Maimonides – Rambam
Maimonides – Rambam
Maimonides was one of the few medieval jewish philosophers who also influenced the non-jewish world. Even today, he is among the most respected of all jewish philosophers. A popular medieval saying that also served as his epitaph, stated that From Moses [of the Torah] to Moses [Maimonides] there has not been such a Moses.
Maimonides’s major contribution to jewish life is the Mishneh Torah, his code of jewish law. His intention was to compose a book that would guide jews on how to behave in all situations just by reading the torah and his code, without having to expend large amounts of time searching through the Talmud.
Rambam was born on the fourteenth day of Nissan – the day before passover – in the year 1351, in Cordova, Spain, then under muslim rule during what some scholars consider to be the end of the golden age of jewish culture in Spain.
He was a descendent of a distinguished and scholarly family tracing its ancestry to Rabbi Yehudah HaNassi, the compiler of the Mishnah, and even further back to the royal house of king David.
At the conclusion of his Commentary on the Mishnah – the confiscation of the Oral Tradition of the Torah (tractate Uktzin 3:12), Rambam enumerates his ancestry eight generations back, indicating that all were distinguished Dayanim (judges of a jewish religious court), Rabbis and scholars. His father served as Dayan of the jewish community of Cordova and was famous not only for his immense torah knowledge, but also for his general scholarship, especially in mathematics and astronomy. Rabbi Maimon, who had studied under Rabbi Joseph ibn Migash, he himself taught his son Scripture, Talmud, and every aspect of the jewish religion and tradition, and provided him also with a multifaceted education and a thorough training in worldly sciences. It was at the suggestion of his father that the young Moshe immersed himself in the study of philosophy and medicine.
In 1148 the Almohades, a fanatic muslim sect of northern africa, captures Cordova. The Maimon family flees Cordova and enters an eleven year period of wandering through southern Spain and northern africa. The young Moshe was barely Bar Mitzvah. These Almohades tolerated no other religion than their own and offered the jewish population the choice of conversion to islam, death, or expulsion from their native land. So the jews were given the excruciating alternative of either surrendering their eternal faith or their very life, or abandoning their homeland where they had lived for many centuries, leaving behind all their possessions, to seek a haven of refuge in a hostile world where they were nowhere welcome.
The vast majority of the jews, among them the Dayan and his family, chose exile and left Cordova. Of those who could not leave, many met a martyr’s death, sanctifying the name of God, and some became insincere converts to islam, merely outwardly, all the while, secretly, in their hearts and in the privacy of their homes, observing and practicing all the precepts of the torah, never abandoning their inherited religion.
1158 (1161) – Rambam begins writing his commentary on the Mishnah.
1159 – During this time, he composed his acclaimed commentary on the Mishna. After ten years of a nomadic life, they joined a group of fugitives who headed toward north africa and eventually settled, in 1159, in Fez, then the capital of Morocco, where Maimonides acquired most of his secular knowledge studying at the University of Fez.
1162 (1163) – Rambam composes and disseminates “Iggret HaShmad” (Epistle Concerning Apostacy).
1164 (1165) – After a five year stay in Fez they had to leave because of religious intolerance and persecution. They again became wandering jews, without a home. By way of Jerusalem and Hebron, the Maimon family made their way to Egypt. The Holy Land, desolate and unpopulated, ravaged by the crusaders, did not afford them a permanent place of residence. They spent three days in Jerusalem in prayer at the Western Wall, and one day in Hebron praying at the graves of the Patriarchs at the Cave of Machpelah.
1166 – They leave the Holy Land and from there they proceeded to Egypt. In Fostad, near Cairo, the seat of the Caliphate, the family of Rabbi Maimon at last found a haven. Unlike other muslim countries, the jews in Egypt, under the tolerant and enlightened rule of the Fatimide caliphs, were granted complete religious and civil freedom. They were allowed to develop their religious, cultural and communal life, as well as to engage in commerce without any restrictions or interference. It was here that Rabbi Moshe was to create the masterworks for which the jewish people are forever indebted to him.
1166 ca. – They had barely settled in their new domicile, and were just beginning to enjoy the long sought life of freedom and peace, when misfortune struck the Maimon family. A few months after their arrival in Fostad, Rabbi Maimon, the former Dayan of Cordova, passed away. Rabbi Moshe deeply mourned the loss of his great father, who was to him not only a father but also his foremost teacher and most important influence.
1167 (1170) – Rambam begins composing Sefer HaMitzvot – The Book of Commandments and Mishneh Torah.
1169 – He writes and sends Iggeret Teiman to the jews of Yemen.
1171 ca. – Rabbi Maimon wrote a commentary on the Talmud, which his son Rabbi Moshe mentions in his introduction to the Mishnah and which he used as a source in the preparation of his own work. His younger brother, David, took upon himself the responsibility of providing financial support for the entire family, in order to enable his gifted brother, Moshe, to devote himself to his studies without financial worry. David became a jewel merchant, importing gems and precious stones from India. He succeeded in this business and the family lived very comfortably. Unfortunately, the family was struck again by tragedy with the untimely death of their provider. On a business trip to India, the ship on which David was sailing was caught in a storm, shipwrecked in the Indian Ocean, and David drowned, carrying with him the entire family fortune.
1171 ca – It devolved upon Rabbi Moshe to become the breadwinner of the family. Rambam settles in Fostad, Egypt, where he lives for the rest of his life. However, as a result of his incessant study and his grief over his brother’s death, he became seriously ill. Bedridden for several months, he was unable to provide support for his family. When he finally recovered, he began to practice medicine. Rambam did not deem it proper to obtain monetary benefits or receive financial remuneration from his vast Torah knowledge. Torah should be studied and taught, he maintained, only for the sake of heaven and not for earning a livelihood. Hence he devoted himself to the vocation of medicine. He was so successful in this profession, and in the course of time gained such a reputation, that Grand Vizier Alfadhil, and eventually Sultan Saladin as well, appointed him to be their personal physician.
1171 (1174) – End of the Fatimid Caliphate. Saladin becomes king of Egypt.
1177 ca. – Appointed Chief Rabbi by the jewish community of Cairo.
1177 (1180) – Completes writing Mishneh Torah. Maimonides’s major contribution to jewish life remains the Mishneh Torah, his code of jewish law.
1186, 28 of Sivan, his son, Rabbi Avraham, is born.
1186 (1190) Completes Moreh Nevuchim (Guide for the Perplexed).
1204 – Passes away on the 13th of December (20th of Tevet).
He was laid to rest in Tiberias.
His son Avraham, recognized as a great scholar, succeeded him as Nagid (head of the Egyptian jewish community), as well as in the office of court physician, at the age of only 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.