Repentance and free will in Maimonides’ Book of knowledge: laws of repentance
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vii, 134 pages
ProgramTowson University. Jewish Studies Program
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This dissertation argues that there is an unresolved tension between the loss of the ability to repent and the idea of absolute free will in Maimonidean thought. It explores the idea that confession, which is the biblical Law requiring that the penitent must first confess, is the substance of repentance. The research explores repentance and free will in Maimonides’ Book of Knowledge: Laws of Repentance, with insights from his other works, to include the Guide of the Perplexed, Eight Chapters, and other ethical and halakhic writings. Maimonides explains repentance as the essential pathway, which ultimately leads to love of God, resulting in attainment of life in the World to Come. If the will is impinged upon by God, circumstances of life, external sources, etc., it creates a psychological and existential dissonance and cannot simultaneously be “free,” as the biblical account of the hardening of Pharaoh's heart seems to imply. Therefore, the question of absolute free will arises. Consequently, this study is driven by the following questions: Is repentance an act of human will or is it a divine endowment? According to Maimonides, does God impinge upon the ability to repent, and if so, is this necessarily a usurping of the will? Is the loss of the ability to repent the same as the loss of the ability to exercise free will? Is the human will absolutely free to repent as Maimonides believes or is it a gift given by God at some times and not others? What does it mean to have the heart “hardened” by God and how does this affect free will? What is the ultimate purpose of human life according to Maimonides? The path of research entailed analyzing repentance and free will according to Maimonides in light of current research in the field as well as consideration of classical Jewish texts, such as Saadia Gaon's The Book of Beliefs and Opinions, Ibn Paquda's Duties of the Heart and Rabbenu Yonah of Gerona's The Gates of Repentance. This study illuminates the influence on Maimonidean thought by philosophers such as Aristotle, Avicenna and Al-Farabi, as well as the intellectual climate of Andalusia into which Maimonides was born.