Rambam

The Rambam was a scholar, Rabbi and doctor who was born in Cordova, moved to Morocco and then Egypt. Tradition says that prior to his death he ordered his son to bury him in Israel, and so his son brought him to Israel and let his camel walk and decide where to bury him. The camel stopped in Tiberias where the Rambam and his father were buried. It is one of the most famous tombs in Israel.

The tomb well maintained. At the entrance you will find the tombs of Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai, and some Tanaim rabbis.

Born in Cordoba, Spain in 1135 he is known by his acronym the ‘Rambam’, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, was outstanding both in his knowledge and his impact on Judaism. The fourteen black pillars along the path to his grave represent the fourteen books of the Mishna Torah, his major work on Jewish law. The flowing water represents Torah, the source of life.

Maimonides’ grave is under the roofed area in the middle. An inscription found nearby marking the tomb of his grandson appears behind the black metalwork on the right. Tradition attributes the grave to the right of Maimonides’ grave to his father, Rabbi Maimon.

When the Ramban was 13 his family fled first to Morocco and then to Israel to escape Moslem persecution. He remained in Israel for a few months, then moved to Egypt where he lived until his death in 1204. For eight years his brother supported him while he devoted himself to study and writing, then tragedy struck. A shipwreck resulted in the death of his brother and the loss of the family fortune. The Jewish community offered Maimonides a paid position, but he refused to take money for teaching, saying that God gave His Torah freely to His people, and so it should remain. He made his living as a physician and attended Saladin, the sultan of Egypt. The following is Maimonides’ description of a typical work day.

‘My duties to the sultan are very heavy. I am obliged to visit him every day early in the morning…As a rule I do not return home until the afternoon. Then I am almost famished with hunger…I find the antechamber filled with people, Jews and gentiles, nobles and common people, judges and bailiffs, friends and foes, a mixed multitude awaiting the time of my return. I dismount from my animal, wash my hands, go forth to my patients and entreat them to bear with me while I partake of some light refreshment, the only meal that I take in twenty four hours…Patients go in and out until nightfall, and sometimes, I solemnly assure you, until two hours into the night. I converse with them and prescribe for them while lying down from sheer fatigue, and when night falls I am so exhausted that I can scarcely speak. He said that because of this no Jew can have any private interviews with me except on the Sabbath. On that day…a majority of the members of the congregation come to me after the morning service, when I instruct them as to their proceedings during the whole week; we study together a little until noon when they depart. Some of them return and read with me after the afternoon service until the evening prayers.’

Jewish law (Halacha) is derived from the Talmud. The Rambam thought that because most Jews, scholars included, are not knowledgeable in all the sources, he undertook the codification of Jewish law. The Mishne Torah, ‘the repetition of the Torah’ offers an encyclopaedia-style presentation in Hebrew, and makes halacha easily accessible. In his introduction he wrote that anyone who reads the Torah and the Mishne Torah could know the halacha. Today the Mishne Torah is accepted as one of the main sources of halacha.

There is some controversy concerning the fact that Rambam respected Aristotelian philosophy. Some Rabbis were worried by contradictions between Torah and Greek philosophy, permitting only study of the holy scriptures and traditional commentaries. The Rambam believed that all pursuit of knowledge increases understanding of the Torah, and to make this point he wrote ‘The Guide for the Perplexed’, an attempt to reconcile science and Torah. His opponents bitterly denounced his use of non-Jewish ideas and accused him of diminishing Gd’s word to an alien philosophy. This hostility persisted many years after Maimonides’ death. At one point his opponents wrote the word ‘apostate’, on his grave. Maimonides grandson, Rabbi David, together with the rabbis Safed, ruled in favour of Maimonides, erased the epitaph, and declared that anyone desecrating the grave would be excommunicated.

Location: Tiberias city center, next to Egged bus station.