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Moses ben Maimon, also known as Maimonides
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"From Moses to Moses, there was none like Moses."
— Rabbinical saying emphasizing the influence of Moses ben Maimon on Judaism[1]

Moses ben Maimon (1138–1204),[notes 1] known most commonly by the name Maimonides, and also sometimes called the Rambam,[notes 2] or Musa ibn Maimun,[2] was a rationalist Sephardic Jewish philosopher in the Middle Ages. A rabbi and prominent Torah scholar, he became one of the most influential philosophers of Judaism of all time. He was influenced by both Greek and Arabic philosophers. He also worked as a physician and an astronomer.

Two of his major theological texts are The Guide for the Perplexed, a work on Aristotelianism and Rabbinical Judaism, and the Mishneh Torah, also known as the Sefer Yad ha-Hazaka, a major work on halakha (Jewish religious law) that is still cited today. The Mishneh Torah is probably his most famous work, and is sometimes referred to just by his name alone. Mishneh Torah means "Repetition of the Torah".[notes 3] It's basically a practical guidebook for Jews to follow religious rules in their everyday lives.[1]

Later written by another author was a similar practical guidebook for religiously observant Jews, the Arba'ah Turim, that unlike Maimonides, explicitly cited the sources in Jewish law it was pulling from (the lack of which brought much criticism on Maimonides's works). Another difference is that unlike Maimonides, it omitted religious regulations that were no longer practically applicable, especially those no longer applicable because of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem — required for their adherence.[1][3]


Maimonides was born in Córdoba, Spain (Andalusia) during 12th century Muslim rule. He hailed from the Maimon family, who were (rather dubiously) purported to have King David as a direct ancestor. A more fanatical group of Muslims later conquered the area, then compelled all Christians and Jews to convert. This led the family to exile; the Maimon family lived in Fez, Morocco for a time afterwards, with Maimonides's brother David setting up a gem trading business and Maimonides himself beginning to study medicine here. Later, Maimonides checked out the Holy Land, hoping it would be worth settling in, only to find out it was kind of a dump. Ultimately, he decided that Cairo, Egypt was good enough.[4][5]

Religion and philosophy[edit]

The Thirteen Principles[edit]

One of the most central contributions of Maimonides to Judaism was his Thirteen Principles of the Jewish Faith. The beliefs are:[6][7]

  1. God's existence, "who is perfect in every manner of existence and is the Primary Cause of all that exists." Starting off strong with some brown-nosing.
  2. The "absolute and unparalleled" unity of God (monotheism)
  3. The incorporeality of God (he really hated the idea of God ever existing as a physical thing)
  4. The eternity of God
  5. God alone is to be worshiped and "no foreign false gods"
  6. God communicates to us through prophecy
  7. The "primacy" of the prophecy and that Moses was a prophet
  8. The Torah is divine in origin
  9. The Torah is unchanging
  10. God knows the deeds of men
  11. God rewards the good and punishes the wicked
  12. The coming of the Jewish Messiah and the messianic era
  13. The coming resurrection of the dead for the messianic era. Particularly their souls, rather than their bodies — the rabbi preempted any zombie jokes. Bummer.

Despite the enormous influence of Maimonides in Judaism, these principles have never attained complete acceptance among all Jews exactly the way they were written. Indeed many would identify additional principles, or criticize Maimonides's emphasis here on certain principles.[6][8]

Religious rationalism[edit]

A major theme in the work of Maimonides is his attempt to reconcile Judaism with science and philosophical reason, particularly much of Aristotle's philosophy, with some rare exceptions he considered to be incompatible with biblical views on the universe.[9] He actually believed that the father of Judaism, Abraham, was selected by God for his unique position due to his purported rationality, which God recognized in him.[2][notes 4] Maimonides disdained certain superstitions, such as astrology.[10][11]

Sour response[edit]

