Maimonides (Rambam) & The Jews of Sefarad

By the 12th century, after a period of relative harmony under Muslim rule, the Jews of Spain once again faced terrible persecution. Nevertheless, Sephardic Jews produced one of the greatest Jewish scholars of all time. Today, he is almost universally revered, but in his time, great controversy surrounded the one who would come to be known as  Rambam. 

  • Review
  • Discussion
  • Activities
  • Reflection
  • Further Learning
  1. What country was Rambam born in?
    • Spain
    • Egypt
    • Morocco
    • Israel
  2. What profession did Rambam pursue after his brother’s death?
    • Lawyer
    • Rabbi
    • Nutritionist
    • Doctor
  3. Which philosopher was Rambam heavily influenced by?
    • Plato
    • Socrates
    • Aristotle
    • Pythagoras
  4. What is written on Rambam’s tombstone?
    • Your purpose should always be to know
    • From Moses to Moses, there never arose another like Moses
    • A physician should treat his patients with optimism
    • All of Israel will subsist on it [Mishneh Torah]
  5. What was the focus of “The Guide for the Perplexed?”
    • Organize the laws of the Talmud into easy-to-read sections
    • Discuss medical questions and implications
    • Reflect on the Rambam’s life and personal experiences
    • Reconcile Jewish theology and Aristotelian philosophy
  1. Rambam’s Mishneh Torah was criticized for not citing sources, reorganizing the topics in the Talmud, and lack of transparency in how he arrived at some of his final conclusions. One of Rambam’s biggest critics was his contemporary, Rabad, who argued against Rambam’s choice of not citing multiple rabbinic opinions on each topic and instead just citing the final conclusion. Rabad argued that showing the disagreement may change someone’s later application of the law. Rosh also criticized the Mishneh Torah and claimed that readers may think they understand the underlying principles, but in reality they won’t. He said the Mishneh Torah simplifies the conversation to the point that one can not truly appreciate and understand the complexities of a given topic. Rambam believed his organization allowed for an easier understanding of the complex legal system. For critics, Rambam’s simplicity ignored critical pieces of information; for supporters, Rambam’s edits allowed for an easier understanding. Where do you stand and why?
  2. In his “The Guide for the Perplexed, the Moreh Nevukhim,” Rambam reconciled Jewish theology with Aristotelian philosophy. For example, he wrote that Aristotle’s views should be studied to explore the natural world. However, he did not listen to Aristotle blindly and rejected his understanding of creation. One of his biggest critics was Rabbeinu Yonah, who publicly advocated for the public burning of “The Guide for the Perplexed.” (He later regretted this decision when Talmuds were publicly burned in the same spot.) Why were people nervous that Rambam studied and accepted the ideas of Aristotle and Greek philosophy?
  3. Today, Rambam is almost universally revered, but great controversy surrounded him in his lifetime. Examples of Rambam’s popularity today includes the naming of the world-renowned Maimonides Medical Center, a hospital in New York, or the Maimonides Library at the University of Cordoba in Spain. Is it inevitable that a great leader brings initial controversy?
  4. At the time of Rambam, the Rabbinate was considered a public service and received financial support from the community. Rambam did not want to do this and instead became a doctor to financially support him and his family. Do you think it is the responsibility of the community to support Torah scholars or should Torah scholars pursue other professional paths to supplement their incomes?
  5. Rambam wrote in The Guide for the Perplexed, the Moreh Nevukhim, “You must accept the truth from whatever source it comes.” What do you think influenced him to write that, and what can we learn today from his message? When is it challenging to do and why is it so important?
  1. Use our ready-made lesson plan on Maimonides: The Philosopher Rabbi HERE!
  2. Listen to the song and prayer, Yigdal which is based on Rambam’s 13 principles of Jewish faith. Read the translation of these principles here. Students should then write a list of questions or reactions they have on each of the principles.
  3. Read Rambam’s eight levels of charity. Students should write a letter to their school, synagogue, camp, or community center on how these institutions should incorporate some of these ideas into their teaching and programming.
  4. Students should read an article about the four stages of the Maimonidean controversy and answer the question for each stage: Why were people upset? Then, use Think-Pair-Share to allow students to think through their answers together. Last, discuss each stage as a class.
  5. Rambam’s tombstone reads, “From Moses to Moses, there never arose another like Moses.” His most famous works include “The Guide for the Perplexed” and “Mishneh Torah,” but he also wrote his “Guide to Good Health” for the Sultan in Arabic, a medical guide to help the Sultan who was battling from depression. Rambam is one of the most celebrated individuals in both the Jewish and Arab worlds. Imagine you are a journalist who is visiting Rambam’s tombstone. Write an article explaining why the above quote was chosen, using the examples from Rambam’s life which make him so unique and praiseworthy.
  6. Play our Kahoot about Maimonides: The Philosopher Rabbi!
  1. Dr. Beni Gesundheit said that Rambam’s most lasting medical influence was his message that a “physician should treat his patients with optimism, joy, and utmost kindness.” Relate this message to your experiences with visiting doctors. Does their bedside manner make a difference in how your appointment and treatment go?
  2. From the age of 10, Rambam’s family was forced to move from Cordoba to Southern Spain to Morocco and then to Egypt. Have you ever moved? How does moving affect one’s development and mindest?
  3. Rambam often complained of his critics and that they took away from his time to study Torah. Learning to accept criticism is a difficult task. Rabbi Noah Weinberg wrote an article outlining why he believes you need to receive and even embrace criticism to reach your fullest potential. For example, he suggests that people not act defensively; instead they should say “thank you” and try to depersonalize the situation. What has your experience been in receiving and learning from criticism?
  4. As described in Rambam’s “The Guide for the Perplexed, the Moreh Nevukhim,” and mentioned in the video, he believed that everyone should keep learning as much information about the world as they can. What efforts do you make to learn as much as you can? Your answers could include any areas of interest, like religion, science, sports, or history.
  5. Rambam clearly had an unwavering work ethic. One of the most influential self-help books of the past 40 years was Stephen Covey’s “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” Covey outlines how one can change their productivity, including prioritizing your tasks each day, being open to suggestions, and never looking for a shortcut to success. How do you manage to stay motivated and productive?
  1. Chabad, The Rambam Daily Study Program
  2. Justice Menachem Elon, Critical Reactions to Mishneh Torah
  3. Rabbi Efrem Goldberg, The Right to be Forgotten
  4. Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Maimonides
  5. Danny Moss, Maimonides (Rambam)
  6. Isidor Segal, The Maimonides Model for a Regimen of Health
  7. Isadore Twersky, A Maimonides Reader

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