Moshe ben Maimon

Μωησής Μαϊμονίδης

Manuscript page by Maimonides. Judeo-Arabic language in Hebrew letters.

( see it in large format)

The title page of

The Guide for the Perplexed

( see it in large format)

                        Traditional Portrait of Moses ben Maimon, with Autograph.


Moshe ben Maimon (March 30, 1135–December 13, 1204) was a Jewish rabbi, physician, and philosopher.

Moshe ben Maimon's Hebrew name is רבי משה בן מיימון and his Arabic name is موسى بن ميمون بن عبد الله القرطبي الإسرائيلي, Mussa bin Maimun ibn Abdallah al-Kurtubi al-Israili. However, he is most commonly known by his Greek name, Moses Maimonides (Μωησής Μαϊμονίδης), and many Jewish works refer to him by the acronym of his title and name, RaMBaM or Rambam (רמב"ם). The Greek appellation means "son of Maimon," and is a literal rendition of "ben Maimon."




Statue of Maimonides in Córdoba, SpainStatue of Maimonides in Córdoba, Spain

 (see it in large format)


Maimonides was born in 1135 in Córdoba, Spain, then under Muslim rule during what some scholars consider to be the end of the golden age of Jewish culture in Spain. Maimonides studied Torah under his father Maimon who had in turn studied under Rabbi Joseph ibn Migash. The Almohades conquered Córdoba in 1148, and offered the Jewish community the choice of conversion to Islam, death, or exile. Maimonides's family, along with most other Jews, chose exile. For the next ten years they moved about in southern Spain, avoiding the conquering Almohades, but eventually settled in Fes in Morocco, where Maimonides acquired most of his secular knowledge, studying at the University of Fes. During this time, he composed his acclaimed commentary on the Mishnah.

Following this sojourn in Morocco, he briefly lived in the Holy Land, spending time in Jerusalem, and finally settled in Fostat, Egypt; where he was doctor of the Grand Vizier Alfadhil and also possibly the doctor of Sultan Saladin of Egypt. In Egypt, he composed most of his oeuvre, including the Mishneh Torah. He died in Fostat, and was buried in Tiberias (today in Israel). His son Avraham, recognized as a great scholar, succeeded him as Nagid (head of the Egyptian Jewish Community), as well as in the office of court physician, at the age of only eighteen. He greatly honored the memory of his father, and throughout his career defended his father's writings against all critics. The office of Nagid was held by the Maimonides family for four successive generations until the end of the 14th century.

He is widely respected in Spain and a statue of him was erected in Córdoba alongside his synagogue, which is no longer functioning as a Jewish house of worship but is open to the public. There is no Jewish community in Córdoba now, but the city is proud of its historical connection to Rambam.


Summary of Works and bibliography

Maimonides composed both works of Jewish scholarship, and medical texts. Most of Maimonides' works were written in Arabic. However, the Mishneh Torah was written in Hebrew. His Jewish texts were:

  • The Commentary on the Mishna, written in Arabic. This text was one of the first commentaries of its kind; its introductory sections are widely-quoted. See Mishnah Commentaries for details;
  • Sefer Hamitzvot ("The Book of Commandments"). See 613 mitzvot for details;
  • The Mishneh Torah (also known as " Sefer Yad ha-Chazaka"), a comprehensive code of Jewish law;
  • The Guide for the Perplexed, a philosophical work harmonising and differentiating Aristotelian philosophy and Jewish theology;
  • Teshuvot, collected correspondence and responsa, including a number of public letters (on resurrection and the after-life, on conversion to other faiths, and Iggereth Teiman - addressed to the oppressed Jewry of Yemen).

Maimonides also wrote a number of medical texts; some of which are still in existence. The best known is his collection of medical aphorisms, titled Fusul Musa in Arabic ("Chapters of Moses", Pirkei Moshe in Hebrew).

 ( from )


The following is a classified list of Maimonides' works:

Works on Philosophy and Theology.

Philosophy and Theology: "Dalalat al-Ḥa'irin." Translated into Hebrew by Samuel ibn Tibbon, in 1204, under the title "Moreh Nebukim."The Hebrew translation was first published somewhere in Italy before 1480; since then it has been frequently published with commentaries. Another Hebrew translation, by Al-Ḥarizi, was published by Schlossberg (vol. i., London, 1851; vols. ii. and iii., Vienna, 1874 and 1879). There are two Latin translations of the "Moreh," by Aug. Justinianus (Paris, 1520) and by Buxtorf, Junior (Basel, 1629); the earlier is based on the Hebrew version of Al-Ḥarizi and is a mere copy of an older Latin translation; the later is based on that of Ibn Tibbon. The Arabic original, with a French translation entitled "Guide des Egarés," was published by Salomon Munk (3 vols., Paris, 1856-66). The work was translated twice into Italian, by Jedidiah ben Moses of Recanati (1580) and by D. J. Maroni (1870). The first part was translated into German by Fürstenthal (Krotoschin, 1839); the second, by M. E. Stein (Vienna, 1864); and the third, by Scheyer (Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1838). Part iii. was translated into English, under the title "The Reasons of the Laws of Moses," by Townley (London, 1827). A complete English translation, in three volumes, was published by M. Friedländer (London, 1889).