Not too long after the death of Maimonides, works written or influenced by him were confiscated and burned en masse. This was done by agents of the Inquisition following encouragement of anti-Maimonist rabbis. We are sorry to say with the benefit of hindsight that this was very foolish on the behalf of said rabbis — the targeting of Maimonist works later spiraled into a widespread purge of all rabbinical Jewish literature.[12]

So as you may be able to tell by now, attempts by Maimonides to reconcile rationalism with religious tradition were not always taken very well by Ashkenazi Jewish communities, and controversy followed even long after his death: some rabbinical authorities in Europe restricted their communities from studying the works of Maimonides, or even entire fields of research encompassing religious philosophy, the natural sciences, and mathematics. In later events, one crown rabbi for the Kingdom of Aragon in the 14th and 15th centuries fiercely attacked Aristotelianism — as Jewish intellectuals deployed it to justify their altogether abandonment of the Jewish religion. Yosef b. Abba Mari Caspi, however and as mere example, was one figure influenced by Maimonides who took his reconcilitation between Aristotelianism and Judaism even farther. Caspi adopted Aristotle's view of the universe as an eternally existing thing, which Maimonides had considered simply heretical.[13][1][14]

Despite the sometimes quite hostile reaction to Maimonides's work in the few centuries after his time, today he is considered a cornerstone of "all subsequent" Jewish philosophy and in fact, quite influential in philosophy at large.[2]

Unfortunate things Maimonides said[edit]

Despite the endless reverence directed towards Maimonides these days, he believed some pretty horrible things by modern-day standards.

  • He believed interfaith sexual relationships with Jews should be punished by death.[15] However, he said that ten Jewish witnesses should be required to enforce this — rendering it rather impractical.[16] Still though, this is not great.
  • He thought rapists should marry those whom they assault. Though, the victim at least gets a veto here.[17]
  • Advised hitting your wife with a stick if she didn't want to work. According to Shelomo Dov Goitein, this was probably more influenced by his Islamic-dominated environment than his Jewish traditions.[4]
  • He opined that people with no religious doctrine are somewhere "above a monkey and below a man". This has sometimes been interpreted as intentionally racist. He specified examples: "the furthermost Turks found in the remote North, the Negroes found in the remote South, and those who resemble them from among them that are with us in these climes." Whether "those who resemble them" refers to their lack of a traditional belief system, or their skin color, is not very clear — it has been interpreted both ways. Either way, it's at least insulting towards people outside of organized religion.[18][19][20]
  • While he advocated for the redemption of slaves and set out rules for how to treat them fairly, Maimonides did not oppose the institution of slavery.[21]
  • He believed that Jews who deny the "validity of the Oral Law" are heretics who should be put to death.[22] This was probably aimed mainly at Karaite Jews, who were much more common in Maimonides's time. In practice, Maimonides was not in favor of capital punishment for (at least the overwhelmingly majority of) Karaite Jews in particular, because he considered them tinok shenishbaWikipedia ("captured infants"). That is, they weren't raised in rabbinical Judaism, so they couldn't be to blame for failing to follow its tenets.[23][24] Now, this still does not bode very well for a Jew that was raised to follow the Oral Law and decided it was bunk, right?
  • Said that people who drink liquid that had been "exposed" should be flogged, because maybe a poisonous snake had rendered the drink toxic by drinking from it beforehand.[1] This one is just bizarre, but apparently originates from Torah and not from Maimonides — like much of the above.
  • Being gay is bad.[25]
  • Despite his characterization as a religious rationalist, clear opposition to certain forms of freethought appear in his writings. Indeed he states that it is forbidden to question the existence of God and the divine origin of Torah.[26]

Nicer things Maimonides said[edit]


Though the job would see him overworked, the Rambam decided to become a doctor because of the pay (though he also saw religious value in medicine). His brother had died in a shipwreck during gem-trading business and so, his family needed a new source of financial support.[34][35] He ended up becoming a court physician for the Ayyubid prince al-Malik al-Afdal in Egypt and produced influential works on a plethora of medical topics including depression, cancer, asthma, and sexual hygiene. He was especially a fan of dietary and emotional adjustments alone as a medical treatment, however (conceivably to the continued dread of some of his patients). Luckily, this wasn't his catch-all cure or anything, and he only applied it where he felt it would work without any other medical intervention.[10][36][37]

