Maimonides, Moses


Maimonides, Moses
orig. Moses ben Maimon

born March 30, 1135, Córdoba
died Dec. 13, 1204, Egypt

Jewish philosopher, jurist, and physician.

He was obliged to practice his faith secretly after a revolutionary and fanatical Islamic sect, the Almohads, captured Córdoba. To gain religious freedom, he settled in Egypt (1165), where he won fame for his medical skill and became court physician to the sultan Saladin. Maimonides's first major work, begun at age 23 and completed 10 years later, was an Arabic commentary on the Mishna. His other writings included a monumental code of Jewish law called the Mishne Torah (in Hebrew) and a classic work of religious philosophy, The Guide of the Perplexed (in Arabic), which was influenced by the teachings of Aristotle and called for a more rational approach to Judaism. It also sought to reconcile science, philosophy, and religion. He is considered the greatest intellectual figure of medieval Judaism.

* * *

▪ Jewish philosopher, scholar, and physician
Introduction
original name  Moses Ben Maimon,  also called  Rambam,  Arabic name  Abū ʿImran Mūsā ibn Maymūn ibn ʿUbayd Allāh 
born March 30, 1135, Córdoba [Spain]
died Dec. 13, 1204, Egypt
 Jewish philosopher (Judaism), jurist, and physician, the foremost intellectual figure of medieval Judaism. His first major work, begun at age 23 and completed 10 years later, was a commentary on the Mishna, the collected Jewish oral laws. A monumental code of Jewish law followed in Hebrew, The Guide for the Perplexed in Arabic, and numerous other works, many of major importance. His contributions in religion, philosophy, and medicine have influenced Jewish and non-Jewish scholars alike.

Life
      Maimonides was born into a distinguished family in Córdoba (Cordova), Spain. The young Moses studied with his learned father, Maimon, and other masters and at an early age astonished his teachers by his remarkable depth and versatility. Before Moses reached his 13th birthday, his peaceful world was suddenly disturbed by the ravages of war and persecution.

      As part of Islamic Spain, Córdoba had accorded its citizens full religious freedom. But now the Islamic Mediterranean world was shaken by a revolutionary and fanatical Islamic sect, the Almohads (Arabic: al-Muwaḥḥidūn, “the Unitarians”), who captured Córdoba in 1148, leaving the Jewish community faced with the grim alternative of submitting to Islam or leaving the city. The Maimons temporized by practicing their Judaism in the privacy of their homes, while disguising their ways in public as far as possible to appear like Muslims. They remained in Córdoba for some 11 years, and Maimonides continued his education in Judaic studies as well as in the scientific disciplines in vogue at the time.

      When the double life proved too irksome to maintain in Córdoba, the Maimon family finally left the city about 1159 to settle in Fez, Morocco. Although it was also under Almohad rule, Fez was presumably more promising than Córdoba because there the Maimons would be strangers, and their disguise would be more likely to go undetected. Moses continued his studies in his favourite subjects, rabbinics and Greek philosophy, and added medicine to them. Fez proved to be no more than a short respite, however. In 1165 Rabbi Judah ibn Shoshan, with whom Moses had studied, was arrested as a practicing Jew and was found guilty and then executed. This was a sign to the Maimon family to move again, this time to Palestine, which was in a depressed economic state and could not offer them the basis of a livelihood. After a few months they moved again, now to Egypt, settling in Fostat, near Cairo. There Jews were free to practice their faith openly, though any Jew who had once submitted to Islam courted death if he relapsed to Judaism. Moses himself was once accused of being a renegade Muslim, but he was able to prove that he had never really adopted the faith of Islam and so was exonerated.

      Though Egypt was a haven from harassment and persecution, Moses was soon assailed by personal problems. His father died shortly after the family's arrival in Egypt. His younger brother, David, a prosperous jewelry merchant on whom Moses leaned for support, died in a shipwreck, taking the entire family fortune with him, and Moses was left as the sole support of his family. He could not turn to the rabbinate because in those days the rabbinate was conceived of as a public service that did not offer its practitioners any remuneration. Pressed by economic necessity, Moses took advantage of his medical studies and became a practicing physician. His fame as a physician spread rapidly, and he soon became the court physician to the sultan Saladin, the famous Muslim military leader, and to his son al-Afḍal. He also continued a private practice and lectured before his fellow physicians at the state hospital. At the same time he became the leading member of the Jewish community, teaching in public and helping his people with various personal and communal problems.