"Maḳalah fi-Ṣina'at al-Manṭik," on the terminology of logic, in fourteen chapters; written at the age of sixteen. It was translated into Hebrew by Moses ibn Tibbon under the title "Millot ha-Higgayon," and was first published, with two anonymous commentaries, at Venice in 1552; it has since passed through fourteen editions. A Latin translation was published by Sebastian Münster (Basel, 1527); German translations were made by M. S. Neumann (Venice, 1822) and Heilberg (Breslau, 1828). Among the numerous commentaries written on this work the most noteworthy is that of Moses Mendelssohn.

"Maḳalah fi al-Tauḥid," an essay on the unity of God. Translated into Hebrew by Isaac ben Nathan, in the fourteenth century, under the title "Ma'amar ha-Yiḥud."

"Maḳalah fi al-Sa'adah," an essay, in two chapters, on felicity (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, No. 7193). Published for the first time in Hebrew, under the title "Peraḳim be-Haẓlaḥah," in 1567.

An essay on forced conversions. Translated anonymously into Hebrew under the title "Iggeret ha-Shemad," or "Ma'amar Ḳiddush ha-Shem." It sets forth (1) the extent to which a Jew may yield and the extent to which he must resist when under compulsion to embrace another religion, and maintains (2) that Mohammedanism is not a heathenish religion. Maimonides wrote this essay in reply to a certain rabbi who asserted that compulsory converts to Islam, though they may secretly observe all the Jewish precepts, can not be considered as Israelites. It is generally held that in this case Maimonides preached "pro domo sua," he and his family having been themselves forced to embrace Islam. This, however, is contested by some scholars, who, on very good grounds, even doubt Maimonides' authorship of this essay. The "Iggeret ha-Shemad" was published by A. Geiger in his monograph on Maimonides (Breslau, 1850).

Letter to Rabbi Jacob al-Fayyumi, on the critical condition of the Jews in Yemen (1172). It was translated into Hebrew by Samuel ibn Tibbon, Abraham ibn Ḥisdai, and Nathan ha-Ma'arabi. Ibn Tibbon's translation was published under the title of "Iggeret Teman" (Vienna, 1857); that of Nathan ha-Ma'arabi, under the title "Petaḥ Tiḳwah" (1629); that of Abraham ibn Ḥisdai is still extant in manuscript.

An essay on resurrection. Translated into Hebrew by Samuel ibn Tibbon and published under the title "Ma'amar Teḥiyyot ha-Metim" (1629). A Latin translation, still extant in manuscript, was made by Mithridates.

Works on Halakah.

Halakah: Commentaries on the Mishnah, entitled "Kitab al-Siraj." They were translated into Hebrew by several scholars: on Berakot, Peah, Demai, Shebu'ot, by Judah al-Ḥarizi; the remainder of Seder Zera'im and Seder Mo'ed, by Joseph ben Isaac ibn al-Fu'al; Seder Nashim, by Jacob ben Moses of Huesca; Seder Neziḳin—with the exception of Abot, which was translated by Samuel ibn Tibbon—by Solomon ben Jacob of Saragossa; Seder Ḳodashim, by Nethaneel ben Joseph of Saragossa; Seder Ṭohorot, by an anonymous scholar; various other parts, by Israel Israeli. The Hebrew translations were first published at Naples (1492). Of the original were published: the general introduction and the prefaces to seder v. and vi., and to the treatise Menaḥot, with a Latin translation by Pococke (Oxford, 1654); the introduction to Abot ("Shemonah Peraḳim"), with a German translation by M. Wolf (Leipsic, 1863); the Seder Ṭohorot, with a Hebrew translation by Joseph Derenbourg (Berlin, 1886-92); various treatises, some with Hebrew and some with German translations, published as university dissertations in the last twenty years. The Hebrew translations were rendered into Latin by Surenhusius; into Spanish by Reuben ben Naḥman Abi Saglo.

