Moses ben Maimon ("Maimonides")

18-century portrait of Maimonides, from the Thesaurus antiquitatum sacrarum by Blaisio Ugolino
Full name Moses ben Maimon ("Maimonides")
Born 1135
Córdoba, Spain
Died 12 December 1204
Fostat, Egypt, or Cairo, Egypt[1] Or Tiberias[2]
Era Medieval Philosophy
Region Arab Mediterranean
School Jewish philosophy, Jewish law, Jewish ethics

Moses ben-Maimon, called Maimonides and also known as Mūsā ibn Maymūn (موسى بن ميمون) in Arabic, or Rambam (רמב"ם – Hebrew acronym for "Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon"), was a preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher and one of the greatest Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages. He was born in Córdoba, Spain on Passover Eve, 1135, and died in Egypt (or Tiberias) on 20th Tevet, December 12, 1204.[6] He was a rabbi, physician and philosopher in Morocco and Egypt.

Although his writings on Jewish law and ethics were met with acclaim and gratitude from most Jews even as far off as Spain, Iraq and Yemen, and he rose to be the revered head of the Jewish community in Egypt, there were also vociferous critics of some of his rulings and other writings particularly in Spain. Nevertheless, he was posthumously acknowledged to be one of the foremost rabbinical arbiters and philosophers in Jewish history, his copious work a cornerstone of Jewish scholarship. His fourteen-volume Mishneh Torah still carries canonical authority as a codification of Talmudic law. In the Yeshiva world he is known as "haNesher haGadol" (the great eagle) in recognition of his outstanding status as a bona fide exponent of the Oral Torah.



His full Arabic name is Abū ʿImrān Mūsā bin Maimūn bin ʿUbaidallāh al-Qurṭubī ( ابو عمران موسى بن ميمون بن عبد الله القرطبي ) or Mūsā ibn Maymūn (Arabic: موسى ابن ميمون‎) for short. His full Hebrew name is Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (Hebrew: רבי משה בן מימון‎), whose acronym forms "Rambam" (רמב"ם). In Latin, the Hebrew "ben" (son of) becomes the Greek−style suffix "-ides" to form "Moses Maimonides".


The dominion of the Almoravid dynasty at its greatest extent, c. 1204 CE

Maimonides was born during what some scholars consider to be the end of the golden age of Jewish culture in Spain, after the first centuries of the Moorish rule. At an early age, he developed an interest in the exact sciences and philosophy. He read those Greek philosophers accessible in Arabic translations, and was deeply immersed in the sciences and learning of Islamic culture.[7] Though the Gaonic tradition, especially in its North African version, formed the basis of his legal thought, some scholars have argued recently that Muslim law, including Almohad legal thought, also had a substantial impact.[8] Maimonides was not known as a supporter of mysticism, although a strong intellectualistic type of mysticism has been discerned in his philosophy.[9] He voiced opposition to poetry, the best of which he declared as false, since it was founded on pure invention — and this too in a land which had produced such noble expressions of the Hebrew and Arabic muse. This Sage, who was revered for his saintly personality as well as for his writings, led an unquiet life, and wrote many of his works while travelling or in temporary accommodation.[10] Maimonides studied Torah under his father Maimon, who had in turn studied under Rabbi Joseph ibn Migash – a student of Isaac Alfasi.

Maimonides' house in Fes, Morocco

The Almohads conquered Córdoba in 1148, and threatened the Jewish community with the choice of conversion to Islam, death, or exile.[10] Many Jews were also forced to convert or to wear humiliating, identifying clothing.[11] Maimonides's family, along with most other Jews, chose exile, though Muslim sources maintain the family did undergo forced conversion.[12] For the next ten years they moved about in southern Spain, avoiding the conquering Almohades, but eventually settled in Fes in Morocco, where he studied at the University of Al-Karaouine. During this time, he composed his acclaimed commentary on the Mishnah in the years 1166–1168.[13]

Following this sojourn in Morocco, he and his family briefly lived in the Holy Land, before settling in Fostat, Egypt around 1168. While in Cairo he studied in Yeshiva attached to a small synagogue that bears his name.[14] In the Holy Land, he prayed at the Temple Mount. He wrote that this day of visiting the Temple Mount was a day of holiness for himself and his descendants. Maimonides shortly thereafter became instrumental in helping rescue Jews taken captive during King Amalric's siege of the Egyptian town of Bilbays. He sent five letters to the Jewish communities of Lower Egypt asking them to pool money together to pay the ransom. The money was collected and then given to two judges sent to Palestine to negotiate with the Crusaders. The captives were eventually released.[15] Following this triumph the Maimonides family, hoping to increase their wealth, gave their savings to the youngest son David, a merchant. Maimonides directed him to procure goods only at the Sudanese port of ‘Aydhab. After a long arduous trip through the desert, however, David was unimpressed by the goods on offer there, and, against his brother's wishes, boarded a ship for India since great wealth was to be found in the East.[16] Before he could reach his destination though, David drowned at sea sometime between 1169–1170. The death of his brother caused Maimonides to become sick with grief. In a letter discovered in the Cairo Geniza, he later explained:

The greatest misfortune that has befallen me during my entire life—worse than anything else—was the demise of the saint, may his memory be blessed, who drowned in the Indian sea, carrying much money belonging to me, him, and to others, and left with me a little daughter and a widow. On the day I received that terrible news I fell ill and remained in bed for about a year, suffering from a sore boil, fever, and depression, and was almost given up. About eight years have passed, but I am still mourning and unable to accept consolation. And how should I console myself? He grew up on my knees, he was my brother, [and] he was my student.[17]

