Our last class session focused on the human telos – our end or purpose – regarding our unique rationality; unlike other living beings, humans possess the ability to deliberate the rightness or wrongness of a situation. Consequently, this telos is aligned with the production of laws to uphold the perfection (welfare) of the soul and the perfection (welfare) of the body (Twersky, 314/ Guide Book 3, Chp. 27). To achieve these states of perfection (as much as a human can achieve perfection), aligning one’s thoughts and actions through moral training outlined by the Law is critical. This week’s texts focused on the theological and philosophical aspects of moral training throughout genealogical and covenantal kinships and emphasize the significance of united, ethical kinships.
In Chapter 49 of The Guide, Maimonides elaborates on laws pertaining to marriage and sexual relations. His reading of Aristotle’s human friendship and sociality molded much of his descriptions and reasonings for what he will describe as “moral and intellectual virtues of friendship” or, more generally, ‘ethical kinships.’ In an Aristotelian fashion, Maimonides emphasizes the importance of friendships (more broadly meaning familial relations, teacher-student relations, etc.): “When man is in good health and prosperous he enjoys the company of his friends; in time of trouble he is in need of them; in old age, when his body is weak, he is assisted by them” (Aristotle’s Nichomachean Ethics, Book 9). Further, familial or ‘blood’ relations unite common descendants with a unique kind of love and compassion. Because of this, Maimonides explains why ‘professional harlots’ (prostitutes and those that are sexually promiscuous), sexual relations outside of marriage, etc. violate God’s commandments. This has a double meaning: not only does abiding by these laws maintain familial sanctity and kinship, but it also fabricates a network of moral challenges that, therefore, allow “the full development of intellective capacities” (Maimonides and Friendship, 19). Refraining from excessive lust and engaging in sexual acts with family members (of which Maimonides lists in The Guide)creates a thread of virtuous, rational actions and freedom brought forth from our uniquely human telos.
Similarly, Chapter 49 also focuses on the practice of circumcision and how it “plays a role in at least two different conceptual schemas; one related to sociability and kinship, the other to everyday devotional practices” (Maimonides and Friendship, 22). Similar to the purpose of the mezuzah and dietary restrictions, “the sign of the covenant impressed upon a man’s flesh may be considered broadly analogous to the sign of the covenant bolded to the doorpost of this house: both are practices that are meant to bring god to mind” (Maimonides and Friendship, 22). However, the act of circumcision invokes both a continuous, individual virtuous act and a societal kinship of sorts; not only is sensuality reduced with the practice (echoing the virtues explained within the context of marriage and sexual relations), but the act fosters a ‘universal family friendship,’ fusing the aspects of sociopolitical virtue and contemplative practice (which is why, scholars believe, Maimonides included this passage within his elaboration of virtuous kinships and not within passages concerning contemplative practice).
The act of circumcision unites these societal relations further: “circumcision is related both to character friendship (associated with common values [discussed above]) and family friendship (associated with descent from a common ancestor and a shared bodily sign” (Maimonides and Friendship, 24). Here, it is clear how Maimonides yearns to create a fusion of genealogical and covenantal kinships; further, it insinuates the idea of common flourishing beyond the familial unit into the whole of the Jewish people, or ‘eudiamonia,’ further incorporating Aristotelian ideology within his legal and theological interpretations.
Friendship as a virtue extends further into our human telos within how we choose our friends; Maimonides and Friendshipelaborates: “the central passage linking friendship with virtue is…where Maimonides analyzes Aristotle’s three typological categories of friendship – utility, pleasure and virtue friendship…(where) he identifies the ‘love of a student for teacher and of a teacher for a student’ as the paradigm of friendship based on virtue… ‘about which we are commanded’” (Maimonides and Friendship, 9). Moreover, these friendships between sages and scholars fosters inculcation of ethical behavior and the thirst for knowledge of God. Therefore, a person’s associations through ethical kinships are critical to his wellbeing.
Following this, it is necessary to discuss the role of converts within kinship. In Don Seeman’s “Kinship as Ethical Relation,” the significance of Obadiah the proselyte and the significance of ethical kinship through conversion is explained. For Maimonides, questions regarding the ‘belonging’ or kinship of converts is clear: in one of his responses to Obadiah he writes, “a man who left his father and mother, forsook his birthplace…who recognized the truth and righteousness of this people’s Law, and cast the things of this world from his heart…you (are a) disciple of our father Abraham who also left his father and his kindred and inclined Godward” (Twersky, 477). Here, lineage infractions are cast aside; similar to the intellectual freedom gained through moral practices discussed previously, the act of conversion illuminates a similar struggle to gain freedom. In an Aristotelian manner, he elaborates in The Guide,“accordingly a single tribe that is united through a common ancestor – even if he is remote – because of this love one another, help one another, and have pity on one another, and the attainment of these things is the greatest purpose of the Law.”
This begs the question: from what we have read, is the health and preservation of friendship through ethical kinship the ultimate purpose of the Law (according to Maimonides)? Throughout our study of Maimonides, we have encountered multiple ‘purposes’ of the Law, but do they all point back to a common theme/ reasoning?
On a different note, how does ethical kinship extend beyond those united under commonalities? From “Maimonides and Friendship, “virtue friendship should be considered a form of intellectual pleasure, which cannot be confused with the distractions of buying and selling or eating and cohabiting that Maimonides so caustically dismisses” (Maimonides and Friendship, 30). Can these ‘external’ friendships produce the same virtues as ‘ethical kinships,’ or are these virtues and pleasures exclusive to those produced through ‘ethical kinships’?