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How are the writings of Moses Maimonides typically "seen" by Jews?

Are his works considered to be directly inspired by God (such as the Tanakh) and therefore infallible, or are they considered to be "good writings" (such as an Encyclopedia, or any secular historical work), prone to error, but still an excellent source of information?

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Let me know if I should edit the question and write G-d instead; I'm still unclear on which denominations do this, or if is common among all Jewish schools. –  IQAndreas Apr 16 at 4:37
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which writings? moreh nevuchim? mishna torah? medicinal works? –  ray Apr 16 at 20:27
    
@ray I'm afraid I don't know (but I was assuming if one work is inspired, all of them would be); I didn't realize he wrote so diversely. –  IQAndreas Apr 17 at 4:09
    
@ray While going through an audio-book on Judaism (which turned out mostly being about history), they would often bring up quotes out of works by Maimonides; I wanted to know in which light those writings were "seen" by those with Jewish faith. –  IQAndreas Apr 17 at 4:14

3 Answers 3

There are three levels of "divinity" (for lack of a better term). The highest is "Word of God," ie, the literal word of God, as spoken to a prophet. This includes the Torah (Pentateuch) and Prophets. The second level is "divinely inspired," known as ruach hakodesh, in which God, in his mysterious ways, 'inspired' or had a hand in the composition of the book. This applies to Writings. The third level includes secular works, which do not have any divine inspiration.

Books written by great rabbis on Torah subjects are generally accepted to be on the second level, "divinely inspired." This is because they become part of the Oral Law, the grand tradition that interprets and explains the Word of God. It is accepted that any work which interprets the Word of God itself has some divinity, and is thus "divinely inspired." Of course, depending on who you ask and the perceived stature of the rabbi in question, a work could be considered to have more or less divine inspiration.

Maimonides wrote many books. Those which are secular in nature, such as his works on medicine, are considered not to have been composed with divine inspiration. Those works, such as the Mishne Torah, which deal with Jewish law and tradition, are considered to have an element of divine inspiration.


Addendum:

There are opinions which hold that everything is divinely inspired - every action, every object, etc, but these are a minority.

There are differing opinions as to whether the writings and sayings of truly great rabbis, such as those in the Talmud, on secular subjects are also divinely inspired. For example, please see Rabbinic speculations on history .

Many Progressive Jews believe that the Torah and Prophets are not necessarily the literal Word of God, but are merely divinely inspired.

Finally, Maimonides, and his works, were quite controversial when they first came out. Those who disagreed with him would have obviously assumed that they were not divinely inspired. Since then, we've accepted his works as part of our tradition.

(Divine inspiration is also considered to be at play in the determination of which works become part of the tradition.)

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Are his works considered to be directly inspired by God (such as the Tanakh) and therefore infallible, or are they considered to be "good writings" (such as an Encyclopedia, or any secular historical work), prone to error, but still an excellent source of information?

I'm not sure whether you meant that as a dichotomy, but, if so, it's a false one. Most of Tanach is directly inspired by God; the Encyclopaedia Britannica is a nice book; Maimonides's Mishne Tora (his now-most-studied work) is somewhere in between. Because he was a very holy man with a strong tradition on Jewish topics, we trust what he says about them and consider them very highly. This, to the extent of analyzing why he chose to include what he did in his work and why he chose to exclude other things, and even analyzing his wording. We consider studying Mishne Tora a fulfillment of the mitzva (command) to study Torah, and avoid putting copies of it on the floor or in other degrading locations. All this is done even more so with more highly esteemed post-Tanach rabbis, like the authors of the Talmud, and less so (but still somewhat) with less-esteemed rabbis, like Rabbi Chayim Kanievsky.

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I did not mean to present it as a dichotomy at all; the writers of Encyclopedia Britannica are usually intelligent and well read, and their research triple-checked by editors. 99% of the time, information in an Encyclopedia is accurate, and I therefore consider them to be a very reliable source of information, but now and again they get some detail incorrect; they are, after all, only human. –  IQAndreas Apr 17 at 5:03
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A dichotomy would be comparing the Tanakh to a Spider-Man comic-book. ;) –  IQAndreas Apr 17 at 5:05
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We trust what he says in Mishneh Torah; do we hold Moreh Nevuchim at the same level? I thought I'd heard that that one was more controversial. (It also, being a philosophic work, isn't a source of halacha, and maybe that distinction is important.) –  Monica Cellio Apr 17 at 15:41
    
@MonicaCellio maimonides himself says that outside of halacha, what he calls aggadah, ideas can be disputed. –  Baby Seal Apr 23 at 2:40

in Pirkei Avot ch.6:

"Rabbi Meir would say: Whoever studies Torah for Torah's sake alone, merits many things; not only that, but [the creation of] the entire world is worthwhile for him alone. He is called friend, beloved, lover of G-d, lover of humanity, rejoicer of G-d, rejoicer of humanity. The Torah enclothes him with humility and awe; makes him fit to be righteous, pious, correct and faithful; distances him from sin and brings him close to merit. From him, people enjoy counsel and wisdom, understanding and power, as is stated (Proverbs 8:14): "Mine are counsel and wisdom, I am understanding, mine is power." The Torah grants him sovereignty, dominion, and jurisprudence. The Torah's secrets are revealed to him, and he becomes as an ever-increasing wellspring and as an unceasing river. He becomes modest, patient and forgiving of insults. The Torah uplifts him and makes him greater than all creations..."

Hence any Jew who studies the torah diligently and in purity, following the 48 ways the torah is acquired as explained there in details. The degree that the divine secrets will be revealed to him is according to how high he has ascended the ladder of purity and diligence as explained there. see also the book Path of the Just.

The Rambam is to be viewed as a torah scholar who studied "torah lishma" with tremendous dedication and ascended this ladder to a high degree. Hence, his works in torah are to be viewed as torah-true.

His other works in medicine though are to be viewed as following the science of his era. God has a plan in the world and He had a reason for withholding the technological and medical breakthroughs which we have seen in the past 200 years. (my guess is to limit man's destructive power. technology may seem good now, but in 100 or 200 years we may look back and conclude that it was not a good thing. it can really bring tremendous destruction.)

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