Saturday, April 1, 2017

Great Thinker, Great Thoughts: Maimonides

Maimonides

Moses Maimonides, (original name Moses Ben Maimon; aka: Rambam,  Abū ʿImran Mūsā ibn Maymūn ibn ʿUbayd Allāh) was born on March 30, 1135, in Córdoba, Spain, and died on December 13, 1204, in Egypt. He was a Jewish philosopher, jurist, and physician, and is recognized as the foremost  intellectual  figure of medieval Judaism. His first major work, begun at age 23 and completed 10 years later, was a commentary on the Mishna, the collected Jewish oral laws. A monumental code of Jewish law followed in Hebrew, The Guide for the Perplexed in Arabic, and numerous other works, many of major importance. His contributions in religionphilosophy, and medicine have influenced Jewish and non-Jewish scholars alike.

*                       *                       *

Maimonides was born into a distinguished family in Córdoba (Cordova), Spain. The young Moses studied with his learned father, Maimon, and other masters and at an early age astonished his teachers by his remarkable depth and versatility. Before Moses reached his 13th birthday, his peaceful world was suddenly disturbed by the ravages of war and persecution.

As part of Islamic Spain, Córdoba had accorded its citizens full religious freedom. But now the Islamic Mediterranean world was shaken by a revolutionary and fanatical Islamic sect, the Almohads (Arabic: al-Muwaḥḥidūn, “the Unitarians”), who captured Córdoba in 1148, leaving the Jewish community faced with the grim alternative of submitting to Islam or leaving the city. The Maimons temporized by practicing their Judaism in the privacy of their homes, while disguising their ways in public as far as possible to appear like Muslims. They remained in Córdoba for some 11 years, and Maimonides continued his education in Judaic studies as well as in the scientific disciplines in vogue at the time.

When the double life proved too irksome to maintain in Córdoba, the Maimon family finally left the city about 1159 to settle in Fez, Morocco. Although it was also under Almohad rule, Fez was presumably more promising than Córdoba because there the Maimons would be strangers, and their disguise would be more likely to go undetected. Moses continued his studies in his favorite subjects, rabbinics and Greek philosophy, and added medicine to them. Fez proved to be no more than a short respite, however. In 1165 Rabbi Judah ibn Shoshan, with whom Moses had studied, was arrested as a practicing Jew  and was found guilty and then executed. This was a sign to the Maimon family to move again, this time to Palestine, which was in a depressed economic state and could not offer them the basis of a livelihood. After a few months they moved again, now to Egypt, settling in Fostat, near Cairo. There Jews were free to practice their faith openly, though any Jew who had once submitted to Islam courted death if he relapsed to Judaism. Moses himself was once accused of being a renegade Muslim, but he was able to prove that he had never really adopted the faith of Islam and so was exonerated.

Though Egypt was a haven from harassment and persecution, Moses was soon assailed by personal problems. His father died shortly after the family’s arrival in Egypt. His younger brother, David, a prosperous jewelry merchant on whom Moses leaned for support, died in a shipwreck, taking the entire family fortune with him, and Moses was left as the sole support of his family. He could not turn to the rabbinate because in those days the rabbinate was conceived of as a public service that did not offer its practitioners any remuneration. Pressed by economic necessity, Moses took advantage of his medical studies and became a practicing physician. His fame as a physician spread rapidly, and he soon became the court physician to the sultan Saladin, the famous Muslim military leader, and to his son al-Afḍal. He also continued a private practice and lectured before his fellow physicians at the state hospital. At the same time he became the leading member of the Jewish community, teaching in public and helping his people with various personal and communal problems.

Maimonides married late in life and was the father of a son, Abraham, who was to make his mark in his own right in the world of Jewish scholarship.
The writings of Maimonides were numerous and varied. His earliest work, composed in Arabic at the age of 16, was the Millot ha-Higgayon (“Treatise on Logical Terminology”), a study of various technical terms that were employed in logic and metaphysics. Another of his early works, also in Arabic, was the “Essay on the Calendar” (Hebrew title: Maʾamar haʿibur).

The first of Maimonides’ major works, begun at the age of 23, was his commentary on The MishnaKitāb al-Sirāj, also written in Arabic. The Mishna is a compendium of decisions in Jewish law that dates from earliest times to the 3rd century. Maimonides’ commentary clarified individual words and phrases, frequently citing relevant information in archaeology, theology, or science. Possibly the work’s most striking feature is a series of introductory essays dealing with general philosophic issues touched on in The Mishna. One of these essays summarizes the teachings of Judaism in a creed of Thirteen Articles of Faith.

He completed the commentary on the Mishna at the age of 33, after which he began his magnum opus, the code of Jewish law, on which he also laboured for 10 years. Bearing the name of Mishne Torah (“The Torah Reviewed”) and written in a lucid Hebrew style, the code offers a brilliant systematization of all Jewish law and doctrine. He wrote two other works in Jewish law of lesser scope: the Sefer ha-mitzwot (Book of Precepts), a digest of law for the less sophisticated reader, written in Arabic; and the Hilkhot ha-Yerushalmi (“Laws of Jerusalem”), a digest of the laws in the Palestinian Talmud, written in Hebrew.

