MAIMONIDES, MOSES (Moses ben Maimon; known in rabbinical literature as "Rambam"; from the acronym Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon; 1135–1204), rabbinic authority, codifier, philosopher, and royal physician.
The most illustrious figure in Judaism in the post-talmudic era, and one of the greatest of all time, Maimonides was born in Cordoba, Spain, to his father *Maimon, dayyan of Cordoba and himself a renowned scholar and pupil of Joseph *ibn Migash. He continues his genealogy, "the son of the learned Joseph, son of Isaac the dayyan, son of Joseph the dayyan, son of Obadiah the dayyan, son of the rabbi Solomon, son of Obadiah" (end of commentary to Mishnah); traditions extend the genealogy to R. Judah ha-Nasi. Posterity even recorded the day and hour and even minute of his birth, "On the eve of Passover (the 14th of Nisan) which was a Sabbath, an hour and a third after midday, in the year 4895 (1135) of the Creation" (Sefer Yuḥasin). Maimonides' grandson David gives the same day and year without the hour (at the beginning of his commentary to tractate Rosh Ha-Shanah).
As a result of the fall of Cordoba to the *Almohads in May or June, 1148, when Moses had just reached his 13th birthday, and the consequent religious persecution, Maimon was obliged to leave Cordoba with his family and all trace of them is lost for the next eight or nine years, which they spent wandering from place to place in Spain (and possibly Provence) until in 1160 they settled in Fez. Yet it was during those years of wandering, which Maimonides himself describes as a period "while my mind was troubled, and amid divinely ordained exiles, on journeys by land and tossed on the tempests of the sea" (end of commentary to Mishnah) that he laid the strong foundations of his vast and varied learning and even began his literary work. Not only did he begin the draft of the Sirāj, his important commentary on the Mishnah, in 1158, but in that same year, at the request of a friend, he wrote a short treatise on the Jewish calendar (Ma'amar ha-Ibbur) and one on logic (Millot Higgayon) and had completed writing notes for a commentary on a number of tractates of the Babylonian Talmud, and a work whose aim was to extract the halakhah from the Jerusalem Talmud (see below Maimonides as halakhist). According to Muslim authorities the family became formally converted to Islam somewhere in the period between 1150 and 1160. But Saadiah ibn Danan (Z. Edelmann (ed.), Ḥemdah Genuzah (1856), 16a) relates that the Muslims maintain the same about many Jewish scholars, among them Dunash ibn Tamim, Ḥasdai b. Ḥasdai, and others. In any case in the year 1160 Maimon and his sons, Moses and David, and a daughter, were in Fez. In his old age ʿAbd al-Muʾmin, the Almohad ruler, somewhat changed his attitude to the Jews, becoming more moderate toward those who were living in the central, Moroccan, part of his realm. It was probably on account of this that in 1159 or early in 1160 Maimon deemed it worthwhile to emigrate with his family to Morocco and settle in Fez. Living in Fez at that time was R. Judah ha-Kohen ibn Susan, whose fame for learning and piety had spread to Spain, and Maimonides, then 25, studied under him. Many Jews had outwardly adopted Islam and their consciences were troubling them, and this prompted Maimon to write his Iggeret ha-Neḥamah ("Letter of Consolation") assuring them that he who says his prayers even in their shortest form and who does good works remains a Jew (Ḥemdah Genuzah, pp. LXXIV–LXXXII). Meantime his son worked at his commentary on the Mishnah and also continued his general studies, particularly medicine; in his medical works he frequently refers to the knowledge and experience he gained among the Muslims in North Africa (see Maimonides as physician). Here also he wrote his Iggeret ha-Shemad ("Letter on Forced Conversion") also called Iggeret Kiddush ha-Shem ("Letter of the Sanctification of the Divine Name"). These letters of father and son, as well as Maimonides' utterances after leaving Morocco, do not point to outrages and bloody persecutions. Although Maimonides in the opening lines of the Iggeret ha-Shemad most strongly deprecates the condemnation of the forced converts by "the self-styled sage
Maimon and his sons acted in accordance with this advice, as certainly did many others. Maimonides' departure from the country of the Almohads is commonly assumed to have taken place in 1165; according to Saadiah ibn Danan (Seder ha-Dorot, in: Ḥemdah Genuzah, 30b.), it was promoted by the martyrdom of Judah ibn Susan, who had been called upon to forsake his religion and had preferred death to apostasy. R. Maimon and his family escaped from Fez, and a month later they landed at Acre. The day of his departure as well as that on which the ship was saved from a tempest were instituted as a family fast enjoined on his descendants, and that of his arrival in Ereẓ Israel as a festival (E. Azikri (Azcari), Sefer Ḥaredim; Maim. Comm. to Rosh Ha-Shanah, ed. Brill, end).