"Kitab al-Fara'iḍ." Twice translated into Hebrew, first by Moses ibn Tibbon, and then by Solomon ben Joseph ibn Ayyub. Ibn Tibbon's translation was printed first in Italy and then in Lisbon in 1497, and frequently since. Part of the original, with a German translation, was published by M. Peritz (Breslau, 1882), and a complete edition, with a French translation entitled "Le Livre des Préceptes," by Moses Bloch (Paris, 1888).

Commentary on Ḥullin and on nearly all of three sections—Mo'ed, Nashim, and Neziḳin. Of these commentaries, which Maimonides cites in the introduction to the Mishnah, only that on Rosh ha-Shanah is known; it was edited by J. Brill in the periodical "Ha-Lebanon" (viii. 199 et seq.).

"Mishneh Torah," or "Yad ha-Ḥazaḳah." The earliest edition appeared in Italy about 1480; the second at Soncino, 1490; the third at Constantinople, 1509; the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh editions at Venice, 1524, 1550, 1550-51, and 1574-75; the eighth at Amsterdam, 1702-3; the most recent and complete edition is that of Leipsic, 1862. Parts of an Arabic translation of the "Mishneh Torah" and an Arabic commentary on the "Sefer ha-Madda'" are still extant in manuscript. Extracts from the "Mishneh Torah" were translated intoEnglish by H. Bernard and E. Soloweyczik (London, 1863).

Halakot, extracted from the Talmud of Jerusalem; cited by Maimonides in his commentary on Tamid (v., infra).

Scientific Works.

Astronomy and Medicine: An essay on the Jewish calendar, based on astronomical principles. It is divided into two parts: on the "Molad" (conjunction of the moon), and on the "Teḳufah" (seasons of the year). It was translated into Hebrew by an anonymous writer and was inserted in the "Dibre Ḥakamim" of Eliezer of Tunis (Metz, 1849), and also in "Ḳobeẓ Teshubot Rambam" (Leipsic, 1859).

"Fi al-Jama'ah," on sexual intercourse, in three parts, dedicated to Malik al-Mustafir, Sultan of Hamat and nephew of Saladin. It was twice translated into Hebrew: under the title "Ma'amar 'al Ribbui ha-Tashmish," by Zerahiah ben Isaac, and under the title "Ma'amar ha-Mashgel" (anonymous). Both original and translations, as well as a Latin version, are extant in various manuscripts.

"Al-Sumum wal-Mutaḥarriz Min al-Adwiyyah al-Ḳitalah" (also called "Al-Maḳalah al-Faḍiliyyah"), on various poisons and their antidotes, in two volumes. Translated into Hebrew, under the title "Ha-Ma'amar ha-Nikbad," or "Ha-Ma'amar be-Teri'aḳ," by Moses ibn Tibbon; extant in various manuscripts. A Latin translation of this work was made by Armengaud Blasius of Montpellier. A French translation from the Hebrew version was made by M. Rabbinowicz under the title "Traité des Poisons" (Paris, 1865), and a German translation by M. Steinschneider entitled "Gifte und Ihre Heilungen" (Berlin, 1873).

"Fi al-Bawaṣir," on hemorrhoids, in seven chapters. Translated into Hebrew under the title "Ha-Ma'amar bi-Refu'at ha-Ṭeḥorim," and into Spanish under the title "Sobre los Milagros." Original and translations are found in manuscript.

"Fuṣul Musa," an imitation of the aphorisms of Hippocrates. Translated into Hebrew by Zerahiah ben Isaac and by Nathan ha-Me'ati ("Pirḳe Mosheh," Lemberg, 1804; Wilna, 1888). A Latin translation was published in 1489.

"Maḳalah fi al-Rabw," on asthma. Translated into Hebrew by Samuel ben Benveniste and Joseph Shatibi.

Commentary on Hippocrates' aphorisms. Extracted from the commentary of Galen; translated into Hebrew by Moses ibn Tibbon and anonymously.

Essays on hygiene, or consultations with Malik al-Faḍl, son of Saladin. Translated into Hebrew by Moses ibn Tibbon, and published first in "Kerem Ḥemed" (iii. 9-31), and later by Jacob Safir ha-Levi (Jerusalem, 1885). A Latin translation was published at Venice (1514, 1518, 1521) and Leyden (1531). Another Latin translation was made from the Hebrew by John of Capua; a German translation was published by D. Winternitz (Venice, 1843).

"Maḳalah fi Biyan al-A'raḍ," on the case of the Prince of Rikka. Translated into Hebrew anonymously under the title "Teshubot 'al She'elot Peraṭiyyot." A Latin translation was published in 1519 under the title "De Causis Accidentium Apparentium."



His Sources.

