Maimonides on holiness

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


Two views of the nature of holiness are outlined in this chapter. According to one, which we may call ontological or essentialist, holy places, persons, times, and objects are ontologically distinct from (and religiously superior to) profane places, persons, times, and objects. This distinction is part of the universe. On the second view, holy places, persons, times, and objects are in no objective way distinct from profane places, persons, times, and objects; holiness is a status, not a quality of existence. It is a challenge, not a given; normative, not descriptive. It is institutional (in the sense of being part of a system of laws) and hence contingent. This sort of holiness does not reflect objective reality, it helps constitute social reality. On this view, holy places, persons, times, and objects are indubitably holy, and must be treated with all due respect, but they are, in and of themselves, like all other places, persons, times, and objects. What is different about them is the way in which the Torah commands that they be treated. It is argued here that Maimonides adhered to the second, non-essentialist, view of holiness.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationHoliness in Jewish Thought
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages25
ISBN (Print)9780198796497
StatePublished - 15 Feb 2018

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© Oxford University Press 2018. All rights reserved.


  • Election
  • Halakha
  • Holiness
  • Imitation of God
  • Judah Halevi
  • Maimonides
  • People of Israel
  • Purity
  • Sanctity
  • Torah

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (all)


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