Here is a rough draft of a work in progress. I hope to have a slide presentation with audio to post soon. Comments welcome!
Order seems to be the key concept; natural law is not part of Maimonides’ vocabulary and the term should be applied with caution to his thought. A good example is his observation in Guide of the Perplexed II, 19. Aristotle’s chief accomplishment is his bringing order to the sublunar world; the next step would have been to bring order to the celestial region as well. Aristotle, however, could not accomplish this, and he knew it, though he was discrete in disclosing his failure. This shortcoming of Aristotle’s system is the main reason why Maimonides can sincerely claim that Aristotle never proved the eternity of the universe, and, further, that Aristotle knew that he had no such proof. Aristotle cannot provide an explanation for the order of the celestial orbs, though he can do this for the sub-lunar realm:
“… it appears from what he [Aristotle] says that he wished to bring order for our benefit into the being of the spheres, as he has brought order for us into the existence of that which is beneath the sphere. He wished to do this in order that the whole should exist in virtue of natural necessity and not in virtue of the purpose of one who purposes according to his will whatever it be and the particularization of one who particularizes in whatever way he likes. Now this task has not been accomplished by him, nor will it ever be accomplished.”
Further on in the same chapter Maimonides writes, “Now if Aristotle had been able—as he thought—to give us the cause for the differences between the motions of the spheres so that these should be in accordance with the order of the positions of the spheres with regard to one another, this would have been extraordinary.” However, Aristotle cold not do this, and a strong argument for “necessity”–the menacing rival to “creation”–will not hold.
It is interesting that Maimonides places such emphasis on order—not merely order in the sense of an arrangement whose rationale can be discerned and appreciated, but an order to the celestial bodies that makes sense of their motions when considered against their positionings in the celestial realm.
The proper ordering of the planets was somewhat of a conundrum. Aristotle devotes the short tenth chapter of De caelo, book two, to this issue. He avers that this and related questions “may best be studied in astronomical writings, where they are adequately discussed.” Aristotle notes that the slower the motion, the further the star from the earth—but this is true only after conceding, with no evidence offered, that the fixed stars, which participate in the daily motion, are on the outermost heaven. It then becomes “natural” to order the positionings in accordance with the velocities.
Ptolemy was able to compute, on the basis observations of eclipses and lunar parallax, absolute distances for the sun and moon. The astronomical tradition has determined that the fixed stars are the furthest from the earth, followed by Saturn, Jupiter, and Mars. There remains some disagreement about the positioning of Venus and Mercury, a problem which Maimonides refers to in Guide II, 25. Since none of these bodies has an observable parallax, there is no way to order them with any certainty. However, “there is no other way … to make progress in our knowledge of this matter”; hence, “the order assumed by the older [astronomers] appears the more plausible”.
In brief, neither Aristotle nor Ptolemy can offer a demonstration or even a sound, reasoned argument for the accepted ordering of the heavenly orbs. Both defer to unnamed, older astronomers. Maimonides seizes here upon a gap in astronomical science to score a point against “necessity”; he will do this again in Guide II, 25.
Again, in the summation near the end of the same chapter, Maimonides declares: “…the supposition that all of these things have been ordered in virtue of necessity and not in virtue of purpose is very remote indeed from being conceivable.” “All of these things” refers to “the positions, measures, and numbers of the stars and the motions of the their various spheres” mentioned a few lines earlier. The order or arrangement of these items, in a manner that fits the necessary structure and/or maintenance of the universe, is the desideratum that Aristotle cannot supply. However, some thought or reason must underlie the arrangement; in a universe that is harmoniously arranged, there cannot be (so avers Maimonides) revolting hiccups. Perhaps in the sublunary world, the necessity of matter to take on different combinations will lead to chance monstrosities. However, no such allowance can be made for the heavens. The only explanation is that there is a divine purpose, apparently unfathomable to humans, that drives the particular arrangement that we observe. Establishing the existence of a divine purpose, or divine will, is the crucial move for Maimonides’ presentation of his system.
