Western Asian and North African Studies from a Multidisciplinary Perspective Lecture Series: Lecture 1 | The Second Moses: Maimonides and His Thoughts


On the afternoon of March 28, 2023, the Center for West Asian and North African Studies at the Institute for International and Area Studies (IIAS) of Tsinghua University hosted the first lecture of the “Western Asian and North African Studies from a Multidisciplinary Perspective” series for the 2022-2023 spring semester via Zoom. Themed “The Second Moses: Maimonides and His Thoughts,” this lecture was delivered by Professor Fu Youde, who is Chair Professor at Shandong University, a distinguished professor of the Chang Jiang Scholars Program by China’s Ministry of Education, and Director of the Center for Judaic and Inter-Religious Studies at Shandong University. Ma Yue, Assistant Professor at the IIAS presided over the lecture. Over 70 scholars and students from various universities and those interested in the topic attended the lecture.
At the beginning of the lecture, Professor Fu Youde explained the meaning of “The Second Moses” in the theme. Moses was the leader of the Israeli people and founder of Judaism, and there had been no one that could live up to him among the Jews until the appearance of Moses Maimonides, a pioneer in Jewish law, philosophy, medicine and other fields.
Then, Professor Fu introduced Maimonides’ life and works, his core philosophical thoughts, theory of law and theory of the realm of life, and its influence on later generations. Maimonides’ full name was Moses ben Maimon. He was born into a Jewish family in Spain in 1135 AD, and his father was a judge. Later, Maimonides fled to Cairo, Egypt to avoid persecution of a fanatic Islamic sect. Maimonides codified the Mishneh Torah and wrote the philosophical masterpiece The Guide for the Perplexed in addition to volumes of works on medicine and agriculture. Professor Fu mentioned that the relationship between religion and philosophy has been a matter of debate in the academia. He cited the views of Isaac Husik and Leo Strauss, both Jewish philosophers in the 20th century, who believed that Maimonides’ works on law were intended for the general public, while his works on philosophy were targeted at the elite. Professor Fu introduced Maimonides’ core philosophical thoughts, including theism, creationism and eternity of the world, prophetism, as well as predestination and free will. Professor Fu stated that Maimonides’ contributions to Jewish law could be mainly divided into two aspects: his philosophical explanation of the foundation of Jewish law, and the construction of a Jewish law system in the Restatement of the Law Book. Furthermore, Professor Fu illustrated Maimonides’ four categories of perfection, namely, perfection of possessions, bodily perfection, moral perfection and intellectual perfection, and compared them with the views of Chinese and foreign philosophers. Finally, Professor Fu expounded on how Maimonides influenced later generations, especially philosophers, describing him as an everlasting monument in Jewish history.
During the Q&A session, Professor Fu had a lively exchange with the audience and gave insightful answers to a number of questions raised by them, such as how different Jewish groups in Israel interpret and think of Maimonides’ thoughts, whether teachings of Judaism and Islam had influence on each other during their formation, and whether there are different schools of law within Judaism.

Fu Youde obtained his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the Philosophy Department of Shandong University and his PhD degree from Peking University. He took part in a postgraduate program at the Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies of the Oxford University, studied at Leo Baeck College in London, and was a visiting scholar or guest professor of multiple universities and research institutes in Ireland, Britain, the United States, Canada, Australia, Israel, Italy, Germany, Switzerland and Hong Kong (China). In 1994, he established the Institute of Jewish Culture at Shandong University. Fu Youde serves as Director of the Center for Judaic and Inter-Religious Studies at Shandong University (a key research base on humanities and social sciences designated by the Ministry of Education), Director of the SDU-TAU Joint Institute for Jewish and Israeli Studies, Chair Professor and doctoral supervisor of Shandong University, a distinguished professor of the Chang Jiang Scholars Program by China’s Ministry of Education and a Mount Taishan Scholar in Shandong Province. He also works concurrently as Vice President of the Society for the Study of Chinese Religions, Director of the Society of Modern Foreign Philosophy of China, President of the Shandong Provincial Society of Philosophy, Council Member of the International Society for the Study of Barclay, Member of the Society of Biblical Literature, and Deputy Editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia of China: Religion, and has been editor-in-chief of Jewish Studies since it was founded in 2002.