vast Jewish esoteric literature,       As far as the relationship between man and his Creator is concerned, Safran
which he translated and presented in a refined manner with the purpose of           reminds us of the conception of the men of the kabala, according to whom
making the authors and the works that marked the evolution of Jewish mys-           all that we can say about God or Ein Sof or the Infinite is possible “because
ticism known to a large number of people. Starting from the book of the             of His will and His providence (literally: to His supervision)”. He insists on
Zohar which is very often quoted, theosophical or cosmogonic themes are             the term “providence” by quoting Maimonides: “There are two types of
evoked with numerous authors taken not only from various kabala authors             Hachgaha, of “providence”: His individual Providence which takes care of
but also and primarily from the Bible and the Talmud. The method is to use          man in his world and His general Providence which extends to all the rest
citations after every theme or group of themes discussed: with regard to the        of the creation (into the world) [More Nevoukhim, 1, ch. 23, 43; III, ch. 17,
wisdom and the truths of the Torah which are hidden in every one of its             18, 23, 51, 54]”.49 Man is pervaded by the fear of God (More Nevoukhim,
words, he mentions the Zohar (I, 201a, II, 12a, 55b, 59b): “There is neither        III, 52), but it is a fear mixed with love and “while he studies the Torah,
letter nor word of the Torah that does not contain important and precious           recites the prayers and fulfils the mitzvoth, a Jew serves God selflessly”,
mysteries”.47 Among the subjects presented in this work where the refer-            Safran writes.50 The vitality of everything that exists comes from God and
ences to Maimonides are explicit, two are particularly worthy of attention:         Maimonides is again quoted here: “there is nothing outside Him” [Michné
the significance of the mitzvoth and man’s attitude regarding his creator.          Torah, “Hilkhot Yessod HaTorah”, I, 4].51 The love of God implies two
Safran brings to light the importance of the mitzvoth (commandments, re-            degrees: the love that comes from reflection, from intelligence, and the
quirements) of the Torah which can only be accomplished in their totality           hidden love, buried in the soul (Rambam, Michné Torah, “Hilkhot
by the totality of Israel. Among the active commandments (mitzvoth asse),           Yessodei HaTorah” II, 1-2). Finally,”the attachment to God”, the devekut
the study of the Torah has a supreme value, as Maimonides remarked:                 presupposes the awareness of always being in the presence of God, even
“Every Israelite is compelled by the duty to study the Torah, regardless of         when one finds oneself in a conversation with someone, Safran writes,52
whether he is rich or poor, whether his body is intact or disabled, whether he      under the influence of Maimonides (Michné Tora, “Hilkhot Techouva”, X,
is in the prime of his life or devoid of his force by old age. Even in a state of   3).
misery, when one only lives on charity or begs from door to door, even mar-
ried and taking care of children, he has the duty to take the time, by day as
by night, in order to study the Torah” (Michné Torah, “Hilkhot Talmud                                                  IV. Israel and Its Roots
Tora”, I, 8).48 This mitzvah surpasses the other mitzvoth: it allows the
knowledge of God, for it is Him who represents the Informed and the Sci-            The work entitled Israel in Time and Space: Fundamental Themes of Jewish
ence and, to support this statement, Safran quotes Maimonides: “God is in           Spirituality, published for the first time in 1980, was reedited in 2001,53 un-
turn the Informed, the Known and the Knowledge, all parts forming a                 der a new title: Israel and Its Roots, identical to the Hebrew translation pub-
Whole” (Rambam, Michné Torah, “Hilkhot Yessodei haTora”, II, 10; also:              lished in Jerusalem by Mossad Harav Kook. In fact, the term “roots” sum-
More Nevouchim, I, 68, p.111-114, trans. Kafa, Jerusalem, 5732, 1972).              marises the objective of this work that wishes to “reveal the profound, exis-
Safran quotes Rabbi Nahman de Bratslav who taught that the mitzvoth
should be fulfilled with joy, but one should note that this injunction is al-       49. Ibid., p.131.
ready found in Maimonides (Michné Tora, “Hilkhot loulav”, VIII, 15).                50. Ibid., p. 152.