In contrast to Maimonides’ concern with the specific details of velocities and positionings of stars and planets that do not conform to the anticipated celestial order, Hallevi sees the cosmos as ordered from top to bottom:
“He [the author of Sefer Yesira] informed us that the order (al-niẓām) is one, owing to one Arranger (naẓẓām), High and Sanctified is He. If the existents differ and are distinguished one from the other, then their variety is due to their material substrates, which are different, some higher and some lower, some turbid and some limpid. However, from the part of the giver of forms and the bestower of configurations and order, the wisdom throughout is one. Providence is appropriate and arrayed in a single order, in the macrocosm, in the human, and in the order of the orbs …”.
The same idea comes across even more forcefully in Cuzari II, 6, where Hallevi asserts that the very same “will” (irāda) that is responsible for the perfect order in the cosmos impressed the Ten Commandments upon the atomsphere at Sinai, so that Israel would hear them, as well as engraving them on the tablets. When asked, in the course of a discussion of the divine attributes, how he would respond to the “philosophers” who deny any will to the deity, the ḥaver, Hallevi’s mouthpiece, proclaims:
“We will say to him: O Philosopher, what is the thing (al-’amr) that, in your opinion, made the heavens revolve in perpetuity, while the highest orb carries it all. It [the highest orb] has no place, nor any inclination in its motions, and the sphere of the earth is fixed and immobile at its center, with neither inclination nor support. It [the divine “thing”] fashioned the order (niẓām) just as it is, with regard to quantity, quality, and shapes. There is no escaping recognition of that thing, since the items did not create themselves, nor [did they create] one another. That thing fashioned the air into audible shapes for the Ten Commandments, and fashioned the writing that is engraved on the tablets. Call it will (irāda), command (’amr), or whatever you wish.”
The lasts sentence is no rhetorical decoration. The technical terms of philosophy or theology are not critical. Hallevi insists that whatever “it” is that fashioned the universe also fashioned the air at Sinai and the writing on the tablets. If we were to view the theories under review here as apologetics, then Hallevi and Maimonides would be making the same “apology”: the divine will responsible for making the universe is also responsible for arranging the theophany at Sinai. Hence we should not be surprised that more than one Jewish thinker placed Maimonides and Hallevi in the same camp of defenders of the faith.
On the face of it, Hallevi has no reply to Aristotle’s tenet that the universe exists of necessity, with no beginning in time. Despite his being in the eyes of many the anti-philosopher par excellence, on the issue of the perfect ordering exhibited by the cosmos he seems to be very much in concert with “the philosophers”. Won’t this stance lead him to difficulties in defending the doctrine of creation? In fact, Hallevi is far less troubled than Maimonides with the issue of creation. For Maimonides, Aristotle’s “necessity” forces him into an uncomfortable stance: either reject Aristotle on grounds of faith, tradition, or scripture, and fatally damage his fundamental belief that Judaism does not force one to reject scientific truths; or accept “necessity” and deny miracles, including the miraculous theophany at Sinai. Maimonides approaches the question carefully and with so much discretion that many believe that he is hinting at his acceptance of Aristotle and “necessity”; I believe that to be a mistake, but it is not our topic here. In the end, Maimonides’ course is the one outlined above: to show that Aristotle had no proof for “necessity”. The Stagirite’s failure to give a rational for the ordering of the spheres supports Maimonides’ claim.
Hallevi for his part does not feel pressed at all by the issue of creation, as one can see from the shallow and cavalier fashion in which he shakes off the issue in book I of the Cuzari. One ought to believe that the world was created at a certain point of time ex nihilo; but if one cannot bring oneself to do this, it is also acceptable to hold the view of endless cycles of creation and destruction, so long as one accepts that the present cycle began with anno mundi 0, according to the Jewish reckoning. As it seems to me, Hallevi expected his readers to see the issue of creation come up in any serious discussion between a Jewish sage and a potential convert. He obliges by having the king ask and the haver respond—but without any deep probing. As we shall see, this is characteristic of pre-Maimonidean Jewish thought. There is a perceived need for arguments in favor of creation, and arguments against eternity; but no one before Maimonides saw how critical it was to provide a complete, or at least, serious solution, which shows what is meant by divine will or purpose, how such a concept has never been shown to be scientifically impossible, and why it is so critical for Judaism.
