Moses ben-Maimon, called Maimonides and also known as 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.
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.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. Maimonides was not known as a supporter of mysticism, although a strong intellectualistic type of mysticism has been discerned in his philosophy.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. Maimonides studied Torah under his father Maimon, who had in turn studied under Rabbi Joseph ibn Migash – a student of Isaac Alfasi. Source: Wikipedia
Moses Maimonides is regarded by many as the greatest Jewish philosopher of the Middle Ages. He lived during the ‘Golden Age’ of Spain in the twelfth century where Jews and Christians lived in peace under Muslim rule.
Maimonides was born in Cordoba, the centre of Jewish learning and Islamic culture. There is disagreement about his date of birth. It is widely stated to be 1135, however other sources give the date as 1138, based on recent research. His was born into a family of rabbinic scholars and his father was his first and most important teacher. Even at the age of 16, Maimonides showed a marked interest in theology, writing a paper on the proper linguistic usage of theological terms.
After being persecuted by the puritanical Almohades during a time of great political upheaval in Spain, Maimonides and his family fled to Fostat in Egypt. He was a great leader of the Jewish community in Egypt, and because rabbis were not paid in that time, he trained to become a physician. Thanks to his intellectual ability he quickly rose to be one of the most influential physicians of his time, and became the official doctor to Saladin, the ruler of Egypt.
Influence and influences
His teaching influences other faiths as well as Jews, however, it is his commentary on Jewish texts that mark him out as one of the most influential and important Jews in history. He wrote three major essays on Jewish law, the most famous being ‘The Guide for the Perplexed’, and each of them is still regarded as hugely important in Jewish philosophy. This monumental work laid the foundation for all subsequent Jewish philosophic inquiry known as Chakirah, and stimulated centuries of philosophic Jewish writing.
Maimonides, living in the religious melting pot of North Africa, was hugely influenced by all the faiths surrounding him. The Arab and Greek ideas he was exposed to at the time probably made him among the most tolerant of religious leaders. He did not believe that true prophecy was confined to only the Jews, but rather stressed a difference in the degree of responsibility.
He was one of the few Jewish leaders whose teachings also influenced the non Jewish world during that period, and Christian leaders, such as Saint Thomas Aquinas, referred to him in writings as ‘Rabbi Moses’. He was successful in bringing four cultures (GrecoRoman, Arab, Jewish, and Western) together in one person, and in doing so, remains one of the most influential religious philosophers of the intellectual world. Source: BBC-Religion
The 13 principles of faith
In his commentary on the Mishneh (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:
- The existence of God
- God’s unity
- God’s spirituality and incorporeality
- God’s eternity
- God alone should be the object of worship
- Revelation through God’s prophets
- The preeminence of Moses among the prophets
- God’s law given on Mount Sinai
- The immutability of the Torah as God’s Law
- God’s foreknowledge of human actions
- Reward of good and retribution of evil
- The coming of the Jewish Messiah
- 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 became widely held; today, Orthodox Judaism holds these beliefs to be obligatory.Two poetic restatements of these principles (Ani Ma’amin and Yigdal) eventually became canonized in the “siddur” (Jewish prayer book).
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