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Maimonides

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Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon (1135 - 1204), רבי משה בן מיימון, known commonly by his Greek name Maimonides, was a Jewish rabbi, physician, and philosopher. Many Jewish works refer to him by the acronym of his title and name, RaMBaM (הרמב"ם in Hebrew). His Greek appelation means "Son of Maimon".

Table of contents
1 Biography
2 Works and bibliography
3 Influence
4 Halakhic works
5 Resurrection and the afterlife
6 Philosophy
7 Quotes by Maimonides
8 External links

Biography

Maimonides was born in Cordoba, Spain (then under Moslem rule), and studied Torah under his father Maimon and Rabbi Joseph ibn Migash. The family fled to Morocco after the fall of Córdoba to the Almohads. In Morocco he acquired most of his secular knowledge, studying at the university of Fez. During this time, he composed his acclaimed commentary on the Mishna.

Following his sojourns in Morocco, he briefly lived in Land of Israel, spending time in Jerusalem where he prayed in a synagogue on the Temple Mount, and finally settled in Fostat, Egypt, where he was the doctor for the Grand Vizier Alfadhil and/or the Sultan Saladin of Egypt. In Egypt he composed most of his life's work, including the Mishneh Torah. He died in Fostat, and was buried in Tiberias, Israel.

Works and bibliography

Maimonides composed both works of Jewish scholarship and medical texts. Most of Maimonides' works were written in Arabic. However Mishneh Torah was written in Hebrew. His Jewish texts were: Maimonides also wrote a number of medical texts, some of which are extant. The best known is his collection of medical aphorisms, titled Pirkei Moshe in Hebrew (although it was composed in Arabic).

Influence

Maimonides was one of the few medieval Jewish philosophers who also influenced the non-Jewish world. Even today he is among the most respected of all Jewish philosophers. A popular saying in the Middle Ages stated that From Moses [of the Torah] to Moses [Maimonides] there has not been such a Moses.

Maimonides was by far the most influential figure in medieval Jewish philosophy. Radical Jewish scholars in the centuries that followed can be characterised as Maimonideans or anti-Maimonideans. Moderate scholars were eclectics who largely accepted Maimonides' Aristotelian world-view, but rejected those elements of it which they considered to contradict the religious tradition. Such eclecticism reached its height in the 14th-15th centuries.

The most rigorous medieval critique of Maimonides is Hasdai Crescas' Or Hashem. Crescas bucked the eclectic trend by demolishing the certainty of the Aristotelian world view not only in religious matters, but even in the most basic areas of medieval science (such as physics and geometry). Crescas' critique provoked a number of 15th century scholars to write defenses of Maimonides. A translation of Crescas was written by Harry Austryn Wolfson of Harvard University in 1929.

Halakhic works

See also Mishneh Torah on his influence in halakha

With Mishneh Torah, Maimonides composed a code of Jewish law with the widest possible scope and depth. The work gathers all the binding laws from the Talmud and incorporates the positions of the Geonim (post-Talmudic early Medieval scholars, mainly from Mesopotamia). It is a highly systematised work and employs a very clear Hebrew reminiscent of the style of the Mishna.

While Mishneh Torah is now considered the forerunner of the Arbaah Turim and the Shulkhan Arukh, two later codes, it met initially with a lot of opposition. There were two main reasons for this opposition. Firstly, Maimonides had refrained from adding references to his work for brevity. Secondly, in the introduction, he gave the impression of wanting to "cut out" study of the Talmud to arrive at a conclusion in Jewish law. His most forceful opponents were the rabbis of the Provence (Southern France), and a running critique by Rabbi Abraham ibn Daud (Raavad III) is printed in virtually all editions of Misheh Torah.

Resurrection and the afterlife

Maimonides wrote much on this topic, but in most cases he wrote about the immortality of the soul for people of perfected intellect; his writings were not about any resurrection of dead bodies. This prompted hostile criticism from the rabbis of his day, and sparked a controversy over his true views, which has gone on unabated to this day.

Rabbinic works usually refer to this afterlife as "Olam Haba" (the world to come). Note that some books use this phrase to refer to the messianic era, a physical realm right here on Earth; in other works this phrase refers to a purely spiritual realm. It was during Maimonides's lifetime, that this lack of agreement flared into a full blown theological dispute, with Maimonides himself charged as being a heretic by many Jewish leaders.

