The greatest of all medieval Jewish scholars was Moses ben Maimōn (Rambam), called Maimonides by Christians.
He was born at Cordova in 1135, fled with his parents from persecution in 1148, settled at Fez in 1160, passing there for a Moslem, fled again to Jerusalem in 1165, and finally went to Cairo where he died in 1204. He was distinguished in his profession as a physician, and wrote a number of medical works in Arabic (including a commentary on the aphorisms of Hippocrates), all of which were translated into Hebrew, and most of them into Latin, becoming the textbooks of Europe in the succeeding centuries.
But his fame rests mainly on his theological works. Passing over the less important, these are the Mōreh Nebhūkhīm (so the Hebrew translation of the Arabic original), an endeavour to show philosophically the reasonableness of the faith, parts of which, translated into Latin, were studied by the Christian schoolmen, and the Mishneh Tōrah, also called Yad haḥazaqah (יד = 14, the number of the parts), a classified compendium of the Law, written in Hebrew and early translated into Arabic. The latter of these, though generally accepted in the East, was much opposed in the West, especially at the time by the Talmudist Abraham ben David of Posquières (d. 1198).
Maimonides also wrote an Arabic commentary on the Mishnah, soon afterwards translated into Hebrew, commentaries on parts of the Talmud (now lost), and a treatise on Logic. His breadth of view and his Aristotelianism were a stumbling-block to the orthodox, and subsequent teachers may be mostly classified as Maimonists or anti-Maimonists. Even his friend Joseph ibn ʽAqnīn (d. 1226), author of a philosophical treatise in Arabic and of a commentary on the Song of Solomon, found so much difficulty in the new views that the Mōreh Nebhūkhīm was written in order to convince him.
Maimonides’ son Abraham (d. 1234), also a great Talmudist, wrote in Arabic Maʽaseh Yerūshalmī, on oaths, and Kitāb al-Kifāyah, theology. His grandson David was also an author.
A very different person was Moses ben Naḥman (Ramban) or Nahmanides, who was born at Gerona in 1194 and died in Palestine about 1270. His whole tendency was as conservative as that of Maimonides was liberal, and like all conservatives, he may be said to represent a lost though not necessarily a less desirable cause. Much of his life was spent in controversy, not only with Christians (in 1293 before the king of Aragon), but also with his own people and on the views of the time. His greatest work is the commentary on the Pentateuch in opposition to Maimonides and Ibn Ezra. He had a strong inclination to mysticism, but whether certain kabbalistic works are rightly attributed to him is doubtful. It is, however, not a mere coincidence that the two great kabbalistic textbooks, the Bahir and the Zohar (both meaning “brightness”), appear first in the 13th century. If not due to his teaching they are at least in sympathy with it. The Bahir, a sort of outline of the Zohar, and traditionally ascribed to Neḥunya (1st century), is believed by some to be the work of Isaac the Blind ben Abraham of Posquières (d. early in the 13th century), the founder of the modern Kabbalah and the author of the names for the 10 Sephīrōth. The Zohar, supposed to be by Simeon ben Yoḥai (2nd century), is now generally attributed to Moses of Leon (d. 1305), who, however, drew his material in part from earlier written or traditional sources, such as the Sepher Yeẓīrah. At any rate the work was immediately accepted by the kabbalists, and has formed the basis of all subsequent study of the subject. Though put into the form of a commentary on the Pentateuch, it is really an exposition of the kabbalistic view of the universe, and incidentally shows considerable acquaintance with the natural science of the time. A pupil, though not a follower of Nahmanides, was Solomon Adreth (not Addereth), of Barcelona (d. 1310), a prolific writer of Talmudic and polemical works (against the Kabbalists and Mahommedans) as well as of responsa. He was opposed by Abraham Abulafia (d. about 1291) and his pupil Joseph Giqatilla (d. about 1305), the author of numerous kabbalistic works. Solomon’s pupil Baḥya ben Asher, of Saragossa (d. 1340) was the author of a very popular commentary on the Pentateuch and of religious discourses entitled Kad ha-qemaḥ, in both of which, unlike his teacher, he made large use of the Kabbalah. Other studies, however, were not neglected.
In the first half of the 13th century, Abraham ibn Ḥasdai, a vigorous supporter of Maimonides, translated (or adapted) a large number of philosophical works from Arabic, among them being the Sepher ha-tappūaḥ, based on Aristotle’s de Anima, and the Mōzenē Ẓedeq of Ghazzali on moral philosophy, of both of which the originals are lost.
