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If Rashi is one of the pillars of the Jewish world, the other is Maimonides, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, the great sage and person of the Jewish Middle Ages. Born in 1135 in Cordova, Spain, he suffered exiled when the fanatical Islamic sect, the Almohads, took over and forced all the Jews to either convert to Islam or leave the country. Maimonides flees to Fez, North Africa but there he is also tracked by the Almohads. He comes to the land of Israel, but he is warned that the Crusaders are out to kidnap him. Finally he settles in the city of Fostad (old Cairo), in Egypt.

Maimonides is an astronomer, a mathematician, a philosopher, a doctor, he’s someone who knows pharmacology and he’s the greatest Torah scholar of his age. And he sets down to formally codify all of Torah in volumes that will be accessible to all. He writes a commentary to the Mishnah in Arabic. He writes the Mishnah Torah which is 14 volumes and codifies everything that exists in Jewish law and tradition. It’s written unbelievably beautifully in Hebrew with a clarity and organization that almost defies belief. He also wrote another book in Arabic called The Guide to the Perplexed, which is a philosophical treatment of Judaism, and he has a lot of Aristotle in it, in which he agrees with and doesn’t agree with. It’s a book that’s written literally to guide people who were troubled and wanted to know how to regain their faith through philosophy. We must remember that at that time philosophy played a very important role. Right now it does not. The idea that philosophy means general knowledge, great knowledge retains itself. Maimonides was representative of all of that. He also was the head of the Jewish community in Egypt and he also had influence everywhere in the Jewish world. He was called the great eagle because upon his wings the Jewish people flew.