Moses Maimonides

Moses Maimonides

Moshe ben Maimon (Hebrew: משה בן מימון‎‎ Moshe ben Maymon), or Mūsā bin Maymūn (Arabic: موسى بن ميمون‎‎), acronymed Rambam (/ˈrɑːmbɑːm/; Hebrew: רמב״ם‎‎ – for “Rabbeinu Moshe Ben Maimon”, “Our Rabbi/Teacher Moses Son of Maimon”), and Graecized (and subsequently Latinized) Moses Maimonides a preeminent medieval Sephardic Jewish philosopher and astronomer, became one of the most prolific and influential Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages. Born in Cordova, Almoravid Empire (present-day Spain) on Passover Eve, 1135 or 1138, he died in Egypt on December 12, 1204, whence his body was taken to the lower Galilee and buried in Tiberias.

The account of the thought of this most brilliant of shining lights found in Jewish Literature and Other Essays by Gustav Karpeles.

Codifier. Inquisitor. Revelation. The 13 articles of faith:

Article 1 declares the existence of God,
2, His unity,
3, His immateriality,
4, His eternity,
5, that unto Him alone, to whom all created life owes its being, human adoration is due; the next four treat of revelation:
6, of revelations made through prophets in general,
7, of the revelation made through Moses,
8, of the divine origin of the Law,
9, of the perfection of the Law, and its eternally binding force; and the rest dwell upon the divine government of the world:
10, Divine Providence,
11, reward and punishment, here and hereafter,
12, Messianic promises and hopes, and
13, resurrection.

According to Maimonides, man has absolute free-will, and God is absolutely just.

This was Maimonides—he of pure thought, of noble purpose; imbued with enthusiasm for his faith, with love for science; ruled by the loftiest moral principles; full of disinterested love and the milk of human kindness in his intercourse with those of other faiths and other views; an eagle-eyed thinker, in whom were focused and harmoniously blended the last rays of the declining sun of Arabic-Jewish-Spanish culture.
— Orly

"Who is Maimonides? For my part, I confess that I have merely heard the name." This naïve admission was not long since made by a well-known French writer in discussing the subject of a prize-essay, "Upon the Philosophy of Maimonides," announced by the académie universitaire of Paris. What short memories the French have for the names of foreign scholars! When the proposed subject was submitted to the French minister of instruction, he probably asked himself the same question; but he was not at a loss for an answer; he simply substituted Spinoza for Maimonides. To be sure, Spinoza's philosophy is somewhat better known than that of Maimonides. But why should a minister of instruction take that into consideration? The minister and the author—both presumably over twenty-five years of age—might have heard this very question propounded and answered some years before. They might have known that their colleague Victor Cousin, to save Descartes from the disgrace of having stood sponsor to Spinozism, had established a far-fetched connection between the Dutch philosopher and the Spanish, pronouncing Spinoza the devoted disciple of Maimonides. Perhaps they might have been expected to know, too, that Solomon Munk, through his French translation of Maimonides' last work, had made it possible for modern thinkers to approach the Jewish philosopher, and that soon after this translation was published, E. Saisset had written an article upon Jewish philosophy in the Revue des Deux Mondes, in which he gave a popular and detailed exposition of Maimonides' religious views. All this they did not know, and, had they known it, they surely would not have been so candid as the German thinker, Heinrich Ritter, who, in his "History of Christian Philosophy," frankly admits: "My impression was that mediæval philosophy was not indebted to Jewish metaphysicians for any original line of thought, but M. Munk's discovery convinced me of my mistake."

Who was Maimonides? The question is certainly more justifiable upon German than upon French soil. In France, attention has been invited to his works, while in Germany, save in the circle of the learned, he is almost unknown. Even among Jews, who call him "Rambam," he is celebrated rather than known. It seems, then, that it may not be unprofitable to present an outline of the life and works of this philosopher of the middle ages, whom scholars have sought to connect with Spinoza, with Leibnitz, and even with Kant.

