The Virtue of Mercy According to Maimonides: Ethics, Law, and Theology

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This article explores Maimonides's position with regard to mercy in various aspects - ethics, law, and theology - and examines its unity. The first section discusses Maimonides's view on the question of mercy in the moral plane: is mercy a virtue? It begins with a short discussion of the Aristotelian stance and then analyzes Maimonides's view. It shows that Maimonides rejected the philosophical critique of mercy and deemed it a virtue. The second section discusses Maimonides's view in the judicial plane: may a judge show mercy in judgment and be lenient when ruling? It also explores how Maimonides justifies the negation of mercy in the legal plane in contrast with his view of mercy as a virtue. The third section explores Maimonides's view of mercy in the theological context. In his discussion of the divine attributes Maimonides interprets the attributes of merciful and gracious, and offered a metaphorical interpretation. Since humans are mandated to imitate God, this interpretation has consequences in the normative sphere. The theological discussion therefore raises the question of the moral and legal standing of mercy from a new perspective. It also raises the question of the relation between Maimonides's position in the Guide of the Perplexed and that in his halakhic compositions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)559-585
Number of pages27
JournalHarvard Theological Review
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1 Oct 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Religious studies


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