Moses Maimonides (1136-1204) Famous physician, philosopher and Rabbi.
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Moses Maimonides (1136-1204)
Famous physician, philosopher and Rabbi
Moshe ben Maimonwas a Jewish physician, rabbi and philosopher born in Cordoba, Spain in 1136.
This famous individual is more commonly referred to asMaimonides which literally means son of Maimon in Greek. Others refer to this universally famed figure in Jewish history as RaMBaM, an acronym for Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon.
Social and Cultural Background and Influences
Islamic world of Maimonides Maimonides lived in an Islamic world where Jews were regarded as second class citizens. However, Islam was not the only threat to Judaism during this time. The early Medieval period also marks a revival of classical learning, especially a revival of Greek philosophy.
This age was characterised bythe dominance of Islam in parts of Europe, the Middle East and the Near East.
Through their conquests,Muslims had access to Greek science and philosophy as well as Persian history and literature.
With this wealthof both classical and contemporary learning the Muslims, who were great admirers of education, helped to disseminate knowledge of many new discoveries to the areas where Islamic civilisations existed.
Revival of classical philosophy posed as a threat to monotheism The translation of Greek philosophy to Arabic by Arab and Syrian scholars between the fifth and eleventh centuries, enabled the re- emergence of Greek philosophy in Europe in the 11th and 12th centuries CE.
This revival of classical philosophy,especially the writings of Aristotle, challenged the authority and validity of many religious ideas. In particular it posed a threat to the monotheistic religions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
The major philosophical concernscentered on concepts such as the Nature of God, the existence of God, free will and the existence of evil. These perplexing issues posed a threat to monotheistic religions because for monotheistic religions their faith in God was not based so much on reason as on experience - the heart over the head, so to speak.
Thus the core belief of monotheistic religions was the belief in one Goda God who had been revealed to human beings through the medium of other human being such as Abraham, Moses, Jesus and Muhammad . The revelation is also believed to come through other ways such as in creation, in deliverance from enemies etc.
The revival of classical philosophywas not the only threat which faced Judaism during this time. Another significant threat came from the fact that Jews lived in an Islamic world, where they were more or less seen as second class citizens.
That is not to say however that the Muslims did not tolerate Judaism.In fact Muslims tolerated both Judaism and Christianity in the countries they conquered mainly because they, like Islam, were monotheistic religions and based their teachings on the sacred scriptures.
Muslims allowed Jews the freedom to practice their religion within the Muslim empirebut they had to pay special taxes and were considered lower than Muslims in the eyes of the law. Thus, the need to preserve and perpetuate the Jewish religion in an Islamic environment became a primary concern for Maimonides.
Sephardi and Askenazi JewsDespite the dominance of Islam in early Medieval Europe, the Jewish culture flourished in Spain. In fact the period from 900-1200 CE is frequently referred to as "The Golden Age of Spanish Jewry". The Jews who lived in Spain were known as the Sephardi Jews, a word which is derived from the Hebrew word "Sepharad" which means " Spain".
Sephardi and Askenazi JewsThe other major community of Jews in Europe was known as the Ashkenazim, a word which is derived from the Hebrew word "Ashkenez" meaning "German".
One of the critical differences between these two communitieswas their attitude towards education. For the Sephardim, education was based on a sound knowledge not only of the Torah but also of science and philosophy. It was in this community, with its spirit of inclusive education, that Maimonides grew up.
It is to be expected thereforethat Maimonides writings would be greatly influenced by his knowledge of philosophical concepts. In contrast the Ashkenazim regarded education as being solely directed towards knowledge of the Torah and Talmud.