My delightful plunge into the lectures of Leo Strauss at a 1966 U Chicago course reminded me of a story about Strauss in the Weekly Standard on the importance of Moses Maimonides and his place in Judaism:
Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life this fall finds that 43 percent of Jews do not know that Moses Maimonides, codifier of Jewish law, author of the Thirteen Principles of Faith, physician, and philosopher extraordinaire, was Jewish.
They are the smart ones, Leo Strauss would have said, because Maimonides was not a Jew. On February 16, 1938, Strauss wrote to his longtime friend Jacob Klein: “One misunderstands Maimonides simply because one does not reckon with the possibility that he was an ‘Averroist.’ ” Strauss knew, of course, that “to pull Maimonides out of Judaism is to pull out its foundation,” but his recent insights into Maimonides’s Guide for the Perplexed had led him to the “determination that Maimonides in his beliefs was absolutely no Jew” because he was a philosopher. Strauss had long maintained, as he wrote to Klein, “the incompatibility in principle of philosophy and Judaism.” Eight years earlier in Berlin, he had argued heatedly with Julius Guttmann that “Jewish philosophy” was a contradiction in terms. But he had never overtly proven the claim for a major Jewish figure, and now he was getting ready to do so.
Strauss was a controversial figure, and this period under review is the Strauss of the 1930s. Maimonides was a revered figure for the faithful. Strauss seemed to attack Maimonides and hence the Faith:
In July 1938 he finished his essay on Maimonides’s esoteric technique of writing that finally turned Strauss into a Straussian—and, as he could see during his conversation with Glatzer, would mean departing from the Jews. In his brilliant February 8 letter to Glatzer, Strauss indicated that he knew what he was doing. It’s a letter that recapitulates their history together and marks Glatzer as a sane Akiva and Strauss as the infamous heretic Elisha ben Abuyah, who went mad when he entered the “paradise” of full knowledge:
This is one of those articles that lends some evidence Strauss chose political philosophy over the life of the Faith. This choice cut him off, as the author argues, from the Jews.