This book was originally published as a hardcover by Crossroad Publishing, as part of their series of biographies. This is the first time it will appear as an e-book, and I thought that as I am preparing the digital edition, readers might be interested in exploring the subject and getting to know this amazing, inspiring human being. I did not attempt to analyze Maimonides' work as independent of his life. Rather, I wanted to show how his complicated circumstances influenced his work. Many excellent books, written by fine scholars, will lead the interested reader into a lifelong study of Maimonides' masterpieces, and the bibliography I provided can be used as a starting point.
An important point to keep in mind is that the exact dates of many of the events in Maimonides' life are debated. I used the dates most commonly accepted, and when too many opinions differed, the dates that made sense to me when viewed against the narrative of Maimonides' life. To help the reader, I will be adding a chronology, and I hope this will put the narrative in perspective to the time.
For the first segment of this blog, I am posting the first page or so of Chapter One. In future segments, I hope to post the rest of Chapter One, and then additional material as background for the book. I hope you enjoy it and would visit and leave messages!
Chapter One: Sunrise in Andalusia
From the rising of the sun to its setting, from north to south, there never was such a chosen people [as the Jews of Spain] in beauty and pleasantness, and afterwards, there will never be another such people.
"I AM NOTHING but dust and ashes."
Rabbi Maimon ben Joseph may have found solace in Abraham's ancient words as the young woman was lowered into her grave. The legends tell she was a butcher's daughter, and that the community disapproved of the marriage between them. A rabbi must marry a scholar's daughter who would know how to run his household, declared the Talmud, and Rabbi Maimon represented the eighth generation of leaders in the Jewish community of Cordoba. He served as a dayyan, a judge of the rabbinical court, a man of great consequence in his middle years. She must have been a special person, that young woman whose name has been lost to us, because Rabbi Maimon loved her so much he had to marry her anyway. And so he had a dream-vision, and in the dream God commanded him to marry the butcher's daughter; the community respected prophetic dreams and accepted the unsuitable marriage.
Rabbi Maimon and his wife shared only one precious year of happiness, and then she died in childbirth; the tight-knit community sadly gathered in the Jewish cemetery to say goodbye. Not very far off, her newborn child slept, his large dark eyes shut against the world, blissfully unaware of the genius he inherited from this unlikely union, and of the extraordinary future that awaited him.
He would grow to be the greatest Jewish philosopher and Talmudist of all times. Eight hundred years after his death, his work is as vibrant and pertinent to our lives as it had been during his lifetime. Moses Maimonides was to influence Jewish and non-Jewish philosophers alike, with such diverse individuals as Spinoza, Leibniz and Thomas Aquinas freely acknowledging their debt to him. Yet the intelligent layman can understand and relate to his work with ease; his rigorous thinking translates into elegant writing that is simple and direct, visceral as well as intellectual. His book, The Guide of the Perplexed, is one of the most influential philosophical works of any time.
If the image of a staid, respectable clerical gentleman comes to mind when the name of Maimonides is mentioned, dismiss the thought. His life was a roller coaster of dismal persecution and dazzling success, touched by personal and professional controversy that has never quite settled. It took him from the plight of a persecuted refugee in his own land, to the Arabian Nights' splendor of a sultan's court and harem. Maimonides was described as an adventurer, a leader, a philosopher, a Talmudic scholar, a correspondent, a writer, a rationalist, a scientist, a doctor, a man of the law, a tormented soul and a prophet driven by his own image of God. A complicated figure against a fascinating historical background, he was all of these, and more.
Stay tuned -- more to come in future segments!