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A day at the museum with Rambam, Dylan
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A day at the museum with Rambam, Dylan

Dr. David Brahinsky will discuss the life, times, and ideas of Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides as they developed in an Islamic environment. He will then pick up his guitar and lead the Roosevelt String Band in a concert of Bob Dylan’s songs.
Dr. David Brahinsky will discuss the life, times, and ideas of Jewish philosopher Moses Maimonides as they developed in an Islamic environment. He will then pick up his guitar and lead the Roosevelt String Band in a concert of Bob Dylan’s songs.

Roosevelt resident and college professor Dr. David Brahinsky will focus on the lives and works of two Jewish icons born more than 800 years apart — Moses Maimonides and Bob Dylan — when he appears Sunday, Oct. 19, at the Jewish Heritage Museum of Monmouth County.

“Maimonides, also known as the Rambam, was the greatest medieval Jewish philosopher,” said Brahinsky, who teaches philosophy and comparative religion at Bucks County Community College in Newtown, Pa.

Born around 1135 in Cordoba, now part of Spain, and despite living his entire life under Muslim rule in Spain and North Africa, Maimonides nevertheless “was able to function as the leader of the Jewish community in Egypt and serve as the physician to the ruling court. At the same time, he wrote many books, including two masterpieces, Mishneh Torah and Guide for the Perplexed,” Brahinsky said. 

How the sage racked up these impressive achievements and what it says about Jewish-Muslim relations at the time is the theme of a lecture Brahinsky will deliver at 1 p.m. at the museum in Freehold. He will provide insights into the philosopher’s two major literary works and explore the possibilities of Jews and Muslims thriving together in the future.

“The main theme will be the influences on Maimonides of Islamic culture and Islamic philosophy,” said Brahinsky. Among these, he said, he plans to cite: Avicenna (Abu ’Ali al-Husayn ibn Sina), who died about 100 years before Maimonides was born and who is recognized as the first major Islamic philosopher; al-Farabi Abu Nasr, who preceded Avicenna and created complex theories of epistemology that are said to rival those of Aristotle; and Averroes (Abu al-Walid Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Rushd), a contemporary of Maimonides who disputed the claim of many Muslim theologians that philosophers were outside the fold of Islam and had no base in scripture. 

“An important take-home message is that when Jews and Muslims dig deeply enough into the essences of their religions, as these philosophers were able to do, they can find a great deal of commonality and many reasons to live together in peace,” Brahinsky said.

The lecture will be followed by a performance by Brahinsky’s Roosevelt String Band at 2:30 p.m. He will be joined by fellow musicians Guy DeRosas on harmonicas, Phil MacAuliffe on bass, Noemi Bolton on ukulele and banjo-uke, and Jen Sherry on vocals. The group will perform some of Dylan’s most famous songs, such as “Masters of War” and “With God on Our Side,” as well as some selections that are less well known — including “Show Train,” which Brahinsky said “is full of pathos and, one might say, prophesy.”

Brahinsky will talk about Dylan’s Jewish roots; the singer was born Robert Allan Zimmerman in 1941 and was raised in a Midwestern Jewish household before crafting such songs as “The Times They are a-Changin’” and “Blowin’ In the Wind.” Brahinsky said both of these became “anthems for the counter-culture and antiwar movements in the 1960s.”

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