Monday, February 8, 2021

From Moses to Moses- The Legacy of the Rambam- Part 1


From Moses to Moses- The Legacy of the Rambam

Discussion Feb 6

For the recording of the discussion

Youtube Link

Sources for his biography sketch:

Seeskin, Kenneth, "Maimonides", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2017 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.Orginal comments in []

Rabbi Moses ben Maimon [RAMBAM from the initials רמב"ם Maimonides, a Greek term used in academic sources] (1138–1204) is the greatest Jewish philosopher of the medieval period and is still widely read today. The Mishneh Torah, compendium of Jewish law, …. His philosophic masterpiece, the Guide of the Perplexed( Moreh Nebuchim… also fame as a physician

…influenced thinkers as diverse as St . Thomas Aquinas [ Reason and religion go together, is to be found in God]  , Spinoza [ the great pantheist and Bible sceptic], Leibniz [ “This is the best of all possible worlds”] and Newton [ forbears of the modern Age of Enlightenment.]


On American Law: The 23 marble relief portraits over the gallery doors of the House Chamber in the U.S. Capitol depict historical figures noted for their work in establishing the principles that underlie American law. They were installed when the chamber was remodeled in 1949-1950. ]




1. Life and Works

Maimonides was born Cordova, Spain in 1138.[1]  Almohads invaded in 1148 . . . the choice of conversion, exile, or death. Maimonides’ family was forced to leave … arrived in Fez, Morocco in 1160.

[Statue in Cordoba Jewish quarter]

[We should not be under the illusion that intolerance was only a Christian characteristic- It is surmised that at some point, the family pretended to be Moslem in order to survive, similar to Marannos/conversos of the later period]

 His first philosophic work of note was the Treatise on the Art of Logic. his first religious masterpiece, the Commentary on the Mishnah, …1168.

[First attempt at a Jewish “ catechism”]

Commentary on Chapter 10 Sanhedrin. ..lists 13 principles that he considers binding on every Jew [ this is the source for the popular 13 Principals of faith, Ani Maamin ( based on, but not written by him) , and for Adon Olam and Yigdal, which is  used in Protestant hymnals in English paraphrase with a Jewish melody by Hazan Leoni, 18th century. Note that the 13 principals were never officially accepted and were strongly criticized in his day]

Maimonides arrived in Egypt in 1166 and eventually settled in Fustat, a section of Cairo. [He was seen as the “ Nagid”(leader) of the community.]


[He served as physician to the court of Caliph Saladin, known for crushing the Crusaders at Hattin. This great figure himself was not an Arab, but a Kurd. The Kurds, as a people, have been prevented from any kind of recognition for a nation state by Turkish, Arab, and Iranian  regimes.

Why did the Rambam take upon himself the burden of being a physician to the Royal court and the public? His brother , a wealthy merchant, had supported him in his studies and work. When the brother died at sea, the burden of supporting the family now fell to the Rambam. So, he became the world-class physician of his day:

an Arabic poet (Al-Sa'id ) wrote:

"Galen's art heals only the body, But Abu Imram's [Maimonides'] the body and the soul. With his wisdom he could heal the sickness of ignorance. If the moon would submit to his art, He would deliver her of her spots at the time of full moon, Cure her of her periodic defects, And at the time of her conjunction save her from waning."


Doctor’s oath as used in Israel ( not Hippocatres)

Prayer for the doctor – Maimonides

I am preparing myself to perform my art, please help me God to succeed in my work.

Put in my heart love for my art and for your creation and may neither the love of profit and the desire for glory and honor engage my mind for these qualities are the enemies of true love and love of humans and thus I beseech you do not make me forgetful of my work to be useful and to serve.

Grant me the physical and mental strength to be forever prepared to help the poor and the rich, the good and the bad, my love and my enemy, and may I always see the human in the infirm, may the sick trust me and my knowledge to heed my advice and to follow my instructions. Distance from the infirm all quack doctors and the entire army of close advisors and the cunning crafts as they are a cruel people who from arrogance and haughtiness will thwart any good intention.

Grant me the wisdom to listen to the voice of the genuine wise of my art who strive to instill knowledge, as the field of wisdom is abundant and wide. Grant me the strength and the courage to dismiss cunning fools who find fault so that I may not deviate from the way of truth without prejudice.




With the publication of the Mishneh Torah, he established himself as a thinker for the ages. Not only does this work systematize all the commandments of the Torah, it tries to show that every part of Jewish law serves a rational purpose .

The Guide of the Perplexed was completed in 1190 and contains Maimonides’ most extensive philosophic discussions.

The Guide has long been considered a controversial work and in some rabbinic circles was originally banned

 [ Three leading rabbis in France denounced his books to the Dominicans, who headed the French Inquisition. The Inquisitors were only too happy to intervene and burn the books.

 IN Yeshivahs of the early modern period, his Guide was seen as a gateway to apostacy, so that it was said, the students would read Maimonides under their desks, then proceed to read Spinoza, and then, leave the Yeshiva world altogether]


Facing ever-growing demands on his time, Maimonides worked himself into a state of exhaustion and died in Fostat in 1204 [end of article on Rambam]


How busy was he?