Another Maimonist was Shem Ṭōbh ben Joseph Falaquera (d. after 1290), philosopher (following Averroes), poet and author of a commentary on the Mōreh. A curious mixture of mysticism and Aristotelianism is seen in Isaac Aboab (about 1300), whose Menorath ha-Ma’ōr, a collection of agadōth, attained great popularity and has been frequently printed and translated.
Somewhat earlier in the 13th century lived Judah al-Ḥarīzī, who belongs in spirit to the time of Ibn Gabirol and Judah ha-levi. He wrote numerous translations, of Galen, Aristotle, Ḥarīrī, Ḥunain ben Isaac and Maimonides, as well as several original works, a Sepher ʽAnaq in imitation of Moses ben Ezra, and treatises on grammar and medicine (Rephūath geviyyah), but he is best known for his Taḥkemōnī, a diwan in the style of Ḥarīrī’s Maqāmāt.
Hebrew Literature by Arthur Ernest Cowley
Maimonides = Moses Maimonides = Moses ben Maimon = Abū ʿImran Mūsā ibn Maymūn ibn ʿUbayd Allāh = Rambam: the “second Moses,” as Maimonides came to be called: born into a distinguished family in Córdoba (Cordova), Spain.
His life falls into three epochs, which may be typified by the towns in which they were passed, viz. Cordova, Fez and Cairo.
The Arab rulers had fostered the development of science, art, medicine, philosophy, literature and learning. All these influences played their part in the education of Maimonides, whose father, besides training him in all branches of Hebrew and Jewish scholarship, implanted in the youth a sound knowledge of these secular studies as well.
The young Moses received his rabbinical instruction at the hands of his father, the Spanish exegete and moralist, Maimon (Maimun) ben Joseph, and was placed at an early age under the guidance of the most distinguished Arabic masters, who initiated him in all the branches of the learning of that time, which gave him a remarkable depth and versatility.
As part of Islamic Spain, Córdoba had accorded its citizens full religious freedom. But now the Islamic Mediterranean world was shaken by a revolutionary and fanatical Islamic sect, the Almohads (Arabic: al-Muwaḥḥidūn, “the Unitarians” – “those who affirm the unity of God”), a militant revivalists Berber confederation who strove to re-establish Islam in what they considered its primitive simplicity and created an Islamic empire in North Africa and Spain (1130–1269). They captured Córdoba in 1148, making the position of the orthodox Spanish Jews intolerable, leaving the Jewish community no other option but the grim alternative of submitting to Islam or leaving the city.
Maimon and all his coreligionists were also compelled to choose between Islam and exile. Maimon, after ten years of hardships, leading a nomadic life, wanderings and escapes, hither and thither in Spain. decided to take his family out of the country.
In 1160 they settled at the northern city of Morocco, on the Wadi Fès by Idrīs I (east bank, about 789) and Idrīs II (west bank, about 809), just above its influx into the Sebou River, a few years before Fès reached its zenith as a centre of learning and commerce under the Marīnids in the mid-14th century.
Although it was also under Almohad rule, Fez was presumably more promising than Córdoba because there the Maimons would be strangers, and their disguise would be more likely to go undetected. Moses continued his studies in his favourite subjects, rabbinics and Greek philosophy, and added medicine to them.
Maimonides’ reputation was steadily growing, and the authorities began to inquire into the religious disposition of this highly gifted young man. He was even charged by an informer with the crime of having relapsed from Islam, and, but for the intercession of a Moslem friend, the poet and theologian Abu al-‘Arab alMu’ishah (Abdul Arab Ibn Muisha), he would have shared the fate of his friend Rabbi Judah ibn Shoshan, who had shortly before been executed (in 1165) on a similar charge. These circumstances caused the members of Maimonides’ family to leave Fez to embark to Acre, to Jerusalem, and then to al-Fusṭāṭ Fostat (Cairo), where they settled.
Moses’ fame as a physician spread rapidly, and he soon became the court physician to the sultan Saladin, the famous Muslim military leader, and to his son al-Afḍal. He also continued a private practice and lectured before his fellow physicians at the state hospital. At the same time he became the leading member of the Jewish community, teaching in public and helping his people with various personal and communal problems.
Maimonides’ powerful genius and indefatigable industry enabled him, amid his numerous occupations, to produce monumental works, answer hundreds of questions on various subjects addressed to him from various parts of the world, and administer the affairs of the community of Cairo, in which, soon after his arrival, he took a leading part, apparently becoming its recognized official head by 1177.