The family remained in Acre for some five months, striking up an intimate friendship there with the dayyan Japheth b. Ali. Together with him they made a tour of the Holy Land, visiting Jerusalem where Maimonides states, "I entered the [site of the] Great and Holy House and prayed there on Thursday the 6th day of Marḥeshvan." Three days later they paid a visit to the Cave of Machpelah in Hebron for the same purpose. Maimonides also appointed both these days as family festivals. The family then left Ereẓ Israel and sailed for Egypt. After a short stay at Alexandria they moved to Cairo and took up residence in Fostat, the Old City of Cairo.
Maimon died at this time either in Ereẓ Israel or in Egypt. It has been suggested that the reason for the choice of Alexandria was the existence at that time "outside the town" of "the academy of Aristotle, the teacher of Alexander" to which "people from the whole world came in order to study the wisdom of Aristotle the philosopher" mentioned by Benjamin of Tudela (ed. by M.N. Adler (1907), 75). It is not certain what prompted the move to Cairo. That Maimonides' influence was decisive in virtually destroying the hitherto dominating influence of the Karaites who were more numerous and wealthy than the Rabbanites in Cairo is beyond doubt (see below) and in the 17th century Jacob Farajī, a dayyan in Egypt, states that it was this challenge which impelled Maimonides to move to Cairo (see Azulai, letter M150).
For eight years Maimonides lived a life free from care. Supported by his brother David who dealt in precious stones, he was able to devote himself entirely to preparing his works for publication and to his onerous but honorary work as both religious and lay leader of the community. His Sirāj, the commentary to the Mishnah, was completed in 1168. The following year he suffered a crushing blow. His brother David drowned in the Indian Ocean while on a business trip, leaving a wife and two children, and with him were lost not only the family fortune but moneys belonging to others. Maimonides took the blow badly. For a full year he lay almost prostrate, and then he had to seek a means of livelihood. Rejecting the thought of earning a livelihood from Torah (see his commentary on Avot 5:4, and especially his letter to Joseph ibn Sham'un in 1191, "It is better for you to earn a drachma as a weaver, or tailor, or carpenter than to be dependent on the license of the exilarch [to accept a paid position as a rabbi]"; F. Kobler (ed.), Letters of Jews Through the Ages, 1 (1952), 207) and he decided to make the medical profession his livelihood.
Fame in his calling did not come to him at once. It was only after 1185 when he was appointed one of the physicians to al-Faḍil, who had been appointed vizier by Saladin and was virtual ruler of Egypt after Saladin's departure from that country in 1174, that his fame began to spread. It gave rise to a legend that Richard the Lionhearted "the King of the Franks in Ascalon" sought his services as his private physician. About 1177 he was recognized as the official head of the Fostat community. Ibn Danan says of him, "Rabbenu Moshe [b. Maimon] became very great in wisdom, learning, and rank." In the so-called Megillat Zuta he is called "the light of east and west and unique master and marvel of the generation."