While readers in general possess but little information about Maimonides himself, the period in which he lived, and which derives much of its brilliancy and importance from him, is well known, and has come to be a favorite subject with modern writers. That period was a very dreamland of culture. Under enlightened caliphs, the Arabs in Spain developed a civilization which, during the whole of the middle ages up to the Renaissance, exercised pregnant influence upon every department of human knowledge. A dreamland, in truth, it appears to be, when we reflect that the descendants of a highly cultured people, the teachers of Europe in many sciences, are now wandering in African wilds, nomads, who know of the glories of their past only through a confused legend, holding out to them the extravagant hope that the banner of the Prophet may again wave from the cathedral of Granada. Yet this Spanish-Arabic period bequeathed to us such magnificent tokens of architectural skill, of scientific research, and of philosophic thought, that far from regarding it as fancy's dream, we know it to be one of the corner-stones of civilization.

Prominent among the great men of this period was the Jew Moses ben Maimon, or as he was called in Arabic, Abu Amran Musa ibn Maimûn Obaid Allah (1135-1204). It may be said that he represented the full measure of the scientific attainments of the age at the close of which he stood—an age whose culture comprised the whole circle of sciences then known, and whose conscious goal was the reconciliation of religion and philosophy. The sturdier the growth of the spirit of inquiry, the more ardent became the longing to reach this goal, the keener became the perception of the problems of life and faith. Arabic and Jewish thinkers zealously sought the path leading to serenity. Though they never entered upon it, their tentative efforts naturally prepared the way for a great comprehensive intellect. Only a genius, master of all the sciences, combining soundness of judgment and clearness of insight with great mental vigor and depth, can succeed in reconciling the divergent principles of theology and speculation, if such reconciliation be within the range of the possible. At Cordova, in 1135, when the sun of Arabic culture reached its zenith, was born Maimonides, the man gifted with this all-embracing mind.

Many incidents in his life, not less interesting than his philosophic development, have come down to us. His father was his first teacher. To escape the persecutions of the Almohades, Maimonides, then thirteen years old, removed to Fez with his family. There religious persecution forced Jews to abjure their faith, and the family of Maimon, like many others, had to comply, outwardly at least, with the requirements of Islam. At Fez Maimonides was on intimate terms with physicians and philosophers. At the same time, both in personal intercourse with them and in his writings, he exhorted his pseudo-Mohammedan brethren to remain true to Judaism. This would have cost him his life, had he not been rescued by the kindly offices of Mohammedan theologians. The feeling of insecurity induced his family to leave Fez and join the Jewish community in Palestine. "They embarked at dead of night. On the sixth day of their voyage on the Mediterranean, a frightful storm arose; mountainous waves tossed the frail ship about like a ball; shipwreck seemed imminent. The pious family besought God's protection. Maimonides vowed that if he were rescued from threatening death, he would, as a thank-offering for himself and his family, spend two days in fasting and distributing alms, and devote another day to solitary communion with God. The storm abated, and after a month's voyage, the vessel ran into the harbor of Accho." The travellers met with a warm welcome, but they tarried only a brief while, and finally settled permanently in Egypt. There, too, disasters befell Maimonides, who found solace only in his implicit reliance on God and his enthusiastic devotion to learning. It was then that Maimonides became the religious guide of his brethren. At the same time he attained to eminence in his medical practice, and devoted himself zealously to the study of philosophy and the natural sciences. Yet he did not escape calumny, and until 1185 fortune refused to smile upon him. In that year a son, afterwards the joy and pride of his heart, was born to him. Then he was appointed physician at the court of Saladin, and so great was his reputation that Richard Coeur de Lion wished to make him his physician in ordinary, but Maimonides refused the offer. Despite the fact that his works raised many enemies against him, his influence grew in the congregations of his town and province. From all sides questions were addressed to him, and when religious points were under debate, his opinion usually decided the issue. At his death at the age of seventy great mourning prevailed in Israel. His mortal remains were moved to Tiberias, and a legend reports that Bedouins attacked the funeral train. Finding it impossible to move the coffin from the spot, they joined the Jews, and followed the great man to his last resting-place. The deep reverence accorded him both by the moral sense and the exuberant fancy of his race is best expressed in the brief eulogy of the saying, now become almost a proverb: "From Moses, the Prophet, to Moses ben Maimon, there appeared none like unto Moses."

In three different spheres Maimonides’ work produced important results. First in order stand his services to his fellow-believers. For them he compiled the great Codex, the first systematic arrangement, upon the basis of Talmudic tradition, of all the ordinances and tenets of Judaism.
— Orly

In three different spheres Maimonides' work produced important results. First in order stand his services to his fellow-believers. For them he compiled the great Codex, the first systematic arrangement, upon the basis of Talmudic tradition, of all the ordinances and tenets of Judaism. He gave them a system of ethics which even now should be prized, because it inculcates the highest possible ethical views and the most ideal conception of man's duties in life. He explained to them, almost seven hundred years ago, Islam's service to mankind, and the mission Christianity was appointed by Providence to accomplish.

