Letter of Consolation of Maimon
By the son of Josef, father of Moses Maimonides
Edited by Dr. Fred Rosner
Maimonides Research Instritute, (2003)
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - April 1, 2010
Maimon, the father of Moses Maimonides, wrote this small book in 1160 to offer hope and consolation to Jews who were being persecuted by extremist Muslims and forced to convert to Islam. Many of the Jews felt guilty that they had abandoned Judaism even though they practiced their religion in secret. Maimon's message to these Jews is that feigned acceptance of the Islamic faith does not constitute idolatry, as Islam is a monotheistic religion. He told them to continue to be faithful to the Torah and its teachings in secret. His supporting arguments are not philosophical; they are traditional and faith-oriented in content, loosely written, somewhat rambling, often repetitious and filled with biblical proofs. They are totally different than the teachings of his rationalistic son. He views can be summarized as follows:
Jews should remember that God is perfect and in control of every situation. God will never abandon the Jews, whom He loves, and Israel will exist forever. God is aware of what occurs and acts toward Jews as a father who loves his children. If God did not love Israel as a parent loves a child, the Jewish people would have been destroyed long ago.
Persecution and suffering are not necessarily negative. They constitute chastisement and a method of instruction from a loving deity. The terrible events of the diaspora were foreseen and noted by the ancient prophets who assured the Jews that these evils would cease. Therefore, there is no need to despair.
The world is like a beautiful woman who can ensnare men and lead them to destruction. Jews should remove themselves from worldly affairs and attractions because they separate people from God. Jews must hold fast to the Torah and its teachings and accept the Torah as truth because the Torah connects Jews to God. They must not be fooled by the Moslems who say that God changed the Torah by giving the Koran; God does not change His teachings. They should pray; prayer works and creates a loving relationship with God. Prayers can be in any language and may be recited in an abridged version.
Moses was a great person and Mohammed cannot compare to him. Moses did not look at all like a human being; he was ten cubits (fifteen feet) tall. He spoke with angels and became an angel when he "died." Moses prayed for Israel's future before he departed. Therefore Jews are helped by reciting Psalm 90, which tradition states was composed by Moses. The Psalm should be read each morning before the morning service.
Evildoers will be punished during the messianic age, though we do not know when this age will occur. The root cause of the current Jewish tragedy and all past sufferings lies in the bad report of the ten spies whom Moses sent to reconnoiter Canaan and who, according to tradition, returned on the ninth day of the month of Av. As a consequence of this act, God brought many calamities on Israel on this day, including the destruction of the two Temples and the exile we now endure.
Fred Rosner's translation of this important historical document and his explanations are excellent.