Some Jews at this time taught that Judaism did not require a belief in the physical resurrection of the dead, as the afterlife would be a purely spiritual realm. They used Maimonides' works on this subject to back up their position. In return, their opponents claimed that this was outright heresy; for them the afterlife was right here on Earth, where God would raise dead bodies from the grave so that the resurrected could live eternally. Maimonides was brought into this dispute by both sides, as the first group stated that his writings agreed with them, and the second group portrayed him as a heretic for writing that the afterlife is for the immaterial spirit alone. Eventually, Maimonides felt pressured to write a treatise on the subject, the "Ma'amar Tehiyyat Hametim" ("The Treatise on Resurrection").

In it he shows that contrary to the prevailing dogma, the Tanakh [Hebrew Bible] is ambiguous on resurrection; most verses on this topic can be read in two ways, and these are only hints or allusions. Maimonides accepts only the Book of Daniel as definitively stating that "many of them that sleep in the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life and some to reproaches and everlasting abhorrence" (12:2), referring to a physical resurrection of the dead, which clearly would be a miracle. However, we must take care to understand Maimonides' understanding of "miracles", for it is not the same as the definition used by many sages of the Talmud, nor is it the same one used by many Orthodox Jews.

Maimonides writes that God never violates the laws of nature. Rather, all divine interaction is by way of angels. Maimonides also states that the layman's understanding of the term "angel" is ignorant in the extreme; the Bible's and Talmud's references to "angels" are really metaphors for the various laws of nature, or the principles by which the physical universe operates, or kinds of Platonic eternal forms. Thus, if a unique event actually occurs, even it is perceived as a miracle, it is not a violation of the world's order (Commentary on the Mishna, Avot 5:6).

In contrast to the dogma of his day, Maimonides believes that miracles are not permanent. Thus, any dead who are resurrected must eventually die again. Maimonides thus disassociated the resurrection of the dead from both the afterlife as well as from the Messianic era.

Maimonides did create the formula for the creed of the Jewish people called the thirteen principles of faith. The first five deal with knowledge of the Creator. The next four deal with prophecy and the Divine Origin of the Torah. The last four deal with Reward, Punishment and the ultimate redemption.

Note that Maimonides says nothing of a universal resurrection. All he says it is that whatever resurrection does take place, it will occur at an indeterminate time before the world to come, which he repeatedly states will be purely spiritual. He writes "It appears to us on the basis of these verses (Daniel 11:2,13) that those people who will return to those bodies will eat, drink, copulate, beget, and die after a very long life, like the lives of those who will live in the Days of the Messiah." This clearly states that (a) the resurrection is not the world to come, and (b) it has nothing to do with the messianic era.

In a move that infuriated his critics, chapter two of the letter on resurrection refers to those who believe that the world to come involves physically resurrected bodies; he refers to one with such beliefs as being an "utter fool" whose belief is "folly": "If one of the multitude refuses to believe [that angels are incorporeal] and prefers to believe that angels have bodies and even that they eat, since it is written (Genesis 18:8) 'they ate', or that those who exist in the World to Come will also have bodies—we won't hold it against him or consider him a heretic; we will not distance ourselves from him, nor will he regard one who speaks thus to be an utter fool. Let us hope that no fool will go farther than this in his folly."

One can now see why so many people regarded Maimonides as heretical. At that time, many Jews believed that the physical resurrection was identical to the world to come; thus denial of a permanent and universal resurrection was considered tantamount to denying the words of the Talmudic sages. However, instead of denying the resurrection, or maintaining the current dogma, Maimonides posited a third way: That resurrection had nothing to do with the messianic era (here in this world) nor to do with Olam Haba (the purely spiritual afterlife). Rather, he considered resurrection simply to be a miracle that the book of Daniel predicted; thus at some point in time we could expect some instances of resurrection to occur temporarily, which would have no place in any eschatological scheme.

Philosophy

Through the Guide of the Perplexed and the philosophical introductions to sections of his commentaries on the Mishna, Maimonides exerted a very important influence on the Scholastic philosophers, especially on Albert the Great, Thomas Aquinas, and Duns Scotus. He was himself a Jewish Scholastic. Educated more by reading the works of the Arabian philosophers than by personal contact with Arabian teachers, he acquired through the abundant philosophical literature in the Arabic language an intimate acquaintance with the doctrines of Aristotle, and strove earnestly to reconcile the philosophy of the Stagirite with the teachings of the Bible.

