Throughout his works Maimonides was able to combine mastery of the intricate details of talmudic legal thought with a philosophic theocentric passion. In reading Maimonides, one is not forced into an either/ or position: either God or the law, either the individual or the community, either history or immortality. His great genius was his ability to unite and keep alive the profound tensions and subtle dialectic underlying Jewish spirituality.
The Epistle on Martyrdom exemplifies that genius in its approach to the principle of kiddush ha-Shem, sanctification of God's name, of which the highest form is martyrdom. Maimonides' treatment of kiddush ha-Shem in his legal writings would seem to indicate that this principle was central to his understanding of halakhic practice.1 Israel must defy the world and bear witness to its covenantal destiny. Israel must have the courage to oppose all attempts to overthrow the supremacy of God in the world.2 The concept of election--which is the foundation of kiddush ha-Shem--casts Jews in the role of witnesses to the divine reality.3 Yet, while emphasizing and expanding the heroic in Judaism, Maimonides was able to make allowances for the fragility and vulnerability of human beings. In the Epistle on Martyrdom we meet a compassionate and patient leader who enables those who fall short of heroism to find their way in a tradition that focuses on the heroic. This epistle testifies to Maimonides' ability to unite an intense compassion for human beings with his basic commitment to a heroic life in sanctification of God.
Consequently, we must dissent from Haym Soloveitchik's interpre-