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Who was Maimonides?

by Rabbi Mendy Hecht

  

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A. Maimonides was one of the greatest scholars in Diaspora Jewish history. He was born in Cordoba, Spain in 1135 and fled Islamic persecution with his family in 1148. After fleeing, he spent some time traveling before settling in Fez, Morocco for five years. Due to forced Islamic conversions, he fled Fez with his family and sailed to the Holy Land, where he remained for less then a year. Eventually settling in Fostat (Old Cairo), he built a stout reputation as a scholar, rabbi, counselor and leader. He was also a legendary master of medicine, regularly treating Egyptian royalty and even receiving a request to become court physician to King Richard the Lion-Hearted. He died in 1204 and was buried in Tiberias, Israel.

B. Among the first authors of Halachic works, Maimonides wrote the Mishneh Torah, also known as “the Yad,” a fourteen-volume elucidation of the totality of Halachah. It is the first and only encyclopedic compilation of all of Jewish law. (All previous and subsequent harbinger compilations authored by others do not include the laws which are only relevant when the Holy Temple is standing in Jerusalem). Hundreds of volumes have been written in an attempt to explore the depth of this work, and reveal the many insights which are encrypted within every sentence.  He also authored the Moreh Nevuchim, or Guide to the Perplexed, a lengthy philosophical discussion of Judaism; a commentary on the Mishnah, including the Thirteen Principles of Faith; the Sefer Hamitzvot, which enumerates and explains all the 613 commandments; and many lengthy letters to his disciples on various subjects.

C. To Jews today, he is commonly referred to as “the Rambam” (pronounced RAHM-bahm), an acronym for his real name, Rabbi Moshe Ben-Maimon. (Maimonides was his Greek name.)

 

What were the highlights of the Rambam’s career?

1. The Wandering Jew

A cursory examination of the Rambam’s era reveals bloody massacres, gruesome tortures and heartless killings of whole Jewish populations as a given. Like most Jews of the day, the Rambam spent a good part of his life on the run, never living in any one place for too long.

2. Controversy erupts

In 1202, a vigorous debate broke out among Western Europe’s leading Jewish scholars regarding the seemingly radical departures inherent in the Rambam’s writings. Rabbi Meir Abulafia of Toledo, Spain inveighed that the Rambam’s philosophy was too intrepid and could be easily misinterpreted by young students. He suggested a minimum age requirement for Rambam study. While most rabbis rallied around the Rambam, the dispute lasted for decades and eventually spilled over to non-Jewish authorities, leading to a public burning of the Rambam’s works in Paris in 1242.


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Torah
Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
Halachah
Jewish Law. All halachah which is applicable today is found in the Code of Jewish Law.
Halachic
Pertaining to Jewish Law.
Maimonides
Moses son of Maimon, born in Spain in 1135, died in Egypt in 1204. Noted philosopher and authority on Jewish law. Also was an accomplished physician and was the personal doctor for members of the Egyptian royalty. Interred in Tiberius, Israel.
Rebbe
A Chassidic master. A saintly person who inspires followers to increase their spiritual awareness.
Lubavitcher
One who follows the teachings of the Chassidic group which was formerly based in the Belarus village of Lubavitch. Today, the movement is based in Brooklyn, New York with branches worldwide. The Lubavitch movement is also widely known as "Chabad."
Moses
[Hebrew pronunciation: Moshe] Greatest prophet to ever live. Led the Jews out of Egyptian bondage amidst awesome miracles; brought down the Tablets from Mount Sinai; and transmitted to us word-for-word the Torah he heard from G-d's mouth. Died in the year 1272 BCE.
Jerusalem
Established by King David to be the eternal capital of Israel. Both Temples were built there, and the third Temple will be situated there when the Messiah comes.
Rambam
Acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, widely known as Maimonides. Born in Spain in 1135, died in Egypt in 1204. Noted philosopher and authority on Jewish law. Also was an accomplished physician and was the personal doctor for members of the Egyptian royalty. Interred in Tiberius, Israel.
Mishnah
First written rendition of the Oral Law which G-d spoke to Moses. Rabbi Judah the Prince compiled the Mishna in the 2nd century lest the Oral law be forgotten due to the hardships of the Jewish exiles.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.