These were the most fruitful and busy years of his life. His first wife had died young and in Egypt he remarried, taking as his wife the sister of Ibn Almali, one of the royal secretaries, who himself married Maimonides' only sister. To them was born their only son Abraham to whose education he lovingly devoted himself, and an added solace was his enthusiastic disciple Joseph ibn Sham'un (not Ibn Aknin, as often stated), whom he loved as a son, and for whom he wrote, and sent chapter by chapter, his Guide of the Perplexed. It was during those years, busy as he was with the heavy burden of his practice and occupied with the affairs of the community, writing his extensive correspondence to every part of the Jewish world (apart from the Franco-German area), that he wrote the two monumental works upon which his fame chiefly rests, the Mishneh Torah (compiled 1180) and the Guide (1190; according to Z. Diesendruck, in: HUCA, 12–13 (1937–38), 461–97, in 1185), as well as his Iggeret Teiman and his Ma'amar Teḥiyyat ha-Metim.
The following passage in the letter to the translator of the Guide, Samuel b. Judah ibn *Tibbon, in which he describes his multifarious cares and duties, with the aim of dissuading Ibn Tibbon from coming to visit him, has often been quoted:
I dwell at Miṣr [Fostat] and the sultan resides at al-Qāhira [Cairo]; these two places are two Sabbath days' journey distant from each other. My duties to the sultan are very heavy. I am obliged to visit him every day, early in the morning; and when he or any of his children, or any of the inmates of his harem, are indisposed, I dare not quit al-Qāhira, but must stay during
the greater part of the day in the palace. It also frequently happens that one or two royal officers fall sick, and I must attend to their healing. Hence, as a rule, I repair to al-Qāhira very early in the day, and even if nothing unusual happens, I do not return to Miṣr until the afternoon. Then I am almost dying with hunger … I find the antechambers filled with people, both Jews and gentiles, nobles and common people, judges and bailiffs, friends and foes – a mixed multitude who await the time of my return.
I dismount from my animal, wash my hands, go forth to my patients, and entreat them to bear with me while I partake of some slight refreshment, the only meal I take in the twenty-four hours. Then I go forth to attend to my patients, and write prescriptions and directions for their various ailments. Patients go in and out until nightfall, and sometimes even, I solemnly assure you, until two hours or more in the night. I converse with and prescribe for them while lying down from sheer fatigue; and when night falls, I am so exhausted that I can scarcely speak.
In consequence of this, no Israelite can have any private interview with me, except on the Sabbath. On that day the whole congregation, or at least the majority of the members, come to me after the morning service, when I instruct them as to their proceedings during the whole week; we study together a little until noon, when they depart. Some of them return, and read with me after the afternoon service until evening prayers. In this manner I spend that day.
The two major works will be described below, but something must be said of the two letters. The Arab ruler in Yemen, who, unlike the sultans in Egypt who were Sunnites, belonged to the sectarian Shiʿites, instituted a religious persecution, giving the Jews the choice of conversion to Islam or death. Not only did many succumb, but there arose among those Jews a pseudo-Messiah, or a forerunner of the Messiah who, seeing in these events the darkness before the dawn, preached the imminent advent of the Messianic Age. In despair the Jews of Yemen turned to Maimonides, who probably in 1172 answered their request with the Iggeret Teiman (al-Risāla al-Yamaniyya). It was addressed to R. *Jacob b. Nethanel al-Fayyumi, with a request that copies be sent to every community in Yemen. Deliberately couched in simple terms, "that men, women, and children could read it easily," he pointed out that the subtle attack of Christianity and Islam which preached a new revelation was more dangerous than the sword and than the attractions of Hellenism. As for the pseudo-Messiah, he was unbalanced and he was to be rejected. These trials were sent to prove the Jews.
The effect of the letter was tremendous. In gratitude for the message of hope, combined with the fact that Maimonides also used his influence at court to obtain a lessening of the heavy burden of taxation on the Jews of Yemen, the Jews of Yemen introduced into the *Kaddish a prayer for "the life of our teacher Moses b. Maimon" (Letter of Naḥmanides to the rabbis of France, in: Kitvei Ramban, ed. by C.B. Chavel (1963), 341).
