Maimonides: His Life, Works and Contributions to Judaism

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Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) is regarded as the greatest Torah scholar, the most important medieval Jewish philosopher and the most influential rationalist thinker of Judaism. He is the author of “The Guide to the Perplexed” and the Thirteen Articles of Faith and the source of many Talmudist and Rabbinic laws. Both Maimonides and the Muslim philosopher and scientist Averroes were born in the Spanish city of Cordova and it is said that they became good friends.

Maimonides was a physicians and polymath. He advocated rationalism and was an admirer of Greek philosophy. He was both a clever Aristotlean thinker and believer that all fundamental truths can be found in the Torah. His ideas however were quite controversial and split Judaism into two camps. He lived during the 'Golden Age' of Spain in the twelfth century where Jews and Christians lived in peace under Muslim rule.

The Thirteen Principles (Thirteen Articles of Faith) of Maimonides are regarded as the basic dogma of Judaism. They are: 1) The existence of God, the Creator of All Things; 2) His absolute unity; 3) His incorporeality; 4) His eternity; 5) The obligation to serve and worship him alone; 6) The existence of prophecy; 7) The superiority of the Prophecy of Moses above all others; 8) The “Torah” is God’s revelation to Moses; 9) “The Torah” is immutable; 10) God’s omniscience and foreknowledge; 11) Rewards and punishments according to one’s deeds; 12) The coming of the Messiah; 13) The resurrection of the dead.

Websites and Resources: Virtual Jewish Library ; Judaism101 ; ; Chabad,org ; BBC - Religion: Judaism ; Encyclopædia Britannica,; Yivo Institute of Jewish Research ; Jewish History: Jewish History Timeline Jewish History Resource Center ; Center for Jewish History ; Jewish ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook

Life of Maimonides

Maimonides, also known as Rambam and as Moshe ben Maimon, was born in Cordoba, Spain. There is disagreement about his date of birth. It is widely stated to be 1135, however other sources give the date as 1138, based on recent research. Throughout his life he fled persecution and lived in many different places, including North Africa and the Middle East. [Source:]

Cordoba was centre of Jewish learning and Islamic culture. His was born into a family of rabbinic scholars and his father was his first and most important teacher. Even at the age of 16, Maimonides showed a marked interest in theology, writing a paper on the proper linguistic usage of theological terms.

After being persecuted by the puritanical Almohades during a time of great political upheaval in Spain, Maimonides and his family fled to Fostat (Cairo) in Egypt. He was a great leader of the Jewish community in Egypt, and because rabbis were not paid in that time, he trained to become a physician. Thanks to his intellectual ability he quickly rose to be one of the most influential physicians of his time, and became the official doctor to Saladin, the ruler of Egypt and the man responsible for evicting the Crusaders from Jerusalem.

Influence of Maimonides

Maimonides’s teaching influenced other faiths as well as Judaism, however, it is his commentary on Jewish texts that have eraned him the reputation as one of the most influential and important Jews in history. According to the BBC: He wrote three major essays on Jewish law, the most famous being 'The Guide for the Perplexed', and each of them is still regarded as hugely important in Jewish philosophy. This monumental work laid the foundation for all subsequent Jewish philosophic inquiry known as Chakirah, and stimulated centuries of philosophic Jewish writing. [Source: BBC]

Maimonides, living in the religious melting pot of North Africa, was hugely influenced by all the faiths surrounding him. The Arab and Greek ideas he was exposed to at the time probably made him among the most tolerant of religious leaders. He did not believe that true prophecy was confined to only the Jews, but rather stressed a difference in the degree of responsibility.

He was one of the few Jewish leaders whose teachings also influenced the non Jewish world during that period, and Christian leaders, such as Saint Thomas Aquinas, referred to him in writings as 'Rabbi Moses'. He was successful in bringing four cultures (GrecoRoman, Arab, Jewish, and Western) together in one person, and in doing so, remains one of the most influential religious philosophers of the intellectual world.

