Rivka Schatz



Researchers of the Maharal tend to view him as a humanist of the late Middle Ages and beginning of the modern era. They perceive in his work a transition from theology to sociology, or from universal theories to a personal religious experience. This article proposes to adopt a different attitude concerning the philosophy of the Maharal.

I wish to demonstrate that no signs of humanism are discernable in the philosophy of the Maharal. On the contrary, upon examination of the arguments utilized in the Tifereth: Yisrael, a basic exposition of his legal thought, we find an outlook directly opposed to the natural law that comprises one of the foundations of humanism.

The Tifereth Yisrael was written as a disputation with rationalistic conceptions such as those of the Rambam, and with the spirit of Christian judicial thought, which, in the Maharal's times, concerned itself with the hypotheses of natural law, viewing the Old Testament as an expression of this law.

I wish to propose that, although the speculative theories of natural law are reflected in the Maharal's writings, he nevertheless systematically undermines their value. The definition of man in reference to nature, and his moral obligations resulting from this reference, establish his law as a natural one. The Maharal bases himself on that frame of reference and determines the status of Divine Law in accordance to the definition of man as a metaphysical being who submits to universal supernatural—not social —law. Ethics is not an expression of metaphysical law, and therefore, does not represent the concept of universal good. The notion of good expresses the objective inevitability of metaphysical truth.

The Maharal rejects the Rambam's attempt to supply rationalizations for the mitzvot, for in the very act of doing so, law and statute are transformed to rational humanistic concepts. The Torah is not a "Book of Conduct". The Maharal tries as far as possible to remove himself from establishing the law upon a theological fiction that perceives in God positive traits worthy of emulation. The Biblical Law is a Divine Decree which harmonizes the judicial with the Divine Intellect. An absolute correlation is seen to exist between the essence of man and both the judicial and metaphysical orders. Observance of the Law supposes union with the universal order in its entirety—and not merely specifically with its "natural" aspect. It follows that actions are, in a paradoxical fashion, the absolute spiritual good. Man's integrity is achieved via deeds rather than through theorizing. When the Torah discusses the laws pertaining to "Ox and Donkey", it is not engaging in speculation. Justice is translatable into deeds. Thus, the Maharal took issue with the Rambam, who gave priority to the intellectual attainment of "Ideas" over the fulfillment of the mitzvot, i.e., the contemplative life was favored rather than the active one.

The Maharal defines man as a being who simultaneously belongs to two systems - the natural and the supernatural ones. The 365 negative commandments reflect the natural system of the solar year, while the 248 positive commandments are seen as against the supernatural system. The Torah, being an "antelechia" which assists men, indeed, the entire creation, in actualizing their potential, aspires towards the achievement of wholeness within the supernatural realm of creation. For nature itself has no need for completion—it is a closed, self sufficient system with no utopian transparency. Man does not progress to the mysticism of the annulment of materiality, but rather, towards complete actualization permitting him to enter the kingdom of the spirit by way of deeds.

In the Torah, as in man, are found various material and spiritual systems, bearing within their infinity actualized and yet to be actualized experiences. The mitzvot in their present form will be nullified in the future, and yet, the Torah is eternal.

Although the Maharal allows for the hypothetical existence of different world systems, he comes rather to strengthen the thesis concerning the eternal nature of the Torah and the binding nature of its law. This point exemplifies his historical, anti-Christian tendency, which wishes to inherit the place of "the law according to the flesh".

The Maharal defends Judaism by arguing that the natural law of Israel is the natural metaphysical law destined for a nation bearing a metaphysical potential. His philosophy, which perceives universal law in the Torah, does not wish to establish a universalistic world view in the humanistic sense, but rather, to explain the uniqueness of the Jewish people who are capable of accepting upon themselves the true laws of the universe through observance of the Torah.

Répertoire bibliographique / Bibliographic Repertory