This remarkable tribute, usually reserved for the exilarch, has an indirect connection with the third of his public (as distinct from his private) letters, the Ma'amar Teḥiyyat ha-Metim
("On Resurrection"; 1191). Maimonides wrote the letter with the greatest reluctance. It was the direct result of his Mishneh Torah and constituted his reply to the accusation leveled against him that in this work he denied, or did not mention, the doctrine of personal resurrection which was a fundamental principle of faith among the Jews of his time. An objective study of his work does lend a certain basis to the allegation. It is true, as he indignantly protests, that he included this doctrine as the last of his famous Thirteen Principles of Judaism, but in his Mishneh Torah the undoubted emphasis is on the immortality of the soul and not on individual bodily resurrection. That the allegation was not based upon mere malice or envy of his work is sufficiently proved by the fact that anxious queries were addressed to him from the countries in which he was most fervently admired, Yemen and Provence, and Maimonides answered them. Abraham b. David of Posquières wrote: "The words of this man seem to me to be very near to him who says there is no resurrection of the body, but only of the soul. By my life, this is not the view of the sages" (Comm. to Yad, Teshuvah 8:2). Some Jews from Yemen however, unsatisfied, wrote to *Samuel b. Ali the powerful and learned Gaon in Baghdad who sent a reply, which although couched in terms of respect to Maimonides, vigorously denounced his views. It would appear that the vehemence of this reply was connected with Samuel's desire to assert his authority as gaon over Egypt, which he thought was being usurped by Maimonides. On the other hand, Maimonides held the exilarch Samuel (of Josiah b. Zakkai's line), the successor of the exilarch Daniel b. Ḥisdai, in higher esteem than the gaon Samuel b. Ali. Thus the relations between Maimonides and the gaon remained strained, although there was never open hostility. Joseph ibn Sham'un, in Baghdad, who had also queried Maimonides' views on resurrection, sent a copy of Samuel's reply to Maimonides and with great reluctance Maimonides felt himself compelled to write his Ma'amar Teḥiyyat ha-Metim in which he asserted and confirmed his belief in the doctrine.
Maimonides was active as head of the community. He took vigorous steps to deal with the Karaites, and as a result brought about the supremacy of the Rabbanites in Cairo. On the one hand he emphatically maintained that they were to be regarded as Jews, with all the attendant privileges. They might be visited, their dead buried, and their children circumcised, their wine permitted; they were however not to be included in a religious quorum (Resp. ed. Blau, 449). Only when they flouted rabbinic Judaism was a barrier to be maintained. One was particularly to avoid visiting them on their festivals which did not coincide with the dates fixed by the rabbinic calendar. One of the inroads which they had caused in orthodox observance was with regard to ritual immersion for the *niddah. Their view that an ordinary bath was sufficient had been widely adopted among the Rabbanites. Maimonides succeeded in restoring rabbinic practice in this matter, but generally his policy toward the Karaites was more lenient in his later years, and was continued by his son Abraham. (For an
Maimonides made various changes in liturgical custom, the most radical of which was the abolition of the repetition of the *Amidah in the interests of decorum. With the completion of the Guide, Maimonides' literary work, apart from his extensive correspondence, came to an end. In failing health he nevertheless continued his work as head of the Jewish community and as court physician. (It is doubtful whether he actually held the appointment of nagid as is usually stated; see M.D. Rabinowitz, Introduction to Ma'amar Teḥiyyat ha-Metim in Iggerot ha-Rambam, 220–7.)
It was during this period however that he engaged in his correspondence with the scholars of Provence in general and with Jonathan of Lunel in particular. In some instances the border line between responsum and letter is not clearly defined (e.g., his letter to Obadiah the Proselyte, see below), but, as Kobler comments, the letters of Maimonides mark an epoch in letter writing. He is the first Jewish letter writer whose correspondence has been largely preserved. Vigorous and essentially personal, his letters found their way to the mind and heart of his correspondents, and he varied his style to suit them. But above all they reveal his whole personality, which is different from what might be expected from his Mishneh Torah and the Guide. The picture of an almost austere and aloof intellectual above human passions and emotions derived from there is completely dispelled.