The principle which inspired all his philosophical activity was identical with the fundamental tenet of Scholasticism: there can be no contradiction between the truths which God has revealed and the findings of the human mind in science and philosophy. Moreover, by science and philosophy he understood the science and philosophy of Aristotle. In some important points, however, he departed from the teaching of the Aristotelian text, holding, for instance, that the world is not eternal, as Aristotle taught, but was created ex nihilo, as is taught explicitly in the Bible. Again, he rejected the Aristotelian doctrine that God's provident care extends only to humanity, and not to the individual. But, while in these important points Maimonides forestalled the Scholastics and undoubtedly influenced them, he was led by his admiration for the neo-Platonic commentators and by the bent of his own mind, which was essentially Jewish, to maintain many doctrines which the Scholastics could not accept. For instance, he pushed too far the principle of negative predication in regard to God. The Scholastics agreed with him that no predicate is adequate to express the nature of God, but they did not go so far as to say that no term can be applied to God in the affirmative sense. They admitted that while "eternal", "omnipotent", etc., as we apply them to God, are inadequate, at the same time we may say "God is eternal" etc., and need not stop, as Moses did, with the negative "God is not not-eternal", etc.

The most characteristic of all his philosophical doctrines is that of acquired immortality. He distinguishes two kinds of intelligence in man, the one material in the sense of being dependent on, and influenced by, the body, and the other immaterial, that is, independent of the bodily organism. The latter is a direct emanation from the universal active intellect (this is his interpretation of the noûs poietikós of Aristotelian philosophy), and is acquired as the result of the efforts of the soul to attain a knowledge of the absolute, pure intelligence of God. The knowledge of God is, therefore, the knowledge which, so to speak, develops in us the immaterial intelligence, and thus confers on man an immaterial or spiritual nature. This immateriality not only confers on the soul that perfection in which human happiness consists, but also endows the soul with immortality. He who has attained a knowledge of God has reached a condition of existence which renders him immune from all the accidents of fortune, from all the allurements of sin, and even from death itself. Man, therefore, since he has it in his power to attain this salutary knowledge, is in a position not only to work out his own salvation, but also to work out his own immortality. The resemblance between this doctrine and Spinoza's doctrine of immortality is so striking as to warrant the hypothesis that there is a causal dependence of the later on the earlier doctrine. The difference between the two Jewish thinkers is, however, as remarkable as the resemblance. While Spinoza teaches that the way to attain the knowledge which confers immortality is the progress from sense-knowledge through scientific knowledge to philosophical intuition of all things sub specie æternitatis, Moses holds that the road to perfection and immortality is the path of duty as described in the Law of God.

Among the theological questions which Maimonides discussed were the nature of prophecy and the reconciliation of evil with the goodness of God. He agrees with "the philosophers" in teaching that, man's intelligence being one in the series of intelligences emanating from God, the prophet must, by study and meditation, lift himself up to the degree of perfection required in the prophetic state. But here he invokes the authority of "the Law", which teaches that, after that perfection is reached, there is required the free act of God before the man actually becomes the prophet. In his solution of the problem of evil, he follows the neo-Platonists in laying stress on matter as the source of all evil and imperfection.

Quotes by Maimonides

Teach thy tongue to say "I do not know" and thou shalt progress.

External links

to be added


This article is part of the Influential Western Philosophers series
Presocratics | Socrates | Plato | Aristotle | Epicureans | Stoics | Plotinus | Augustine of Hippo | Boethius | Al-Farabi | Anselm | Peter Abelard | Averroës | Maimonides | Thomas Aquinas | Albertus Magnus | Duns Scotus | Ramón Llull | Occam | Giovanni Pico della Mirandola | Marsilio Ficino | Michel de Montaigne | René Descartes | Thomas Hobbes | Blaise Pascal | Baruch Spinoza | John Locke | Nicolas Malebranche | Gottfried Leibniz | Giambattista Vico | Julien Offray de la Mettrie | George Berkeley | Baron de Montesquieu | David Hume | Voltaire | Jean-Jacques Rousseau | Denis Diderot | Johann Herder | Immanuel Kant | Jeremy Bentham | Friedrich Schleiermacher | Johann Gottlieb Fichte | G. W. F. Hegel | Friedrich von Schelling | Friedrich von Schlegel | Arthur Schopenhauer | Søren Kierkegaard | Henry David Thoreau | Ralph Waldo Emerson | John Stuart Mill | Karl Marx | Mikhail Bakunin | Friedrich Nietzsche | Vladimir Soloviev | William James | Wilhelm Dilthey | C. S. Peirce | Gottlob Frege | Edmund Husserl | Henri Bergson | Ernst Cassirer | John Dewey | Benedetto Croce | José Ortega y Gasset | Alfred North Whitehead | Bertrand Russell | Ludwig Wittgenstein | Ernst Bloch | Georg Lukács | Martin Heidegger | Rudolf Carnap | Simone Weil | Maurice Merleau-Ponty | Jean-Paul Sartre | Simone de Beauvoir | Georges Bataille | Theodor Adorno | Max Horkheimer | Hannah Arendt