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MAIMONIDES (1135-1204).

Jewish philosopher, religious thinker, and physician. Few have attained the heights of thought and scholarship scaled by Maimonides, also known as Moses ben Maimon, or Rambam. His genius revealed itself in many fields of spiritual and scientific activity: in law, philosophy, medicine, astronomy, and logic. He wrote many extraordinary scholarly works, and was the acknowledged head of the Jewish community in Egypt and the revered leader of all Jewry. His authority extended as far as the distant land of Yemen; to this day, Yemenite Jews pay homage to his memory in their prayers.

Maimonides was born in Cordova, Spain, where his father, Rabbi Maimon, was the religious head, or dayan, of the community. He was only thirteen years old when Cordova was conquered by the Almohades, a fanatic Muslim sect. His family was forced to flee; after much wandering, they reached Fez, Morocco. Through this troubled period, Maimonides continued his studies. In Fez, he published a letter to Jews who were forced to accept the Islamic faith, urging them to observe secretly the Jewish commandments. When Yemenite Jews were bitterly persecuted, Maimonides wrote to them the famous Iggeret Teman in which he advised his distant brethren not to despair, for all persecutions are challenges to prove the truth and purity of the Jewish faith.

Maimonides’ outspoken and courageous leadership endangered his position in Morocco, and he and his family were forced to flee again. He remained briefly in Palestine. In 1165, he left for Egypt, where he settled in Fostat near Cairo. He had many obligations as head of the Jewish community and as court physician to the Vizier Al Kadi al Fadil and later to the Caliph Al Fadal. Yet Maimonides still devoted much time to study.

Even during his lifetime Maimonides was held in the highest regard. His commentary on the Mishnah and his great code Mishneh Torah are the work of a genius. The code is divided into fourteen books and embraces the entire field of Jewish law. The Mishneh Torah is written in clear, rich, and precise Hebrew. In the first of these volumes Maimonides explained the foundations of the Jewish religion and its principles in the light of reason and logic. To explain further the philosophic principles of Judaism he wrote in Arabic a Guide for the Perplexed.

Maimonides influenced spiritual development throughout generations. His Guide for the Perplexed, an attempt to bring philosophy into harmony with religion, has been translated into many languages. It has exerted great influence not only on Jewish thinkers, but also on Christian theologians and philosophers. Maimonides was enshrined in folk legend, and the people of Tiberias erected a tomb in his memory. The inscription upon it reads, “Here lies our master Moses ben Maimon, Mankind’s Chosen One.”

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