Maimonides died on December 13, 1204. There were almost universal expressions of grief. Public mourning was ordained in all parts of the Jewish world. In Fostat mourning was ordained for three days and in Jerusalem a public fast and the Scriptural readings instituted concluded with the verse "the glory is departed from Israel, for the Ark of the Lord is taken" (I Sam. 4:22). His remains were taken to Tiberias for burial, and his grave is still an object of pilgrimage.
The influence of Maimonides on the future development of Judaism is incalculable. No spiritual leader of the Jewish people in the post-talmudic period has exercised such an influence both in his own and subsequent generations. Despite the vehement opposition which greeted his philosophical views the breach was healed (see *Maimonidean Controversy). It is significant that when Solomon *Luria strongly criticized Moses Isserles for his devotion to Greek philosophy, Isserles answered that his sole source was Maimonides' Guide, thus giving it the cachet of acceptability (Resp. Isserles 7). It was probably due to his unrivaled eminence as talmudist and codifier that many of his views were finally accepted. They were very radical at the time. To give but one example, the now universally accepted doctrine of the incorporeality of God was by no means accepted as fundamental before him and was probably an advanced view held by a small group of thinkers and philosophers. Even Abraham b. David of Posquières protested the statement of Maimonides that anyone who maintains the corporeality of God is a sectarian: "Why does he call him a sectarian? Many greater and better than he accepted this idea [of the corporeality of God] basing themselves on Scripture" (Yad, Teshuvah 3:7). C. Tchernowitz (Toledot ha-Posekim, 1 (1946), 193) goes so far as to maintain that were it not for Maimonides Judaism would have broken up into different sects and beliefs, and that it was his great achievement to unite the various currents, halakhic and philosophic.
Maimonides is regarded as the supreme rationalist, and the title given by Aḥad Ha-Am to his essay on him, "Shilton ha-Sekhel" ("The Rule of Reason"; in: Ha-Shilo'aḥ, 15 (1905), 291–319) included in his collected works, Al Parashat Derakhim (1921), has become almost standard in referring to him, and so long as one confines oneself to his three great works, the commentary on the Mishnah, the Mishneh Torah, and the Guide, a case can be made out for this view.
In the Mishneh Torah, Maimonides rigidly confines himself to a codification of Jewish law, refraining almost entirely from allowing his personal views to obtrude. Where he does advance his own view to which he can find no talmudic authority, he is careful, as he explicitly states in a letter to Jonathan of Lunel, to introduce it with the words "it appears to me" (cf. Yad, Sanhedrin 4:11). From his knowledge of medicine he was aware that certain disabilities in animals which in the time of the Talmud were regarded as fatal were susceptible to cure, while some which were not so regarded were in fact fatal, yet he lays it down that the talmudic view must be applied (Sheḥitah 10:12 and 13). Among the few exceptions the most striking is his outburst against belief in witchcraft and enchantment. After faithfully giving in their minutest details the talmudic description of, and laws concerning, these practices, he adds: "All these and similar matters are lies and falsehood… it is not fitting for Jews, who are intelligent and wise, to be attracted by them or believe that they are effective… whosoever believes in them, and that they are true, only that the Bible has forbidden them, belongs to the category of fools and ignoramuses and is in the class of immature women and children" (Avodat Kokhavim 11:16). In his work on the calendar included in the Mishneh Torah (Hilkhot Kiddush ha-Ḥodesh) he maintains vigorously that one should have recourse to works written by non-Jewish astronomers (11:1–6). At the end of Hilkhot Temurah, he defends the search after reasons for the biblical commandments (4:13).
In the Guide he allows himself more freedom, but the main difference between the two works lies in their different purpose and aim. The Mishneh Torah was written for the believing Jew untroubled by the apparent contradictions between revealed law and current philosophy, and its aim was to tell him how he should conduct himself in his desire to live according to the law. The Guide, as its name conveys, was designed for those whose faith had been weakened by these doctrines and its aim was to tell him why he should adhere to traditional Judaism. This helps to explain the contradictions between the two.
