The Maimonides

Moses Maimonides is also known as Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon or by the Hebrew acronym the Rambam. Maimonides was born in Cordoba, Spain, in 1138 and died in old Cairo (Fostat) in 1204. He was one of the greatest arbiters of all times on matters of Jewish law (halacha), one of the greatest philosophers of the Middle Ages, a scientist, a doctor, a researcher and a pre-eminent leader. He was considered the most influential Jewish figure since Moses. A popular medieval saying that also served as his epitaph states, From Moses (of the Torah) to Moses (Maimonides) there was none like Moses. In 1148 Maimonides' family was forced to leave Cordoba as a result of the invasion of the radical Muslim Almohades from North Africa and their persecution of the Jews of the area. The family first moved to Fez in Morocco, and then continued its wanderings, eventually reaching the Holy Land, where Maimonides visited Acre, Jerusalem and Hebron. In 1166 the family arrived at Alexandria by sea, and finally settled down in Fostat (old Cairo), where there was a large Jewish community. Maimonides felt that study of the Torah should be combined with work, and criticized those who depended on the public purse and made the Torah "a pickaxe to dig with". He therefore supported himself in Cairo by helping his brother David, who owned a ship and traded in precious stones. By this time, he was already the religious leader of the community in Cairo, but he refused to earn his living from his rabbinic duties.

Tragically, his brother drowned in a shipwreck. After he recovered from a grief related illness, Maimonides decided to study medicine at the age of 35, since he had to support his brother's widow and children. He gained most of his medical knowledge from Greek medical texts and from the wisdom of ancient Egyptian scholars. He mainly followed Galen, Hippocrates and others. Maimonides wrote 11 medical texts, which had a considerable influence on the study of medicine throughout Africa, Asia and Europe. He preached preventive medicine and moderate forms of healing which depended to a large extent on correct nutrition. He emphasized the importance of physical and mental hygiene, encouraged physical activity, and called for attention to mental health. Maimonides strongly objected to and rejected superstitions, quacks, charms and incantations.

Maimonides was supremely devoted to his patients, and he himself described how he would arise early every day and set out for the palace of Sultan Salah-a-Din, where he was court physician, remain there until evening, and then return to his distant home which was full of waiting patients, Jews and Arabs alike. He would treat these patients until the small hours of the night, and wrote his last prescriptions while already lying down in bed.

His personality and his medical values can be learned through the prayer which he recited every day before starting to work: ..."Preserve the strength of my body and my soul, that they be ever ready to cheerfully help and support rich and poor, good and bad, enemy as well as friend… Remove from their midst all charlatans, and the whole host of officious relatives and know-it-all nurses… Never allow the thought to arise in me that I have attained sufficient knowledge, but vouchsafe to me the strength, the ambition and the ability ever to extend my knowledge. For art is great, but the mind of man is ever expanding."