The “Oath of Maimonides” goes
The eternal providence has appointed me to watch over the life and health of Thy creatures.
May the love for my art actuate me at all time; may neither avarice nor miserliness, nor thirst for glory or for a great reputation engage my mind; for the enemies of truth and philanthropy could easily decieve me and make me forgetful of my lofty aim of doing good to Thy children.
May I never see in the patient anything but a fellow creature in pain.
Grant me the strength, time and opportunity always to correct what I have aquired, always to extendits domain; for knowledge is immense and the spirit of man can extend indefintely to enrich itself daily with new requirements.
Today he can discover his errors of yesterday and tomorrow he can obtain a new light on what he thinks himself sure of today. Oh, God, Thou has appointed me to watch over the life and death of Thy creatures; here am I ready for my vocation and now I turn unto my calling. [Source: Internet Archive, from]

Maimonides’s Works

Maimonides is regarded as e great Talmudist — a scholar specializing in the study of the Talmudm, a compilation of ancient teachings regarded as sacred and normative by Jews His has many-sides and at first bitterly opposed by Jews. His famous “Guide of the Perplexed” — an attempt to reconcile Aristotle with Holy Scripture 000 was burned.

In addition to developing the thirteen principles of faith, he was also the author of the Mishnah Torah, an extensive code of Jewish law written in simple and easy-to-understand language, which made it accessible to more people. The Guide for the Perplexed addressed difficult theological ideas from the perspective of the Greek philosopher Aristotle (384-322 B.C.).[Source:]

According to the “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices” Writing like most of his colleagues in Arabic, he addressed The Guide of the Perplexed to those who had difficulty reconciling Greek philosophy, particularly Aristotelianism, with biblical faith. Like Philo, Maimonides read the Bible as allegorical expositions of philosophical truths and thus demonstrated that the conflict between faith and reasois but apparent. Accordingly, the authentically wise person realizes that intellectual and religious perfection, the latter to be achieved through the observance of God's laws, are identical. Maimonides also wrote, in Hebrew, a comprehensive codification of Jewish law called the Mishnah Torah. [Source: Paul Mendes-Flohr Worldmark Encyclopedia of Religious Practices, 2000s,]

J.M Oesterreicher wrote in the New Catholic Encyclopedia All subsequent medieval Jewish philosophy may be viewed as either affirmative or dissenting footnotes to Maimonides. The Italian Jewish philosopher Hillel ben Samuel (c. 1220–c. 1295) devoted a Hebrew work to defending Maimonides' doctrine of the soul — survival of physical death as pure intellect — arguing that he did not mean to deny individual immortality. The Catalonian Jewish philosopher Isaac Albalag (thirteenth century), while seeming to affirm the survival of the individual soul after death, in fact subtlety rejected the notion, suggesting that reason allows a person to speak only of the eternity of the universe. [Source:J.M Oesterreicher, New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1960s,]

Thirteen Principals of Maimonides

Maimonidess effort to synthesize the Jewish faith into the 13 principles listed on the beginning of the article was done when he was a young man. Maimonides argued that unless a Jew believes in these fundamental principles, he or she cannot attain everlasting bliss, J.M Oesterreicher wrote in the New Catholic Encyclopedia: Some theologians of his day disagreed with him on the selection of these principles, or on the reduction of Jewish belief to 13 articles, or even on the basic assumption that Judaism possesses dogmas, binding tenets. [Source: J.M Oesterreicher, New Catholic Encyclopedia, 1960s,]

Still, his "creed" survived the disputes and was eventually embodied — not in its original form but in both a prose and a poetic version of later dates — in the Siddur, the Jewish daily prayerbook. The prose version, by an unknown author, begins with the words: "I believe [‘ănî ma‘ămîn ] with perfect faith that the Creator, blessed be His name, is the Author and Guide of everything that has been created, and that He alone has made, does make and will make all things." The poetic version by Daniel ben Judah of Rome is known by its first word, Yigdal, "Magnified and praised be the living God…."