His early writings reveal the fundamental principles of his subsequent literary work. An astronomical treatise on the Jewish calendar, written in his early youth, illustrates his love of system, but his peculiar method of thinking and working is best shown in the two works that followed. The first is a commentary on parts of the Talmud, probably meant to present such conclusions of the Babylonian and the Jerusalem Talmud as affect the practices of Judaism. The second is his Arabic commentary on the Mishna. He explains the Mishna simply and clearly from a strictly rabbinical point of view—a point of view which he never relinquished, permitting a deviation only in questions not affecting conduct. Master of the abundant material of Jewish literature, he felt it to be one of the most important tasks of the age to simplify, by methodical treatment, the study of the mass of written and traditional religious laws, accumulated in the course of centuries. It is this work that contains the attempt, praised by some, condemned by others, to establish articles of the Jewish faith, the Bible being used in authentication. Thirteen articles of faith were thus established. The first five naturally define the God-idea: Article 1 declares the existence of God, 2, His unity, 3, His immateriality, 4, His eternity, 5, that unto Him alone, to whom all created life owes its being, human adoration is due; the next four treat of revelation: 6, of revelations made through prophets in general, 7, of the revelation made through Moses, 8, of the divine origin of the Law, 9, of the perfection of the Law, and its eternally binding force; and the rest dwell upon the divine government of the world: 10, Divine Providence, 11, reward and punishment, here and hereafter, 12, Messianic promises and hopes, and 13, resurrection.

Maimonides' high reputation among his own people is attested by his letters and responses, containing detailed answers to vexed religious questions. An especially valuable letter is the one upon "Enforced Apostasy," Iggereth ha-Sh'mad. He advises an inquirer what to do when menaced by religious persecutions. Is one to save life by accepting, or to court death by refusing to embrace, the Mohammedan faith? Maimonides' opinion is summed up in the words: "The solution which I always recommend to my friends and those consulting me is, to leave such regions, and to turn to a place in which religion can be practiced without fear of persecution. No considerations of danger, of property, or of family should prevent one from carrying out this purpose. The divine Law stands in higher esteem with the wise than the haphazard gifts of fortune. These pass away, the former remains." His responses as well as his most important works bear the impress of a sane, well-ordered mind, of a lofty intellect, dwelling only upon what is truly great.

Also his second famous work, the above-mentioned Hebrew Codex, Mishneh Torah, "Recapitulation of the Law," was written in the interest of his brethren in faith. Its fourteen divisions treat of knowledge, love, the festivals, marriage laws, sanctifications, vows, seeds, Temple-service, sacrifices, purifications, damages, purchase and sale, courts, and judges. "My work is such," says Maimonides, "that my book in connection with the Bible will enable a student to dispense with the Talmud." From whatever point of view this work may be regarded, it must be admitted that Maimonides carried out his plan with signal success, and that it is the only one by which method could have been introduced into the manifold departments of Jewish religious lore. But it is obvious that the thinker had not yet reached the goal of his desires. In consonance with his fundamental principle, a scientific systemization of religious laws had to be followed up by an explanation of revealed religion and Greek-Arabic philosophy, and by the attempt to bring about a reconciliation between them.

Before we enter upon this his greatest book, it is well to dispose of the second phase of his work, his activity as a medical writer. Maimonides treated medicine as a science, a view not usual in those days. The body of facts relating to medicine he classified, as he had systematized the religious laws of the Talmud. In his methodical way, he also edited the writings of Galen, the medical oracle of the middle ages, and his own medical aphorisms and treatises are marked by the same love of system. It seems that he had the intention to prepare a medical codex to serve a purpose similar to that of his religious code. How great a reputation he enjoyed among Mohammedan physicians is shown by the extravagantly enthusiastic verses of an Arabic poet:

"Of body's ills doth Galen's art relieve,
Maimonides cures mind and body both,—
His wisdom heals disease and ignorance.
And should the moon invoke his skill and art,
Her spots, when full her orb, would disappear;
He'd fill her breach, when time doth inroads make,
And cure her, too, of pallor caused by earth."

