Moses Maimonides (1136-1204)
Famous physician, philosopher and Rabbi
Moshe ben Maimonwas a Jewish physician, rabbi and philosopher
born in Cordoba, Spain in 1136.
This famous individual is more commonly referred to asMaimonides
which literally means son of Maimon in Greek. Others refer to this
universally famed figure in Jewish history as RaMBaM, an acronym
for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon.
Social and Cultural Background and Influences
Islamic world of Maimonides Maimonides lived in an Islamic world
where Jews were regarded as second class citizens. However, Islam
was not the only threat to Judaism during this time. The early
Medieval period also marks a revival of classical learning,
especially a revival of Greek philosophy.
This age was characterised bythe dominance of Islam in parts of
Europe, the Middle East and the Near East.
Through their conquests,Muslims had access to Greek science and
philosophy as well as Persian history and literature.
With this wealthof both classical and contemporary learning the
Muslims, who were great admirers of education, helped to
disseminate knowledge of many new discoveries to the areas where
Islamic civilisations existed.
Revival of classical philosophy posed as a threat to monotheism
The translation of Greek philosophy to Arabic by Arab and Syrian
scholars between the fifth and eleventh centuries, enabled the re-
emergence of Greek philosophy in Europe in the 11th and 12th
This revival of classical philosophy,especially the writings of
Aristotle, challenged the authority and validity of many religious
ideas. In particular it posed a threat to the monotheistic
religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
The major philosophical concernscentered on concepts such as the
Nature of God, the existence of God, free will and the existence of
evil. These perplexing issues posed a threat to monotheistic
religions because for monotheistic religions their faith in God was
not based so much on reason as on experience - the heart over the
head, so to speak.
Thus the core belief of monotheistic religions was the belief in
one Goda God who had been revealed to human beings through the
medium of other human being such as Abraham, Moses, Jesus and
Muhammad . The revelation is also believed to come through other
ways such as in creation, in deliverance from enemies etc.
The revival of classical philosophywas not the only threat which
faced Judaism during this time. Another significant threat came
from the fact that Jews lived in an Islamic world, where they were
more or less seen as second class citizens.
That is not to say however that the Muslims did not tolerate
Judaism.In fact Muslims tolerated both Judaism and Christianity in
the countries they conquered mainly because they, like Islam, were
monotheistic religions and based their teachings on the sacred
Muslims allowed Jews the freedom to practice their religion
within the Muslim empirebut they had to pay special taxes and were
considered lower than Muslims in the eyes of the law. Thus, the
need to preserve and perpetuate the Jewish religion in an Islamic
environment became a primary concern for Maimonides.
Sephardi and Askenazi JewsDespite the dominance of Islam in
early Medieval Europe, the Jewish culture flourished in Spain. In
fact the period from 900-1200 CE is frequently referred to as "The
Golden Age of Spanish Jewry". The Jews who lived in Spain were
known as the Sephardi Jews, a word which is derived from the Hebrew
word "Sepharad" which means " Spain".
Sephardi and Askenazi JewsThe other major community of Jews in
Europe was known as the Ashkenazim, a word which is derived from
the Hebrew word "Ashkenez" meaning "German".
One of the critical differences between these two communitieswas
their attitude towards education. For the Sephardim, education was
based on a sound knowledge not only of the Torah but also of
science and philosophy. It was in this community, with its spirit
of inclusive education, that Maimonides grew up.
It is to be expected thereforethat Maimonides writings would be
greatly influenced by his knowledge of philosophical concepts. In
contrast the Ashkenazim regarded education as being solely directed
towards knowledge of the Torah and Talmud.