Significantly, the 13 principles were embodied in the liturgy of the synagogue. Any stress on Jewish faith without an accompanying emphasis on the sacredness of day, week, month, and year distorts the image of Judaism, at whose heart is 'ăvōdâ [(divine) service, (the) work (of honoring God)]. There is no fullness of Jewish life without the sabbath and the festivals throughout the year — without their joy and their sorrow, without their penitential mood and their delight in God's grace, without Israel's appeal to His mercy and its assurance of His faithfulness, without the remembrance of the past and the expectation of the future. see feasts, religious; passover, feast of; booths (tabernacles), feast of; atonement, day of (yom kippur); dedication of the temple, feast of; purim, feast of.

The Thirteen Principles (also known as The Thirteen Articles) appear in Maimonides’ commentary on the Mishnah (Sanhedrin, chap. 10). He refers to the thirteen principles of faith as "the fundamental truths of our religion and its very foundations." It is the custom of many congregations to recite the Thirteen Principles in a slightly more poetic form, beginning with the words Ani Maamin — "I believe" — every day after the morning prayers in the synagogue.

Maimonides: The 613 Mitzvot

According to Jewish tradition, the Torah contains 613 commandments. This tradition is first recorded in the A.D. 3rd century when Rabbi Simlai mentioned it in a sermon that is recorded in Talmud Makkot Although the number 613 is mentioned in the Talmud, its real significance increased in later medieval rabbinic literature, including many works listing or arranged by the mitzvot. The most famous of these was an enumeration of the 613 commandments by Maimonides, which are divided into 248 Positive Mitzvos and 365 Negative Mitzvos. [Source: Wikipedia]

The first of the 248 Positive Mitzvos are:
P 1 — Believing in G-d
P 2 — Unity of G-d
P 3 — Loving G-d
P 4 — Fearing G-d
P 5 — Worshiping G-d
P 6 — Cleaving to G-d
P 7 — Taking an oath by G-d's Name
P 8 — Walking in G-d's ways
P 9 — Sanctifying G-d's Name
P 10 — Reading the Shema twice daily

The first of the 365 Negative Mitzvos
N 1 — Not believing in any other G-d
N 2 — Not to make images for the purpose of worship
N 3 — Not to make an idol (even for others) to worship
N 4 — Not to make figures of human beings
N 5 — Not to bow down to an idol
N 6 — Not to worship idols
N 7 — Not to hand over any children to Moloch
N 8 — Not to practice sorcery of the ov
N 9 — Not to practice sorcery of the yidde'oni
N10 — Not to study idolatrous practices

Among some of the other Negative Mitzvos are:
N330 — Not have relations with one's mother
N331 — Not have relations with one's father's wife
N332 — Not have relations with one's sister
N333 — Not have relations with daughter of father's wife if sister
N334 — Not have relations with one's son's daughter
N335 — Not have relations with one's daughter's daughter
N336 — Not have relations with one's daughter
N337 — Not have relations with a woman and her daughter
N338 — Not have relations with a woman and her son's daughter
N339 — Not have relations with a woman and her daughter's daughter
N340 — Not have relations with one's father's sister
N341 — Not have relations with one's mother's sister
N342 — Not have relations with wife of father's brother
N343 — Not have relations with one's son's wife
N344 — Not have relations with brother's wife
N345 — Not have relations with sister of wife (during her lifetime)

N 25 — Not increasing wealth from anything connected with idolatry
N 29 — Not fearing or refraining from killing a false prophet
N 32 — Not regulating one's conduct by the stars
N 36 — Not consulting a necromancer who uses the ov
N 40 — Men not wearing women's clothes or adornments
N 43 — Not shaving the temples of the head
N 57 — Not destroying fruit trees in time of siege
N 73 — Not to be intoxicated when entering Sanctuary; and (ctd)
N 92 — Not to slaughter a blemished animal as a korban
N 98 — Not to offer leaven or honey upon the Altar
N171 — Not to tear out hair for the dead
N173 — Not to eat any unclean fish
N175 — Not to eat any swarming winged insect
N184 — Not to eat blood
N213 — Not to gather single fallen grapes during the vintage
N234 — Not demanding payment from a debtor known unable to pay
N235 — Not lending at interest
N295 — Not accepting ransom from an unwitting murderer

Maimonides: The Laws and Basic Principles of the Torah

“The Laws and Basic Principles of the Torah” by Maimonides: begins: Chapter 1: This chapter explains that God, Lord of the universe and Master of the world, existed before anything else did, that He has no body, and that there is none other beside Him.