      Maimonides married late in life and was the father of a son, Abraham, who was to make his mark in his own right in the world of Jewish scholarship.

Works
      The writings of Maimonides were numerous and varied. His earliest work, composed in Arabic at the age of 16, was the Millot ha-Higgayon (“Treatise on Logical Terminology”), a study of various technical terms that were employed in logic and metaphysics. Another of his early works, also in Arabic, was the "Essay on the Calendar" (Hebrew title: Maʾamar haʿibur).

      The first of Maimonides' major works, begun at the age of 23, was his commentary on the Mishna, Kitāb al-Sirāj, also written in Arabic. The Mishna is a compendium of decisions in Jewish law that dates from earliest times to the 3rd century. Maimonides' commentary clarified individual words and phrases, frequently citing relevant information in archaeology, theology, or science. Possibly the work's most striking feature is a series of introductory essays dealing with general philosophic issues touched on in the Mishna. One of these essays summarizes the teachings of Judaism in a creed of Thirteen Articles (Thirteen Articles of Faith) of Faith.

      He completed the commentary on the Mishna at the age of 33, after which he began his magnum opus, the code of Jewish law, on which he also laboured for 10 years. Bearing the name of Mishne Torah (“The Torah Reviewed”) and written in a lucid Hebrew style, the code offers a brilliant systematization of all Jewish law and doctrine. He wrote two other works in Jewish law of lesser scope: the Sefer ha-mitzwot (Book of Precepts), a digest of law for the less sophisticated reader, written in Arabic; and the Hilkhot ha-Yerushalmi (“Laws of Jerusalem”), a digest of the laws in the Palestinian Talmud, written in Hebrew.

      His next major work, which he began in 1176 and on which he laboured for 15 years, was his classic in religious philosophy, the Dalālat al-ḥāʾirīn (The Guide for the Perplexed), later known under its Hebrew title as the Moreh nevukhim. A plea for what he called a more rational philosophy of Judaism, it constituted a major contribution to the accommodation between science, philosophy, and religion. It was written in Arabic and sent as a private communication to his favourite disciple, Joseph ibn Aknin. The work was translated into Hebrew in Maimonides' lifetime and later into Latin and most European languages. It has exerted a marked influence on the history of religious thought.

      Maimonides also wrote a number of minor works, occasional essays dealing with current problems that faced the Jewish community, and he maintained an extensive correspondence with scholars, students, and community leaders. Among his minor works those considered to be most important are Iggert Teman (Epistle to Yemen), Iggeret ha-shemad or Maʾamar Qiddush ha-Shem (“Letter on Apostasy”), and Iggeret le-qahal Marsilia (“Letter on Astrology,” or, literally, “Letter to the Community of Marseille”). He also wrote a number of works dealing with medicine, including a popular miscellany of health rules, which he dedicated to the sultan, al-Afḍal. A mid-20th-century historian, Waldemar Schweisheimer, has said of Maimonides' medical writings: “Maimonides' medical teachings are not antiquated at all. His writings, in fact, are in some respects astonishingly modern in tone and contents.”

      Maimonides complained often that the pressures of his many duties robbed him of peace and undermined his health. He died in 1204 and was buried in Tiberias, in the Holy Land, where his grave continues to be a shrine drawing a constant stream of pious pilgrims.

Significance
      Maimonides' advanced views aroused opposition during his lifetime and after his death. In 1233 one zealot, Rabbi Solomon of Montpellier, in southern France, instigated the church authorities to burn The Guide for the Perplexed as a dangerously heretical book. But the controversy abated after some time, and Maimonides came to be recognized as a pillar of the traditional faith—his creed became part of the orthodox liturgy—as well as the greatest of the Jewish philosophers.

