Tag Archives: Judaism

More Maimonides from my pal Ilene

Ilene Winn-Lederer is a talented illustrator pal of mine. She’s written about  Maimonides and also created this beautiful image of him. I asked her to contribute her thoughts about Rabbi Moshe—here’s what she has to say. Incidentally, if you like Ilene’s illustration it is available as a print. Purchase info is at the end of this post.

Here is the text I promised to send. You may know this info but it’s what I provided to the JCC and the Jewish Healthcare Foundation when the painting was exhibited and later purchased. MAIMONIDES’ DREAM 1998
Sumi Ink, Acrylic on Paper 20″ x 24″

Maimonides… rabbi, physician and foremost intellectual figure of medieval Judaism is depicted in this acrylic on paper painting. As the prolific writer whose ideas about philosophy, religion, and medicine continue to influence these disciplines today, he is best known for three works: his commentary on the Mishna, his code of Jewish law, and his ‘Guide of the Perplexed’.

Born Moses Ben Maimon to an educated, distinguished family on March 30, 1135 in Cordoba, Spain, he lived in a time when nearly one-fifth of the people in Southern Spain were Jews. In 1159, a fanatical Islamic sect began to persecute the Jews of Cordoba and the family left Spain for Fez, Morocco. There, Maimonides began his study of medicine, but again his family fled persecution and moved to Palestine. By the 1160’s, they had finally settled in Fostat, Egypt, near Cairo where the practice of Judaism was permitted. Soon after their arrival Maimonides’ father and brother died and Maimonides began to practice medicine to support his family. He was in great demand for his learning and skills as a physician, and soon became court physician to Sultan Saladin. Maimonides also lectured at the local hospital, maintained a private practice, and was a leader in the Jewish community. Maimonides died on Dec. 13, 1204, and was buried in Tiberias near the Sea of Galilee.

I have envisioned Maimonides embracing the Torah, which is encased in a Sephardic style container known as a ‘tik’. He is seen in flight reflecting the phases of exile he and his family endured. His Egyptian sojourn and subsequent rebirth of his career as a physician is represented by the phoenix, which according to legend, was originally called the Bennu. It was associated with the Egyptian deity Osiris and identified as a heron with its long, straight back and two erect head feathers. Later named Phoenix by the Greeks for its brilliant red-gold plumage, this mythical bird was said to create itself from the fire that burned on the top of the sacred Persea tree in Heliopolis. Rising from the ashes, it symbolizes healing and immortality, just as the new sun rises from the old. The burning spice tower on the horizon alludes to the Golden Age of Spain when Judaism and Islam lived harmoniously. The tower burns, but is not consumed because of the memories that survive to become hope. Finally, the sun and moon image represents the timeless nature of dreams.

Thanks, Ilene! Here’s where you can purchase a print of MAIMONIDES’ DREAMhttp://magiceyegallery.com/PicturePage.aspx?id=42

Maimonides, Maimonides, there’s no one like Maimonides

Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, or RAMBAM to his pals

Happy Hanukkah! It seems like a good time to post about Maimonides and Anno Mundi, or ‘in the year of the world’ in Latin.

Maimonides was a doctor, theologian, philosopher and legal scholar who studied the Hebrew Bible—what Christians call the Old Testament. He lived near Cairo, Egypt in the ad 1100s.

If you do any Bible study you’ll have realized that the Bible isn’t one book but a library of books. What makes Bible study challenging is trying to keep all the stories, laws, wisdom and poetry organized in your head.

Maimonides thought it would be a great idea to create a guide for studying the Bible. He focused on the 5 Books of Law, the Torah. These are Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. As he wrote his guide, the Mishneh Torah, he found that he needed a chronology—a timeline of the events that happened in those books. Maimonides used the list of generations of people found in Genesis and Numbers to work backward to calculate when the world was created. That exact date of October 7, 3761 bc is now generally accepted in Judaism.

The Anno Mundi timeline is a theological one. You can’t count backwards from Year One because Time itself didn’t begin until that year. Today we’re in the year am 5780. Anno Mundi and the Hebrew calendar are used in synagogues and Jewish communities around the world.

Maimonides was one of those great thinkers whose influence extended far beyond his own time and place. You can’t believe the amount of stuff he wrote. I’ve given you a mere glimpse of him, but you can read more about Maimonides here.

https://johnmanders.wordpress.com/2019/06/10/the-torah-and-linear-time/

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hebrew_calendar

https://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/75991/jewish/Maimonides-His-Life-and-Works.htm

UPDATE: The current year has been changed to am 5780. Thanks, Jeffrey!

The future!

