Maimonides on the "Decline of the Generations" and the Nature of Rabbinic Authority

By Menachem Kellner

Subjects: Jewish Studies
Series: SUNY series in Jewish Philosophy
Paperback : 9780791429228, 137 pages, March 1996
Hardcover : 9780791429211, 137 pages, April 1996

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Table of contents



1. The Decline of the Generations

2. Maimonides on Nature and Miracles

3. Maimonides on Decline

4. Maimonides' Attitude towards the Authority of the Rabbis in non-Halakhic Matters

5. Maimonides on the "Advance" of the Generations

6. On the Nature of the Rabbis' Authority

7. Concluding (Quasi-) Scientific Postscript



Citations from Maimonides' Works

General Index

Shows to what extent and in what fashion Jews are bound to accept the opinions and the pronouncements of religious authorities.


Moses Maimonides, medieval Judaism's leading legist and philosopher, and a figure of central importance for contemporary Jewish self-understanding, held a view of Judaism which maintained the authority of the Talmudic rabbis in matters of Jewish law while allowing for free and open inquiry in matters of science and philosophy. Maimonides affirmed, not the superiority of the "moderns" (the scholars of his and subsequent generations) over the "ancients" (the Tannaim and Amoraim, the Rabbis of the Mishnah and Talmud) but the inherent equality of the two. The equality presented here is not equality of halakhic authority, but equality of ability, of essential human characteristics.

In order to substantiate these claims, Kellner explores the related idea that Maimonides does not adopt the notion of "the decline of the generations," according to which each succeeding generation, or each succeeding epoch, is in some significant and religiously relevant sense inferior to preceding generations or epochs.

Menachem Kellner teaches medieval Jewish Philosophy in the Department of Jewish History and Thought and is Wolfson Professor of Jewish Thought and is Dean of Students at the University of Haifa. He is the author of Dogma in Medieval Jewish Thought; Torat he-Ikkarim ba-Philosophiah ha-Yehudit Bimei ha-Benayim; Maimonides on Human Perfection; and Maimonides on Judaism and the Jewish People, also published by SUNY Press. He is translator of Isaac Abravanel's Principles of Faith and Levi ben Gershom's Commentary on Song of Songs; and editor of Contemporary Jewish Ethics; Rosh Amanah; and The Pursuit of the Ideal: Jewish Writings of Steven Schwarzschild, also published by SUNY Press.