Subsequently, he was appointed the Nagid of the Egyptian Jewish community around 1171.[14] Arabist S.D. Goitein believes the leadership he displayed during the ransoming of the Crusader captives led to this appointment.[18] With the loss of the family funds tied up in David's business venture, Maimonides was constrained to assume the vocation of physician, for which he was to become famous, having been trained in medicine in both Córdoba and in Fes. Gaining widespread recognition, he was appointed court physician to the Grand Vizier Al Qadi al Fadil, then to Sultan Saladin, after whose death he remained a physician to the royal family.[19] In his writings he described many conditions including asthma, diabetes, hepatitis, and pneumonia, and emphasized moderation and a healthy life style.[20] His treatises became influential for generations of physicians. He was knowledgeable about Greek and Arabic medicine, and followed the principles of humorism in the tradition of Galen, however, he did not blindly accept authority but used his own observation and experience.[20] Frank, however, indicates that in his medical writings he sought not to explore new ideas but to interpret works of authorities so that they could become acceptable.[19] Maimonides displayed in his interactions with patients attributes that today would be called intercultural awareness and respect for the patient's autonomy.[21] Although he frequently wrote of his longing for solitude in order to come closer to God and to extend his reflections – elements considered essential to the prophetic experience itself in his philosophy -he gave over almost all his time to caring for others.[22] In a famous letter, he describes his daily routine: After visiting the Sultan’s palace, he would arrive home exhausted and hungry, where "I would find the antechambers filled with gentiles and Jews ... I would go to heal them, and write prescriptions for their illnesses ... until the evening ... and I would be extremely weak."[23] As he goes on to say in this letter, even on the Sabbath he would receive members of the community. It is remarkable that despite all this he managed to fit in the composition of massive treatises, including not only medical and other scientific studies but some of the most systematically thought-through and influential treatises on halachah (Rabbinic law) and Jewish philosophy of the Middle Ages.[24] It has even been suggested that his "incessant travail" undermined his own health and brought about his death at 69.[25] His Rabbinic writings are still fundamental and unparalleled resources for religious Jews today.

The Tomb of Maimonides in Tiberias

Maimonides died on December 12, 1204 (20th of Tevet 4965 ) in Fustat, and it is widely believed that he was briefly buried in the study room (beit hamidrash) of the synagogue courtyard, and that, soon after, in accordance with his wishes, his remains were exhumed and taken to Tiberias where he was re-interred.[26] The Tomb of Maimonides on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee in Israel marks his grave. This location for his final resting-place is, however, not without controversy, for in the Jewish Cairene community a tradition holds that he remained buried in Egypt.[27]

Maimonides and his wife, the daughter of one Mishael ben Yeshayahu Halevi, had one child, Avraham, who was recognized as a great scholar, and who succeeded him as Nagid and as court physician at the age of eighteen. He greatly honored the memory of his father, and throughout his career defended his father's writings against all critics. The office of Nagid was held by the Maimonides family for four successive generations until the end of the 14th century.

He is widely respected in Spain and a statue of him was erected in Córdoba in the only synagogue in that city which escaped destruction; although no longer functioning as a Jewish house of worship, it is open to the public.

He is sometimes said to be a descendant of King David, although he never made such a claim.[28][29]


The title page of The Guide for the Perplexed

Maimonides's Mishneh Torah is considered by traditionalist Jews even today as one of the chief authoritative codifications of Jewish law and ethics. It is exceptional for its logical construction, concise and clear expression and extraordinary learning, so that it became a standard against which other later codifications were often measured.[30] It is still closely studied in Rabbinic yeshivot (academies). A popular medieval saying that also served as his epitaph states, From Moshe (of the Torah) to Moshe (Maimonides) there was none like Moshe. It chiefly referred to his Rabbinic writings.

But Maimonides was also one of the most influential figures in medieval Jewish philosophy. His brilliant adaptation of Aristotelian thought to Biblical faith deeply impressed later Jewish thinkers, and had an unexpected immediate historical impact.[31] Some more acculturated Jews in the century that followed his death, particularly in Spain, sought to apply Maimonides's Aristotelianism in ways that undercut traditionalist belief and observance, giving rise to an intellectual controversy in Spanish and southern French Jewish circles.[32] The intensity of debate spurred Catholic Church interventions against "heresy" and even a general confiscation of Rabbinic texts and in reaction, the defeat of the more radical interpretations of Maimonides and at least amongst Ashkenazi Jews, a tendency not so much to repudiate as simply to ignore the specifically philosophical writings and to stress instead the Rabbinic and halachic writings; even these writings often included considerable philosophical chapters or discussions in support of halachic observance, as David Hartman observes Maimonides made clear "the traditional support for a philosophical understanding of God both in the Aggadah of Talmud and in the behavior of the hasid [the pious Jew]"[33] and so Maimonidean thought continues to influence traditionally observant Jews.[34][35]

The most rigorous medieval critique of Maimonides is Hasdai Crescas' Or Adonai. Crescas bucked the eclectic trend, by demolishing the certainty of the Aristotelian world-view, not only in religious matters but even in the most basic areas of medieval science (such as physics and geometry). Crescas's critique provoked a number of 15th century scholars to write defenses of Maimonides. A partial translation of Crescas was produced by Harry Austryn Wolfson of Harvard University, in 1929.

Because of his path-finding synthesis of Aristotle and Biblical faith, Maimonides also had a fundamental influence on the great Church theologian Saint Thomas Aquinas.[36] There are explicit references to Maimonides in several of Aquinas's works, including the Commentary on the Sentences.

