Maimonides was born in 1135 in Córdoba, in Islamic Spain. His family was wealthy, his father a notable intellectual and judge in a rabbinical court. Recognizing his son’s brilliance, Maimonides’ father personally tutored him in Jewish law. Maimonides was born at the end of the “golden age” of Jewish Spain, a time of relative religious tolerance when the richness of Islamic thought intersected with Jewish and Christian traditions, drawing also on newly rediscovered Greek and Latin texts.
Unfortunately, when Maimonides was about thirteen, the relative peace and tolerance in Spain ended abruptly with the ascendancy of the Almohad Islamic sect, whose fanaticism included the forced conversion of Jews to Islam. Maimonides’ family was forced to flee Córdoba, settling in 1160 in the Moroccan city of Fez (which was the center of the Almohad movement and therefore an odd choice).
In 1165, Fez became intolerable; the family moved first to Palestine and finally to Egypt. There, Maimonides’ father died and Moses joined his brother David in the jewelry trade. When his brother died in a shipwreck, Maimonides supported himself as a physician, quickly rising to prominence as physician to the sultan, Saladin, and his vizier, al-Afdal. Thereafter, he practiced medicine, lectured to medical colleagues at a Cairo hospital, served as spiritual adviser to the local Jewish community, and wrote extensively on medicine, astronomy, and philosophy. He married late in life, fathered a son, Abraham (who also became a notable scholar), and died in 1204. It is likely that his varied life of surviving religious persecution, engaging in international commerce, and practicing medicine added a dimension of common sense and practicality to Maimonides’ philosophical writings, enhancing his ability to communicate with a wide audience.
Maimonides did not write books...
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