                                                                                    51. Ibid., p.258-259.
                                                                                    52. Ibid., p. 155-156.
47. Alexandre Safran, Sagesse de la Kabbale, vol. II, Stock, 1987, p. 9.            53. Alexandre Safran, Israël et ses racines. Thèmes fondamentaux de la spiritualité juive, Albin Michel,
48. Ibid., p.85.                                                                        2001, 492 p.

                                                                             135    136
tential “interiority” of the people of Israel, as well as its “ontological calling”.   pseudo-messianic agitation and the astrological superstitions.56
The collection of fundamental themes of Jewish spirituality is contemporary                According to Yechayahou Leibovitz, he drafted this letter in order to
as well, centred around the Jewish condition in the diaspora and in the land           “save a community of Israel that was on the point of despairing on account
of Israel. This “collection” is based, except for the Bible and the Talmud, on         of its faith following external harassment and internal crises”.57 In fact, the
the vast literature of the rabbinical response (Sheelot or Teshouvot), on the          Muslim persecutions had caused tensions among the Yemen Jews from
writings of more than five hundred rabbis presented from the Middle Ages               among whom several had been taken over by a pretence messiah converted
to the 20th century. We find again the name of Maimonides in the various               to Islam: “The danger for the Jews of Yemen was to succumb to the flattery
chapters included in this rich volume. In the first chapter, speaking about            of the self-appointed local messiah”.58
the relations between “the people of Israel and the land of Israel”, Safran                Safran concludes that the “cold” rationalist that Maimonides is pleads in
brings to light the importance of the Jews’ presence in Eretz Israel by evok-          favour of the cause of the guezeira, of the Galout with the same conviction as
ing Maimonides, to whom their absence was tantamount to the “disappear-                the mystics Yehuda Halevi, Rabbi Moshe Alcheih or Rabbi Israel Ba’al
ance of the nation” (kilayon chel haOuma). Moshe ben Maimon, who had                   Shem Tov. If the exodus from Egypt represents the prototype for all the
stated that “it is only the children of Erets Israel who have the right to call        various exoduses of Israel from galouyot, the final deliverance would be
themselves kahal, sacred Jewish community”, also forcefully proclaimed, as             marked by the Messiah whose description was given by Maimonides
Safran remarks, the impossibility of shattering Israel in view of God’s prom-          (“Hilkhot Melahim”, XI et XII) and revealed by Safrah: “an heir of David
ise that guarantees the durability of Israel.54                                        who ‘re-establishes’ the kingdom of his ancestor and who rebuilds the Beit
    In the second chapter, “Exile and Redemtion”, the author argues that               HaMisdrash (the Temple of Jerusalem) and gathers up the pieces of Israel”.59
the galout (exile) is a necessary stage towards redemption, a unique pheno-                The reflection on “Jerusalem, Heart of Israel, Heart of the World”
menon whose starting and finishing point are represented by one country,               which forms the subject of the third chapter had a religious, philosophical
the land of Israel. If, as a result of having neglected the Torah, the people of       and political scope: “If Israel falls into the Galout through its own fault, it
Israel was forced to temporarily leave Eretz Israel, this does not mean to say         falls there in order to go back up again to Jerusalem; during exile, it keeps
that the people were dispossessed. A specifically Jewish phenomenon, the               its identity due to Jerusalem but primarily due to the conception it has of
galout is a guezeira, a divine decree, “a break that God exercised onto the            Jerusalem. The relationship between Israel and Jerusalem is certainly a mys-
body of Israel” and which marks the existence of Israel. “In his Igueret Tei-          tical one, based on the land itself”.60 Safran reveals the messianic ideal im-
man”, Safran writes, “in his famous Epistle to Yemen, Maimondes strongly               plying the gathering of Jews in Jerusalem and the reconstruction of Beit
argues that the guezeira shapes the destiny of Israel: it is predestined to this       HaMikdach which had already brilliantly been evoked by Maimonides in
people. In this letter, Maimonides brings light and comfort to his coreli-             Igueret Teiman.
gionists who struggle in the darkness of depression, but he does not hide it
from them, he even gravely highlights the importance of the guezeira in the            56. Cf. "Maimonides' Epistle to Yemen (1172)", translated by Joel L. Kraemer, in Ralph Lerner,
life of the people of Israel: it is the guezeira that ensures the gueoula, the de-         Maimonides' Empire of Light: Popular Enlightenment in an Age of Belief, Chicago: University of
liverance from the pangs of the Galout”.55 In fact, in the Epistle to Yemen,               Chicago Press, 2000, pp. 99-132
written in 1172 and translated in Hebrew by Nahum Hammaravi, Mai-                      57. Yechayahou Leibovitz, La foi de Maïmonide. Introduction, traduction de l’hébreu et annotation
                                                                                           par David Banon, Paris, Cerf, 1992, p. 30.
monides exhorts the Jewish community of this country to distrust the                   58. Mark R. Cohen, Sous le croissant et sous la croix. Les Juifs au Moyen Age, Paris, Seuil, 2008, p.