In his medical research, he drew inspiration from Hippocrates, Galen, Aristotle and the Talmud — and synthesized medicine from Arabic, Persian, Roman, Greek, and Jewish sources.[38][39][40] Maimonides was known to disinfect himself through handwashing, despite the lack of a real germ theory of disease.[41] Ritual handwashing in JudaismWikipedia may have influenced this, or just basic observation, since today we can say that even if he used no soap (though it was available as a trade good by this time), it would have been at least moderately effective in rinsing away germs.[42][43]

His many contributions to medical literature include decent descriptions of diseases and poisons, though certainly "much of his medical outlook was medieval in approach", as one writer to the Archives of Internal Medicine commented. Examples of his descriptive contributions include emphysema, the onset time of rabies, and cerebrovascular disease.[44] He also prescribed chicken broth as a solution to respiratory illness, and some modern research backs him up on that — indicating that it has anti-inflammatory properties.[45] The prescriptions that Maimonides made for treating hemorrhoids look very similar to modern treatment.[4][5] One major contribution Maimonides made to the medical corpus was his Glossary of Drug Names, written in six languages with over 400 entries. This would help bring more structure to medieval pharmacy.[46][47]

Maimonides considered circumcision to be medically beneficial because "semen is the strength of the body and its life". Basically, he thought it would prevent you from masturbating as much, which in turn would stop you from draining all your life force out, or something.[46] This is bullshit, needless to say. He was apparently a "moderate" towards bloodletting, thinking it to be okay but advising against doing it too often.[48][46] Overall, his medical practice can now be considered antiquated in many ways, but considering the century he was working in, he tended to be a more progressive than regressive influence in medicine despite his adherence to heroic medicine (as this theory of medicine would have been dominant in his time).

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. Conflicting sources indicate his birth year as 1135 or 1138. However, Maimonides himself reckons that his birth year was 1138. So let's go with that.
  2. Rambam (רמב״ם) is short for משה בירבי מימון הספרדי, which means, "Moshe, son of Rabbi Maimon, the Spaniard"
  3. Somewhat confusingly, "Torah" can refer to the entire body of Jewish religious law. The main two parts of "Torah" in this broader sense are sometimes distinguished by calling them "Oral Torah" (or "Oral Law") and "Written Torah" (or Written Law) — also confusingly, the name "Oral Law" comes from the fact that it used to be unwritten, however, it now is — for example, the Talmud is part of the Oral Law. It was written down based on traditions, passed down through word of mouth between generations (that is, orally), while the Written Law (pretty much just the Old Testament, but in the context of Judaism, it may more accurately be called the Tanakh — or as mentioned, the Written Torah) had been written down for a longer period.
  4. Given that Abraham almost murdered his kid, we aren't inclined to agree with the assessment that he was a very rational fellow.
  5. Judaism's concept of a future "Heaven on Earth" purportedly arriving sometime around Jewish calendar year 6000Wikipedia. The "righteous gentiles", are also commonly called "the righteous among the nations".


