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Philosophy and Law: Leo Strauss as a Student of Medieval Jewish Thought

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 August 2009


Even a casual glance at the list of Leo Strauss's writings devoted in whole or in part to medieval Jewish texts is sufficient to make clear that in any ordinary sense he left a substantial legacy to this field of study. They include two books, Philosophy and Law and Persecution and the Art of Writing, the monograph length essay which serves as the introduction to the English translation of Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed done by Shlomo Pines and a number of articles.

Moreover it is relatively clear that his study of these texts form an important part of his legacy as such. They remained important to his inquiries through his long scholarly career and do not belong only to one phase. Several of the articles devoted to such texts, he chose to republish in subsequent volumes concerned with major themes of his work. More important still, even towards the end of his life when his work was largely devoted to classical Greek texts, medieval Jewish texts continued to play some important role. The last work planned by Strauss, Studies on Platonic Philosophy, contains new, albeit short, treatments of Maimonides' Treatise on Logic and his Letter on Astrology which are the only essays first published in this book.

Research Article
Copyright © University of Notre Dame 1991

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1. Strauss, , Philosophic und Gesetz: Beitmge zum Verstandnis Maimunis and seiner Vorlaujer (Berlin: Schocken 1935)Google Scholar; English translation: Philosophy and Law: Essays Toward the Understanding of Maimonides and His Predecessors, trans. Baumann, Fred (Philadelphia, PA: Jewish Publication Society, 1987).Google Scholar

2. Strauss, , Persecution and the Art of Writing (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1952).Google Scholar

3. “How to Begin to Study The Guide of the Perplexed,” in Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed, trans. Pines, Shlomo (Chicago: University of Chicago. 1963).Google ScholarReprinted in Liberalism, Ancient and Modern (New York: Basic Books, 1968).Google Scholar

4. Quelques remarques sur la science politique de Maimonide et de Farabi,” Revue des Etudes Juives 100:137Google Scholar; Der ort der vorsehungslehre nach der Ansicht Maimunis,” Monatsschniftfur Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judentums 81:93105Google Scholar; “On Husik's Work in Medieval Jewish Philosophy.” Introduction to I. Husik's Philosophical Essays: Ancient, Medieval and Modem (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1952)Google Scholar; Maimonides' Statement on Political Science,” Proceedings of the American Academy of Jewish Research 22:115–30CrossRefGoogle Scholar; “On the Plan of the Guide of the PerplexedHarry Austryn Wolf son Jubilee Volume (Jerusalem: American Academy for Jewish Research), pp. 775–91.Google Scholar

5. What Is Political Philosophy? (Glencoe, IL: Free Press, 1956)Google Scholar; Liberalism, Ancient and Modern.

6. Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1983).Google Scholar

7. Philosophy and Law, Introduction and chap. 1; “Preface to Spinoza's Critique of Religion” reprinted in Liberalism, Ancient and Modern.

10. See Berman, L., “Medieval Jewish Religious Philosophy” in Bibliographical Essays in Medieval Jewish Studies, Studies in Judaism, vol. 2 (New York, NY: Anti-Defamation League of B'nai B'rith, 1976)Google Scholar; Guttman, J., Philosophies of Judaism (New York, NY: Schocken, 1973)Google Scholar; Vajda, G., “Les etudes de philosophie juive du Moyen Age depuis La synthese de Julius Guttman,” Hebrew Union College Annual 43 (1972): 125–47Google Scholar; 45 (1974); Sirat, C., A History of Jewish Philosophy in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: University of Cambridge, 1985).Google Scholar

11. Philosophy and Law, Introduction and chap. 1; “Preface to Spinoza's Critique of Religion.”

12. For a fuller discussion of Strauss's relationship to contemporary Jewish thought see H. Fradkin, “Leo Strauss & Contemporary Jewish Thought,” Contemporary Jewish Thinkers (B'nai B'rith Books).

13. For this and following, Philosophy and Law, Introduction and chap. 1.

14. “The Law of Reason in the Kuzari” Persecution and the Art of Writing, p. 107, note 35.Google Scholar

15. Philosophy and Law, Introduction and chap. 1.

16. Moses Maimonides, Guide of the Perplexed, Introduction.

17. “How to Begin to Study the Guide of the Perplexed.”

18. Persecution and the Art of Writing, chaps. 1 and 2.

19. Philosophy and Law and “Preface to Spinoza's Critique of Religion.”

20. “The Law of Reason in the Kuzari” Persecution and the Art of Writing.

21. See especially the beginning of Part II of the Kuzari, Kitab al-Radd wa-'l Dalil fi l-Din al Dhalil, ed. D. H. Banett and H. Ben-Shammai.

22. Kuzari, Part I, Par. 1.

23. For additional treatment see Fradkin, H., “Philosophy or Exegesis: Perennial Problems in the Study of Some Judaeo-Arabic Authors,” Proceedings of the Society for Judaeo-Arabic Studies, vol: 1 (Forthcoming)Google Scholar, and H. Fradkin, “The Dialogic Form of the Kuzari and the Interpretation of Judah Halevi's Thought” (Paper delivered at the 14th Annual Conference of the Association for Jewish Studies).

24. “How to Begin to Study the Guide of the Perplexed.”

25. Philosophy and Law, chap. 2.

26. “Law of Reason in the Kuzari.”

27. “How to Begin to Study the Guide of the Perplexed.”

28. See notes 26 and 27.

29. Persecution and the Art of Writing, chaps. 1 and 2.

30. For this and following see Philosophy and Law, Introduction and chap. 1.

31. “Jerusalem and Athens: Some Preliminary Reflections,” Studies in Platonic Political Philosophy; The Mutual Influence of Theology and Philosophy,” Independent Journal of Philosophy, 3:111–18 (Vienna)Google Scholar; On the Interpretation of GenesisL'Homme: Revue Francaise d'anthropologie (Paris) 21, no. 1: 536CrossRefGoogle Scholar; Progress or Return? The Contemporary Crisis in Western Civilization,” Modern Judaism 1:1745.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

32. “Preface to Spinoza's Critique of Religion.”

33. See “Progress or Return?” The Rebirth of Classical Political Rationalism, Essays and Lectures by Leo Strauss, ed. Pangle, Thomas L. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 1989).Google Scholar

34. It almost goes without saying that Strauss appreciated the fact that medieval Western thought as a whole, which is to say Christian and Muslim thought, have an extremely important bearing upon this inquiry. This is no doubt obvious in the case of Muslim thought. It may be somewhat less obvious in the case of Christian thought insofar as Christianity differs in its understanding of the relationship of revelation and Law. Nevertheless as the Gospels and Letters make clear this difference presupposes the Mosaic Law and this combined with other factors led medieval Christian thought to address itself to questions similar to those addressed by medieval Jewish and Muslim thought. Strauss thus draws attention to the necessity of understanding medieval Christian political theology in the introduction to his essay on Judah Halevi's Kuzari. Indeed he presents his research into the Kuzari as inspired by questions which have arisen from research of his own into medieval Christian thought already undertaken. The latter research found particular expression in his study of Marsilius of Padua (see “Marsilius of Padua,” in Liberalism, Ancient and Modern).