His next major work, which he began in 1176 and on which he labored for 15 years, was his classic in religious philosophy, the Dalālat al-ḥāʾirīn (The Guide for the Perplexed), later known under its Hebrew title as the Moreh nevukhim. A plea for what he called a more rational philosophy of Judaism, it constituted a major contribution to the accommodation between science, philosophy, and religion. It was written in Arabic and sent as a private communication to his favorite disciple, Joseph ibn Aknin. The work was translated into Hebrew in Maimonides’ lifetime and later into Latin and most European languages. It has exerted a marked influence on the history of religious thought.

Maimonides also wrote a number of minor works, occasional essays dealing with current problems that faced the Jewish community, and he maintained an extensive correspondence with scholars, students, and community leaders. Among his minor works those considered to be most important are Iggert Teman (Epistle to Yemen), Iggeret ha-shemad or Maʾamar Qiddush ha-Shem (“Letter on Apostasy”), and Iggeret le-qahal Marsilia (“Letter on Astrology,” or, literally, “Letter to the Community of Marseille”). He also wrote a number of works dealing with medicine, including a popular miscellany of health rules, which he dedicated to the sultan, al-Afḍal. A mid-20th-century historian, Waldemar Schweisheimer, has said of Maimonides’ medical writings: “Maimonides’ medical teachings are not antiquated at all. His writings, in fact, are in some respects astonishingly modern in tone and contents.”

Maimonides complained often that the pressures of his many duties robbed him of peace and undermined his health. He died in 1204 and was buried in Tiberias, in the Holy Land, where his grave continues to be a shrine drawing a constant stream of pious pilgrims.

Maimonides’ advanced views aroused opposition during his lifetime and after his death. In 1233 one zealot, Rabbi Solomon of Montpellier, in southern France, instigated the church authorities to burn The Guide for the Perplexed as a dangerously heretical book. But the controversy abated after some time and Maimonides came to be recognized as a pillar of the traditional faith. In addition, his creed became part of the orthodox liturgy as well as the greatest of the Jewish philosophers.

Maimonides’ epoch-making influence on Judaism extended also to the larger world. His philosophic work, translated into Latin, influenced the great medieval Scholastic writers, and even later thinkers, such as Benedict de Spinoza and G.W. Leibniz, found in his work a source for some of their ideas. His medical writings constitute a significant chapter in the history of medical science.
_________________________________

Quotes by Maimonides

Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
You must accept the truth from whatever source it come.

The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision.

One should see the world, and see himself as a scale with an equal balance of good and evil. When he does one good deed the scale is tipped to the good - he and the world is saved. When he does one evil deed the scale is tipped to the bad - he and the world is destroyed.

Do not consider it proof just because it is written in books, for a liar who will deceive with his tongue will not hesitate to do the same with his pen.

If men possessed wisdom, which stands in the same relation to the form of man as the sight to the eye, they would not cause any injury to themselves or to others; for the knowledge of truth removes hatred and quarrels, and prevents mutual injuries.

It is necessary to bear in mind that Scripture only teaches the chief points of those true principles which lead to the true perfection of man, and only demands in general terms faith in them.
Anticipate charity by preventing poverty.

The numerous evils to which individual persons are exposed are due to the defects existing in the persons themselves. We complain and seek relief from our own faults; we suffer from the evils which we, by our own free will, inflict on ourselves and ascribe them to God, who is far from being connected with them!

While one man can discover a certain thing by himself, another is never able to understand it, even if taught by means of all possible expressions and metaphors, and during a long period; his mind can in no way grasp it, his capacity is insufficient for it.

If the whole earth is infinitely small in comparison with the sphere of the stars, what is man compared with all these created beings!

All the great evils which men cause to each other because of certain intentions, desires, opinions, or religious principles, are likewise due to non-existence, because they originate in ignorance, which is absence of wisdom.

When man possesses a good, sound body that does not overpower him nor disturb the equilibrium in him, he possesses a divine gift. In short, a good constitution facilitates the rule of the soul over the body, but it is not impossible to conquer a bad constitution by training.

We each decide whether to make ourselves learned or ignorant, compassionate or cruel, generous or miserly. No one forces us. No one decides for us, no one drags us along one path or the other. We are responsible for what we are.

God cannot be compared to anything. Note this.

I will destroy my enemies by converting them to friends.

Teach thy tongue to say 'I do not know,' and thou shalt progress.

Do not consider it proof just because it is written in books, for a liar who will deceive with his tongue will not hesitate to do the same with his pen.

In finances, be strict with yourself, generous with others.

At times the truth shines so brilliantly that we perceive it as clear as day. Our nature and habit then draw a veil over our perception, and we return to a darkness almost as dense as before. We are like those who, though beholding frequent flashes of lightning, still find themselves in the thickest darkness of the night.

God who preceded all existence is a refuge.

There are eight rungs in charity. The highest is when you help a man to help himself.

Man's obsession to add to his wealth and honor is the chief source of his misery.

Lose with truth and right rather than gain with falsehood and wrong.


The soul, when accustomed to superfluous things, acquires a strong habit of desiring things which are neither necessary for the preservation of the individual nor for that of the species. This desire is without limit, whilst those which are necessary are few in number and restricted within certain limits; but what is superfluous is without end.

No comments:

Post a Comment