The 13 principles of faith

In his commentary on the Mishnah (tractate Sanhedrin, chapter 10), Maimonides formulates his 13 principles of faith. They summarized what he viewed as the required beliefs of Judaism with regards to:

  1. The existence of God
  2. God's unity
  3. God's spirituality and incorporeality
  4. God's eternity
  5. God alone should be the object of worship
  6. Revelation through God's prophets
  7. The preeminence of Moses among the prophets
  8. God's law given on Mount Sinai
  9. The immutability of the Torah as God's Law
  10. God's foreknowledge of human actions
  11. Reward of good and retribution of evil
  12. The coming of the Jewish Messiah
  13. The resurrection of the dead

These principles were controversial when first proposed, evoking criticism by Rabbi Hasdai Crescas and Rabbi Joseph Albo, and were effectively ignored by much of the Jewish community for the next few centuries. ("Dogma in Medieval Jewish Thought," Menachem Kellner). However, these principles have become widely held; today, Orthodox Judaism holds these beliefs to be obligatory.[citation needed] Two poetic restatements of these principles (Ani Ma'amin and Yigdal) eventually became canonized in the "Siddur" (Jewish prayer book).

Legal works

With Mishneh Torah, Maimonides composed a code of Jewish law with the widest-possible scope and depth. The work gathers all the binding laws from the Talmud, and incorporates the positions of the Geonim (post-Talmudic early Medieval scholars, mainly from Mesopotamia).

While Mishneh Torah is now considered the fore-runner of the Arbaah Turim and the Shulchan Aruch[citation needed] (two later codes), it met initially with much opposition.[citation needed] There were two main reasons for this opposition. Firstly, Maimonides had refrained from adding references to his work for the sake of brevity; secondly, in the introduction, he gave the impression of wanting to "cut out" study of the Talmud,[37] to arrive at a conclusion in Jewish law, although Maimonides himself later wrote that this was not his intent. His most forceful opponents were the rabbis of Provence (Southern France), and a running critique by Rabbi Abraham ben David (Raavad III) is printed in virtually all editions of Mishneh Torah. However, it was recognized as a monumental contribution to the systemized writing of Halakha. Throughout the centuries, it has been widely studied and its halakhic decisions have weighed heavily in later rulings.

In response to those who would attempt to force followers of Maimonides and his Mishneh Torah to abide by the rulings of his own Shulchan Aruch or other later works, Rabbi Yosef Karo wrote: "Who would dare force communities who follow the Rambam to follow any other decisor, early or late? ... The Rambam is the greatest of the decisors, and all the communities of the Land of Israel and the Arabistan and the Maghreb practice according to his word, and accepted him as their rabbi."[38]

An oft-cited legal maxim from his pen is: "It is better and more satisfactory to acquit a thousand guilty persons than to put a single innocent one to death." He argued that executing a defendant on anything less than absolute certainty would lead to a slippery slope of decreasing burdens of proof, until we would be convicting merely according to the judge's caprice.[39]

Scholars specializing in the study of the history and subculture of Judaism in premodern China (Sino-Judaica) have noted this work has surprising similarities with the liturgy of the Kaifeng Jews, descendants of Persian Merchants who settled in the Middle Kingdom during the early Song Dynasty.[40] Beyond scriptural similarities, Michael Pollak comments the Jews' Pentateuch was divided into 53 sections according to the Persian style.[41] He also points out:

There is no proof, to be sure, that Kaifeng Jewry ever had direct access to the works of "the Great Eagle," but it would have had ample time and opportunity to acquire or become acquainted with them well before its reservoir of Jewish learning began to run out. Nor do the Maimonidean leanings of the kehillah contradict the historical evidence that has the Jews arriving in Kaifeng no later than 1126, the year in which the Sung fled the city--and nine years before Maimonides was born. In 1163, when the kehillah built the first of its synagogues, Maimonides was only twenty-eight years old, so that it is highly unlikely that even his earliest authoritative teachings could by then have reached China.[42]

Charity (Tzedakah)

One of the most widely referred to sections of the Mishneh Torah is the section dealing with Tzedakah. In Hilkhot Matanot Aniyim (Laws about Giving to Poor People), Chapter 10:7–14, Maimonides lists his famous Eight Levels of Giving:[43]

  1. Giving an interest-free loan to a person in need; forming a partnership with a person in need; giving a grant to a person in need; finding a job for a person in need; so long as that loan, grant, partnership, or job results in the person no longer living by relying upon others.
  2. Giving tzedakah anonymously to an unknown recipient via a person (or public fund) which is trustworthy, wise, and can perform acts of tzedakah with your money in a most impeccable fashion.
  3. Giving tzedakah anonymously to a known recipient.
  4. Giving tzedakah publicly to an unknown recipient.
  5. Giving tzedakah before being asked.
  6. Giving adequately after being asked.
  7. Giving willingly, but inadequately.
  8. Giving "in sadness" – it is thought that Maimonides was referring to giving because of the sad feelings one might have in seeing people in need (as opposed to giving because it is a religious obligation; giving out of pity). Alternate translations say "Giving unwillingly."


Through the Guide for the Perplexed ( which was initially written in Arabic as Delalatul Ha'yreen) and the philosophical introductions to sections of his commentaries on the Mishna, Maimonides exerted an important influence on the Scholastic philosophers, especially on Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and Duns Scotus. He was himself a Jewish Scholastic. Educated more by reading the works of Arab Muslim philosophers than by personal contact with Arabian teachers, he acquired an intimate acquaintance not only with Arab Muslim philosophy, but with the doctrines of Aristotle. Maimonides strove to reconcile Aristotelian philosophy and science with the teachings of the Torah.