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 Martin Goodman (2017). "A History of Judaism". Chapter 13: "Rabbis in the West (1000–1500 CE)". pp. ~297, ~303, ~306, ~311—319. Penguin Random House.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 (1998). "The Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy". Entry: "Maimonides, Moses".
  3. Martin Goodman (2017). "A History of Judaism". Chapter 15: "New Certainties and New Mysticism". pp. ~352—353. Penguin Random House.
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 S. R. Simon (September 13, 1999). "Moses Maimonides: medieval physician and scholar". The Archives of Internal Medicine 159(16):1841-5. JAMA. doi: 10.1001/archinte.159.16.1841
  5. 5.0 5.1 Dan Magrill and Prabhu Sekaran. "Maimonides: an early but accurate view on the treatment of haemorrhoids". Postgraduate Medical Journal 2007 May; 83(979): 352–354. doi: 10.1136/pgmj.2006.053173
  6. 6.0 6.1 (1975). "Encyclopedia of World Religions". Chapter: "Judaism". pp. 76—82. Octopus Publishing Group.
  7. "Maimonides: The 13 Principles and the Resurrection of the Dead". Internet History Sourcebooks Project. Fordham University History Department.
  8. (2015). "The SAGE Encyclopedia of Economics and Society". Volume 3. Chapter: "Judaism". pp. 998. SAGE Publications.
  9. "Judaism and Evolution". Jewish Virtual Library.
  10. 10.0 10.1 Madeleine Pelner Cosman and Linda Gale Jones (2008). "Handbook to Life in the Medieval World". Volume 2. Chapter: "Medicine in Europe". pp. 492—494. Facts on File.
  11. Ruth A. Johnston (2011). "All Things Medieval: An Encyclopedia of the Medieval World". Entry: "Medicine". pp. 488. Greenwood Press.
  12. Joshua Trachtenberg (2001). "The Devil and the Jews: The Medieval Conception of the Jew and Its Relation to Modern Anti-Semitism". Chapter 12: "Infidel or Heretic?". pp. 178. Varda Books.
  13. Madeleine Pelner Cosman and Linda Gale Jones (2008). "Handbook to Life in the Medieval World". Volume 1. Chapter: "Jews in the Medieval World". pp. 96–98. Facts on File.
  14. Rabbi Wayne Dosick (2007). "Living Judaism: The Complete Guide to Jewish Belief, Tradition, and Practice". Chapter 1.1: "A Brief Overview of the Jewish Idea of God". pp. ~35. HarperCollins.
  15. Mishneh Torah, Issurei Biah, Chapter Twelve. Found here on the Chabad website:
  16. David Nirenberg (2015). "Communities of Violence: Persecution of Minorities in the Middle Ages". Chapter 7: "The Two Faces of Sacred Violence". pp. ~210, ~241 (footnote). Princeton University Press. Quote: "Maimonides approves of the actions of zealots who, like Phinehas, kill Jews engaged in public miscegenation, but his equation of public with ten or more Israelite witnesses renders the approval more theoretical than practical."
  17. Mishneh Torah, Naarah Betulah. Found here on the Chabad website:
  18. Moses Maimonides, "The Parable of the Palace" in The Guide for the Perplexed, Book III (chapt. 51).
  19. Rav Chaim Navon (April 14, 2015). Intro to the Guide of the Perplexed: "The Parable of the Palace and the Special Duties of Those who Attain Truths". Virtual Beit Midrash. Yeshivat Har Etzion.
  20. Prof. Meylekh (PV) Viswanath. "Black People in Jewish Tradition: Eliminating Racism Requires Honesty".
  21. Mishneh Torah, Avadim. Found here on the Chabad website:
  22. Mishneh Torah, Mamrim. Found here on the Chabad website:
  23. Martin Goodman (2017). "A History of Judaism". Chapter 12: "Judaism beyond the Rabbis". pp. ~289—291. Penguin Random House.
  24. Martin Goodman (2017). "A History of Judaism". Chapter 18: "Counter-Reform". pp. ~449. Penguin Random House.
  25. Mishneh Torah, Issurei Biah, Chapter Twenty One. Found here on the Chabad website:
