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MileChai ® --> Judaica --> Judaism --> Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon Hebrew: רבי משה בן מיימון

Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (Hebrew: רבי משה בן מיימון; Arabic: Mussa bin Maimun ibn Abdallah al-Kurtubi al-Israili; March 30, 1135—December 13, 1204), commonly known by his Greek name (Moses) Maimonides, was a Jewish rabbi, physician, and philosopher. Many Jewish works refer to him by the acronym of his title and name, RaMBaM (הרמב"ם in Hebrew). As such, he is frequently referred to as "the Rambam". His Greek appellation means "Son of Maimon," and is a literal rendition of "ben Maimon."

See Rambam Books

Maimonides was born in Córdoba, Spain, then under Muslim rule, and studied Torah under his father Maimon and Rabbi Joseph ibn Migash. He fled from Cordoba to Almería where he received his "maestro" and friend Averroes, a Muslim philosopher, in his Almerian house. Then the family fled to Morocco after the fall of Córdoba to the Almohads. In Morocco he acquired most of his secular knowledge, studying at the University of Fes. During this time, he composed his acclaimed commentary on the Mishna.

Following this sojourn in Morocco, he briefly lived in the Holy Land, spending time in Jerusalem where he prayed in a synagogue on the Temple Mount, and finally settled in Fostat, Egypt, where he was doctor of the Grand Vizier Alfadhil and/or the Sultan Saladin of Egypt. In Egypt he composed most of his oeuvre, including the Mishneh Torah. He died in Fostat, and was buried in Tiberias, (today in Israel).

Works and bibliography

Maimonides composed both works of Jewish scholarship and medical texts. Most of Maimonides' works were written in Arabic. However Mishneh Torah was written in Hebrew. His Jewish texts were:


Mishnah Torah by Moses Maimonides English Translation 

Rambam Mishneh Torah

The Commentary on the Mishna; Sefer ha-Mitzvot ("The Book of Commandments", see 613 mitzvot for details); The Mishneh Torah (also known as "Yad ha-Chazaka") a comprehensive code of Jewish law;
The Guide for the Perplexed, a philosophical work harmonising and differentiating Aristotelian philosophy and Jewish theology; Teshuvot, collected correspondence and responsa, including a number of public letters (on resurrection and the afterlife, on conversion to other faiths, and Iggereth Teiman - addressed to the oppressed Jewry of Yemen) Maimonides also wrote a number of medical texts, some of which are extant. The best known is his collection of medical aphorisms, titled Pirkei Moshe in Hebrew, although it was composed in Arabic.


Maimonides was one of the few medieval Jewish philosophers who also influenced the non-Jewish world. Even today he is among the most respected of all Jewish philosophers. A popular saying in the Middle Ages stated that From Moses [of the Torah] to Moses [Maimonides] there has not been such a Moses.

Maimonides was by far the most influential figure in medieval Jewish philosophy. Radical Jewish scholars in the centuries that followed can be characterised as Maimonideans or anti-Maimonideans. Moderate scholars were eclectics who largely accepted Maimonides' Aristotelian world-view, but rejected those elements of it which they considered to contradict the religious tradition. Such eclecticism reached its height in the 14th-15th centuries.

The most rigorous medieval critique of Maimonides is Hasdai Crescas' Or Hashem. Crescas bucked the eclectic trend by demolishing the certainty of the Aristotelian world view not only in religious matters, but even in the most basic areas of medieval science (such as physics and geometry). Crescas' critique provoked a number of 15th century scholars to write defenses of Maimonides. A translation of Crescas was written by Harry Austryn Wolfson of Harvard University in 1929.

The 13 principles of faith

In his commentary on the Mishna (tractate Sanhedrin, chapter 10), Maimonides formulates his 13 principles of faith. They described his views on:

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
Retribution of evil
The coming of the Jewish Messiah
The resurrection of the dead

These principles were controversial when first proposed, evoking criticism by Hasdai Crescas and 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, two poetic restatements of these principles (Ani Ma'amim and Yigdal) eventually became canonized in the siddur (Jewish prayer book), and these principles became widely held. Today most of Orthodox Judaism holds these beliefs to be obligatory.

Halakhic works

See also Mishneh Torah on his influence in halakha

With Mishneh Torah, Maimonides composed a code of Jewish law with the widest possible scope and depth. The work gathers all the binding laws from the Talmud and incorporates the positions of the Geonim (post-Talmudic early Medieval scholars, mainly from Mesopotamia). It is a highly systematised work and employs a very clear Hebrew reminiscent of the style of the Mishna.

While Mishneh Torah is now considered the forerunner of the Arbaah Turim and the Shulkhan Arukh, two later codes, it met initially with a lot of opposition. There were two main reasons for this opposition. Firstly, Maimonides had refrained from adding references to his work for brevity. Secondly, in the introduction, he gave the impression of wanting to "cut out" study of the Talmud to arrive at a conclusion in Jewish law. His most forceful opponents were the rabbis of the Provence (Southern France), and a running critique by Rabbi Abraham ibn Daud (Raavad III) is printed in virtually all editions of Misheh Torah.


Through the Guide for the Perplexed and the philosophical introductions to sections of his commentaries on the Mishna, Maimonides exerted an important influence on the Scholastic philosophers, especially on Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and Duns Scotus. He was himself a Jewish Scholastic. Educated more by reading the works of Arab Muslim philosophers than by personal contact with Arabian teachers, he acquired an intimate acquaintance not only with Arab Muslim philosophy, but with the doctrines of Aristotle. Maimonides strove to reconcile Aristotelian philosophy and science with the teachings of the Bible.

Negative theology

The principle which inspired his philosophical activity was identical with the fundamental tenet of Scholasticism: there can be no contradiction between the truths which God has revealed and the findings of the human mind in science and philosophy. By science and philosophy, he understood the science and philosophy of Aristotle. In some important points, however, he departed from the teaching of Aristotle; for instance, he rejected the Aristotelian doctrine that God's provident care extends only to humanity, and not to the individual.

Maimonides was led by his admiration for the neo-Platonic commentators to maintain many doctrines which the Scholastics could not accept. For instance, Maimonides was an adherent of negative theology (also known as Apophatic theology.) In this theology, one attempts to describe God through negative attributes. For instance, one should not say that God exists in the usual sense of the term; all we can safely say is that God is not nonexistent. We should not say that God is wise, but we can say that God is not ignorant, i.e. in some way God has some properties of knowledge. We should not say that God is One, but we can state that there is no multiplicity in God's being. In brief, the attempt is to gain and express knowledge of God by describing what God is not, rather than by describing what God is.

The Scholastics agreed with him that no predicate is adequate to express the nature of God, but they did not go so far as to say that no term can be applied to God in the affirmative sense. They admitted that while "eternal", "omnipotent", etc., as we apply them to God, are inadequate, at the same time we may say "God is eternal" etc., and need not stop, as Moses did, with the negative "God is not not-eternal", etc.


He agrees with "the philosophers" in teaching that, man's intelligence being one in the series of intelligences emanating from God, the prophet must, by study and meditation, lift himself up to the degree of perfection required in the prophetic state. But here he invokes the authority of "the Law", which teaches that, after that perfection is reached, there is required the free act of God before the man actually becomes the prophet.

Continued Rambam -->

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