Moses ben-Maimon, commonly called Maimonides, was a distinguished Jewish philosopher of medieval times. Apart from being an eminent philosopher, he was also counted among the excellent Torah scholars and physicians of his times. Rambam is his other name. He was greatly admired for his works on Jewish law and ethics. With his impressive writings, he not only gained respect amongst most of the Jews but also in Spain, Iraq and Yemen. Maimonides also served as the honored head of the Jewish community in Egypt. His large fourteen volumes work “Mishneh Torah” till date holds canonical authority in regard of a codification of Talmudic law. In the Jewish “Yeshiva world”, he is regarded as “haNesher haGadol” (the great eagle) in acknowledgment of his preeminent status as a certified exponent of the Oral Torah. After his demise, he had been recognized as one of the chief rabbinical arbiters and philosophers in the entire history of Jews.
Maimonides Childhood and Early Life
The fullHebrew name of Maimonides is Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon while his full Arabic name is Abû Imrân Mûsâ bin Maimûn bin Ubaidallâh al-Qurṭubî or in short Mûsâ ibn Maymûn. He was born in 1135 in Córdoba, Spain, which according to some scholars was regarded as the end of the golden age of Jewish culture in Spain. His father’s name was Maimon who had studied Torah under Rabbi Joseph ibn Migash, student of Isaac Alfasi. When Maimonides was quite young, he developed great interest in science and philosophy. He began reading those Greek philosophers whose works were available in Arabic translations and dived greatly into the world of sciences and learning culture of Islam. Although it is believed that the Gaonic tradition, specifically in its North African version was responsible for creating a base of his legal thought, still some scholars have freshly argued that Muslim law, including Almohad legal thought also imposed great impact. Though his philosophies behold a powerful intellectualistic kind of mysticism, Maimonides never supported mysticism. He was an opponent of poetry. The philosophical thoughts was gratified for his saintly personality and also his writings, surpassed an unquiet life.
Maimonides completed most of his works during traveling or residing in temporary accommodation. In 1148, Córdoba was conquered by the Almohads, transforming the life of Jews dramatically. Most of them were rigorously forced to convert or to wear degrading, identifying clothes. Maimonides with his family chose to move from the place accompanied by other Jews. But according to Muslim sources, the family underwent a forceful conversion. For the next decade, he continued moving across the southern Spain and finally settled in Fes, Morocco. Maimonides got educated at the University of Al-Karaouine here. During this time only, he authored his greatly praised commentary on the Mishnah in between 1166-1168. With his journey to Morocco, he with his family resided for a short time in the Holy Land, prior to settling in Fostat, Egypt in around 1168. Staying in Cairo, Maimonides studied in Yeshiva attached to a tiny synagogue that still holds his name. In the Holy Land, he performed prayer at the Temple Mount. Shortly afterwards, he actively helped rescue Jews who were caged during the siege of the Egyptian town of Bilbays by the King Amalric.
Maimonides posted five letters to the Jewish communities of Lower Egypt requesting them to give money together to pay the ransom. The amount was collected and later passed to two judges who were sent to Palestine to bargain with the Crusaders. The caged Jews got released soon. Happy with this achievement, the Maimonides family, in a desire to enhance their wealth, gave their savings to the youngest son, David who was a merchant. Maimonides guided him to acquire goods only at the Sudanese port of ‘Aydhab. Despite a long strenuous journey passing through the deserts, David was not impressed by the goods offered there, and neglecting his brother’s will, went on a ship sailing towards India in a hope to find a lot of wealth in the East. But unfortunately before he could reach India, David got drowned at sea sometime around 1169-1170. The news of his brother’s death shook Maimonides and he became quite ill following the grief.
Maimonides was appointed as the Nagid of the Egyptian Jewish community in around 1171. It is believed that the leadership quality he showcased during rescuing of Jews from crusaders was the reason behind this appointment. Also as the family lost all their wealth with the demise of David, Maimonides had to take the employment of physician. Eventually he became hugely famous, being trained in medicine in Córdoba as well as Fes. After acquiring great recognition, he was enrolled as the court physician initially to the Grand Vizier Al Qadi al Fadil and later to Sultan Saladin. After the death of Sultan, he continued as a physician to the royal family. Maimonides’s work explored several conditions such as asthma, diabetes, hepatitis, and pneumonia. He gave special emphasize on moderation and a healthy life style. Eventually his writing became quite influential for the generations of physicians.
Maimonides was extremely knowledgeable in Greek and Arabic medicine and opted to follow the principles of humorism in Galen’s tradition. He showcased in his interactions with patients credited that today would be denoted as intercultural awareness and respect for the patient's autonomy. He also used to often write his wish for solitude in order to go near to God and to expand his reflections. Also, it is noticeable that he imposed great efforts to appropriately fix in the compositions of huge treatises, which contained not only medical and other scientific studies but some of the greatest systematic thoughts and influential one on halachah (Rabbinic law) and Jewish philosophy of medieval times. It is also believed that his "incessant travail" declined his health immensely. Maimonides rabbinic works are till date important and unique resources for religious Jews
Maimonides married the daughter of one Mishael ben Yeshayahu Halevi. The couple had only one child, Avraham.
Maimonides died on 12th December, 1204 in Fustat. It is suggested that he was briefly interred in the study room of the synagogue courtyard and shortly afterwards, following his desires, his remains were unearthed and taken to Tiberias where he was re-buried. His graves lies where stands the Tomb of Maimonides on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, Israel.
Judaic and Philosophical Works
- Commentary on the Mishna
- Sefer Hamitzvot
- Sefer Ha'shamad
- Mishneh Torah
- Guide for the Perplexed
- Treatise on Logic
- Hilkhot ha-Yerushalmi
- Extracts from Galen
- Commentary on the Aphorisms of Hippocrates
- Medical Aphorisms of Moses
- Treatise on Hemorrhoids
- Treatise on Cohabitation
- Treatise on Asthma
- Treatise on Poisons and Their Antidotes
- Regimen of Health
- Discourse on the Explanation of Fits
- Glossary of Drug Names