Maimonides - Philosopher and Rabbi

Maimonides, or Moses ben Maimon, was born into a scholarly Jewish family in Córdoba, when southern Spain or Andalusia was ruled by Islamic dynasties. Along with Averroës he became the most well-known intellectual from Muslim Spain.

His family fled Spain for Fez, Morocco, when a repressive Berber Muslim dynasty came to power in Spain. To escape religious persecution the family claimed to be Muslims but ultimately moved from Morocco to Palestine and Egypt, where they finally settled in Cairo.

Maimonides was a well-known rabbi as well as a doctor and scholar. He served as the physician to the son and vizier of Saladin (Salah ad din, Yusuf) and became head of the large Jewish community in Cairo. Maimonides was a prolific writer on many subjects. He wrote 10 medical works in Arabic giving advice on diet, sexual intercourse, and healthy lifestyles.

Written in neo-Hebrew, one of his greatest works, Mishna Torah (Repetition of the law), detailed all the laws of the Torah and other Jewish texts. His Guide to the Perplexed (1190) was written in Arabic with Hebrew characters but was subsequently translated into Hebrew and Latin. The guide was one of Maimonides’s most controversial works, causing widespread and acrimonious debate over the interrelationships of religion and rationality in Christian, Jewish, and Islamic communities.

Maimonides attempted to reconcile devout religious practices and faith with rational, scientific tenets. He posited that the future coming of a messiah was one of the 13 tenets of Jewish belief and believed in the divine word but argued that rationality should be applied to legal precepts and the conduct of everyday life. He also rejected Ptolemaic astronomy that argued that the Sun and stars revolved around Earth.

He argued that humans should not be forced to choose between religion and reason and, in his prolific writings, discussed issues of immortality, creation of the universe and humankind, and free will. He died in Cairo and was buried in Tiberias, Palestine.