Negative theology

The principle, which inspired his philosophical activity, was identical with the fundamental tenet of Scholasticism: there can be no contradiction between the truths which God has revealed, and the findings of the human mind in science and philosophy. Maimonides primarily relied upon the science of Aristotle and the teachings of the Talmud, commonly finding basis in the former for the latter. In some important points, however, he departed from the teaching of Aristotle; for instance, he rejected the Aristotelian doctrine that God's provident care extends only to humanity, and not to the individual.

Maimonides was led by his admiration for the neo-Platonic commentators to maintain many doctrines which the Scholastics could not accept. For instance, Maimonides was an adherent of "negative theology" (also known as "Apophatic theology".) In this theology, one attempts to describe God through negative attributes. For instance, one should not say that God exists in the usual sense of the term; all we can safely say is that God is not non-existent. We should not say that "God is wise"; but we can say that "God is not ignorant," i.e. in some way, God has some properties of knowledge. We should not say that "God is One," but we can state that "there is no multiplicity in God's being." In brief, the attempt is to gain and express knowledge of God by describing what God is not; rather than by describing what God "is."

The Scholastics agreed with him that no predicate is adequate to express the nature of God; but they did not go so far as to say that no term can be applied to God in the affirmative sense. They admitted that while "eternal," "omnipotent," etc., as we apply them to God, are inadequate, at the same time we may say "God is eternal" etc., and need not stop, as Maimonides did, with the negative "God is not not-eternal," etc. In essence what Maimonides wanted to express is that when people give God anthropomorphic qualities they do not explain anything more of what God is, because we cannot know anything of the essence of God.

Maimonides' use of apophatic theology is not unique to this time period or to Judaism. For example, Pseudo-Dionysius the Areopagite and Maximus the Confessor, Eastern Christian theologians, developed apophatic theology for Christianity nearly 900 years earlier. See Negative theology for uses in other religions.


He agrees with "the philosophers" in teaching that, man's intelligence being one in the series of intelligences emanating from God, the prophet must, by study and meditation, lift himself up to the degree of perfection required in the prophetic state. But here, he invokes the authority of "the Law," which teaches that, after that perfection is reached, there is required the "free acts of God," before the man actually becomes a prophet.

The problem of evil

Maimonides wrote on theodicy (the philosophical attempt to reconcile the existence of a God with the existence of evil). He took the premise that an omnipotent and good God exists.[44][45][46][47] In his Guide for the Perplexed, Maimonides writes that all bad that exists within human beings are a matter of the individual’s attributes, but all of the merits of humanity are due to their general characteristics (Guide 3;8). He also writes that there are people who are guided by higher purpose and there are those who are guided by physicality and must strive to find the higher purpose with which to guide their actions. Maimonides explains evil by saying that one who created something by causing its opposite not to exist is not the same as creating something that exists. He applies this principle to evil saying that evil is merely the absence of good, so God didn’t create a thing called evil, rather God created good and evil is something that exists where good is absent (Guide 3;10). God therefore created only the good things and not the bad things – the bad things come secondarily. Maimonides also contests the common view that evil outweighs good in the world by saying that if you look at some individual cases this may be so, but if you look at the whole universe, good is significantly more common than evil (Guide 3;12). He reasons this because man is very lowly compared to the rest of the universe and that when people see mostly evil, they are focused only on themselves and not taking into account the entirety of the universe which is overwhelmingly good since it contains all of life and all of the heavens.

Maimonides also believes that there are three types of evil in the world; evil caused by nature, evil that people bring upon others and evil brought upon oneself (Guide 3;12). The first type of evil Maimonides reconciles as being very rare but at the same time, necessary for the survival of the species – if man does not change and old generations do not die to make space for new generations, then man cannot exist in its ultimate form. Maimonides writes that the second type of evil is relatively rare and that humanity brings it upon itself. The third type of evil humans bring upon themselves and are the source of most of the ills of the world, they are mostly the result of people falling victim to their physical desires. To prevent the majority of evil which stems from harm we do to ourselves, we must learn how to ignore our bodily urges.


Maimonides answered an inquiry concerning astrology, addressed to him from Marseille. He responded that man should believe only what can be supported either by rational proof, by the evidence of the senses, or by trustworthy authority. He affirms that he had studied astrology, and that it does not deserve to be described as a science. The supposition that the fate of a man could be dependent upon the constellations is ridiculed by him; he argues that such a theory would rob life of purpose, and would make man a slave of destiny. (See also Jewish views of astrology)

True beliefs versus necessary beliefs

In "Guide for the Perplexed" Book III, Chapter 28,[48] Maimonides explicitly draws a distinction between "true beliefs," which were beliefs about God that produced intellectual perfection, and "necessary beliefs," which were conducive to improving social order. Maimonides places anthropomorphic personification statements about God in the latter class. He uses as an example the notion that God becomes "angry" with people who do wrong. In the view of Maimonides (taken from Avicenna) God does not actually become angry with people, as God has no human passions; but it is important for them to believe God does, so that they desist from sinning.

Resurrection, acquired immortality, and the afterlife

Maimonides distinguishes two kinds of intelligence in man, the one material in the sense of being dependent on, and influenced by, the body, and the other immaterial, that is, independent of the bodily organism. The latter is a direct emanation from the universal active intellect; this is his interpretation of the noûs poietikós of Aristotelian philosophy. It is acquired as the result of the efforts of the soul to attain a correct knowledge of the absolute, pure intelligence of God.

The knowledge of God is a form of knowledge, which develops in us the immaterial intelligence, and thus confers on man an immaterial, spiritual nature. This confers on the soul that perfection in which human happiness consists, and endows the soul with immortality. One who has attained a correct knowledge of God has reached a condition of existence, which renders him immune from all the accidents of fortune, from all the allurements of sin, and even from death itself. Man, therefore is in a position not only to work out his own salvation and immortality.

