Saturday, November 21, 2009

Maimonides - Rambam

For He Shall Never Be Moved;
The righteous shall be held in everlasting remembrance
Tehillim 112:6

Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon

Also known as Maimonides and known by the acronym of Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, RaMBaM. Was one of the most influential figures in Jewish history.

He was born in Spain shortly before the fanatical Muslim Almohades came to power there. To avoid persecution by the Muslim sect, Maimonides fled with his family, first to Morocco, later to Israel, and finally to Egypt. He apparently hoped to continue his studies for several years more, but when his brother David, a jewelry merchant, perished in the Indian Ocean with much of the family's fortune, he had to begin earning money. He probably started practicing medicine at this time.

His Mishneh Torah and Guide to the Perplexed are seminal  works in the areas of Jewish law and philosphy respectively. The Mishneh Torah later served as the model for the Shulchan Aruch, the sixteenth century code of Jewish law that is still regarded as authoritative by Orthodox Jews. He was also a physician, astronomer, linguist, and talmudist.

When he died, Egyptian Jews observed three full days of mourning, and applied to his death the biblical verse "The ark of HaShem has been taken" (1Shmuel 4:11).  To this day, Maimonides and the French Jewish sage Rashi are the most widely studied Jewish scholars.

Yeshiva students generally focus on the Mishneh Torah, and his Book of Commandments (Sefer ha Mitzvot) a compilation of the Torah's 613 commandments. Maimonides also formulated a credo of Judaism expressed in Thirteen Articles of Faith, a popular reworking of which (the Yigdal prayer) appears in most Jewish prayerbooks. Among other things, this credo affirms belief in the oneness of G-d, the divine origins of the Torah, and the afterlife. Its twelfth statement of faith — “I believe with complete emunah (faith) in the coming of the Mashiach, and even though he may delay, nevertheless I anticipate every day that he will come!” — was often among the last words said by Jews being marched into Nazi gas chambers.

Maimonides was one of the few Jewish thinkers whose teachings also influenced the non Jewish world; much of his philosophical writings in the Guide were about G-d and other theological issues of general, not exclusively Jewish, interest.   “Maimonides is the most influential Jewish thinker of the Middle Ages, and quite possibly of all time” (Time magazine, December 23, 1985). 

As a popular Jewish expression of the Middle Ages declares: “From Moses [of the Torah] to Moses [Maimonides] there was none like Moses.”


- Jewish Literacy, Joseph Telushkin

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