                                                                                           410.
                                                                                       59. Alexandre Safran, Israël et ses racines. Thèmes fondamentaux de la spiritualité juive, op. cit.,
54. Ibid., p. 56.                                                                          p.136
55. Ibid., p.122.                                                                      60. Ibid., p.159.

                                                                                137    138
The meditation dedicated to “Jewish Time, Shabbat Time”, dealt with in                                                           1. Esquisse d’une éthique religieuse juive
chapter IV, focuses on this biblical institution that enables every man, at                                                      (Outline of a Jewish Religious Ethic)
least for the seventh part of his life, to feel equal to every other man, the
Shabbat being able to foretell the messianic age that was supposed to end all                          This book gathers the texts of several conferences given in France and Swit-
conflicts. The Shabbat has preserved the Jewish people and it needs to be                              zerland and represents a true collection of rules of conduct specific to the
respected,61 and Safran quotes Maimonides who, in his Hilkhot Shabbat,                                 Jewish tradition. The purpose of the book is to bring to light the main ele-
stigmatized the Jew who was publicly opposed to the Shabbat “because it                                ments of the religious ethic of the people of Israel. The book is based on the
negates the principles of the Hidouche ha Olam and of Bore haOlam, the                                 fundamental texts of the Bible, but also on commentaries of the Talmud
principle of the creation ex nihilo, of the free and voluntary creation by the                         and writings of Jewish scholars, emphasizing the great principles underlying
Creator”.62 However, considering the sanctity of the Shabbat, Safran also                              the Jewish religious life. At the same time, it is here that one finds the origi-
approaches the question of its transgression, recalling Maimonides                                     nality of his endeavour. He does not hesitate to call on various thinkers and
(alongside the other Jewish law-maker, Yossef Karo) for whom “it is not                                philosophers – primarily Maimonides – in order to confront the different
only allowed (to the sick, to the doctor and to whomever else) to transgress                           points of view and to highlight the necessity that man should be guided by
the prescriptions of the Shabbat in order to heal, but one is compelled by a                           values emerged from the Sinaitic revelation. From the outset, he defines the
mitzvah in light of a religious commandment of the Torah, to act in that                               terms ethics (man’s conduct) and morale (the rational faculties guiding one’s
manner”.63                                                                                             conduct) from the perspective of their human or divine source. The Torah,
                                                                                                       which signifies both “teaching” and “law”, covers the majority of this mo-
                                                                                                       rale, the latter being indicated in the Talmud by the word mitzvah (com-
                             V. The Essays on Jewish ethics                                            mandment). The words Torah (“divine teaching”) and Gemilout hassidim
                                                                                                       (“a human action meant to do good”) are to be found in Safran’s work
Two books have been published on this topic: Esquisse d’une éthique re-                                when he speaks about loving one’s neighbour. To support his argument, he
ligieuse juive (1997) (Outline of a Jewish Religious Ethic) and Ethique juive                          mentions Maimonides and his writings, Sefer haMitzvoth (The Book of
et modernité (Cerf, 1998) (Jewish Ethics and Modernity).                                               Mitzvoth, “Shoresh haSheni”) and his code, Michne Torah (“Hilkhot Ei-
                                                                                                       vel”, XIV, 1): “All these actions and those similar to them, done as gemilout
                                                                                                       hassidim, are integrated in the mitzvah that is exceptional among all others:
                                                                                                       ‘You will love your neighbour as you love yourself’”,64 the famous words of
                                                                                                       Rabbi Aquiba, a 2nd century scholar. There is an intrinsic relationship be-
                                                                                                       tween the love for one’s neighbour and social justice. The fulfilment of a
                                                                                                       work of “charity” (hessed) also implies the fact that one does his duty to give
                                                                                                       another what he is entitled to receive. Meanwhile, Safran notes, this idea
61. In a beautiful text dedicated to the Shabbat, the professor and grand rabbi René-Samuel Sirat,     does not mean to reward someone according to his merits, but even, ”as
    quotes this elaborate chapter in Alexandre Safran’s book by saying “If you observe the Shabbat,    Rambam emphasizes, to pay a due to one’s neighbour in the absence of all
    it will preserve you”. Cf. René-Samuel Sirat, Martine Lemalet, Tandreţea lui Dumnezeu, trans-
    lated by Ţicu Goldstein, with a preface by Carol Iancu, Hasefer, p. 104 (original title: La Ten-
                                                                                                       merit [Guide des égarés, III, 42]”.65 In the Hebrew Bible, the love for one’s
    dresse de Dieu, Paris, Nil éditions, 1996).                                                        neighbour is preceded by the laws of social order and Safran mentions
62. Alexandre Safran, Israël et ses racines. Thèmes fondamentaux de la spiritualité juive, op. cit.,
    p.173.                                                                                             64. Alexandre Safran, Esquisse d’une éthique religieuse juive, Paris, Cerf, 1997, p. 16.
