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Masonic Bios

Maimonides


Maimonides has been described "as the greatest Jewish figure since Old Testament times." Measured by any standard, and whether by a Jewish or a Gentile one, he was one of the towering men of the Middle Ages; in manhood, in learning, in power of mind, in his accomplishments for good, he was a greater man than Charlemagne, Thomas Aquinas, or Pope Gregory because he accomplished as much as any one of them did, but did it solely by means of his own greatness, and had no vast machinery of government, or church, or armies to make use of. The whole Jewish people of his time were not only widely separated but were bewildered, and often in despair; the final bitterness of the Diaspora had become almost too great for them to endure.

It was to them as well as for them that he wrote "their Bible next to the Bible," The Guide for the Perple2:ed. In it he advised them to discard ancient superstitions; to cease to attempt to carry out into minute detail regulations originally designed for Palestine; to cease to bewail and to lament a past which now was too far in the past to keep alive; and since they were excluded from the land, church, government, and army to turn to and to make their own the countries of the mind, to become scholars, artists, physicians (as he was himself), linguists, scientists, philosophers, because these terms of work were owned by neither pope nor king and knew of no difference between Jew and Gentile- "is geometry," he asked, "Jew or Gentile? is scholarship? is medicine?"

There is no discoverable connection in history between Maimonides and Freemasonry at any point, yet, paradoxically, he is one of the subjects Masonic students must study. A school of Masonic writers, small but influential, has for half a century been trying to show that one of the roots or sources of Freemasonry was in the Kabbala In his great History of Jews, and speaking as a representative of a large school of Jewish historians, Graetz sets forth at length evidence to prove:

1/ that the Kabbala consisted of three or four books written by Spanish Jews in the Thirteenth Century;

2/ that the rationalism (used in no sectarian sense) of Maimonides had won over the Jews of Spain;

3/ that the Kabbala was a reaction to it;

4/ that the occultism, mysticisms, and supposedly secret sciences in the Kabbalistic books concealed a superficial kind of thinking, not as profound as it may appear to be;

5/ that the claims made in them for the antiquity of their jargon and their doctrines were groundless, and in some instances were consciously false;

6/ and finally that there was no unity of thought among the Kabbalists themselves, and that if they had written their books in intelligible language, as they easily could have done, they had little to say. To do justice to himself a Masonic student must therefore study Maimonides and the Cabbala together, because the former is the key to the latter. Maimonides was a Spanish Jew, of immense learning in many fields; he was born in 1135, died in 1204.

When in the Thirteenth Century Thomas Aquinas wrote his Summa, afterwards declared to be the orthodox Roman Catholic theology, his purpose at the time was to make a reply for his Church as against the science and philosophy coming out of Spain, the one European country in which learning flourished; it is significant that he selected as his adversaries Avicenna and the Arab philosophers; he probably was afraid to attempt to encompass Maimonides because his own learning was too meager, too wholly local and theological, to cope with the encyclopedic learning of the great Jew. It was for this reason that while Thomas found the machinery of argument by which to incorporate the Arabic scholars' Greek learning (what of it he knew) into his Summa he left out of it the whole scope of Jewish learning, though his own Church had officially declared the Old Testament to be infallibly inspired. This failure, or lack, on the part of Thomas was not the least of the ultimate sources of much anti-Semitism centuries later.

- Source: Mackey's Encyclopedia of Freemasonry

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