Thursday, July 2, 2009

Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (RaMBaM)

by Lisa Katz
Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (1135-1204), also known as RaMBaM or Maimonides, was one of the most important Jewish philosophers and codifiers in the Middle Ages.

In the 12th century, Moslems tried to forcibly convert Jews. Maimonides was forced to convert. He emigrated from Spain to Morocco and then from Morocco to Palestine. And thus he was able to revert to Judaism. Maimonides encouraged other Jews to stay loyal to Judaism.

After discovering the difficulties of living in Palestine, he emigrated to Egypt. In Egypt, he became a physician to earn a living. In time, he became the personal physician of the Sultan. By the time of his death, he was considered the greatest physician of his day.

In Egypt, Maimonides also worked as a philosopher. His most influential philosophical work was Moreh HaNevuchim (Guide for the Perplexed). This book was a philosophical defense of Judaism. It tried to guide those who were uncertain in their faith due to apparent contradictions between the teachings of philosophy and the teachings of the Bible. In this work, Maimonides succeeds, for the first time, to explain the Torah from an Aristotelian viewpoint.

Maimonides was also a codifier, and he compiled Mishne Torah (Review of the Torah). This was also known as Yad Hahazakah (The Strong Hand). Maimonides intended the work to summarize fifteen centuries of work on Jewish Law (Halacha). Mishne Torah, consisting of fourteen books, is unique in its systematic structure and logical presentation.

There was strong opposition to Maimonides' work, mostly from more orthodox Jews. However, there were also those, particularly in France, who supported his work.

The following expression reveals the fame he gained in the Jewish world, "From Moses (Moshe Rabbeinu, in the Bible) to Moses (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, Maimanides), there is none like unto Moses."

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