The Talmud: Selections, by H. Polano, , at sacred-texts.com
Moses Maimonides, one of the greatest of Jewish commentators, and a descendant of Rabbi Judah, the compiler of the Mishna, was born in the city of Cordova, Spain, March 30th, 1135. His father was somewhat advanced in
life when he married, and it is said that he entered into the conjugal state through having dreamed several successive times that he was wedded to the daughter of a butcher in his neighbourhood; the lady whom he did actually marry.
Moses was the only child of this lady, who died shortly after his birth. His father lamented her demise for about a year, and then married again, several children being the result of this second union.
Moses displayed no love for study in his youth; a fact which grieved his father much. All efforts to induce him to become more studious failed; his brothers called him "the butcher's boy," as a term of reproach for his dulness; and finally, in anger, his father drove him from his home.
While travelling, entirely friendless, Moses fell in with a learned Rabbi, and admired his wisdom and knowledge so much that he resolved to study zealously and emulate such attainments.
Many years after this a new preacher was announced to lecture in the synagogue, at Cordova, upon a designated Sabbath. Numerous rumours of his wonderful learning and eloquence were rife, and all were anxious to hear him. In matter, delivery, earnestness, and effect, the sermon excelled all that the people had before listened to, and to the amazement of Maimonides the elder, and his sons, they recognised in the man all were eager to honour, their outcast relative.
The first commentary of Maimonides is upon the Mishna, and it concludes with these words:
"I, Moses, the son of Maymon, commenced this commentary when twenty-three years of age. I have finished it at the age of thirty in the land of Egypt."
Maimonides fled from Spain to Cairo, in Egypt, from fanaticism and persecution. There he studied the Greek
and Chaldaic languages, becoming master of both after seven years' attention. His fame spread through the country. His scientific standing and his general knowledge were universally recognised, and his books were not only valued by his brethren in faith, but by all the cultured and enlightened of his day.
It is said that the king of Egypt appointed him as one of his staff of physicians. The enlightened men of the kingdom were divided into seven grades, each grade occupying a corresponding position near the throne of the king on state occasions. The monarch considered Maimonides so much superior to the others that he made for him a special position. This, Moses, a modest man, declined. The other physicians, however, were jealous of his high standing, and being unable to injure him openly, they endeavoured to accomplish his ruin in a secret manner.
The king was taken very sick, and Maimonides attended him. Taking advantage of this, the physicians put poison in the draught which Moses had prepared for him, and then informed the king that the latter designed his death. To prove their words, they gave some of the mixture to a dog, and the animal died.
The king was grieved and surprised, and Maimonides, struck dumb with amazement, was unable to say a word.
"Death is the penalty for one who attempts to assassinate his ruler," said the king. "Choose now the mode of thy punishment."
Moses asked for three days for consideration, which the king granted. During this time he prepared a certain mixture, and instructed his pupils to have it ready and apply it according to his directions, when he should be brought home senseless. He then appeared before the king, and desired to have his veins opened. The vital artery was
missed, as he had anticipated, and the result was as he had foreseen. After his recovery, he fled from Egypt, taking refuge in a cave, where he wrote his "Yad Hazakah" (the "Strong Hand"), consisting of fourteen divisions, typified by the word Yad, which also means fourteen.
Maimonides simplified the Talmudical rules and traditions, making them clear to the comprehension of all. He was the author of an exhaustive work, entitled, "Mishne Torah," the "Second Law," which was eagerly copied and extensively disseminated. He also wrote many philosophical treatises levelled against atheism, and designed to prove that God produced the world from naught, and at the age of fifty gave to the world his great work, Moreh Nebuchim (Guide of the Perplexed), to which Rabbi Judah Charizi added an appendix.
Maimonides died at the age of seventy years, and his remains were interred at Cairo, Egypt. Both Jews and Gentiles mourned his loss. The lamentation in Jerusalem was intense, a fast was declared, the synagogues were opened, and a portion of the law (Levit. 25: 12 to end), and the fifth chapter of Samuel 1, were made parts of the service of the day.