63. Ibid., p. 262.                                                                                     65. Ibid., p. 17.

                                                                                               139     140
Maimonides’s words: “The one who has the right will his right fulfilled”                he discusses the problems raised by the existence of the two antagonist eco-
(”Veyaguia baal hok leHouko”) (Guide des égarés, III, 52)”.66 An ethical                nomic blocs marked by satiation and famine, respectively, the idiosyncrasy
principle turned into law is the obligation to practice charity. With regard            of urban civilization, the megalopolis where the people live withdrawn and
to this subject, Safran finds a precedent in Maimonides, who, influenced by             in isolation. Faced with this “arrogant”, egoistic civilization marked by the
the Talmud, (treatise Baba batra, 8b) stipulates that the court can force any           thirst for power, by oppression, by blatant materialism, he highlights the
person who refuses to practice tsedaka (charity) to make a donation if that is          importance of the spiritual life, based on the message of the Torah whose
necessary: kofin al ha-tsedaka (Michné Torah, “Hiklhot Matnot Aniyim”,                  morale is to be found in the concept of “derekh erets” (good conduct). He
VII, 10). Safran discusses the principle of lifnim michourat hadin (“beyond             is opposed to the fact that work has become a kind of slavery “without fur-
the law”) which forbids the Jew from availing himself of a possible interpre-           ther ado” and mentions Maimonides who had warned against this danger
tation based on a law of the Torah that favours him to the detriment of his             (Michné Torah, “Hilkhot Avadim”, I, 6). Safran evokes another danger that
neighbour. Here as where he finds himself in line with Maimonides, who                  threatens modern man, a danger that Maimonides had already mentioned
assimilates this principle to “the virtue of piety” (midat hassidout).67 An-            (“Hilkhot Techouva”, V) – the abandonment of free will, “the engine of all
other meditation is dedicated to the concept of miracle, and, as far as the             moral life”. Actually, Maimonides defends the principle of free will by an
durability of Israel is concerned, he writes: “For the Christian theologians,           outstanding argumentation which can be found in The Eight Chapters (ch.
the miracle of the ‘people of Israel’ is a supernatural fact coming from God,           8), but also in the Mishne Torah (“Mada” and “Techouva”) and in the
but it does not necessarily imply moral obligations towards this people. For            Guide of the Perplexed (III, 30). This argumentation is “metaphysical, as it
the true Jewish philosophers of the history of Israel, the miraculous durabil-          deals with the conciliation of human freedom with all the divine power and
ity of this people has moral implications.”68 The miracle, Safran goes on, by           omniscience, it is also ethical because it shows the idea of freedom implied
quoting Maimonides, (Michné Torah, “Hilkhot Yessodei haTorah”, VIII,                    by all moral elevation and finally, by all human initiative”.71
1), takes place when the historical circumstances demand it, when the ethi-                 The author also opportunely remarks the pedagogic value of the Shab-
cal needs require it, “the miracles given to the individual are designed for            bat which strengthens family life and represents a kind of rest preceding
the community, for the people, for humanity”.69                                         saintliness and evokes Maimonides’s commentary and his “golden nib”
                                                                                        (“Hilkhot Chabbat”, XXIV, 12) with regard to the various shabbatical in-
          2. Ethique juive et modernité (Jewish Ethics and Modernity)                   terdictions and rules.72 Apart from the chapter “Maimonides and the Con-
                                                                                        temporary Science”, analysed above, there are two other texts referring to
This work is a profound approach of the values of Jewish ethics confronted              the master of Fostat. The first is entitled “Judaism Facing Science”; in it,
by modernity, which places face to face Israel’s long tradition and the chal-           Safran highlights the complementarity between science and ethics, the for-
lenges of the contemporary world. For the author, modernity failed “be-                 mer aiming to the “peaks”, the other to the “depths”. Here we find only
cause of the mechanical determinism in which is it enclosed”, while post-               one reference to Rambam, when it comes to the elevation of man towards
modernity would mark “the courageous liberation from this enclosure”.70                 God through conscience. “The purely intellectual fear throws man back
In the chapter entitled “Morale and Society in the Contemporary World”                  and weakens his spirit [Yad Hazaka, “Hilkhot Yessodé haTorah”, II, 2,
                                                                                        “Hilkhot Techouva”, X, 6], but he manages to overcome it; the burning
66. Ibid., p. 23.                                                                       love draws him upwards and allows him to ascend towards God with the
67. Ibid., p. 40.
68. Ibid., p. 109.                                                                      71. Thierry Alcoloumbre, Maïmonide et le problème de la personne, Paris, Librairie philosophique J.