Maimonides' real greatness, however, must be sought in his philosophic work. Despite the wide gap between our intellectual attitude and the philosophic views to which Maimonides gave fullest expression, we can properly appreciate his achievements and his intellectual grasp by judging him with reference to his own time. When we realize that he absorbed all the thought-currents of his time, that he was their faithful expounder, and that, at the same time, he was gifted with an accurate, historic instinct, making him wholly objective, we shall recognize in him "the genius of his peculiar epoch become incarnate." The work containing Maimonides' deepest thought and the sum of his knowledge and erudition was written in Arabic under the name Dalalat al-Haïrin. In Hebrew it is known as Moreh Nebuchim, in Latin, as Doctor Perplexorum, and in English as the "Guide of the Perplexed." To this book we shall now devote our attention. The original Arabic text was supposed, along with many other literary treasures of the middle ages, to be lost, until Solomon Munk, the blind savant with clear vision, discovered it in the library at Paris, and published it. But in its Hebrew translation the book created a stir, which subsided only with its public burning at Montpellier early in the thirteenth century. The Latin translation we owe to Buxtorf; the German is, I believe, incomplete, and can hardly be said to give evidence of ripe scholarship.

The question that naturally suggests itself is: What does the book contain? Does it establish a new system of philosophy? Is it a cyclopædia of the sciences, such as the Arab schools of that day were wont to produce? Neither the one nor the other. The "Guide of the Perplexed" is a system of rational theology upon a philosophic basis, a book not intended for novices, but for thinkers, for such minds as know how to penetrate the profound meaning of tradition, as the author says in a prefatory letter addressed to Joseph ibn Aknin, his favorite disciple. He believes that even those to whom the book appeals are often puzzled and confused by the apparent inconsistencies between the literal interpretation of the Bible and the evidence of reason, that they do not know whether to take Scriptural expressions as symbolic or allegoric, or to accept them in their literal meaning, and that they fall a prey to doubt, and long for a guide. Maimonides is prepared to lead them to an eminence on which religion and philosophy meet in perfect harmony.

Educated in the school of Arabic philosophers, notably under the influence of Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Maimonides paid hero-worship to Aristotle, the autocrat of the middle ages in the realm of speculation. There is no question that the dominion wielded by the Greek philosopher throughout mediæval times, and the influence which he exercises even now, are chiefly attributable to the Arabs, and beside them, pre-eminently to Maimonides. For him, Aristotle was second in authority only to the Bible. A rational interpretation of the Bible, in his opinion, meant its interpretation from an Aristotelian point of view. Still, he does not consider Aristotle other than a thinker like himself, not by any means the infallible "organ of reason." The moment he discovers that a peripatetic principle is in direct and irreconcilable conflict with his religious convictions, he parts company with it, let the effort cost what it may. For, above all, Maimonides was a faithful Jew, striving to reach a spiritual conception of his religion, and to assign to theology the place in his estimation belonging to it in the realm of science. He stands forth as the most eminent intermediary between Greek-Arabic thought and Christian scholasticism. A century later, the most prominent of the schoolmen endeavored, in the same way as Maimonides, to reconcile divine with human wisdom as manifested by Aristotle. It has been demonstrated that Maimonides was followed by both Albertus Magnus and Thomas Aquinas, and that the new aims of philosophy, conceived at the beginning of the thirteenth century, are, in part, to be traced to the influence of "Rabbi Moses of Egypt," as Maimonides was called by the first of these two celebrated doctors of the Church.

What a marvellous picture is presented by the unfolding of the Aristotelian idea in its passage through the ages! And one of the most attractive figures on the canvas is Maimonides. Let us see how he undertakes to guide the perplexed. His path is marked out for him by the Bible. Its first few verses suffice to puzzle the believing thinker. It says: "Let us make man in our image, after our likeness." What! Is this expression to be taken literally? Impossible! To conceive of God as such that a being can be made in His image, is to conceive of Him as a corporeal substance. But God is an invisible, immaterial Intelligence. Reason teaches this, and the sacred Book itself prohibits image-worship. On this point Aristotle and the Bible are in accord. The inference is that in the Holy Scriptures there are many metaphors and words with a double or allegoric sense. Such is the case with the word "image." It has two meanings, the one usual and obvious, the other figurative. Here the word must be taken in its figurative sense. God is conceived as the highest Reason, and as reason is the specific attribute which characterizes the human mind, it follows that man, by virtue of his possession of reason, resembles God, and the more fully he realizes the ideal of Reason, the closer does he approach the form and likeness of God. Such is Maimonides' method of reasoning. He does not build up a new system of philosophy, he adopts an existing system. Beginning with Bible exegesis, he leads us, step by step, up to the lofty goal at which philosophy and faith are linked in perfect harmony.

