Question: "Who was Maimonides?"
Answer: Moses Ben Maimon (1138—1204) is known to English speakers as Maimonides and to Hebrew speakers as Rambam. He was a medieval Jewish philosopher. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy calls him the “greatest Jewish philosopher of the Medieval Period” (https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/maimonides, accessed 10/27/2020). Maimonides’ philosophy was distinctly Aristotelean.
Maimonides’ 14-volume work, the Mishneh Torah (“Second to the Torah”) is a detailed accounting of medieval Jewish observance. It was meant to be a comprehensive record of the oral law that explained and expounded upon the written law of Scripture. Menachem Kellner, Ph.D., of the University of Haifa and the Shalem Center in Jerusalem suggests that, if it were not for Maimonides’ work, it would be impossible to speak of “orthodox” Judaism today (“From Moses to Moses,” pub. 10/31/2010, Rambam Maimonies Medical Journal online, accessed 10/27/2020). In fact, the title of his article, “From Moses to Moses,” is in indication of the great respect paid to Maimonides as a lawgiver.
In his Guide of the Perplexed, Maimonides attempts to reconcile the Torah with Greek philosophy. The Mishneh Torah and his Guide are considered his greatest and most influential works.
Maimonides was also a physician (at one time, in the court of the sultan Saladin). Dr. Kellner suggests that it was Maimonides who gave legitimacy to a scientific outlook in the Jewish community. Then as now, Judaism has a strong vein of mysticism running through it (i.e., Kabbalah), but it has also produced many men of science and medicine.
Much of Maimonides’ practical advice is still good today. Here are some examples of his wisdom:
• “A person will never become impoverished from giving charity” (Matnot Aniyim, 2).
• “Truth does not become more true by virtue of the fact that the entire world agrees with it, nor less so even if the whole world disagrees with it.”
• “The risk of a wrong decision is preferable to the terror of indecision.”
• “Silence is the maturation of wisdom.”
• “Lose with truth and right rather than gain with falsehood and wrong.”
• “A wise man is a greater asset to a nation than a king.”
• “In finances, be strict with yourself, generous with others.”
• “The physician should not treat the disease but the patient who is suffering from it.”
Maimonides’ writing and thinking influenced Jewish communities of his time, and his influence is still felt. Many of his writings are readily available today online. His work may be useful to the Christian who is attempting to understand Jewish philosophy and the thoughts that have influenced the shape of Judaism. However, it is important to realize that Maimonides’ work is closer to being a systematic theology than a biblical exegesis.