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Maimonides

Maimonides


A twelfth-century rabbi and community leader, philosopher and physician, Maimonides was fascinated by the relation between science and religion from his earliest days. A polymath by inclination, he needed first to master the sciences then extant, including logic, mathematics and medicine, before being able to assess their relation to his Jewish faith. Indeed, he insisted on philosophy's mediating role in the mutual illumination of faith and reason, notably with regard to creation.


Early life and influences

Mosheh ben Maimon, called Maimonides by Latin authors and known to the Arabic-speaking world as Musa ben Maimun, Moses son of Maimon, was born on March 30, 1135 c.e., in the city of Córdoba, Spain, where eight generations of his ancestors had served as rabbis and rabbinical judges. Capital of the Umayyad emirs and caliphs in Spain since the eighth century, Córdoba had remained even in their political decline the center of a brilliant, prosperous civilization in which Jews and Christians, as well as Muslims, were active participants. Young Moses himself was not to enjoy this cosmopolitan milieu much past his bar mitzvah, as the family was forced to flee their home in the wake of the Almohads from North Africa, who forbade Jews or Christians to profess their religion openly. Yet in the relative calm prior to the shattering of their world, the Jews of Spain had built an intellectual capital from which Maimonides was to profit immeasurably, even after the world that had produced it ceased to exist.

Poetry, astronomy, medicine, philosophy, scriptural exegesis, grammar, history, and mysticism were typically integrated into a comprehensive education. Moses's father, Maimon, led the family to Fez (in present-day Morocco), the very center of the Almohad movement, where they managed to survive for five years, only to move on to Palestine in 1165, where Maimonides journeyed to the site of the temple in Jerusalem to give thanks for the gift of this pilgrimage, and thence to Hebron, the traditional resting place of Abraham, who held a special place in Maimonides's vision of history, not only as the first spokesperson of a universal monotheism, but also as the first to base theological claims on arguments derived from reason. Since the rule of the Latin Kingdom of Jerusalem offered a less than favorable milieu for developing Jewish life and culture, the family proceeded to Egypt, where Maimon soon died, leaving his son to take up the roles in the community to which his learning entitled him.


Legal and philosophical writings

Remarkably, Maimonides continued his education under the stress of exile and travel, composing his commentary on the Jewish legal canon, the Mishnah, during the seven years of exile from his twenty-third to thirtieth years. Taking up residence in Fustat (Old Cairo), he was appointed judge of the rabbinical court and soon assumed leadership of the community. After the death of his brother and the loss of the family savings in a shipwreck, Maimonides took up the responsibility of supporting the family as a physician, practicing medicine until his death. During this time he was court physician to Saladin (c. 11371193), the Sultan of Egypt and Syria, as well as the entire court, leaving him little time to study and write, yet he accomplished both, along with adjudicating disputes within the Jewish community. The completion of his groundbreaking codification of Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah, around 1178, brought him even greater fame that his earlier commentary, and he was beset with requests for legal opinions from communities throughout the Islamic world.

At this time, however, he also encountered Rabbi Joseph ibn Judah Aqnin, who insisted Maimonides guide him into the logic, cosmology, theology, and philosophy of the Greco-Arabic tradition, so as to be able to converse with other learned communities in the Islamicate. Following a course of study as old as Plato's Academy in the fourth century b.c.e., Maimonides initiated his student into astronomy and mathematics, and then logic, and finally metaphysics, by using its tools to explicate the conundra the revealed texts often left to readers of the Hebrew scriptures. This series of exercise in biblical interpretation and philosophical exegesis was published in 1190 as the Guide to the Perplexed. It was immediately translated from Arabic into Hebrew, and then into Latin, where it served as a model for Christian thinkers like Thomas Aquinas (c. 12251274) to integrate assertions of faith with explorations of reason.


Science and religion

The most vexing issue turned out to be the claim of Genesis that time itself began with creation, whereas the prevailing philosophical view had long been of a universe emanating necessarily and without beginning from a single unitary principle. Maimonides established the model for addressing this conflict between the divergent claims of reason and of faith by using his philosophical acumen to show that the authority whom philosophers had invokedAristotlehad neither intended nor achieved a demonstration of the universe coming forth from a single unitary principle without beginning. And having shown that, he proceeded to delineate the anomalies in the actual universe, notably the errant path of the planets (or "wandering stars"), to point out that no set of logical principles could account for the actual ordering of the heavens, despite the elegance of the necessary emanation scheme. So, he said, it makes more eminent sense to posit a free creator, whose intentional ordering could explain what logic cannot.

