Moses Maimonides Analysis

His Life

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.

Mishneh Torah

Maimonides did not write books...

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Benor, Ehud. Worship of the Heart: A Study of Maimonides’ Philosophy of Religion. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995. Benor explains and evaluates the key points in Moses Maimonides’ philosophical understanding of religion and Judaism in particular.

Botwinick, Aryeh. Skepticism, Belief, and the Modern: Maimonides to Nietzsche. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1997. Appraises the contributions and implications of Maimonides’ philosophy for later developments in philosophical criticism and religious belief.

Buijs, Joseph A., ed. Maimonides: A Collection of Critical Essays. Notre Dame, Ind.: University of Notre Dame Press, 1988. Well-qualified Maimonides scholars offer helpful interpretations and criticisms of Maimonides’ philosophy.

Dodds-Weinstein, Idit. Maimonides and Saint Thomas on the Limits of Reason. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995. Compares and contrasts two great medieval thinkers on issues concerning reason, revelation, and religion.

Faur, Josâe. “Homo Mysticus: A Guide to Maimonides’s Guide for the Perplexed. Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1999. A helpful aid in understanding Maimonides’ contribution to mysticism.

Fox, Marvin. Interpreting Maimonides: Studies in Methodology, Metaphysics, and Moral Philosophy. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990.

Gerber, J. S. The Jews of Spain: A History of the Sephardic Experience. New York: Free Press, 1992.

Heschel, A. J. Maimonides. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1982.

Kellner, Menachem Marc. Maimonides on Judaism and the Jewish People. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1991. Kellner clarifies Maimonides’ influential interpretation of Jewish tradition and the significance of Jewish life.

Maimonides, Moses. Ethical Writings of Maimonides. Translated by Raymond L. Weiss and Charles E. Butterworth. New York: New York University Press, 1975.

Strauss, Lev. Philosophy of Law: Contributions to the Understanding of Maimonides and His Predecessors. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1995. A helpful interpretation of Maimonides’ views on law, ethics, and religious tradition.

Weiss, Raymond L. Maimonides’ Ethics: The Encounter of Philosophic and Religious Morality. Chicago: University of Illinois Press, 1991. An illuminating study that show how Maimonides understood the similarities and differences between the ethical outlooks of philosophy, religion, and Judaism in particular.