Maimon ben Joseph

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MAIMON BEN JOSEPH (d. 1165/1170), Spanish rabbi and dayyan; father of *Maimonides. Maimon studied in Lucena under Joseph *Ibn Migash, and transmitted his teachings, both oral and in writing, to his son, who utilized them as the basis for his own halakhic works. Maimon was a dayyan of Cordoba for many years, until he and his family were compelled to leave, in consequence of the edict of forced conversion issued by the *Almohads after their conquest of the city about 1149. For about ten years he wandered through Spain and probably also Provence. About 1160 he immigrated with his family to Fez, Morocco, where it was easier for forced converts to preserve their Judaism. In Fez he forbade the people to follow the false messiah, Moses Dari, who was popular there at the time. In 1165 he proceded to Ereẓ Israel, where he died, possibly in the following year. According to one tradition, his grave is in Tiberias. Some scholars think, however, that he went to Egypt with his son and died there.

Maimon was one of the most outstanding and influential scholars of his generation and the first of his distinguished family of whom a written work is known. His Iggeret ha-Neḥamah, written in his second year in Fez (published in the original Arabic by M. Simons, see bibliography; and in a scholarly Hebrew translation by B. Klar, 1945), was designed to comfort and guide the forced converts of Islam in their effort to preserve their Judaism. "We who are in exile can be compared to a man who is drowning. The water has reached our nostrils but we still grasp hold of something … and as the water threatens to engulf us, behold, a rope consisting of God's precepts and His Torah dangles from heaven to earth. Whoever seizes hold of it still has hope of living … and surely he who holds on even only with the tips of his fingers has more hope than he who lets go completely."

Maimon's fundamental premise – later adopted by his son Maimonides and accepted as law among Jews in Islamic countries – is that Islam, in that it is free from personification of the Deity, is not to be regarded as idolatry. In keeping with this view, he opposed martyrdom to avoid conversion to Islam. Unlike other scholars, who left the people without hope, Maimon asserts that those who perform the precepts in secret will be rewarded, laying particular stress on the value of reciting the *Amidah three times daily, even in its abridged form, and even in Arabic. He also places great emphasis upon the importance of belief in the divinity of the mission of Moses, to whose virtues the work is largely devoted, comparing such belief to belief in God Himself. This principle, later embodied by Maimonides in his 13 principles, was designed to nullify belief in the divine mission of Mohammed, for which reason Maimon also stresses that Daniel was the last of the prophets. Maimon's work reflects the spirit of despair that had seized the Jews of the countries during the time of the Almohads, and it fortified his readers that the tyrannical rule would not continue for long, as had been promised by the prophets. Maimon also wrote commentaries to the Talmud, from which his son quotes abundantly; a book on the laws of prayer and the festivals, from which only isolated quotations have been preserved (Simon b. Zemaḥ Duran, Tashbeẓ, 1, no. 2); responsa, a number of which have been published by A.H. Freimann (see bibl.); a commentary on the Torah; a work on the laws of ritual purity; and, apparently, an exposition of an Arabic astronomical book. With the exception of the responsa, all his works were written in Arabic.


Marmorstein, in: Sefer ha-Rambam shel ha-Tarbiz (1935), 182–4 (= Tarbiz, 6 (1934/35), 426–8); Freimann, ibid., 164–76 (= Tarbiz, 6 (1934/35), 408–20; idem, in: Alummah, 1 (1936), 9–13; J.L. Fishman, in: Maimon b. Joseph, Iggeret ha-Neḥamah, tr. by B. Klar (1945), introd.; Halkin, in: Joshua Starr Memorial Volume (1953), 102–3; Hirschberg, Afrikah, 1 (1965), 100f., 122–4, 263; Simons, in: jqr, 2 (1890), 62–66, 335–69; J.M. Toledano, Sarid u-Falit, 1 (1960), 7–8.

[Israel Moses Ta-Shma]