Moses ben Maimon
Moses ben Maimon
Spanish Philosopher and Physician
Moses ben Maimon, also known as Maimonides (or by the acronym RaM-BaM), had a tremendous impact on Judaism and philosophy, as well as medicine. His most significant contribution, however, is arguably in the realm of Jewish law.
Maimonides was born to a prominent family in Cordoba, Spain. He spent much of his time studying with learned masters, including his father, Maimon. However, before turning 13, Maimonides was forced to live in the midst of war and persecution.
Cordoba, as part of Islamic Spain, enjoyed full religious freedom until a revolutionary Islamic sect known as the Almohads, or "the Unitarians," captured the city. At that time, the Maimons, along with many other Jewish families, were forced to practice their religion in secret while appearing as Muslims when in public. Maimonides continued his studies while he and his family remained in Cordoba.
Finally, after 11 years of practicing Judaism underground, the Maimons left Spain. The year was 1159 and they eventually settled in Fez, Morocco. Although this territory was also ruled by the Almohads, the Maimons felt that, because they were unknown there, it would be easier to maintain their Jewish faith undetected. This assumption proved to be untrue, as a mentor to Maimonides was arrested and executed after being found guilty of being a practicing Jew.
The family picked up and moved again, this time to Palestine. However, their stay did not last long. After only a few months they moved again to a town near Cairo, Egypt, where they were free to practice Judaism openly.
After finally finding a safe and comfortable home, Maimonides seemed to have found peace. It was only then that his personal life began to unravel. His father died shortly after the family's pilgrimage to Egypt. Then, Maimonides' younger brother, David, died in a shipwreck. It was the combination of these two deaths that left Maimonides as the head of the family. That meant that he was unable to continue his work as a rabbi because, at the time, that profession was considered a public service and was, therefore, an unpaid position. And so Maimonides turned to his medical knowledge and became a physician.
He did so well in his pursuits that he became the court physician to the Muslim sultan Saladin, all the while continuing his role as a leader in the Jewish community.
During his lifetime, Maimonides wrote several works that were very influential. His first, written in Arabic at the age of 16, was called Millot ha-Higgayon, or "Treatise on Logical Terminology." He also produced Ma'amar ha'ibur, or "Essay on the Calendar," in Arabic and Hebrew.
The first of his major works, which he began at age 23, was called Kitab al-Siraj. This was a commentary on the Mishne, a collection of Jewish law that dates back to the earliest times. It took Maimonides 10 years to complete this work.
One of his most notable pursuits was known as Mishne Torah, or "The Torah Reviewed." In this work, which he began writing in 1170, he explored Jewish law. It was made up of 14 books and took 10 years to complete.
Beginning in 1176, Maimonides spent the next 15 years on his subsequent work, Dalalat al-ha'irin (The guide for the perplexed), in Hebrew, Moreh nevukhim. This was his most daring effort, as it asserted three major views: God's will is not bound by nature, man cannot know God, and God is an intellectual entity.
Although he produced many other works during his lifetime, Perplexed, more than any other work by Maimonides, aroused opposition. His contemporaries saw his views as dangerous and heretical. However, his influence has stood the test of time, becoming a major part of religious philosophy for centuries to come.
AMY LEWIS MARQUIS