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Life of the Rambam
8 Lectures

Item #: S650

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The great eagle of Jewish scholarship is Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon - Torah Scholar, physician, philosopher, teacher and leader of Israel. His life and achievements present us with a fascinating picture of medieval Spain and North Africa. Not to be acquainted with Rambam, precludes understanding the development of halacha and the Jewish people. This fascinating series of lectures on the Rambam, his biography, achievements, family and influence will help illuminate your understanding of our glorious past.

Individual lectures:

The Rambam's Life and Times - The Rambam's early life was indelibly marked by one of the tragic turns of Jewish history. Born in the Golden Age of Spain, when Jews enjoyed nearly equal rights with their Moslem rulers, his peaceful world was abruptly interrupted by the fanatic Almohad Rebellion which forced his family to flee to Spain. Rabbi Wein paints the backdrop of the rise and fall of Jews in Moslem Spain and shows the Rambam's place within it: the son of a prominent Jew whose life and education took on a different color forever after.

Background and Civilization - On the run from the Almohads, the Rambam's family ultimately settled in Fostat, Egypt, where the Karaites dominated the Jewish community. The Karaites rejected the Oral Torah and forbade the use of medical doctors, a philosophy that was both spiritually and physically destroying the Jewish people. Armed with his Torah scholarship and knowledge of medicine, the Rambam fought to re-educate the Jews and wrote the great body of work that eradicated the Karaite and Islamic influences.

Mishnah Torah - When the Rambam saw how Jewish life was deteriorating under the pressures of the exile, he created the Mishnah Torah as a guide to Jewish Law and philosophy. With his rigorous defense of human free will, and his distinct, "unmiraculous" view of the Messianic era, the Rambam was roundly criticized by many of his contemporaries. Though he did not back down on any philosophical issue, he acknowledged his error in omitting citations in his book. Rabbi Wein recounts the incident in which the Rambam came to this conclusion and points out the irony that his "book to end all books" has spawned thousands of commentaries since.

Controversy Surrounding the Rambam - Innovators in Jewish thought always meet with opposition, and this was certainly true for the Rambam. While some of his critics kept their disagreements on a purely intellectual level, others took it upon themselves to besmirch him. Rabbi Wein details both types of battles and citing the Rambam's personal letters, captures his admirable ability to stay above the fray.

Rambam and His World - Leaders must always be seen in the context of the times in which they live because their worldviews are shaped by the problems they resolve in their societies. Though the Rambam was criticized for writing "Jewish philosophy," for him they were necessary tools to fight the religious threats of the day: the Karaites, rising secularism, and forced conversion to Islam.

Moreh Nevuchim - "The Guide to the Perplexed" is the most controversial of all the Rambam's books. Intended for Torah scholars rather than the masses, it tackles such philosophical challenges as free will and predestination, the role of allegory in the Talmud, the reasons for the mitzvos, and why bad things happen to good people. Rabbi Wein touches on each of these, giving us a glimpse into this monumental work that was banned and burned in its time.

Igerei Teiman - Amongst the communities that reached out for the Rambam's help and guidance were the Jews of Yemen who lived under oppressive fundamentalist Moslems. From the outside, they were given the choice of conversion or death, and from within the Jewish community, a false messiah began to promote himself as the person who could deliver the Jews from their sorrows. With a letter that became the precursor to his later philosophical writings, the Rambam laid out the foundations of the Jewish faith that became the lifeline that saved the Yemenite Jews from total destruction.

Medical Life - The Rambam always took the rationalist approach in Torah, and he was precisely the same way in his practice of medicine. While the rest of the world was steeped in superstition, he advocated common sense preventative medicine, such as sensible diet, sleep, and cleanliness, and was even the first observer of the affect of mental health on overall health. Rabbi Wein reviews the medical advice contained in the Rambam's personal letters and uncovers his fascinating but taxing years as court physician to the Sultan.

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