The arguments for the existence, unity, and incorporeality of God divide the Arabic philosophers into two schools. Maimonides naturally espoused the view permitting the most exalted conception of God, that is, the conception of God free from human attributes. He recognizes none but negative attributes; in other words, he defines God by means of negations only. For instance, asserting that the Supreme Being is omniscient or omnipotent, is not investing Him with a positive attribute, it is simply denying imperfection. The student knows that in the history of the doctrine of attributes, the recognition of negative attributes marks a great advance in philosophic reasoning. Maimonides holds that the conception of the Deity as a pure abstraction is the only one truly philosophic. His evidences for the existence, the immateriality, and the unity of God, are conceived in the same spirit. In offering them he follows Aristotle's reasoning closely, adding only one other proof, the cosmological, which he took from his teacher, the Arab Avicenna. He logically reaches this proof by more explicitly defining the God-idea, and, at the same time, taking into consideration the nature of the world of things and their relation to one another. Acquainted with Ptolemy's "Almagest" and with the investigations of the Arabs, he naturally surpasses his Greek master in astronomical knowledge. In physical science, however, he gives undivided allegiance to the Aristotelian theory of a sublunary and a celestial world of spheres, the former composed of the sublunary elements in constantly shifting, perishable combinations, and the latter, of the stable, unchanging fifth substance (quintessence). But the question, how God moves these spheres, separates Maimonides from his master. His own answer has a Neoplatonic ring. He holds, with Aristotle, that there are as many separate Intelligences as spheres. Each sphere is supposed to aspire to the Intelligence which is the principle of its motion. The Arabic thinkers assumed ten such independent Intelligences, one animating each of the nine permanent spheres, and the tenth, called the "Active Intellect," influencing the sublunary world of matter. The existence of this tenth Intelligence is proved by the transition of our own intellect from possible existence to actuality, and by the varying forms of all transient things, whose matter at one time existed only in a potential state. Whenever the transition from potentiality to actuality occurs, there must be a cause. Inasmuch as the tenth Intelligence (Sechel Hapoel, Active Intellect) induces form, it must itself be form, inasmuch as it is the source of intellect, it is itself intellect. This is, of course, obscure to us, but we must remember that Maimonides would not have so charming and individual a personality, were he not part and parcel of his time and the representative of its belief. Maimonides, having for once deviated from the peripatetic system, ventures to take another bold step away from it. He offers an explanation, different from Aristotle's, of the creation of the world. The latter repudiated the creatio ex nihilo (creation out of nothing). Like modern philosophers, he pre-supposed the existence of an eternal "First substance" (materia prima). His Bible does not permit our rabbi to avail himself of this theory. It was reserved for the modern investigator to demonstrate how the Scriptural word, with some little manipulation, can be so twisted as to be made to harmonize with the theories of natural science. But to such trickery the pure-minded guide will not stoop. Besides, the acceptance of Aristotle's theory would rule out the intervention of miracles in the conduct of the world, and that Maimonides does not care to renounce. Right here his monotheistic convictions force him into direct opposition to the Greek as well as to the Arabic philosophers. Upon this subject, he brooked neither trifling nor compromise with reason. It is precisely his honesty that so exalted his teachings, that they have survived the lapse of centuries, and maintain a place in the pure atmosphere of modern philosophic thought.

According to Maimonides, man has absolute free-will, and God is absolutely just.
— Orly

According to Maimonides, man has absolute free-will, and God is absolutely just. Whatever good befalls man is reward, all his evil fortune, punishment. What Aristotle attributes to chance, and the Mohammedan philosophers to Divine Will or Divine Wisdom, our rabbi traces to the merits of man as its cause. He does not admit any suffering to be unmerited, or that God ordains trials merely to indemnify the sufferer in this or the future world. Man's susceptibility to divine influence is measured by his intellectual endowment. Through his "intellect," he is directly connected with the "Active Intellect," and thus secures the grace of God, who embraces the infinite. Such views naturally lead to a conception of life in consonance with the purest ideals of morality, and they are the goal to which the "Guide" leads the perplexed. He teaches that the acquiring of high intellectual power, and the "possession of such notions as lead to true metaphysical opinions" about God, are "man's final object," and they constitute true human perfection. This it is that "gives him immortality," and confers upon him the dignity of manhood.