The resemblance between this doctrine and Spinoza's doctrine of immortality is so striking as to warrant the hypothesis that there is a causal dependence of the latter on the earlier doctrine. The differences between the two Jewish thinkers are, however, as remarkable as the resemblance. While Spinoza teaches that the way to attain the knowledge which confers immortality is the progress from sense-knowledge through scientific knowledge to philosophical intuition of all things sub specie æternitatis, Maimonides holds that the road to perfection and immortality is the path of duty as described in the Torah and the rabbinic understanding of the oral law.

Religious Jews not only believed in immortality in some spiritual sense, but most believed that there would at some point in the future be a messianic era, and a resurrection of the dead. This is the subject of Jewish eschatology. Maimonides wrote much on this topic, but in most cases he wrote about the immortality of the soul for people of perfected intellect; his writings were usually not about the resurrection of dead bodies. This prompted hostile criticism from the rabbis of his day, and sparked a controversy over his true views.

Rabbinic works usually refer to this afterlife as "Olam Haba" (the World to Come). Some rabbinic works use this phrase to refer to a messianic era, an era of history right here on Earth; in other rabbinic works this phrase refers to a purely spiritual realm. It was during Maimonides's lifetime that this lack of agreement flared into a full-blown controversy, with Maimonides charged as a heretic by some Jewish leaders.

Some Jews at this time taught that Judaism did not require a belief in the physical resurrection of the dead, as the afterlife would be a purely spiritual realm. They used Maimonides's works on this subject to back up their position. In return, their opponents claimed that this was outright heresy; for them the afterlife was right here on Earth, where God would raise dead bodies from the grave so that the resurrected could live eternally. Maimonides was brought into this dispute by both sides, as the first group stated that his writings agreed with them, and the second group portrayed him as a heretic for writing that the afterlife is for the immaterial spirit alone. Eventually, Maimonides felt pressured to write a treatise on the subject, the "Ma'amar Tehiyyat Hametim" "The Treatise on Resurrection."

Chapter two of the treatise on resurrection refers to those who believe that the world to come involves physically resurrected bodies. Maimonides refers to one with such beliefs, as being an "utter fool" whose belief is "folly".

If one of the multitude refuses to believe [that angels are incorporeal] and prefers to believe that angels have bodies and even that they eat, since it is written (Genesis 18:8) 'they ate', or that those who exist in the World to Come will also have bodies—we won't hold it against him or consider him a heretic, and we will not distance ourselves from him. May there not be many who profess this folly, and let us hope that he will go no farther than this in his folly and believe that the Creator is corporeal.

However, Maimonides also writes, that those who claimed that he altogether believed the verses of the Hebrew Bible referring to the resurrection were only allegorical, were spreading falsehoods and "revolting" statements. Maimonides asserts that belief in resurrection is a fundamental truth of Judaism about which there is no disagreement, and that it is not permissible for a Jew to support anyone who believes differently. He cites Daniel 12:2 and 12:13 as definitive proofs of physical resurrection of the dead when they state "many of them that sleep in the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence" and "But you, go your way till the end; for you shall rest, and will arise to your inheritance at the end of the days."

While these two positions may be seen as in contradiction (non-corporeal eternal life, versus a bodily resurrection), Maimonides resolves them with a then unique solution: Maimonides believed that the resurrection was not permanent or general. In his view, God never violates the laws of nature. Rather, divine interaction is by way of angels, whom Maimonides often regards to be metaphors for the laws of nature, the principles by which the physical universe operates, or Platonic eternal forms. [This is not always the case. In Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah Chaps. 2–4, Maimonides describes angels that are actually created beings.] Thus, if a unique event actually occurs, even if it is perceived as a miracle, it is not a violation of the world's order.[49]

In this view, any dead who are resurrected must eventually die again. In his discussion of the 13 principles of faith, the first five deal with knowledge of God, the next four deal with prophecy and the Torah, while the last four deal with reward, punishment and the ultimate redemption. In this discussion Maimonides says nothing of a universal resurrection. All he says it is that whatever resurrection does take place, it will occur at an indeterminate time before the world to come, which he repeatedly states will be purely spiritual.

He writes "It appears to us on the basis of these verses (Daniel 12:2,13) that those people who will return to those bodies will eat, drink, copulate, beget, and die after a very long life, like the lives of those who will live in the Days of the Messiah." Maimonides thus disassociated the resurrection of the dead from both the World to Come and the Messianic era.

In his time, many Jews believed that the physical resurrection was identical to the world to come; thus denial of a permanent and universal resurrection was considered tantamount to denying the words of the Talmudic sages. However, instead of denying the resurrection, or maintaining the current dogma, Maimonides posited a third way: That resurrection had nothing to do with the messianic era (here in this world) or with Olam Haba (עולם הבא) (the purely spiritual afterlife). Rather, he considered resurrection to be a miracle that the book of Daniel predicted; thus at some point in time we could expect some instances of resurrection to occur temporarily, which would have no place in the final eternal life of the righteous.

The Oath of Maimonides

The Oath of Maimonides is a document about the medical calling and recited as a substitute for the Oath of Hippocrates. The Oath is not to be confused with a more lengthy Prayer of Maimonides. These documents may not have been written by Maimonides, but later.[19] The Prayer appeared first in print in 1793 and has been attributed to Marcus Herz, a German physician, pupil of Immanuel Kant.[50]

Maimonides and the Modernists

Maimonides remains one of the most widely debated Jewish thinkers among modern scholars. He has been adopted as a symbol and an intellectual hero by almost all major movements in modern Judaism, and has proven immensely important to philosophers such as Leo Strauss; and his views on the importance of humility have been taken up by modern humanist philosophers, such as Peter Singer. In academia, particularly within the area of Jewish Studies, the teaching of Maimonides has been dominated by traditional, generally Orthodox scholars, who place a very strong emphasis on Maimonides as a rationalist. The result of this is many sides of Maimonides's thought, for example his opposition to anthropocentrism, have been obviated. There is some movement in postmodern circles, e.g. within the discourse of ecotheology, to claim Maimonides for other purposes. Maimonides's reconciliation of the philosophical and the traditional has given his legacy an extremely diverse and dynamic quality.