I would like to suggest, as gingerly as I can, a fine point of distinction between Hallevi’s choosing niẓām Cuzari II,6 and his choice of intiẓām in II, 17. The former describes the order that God has impressed upon the universe, as relayed by Hallevi’s spokesman; the latter describes the order that the Khazar king sees in the Land of Israel, as described by Hallevi in the preceding paragraph. According to Blau’s dictionary, p. 704, column, the eighth form, intiẓām, is used in literary theory to describe “ the final arrangement of the verse, the virtual meaning of the sentence”. Transposing this meaning to our texts, it seems to me that Hallevi is saying that there is order in the universe, but there is a higher, more sublime order, in the Land of Israel, as manifested in the special virtues of the Jewish people when they reside there and are able to perform all the rituals.
I call attention to Hallevi’s appellation of the deity as naẓẓām, “Orderer” or “the One Who orders”. Maimonides uses a similar designation, nāẓim, near the end of Guide II, 13, in the specific context of criticizing “Epicurus, his following, and those like him”. This group denies that there exists an entity “who governs and orders being”. Interestingly enough, the very same pair of epithets, mudabbir or “one who governs” and nāẓim, or “one who orders”, reappears at the beginning of Guide III, 17. Here Maimonides adds another feature of Epicureanism, which clearly stands as a polar opposite to order: their atomism, and their doctrine that generation is the product of chance meetings and conglomerations of atoms. Though his insight into Aristotle’s failure to provide a rationale for the ordering of the celestial orbs is of critical importance, order is nonetheless a central feature of Maimonides’ cosmology. There is a rational order, transparent to human reason, in the sublunar world. The heavens are not disorderly; the motions of the heavenly bodies are certainly not random. The order of the planets is somehow a function of their velocities; but precisely how is not known. Moreover, some streaks of the divine will have left their imprint on the distribution of stars in the heavenly dome. We might have expected them to be distributed evenly; their uneven distribution is not evidence of random clustering, but of divine will. The Aristotelians have erred in ascribing perfect order to the cosmos; the Epicureans are mistaken in denying any order. Maimonides insists that there is impressive order, and so one cannot deny divine providence in the running of the system. However, some features cannot be explained in any orderly fashion; they are the trace-marks of divine will.
Qānūn, “law” or “rule”, refers to an overarching rational principle, rather than a concise description of the behavior of a specific class of objects under certain conditions. For example, in Guide II, 18, Maimonides avers that there is some rule guiding the design and maintenance of the universe (if I may employ some harmless anachronisms), but adds that “We are completely ignorant of the rule of that wisdom and of the decision made by it.”
Judah Hallevi applies qānūn in a similar fashion but in a radically different context. In Cuzari, I, 109, he contrasts qānūn ṭabī‘iy with [qānūn] irādiy, natural law with (divinely) willed law; or the rule of nature with the rule of the divine will. Qānūn in this context is synonymous with ‘amr, ‘thing” or “command”, and one of the signature concepts of Hallevi’s world-view. We have already seen that Hallevi is not icky at all about terminology. ‘Amr ilahi stands in contrast to ‘amr tabi’i, exactly as [qānūn] irādiy stands in opposition to qānūn ṭabī‘iy. When the rule of divine will, or the divine command, is in effect, terrestrial phenomena such as rainfall, falling prey to wild beasts, or victory in battle do not follow their natural course but are in effect the result of Israel’s obedience or disobedience, as reward or punishment. The rule of nature, the natural command, or the natural course of events, describes the governance of other nations, as well as that of Israel when it is out of divine favor. The contrast is similar to the distinction drawn by Hallevi’s colleague, Abraham Ibn Ezra, between being ruled by the stars and ruled by a force higher than the stars. The rule of divine will or command ranks higher than that of natural law. Hallevi’s concept is the forerunner of the two-tiered system that has been very much in favor in “Orthodox” circles, a miraculous governance (hanhaga nisit) and natural governance (hanhaga tiv’it). The miraculous governance is no less lawful than the natural alternative, insofar as it obeys certain rules. The miracle consists not in a one-time violation of natural law, but in the removal of the Jewish people from the natural course of events and their placement under direct divine control.