According to Maimonides, there is no contradiction between the truths which God has revealed and the truths which the human mind, a power derived from God, has discovered. In fact, with few exceptions, all the principles of metaphysics (and these are, for him, those of Aristotle as propounded by the Arabic Peripatetics Al-Farabi and Ibn Sina) are embodied in Bible and Talmud. He is firmly convinced that, besides the written revelation, the great prophets received orally revelations of a philosophical character, which were transmitted by tradition to posterity, but which were lost in consequence of the long periods of suffering and persecution the Jews experienced. The supposed conflict between religion and philosophy originated in a misinterpretation of the anthropomorphisms and in the superficial readings of Scripture, which are to the inner or allegorical interpretations what silver is to gold.
Maimonides set up the incorporeality of God as a dogma, and placed any person who denied this doctrine upon a level with an idolater; he devoted much of the first part of the “Moreh Nebukim” to the interpretation of the Biblical anthropomorphisms, endeavouring to define the meaning of each and to identify it with some transcendental metaphysical expression. Some of them are explained by him as perfect homonyms, denoting two or more absolutely distinct things; others, as imperfect homonyms, employed in some instances figuratively and in others homonymously.
In the field of personal ethics Maimonides established rules deduced from the teachings of the Bible and of the Rabbis.
In Maimonides’ opinion, man should believe only what can be supported either by rational proof, by the evidence of the senses, or by trustworthy authority. He affirms that he has studied astrology and that it does not deserve to be described as a science. The supposition that the fate of a man could be dependent upon the constellations is ridiculed by him; he argues that such a theory would rob life of purpose and would make man a slave of destiny.
The last years of Maimonides’ life were marked by increasing physical ailments; he died in his seventieth year, mourned by many congregations in various parts of the world. In Fostat both Jews and Mohammedans observed public mourning for three days. In Jerusalem a general fast was appointed; a portion of the “Tokaḥah” was read, and the history of the capture of the Ark of the Covenant by the Philistines. His body was taken to Tiberias, and his tomb became a place of pilgrimage.
Moses ben Naḥman (Ramban) = Moses ben Nachman = Moses ben Naḥman Gerondi = Naḥamani = Nahmanides = Nachmanides = Bonastruc da Porta: Spanish Talmudist, exegete, and physician; born at Gerona (whence his name “Gerondi”) in 1194, died in Palestine about 1270. He was the grandson of Isaac ben Reuben of Barcelona (Simeon ben Ẓemaḥ Duran, Responsa, i., § 72) and cousin of Jonah Gerondi; his brother was Benveniste da Porta, the bailie of Barcelona (Jacobs, “Sources,” p. 130). Among his teachers in Talmud were Judah ben Yaḳar and Meïr ben Nathan of Trinquetaille, and he is said to have been instructed in Cabala by his countryman Azriel.
He became chief rabbi of Catalonia.
As one of the leading rabbinical scholars in Spain, Naḥmanides was summoned by King James I of Aragon and forced to participate in a public disputation with Christians before the King and other notables. Naḥmanides, although victorious in his arguments, was forced to flee from Spain (1263) as a result of the debate, and he settled at Acre in Palestine. There he reorganized the Jewish settlement and, although advanced in age, began his most celebrated scholarly work, a commentary on the Pentateuch.
Abraham ben David of Posquières = RABaD or RABaD III: Provençal rabbi, a Neoplatonist, important Jewish mystical thinker and a great commentator on the Talmud, Son-in-law of Abraham ben Isaac Ab-Bet-Din (RABaD II). The teachers under whose guidance he acquired most of his Talmudic learning were Moses ben Joseph and Meshullam ben Jacob of Lunel.
Not only did he erect and keep in repair a large school-building, but he cared for the material welfare of the poor students as well.
Among the many learned Talmudists who were his disciples in Posquières were Isaac ha-Kohen of Narbonne, the first commentator upon the Talmud Yerushalmi; Abraham ben Nathan of Lunel, author of “Ha-Manhig”; Meir ben Isaac of Carcassonne, author of the “Sefer ha-‘Ezer”; and Asher ben Meshullam of Lunel, author of several rabbinical works. RABaD’s influence on Jonathan of Lunel also is evident, though the latter did not attend his lectures.