  26. Halper, Yehuda (November 2018). "Does Maimonides's Mishneh Torah Forbid Reading the Guide of the Perplexed? On Platonic Punishments for Freethinkers" (in en). AJS Review (Cambridge University; Association for Jewish Studies) 42 (2): 351–379. doiWikipedia:10.1017/S0364009418000508. ISSN 0364-0094. 
  27. Rabbi Wayne Dosick (2007). "Living Judaism: The Complete Guide to Jewish Belief, Tradition, and Practice". Chapter 6.3: "Tzedakah: The Obligation of Sharing". pp. ~354—355. HarperCollins.
  28. (August 28, 2015). "Give a Man a Fish, and You Feed Him for a Day. Teach a Man To Fish, and You Feed Him for a Lifetime". Quote Investigator.
  29. David I. Kertzer (2001). "The Popes Against the Jews: The Vatican's Role in the Rise of Modern Anti-Semitism". Chapter 7: "Jewish Vampires". pp. 160. Vintage Books.
  30. Ronald L. Eisenberg (2010). "What the Rabbis Said: 250 Topics from the Talmud". pp. 191, 198: footnote 34. Praeger (ABC-CLIO).
  31. Martin Goodman (2017). "A History of Judaism". Chapter 10: "Judaism without a Temple". pp. ~234—235. Penguin Random House.
  32. Madeleine Pelner Cosman and Linda Gale Jones (2008). "Handbook to Life in the Medieval World". Volume 1. Chapter: "Jewish Military Matters". pp. 312. Facts on File.
  33. (2021). "The SAGE Encyclopedia of Trans Studies". Volume 1. Entry: "Ancient/Medieval Times, Jews and Judaism". pp. 36. SAGE Publications.
  34. Peter M Dunn (1998). "Maimonides (1135–1204) and his philosophy of medicine". ADC Fetal & Neonatal. The BMJ. DOI: 10.1136/fn.79.3.F227.
  35. Benjamin Gesundheit. "Maimonides' Appreciation for Medicine". Rambam Maimonides Medical Journal. v.2(1); 2011 January. doi: 10.5041/RMMJ.10018.
  36. Madeleine Pelner Cosman and Linda Gale Jones (2008). "Handbook to Life in the Medieval World". Volume 2. Chapter: "Jewish Contributions to Medicine and Science". pp. 514—523. Facts on File.
  37. (2006). "Encyclopedia of Erotic Literature". Chapter: "Arabic – Middle Ages to Nineteenth Century". pp. 55. Routledge.
  38. (July 24, 2014). "Maimonides". Jewish Museum of Maryland.
  39. Micah R. Sadigh (April 2013). "Development of the Biopsychosocial Model of Medicine". AMA Journal of Ethics.
  40. Tulchinsky, Theodore H.; Varavikova, Elena A. (2014-01-01). "Chapter 1 - A History of Public Health" (in en). The New Public Health (Third Edition) (San Diego: Academic Press): 1–42. doiWikipedia:10.1016/b978-0-12-415766-8.00001-x. ISBN 978-0-12-415766-8. Retrieved 2023-03-11. 
  41. Poczai, Peter; Karvalics, László Z. (2022). "The little-known history of cleanliness and the forgotten pioneers of handwashing". Frontiers in Public Health 10. doiWikipedia:10.3389/fpubh.2022.979464. ISSN 2296-2565. PMID 36339162. 
  42. "Water and Handwashing". Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. "Rubbing your hands under water will rinse some germs from your hands, even though it’s not as effective as washing with soap."
  43. Larisa Grollemond, Sarah Waldorf (November 22, 2022). "Did Medieval People Take Baths?". The Getty Center.
  44. Rosner, Fred (1974-02-01). "Medical Writings of Moses Maimonides" (in en). Archives of Internal Medicine 133 (2): 318. doiWikipedia:10.1001/archinte.1974.00320140156021. ISSN 0003-9926. 
  45. Vicky Cerino (December 2, 2008). "Got a cold or flu? Try chicken soup to ease symptoms". University of Nebraska Medical Center.
  46. 46.0 46.1 46.2 Frank Heynick (2002). "Jews and Medicine: An Epic Saga". pp 108, 113, 429. KTAV Publishing House.
  47. (1995) "Moses Maimonides' Glossary of Drug Names". Maimonides Research Institute.
  48. "Bloodletting". Jewish Virtual Library.
  49. Israel Abrahams (1896). "Jewish Life in the Middle Ages". Chapter XXII: "Medieval Pastimes, Continued: Chess and Cards". pp. 389, 397. Jewish Publication Society.