The Nature and Purpose of Divine Law

Moshe Halbertal*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review

2 Scopus citations


This approach to Divine Law that Maimonides diagnoses as rooted in sickness of the soul has its source in a deep religious impulse and sensibility. Such an outlook assumes that providing humanly useful reasons for the commandments empties them of their religious meaning. Divine Law, if it has its source in a God who transcends humanity, must be inscrutable. Even more so, the religious meaning of fulfilling God’s commandments ought to be manifested in the surrender of the human will to the divine will. Worship is constituted as obedience, and such an obedience in principle cannot be in the service of human aims. It is not only the case that humans are incapable of approaching God’s mind and understanding His commands, but rather, the ascription of reasons to God’s commandments runs against their very purpose. The only reason for obeying a commandment is that God commanded it, and any attempt to harness such commandments to foster human aims would taint and undermine their purity as religiously motivated acts. This view is considered by Maimonides as that of sick souls since it constitutes an arbitrary God who commands with no reason, and it posits a human worshiper engaged in meaningless obedience. Maimonides provides a radical and thoroughly anthropocentric alternative to the meaning and end of Divine Law. Divine Law has a reason, it aims at human flourishing and it guides humans to achieve their ultimate perfection.

Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationMAIMONIDES’ Guide of the Perplexed
Subtitle of host publicationA Critical Guide
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages19
ISBN (Electronic)9781108635134
ISBN (Print)9781108480512
StatePublished - 1 Jan 2021

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Cambridge University Press.


  • Affective state
  • Apprehension of God
  • Cognitive state
  • Knowledge of God
  • Prophecy


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