Isaac Arama (1420–1494), the most influential preacher in the generation of the expulsion from Spain, attempted a balance between what he considered a foreign Greek body of rational knowledge on the one hand, and a supra-rational revealed knowledge native to Judaism’s prophetic tradition on the other. This article focuses on an aspect of his creative exegesis and in particular his engagement with Maimonides that was powerful enough, in addition to other historical factors of course, to close the chapter on Jewish philosophical exegesis which Maimonides spearheaded. Often, his own exegesis is pointedly constructed to subvert Maimonides’ own exegesis and thus offer an alternative direction for biblical commentary that mediates between the rigor of philosophical reasoning, or the authority of the mind, and the existential faith commitment to revelation, or the authority of God.
While Maimonides reread his sources to reconcile biblical and rabbinic texts with the demands of reason, Hermann Cohen, in his construction of a “religion of reason,” rereads Maimonides’ rereadings of those very same texts. Maimonides’ Judaism often bridges the sources toward Cohen’s religion of reason by providing a philological anchor that nudges a term or verse now viewed through a more modern historical and evolutionary lens toward its ultimate reason-infused meaning. This paper will explore a hitherto neglected feature of their oeuvres that unites Maimonides and Cohen as much as it distinguishes them: the “Jewishness” shared by both, as evident in the most Jewish of all exercises that suffuses both their works, biblical and midrashic exegesis. Their exegetical nets are systematically cast widely throughout the breadth of the Hebrew Bible, but more often than not they offer highly discrepant readings of the same passage or prooftext. Cohen’s referencing of many of the same sources appeals to their Maimonidean rationalist refurbishment, but at the same time often places them in combative discourse in order to subvert and reorient Maimonides’ exegesis. The notions of divine names, the “image” (tselem) of God, “nearness” to God, and divine “glory” (kavod) are closely examined to demonstrate this intertextual relationship between these two seminal Jewish thinkers. While Cohen may be misreading Maimonides’ rereading of scripture, he remains a true hermeneutical disciple in his exegetical restructuring and realignment of scripture. Cohen’s programmatic exegetical idealization of Maimonidean prooftexts to reconstruct a new Kantianized God forms a common ground of discourse with Maimonides that traverses seven centuries of a quintessential Jewish enterprise.
The cost of constructing a deity as an archetype of perfection was the sacrifice of much of the divine character that constitutes God as a living God of Judaism and Jews. The biblical portrait of God patently belies every one of those philosophically construed perfections attributed to God in the rationalist philosophical model. There is a mythic continuum of an imperfect divine personhood that stretches from the Bible through rabbinic midrash, Kabbalah, and onward to the present. This chapter focuses on one facet of biblical and rabbinic theology that was instrumental in the near schismatic differences between the God of philosophical perfection and the living God of imperfection. The most crucial sources for divulging knowledge about the nature of God and his relationship with his creation the various names by which God is identified throughout the Hebrew Bible and the rabbinic corpus. For Jewish theology, retrospectively and prospectively, the divine names cohere holistically to capture the elusiveness and dynamism of a God evolving, in tandem and reciprocally, with His creation and His creatures.