(1135-1204) (Moshe ben Maimon) Maimonides
was also known as Rambam, an abbreviation of "Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon";
the greatest Jewish medieval Talmud scholar, philosopher and physician.
Born to an important family in Cordoba, Spain. His father was a
Talmud scholar, mathematician and astronomer. When Maimonides was
thirteen, the Jews were being persecuted under Moorish rule.
The Maimonides family left Cordoba and wandered throughout Spain for
twelve years. In 1160, they ultimately settled in Fez, in Morocco,
where Maimonides studied medicine and theology. At sixteen, he wrote a
treatise on the terminology of logic. He did not become famous at that
time, however, because the family had to exercise great caution-some
even believe that they nominally converted to Islam.
Because of intensifying persecution, the family continued its
travels, going this time to the Land of Israel. They arrived at Akra,
visited Jerusalem and Hebron, and then went to Egypt, where Maimonides
spent the rest of his life.
In Cairo, Maimonides began dealing in precious stones, but when the
boat that his brother was on sank in the Indian Ocean, along with the
entire family fortune, Maimonides quit his business and began earning
his living as a physician. He quickly became so famous that he was
appointed court physician to the Grand Vizier.
He dedicated his Sabbaths to matters affecting the Jewish community,
who saw him as their leader, granting him the hereditary title nagida
(i.e., "leader"; his descendants were in effect the leaders of several
generations of Jews in Egypt). He also found time to write his classic
codex of Jewish law, as well as philosophical and medical works. He was
recognized as the leading Jew of his times.
In Fustat, or Old Cairo, where he lived, both the Muslims and Jews
mourned his death. Maimonides' remains were taken to Tiberias, where his
grave remains a site of pilgrimage for pious Jews. The inscription on
his grave reads: "From Moses to Moses there was no one like Moses".
Maimonides' first important scholarly work
was Kitab alSiraj, a commentary on the Mishnah written in Arabic, which
he completed in 1168. In this commentary, he explains the fundamental
principles underlying the law of the Mishnah and succinctly defines the
law. The work was translated into Hebrew during Maimonides' lifetime.
The commentary on the Mishnah is preceded by a lengthy introduction that
includes a description of the orally transmitted law from the time of
Moses, Judaism's basic doctrinal principles, and an introduction to the
ideas of the philosophers, in which Maimonides laid out his own system
The Book of the Commandments (Sefer HaMitzvoth), in which Maimonides
compiled the 613 commandments comprising the Law of Moses, is part of
the introduction to the Mishneh Torah, but also constitutes a separate
work in and of itself. Maimonides also codified Talmudic law in
approximately the year 1178 in Mishneh Torah (Review of the Torah or The
Second Torah), known by the name Yad Ha-Hazakah (The Mighty Arm).
Mishneh Torah is a monumental work, the first attempt at a
straightforward codification of Talmudic law. In this work, Maimonides
encompassed the whole of Talmudic law. He described the methods of
giving alms, Judaism's Messianic doctrine, as well farming methods.
Maimonides' philosophical work More Nevuchim (Guide to the
Perplexed), written in Arabic and translated into Latin, had a strong
influence on Christian theologians. Maimonides rejected the literal
interpretation of Biblical texts, proposing instead that they should be
understood through the use of metaphors, analogies and comparisons. He
constructed a complete philosophical system.
Despite the fact that he is cited as one of the Jewish Aristotelian
philosophers, he did not accept all of Aristoteles' philosophy-for
example, he rejected the concept of the eternal nature of the universe.
Striving for a rational justification of the principles of Judaism, he
nevertheless regarded miracles as "a natural phenomenon". In his
Letters to the Faithful, for example to the Jews of Yemen, he warns
against leaving the righteous path of faith.
Maimonides' views, which were ultimately accepted by most Jews,
initially prompted the protests of Orthodox rabbis and a debate between
his supporters and opponents that lasted over a century.