Maimonides (1138? – 1204) is universally recognized as a seminal medieval philosopher and renowned physician. That barely hints at the dramatic course of his life or the extraordinary scope of his activities. Born in Cordoba, he fled Moslem religious persecution to Fez, Morocco, and from there as well, via Crusader Acre, to Cairo. There he was a physician in Saladdin’s court and Jewish communal leader. Still, he published prolifically, not only foundational Judaic treatises, but also groundbreaking medical texts, and voluminous Responsa to queries from throughout the Jewish world. University of Chicago Professor Joel Kraemer skillfully sifts through contemporaneous accounts, even from some of Rambam’s personal papers, including working drafts, rescued from the Cairo Genizah, seeking the most accurate portrayal of his life and times.
His age was one of intellectual ferment and high culture. Though well integrated into the Islamic world economy, Jewish life was everywhere precarious, extortion and oppression, including forced conversion, ever threatening. As Kraemer demonstrates, that zeitgeist is much reflected in Maimonidean thought, with its Hillelian approach to Jewish law and systematic effort to reconcile religion, philosophy, and science. General readers will find much here to savor. Abbreviations, rabbinic texts, expansive end notes.
Richard D. Wilkins is a clinical data processing consultant in the pharmaceutical industry. He has served in a variety of volunteer leadership positions in the Syracuse, N.Y. Jewish community and has been widely published in Jewish and general media.