Can you see into the future? Thinking in linear time allows us to think about the future. It’s not easy, of course. People do use a timeline to plan projects and life goals, so that they can make them happen. In fact, I’m using a timeline for this project—writing this history which I plan to make into a book. Do you think about what you’ll be doing in 5 years? Successful people plan for the future. Holy cow, I sound like I’m selling life insurance.

The Torah (what Christians call the Old Testament), with its timeline of many generations of Jews, was read by ordinary people and changed the way ordinary people think about time and themselves.

In the Torah, ordinary people became important. Religious stories of other cultures were about gods and goddesses. Mortal beings had supporting roles in those stories, like when the mortal Paris judged a goddess beauty contest, or the gods created Enkidu to hang out with the semi-divine Gilgamesh. You don’t get a sense that the gods and mortals have a destiny together, because the stories don’t talk about a future. On the other hand, the stories in the Torah are about ordinary mortals who share a past and future with one God. When ordinary mortals—everybody, us—see ourselves as part of a destiny, the way we think about ourselves is changed. A person with a future, a destiny, has free-will and the mindset to break free of a cycle. You can see how a person with the inheritance of generations of history—aligned with God’s—has more free-will than the person who lives only in a cycle, the now, the present.

The Torah and linear time

Linear time gives us the ability to recognize a long-reaching past and plan for a long-reaching future. That’s how our brains get changed.

The Hebrew Bible, the Torah, the Old Testament tells the story of the Jews from the beginning of mankind to the time of Babylonian captivity. It’s a long read, but because I’m a sweetheart of a guy, I’ll tell you the entire Torah in one sentence—if you don’t mind standing on one foot:

In the beginning, God creates everything time space the world plants animals and human beings who He tells not to do the wrong things but because the human beings had free will they always do the wrong things Adam & Eve eat the apple of knowledge and the perfect world falls into evil everybody splits up into separate nations and languages God makes a deal with Abraham if you have faith in Me I’ll make you your kids even your great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandkids a great nation Abraham says okay so Abraham son Isaac & grandson Jacob are the fathers of the Israelites everybody moves to Egypt eventually Pharaoh makes them slaves so Moses leads the Israelites out of Egypt God gives them the 10 Commandments they wander around the Middle East for 40 years then settle in Israel the Israelites keep disobeying God they try government by judges like Samson who is really strong because he promised God he wouldn’t cut his hair then kings like Saul who goes a little crazy then David who kills Goliath and writes Psalms but steps out with Bathsheba and wise Solomon who builds the temple but has 700 wives and worships other gods so it doesn’t work out so good and the kingdom splits into Israel & Judah the nations next door come in and conquer first Israel then Judah and cart everybody off to Babylon and Persia the prophets tell us where everything went wrong and what we need to do better from now on.

Okay, you can put your other foot down now. The Torah tells the story of a long parade of generations—“so-and-so begat so-and-so, who begat…” Those stories are told in linear time. Linear time is the natural medium for telling about many generations of people.

We claim who we are by telling our stories. There’s a reason the Torah was written down during the Babylonian Captivity. The Jews, separated from their homeland and their Temple, told us who they are by committing the Torah to paper. Without their own place, the priestly writers emphasized time—and made it sacred.

More about the Major Prophets: , Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel.

Side note: Hebrews, Israelites and Jews refer to the same people. They were Hebrews up until Jacob wrestled with an angel and was renamed Israel (means ‘wrestles with God’) and his people renamed themselves Israelites. At the time of the Babylonian Captivity, Jews is what the Persians called people from Judah (because Israel had been wiped out). Of course there’s some overlap.

The Jews

“Let’s go! I gotta become Abraham!”

Back when we were talking about the Sumerians of Mesopotamia, I mentioned that Ur was the city Abram left so that he could become Abraham. Whatever became of him? Well, he and his wife Sarai (later Sarah) answered the call of the Lord and set up shop in Canaan—more or less the same place as modern Israel.

Click over here and scroll down to see a map—Ur is lower-right just above the globe. They traveled due west to reach Canaan (with a side-trip to Egypt).

Abraham was the forefather of the Hebrews, the Israelites, the Jews. He and they were (and are) monotheistic—they worshiped one God (mono = one, theo/deo = god). As we’ve seen, the Sumerians, Egyptians and Greeks had religions with more than one god—they were polytheistic. Worshiping only one God was a big deal. It made the Hebrews different from everybody else. Abraham’s story begins in the very last verse of Genesis Chapter 11 if you have a Bible handy.

Side note: adding the ‘h’ to Sarai’s and Abram’s names signifies ‘of many.’ ‘Abram’ meant ‘father,’ ‘Abraham’ means ‘father of many.’ ‘Sarai’ meant ‘princess,’ ‘Sarah’ means ‘princess of many.’ God was keeping up His end of the deal by making Abraham the father of the Hebrews (Genesis 17:5).

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space.