Tributes and memorials

Plaque of Maimonides at Rambam Medical Center, Haifa
Manuscript page by Maimonides. Judeo-Arabic language in Hebrew letters.

Maimonides has been memorialized in numerous ways. For example, one of the Learning Communities at the Tufts University School of Medicine bears his name. There is also Maimonides School in Brookline, Massachusetts, the Brauser Maimonides Academy in Hollywood, Florida,[51] and Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn, New York. In 2004, conferences were held at Yale, Florida International University, Penn State, and the Rambam hospital in Haifa. To commemorate the 800th anniversary of his death, Harvard University issued a memorial volume.[52] In 1953, the Israel Postal Authority issued a postage stamp of Maimonides, pictured. In March 2008, during the Euromed Conference of Ministers of Tourism, The Tourism Ministries of Israel, Morocco and Spain agreed to work together on a joint project that will trace the footsteps of the Rambam and thus boost religious tourism in the cities of Córdoba, Fez and Tiberias.[53] Rambam Hospital in Haifa, Israel, is named for him.

Works and bibliography

Judaic and philosophical works

Maimonides composed works of Jewish scholarship, rabbinic law, philosophy, and medical texts. Most of Maimonides's works were written in Judeo-Arabic. However, the Mishneh Torah was written in Hebrew. His Judaism texts were:

  • Commentary on the Mishna (Hebrew Pirush Hamishnayot, Arabic siraj), written in Judeo-Arabic. This text was one of the first commentaries of its kind; its introductory sections are widely quoted.
  • Sefer Hamitzvot (trans. The Book of Commandments).
  • Sefer Ha'shamad (letter of Martydom)
  • Mishneh Torah, also known as Sefer Yad ha-Chazaka, a comprehensive code of Jewish law;
  • Guide for the Perplexed, a philosophical work harmonising and differentiating Aristotle's philosophy and Jewish theology. Written in Judeo-Arabic. The first translation of this work into Hebrew was done by Samuel ibn Tibbon
  • Teshuvot, collected correspondence and responsa, including a number of public letters (on resurrection and the afterlife, on conversion to other faiths, and Iggereth Teiman – addressed to the oppressed Jewry of Yemen).
  • Treatise on Logic (Arabic: Maqala Fi-Sinat Al-Mantiq) has been printed 17 times, including editions in Latin (1527), German (1805, 1822, 1833, 1828), French (1935), and English (1938), and in an abridged Hebrew form.
  • Hilkhot ha-Yerushalmi, a fragment of a commentary on the Jerusalem Talmud, identified and published by Saul Lieberman in 1947.

Medical works

Maimonides wrote ten known medical works in Arabic that have been translated by the Jewish medical ethicist Fred Rosner into contemporary English.[20]

  • Extracts from Galen, or The Art of Cure, is essentially an extract of Galen's extensive writings.
  • Commentary on the Aphorisms of Hippocrates is interspersed with his own views.
  • Medical Aphorisms of Moses titled Fusul Musa in Arabic ("Chapters of Moses," Pirkei Moshe in Hebrew) contains 1500 aphorisms and many medical conditions are described.
  • Treatise on Hemorrhoids discusses also digestion and food.
  • Treatise on Cohabitation contains recipes as aphrodisiacs and anti-aphrodisiacs.
  • Treatise on Asthma discusses climates and diets and their effect on asthma and emphasizes the need for clean air.
  • Treatise on Poisons and Their Antidotes is an early toxicology textbook that remained popular for centuries.
  • Regimen of Health is a discourse on healthy living and the mind-body connection.
  • Discourse on the Explanation of Fits advocates healthy living and the avoidance of overabundance.
  • Glossary of Drug Names represents a pharmacopeia with 405 paragraphs with the names of drugs in Arabic, Greek, Syrian, Persian, Berber, and Spanish.

Treatise on logic

In his twenties, Maimonides wrote a Treatise on logic (Makalah fi-sina'at al-mantik in Arabic). The work illustrates the essentials of Aristotelian logic to be found in the teachings of the great Arabic philosophers such as Avicenna and, above all, Al-Farabi, "the Second Master" to employ Maimonides' words, the "First Master" being Aristotle. In his work devoted to the Treatise, Rémi Brague stresses the fact that Al-Farabi is the only philosopher mentioned therein. This indicates a line of conduct for the reader, who must read the text keeping in mind Alfarabi's works on logic. In the Hebrew versions, the Treatise is called The words of Logic which happily describe the matter of the work. Maimonides explains to the honest man, the technical meaning of the words used by logicians. The Treatise duly inventories the terms used by the logician and indicates what they refer to. Although Maimonides starts from the lexical items and produces a sort of lexicon, the Treatise is an organised work in which the chapters succeed each other rationally. Each chapter offers a cluster of associated notions. The meaning of the words is explained and illustrated with examples. At the end of each chapter, Maimonides carefully draws up the list of words studied.

