Moses Maimonides (Moses ben Maimon)


Portrait of MaimonidesMoses Maimonides was a Spanish Jewish physician, philosopher, and theologian who was embraced by the Muslim medieval world. One of his greatest works was The guide to the perplexed (1190) in which he tried to reconcile the scientific thought of Aristotle with religious Jewish beliefs. Maimonides wrote ten books on medicine, synthesizing the works of the ancients, and adding his own observations and medical beliefs.

Aristotle's universe was one in which everything had a proper and desirable place. The universe worked outward from humans to other objects in concentric spheres associated with domains of air, fire, water, and earth. These elements explained motions of objects. For example, a stone, being made up of the earth, belonged to the earth. A stone fell toward the earth because it belonged to the earth, thereby achieving a natural equilibrium.

Maimonides used Aristotelian thinking in his practice of medicine. He saw the body, like objects in the world, as involving processes acting on one another in order to accomplish some end. For example, if the body becomes too hot, it perspires, so as to cool itself. If it becomes too cold, it shivers and the muscular contractions cause it to warm up.

Maimonides also portrayed the philosophy of Aristotle as being compatible with the Talmud and made efforts to reconcile the two. Goldstein has depicted Maimonides' thinking as follows: "Since scientific truths are true and the Torah, too, is true, there is always a way to interpret the Torah so that it is consistent with science" (Goldstein, 2006, p. 82-3).

Maimonides was born in Cordoba, Spain, which was under Moorish (Islamic) rule at the time. His mother died in childbirth and his father raised him and his brother. In 1148 His family was forced to leave Spain along with other Jews, because of persecution by the Almohades, a fanatical group of Moors from North Africa. His family traveled from southern Spain and North Africa for the next ten years. He finally settled in Fez, Morocco for a while. They left Morocco in 1165, traveled to Palestine, and from there went to Cairo, Egypt, where they settled in old Cairo. Both Maimonides' father and his brother died in 1166, whereupon Mainomides assumed the care of his brother's wife and child.

After his brother's death he began his practice of medicine. He was appointed the court physician to Al Fadhil, vizier to Saladin and after Saladin's death he became physician to his son. He also served as the chief rabbi of the Jewish community in Cairo.

A sampling of the writings of Maimonides:

Extracts from Galen (The art of cure)

Commentary on the Aphorisms of Hippocrates

Medical aphorisms of Moses

Treatise on hemorrhoids

Treatise on sexual intercourse

Treatise on Asthma

Treatise on poisons and their antidotes

Regimen of health

Discourse on the explanation of fits

Glossary of drug names

The medical Aphorisms of Moses Maimonides (Rosner & Muntner, 1970-1971, vol. 1, p. 98, pp 119-121, vol. 2, pp. 141-142, p. 169, p. 194)


Maimonides' Commentary on the Aphorisms of Hippocrates (Rosner, 1987, p. 25, p. 51, pp. 62-63, pp. 80-83, pp. 87-88).fol 10v-12r).

Writings about Maimonides

Goldstein, Rebecca (2006). Betraying Spinoza: The renegade Jew who gave us modernity. NY: Schocken Books.

Lieber, E. (1979). Galen: Physician as philosopher, Maimonides: philosopher as physician. Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 53, 268-285.

Liebowitz, O. (1957). Maimonides on medical practice. Bulletin of the History of Medicine, 31, 309-317.

Leibowitz, J. O. & Marcus, S. (1974). Moses Maimonides on the causes of symptoms. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press.

Rosner, F. (1990). Moses Mamonides' treatises on the regimen of health. Haifa: Maimonides Research Institute.

Rosner, F. & Kottek, S. (Eds.). (1993). Moses Maimonides: Physician, scientist, and philosopher. Northvale, NJ: Jason Aronson, Inc.

Rosner, F. & Muntner, S. (1963). The medical writings of Moses Maimonides. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott.

Seeskin, Kenneth (2005). Maimonides on the origin of the world Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Seeskin, Kenneth (2005). Cambridge companion to Maimonides. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Weiss, R. & Butterworth, C. (1975). Ethical works of Maimonides. NY: New York University Press.