At the end of Isaac Bashevis Singer's short story "The Primper", there's a small anecdote about a young man who studied the Rambam / Maimonides until he became an unbeliever:

In Rovna there was a young scholar who studied Maimonides so much, he became an unbeliever. They nicknamed him Moshka Maimonides. He knew all of Maimonides by heart. Saturday he would sit by the window with a cigarette in his mouth and recite Maimonides.
(translated by the author and Ruth Schachner Finkel)

Why would the young man have become an unbeliever because of studying Maimonides? Maimonides was a Jewish scholar who wrote out all of the laws and principles of belief, among many other things; why would reading this lead to becoming an unbeliever?

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While Maimonides authored the most systematic and comprehensive code of Jewish law ever written, which is cited in virtually every subsequent work of Jewish law, he also wrote extensively about philosophical matters, particularly in his book Guide for the Perplexed. In these writings he often sided with the Greek philosophers and deviated from what many groups of Jews believed to be traditional Jewish beliefs (see my answers to this post on our sister site Mi Yodeya for a list of such controversial views contained therein).

Because of this, his works were often outright banned, or at least discouraged, by other leaders of Jewish communities. It was not an out-of-the-ordinary concern that people would be led astray by reading Maimonidean philosophy, whether because they considered it heretical itself or because readers would simply become confused by being exposed to such content. Even today, in many Jewish institutions of higher learning where Maimonides’s legal writings are pedestalized, his philosophical writings are still considered non-standard and students are often discouraged from reading them until they are sufficiently initiated, if not altogether. And in fact over the centuries, other leading authorities on Jewish law have declared that Maimonides himself had been led astray by philosophy.

Thus, it is certainly not odd to find something like this in Singer’s story.


It is also possible that he learned so much of how the sausage is made that he couldn't stomach the meat. To provide a mildly anecdotal case, at event promoting his books, I got to talk to Bart D. Ehrman, a New Testament scholar who did a lot of work in tracking down the history of different versions of the Bible and making it accessible to the general public, and he said that one of the reasons he moved into atheism was that, the more he learned about the technical details of how the scriptures were assembled, the more it strained his believe that the Bible was inerrant, and in fact eventually began doubting that it was divinely inspired. He understood too much of the process to continue believe in the wonder of it.

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