Maimonides distinguishes eleven degrees of inspiration, and three essential conditions of prophecy: 1. Perfection of the natural constitution of the imaginative faculty, 2. mental perfection, which may partially be acquired by training, and 3. moral perfection. Moses arrived at the highest degree of prophecy, because he understood the knowledge communicated to him without the medium of the imaginative faculty. This spiritual height having been scaled, the “Guide” needs but to take a step to reach revelation, in his estimation also an intellectual process: man’s intellect rises to the Supreme Being.
— Orly

The highest degree of perfection, according to Maimonides, is reached by him who devotes all his thoughts and actions to perfecting himself in divine matters, and this highest degree he calls prophecy. He is probably the first philosopher to offer so rationalistic an explanation, and, on that account, it merits our attention. What had previously been regarded as supernatural inspiration, the "Guide" reduces to a psychological theory. "Prophecy," he says, "is, in truth and reality, an emanation sent forth by the Divine Being through the medium of the Active Intellect, in the first instance to man's162 rational faculty, and then to his imaginative faculty; it is the highest degree ... of perfection man can attain; it consists in the most perfect development of the imaginative faculty." Maimonides distinguishes eleven degrees of inspiration, and three essential conditions of prophecy: 1. Perfection of the natural constitution of the imaginative faculty, 2. mental perfection, which may partially be acquired by training, and 3. moral perfection. Moses arrived at the highest degree of prophecy, because he understood the knowledge communicated to him without the medium of the imaginative faculty. This spiritual height having been scaled, the "Guide" needs but to take a step to reach revelation, in his estimation also an intellectual process: man's intellect rises to the Supreme Being.

In the third part of his work, Maimonides endeavors to reconcile the conclusions of philosophy with biblical laws and Talmudical traditions. His method is both original and valuable; indeed, this deserves to be considered the most important part of his work. Detailed exposition of his reasoning may prove irksome; we shall, therefore, consider it as briefly as possible.

Maimonides laid down one rule of interpretation which, almost without exception, proves applicable: The words of Holy Writ express different sets of ideas, bearing a certain relation to each other, the one set having reference to physical, the other to spiritual, qualities. By applying this rule, he thinks that nearly all discrepancies between the literal interpretation of the Bible and his own philosophic theories disappear. Having passed over the domain of metaphysical speculation, he finally reaches the consideration of the practical side of the Bible, that is to say, the Mosaic legislation. These last investigations of his are attractive, not only by reason of the satisfactory method pursued, but chiefly from the fact that Maimonides, divesting himself of the conservatism of his contemporaries, ventures to inquire into the reasons of biblical laws. For many of them, he assigns local and historical reasons; many, he thinks, owe their origin to the desire to oppose the superstitious practices of early times and of the Sabeans, a mythical, primitive race; but all, he contends, are binding, and with this solemn asseveration, he puts the seal upon his completed work.

When Maimonides characterized the "Guide of the Perplexed" as "the true science of the Bible," he formed a just estimate of his own work. It has come to be the substructure of a rational theology based upon speculation. Maimonides cannot be said to have been very much ahead of his own age; but it is altogether certain that he attained the acme of the possibilities of the middle ages. In many respects there is a striking likeness between his life and work and those of the Arabic freethinker Averroës, whom we now know so well through Ernest Renan. While the Jewish theologian was composing his great work, the Arabic philosopher was writing his "Commentaries on Aristotle." The two had similar ends in view—the one to enthrone "the Stagirite" as the autocrat of philosophy in the Mosque, the other, in the Synagogue. We have noted the fact that, some centuries later, the Church also entered the federation subject to Aristotelian rule. Albertus Magnus uses Maimonides, Thomas Aquinas joins him, and upon them depend the other schoolmen. Recent inquirers follow in their train. Philosophy's noblest votary, Benedict Spinoza himself, is influenced by Maimonides. He quotes frequently and at great length the finest passages of the "Guide." Again, Moses Mendelssohn built his system on the foundations offered by Maimonides, and an acute critic assures us that, in certain passages, Kant's religious philosophy breathes the spirit of Maimonides.

