Anyone even remotely familiar with the Talmud will note the routine exchange or dialogue that takes place between rabbis. The rabbis are often from different periods, but the conversations add to the understanding and elaboration of the tradition. The conversation, in that sense, is very much alive.
That model has always drawn me, and I believe it shows the complexity of the classical Jewish tradition to entertain and present perspectives alongside each other that may provide the exact opposite view. What about if we could hear great rabbis of Judaism discuss issues that concern us today by inviting them to our dinner table?
That idea was the basis for a previous short work titled Maimonides and Spinoza Come to Dinner. That book pitted a Jewish philosopher and halakhist against a philosopher who had abandoned Judaism and, in many ways, emerged as the first secular man of the modern era.
This work continues that model, but this time presents a theoretical conversation between a 12th-century Spanish rabbi and a famed rabbi from the 16th century from Prague. The fact that I have added myself as an interlocutor between this discussion adds another dimension to the dialogue. The gap between Rabbi Judah Loew also known as the Maharal and myself is rough-ly 341 years. The distance from the Rambam, i.e., Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, and I is roughly 768 years.
I am drawn to these two individuals for various reasons. They were both philosophically inclined, albeit in different ways. Both are fascinating individuals in their own right and products of very distinct eras. The two were also included extensively in the discussion of my foremost teacher, Rabbi Dr. Byron L. Sherwin, z”l.
This short book explores some of the prevailing attitudes and ideas held by Maimonides, or the Rambam, i.e., Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, and the Maharal, or Rabbi Judah Loew of Prague on the subject of Jewish identity. A hypothetical dialogue between these two sages and me will be presented. The discussion is not directly focused on the topic of anusim or Conversos, but the implications for them is clear I believe, if we dig a little deeper.
Posted by Rabbi Dr. Juan Marcos Bejarano Gutierrez the director of the B’nei Anusim Center for Education. He is the author of The Converso Dilemma: Halakhic Responsa and the Status of Forced Converts and The Karaites: And the Question of Jewish Identity.