Isaac the Blind = Yitzhak Saggi Nehor = Isaac ben Abraham of Posquières: a French rabbi and a famous writer on Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism); son of the famous talmudist, Abraham ben David of Posquières (Raavad).
The most famous student of Isaac was Azriel of Gerona.
Shimon bar Yochai = Simeon ben Yoḥai = Shimon bar Yochai = Rashbi: Galilean tanna (i.e., one of a select group of Palestinian rabbinic teachers), one of the most eminent disciples of the martyred rabbi Akiva ben Yosef of the second century, under whom he studied thirteen years at Bene-Beraḳ (Lev. R. xxi. 7 et al.).; supposed author of the Zohar; born in Galilee; died, according to tradition, at Meron, on the 18th of Iyyar (= Lag be-‘Omer). In the Baraita, Midrash, and Gemara his name occurs either as Simeon or as Simeon ben Yoḥai, but in the Mishnah, with the exception of Ḥag. i. 7, he is always quoted as R. Simeon.
Traditionally, he is considered author of the Zohar (see Sefer ha-zohar), the most important work of Jewish mysticism. Little is known of Shimon’s life, and what is recorded of it in the Talmud is enmeshed with legend.
Simeon’s love for his great teacher was profound. When Akiba was thrown into prison by Hadrian, Simeon, probably through the influence of his father, who was in favor at the court of Rome, found a way to enter the prison. He still insisted upon Akiba’s teaching him, and when the latter refused, Simeon jestingly threatened to tell his father, Yoḥai, who would cause Akiba to be punished more severely(Pes. 112a). After Akiba’s death Simeon was again ordained, with four other pupils of Akiba’s, by Judah b. Baba (Sanh. 14a).
Baḥya ben Asher = Bahya ben Asher ibn Halawa: pupil of Rabbi Shlomo ibn Aderet (the Rashba), rabbi and scholar of Judaism. He was a commentator on the Hebrew Bible. He was one of two people now known as Rabbeinu Behaye, the other being philosopher Bahya ibn Paquda.
In his biblical exegesis, Bahya took as his model Rabbi Moses ben Nahman (Nachmanides) or Ramban, the teacher of Rabbi Shlomo ibn Aderet, who was the first major commentator to make extensive use of the Kabbalah as a means of interpreting the Torah. He discharged with zeal the duties of a darshan (Hebrew for “expounder”) in his native city of Zaragoza, sharing this position with several others.
Among Bahya’s principal works was his commentary on the Pentateuch, in the preparation of which he thoroughly investigated the works of former biblical exegetes, using all the methods employed by them in his interpretations.
Baḥya’s other great work, the “Kad ha-Ḳemaḥ” (Flour-Jar), called by David Gans “Sefer ha-Derashot” (Book of Discourses), consists of sixty chapters, alphabetically arranged, containing discourses and dissertations on all the requirements of religion and morality as well as on the principal ceremonial ordinances.
Shem Ṭōbh ben Joseph Falaquera = Palquera: Spanish philosopher and poet, well versed in Arabic and Greek philosophy, and had a fine critical sense. He was the author of Iggeret Hanhagat ha-Guf we ha-Nefesh, a treatise in verse on the control of the body and the soul; and of Ẓeri ha-Yagon, on resignation and fortitude under misfortune.
In Iggeret ha-Wikkuaḥ he tried to prove that not only the Bible, but even the Talmud, is in perfect accord with philosophy.
Isaac Aboab I = Isaac ben Abraham Aboab also known by his magnum opus, Menorat ha-Maor, was an early 14th century Spanish Talmudic scholar and Kabbalist. He is known for his intellectual approach to rabbinic literature, which he juxtaposed with contemporary Spanish Kabbalah.
Aboab is the name of an ancient and widely distributed Spanish family, among whose members were many most able scholars. The family can be authentically traced to the thirteenth century, and representatives thereof are to be found in Holland, Italy, Turkey, Africa, and America. Some branches of this family, in which the names Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Samuel frequently occur, can be followed genealogically.
Into the Aboab family were also born the 15th century Spanish-Jewish Rabbi, Posek and Torah commentator Isaac Aboab of Castile = Isaac Aboab II and the 17th century rabbi, scholar, kabbalist and writer Isaac Aboab da Fonseca (Isaak Aboab Foonsec) ,follower of Sabbatai and one of several elders within the Portuguese-Israelite community in the Netherlands who excommunicated Baruch Spinoza (possibly for the statements he made concerning the nature of God).