The "Guide of the Perplexed" did not, however, meet with so gracious a reception in the Synagogue. There, Maimonides' philosophic system conjured up violent storms. The whole of an epoch, that following Maimonides' death, was absorbed in the conflict between philosophy and tradition. Controversial pamphlets without number have come down to us from those days. Enthusiasts eulogized, zealots decried. Maimonides' ambiguous expressions about bodily resurrection, seeming to indicate that he did not subscribe to the article of the creed on that subject, caused particularly acrimonious polemics. Meïr ben Todros ha-Levi, a Talmudist and poet of Toledo, denounced the equivocation in the following lines:

"If those that rise from death again must die,
For lot like theirs I ne'er should long and sigh.
If graves their bones shall once again confine,
I hope to stay where first they bury mine."

Naturally, Maimonides' followers were quick to retort:

"His name, forsooth, is Meïr 'Shining.'
How false! since light he holds in small esteem.
Our language always contrast loveth,—
Twilight's the name of ev'ning's doubtful gleam."

Another of Maimonides' opponents was the physician Judah Alfachar, who bore the hereditary title Prince. The following pasquinade is attributed to him:

"Forgive, O Amram's son, nor deem it crime,
That he, deception's master, bears thy name.
Nabi we call the prophet of truths sublime,
Like him of Ba'al, who doth the truth defame."

Maimonides, in his supposed reply to the Prince, played upon the word Chamor, the Hebrew word for ass, the name of a Hivite prince mentioned in the Bible:

"High rank, I wot, we proudly claim
When sprung from noble ancestor;
Henceforth my mule a prince I'll name
Since once a prince was called Chamor."

It seems altogether certain that this polemic rhyming is the fabrication of a later day, for we know that the controversies about Maimonides' opinions in Spain and Provence broke out only after his death, when his chief work had spread far and wide in its Hebrew translation. The following stanza passed from mouth to mouth in northern France:

"Be silent, 'Guide,' from further speech refrain!
Thus truth to us was never brought.
Accursed who says that Holy Writ's a trope,
And idle dreams what prophets taught."

Whereupon the Provençals returned:

"Thou fool, I pray thou wilt forbear,
Nor enter on this consecrated ground.
Or trope, or truth—or vision fair,
Or only dream—for thee 'tis too profound."

The homage paid to Maimonides' memory in many instances produced most extravagant poetry. The following high-flown lines, outraging the canons of good taste recognized in Hebrew poetry, are supposed to be his epitaph:

"Here lies a man, yet not a man,
And if a man, conceived by angels,
By human mother only born to light;
Perhaps himself a spirit pure—
Not child by man and woman fostered—
From God above an emanation bright."

Such hyperbole naturally challenged opposition, and Maimonides' opponents did not hesitate to give voice to their deep indignation, as in the following:

"Alas! that man should dare
To say, with reckless air,
That Holy Scripture's but a dream of night;
That all we read therein
Has truly never been,
Is naught but sign of meaning recondite.
And when God's wondrous deeds
The haughty scorner reads,
Contemptuous he cries, 'I trust my sight.'"

A cessation of hostilities came only in the fourteenth century. The "Guide" was then given its due meed of appreciation by the Jews. Later, Maimonides' memory was held in unbounded reverence, and to-day his "Guide of the Perplexed" is a manual of religious philosophy treasured by Judaism.

If we wish once more before parting from this earnest, noble thinker to review his work and attitude, we can best do it by applying to them the standard furnished by his own reply to all adverse critics of his writings: "In brief, such is my disposition. When a thought fills my mind, though I be able to express it so that only a single man among ten thousand, a thinker, is satisfied and elevated by it, while the common crowd condemns it as absurd, I boldly and frankly speak the word that enlightens the wise, never fearing the censure of the ignorant herd."

This was Maimonides—he of pure thought, of noble purpose; imbued with enthusiasm for his faith, with love for science; ruled by the loftiest moral principles; full of disinterested love and the milk of human kindness in his intercourse with those of other faiths and other views; an eagle-eyed thinker, in whom were focused and harmoniously blended the last rays of the declining sun of Arabic-Jewish-Spanish culture.

FINIS

 

Illusions

Illusions

Song of Solomon or Song of Songs

Song of Solomon or Song of Songs