The utmost brevity was sought by Maimonides in his "Mishneh Torah," as in his commentary on the Mishnah, and he therefore continued his method of avoiding citation, thinking it sufficient to name in the preface the works he had used, and the sages, links in the chain of tradition, who had transmitted the Law from Moses (Preface to his "Sefer ha-Miẓwot"). In addition to the Babylonian Talmud, he drew upon the Jerusalem Talmud, the halakic midrashim, and the Sifra, Sifre, and Mekilta. Therein he surpassed all his predecessors, none of whom made so extensive a use of the Jerusalem Talmud and the halakic midrashim; he occasionally preferred these works to the Babylonian Talmud (comp. Malachi ha-Kohen in "Yad Mal'aki," p. 184b; Weiss, l.c. p. 232). These Talmudic and midrashic works form the basis of most of the material contained in this book without special mention of the sources (Responsa, No. 140).

One of the chief authorities of Maimonides was the written Torah itself, and there are many regulations and laws contained in his work which are not mentioned in Talmudic or midrashic works, but which were deduced by him through independent interpretations of the Bible (comp. Abraham de Boton, "Leḥem Mishneh" on "Yesode ha-Torah," ix. 1; "Yad Mal'aki," Rule 4; Weiss, l.c. p. 231, Note 234). The maxims and decisions of the Geonim are frequently presented with the introductory phrase "The Geonim have decided" or "There is a regulation of the Geonim," while the opinions of Isaac Alfasi and Joseph ibn Migas are prefaced by the words "My teachers have decided" (comp. "Yad," She'elah, v. § 6; "Yad Mal'aki," Rule 32). Maimonides likewise refers to Spanish, French, and Palestinian authorities, although he does not name them, nor is it known to whom he refers. He furthermore drew from Gentile sources, and a great part of his researches on the calendar, contained in "Yad," Ḳiddush ha-Ḥodesh, was based upon Greek theories and reckonings. Since these rules rested upon sound argument, he thought that it made no difference whether an author was a prophet or a Gentile (ib. xvii. 25). In a like spirit he adopted principles of Greek philosophy in the first book of the "Mishneh Torah," although no authority for these teachings was to be found in Talmudic or midrashic literature. 


Attitude Toward Predecessors.

Maimonides likewise employed the works of his predecessors, although he cited them but seldom, since he deemed it superfluous to mention the name of his authority in every instance. Thus he says in the preface to the eight chapters which he prefixed to his commentary on Abot: "I have not invented this explanation, or myself framed these assertions, but I have taken them from the words of the wise and gathered them from the works of others. Though I do not name them, I do not claim, by my silence, the learning of others as my own, for I have just admitted that much is taken from other sources." He was, however, entirely independent with regard to his precursors, and he frequently refuted the explanations of the Geonim, stating in the letter to 'Aḳnin (p. 3lb) that many errors in his commentary were due to his adherence to his predecessors, including Rabbi Nissim.

Maimonides interpreted the language of the Mishnah according to the rules of Hebrew and Aramaic grammar, and employed the "'Aruk" in his explanations of words, although he often fell into the error of regarding Greek loan-words in the Mishnah as Hebrew and explaining them accordingly (comp. Weiss, "Mishpaṭ Leshon ha-Mishnah," p. 11, Vienna, 1867). Toward a better interpretation, he frequently cited the principles of other sciences, such as mathematics and physics, while he attained his object of bringing system and order into the mass of tradition by detailing, before each important discussion, the general principles upon which it rested. Maimonides provided several treatises and orders with prefaces, and prefixed to his entire commentary a general introduction, in which he discussed the origin, plan, and arrangement of the Mishnah and gave an account of the transmission of the oral law. In this introduction and in his preface to the "Yad," as well as in his letters and in numerous scattered notes in his commentary, Maimonides gave coherent and comprehensive information regarding the origin of the Mishnah, the Tosefta, the halakic midrashim, and both Talmuds, in which he evinced a knowledge of literary history superior to that of all his predecessors.

As a commentator Maimonides attained but half his aim, although he had reduced his interpretation of the halakic code to the smallest possible compass. He was, therefore, obliged to plan a new and more comprehensive system of law. It was by no means necessary, however, in his opinion, that this should follow the older mishnaic code; it should rather be arranged according to its subject-matter. All legal regulations, consequently, were to be divided into groups, but before the precepts could be classified it was necessary to enumerate them and to determine what regulations were to be considered as commandments. Many a passage in the Torah which is a commandment or a prohibition in form is not one in reality. Some ordinances, Maimonides declared, are mere foundations for other laws and can not be regarded as independent.

 ( from )


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 medieval saying that also served as his epitaph, stated that From Moshe (of the Torah) to Moshe (Maimonides) there was none like Moshe.

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 produced by Harry Austryn Wolfson of Harvard University, in 1929.