A day in the life:This is the Rambam’s routine as he wrote it to his translator, ibn Tibbon:

I dwell at Fostat, and the sultan resides at Cairo [about a mile­ and ­ a­half away].... My duties to the sultan are very heavy. I am obliged to visit him every day, early in the morning, and when he or any of his children or any of the inmates of his harem are indisposed, I dare not quit Cairo, but must stay during the greater part of the day in the palace. It also frequently happens that one of the two royal officers fall sick, and I must attend to their healing. Hence, as a rule, I leave for Cairo very early in the day, and even if nothing unusual happens, I do not return to Fostat until the afternoon. Then I am almost dying with hunger. . . I find the antechamber filled with people, both Jews and gentiles, nobles and common people, judges and bailiffs, friends and foes-a mixed multitude who await the time of my return.


I dismount from my animal, wash my hands, go forth to my patients and entreat them to bear with me while I partake of some slight refreshment, the only meal I take in the twenty ­four hours. Then I go forth to attend to my patients, and write prescriptions and directions for their various ailments. Patients go in and out until nightfall, and sometimes even, I solemnly assure you, until two hours or more in the night. I converse with and prescribe for them while lying down from sheer fatigue; and when night falls I am so exhausted that I can scarcely speak.

In consequence of this, no Israelite can have any private interview with me, except on the Sabbath. On that day the whole congregation, or at least the majority of the members, come to me after the morning service, when I instruct them as to their proceedings during the whole week; we study together a little until noon, when they depart. Some of them return, and read with me after the afternoon service until evening prayers. In this manner I spend that day.

Sources:Joseph Telushkin. Jewish Literacy. NY: William Morrow and Co., 1991. Reprinted by permission of the author; Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.


Legends abound: This is one variation, with some emendations of my own:


Maimonides was suspected of heresy... They sent a Rabbi Meir. . . . First, a servant placed food which looked like human hands on the table. Secondly, the Rambam summoned another servant, named Peter, to fetch wine for the guest-a Christian serving wine makes the wine unkosher. Finally, Maimonides ordered that a calf be slaughtered  in a quite unkosher manner. Completely shocked at the obviously unkosher food (human hands, wine served by a non-Jew, and meat made unkosher) . . . the Rambam explained. First of all, the human hand was a special kind of vegetable which only looks like it is a human hand. Secondly, his faithful servant Peter is Jewish( father of a Talmudic sage Rabbi Yose ben Patrus) Thirdly, the calf was removed from the womb of a pregnant cow that was slaughtered according to halacha. The law is that such a calf does not need to be slaughtered according to the method of shechita... Having learned this great lesson, he returned to Germany and reported that the Rambam is no heretic.

Modified from


On his grave tombstone in Tiberias: From Moses untם Moses, there was none like unto Moses.” ממשה (רבנו) עד משה (בן מימון) לא קם כמשה". The Hebrew is more audacious than the English, because it uses a phrase from the last verses of Deuteronomy, that uses that phrase for Moses, Rabbenu.

At his graveside



His role as Halakhic codifier-The Mishnah Torah

1-Pror and even after the Rambam- scattered sheelot uteshuvot

Commentaries on the Talmud ( such as Rashi, Tosafists)

Summarised version framed around the Talmud-Alfasi, Rabbenu Asher ( later figure) Or- follow the portion of the week-Sheilta of Achai Gaon

Or count the mitzvoth by their order in the Torah SeMag-Sefer Mitzvot Hagadol- R. Moses of Couc( based on Rambam’s own count)


2- His intent- Mishneh Torah- a summation of the Torah- a play on words- “Mishneh Torah” is Moses Rabbenu’s own description of his summation of the laws in Deuteronomy. It is then used by R Judah HaNasi for the “Mishnah”-a summation of the laws of Judaism based used by Rabbi Judah Hanasi  for Mishnah, on the Rabbinic Oral Torah:His introduction:

וּמִפְּנֵי זֶה נָעַרְתִּי חָצְנִי, אֲנִי מֹשֶׁה בֵּירִבִּי מַיְמוֹן הַסְּפָרַדִּי, וְנִשְׁעַנְתִּי עַל הַצּוּר בָּרוּךְ הוּא, וּבִינוֹתִי בְּכָל אֵלּוּ הַסְּפָרִים

Therefore, have I, Moses son of Maimon, of Spain, girded up my loins, and, supporting myself upon the Rock, blessed be He! made a comprehensive study of all those books . . ., the whole scope in pure language and concise style, so that the Oral Torah be entirely methodical in the mouth of everybody, without query and without repartee, without the contentious thus of one and such of another. . .

The main object of the matter being, that no man shall have a need of any other compilation in the world for any law of the laws of Israel, but this compilation shall be a cyclopedia of the whole Oral Torah together with a code of the statutes, customs and edicts which were enacted since the days of Moses our Master until the close of the Talmud  ….

Therefore, have I named this compilation Mishnah Torah; for, when one studies Holy Writ first and thereafter reads this Work, he obtains herefrom a complete knowledge of the Oral Torah, having no need to read any other book in between them.

He then establishes all categories of Jewish law, expanding the six realms of the Mishnah, to 14 in the Mishnah Torah. 14 is written as Yod-Daled,,for Hand Hence, also known as “ Yad HaHazakah.” The Strong Hand.”

He will be very controversial precisely because he has eliminated the debates that led to the laws ( This will be done by later commentaries, both friends and foes alike, which appear in older printed versions).He himself admitted later that had he known the potential opposition, he would have quoted his sources.( Later, 350 years, Rabbi Joseph Karo would avoid the problem-he, too, created a “Short cut” work, of 4 volumes, the Shulkhan Aruch, but his arguments had already been published in his commentaries on the code of the Arba Turim of Rabbi Jacob ben Asher. He also had the good fortune of having lived after the invention of the printing press)

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