The highly respected scholar Dr. Isadore Twersky (1930-1997) was a professor at Harvard University, a rabbi, the Chasidic Tainer Rebbe of Boston, and the son-in-law of Rabbi Dr. Joseph B. Soloveitchik. His works on Maimonides and other writings achieved high praise. In 1983, Harvard University Press published his book “Rabbi Moses Nahmanides (Ramban): Explorations in His Religious and Literary Virtuosity.” Twersky edited the book which contains his Introduction and five essays by five other scholars: Bernard Septimus’ Open Rebuke and Concealed Love: Nahmanides and the Andalusian Tradition; Ezra Fleischer’s The Gerona School of Hebrew Poetry; Moshe Idel’s We Have No Kabbalistic Tradition on This; Bezalel Safran’s Rabbi Azriel and Nahmanides: Two Views of the Fall of Man; and David Berger’s Miracles and the Natural Order in Nahmanides.[1] The following summary of some of what these scholars say shows that it would be a huge mistake to think there is only one approach to Judaism.    


Isadore Twersky

Twersky tells us that it was Nachmanides’ “classic commentary that gave legitimacy and respectability to kabbalah [Jewish mysticism]” an approach to the study of Torah that few had before him. By focusing on the commentaries of Rashi and Abraham ibn Ezra, he encouraged commentators to view scripture from three perspectives, his kabbalistic approach, Rashi’s reliance on midrash, and ibn Ezra’s rationalism. He strongly disagreed with the interpretations of the latter two. He mentions Maimonides rarely, but unlike his treatment of the other two and despite not agreeing with Maimonides, he always treated him with respect.


Bernard Septimus

Septimus sees Maimonides as the last great figure formed by the golden age of Andalusia. He was influenced by Muslim philosophers who translated the ancient writings of such men as Aristotle. He views Nachmanides as “the first great Spanish figure belonging totally to the cultural environment of Christian Europe.” Septimus also notes that Nachmanides did not belittle Maimonides as he did Rashi and ibn Ezra and points to scholars who say he was wary of coming in fights with Maimonides’s supporters. In contrast to Maimonides, Nachmanides attacked rationalism and stressed the Christian notion of the need of faith. Also, contrary to Maimonides he was strongly opposed to the allegorical interpretation of the Torah, while accepting the aggadot, the legends developed by rabbis as true events. Yet, in his disputation at Barcelona in 1263, when the Christians wanted to use aggadot to prove the truth of Christianity, he denied the authority of aggadot. This led “many scholars to the conclusion that Nahmanides was arguing under polemical pressure, against his own profound belief.”


Ezra Fleischer

Fleischer notes that although Nachmanides was a gifted writer, like Maimonides who surpassed him in writing clearly and logically, he disliked Hebrew poetry.


Moshe Idel

Idel discusses Nachmanides’s mystical notion that forbidden sexual alliances were prohibited because of transmigration of souls, an idea that was the “utmost importance for Nahmanides.” His writings” helped, indirectly, the smooth reception of the Zohar” because of his “great authority” and because Nachmanides kabbalistic teachings were generally so vague they did not “obstruct recognition of zoharic Kabbalah as the true Kabbalah and the true answer to the challenge of philosophy.”


Bezalel Safran

Safran identifies Nachmanides view that before eating the forbidden fruit and violating God’s command, Adam was in the highest spiritual state, he had no thought or even any ability to do wrong. Fellow kabbalists see many difficulties with this view. Among others, if he had, as Nachmanides claimed, no capacity for choice, how did he choose to do wrong? If he could not choose, why should he be punished? Furthermore, wasn’t it God’s intention to give humans freedom of choice, so how can Nachmanides claim that Adam lacked this capacity? Safran identifies many more difficulties in Nachmanides’ interpretation of the Garden of Eden story, and tells us that Nachmanides sidestepped the difficulties by claiming that the story has secret kabbalistc insights.


David Berger

Berger discusses Nachmanides’ view that everything that happens on earth is controlled and moved by God, without exception, including each leaf that fall from a tree. This view seems to deny natural law entirely. The famed interpreter of mysticism Gershom Scholem wrote that according to Nachmanides “the law of nature is a sort of optical illusion.”



This sketch of ideas by and about Nachmanides, a highly respected Jewish mystical thinker shows that there are many different ways to interpret Torah. There is even the famed statement that the Torah has seventy different interpretations, with the number 70 used often to denote many.

[1] In this book, the scholars spell Nachmanides without the c and with a dot under the h.