Saturday, January 01, 2011

Maimonides in Fez

Next time you pop in to Cafe Clock, pause a moment at the beginning of the street, Derb Margana. On the right-hand side as you walk off the Tala'a Kebira towards the Cafe, is a small marble plaque denoting the house as that of Maimonides, the great Jewish philosopher, who lived in Fez in the 12th century.

December marked the anniversary of the death of Maimonides, or Moshe Ben Maimon, in 1204 in Egypt. The Chabad website reports that Maimonides was born in 1135 during what some scholars consider to be the end of the golden age of Jewish culture in Spain, after the first centuries of the Moorish rule. At an early age, he developed an interest in the exact sciences and philosophy.

Revered for his saintly personality as well as for his writings, he led an unquiet life, and wrote many of his works while traveling or in temporary accommodation. The Almohads conquered Córdoba in 1148, and threatened the Jewish community with the choice of conversion to Islam, death, or exile.

Maimonides's family, along with most other Jews, chose exile. For the next ten years they moved about in southern Spain, avoiding the conquering Almohades, but eventually settled in Fez, where he studied at the Karaouine University. During this time, he composed his acclaimed commentary on the Mishnah in the years 1166–1168.

Maimonides' house in Derb Margana, Fez

Following this sojourn in Morocco, he and his family briefly lived in the Holy Land, before settling in Fostat, Egypt around 1168. While in Cairo he studied in Yeshiva attached to a small synagogue that still bears his name.

Maimonides was trained as a physician in Córdoba and in Fes. He gained widespread recognition and became a court physician to the Grand Vezier Alfadil, then to Sultan Saladin, after whose death he remained a physician to the royal family.

In his writings he described many conditions including asthma, diabetes, hepatitis, and pneumonia, and emphasized moderation and a healthy life style. His work was influential for generations of physicians.

In a famous letter, he describes his daily routine: After visiting the Sultan’s palace, he would arrive home exhausted and hungry, where "I would find the antechambers filled with gentiles and Jews ... I would go to heal them, and write prescriptions for their illnesses ... until the evening ... and I would be extremely weak."

Maimonides died on December 12, 1204 in Fustat, Egypt where it is believed that he was shortly buried before being reinterred in Tiberias, a town on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, Lower Galilee, Israel. However, the location of Maimonides' grave is not without controversy and in the Jewish Cairene community there is tradition that maintains that his grave has remained in Egypt.

Maimonides and his wife had one child, Avraham, who was recognized as a great scholar, and who succeeded him as Nagid and as court physician at the age of eighteen. The office of Nagid was held by the Maimonides family for four successive generations until the end of the 14th century.

He is widely respected in Spain and a statue of him was erected in Córdoba in the only synagogue in that city which escaped destruction. Although no longer functioning as a Jewish house of worship, it is open to the public.

1 comment:

Eric Anderson, MD said...

Great story about a physician we don't know much about in USA
but he is regarded as one of the bridges between Galen in the
Second Century AD and Vesalius
who restored the science of
anatomy to European Medicine
in the 1500s.

Eric Anderson, MD
San Diego, Calif.