This central bit of reasoning displays how his scientific acumen could be put to use to make it possible for believers to accept the words of Genesis at face value, yet he was also quick to insist that neither view could be proven. Moreover, where scriptural texts did conflict with proven tenets of reason, then they would have to be interpreted figuratively; since the divine reality could not be bodily, texts referring to the "Lord's mighty arm" would have to be read metaphorically. He was even prepared to read Genesis that way, foregoing a first moment of time for creation, but the absence of a valid demonstration of the prevailing philosophical view reduced it to the level of mere opinionhowever widely held it had been, and so opened the way to a belief in scripture that was straightforward yet sophisticated. Such is the legacy that all religious traditions received from Maimonides, whose strategies were transmitted to the Christian world by way of Aquinas and others after him. In short, what seem to be conflicts between faith and reason, religion and science, may often be defused by a proper understanding of each domain, yet doing so requires an education and a sensibility as astute as Moses Maimonides's. As the celebrated Hebrew saying has it: "from Moses to Moses, there arose none like Moses."


See also Creation; Genesis; Historical Criticism; Judaism; Judaism, Contemporary Issues in Science and Religion; Judaism, History of Science and Religion, Medieval Period; Thomas Aquinas


Bibliography

goodman, lenn evan. rambam: readings in the philosophy of moses maimonides. new york: viking, 1976.

hartman, david. maimonides: torah and philosophic quest. philadelphia: jewish publication society of america, 1976.

maimonides, moses. guide for the perplexed, trans. michael friedlander (1904). new york: dover, 1956.

maimonides, moses. guide of the perplexed, trans. schlomo pines. chicago: university of chicago press, 1963.

seeskin, kenneth. maimonides: a guide for today's perplexed. west orange, n.j.: behrman house, 1991.

david b. burrell

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Maimonides

Maimonides

Maimonides (1135-1204), or Moses ben Maimon, was the greatest Jewish philosopher of the Middle Ages. His commentaries on, and codification of, the rabbinic tradition established him as a major religious authority in Judaism.

Maimonides was born at Cordova, Spain, on March 30, 1135. From his father, Rabbi Maimon ben Joseph, he received his early education in mathematics and astronomy as well as in rabbinic literature, which interpreted the Jewish Scriptures and defined the laws and ritual of the Jewish community. Living in southern Spain, Maimonides also came into contact with Greek and Arabian philosophy, especially the thought of Avicenna.

In 1148, when Maimonides was only 13, the Almohads conquered Cordova and introduced a policy that forced conversion, exile, or death on non-Moslems. After 12 years of wandering from town to town in southern Spain, the family finally settled at Fez in Morocco. During this period of wandering, Maimonides wrote a treatise on the Jewish calendar and began his commentary on the Mishnah, a codification of the Jewish Oral Law arranged according to subjects.

Rather than abandon the Jewish faith or undergo martyrdom, Maimonides and his family left the intolerant rule of the Almohads and sailed to Palestine on April 18, 1165, arriving at Acre a month later. Much of Palestine at this time was under the control of the Christian crusaders, and under their protection Maimonides visited many of the holy places of ancient Jewish history, including Jerusalem and Hebron.

The next year the family settled at al-Fustât (Old Cairo) in Egypt, where Maimonides was to remain for the rest of his life. After the death of the father in 1166, the family was supported for a time by Maimonides's younger brother, David, who engaged in the jewel trade. David died by drowning while on a voyage to the Indies, and the accompanying loss of the family's resources as well as those of other investors forced Maimonides into a career in medicine. Maimonides soon became the personal physician of al-Qadi al-Fadil, the vizier of Saladin. Shortly thereafter, Maimonides was made the head of all the Jewish communities in Egypt, a nonsalaried position which he held until his death.

Settling at al-Fustât allowed Maimonides to complete his commentary on the Mishnah, which appeared in 1168 and soon became popular among the Jewish communities of the Mediterranean world. About 1180 Maimonides completed his code of the Jewish law, which had a similarly favorable reception.

The major work of Maimonides, The Guide of the Perplexed, was completed in 1190 and published in Arabic. In this work Maimonides tried to reconcile faith and reason. It was written for those who possessed a firm knowledge of the Jewish faith, mathematics, and logic but who, having little or no knowledge of physics and metaphysics, believed that religion and philosophy contradicted each other. Maimonides believed that philosophy, properly understood and used, supported rather than destroyed the faith. In order to demonstrate this, he adopted many of the arguments for the existence of God and the nature of the human soul found in such Arabian philosophers as al-Farabi and Avicenna. Where philosophical demonstration is inconclusive, as in establishing the eternity of the world or the doctrine of creation, one must rely on the surer teaching of revelation, the Bible.

Maimonides died at al-Fustât on Dec. 13, 1204, and, after a period of mourning in the Jewish communities in Egypt, his body was transported to Palestine and buried at Tiberias in Galilee. His Guide became the fundamental text for medieval Jewish philosophy.