1) It is the most basic of basic principles and a support for wisdom to know that there is something [namely God] that existed before anything else did and that He created everything that there is. Everything in the skies, on the ground and in between exists only because of the fact that He created them.

2) Let it be known that if the Creator did not exist then nothing else would, for nothing can exist independently of the Creator.

3) Let it further be known that if everything ceased to exist, the Creator alone would exist and would not have ceased to exist like everything else had. All things in creation are dependant upon the Creator for their continued existence, but He does not need any of them [for His continued existence]. Therefore, the reality of His existence is not like the reality of the existence of any creation.

4) One of the Prophets said, "But the Lord is the true God", meaning that only God is everlasting and that nothing else is. This is what the Torah has said: "There is none else beside Him", namely, that there is nothing in existence that is everlasting, except for God.

5) The Creator is the God of the world and Master of the Earth, and He guides the [uppermost] sphere with a power that is never-ending, never-weakening and continuous. This sphere rotates perpetually, and it is impossible for it to rotate without being guided. It is God who guides it, even though that He has no hand or body.

6) It is a positive commandment to know these matters, for it is written, "I am the Lord your God". Anyone who even speculates that there might be a god other than the Lord is transgressing a negative commandment, for it is written, "You shall have no other gods besides Me". Anyone who denies this principle is [in effect] denying everything, for it is on this important principle that everything depends.

Maimonides: The Laws Concerning Mashiach

In Jewish theology, Mashiach, or "Messiah", refers to to a future Jewish king from the Davidic line, who is expected to save the Jewish nation, and will be anointed with holy anointing oil and rule the Jewish people during the Messianic Age.

In Chapter 12 of “The Laws Concerning Mashiach”, Maimonides wrote: 1) One should not entertain the notion that in the Era of Mashiach any element of the natural order will be nullified, or that there will be any innovation in the work of creation. Rather, the world will continue according to its pattern. Although Yeshayahu [Yeshayahu 11:6] states, "The wolf will dwell with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat," these [words] are an allegory and a riddle. They mean that Israel will dwell securely together with the wicked gentiles who are likened to wolves and leopards, as in the verse [Yirmeyahu 5:6], "A wolf of the deserts despoils them, a leopard watches over their cities." [In this era, all nations] will return to the true faith and no longer plunder or destroy. Instead, at peace with Israel, they will eat that which is permitted, as it is written [Yeshayahu 11:7], "The lion shall eat straw like the ox.” Similarly, other prophecies of this nature concerning Mashiach are analogies. In the Era of the King Mashiach, everyone will realize what was implied by these metaphors and allusions.

2) Our Sages taught: [Berachos 34b] "There will be no difference between the current age and the Era of Mashiach except [our emancipation from] subjugation to the [gentile] kingdoms.” The simple meaning of the words of the prophets appears to imply that the war of Gog and Magog [Yechezkal ch. 38] will take place at the beginning of the Messianic age. Before the war of Gog and Magog, a prophet will arise to rectify Israel's conduct and prepare their hearts [for the Redemption], as it is written: [Malachi 3:23] "Behold, I am sending you Eliyah (u) [6] [before the advent of the great and awesome Day of G-d].”

He will not come [in order] to declare the pure, impure, nor to declare the impure, pure; nor [will he come in order] to disqualify the lineage of those presumed to be of flawless descent, nor to validate lineage which is presumed to be blemished. Rather, [he will come in order] to establish peace in the world; as [the above prophecy] continues [Malachi 3:24], "He will bring back the hearts of the fathers to the children.”

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Wikipedia, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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