Rambam (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon)

20 Sep 2016

Moses Maimonides is known as the greatest Jewish philosopher and codifier of Jewish law in history. Born in Cordova, Spain, he was forced to flee from fanatical Moslems at the age of thirteen, where he traveled with his family to North Africa, and ten years later to Palestine. As a result of the devastation left by the Crusaders, Palestine was virtually uninhabitable, forcing the family to move to Fostat (current day Cairo).

Throughout these journeys, the young Maimonides had concentrated on Torah studies under the guidance of his father, and by the time he reached Fostat had become a famous scholar. Supported by his merchant brother, the Rambam was able to write copiously, gaining international acclaim in both Jewish and secular fields of knowledge. After the tragic death of his brother, the responsibility of supporting his family fell on the Rambam’s shoulders, and through his fame he was appointed chief physician of the Sultan.

Despite the immense workload that was required, not only with his responsibilities to the royal family, but to the entire Egyptian community as the official Nagid (royally appointed leader), and to the halachic questions of world Jewry known as responsa, the Rambam was remarkably able to complete some of his greatest Jewish works, including his philosophical work The Guide for the Perplexed and his magnum opus the Mishna Torah – the great codification of all Jewish law.

While he was considered an undisputed leader of world Jewry at the time, there was bitter opposition to much of his works because they incorporated much of Aristotelian philosophy that went against the traditional purist ideology of much of Ashkenazic Jewry, and others believed his codifications would make much of the role of the rabbi and the oral tradition obsolete. He did not quote his sources in the Talmud with his Halachic decisions, which engendered the fear that this would discourage people from studying the Talmud, and he seemed to be too much involved with Greek Philosophy. He was also criticized by some who misinterpreted his works for not believing in the Resurrection of the Dead.

However, the verdict of history on the RAMBAM seems to be summed up in the expression, “From Moshe (Rabbeinu, in the Bible) till Moshe (ben Maimon), there arose none like Moshe.”