See also


  1. ^ Goldin, Hyman E. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch – Code of Jewish Law, Forward to the New Edition. (New York: Hebrew Publishing Company, 1961)
  2. ^ Tomb of Maimonides
  3. ^ "H-Net". 
  4. ^ "Maimonides Islamic Influences". Plato. Stanford. 
  5. ^ "Isaac Newton: "Judaic monotheist of the school of Maimonides"". 2007-06-19. Retrieved 2010-03-13. 
  6. ^ Davidson 2005, pp. 7–9, 18. If the traditional birth date of 14 Nisan is not correct, then a date in 1136 is also possible. Location of his death is possibly Tiberias, where his son and his tomb are set. There are several indications to the originality of the location, and traditions about the occasion of his death in Tiberias.
  7. ^ Stroumsa,Maimonides in his world: portrait of a Mediterranean thinker, Princeton University Press, 2009, p.65
  8. ^ Strousma, Maimonides in his world, pp.66–67
  9. ^ Abraham Heschel, Maimonides (New York: Farrar Strauss, 1982), Chapter 15, "Meditation on God," pp. 157–162.
  10. ^ a b 1954 Encyclopedia Americana, vol. 18, p. 140.
  11. ^ Jewish Virtual Library
  12. ^ Sarah Stroumsa, Maimonides in his world: portrait of a Mediterranean thinker, Princeton University Press, 2009, p.59.
  13. ^ Seder HaDoros (year 4927) quotes Maimonides as saying that he began writing his commentary on the Mishna when he was 23 years old, and published it when he was 30. Because of the dispute about the date of Maimonides's birth it is not clear which year it was actually published
  14. ^ a b Goitein, S.D. Letters of Medieval Jewish Traders. Princeton University Press, 1973 (ISBN 0-691-05212-3), p. 208
  15. ^ Cohen, Mark R. Poverty and Charity in the Jewish Community of Medieval Egypt. Princeton University Press, 2005 (ISBN 0-691-09272-9), pp. 115–116
  16. ^ The "India Trade" (a term devised by the Arabist S.D. Goitein) was a highly lucrative business venture where Jewish merchants from Egypt, the Mediterranean, and the Middle East would import and export goods ranging from pepper to brass from various ports along the Malabar Coast between the 11th–13th centuries. For more info, see the "India Traders" chapter in Goitein, Letters of Medieval Jewish Traders, 1973 or Goitein, India Traders of the Middle Ages, 2008.
  17. ^ Goitein, Letters of Medieval Jewish Traders, p. 207
  18. ^ Cohen, Poverty and Charity in the Jewish Community of Medieval Egypt, p. 115
  19. ^ a b c Julia Bess Frank (1981). "Moses Maimonides: rabbi or medicine". The Yale Journal of Biology and Medicine 54 (1): 79–88. PMC 2595894. PMID 7018097. 
  20. ^ a b c Fred Rosner (2002). "The Life o Moses Maimonides, a Prominent Medieval Physician". Einstein Quart J Biol Med 19 (3): 125–128. 
  21. ^ Gesundheit B, Or R, Gamliel C, Rosner F, Steinberg A (April 2008). "Treatment of depression by Maimonides (1138–1204):Rabbi, Physician, and Philosopher". Am J Psychiatry 165 (4): 425–428. doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2007.07101575. PMID 18381913. 
  22. ^ Abraham Heschel, Maimonides (New York: Farrar Strauss, 1982), Chapter 15, "Meditation on God," pp. 157–162, and also pp. 178–180, 184–185, 204, etc. Isadore Twersky, editor, A Maimonides Reader (New York: Behrman House, 1972), commences his "Introduction" with the following remarks, p. 1: "Maimonides' biography immediately suggests a profound paradox. A philosopher by temperament and ideology, a zealous devotee of the contemplative life who eloquently portrayed and yearned for the serenity of solitude and the spiritual exuberance of meditation, he nevertheless led a relentlessly active life that regularly brouht him to the brink of exhaustion."
  23. ^ Responsa Pe’er HaDor, 143.
  24. ^ Such views of his works are found in almost all scholarly studies of the man and his significance. See, for example, the "Introduction" sub-chapter by Howard Kreisel to his overview article "Moses Maimonides," in History of Jewish Philosophy, edited by Daniel H. Frank and Oliver Leaman, Second Edition (New York and London: Routledge, 2003), pp. 245–246.
  25. ^ The comment on the effect of his "incessant travail" on his health is by Salo Baron, "Moses Maimonides," in Great Jewish Personalities in Ancient and Medieval Time, edited by Simon Noveck (B'nai B'rith Department of Adult Jewish Education, 1959), p. 227, where Baron also quotes from Maimonides' letter to Ibn Tibbon regarding his daily regime including on the Sabbath.
  26. ^ The Life of Maimonides, Jewish National and University Library
  27. ^ [The End of the Exodus from Egypt, HaAretz Daily Newspaper Israel: Amiram Barkat, April 21, 2005
  28. ^ Karesh, Sarah E.; Mitchell M. Hurvitz (2005). Encyclopedia of Judaism. Facts on File. p. 305. ISBN 978-0816054572. 
  29. ^ Zimmels, H.J. (Revised Edition 1997). Ashkenazim and Sephardim: Their Relations, Differences, and Problems as Reflected in the Rabbinical Responsa. Ktav Publishing House. p. 283. ISBN 978-0881254914. 
  30. ^ Isidore Twersky, Introduction to the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah), Yale Judaica Series, vol. XII (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1980). passim, and especially Chapter VII, "Epilogue," pp. 515–538.
  31. ^ This is covered in all histories of the Jews. E.g., see even such a brief overview as Cecil Roth, A History of the Jews, Revised Edition (New York: Schocken, 1970), pp. 175–179.
  32. ^ D.J. Silver, Maimonidean Criticism and the Maimonidean Controversy, 1180–1240 (Leiden: Brill, 1965), is still the most detailed account.
  33. ^ David Hartman, Maimonides: Torah and Philosophic Quest (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1976), p. 98.
  34. ^ On the extensive philosophical aspects of Maimonides' halachic works, see in particular Isidore Twersky's Introduction to the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah), Yale Judaica Series, vol. XII (New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1980). Twersky devotes a major portion of this authoritative study to the philosophical aspects of the Mishneh Torah itself.
  35. ^ The Maimunist or Maimonidean controversy is covered in all histories of Jewish philosophy and general histories of the Jews. For an overview, with bibliographic references, see Idit Dobbs-Weinstein, "The Maimonidean Controversy," in History of Jewish Philosophy, Second Edition, edited by Daniel H. Frank and Oliver Leaman (London and New York: Routledge, 2003), pp. 331–349. Also see Colette Sirat, A History of Jewish Philosophy in the Middle Ages (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985), pp. 205–272.
  36. ^ Rubio, Mercedes (2006). Aquinas and maimonides on the possibility of the knowledge of god. Springer-Verlag. doi:10.1007/1-4020-4747-9_2. ISBN 978-1-4020-4720-6. 
  37. ^ Last section of Maimonides's Introduction to Mishneh Torah
  38. ^ Avkat Rochel ch. 32PDF
  39. ^ Moses Maimonides, The Commandments, Neg. Comm. 290, at 269–71 (Charles B. Chavel trans., 1967).
  40. ^ Leslie, Donald. The Survival of the Chinese Jews; The Jewish Community of Kaifeng. Tʻoung pao, 10. Leiden: Brill, 1972, p. 157
  41. ^ Pollak, Michael. Mandarins, Jews, and Missionaries: The Jewish Experience in the Chinese Empire. The Jewish Publication Society of America, 1980, p. 413
  42. ^ Pollak, Mandarins, Jews, and Missionaries, pp. 297–298
  43. ^ Hebrew Source of Maimonides' Levels of Giving with Danny Siegel's translation
  44. ^ Maimonides, Moses (2007). The Guide to the Perplexed. BN Publishers. 
  45. ^ Jacobs, Joseph. [<>. "Moses Ben Maimon"]. Jewish Encyclopedia. <>.. Retrieved 2011-03-13. 
  46. ^ Pines, Shlomo (2006). "Maimonides (1135–1204)". Encyclopedia of Philosophy 5: 647–654. 
  47. ^ Twersky, Isadore (2005). "Maimonides, Moses". Encyclopedia of Religion 8: 5613–5618. 
  48. ^ "Guide for the Perplexed, on". Retrieved 2010-03-13. 
  49. ^ Commentary on the Mishna, Avot 5:6
  50. ^ "Oath and Prayer of Maimonides". Retrieved 2010-03-13. 
  51. ^ "News for South Florida's Jewish Community — Florida Jewish Journal". Retrieved 2010-03-13. 
  52. ^ "Harvard University Press: Maimonides after 800 Years : Essays on Maimonides and his Influence by Jay M. Harris". Retrieved 2010-03-13. 
  53. ^

