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
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 spirituality and incorporeality
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.
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.
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 -->