Maimonides, whose full name was Moses ben Maimon, was a rabbi from Spain who lived between approximately 1135 and 1204 CE. He was also known as the RaMBaM, or the Rambam, the acronym of Rabbi Moses ben Maimon. His work has remained extraordinarily important and influential among Jews and non-Jews alike. Maimonides' primary achievements in writing were the Mishneh Torah, The Commentary on the Mishnah, The Book of Commandments, and The Guide for the Perplexed. All but the Mishneh Torah are written in Arabic.
Maimonides’ Commentary on the Mishnah is now considered to be a fundamental text to Orthodox Jews. It establishes the idea that God exists. In it Maimonides also says that God should also be viewed as spiritual, bodiless and eternal, and should be the sole subject of worship. Further, Maimonides argues that God revealed his wisdom through prophets, with Moshe, or Moses, being the first and most important prophet. Maimonides also reinforces the notion that the Torah is God’s law and that God understands human actions before they occur, rewarding good behavior and punishing bad behavior. Lastly, Maimonides establishes in his Commentary that there will be a resurrection of the dead and a coming of the Messiah.
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The Mishneh Torah is perhaps Maimonides most important work. Normally, Jews consult the Torah in conjunction with the Talmud to determine how to behave in a given situation. The Rambam created the Mishneh Torah as a sort of compendium that Jews could consult for answers on how to act according to Jewish law in any given situation. Initially, other rabbis discounted the work because while it comments on the Torah and Talmud, it does not specifically reference passages. However, the commentary has been widely accepted as a useful tool for interpreting Jewish law.
The Guide for the Perplexed is an intriguing piece of philosophy that draws on Maimonides' philosophy more than the somewhat closely related Platonic and Aristotelian thought. That is, The Guide is an attempt to join Judaic philosophy with the philosophy of Aristotle. It also addresses how Jews should interpret scientific developments.
Maimonides makes one assertion that fuels the debate of basically all bible-based religions. He believes that the truths of science cannot be inconsistent with God’s truths. Thus in a sense, science is the work of God and should not be denied if it is inconsistent with earlier science or medicine practiced in the Torah or when portions of the Talmud were written.
Essentially Maimonides recognizes that life moves forward and that God is behind new science. Thus some old ways can be discarded for new ways without disobeying God’s law. This argument remains controversial, and yet, is one endorsed by various people from various religions.
Even though some of Maimonides’ theories are controversial, he is considered a heroic scholar by most Jews. He wrote during a time when oppression of Jews forced him from his home. As well the controversial nature of his writings makes him a free thinker, something respected by most sects of Judaism. Maimonides accepts paradox in the religious texts on which he comments, and on the nature of God, and this gives his work a modern or post-modern feel. His work remains vibrant and relevant to philosophers of today.