69. Ibid., p. 120.                                                                          Vrin, 1999, p. 113-114.
70. Alexandre Safran, Ethique juive et modernité, Albin Michel, 1998, p. 18-19.         72. Alexandre Safran, Ethique juive et modernité, op. cit., p. 86.

                                                                                  141   142
brilliance of lightning”.73 The second and last text that closes the work,                      several authors spanning two millennia. Owing to his vast erudition, Safran
“The Jewish Conception of Man”, ends with a reflection on good and evil,                        composed a vast work on religious philosophy, especially in the field of ka-
where, supporting an optimist vision, he makes one last reference to Mai-                       balistic studies.
monides: “The difficult battle that mankind fights, day after day, on the                           The objective that Maimonides had in mind was to create an “agree-
side of good, will succeed, after falls and declines, in fulfilling the purpose                 ment between the teaching of Judaism, preached by the Bible and the rab-
that the Creator promised man: to make good triumph, to harmonise the                           binical tradition and the doctrine of philosophers”.76
material well-being with the moral well-being in a material world that is                           The objective that Alexandre Safran had in mind was to make the main
called on to become more spiritual in order to obtain salvation through the                     texts and the intrinsic unity of the kabala known, as these are the main axes
knowledge of God. Certainly, man who is capable of inflicting great evil,                       of the Jewish tradition and of the religious ethics of Judaism. From a certain
who has proven capable of such malevolent actions, is also capable of bring-                    point of view, Alexandre Safran contributed to the better understanding of
ing forth an age whose image is presented to us by the rabbi, philosopher                       Maimonides’s role not only in the field of Jewish philosophy but also in
and physician Maimonides”.74                                                                    that of Jewish mysticism.77
                                                                                                    Possessing an excellent knowledge of the essential texts of Judaism, be-
                                                                                                ing familiar with the great philosophical schools of Western philosophy,
                                       Conclusion                                               Alexandre Safran found it easy to approach the most pressing issues arising
                                                                                                from the evolution of the contemporary world: the scientific innovations
A careful reading of the works of Alexandre Safran75 allowed us to discover                     and the progress they bring and the dangers they create, the economic mu-
a multitude of references to Maimonides’s two main works, The Guide of                          tations that have given rise to unemployment, the explosion of urban cen-
the Perplexed and the Mishne Torah, but to other works of lesser importance                     tres with the increased sense of exclusion. The answers he brings are foun-
as well.                                                                                        ded on a deep knowledge of the Jewish masters’ texts throughout the centu-
    Alexandre Safran was a true expert in the work of the “Synagogue Ea-                        ries, especially Maimonides’s texts, for whom he retained a great admiration
gle”. He made the best use of it in his own extraordinary work, both in his                     during his entire life. His answers are spiritual and are rooted in the wis-
studies on kabala and Jewish mysticism and in his essays on various themes                      dom, the morale and the ethics of the people of Israel’s long history.
of Jewish spirituality or in those regarding Jewish religious ethics, all them
analysed with rigor and talent. Through his numerous citations, Safran
showed a certain modernity in Maimonides’s work, the complexity of his
thinking. At the beginning of the Guide of the Perplexed, Maimonides in-
vited his disciple, Joseph ben Juda, to a long intellectual road including the
sciences and philosophy. Alexandre Safran’s work invites us as well to a long
journey through the biblical and Talmudic exegesis, through the works of

73. Ibid., p.154.
74. Ibid., p.180.
75. We have not quoted here the publications in Hebrew which reproduce the works initially      76. Esther Starobinski-Safran. Le Buisson et la voix. Exégèse et pensée juive, Paris, Albin Michel,
    published in French. Cf. Carol Iancu, “Alexandre Safran: His Writings on Kabbalah and His       1987, p. 135.
    Philosophical Work”, Studia Judaica, Cluj, vol. XVI, 2008, p. 89-93 (“The publications in   77. Moshe Idel was also interested by this issue in his work, Maïmonide et la mystique juive, Paris,
    Hebrew”).                                                                                       Cerf, 1991

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