Let us return to Maimonides and sum up this first section. Herbert Davidson dubs Maimonides line of argument “a peculiar form of teleological argument”:
“Having established a purposeful particularizing agent for the universe, Maimonides adds the familiar proposition that whereas necessity and eternity are mutually implicative, the exercise of purpose by a voluntary agent is the contrary of necessity and implies creation. He thus completes a peculiar form of teleological argument. Instead of evincing phenomena that are so well designed and ordered that no human observer can deny a plan behind them, Maimonides’ argument evinces phenomena that no human observer can organize into an orderly pattern. The reasoning is cogent only because it rests on an earlier demonstration of the existence of God.”
In fact, Maimonides argues as well that there is a design and order that cannot be denied, and, as we have seen, he calls his God “the One who puts things in order”. The particularization lies in deliberately and willfully allowing a certain minor disorder—more precisely, a feature whose orderliness cannot be apprehended by humans. Features of this sort do not impair the smooth functioning of the universe.
“Necessity”, the handmaiden of eternality, as it functions in the Aristotelian system was, according to Maimonides, the chief threat to Jewish belief. It was for this reason that he put so much effort into showing that eternality had not been demonstrated. The earlier Jewish philosophers, beginning with Saadiah, provided briefer and less sophisticated replies which could reassure the faithful that there was a fitting response to any denial of creation. Maimonides, however, was not interested in just any response, but one that confronted head on the most serious objections to creation; and, no less important, he chose only those refutations that he could, in all intellectual honesty, feel comfortable with.
 Trans. Pines, 306.
 Trans. Guthrie, 198-199.
 Trans. Toomer, 419.
 The pre-Ptolemaic sources are discussed by Otto Neugebauer, A History of Ancient Mathematical Astronomy, vol. 2 (Berlin-Heidelberg-New York: Springer, 1975), 690-693.
 Trans. S. Pines, 310.
 Kuzari, IV, 25, my translation from the edition of D.H. Baneth-H. Ben-Shammai, 176. In this part of the Kuzari Hallevi provides a commentary on Sefer Yesira, which he like all the other commentators of his time took to be a book of science. Providence is “appropriate” (mutafaqqa) in the sense that each creature receives the attention due to it.
 The word is in the plural; but as far as I know, the highest orb has only one motion, namely the daily rotation from east to west.
 My translation from the edition of Baneth-Ben Shammai, p. 46. On the two different meanings of ‘amr, “command” and “thing”, see …, and my blog post on <https://cuzari.wordpress.com/?p=279>. Paul Walker, “Universal Soul and Particular Soul,” Neoplatonism and Islamic Thought, p. 151, al-Nasafi, the first to introduce neoplatonic ideas into Ismailism, taught that between Intellect and God there stood al-ibda’, which has other names, including al-kalima, al-’amr.
 See Langermann, “Science and the Kuzari”.
 Indeed, some regard Hallevi’s al-’amr al-ilāhiy, “the divine command” or “the divine thing” as his version of Philo’s logos.
 Trans. Pines, 285.
 Trans. Pines, 464; the term “order” appears three more times in this chapter on providence.
 Trans. S. Pines, 302.
 (trans. M. Schwartz does not take iradi to modify qanun but apparently ‘amr in ‘amrukum—but I don’t think that this is correct)
 Y.T. Langermann, “Some Astrological Themes”
 H.A. Davidson, “Arguments from the Concept of Particularization in Arabic Philosophy,” Philosophy East and West 18 (1968), 299-314, on p. 313; Davidson refers to the paper by his teacher, Harry A. Wolfson, “Hallevi and Maimonides on Design, Chance, and Necessity,” Proceedings of the American Academy for Jewish Research, XI (1941),