In both works one sees only the unemotional man of intellect. It is in his letters that Maimonides emerges as the warm human being, his heart open to the suffering of his people, and expressing and responding to both affection and hostility. It comes almost as a shock to read in his letter to Japheth b. Ali, when he informs him of the death of his brother David, that he remonstrates with him for not sending a letter of condolence to him on the death of his father which took place 11 years earlier though he had received innumerable such messages from all over the Jewish world, repeating the complaint twice. The letter was written eight years after his brother's death, yet he writes, "I still mourn, and there is no comfort.… Whenever I come across his handwriting or one of his books, my heart goes faint within me, and my grief reawakens" and in that letter he continues that he will never forget those days which he passed in Ereẓ Israel with his correspondent (Kobler 192–3). The personal human element is equally to the fore in the above-quoted letter to Samuel ibn Tibbon, while his letter-responsum to Obadiah the Proselyte reveals Maimonides' spirit to the full. It was surely only to his intimate disciple that he could open his heart and declare, "when I see no other way of teaching a well-established truth except by pleasing one intelligent man and displeasing ten thousand fools, I choose to address myself to the one man and take no notice whatsoever of the condemnation of the multitude" (Introduction to the Guide). On the other hand Maimonides is almost virulent in his opposition to songs and music: "song and music are all forbidden, even if unaccompanied by words … there is no difference between listening to songs, or string music, or melodies without words; everything which conduces to the rejoicing of the soul and emotion is forbidden." It is immaterial whether they are in Arabic or in Hebrew. "A person who listens to foolish songs with musical accompaniment is guilty of three transgressions, listening to folly, listening to song, and listening to instrumental music. If the songs are sung with accompaniment of drinking, there is a fourth transgression, if the singer is a woman there is a fifth." The references in the geonic sources to singing are only to liturgical hymns (Resp. ed. Blau, 224. cf. 269; Guide 3:8; Yad, Ta'anit, 5:14). Despite this last permission he was opposed to the insertion of piyyutim in the prayers (180, 207, 254, 260, 261). If the ignorant insist on them and their ways prevail, they should be said before the Shema, the beginning of the essential service (207).
No praise can be too high for the outer form of his works, both in language and logical method. The Mishneh Torah was the only work which he wrote in Hebrew, and the language is superb, clear, and succinct. He regretted that he did not prepare Hebrew versions of his other works. In answer to Joseph b. Gabir's request written in 1191 that he translate the work into Arabic, not only does he state that it would thereby lose its specific character, but that he would have liked to translate his works written in Arabic into Hebrew (Kobler 199); and when the rabbis of Lunel asked him to translate the Guide into Hebrew, he stated that he wished he were young enough to do so (ibid., 216).
The Mishneh Torah is a model of logical sequence and studied method, each chapter and each paragraph coming in natural sequence to its preceding one. More impressive is the fact that in his earliest work one can so clearly discern the seeds of the later, so that it can confidently be stated that his whole subsequent system and ideas were already formulated in his mind when he wrote it. The Shemonah Perakim which form the introduction to his commentary on Avot is almost a draft of the first portion of Sefer Madda, the first book of the Mishneh Torah. When attacked on his views on resurrection he pointed out that he had included it in the Thirteen Principles which he evolved in his commentary to the tenth chapter of Sanhedrin. The radical view found in the very last chapter of the Mishneh Torah that the messianic age is nothing more than the attainment of political independence in Israel is stated in detail in that same excursus, and his original view on the possibility of the reestablishment of the Sanhedrin, which he carefully puts forward as his own ("it appears to me") and which he qualifies by the statement "but the matter must be weighed up" (Sanhedrin 4:11), is already expressed in his commentary on the Mishnah (Sanh. 1:1).
It is recommended that for an ongoing bibliography of writings about Maimonides, the reader consult Reshimat Ma'amarim be-Madda'ei ha-Yahadut (Index to Articles on Jewish Studies), a journal that lists articles in European languages and Hebrew on an ongoing basis. This bibliographic journal is now available on the internet at http://jnul.ac.il/rambi. GENERAL: D. Yellin and I. Abrahams,