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Moses ben Maimon, Maimonides (Cordoba, Spain 1135 - Cairo, Egypt 1204), was a Jewish rabbi, astronomer, and physician. He is regarded by the Jews as a great philosopher, and called the "Lamp of Israel" and the "Eagle of the Doctors"; he was a man of immense learning who expanded greatly upon interpretations of the Talmud (the source of much of Jewish law), and was physician to the Sultan of Egypt.[1] He taught the Jews to interpret their religion in the light of reason; he wrote a "Commentary on the Mishna and the Second Law," but his chief work is the "Moreh Nebochim," or "Guide of the Perplexed" (which had been written in Arabic). [2] The Mishneh Torah, his 14-volume compendium of Jewish law, established him as the leading rabbinic authority of his time and quite possibly of all time.[3] Maimonides also formulated a credo of Judaism expressed in thirteen articles of faith.

"... no Israelite can have any private interview with me, except on the Sabbath. On that day the whole congregation, or at least the majority of the members, come to me after the morning service, when I instruct them as to their proceedings during the whole week; we study together a little until noon, when they depart. Some of them return, and read with me after the afternoon service until evening prayers. In this manner I spend that day." [4]

He was renowned for his efforts to reach fair judgments. Maimonides also wrote medical treatises on a number of diseases and their cures.

Succeeding generations of philosophers wrote extensive commentaries on his works, which influenced thinkers as diverse as St. Thomas Aquinas, Baruch Spinoza, Gottfried Leibniz, and Sir Isaac Newton. In concert with Plato and Aristotle, he holds that like the body, the soul can be diseased or healthy... virtue is a habit that can only be developed by practice.

Maimonides died mourned by many congregations in different parts of the world.

"... morality is not an end in itself but a way of controlling the passions and creating an atmosphere in which science and philosophy can flourish."

Medical treatment of souls

Acting as a philosopher-physician he wrote:

"A wise ruler will therefore prescribe actions and moral habits that must be repeated until they are no longer burdensome and become part of a person's character. If a person develops the wrong habits and goes to excess, the ruler "must follow the same course in treating it as in the medical treatment of bodies," which is to reestablish equilibrium". ("Eight Chapters", 4).

Arguments for God's existence

The second part of the "Moreh" opens with the enumeration of the twenty-six propositions through which are proved the existence, the unity, and the incorporeality of the Primal Cause. For the existence of the Primal Cause there are four proofs: (1) no motion can take place without an agent producing it, and the series of causes leading to a certain motion is finite; (2) since some things both receive and impart motion, while other things are set in motion without imparting it, there must exist a being that imparts motion without being itself set in motion; (3) as existing beings are partly permanent and partly transient, there must be a being whose existence is permanent; (4) nothing can pass from a state of potentiality into that of actuality without the intervention of an agent; this agent requires for its own transition from potentiality to actuality the help of another agent, and the latter, again, of another; and so on until one arrives at an agent that is constant and admits of no potentiality whatever.[5]

The unity of God is proved by the following arguments: (1) Two gods can not be assumed, for they would necessarily have one element in common by virtue of which they would be gods, and another element by which they would be distinguished from each other; further, neither of them could have an independent existence, but both would themselves have to be created. (2) The whole existing world is "one" organic body, the parts of which are interdependent. The sublunary world is dependent upon the forces proceeding from the spheres, so that the whole universe is a macrocosm, and thus the effect must be due to one cause. The incorporeality of God can be proved by the preceding arguments and by the principle that every corporeal object consists of matter and form, and that every compound requires an agent to effect its combination.[5]

Aristotelian Principles

As there is no disagreement between the principles of Aristotle and the teachings of Scripture as to God, or the Primal Cause, so there is none between their systems of natural philosophy.[6] As "Primum Motum" of this world there are, according to Aristotle,the heavenly spheres, each of which possesses a soul, the principle of motion, and is endowed with an intellect.[6] They move in various senses through unmoved immaterial beings, or Intelligences, which are the cause of their existence and their motion in the best possible way, namely, a uniform rotary motion.[6] The first Intelligence, which is the agent of motion for the uppermost or the all-encompassing sphere, is a direct emanation of the Primal Cause; the others emanated one from the other.[6] There were altogether nine spheres, namely, the all-encompassing sphere, that of the fixed stars, and those of the seven planets; nine Intelligences correspond to the nine spheres; a tenth Intelligence, which is attached to the lowest sphere, the one nearest to the center, the sphere of the moon, is the Active Intellect.[6] This last causes the transition of man's intellect from a state of potentiality to that of actuality.[6]

The earth, which is spherical, reposes unmoved at the center of the world, and any changes that happen thereon are due to the revolutions of the spheres, which, as animated and intellectual beings, are acting in full consciousness. God does not act by means of direct contact.[6] When, for instance, He destroys anything with fire, the fire is set in motion through the movements of the spheres, and the spheres by the Intelligences.[6]

All these theories are, according to Maimonides, supported both by Holy Writ and by post-Biblical Jewish literature.[6] That the spheres are animated and intellectual beings is clearly expressed by the Psalmist. "The heavens declare the glory of God" (Psalm xix. 2 [A. V. 1]) can not be taken as a mere figure of speech.[6] The angels mentioned in the Bible are identical with the Intelligences.[6] There is, however, one point on which Maimonides differs from Aristotle.[6] According to Aristotle, these spheres, as well as the Intelligences, coexisted with the Primal Cause, while Maimonides holds that the spheres and the Intelligences were created by the will of God.[6] Maimonides asserts that he was prompted to reject the doctrine of the eternity of matter not because certain passages in Scripture confirm the "creatio ex nihilo," for such passages could easily be explained in a manner that would leave them in harmony with the former doctrine, but because there are better arguments for the "creatio ex nihilo" than for the eternity of the universe.[6]

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  1. Interestingly, at various points during their history, the Islamic principalities of the near east allowed Jews to hold high office, ranging from personal physician (like Maimonides) to vizier. However, the tenure of Jews in such high-ranking positions tended to come in and out of vogue with the success of the Islamic state; when the state suffered, the Jews would be blamed, face harsher discrimination, and at times be purged from government and killed. For more information, please read Under Crescent and Cross: the Jews of the Middle Ages, by Mark R. Cohen.
  2. This article incorporates text from the public domain 1907 edition of The Nuttall Encyclopædia.
  3. Maimonides
  4. Maimonides/Rambam
  5. 5.0 5.1
  6. 6.00 6.01 6.02 6.03 6.04 6.05 6.06 6.07 6.08 6.09 6.10 6.11 6.12 6.13
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