Significant Person of Judaism: Moses Maimonides

Moses Maimonides (Moshe ben Maimon) was born in 1135 in Spain and studied medicine and philosophy. He became the personal physician to Sultan Saladin in Egypt. He thought the Torah was too complex and needed to be simplified, that blind faith was not good and that understanding is a way towards expressing belief. He interpreted the Torah logically instead of literally.

Maimonides (sometimes referred to as RaMBaM) was one of the greatest Jewish intellectuals ever, initiating a big change of their belief systems. He influenced many Jewish (and Christian) writers and wrote his own guides for those who had a hard time practising Judaism. His Mishnah Torah reorganised the Jewish law. Many saw him as someone who breathed new life into the faith and helped to define the things that Jews should be doing. One of his more famous pieces is the 13 articles of faith which clearly define what it is to be a Jew.

There are some major reasons Maimonides was so important to Judaism:
Produced a very accurate interpretation of the Jewish Law.
The Mishnah Torah was written between 1170 and 1180 and contained 14 books and was harshly received due to it’s radical reorganisation of the law.
Aimed at average Jews (in Hebrew) and was the first ever organisation of rules, no longer necessary to be fluent in the study of the Torah to understand the law. It was the first codification of the Talmud.
Influenced other Jewish and non-Jewish philosophers at the time and later in history
Defended Judaism against philosophical attacks on the law.
The Guide for the Perplexed used science and philosophy to argue the point for Judaism against challengers. It also helped to help people who were perplexed with the faith.
Clearly compared Judaism to other faiths

Jewish Environmental Ethics

The environmental teachings for Jews has been strong and relevant even in recent times when environmental issues as a result of technological advances by humans have come to the attention of the world. The idea of subduing and having dominion over the earth (Genesis 1:28) has caused problems in accepting responsibility for the destruction of the environment as it seems they have been told to exploit it. Maimonides believed that creatures and the environment were created for themselves and not for other creatures.

Jews have received most of their environmental beliefs from the book of Genesis. It teaches that humans have responsibility for the world. There has been debate over the Genesis 1:28 verse: whether humans can exploit the earth or use it in moderation and care for it.

Jews are to leave their land free of crops every seven years. They are required to practice sustainable agriculture and ensure the fertility of the soil they use. In the event of the siege of a city, the army must not destroy the town’s crops, pollute the water supply or cut down trees, so the people can use the town when it is taken over. Animals should be given rest on the Sabbath like humans. Humankind is separate from all other nature because it is self aware. Fruit trees must not be destroyed.

Maimonides points out that the Torah permits necessary destruction and he taught that being wasteful was bad and that burying people extravagantly while ignoring the needs of the poor was also a violation of the principals of bal tashkhit. He also said that it is ok to cut down fruit trees if absolutely necessary, for example if it is damaging other crops.

Jewish Environmental Groups

The Board of Deputies is the largest UK Jewish organisation, formed in 2002. They worked with the Noah project who is a UK based organisation that raises awareness of the environment amongst Jews. The Coalition on the Environment and Jewish Life was formed in America in 1993 and they set out to engage in environmental activism. The B’nai B’rith Environment Group educated Jewish communities on the environment since 1997.