Tag Archives: Morocco

Jew of the Week: Moses Maimonides

Maimonides

Moshe ben Maimon (1138-1204), known in the Jewish world as the Rambam (his initials) and to the rest of the world as Moses Maimonides, was born in Cordoba, Spain, the son of a famed rabbi. In 1148, the Almohads conquered Cordoba and began persecuting the Jews. Maimonides’ family fled and remained on the move across Spain for 10 years before settling in Morocco. There, Maimonides studied at the University of al-Karaouine, focusing on the field of medicine. At the same time, he composed his famous commentary on the Mishnah – the central text of Jewish oral laws. Along with his two sons, he then traveled to the Holy Land, despite the danger of the ongoing Crusades. After visiting the holy sites and praying at the Temple Mount, he journeyed to Egypt and settled there, continuing his work and studies at the local yeshiva. During this time, he played a central role in saving a community of Jews taken captive by King Amalric I. In 1171, Maimonides was appointed president of the Egyptian Jewish community. When his brother’s merchant ship sank in the Indian Ocean, Maimonides lost all of his wealth and started working as a physician. Having studied both Greek and Arabic medicine, and being well-versed in folk healing and mysticism, Maimonides quickly became the top doctor in the world and was soon hired by the legendary Sultan Saladin. Even after Saladin’s death, Maimonides remained the royal family’s physician, and rejected offers by a handful of European kings. He wrote a number of healing manuals that were influential for many future generations (and still studied today). He also composed several religious and philosophical works, including the famous Guide for the Perplexed and Treatise on Logic. His Mishneh Torah remains one of the central compilations of Jewish law to this day. He also set forth Judaism’s 13 Principles of Faith. Scholars are puzzled at how he was able to accomplish so much: his typical day included a visit to the Sultan’s Palace before returning home to a long line of patients that lasted into the night. He would rarely take any breaks, and ended his day hungry and spent. Even on Shabbat he had little rest, dealing with life-or-death situations that trumped the sanctity of observing the Sabbath. Many believe that he passed away because of this difficult lifestyle. Maimonides writes that he wished he had more time to pray, study, and grow closer to God, but his obligation to care for the masses superseded all these. He passed away on December 12th (809 years tomorrow) to great sorrow, and true to his nature, had demanded the humblest of funerals. He remains highly respected in Spain and across the Middle East, the Arab world (as Abu Musa bin Maymun) and the medical community. Countless institutions continue to bear his name, and he is a central hero for modern Jews as a man who was both pious and worldly, bridging the gaps between Torah and science, Jewish wisdom and secular philosophy.

 

Words of the Week

Gems from Moses Maimonides:

“Do not consider it proof just because it is written in books, for a liar who will deceive with his tongue will not hesitate to do the same with his pen.”

“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”

“No disease that can be treated by diet should be treated with any other means.”

“One who wishes to attain human perfection must therefore first study Logic, next the various branches of Mathematics in their proper order, then Physics, and lastly Metaphysics.”

“One should see the world, and see himself as a scale with an equal balance of good and evil. When he does one good deed the scale is tipped to the good – he and the world is saved. When he does one evil deed the scale is tipped to the bad – he and the world is destroyed.”

Jew of the Week: Paul Reichmann

Paul Reichmann

Paul Reichmann

Moshe Yosef “Paul” Reichmann (1930-2013) was born in Vienna to Hungarian Orthodox Jewish parents. By a miracle, the family escaped Austria right before the Nazi takeover of the country, then fled from Hungary to Paris to Morocco. At the end of World War II, Reichmann studied in yeshivas in England and Israel before returning to Morocco and working as a shirt salesman. Shortly after, he moved to Toronto to open a new branch of his brother’s tile company, Olympia. By 1964, he built a separate property development company called Olympia & York. In 1976, the company built First Canada Place – what was then Canada’s tallest building (and the tallest bank office tower in the world). The company would expand to New York and Tokyo, London and Israel, becoming the world’s largest property developer. Reichmann’s vision of magnificent buildings adorning the skyline prompted Prince Charles to comment: “Do they have to be so tall?” Despite the tremendous success, Reichmann never abandoned his Orthodox roots, maintaining his prayer and study regimen, and having his company cease all operations on Shabbat and holidays. He used a great part of his fortune to finance synagogues, yeshivas, and charitable institutions around the world. In 1992 he lost the bulk of his wealth when Olympia & York went bankrupt in the midst of a large economic recession (and a failed project for London’s Canary Wharf – considered one of the largest development projects in history). He managed to rebuild a sizable portion of his wealth over the next two decades, and continued donating millions of dollars every year to good causes. Very private and shunning luxury, Reichmann was famous for his business integrity. He would seal multi-million dollar deals with a handshake, and never failed to keep his word. Sadly, the man who touched so many lives passed away earlier this week. Click here to read more about one of the greatest philanthropists of the century, and watch a video here.

Words of the Week

Abraham was told that his descendants will be like the dust of the earth [Genesis 13:17], and as the stars of heaven [Genesis 15:5]. So it is with Israel: When they fall, they will fall as low as the dust; when they rise, they will rise as high as the stars.
– Midrash Pesikta Zutrati

Jew of the Week: Sir Moses Montefiore

The Legendary Moses Montefiore

Moshe Chaim Montefiore (1784-1885) was born in Livorno, Italy to a wealthy Sephardic family. Raised in England, he worked as a grocery merchant before earning great wealth in the stock exchange. In 1824, Montefiore retired and dedicated his life to making the world a better place, funding countless schools, hospitals and other institutions. He was a key figure in abolishing slavery, and even raised the money used to compensate angry plantation owners. Montefiore served as Sheriff of London, and was knighted by Queen Victoria for his selflessness. In 1827 he travelled to Israel and the experience returned him to his Jewish roots. He became a strictly Torah-observant Jew, so much so that he had a personal shochet travel with him so that he can have kosher meat. Fighting for each individual Jew, Montefiore personally went to Turkey to gain the release of 10 imprisoned Jews. He did the same in trips to Russia, Morocco, Rome and Romania. In 1862 he built a Sephardic yeshiva, in addition to the great Montefiore synagogue, built on the former estate of Queen Caroline. Montefiore would make 7 trips to the Holy Land over his life time (the last at age 91!) setting the ground work for the Zionist movement. He financed much of the early construction projects, including the first printing press and textile factory, established multiple agricultural colonies, and even commissioned several censuses that provide us with important information to this day. Montefiore died childless at the age of 100. His centenary was celebrated as a national holiday. Today, the 13th of Av, is his yahrzeit.

Words of the Week

A wealthy anti-Semite once told Moses Montefiore that he had just returned from Japan, where there are “neither pigs nor Jews.” Sir Moses replied: “then you and I should go there, so that they should have a sample of each.”