Further reading

  • Abraham Joshua Heschel, Maimonides: The Life and Times of a Medieval Jewish Thinker, New York: Farrar Strauss, 1982.
  • David Hartman, Maimonides: Torah and Philosophic Quest, Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1976.
  • Marvin Fox Interpreting Maimonides, Univ. of Chicago Press 1990.
  • Julius Guttman, Philosophies of Judaism Translated by David Silverman, Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1964
  • Aryeh Kaplan, Maimonides' Principles: The Fundamentals of Jewish Faith, in "The Aryeh Kaplan Anthology, Volume I," Mesorah Publications, Ltd. 1994.
  • Isadore Twersky, Introduction to the Code of Maimonides (Mishneh Torah), Yale Judaica Series, vol. XII. New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1980.
  • Isadore Twersky, editor, A Maimonides Reader, New York: Behrman House, 1972.
  • Colette Sirat, A History of Jewish Philosophy in the Middle Ages, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985. See chapters 5 through 8, pp. 131 to 344.
  • Daniel H. Frank and Oliver Leaman, eds., History of Jewish Philosophy, Second Edition, London and New York: Routledge, 2003. See especially chapters 10 through 15, pp. 228–378, by various authors.
  • Menachem Kellner, Dogma in Medieval Jewish Thought, London: Oxford University press, 1986
  • Marc. B. Shapiro, "'Maimonides Thirteen Principles: The Last Word in Jewish Theology?," The Torah U-Maddah Journal, Vol. 4, 1993, Yeshiva University
  • Isaac Husik, A History of Jewish Philosophy Dover Publications, Inc., 2002. Originally published in 1941 by the Jewish Publication of America, Philadelphia, pp. 236–311
  • Leo Strauss, Persecution and the Art of Writing, University of Chicago Press, 1988 reprint
  • Leo Strauss, "How to Begin to Study the Guide, from The Guide of the Perplexed, Vol. 1, Maimonides, translated from the Arabic by Shlomo Pines, University of Chicago Press, 1974
  • Rabbi Yaakov Feldman, Shemonah Perakim: The Eight Chapters of the Rambam, Targum Press, 2008.
  • Joel L. Kraemer, "Maimonides: The Life and World of One of Civilization's Greatest Minds", Doubleday, 2008.
  • Marc B. Shapiro, Studies in Maimonides and His Interpreters (Scranton (PA), University of Scranton Press, 2008), 200 pp.
  • Herbert A. Davidson, Moses Maimonides: The Man and his Works, OUP 2005
  • Sarah Stroumsa. Maimonides in His World: Portrait of a Mediterranean Thinker (Princeton University Press, 2009) online review ISBN 0691137633

External links

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