Further Reading

There are two English translations of Maimonides's Guide. The best is The Guide of the Perplexed, translated with an excellent introduction by Shlomo Pines (1963). Older but still useful is the translation by M. Friedländer (1881; rev. ed. 1962). Of high quality is the work of I. Münz, Maimonides: The Story of His Life and Genius, translated by H. T. Schnittkind (1912; trans. 1935). Two collections of essays on Maimonides that reflect scholarship are I. Epstein, ed., Moses Maimonides: 1135-1204 (1935), and Salo Baron, ed., Essays on Maimonides: An Octocentennial Volume (1941). Also useful is A. Cohen, ed., The Teachings of Maimonides (1927; repr. 1968). □

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Maimonides, Moses

Maimonides, Moses, Moses b. Maimon, or Rambam (1135–1204). Jewish philosopher and codifier. Maimonides grew up in Cordova, but as a result of persecution, the family eventually moved to Fez in N. Africa after years of wandering. During this period he wrote treatises on the Jewish calendar, logic, and halakhah. In 1168, he completed his commentary on the Mishnah. In 1170–80, he worked on his great code, the Mishneh Torah (The Repetition of the Law, sometimes known as ‘The Strong Hand’). The purpose of this work was ‘so that the entire Oral Law might become systematically known to all’. This codification of the Law was fiercely criticized by such as Abraham b. David of Posquières (see MAIMONIDEAN CONTROVERSY). His great philosophical work, The Guide of the Perplexed (Heb., Moreh Nevukhim) was influenced by Aristotle and the Hellenistic commentators Alexander of Aphrodisias, Themistius, and Averroes, and also by the Muslim philosopher al-Fārābī. The Guide shows ‘the perplexed’ how scripture can be interpreted spiritually as well as literally, and Maimonides aimed to reveal to his readers ‘the science of the Law in its true sense’. To this end, he discussed God, creation, the nature of evil, divine providence, and morality. He also formulated his thirteen principles of the Jewish faith which he believed every Jew was bound to accept. He is also remembered as a significant physician and astronomer.

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Maimonides

Maimonides (mīmŏn´Ĭdēz) or Moses ben Maimon (mī´mən), 1135–1204, Jewish scholar, physician, and philosopher, the most influential Jewish thinker of the Middle Ages, b. Córdoba, Spain, d. Cairo. He is sometimes called Rambam, from the initials of the words Rabbi Moses ben Maimon. His organization and systemization of the corpus of Jewish oral law, is called the Mishneh Torah [the Torah Reviewed], known in English as the Strong Hand, and is still used as a standard compilation of halakah. He also produced a number of discourses on legal topics; a work on logic; a treatise on the calendar; and several medical books, including an important work on hygiene. His great philosophical work is the Moreh Nevukhim (1190, tr., Guide for the Perplexed, 1963), written in Arabic, in which he explained the esoteric ideas in the Bible, formulated a proof of the existence of God, expounded the principles of creation, and elucidated baffling metaphysical and religious problems. The Moreh Nevukhim, which reflects Maimonides's great knowledge of Aristotelian philosophy and attempts to reconcile it with the tenets of Jewish theology, dominated Jewish thought, helped introduce Aristotle to medieval Christian philosophers, and has exerted a profound influence upon Christian thinkers.

See biographies by S. Zeitlin (2d ed. 1955), A. J. Heschel (1981), and M. Halbertal (2013); studies by J. Melber (1968), M. Fox (1990), and S. B. Nuland (2005).

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Maimonides, Rabbi Moses (1135-1204)

Maimonides, Rabbi Moses (1135-1204)

A great Spanish-Hebrew philosopher, theologian, and author of the Guide for the Perplexed. His theories were Aristotelian and rational, but there remained in his viewpoint a touch of mysticism.

He was born April 6, 1135, in Cordova, southern Spain, and was educated by Arabic teachers. After the Moorish conquest of Cordova in 1148, Jews left the province, and Maimonides settled in Fez, Morroco. After five years he moved to Cairo, Egypt, where he became physician to Saladin and married the sister of Ibn Mali, a royal secretary.

In his famous treatise, the Guide for the Perplexed, he sought to harmonize rabbinical and philosophical teachings but maintained that reason must be supplemented by revelation. His treatise profoundly influenced his Arabic, Jewish, and Christian successors. It has been suggested that Maimonides was sympathetic to the teachings of Kabala in his late period. He died December 13, 1204.

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Maimonides, Moses

Maimonides, Moses (1135–1204) Jewish philosopher, Hebrew scholar, and physician, b. Spain. As a youth he was attracted to Aristotelian philosophy, which influenced his well-known Guide of the Perplexed, a plea for a more rational philosophy of Judaism. He emigrated to Egypt in 1159, after a tyrannical Muslim sect took over his native Córdoba. In Cairo, he became court physician to Saladin and was the recognized leader of Egyptian Jewry. His Mishneh Torah is a systematic compilation of Jewish oral law. Other works on Jewish law and philosophy and on medicine confirmed him as one of the most influential thinkers of the Middle Ages.

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Maimonides

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