Free Essay About Moses Maimonides
Moses Maimonides, renowned Jewish scholar from medieval times, was actually born in Cordoba in Spain in 1135 AD. Maimon – his father – was a judge in the Cordoba rabbinical court, and his mother died while Moses was still very young. Then, when Moses was 13 years old, an extreme Islamic sect had taken control of Cordoba, and caused Jews living there to be attacked and their synagogues destroyed. The family had to abandon their life in Cordoba and seek safe refuge elsewhere. Eventually, Moses and his younger brother David were taken by their father to Morocco, where they remained for the next few years. Then, in 1165 AD, Moses visited Israel and then moved to Alexandria in Egypt. He later relocated to Fustat (now called Old Cairo), where he spent the rest of life (Zaklikowski, n.d.).
That event – their family’s flight from Cordoba and Spain – was momentous, not only in the life of Moses and his family, but for the history of Jews in Spain. For 400 years the Jews in Spain had lived peacefully alongside the moderate ruling Moors. But then – when Spain came under the control of a more fundamentalist Islamic sect, the Almohads, they demanded all the Muslim laws of the Quran should be strictly observed. When they took over control in Cordoba in 1150 AD, they forced all the Jews living there either to convert to their religion or to abandon all their possessions and leave. As mentioned earlier, they fled to Morocco, but an Almohad presence there forced the family to take refuge in a cave in the Atlas mountains. Incredibly, it is thought that during the years they lived in a cave in Morocco’s mountains, Moses wrote his Mishnah commentary – the first one of the three major works for which he is justifiably famous. It was later published in Egypt when Moses was aged 24. That entire experience affected Moses deeply. He retained a deep animosity towards Islam, which he blamed for the bad things befalling his family (“Maimonides” n.d.).
Whilst living in Egypt, his brother David – whose occupation was an importer of Indian diamonds – supported Moses financially, allowing him to focus on his scholarly work and his studies. Then, a series of family tragedies over the two years from 1166 saw the deaths of his father, his father’s wife, and two of their sons. Those deaths were followed in 1171 by his brother David, whose ship was lost on the way to India. Having lost his brother’s support, Moses turned to medical practice and had a difficult time trying to support both himself and David’s surviving family. That medical practice paid off for Moses when – years later – a royal courtier appointed Moses as his personal physician. Subsequently he was given that same role by Saladin, the Sultan of both Egypt and Syria, which provided Moses with a secure income and time to resume his writing until he died in 1204 AD (Zaklikowski, n.d.).
While Moses was still young, his father placed him under the mentorship of Rabbi Yosef Ibn Migash in Spain. Then, while still in his twenties, Moses began writing a number of volumes of The Mishnah, a task which took him ten years. His purpose was that the original and rather cryptic Hebrew text of the Mishnah was difficult for some to understand, so he wrote his version in Arabic but using Hebrew letters. Subsequently he wrote – also in Arabic – a volume entitled Sefer Hamitzvot (the book of commandments) which contained all of the 613 commandments, and which was later translated into Hebrew (Zaklikowski, n.d.).
The Mishnah (or Mishneh Tora) has been described as “In size and scope, as well as organization and literary style, Moses Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah ranks among the greatest and most innovative Jewish legal texts of all time” (Furst, n.d.). She also describes the work as being “ground-breaking” in the way that codified the Jewish laws, and states that to this day it is unmatched in both the clarity and depth of content. She considers Moses Maimonides as already being “a towering figure in the world of Jewish scholarship” even before he compiled the Mishnah over a decade of writing, editing and revising, to produce what is regarded as a comprehensive guide to all Jewish law. Moses compiled the Sefer Hamitzvot some years before the Mishnah, explaining the rationale underlying his interpretation, and dividing the 613 commandments into positives and negatives (Furst, n.d.).
What makes the Sefer Hamitzvot unique is not just that it is an original work, but also because it provides details of all the 613 commandments, separating them into 248 positive ones and 363 negative ones. Moses not only provided that extent of detail, but rather than classifying them in the conventional manner, he classified them according to a series of guiding principles which he devised, so as to define the differences between the different commandments (Biblical and Rabbinical) and between specific commands and general exhortations, and between their timeless laws and temporary injunctions. He saw the task as to collate all the authoritative laws and putting them into systematic order (Franklin, 1989).
In ancient times, the teachings of Judaism had traditionally been passed down the generations by word of mouth (known as the “Oral Law”), until put in written form in the 5th century AD in a 63-volume epic work known as the Talmud. Then Moses Maimonides formulated his “principles of the Jewish faith” which were devised by him as follows:
God created all things;
There is only one God;
God has no bodily form;
God is eternal;
We must pray only to God;
All the words of the prophets are true;
Moses was the greatest of the prophets;
The Torah we have is the same that was given to Moses;
The Torah will never be changed;
God knows human deeds and thoughts;
God rewards good and punishes evil;
The Messiah will come to redeem Israel and the world;
There will be a resurrection of the dead. (Apple, 2010).
Apple, Raymond. (2010). “A Quick Guide to Judaism.” The Great Synagogue, Sydney. Retrieved from: http://www.greatsynagogue.org.au/traditions/judaismguide.aspx
Franklin, Avroham. (June 1989). “The Rambam and Sefer HaMitzvot:An Introduction by Rabbi Avroham Franklin.” The Jewish Review Vol. 2, Iss. 5. Retrieved from: http://www.thejewishreview.org/articles/printerfriendly.cfm?id=95&route=printerfriendly
Furst, Rachel. (n.d.). “The Mishneh Torah: Maimonides’ halakhic magnum opus.” My Jewish Learning. Retrieved from: http://www.myjewishlearning.com/texts/Rabbinics/Halakhah/Medieval/Mishneh_Torah.shtml?p=1
“Maimonides.” (n.d.). JewishHistory.org. Retrieved from: http://www.jewishhistory.org/maimonides/
Zaklikowski, Dovid. (n.d.). “Maimonides: His Life and Works.” Chabad.org. Retrieved from: http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/75991/jewish/Maimonides-His-Life-and-Works.htm