      Maimonides' epoch-making influence on Judaism extended also to the larger world. His philosophic work, translated into Latin, influenced the great medieval Scholastic writers, and even later thinkers, such as Benedict de Spinoza (Spinoza, Benedict de) and G.W. Leibniz (Leibniz, Gottfried Wilhelm), found in his work a source for some of their ideas. His medical writings constitute a significant chapter in the history of medical science.

Rabbi Ben Zion Bokser

Additional Reading
Marvin Fox, Interpreting Maimonides (1990), treats all aspects of his life and thought. Fred Rosner and Samuel S. Kottek (eds.), Moses Maimonides: Physician, Scientist, and Philosopher (1993), collects essays on his contributions to these disciplines. Isadore Twersky, Introduction to the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah) (1980), is an extensive analysis of his philosophy and his ideas on religious law. Oliver Leaman, Moses Maimonides (1990), provides an introduction to the themes of The Guide for the Perplexed.

* * *


Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • MAIMONIDES, MOSES — (Moses ben Maimon; known in rabbinical literature as Rambam ; from the acronym Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon; 1135–1204), rabbinic authority, codifier, philosopher, and royal physician. BIOGRAPHY The most illustrious figure in Judaism in the post… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Maimonides, Moses — (1135–1204)    Moses ben Maimon, known as Maimonides throughout Europe, was the most important Jewish philosopher of the Middle Ages, one of the most important thinkers in the entire history of Judaism, and one of the most influential religious… …   Encyclopedia of medieval literature

  • Maimonides,Moses — Mai·mon·i·des (mī mŏnʹĭ dēz ), Moses. Originally Moses Ben Maimon. Sometimes called “Rambam.” 1135 1204. Spanish born Jewish philosopher and physician. The greatest medieval Jewish scholar, he codified the Talmud and in Guide for the Perplexed… …   Universalium

  • MAIMONIDES, MOSES —    a Jewish rabbi, born at Cordova, whom the Jews regarded as their Plato, and called the Lamp of Israel and the Eagle of the doctors ; was a man of immense learning, and was physician to the Sultan of Egypt; in his relation to the Jews he ranks… …   The Nuttall Encyclopaedia

  • Maimonides, Moses —    See Ibn Maymun …   Islamic philosophy dictionary

  • MAIMONIDES, Moses — (1135 1204)    the greatest medieval JEWISH philosopher, theologian and exponent of ARISTOTLE. His books, The Guide for the Perplexed and Mishnah Torah were first published in Arabic …   Concise dictionary of Religion

  • Maimonides, Moses (Rabbi Moses ben-Maimon; Rambam) — (1135–1204)    Spanish rabbi, physician and philosopher. Maimonides was born in Cordoba into a scholarly family which had long been settled in the town. He was educated by his father, a rabbi, in both Hebrew and Arabic. When Cordoba was taken in… …   Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament

  • Maimonides (Moses ben Maimon; Rambam) — (1135 1204)    North African philosopher and halakhist. He is commonly referred to by the name Maimonides, though his given Hebrew name was Moses ben Maimon; the name Rambam is derived from the title Rabbi Moses ben Maimon. He was born in Cordoba …   Dictionary of Jewish Biography

  • Маймонид Моисей / Maimonides, Moses — (1135 1204). Маймонид отвергал идею бессмертия. По его мнению, способность к индивидуальному мышлению исчезает вместе с разрушением тела. Однако, отдельным людям удается достичь высот мышления и знания, и тем самым приобрести своего рода… …   Психологическая энциклопедия

  • MOSES — (Heb. מֹשֶׁה; LXX, Mōusēs; Vulg. Moyses), leader, prophet, and lawgiver (set in modern chronology in the first half of the 13th century B.C.E.). Commissioned to take the Israelites out of Egypt, Moses led them from his 80th year to his death at… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism


Share the article and excerpts

Direct link
Do a right-click on the link above
and select “Copy Link”

We are using cookies for the best presentation of our site. Continuing to use this site, you agree with this.