The proliferation of buildings and organizations that bear the name Maimonides, the patrinom of Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (also known as the RaMBaM), attests to the incredible impact this one man had on Jewish life. Without a doubt, Maimonides was a man of rare genius who excelled as a scholar, community rabbi, doctor and philosopher.
Born in Cordoba, Spain, in 1135, Maimonides’ early life was fraught with peril. Shortly after his bar mitzvah, the Almohades, North African Muslims who violently persecuted non-Muslims, conquered Cordoba. The Maimon family began, what would become, an eleven year period of wandering. In 1159, they settled in Fez, Morocco. By this point, Maimonides had already begun writing a commentary on the Mishnah and was gaining renown as a scholar.
Approximately five years later, the Maimon family had to once again flee the Almohades. Their journey, which took them through the Holy Land, ended in Egypt, where Maimonides continued with his scholarship while his brother, David, supported the entire family through trading in precious stones. During this time, Maimonides became a rabbinic leader in the community. Sadly, around the year 1170, David ben Maimon was lost at sea along with most of the family fortune.
Maimonides grieved for a year, and then he began supporting the family by practicing medicine, which he had studied with his father and with physicians in the city of Fez. Shortly thereafter, he was appointed the court physician of the Grand Vizier, and then to the Sultan Saladin.
In addition to his work as a physician, a Nagid (communal leader) and a scholar, Maimonides, incredibly, still found the time to compose philosophical tracts, to correspond with other scholars and to write his magnum opus, a codification of Jewish law (Mishneh Torah).
Maimonides died on the 20th of Tevet 1204. Although he was initially buried in Fustat (Cairo), Egypt, his remains were later transferred to Tiberius, Israel, where his impressive tomb is located today.
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