“Monday Musings” for Monday September 17, 2018
Volume VIII. No. 38/402
YOM KIPPUR AND MOSES MAIMONIDES OF CORDOBA
By Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA, ScD (Hon)*
Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, 5779, began on Sundown Sunday September 9, leading to Yom Kippur which begins at Sundown September 18, 2018. These ten days of reflection, introspection and atonement are the holiest days of the Jewish calendar. Yom Kippur (Yom means day and Kippur means great–the great day) which is focused solely on prayer, fasting and redemption bears much mystery,.
One of my favorite Jewish Theologians, Martin Buber, whose thinking and writings were influenced by Sigmund Freud and Fredrick Nietzsche describes these ten Holy Days as a drama that unfolds. Rabbi (Lord) Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of UK and Commonwealth, in a seminal essay wrote “These days constitute a courtroom drama like no other. The judge is God himself, and we are on trial for our lives. The drama begins with Rosh Hashanah with the sounding of the shofar, the ram’s horn, accounting that the court is in session. The book of life is written on Rosh Hashanah; and on Yom Kippur, when the atmosphere reaches a peak of intensity atonement and prayer, the book is sealed…” In Christianity there is Lent and in Islam there’s Ramadan and Eid-e-Fetr which parallel the intensity and concentration of prayer and the fascinating drama of the personal relationship between God and humans.
As promised in the last week’s “MM” to honor the Holy Day of Yom Kippur, we present a review of colleagues Fred Rosner and Samuel Kottek biography of Moses Maimonides of Cordoba.
Moses Maimonides of Cordoba
REVIEW OF BOOKS
by Assad Meymandi, MD, PhD, DLFAPA
Edited by Fred Rosner, MD and Samuel S. Kottek, MD
229 pages of text, 41 pages of reference notes and 10 pages of index
Jason Aronson, INC., Publisher
There is a sweet anecdote at the beginning of Sherwin Nuland’s biography of Moses Maimonides which has to do with Jewish mothers insisting their sons to become doctors, the “My Son, the Doctor” paradigm. It goes something like this: “Imprisoned in a tower in Madrid, disabled by syphilis and further weakened by abscess in his scalp, The French King Francis asked of his captor, the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, to send the finest Jewish physician to attempt a cure.” Frances discovered that the doctor sent to him was not Jewish but a baptized Christian. Irate, Francis dismissed the doctor and insisted to be treated by a genuine Jew. That physician may have been Moses Maimonides, brought all the way from Cordoba.
Not only was Moses Maimonides of Cordoba was a good Jewish doctor, he was a Rabbi, a philosopher and a prolific writer. During his life time he wrote 5.3 million words, most of which have been preserved. He wrote on all aspects of medicine, infectious disease, nutrition, spirituality and internal medicine. But he also made inroad into the world of psychiatry.
You would think that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), an effective methods of treating w aide range of psychiatric problems, including obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), anxiety disorder, depression, borderline personality disorder and many other neuroses including phobia and panic disorder, is thought to be one of the contributions of the twentieth century medicine, until you read about the life and work of the polymath, “super-genius” physician, theologian, philosopher and astronomer, Rabbi Moses Maimonides of Cordoba (MM of C) .
The Rabbi, a major author of Helakhic authorities, the collective corpus of Jewish religious, rabbinical and later Talmudic laws wrote about CBT way back in 1170. Fred Rosner, a respected hematologist and medical ethicist, a professor of medicine at Mount Saini School of Medicine in NY, and his colleague Samuel Kotteck, professor of the history of medicine at the Hebrew University-Hadassah Medical School, Jerusalem, have collected papers and articles by no fewer than 20 scholars offering this remarkable edited volume. It is a slender and compact 229 pages chock full of historical jewels. In essence it is a biography of Dr. Maimonides, along with a description of his writings and work.
Fred Rosner’s erudite discussion in this well researched and meticulously referenced book shows the reader that Moses Maimonides, in his famous trilogy, The Commentary on Mishnah (means ‘repetition’), is the major source of rabbinic Judaism, the Mishneh Torah, and the Guide for the Perplexed traces much of what we know today about effective nutrition, methods of practicing CBT and biofeedback, guided imagery and self-awareness, a discipline he learned from the work of the Persian physician, Abu Ali Sina, Ibn Sina or Avicenna (980-1130) and Saint Augustine of Hippo (345-420).
In a chapter that asymptotically approaches brilliance and virtuosity, Gad Fruenden that explains how Maimonides, a citizen of the medieval age of superstition and primitive thinking, opposed astrology radically. He was quick to give credit for his enlightened thinking to Omar Khayyam, the Persian poet and astronomer, born 1085, died 1123, only eight years before the birth of Maimonides. So for all practical purposes, Avicenna, Khayyam and Maimonides were contemporaries. Although Omar Khayyam is known for his poetry and The Rubayats, he was a scientist and an avid astronomer to whose work Galileo Galilei (1564-1642) has made numerous references. Like Aristotle, Maimonides insisted on scientific objective and not speculative findings. In his book, the Guide , collection of his personal letters referring to practice of medicine he wrote: “Medicine is not knitting and weaving and the labor of the hands, but it must be inspired with soul and be filled with understanding…”
Reading Moses Maimonides of Cordoba make us fall in love with our holy profession all over again, and take refuge from the oppression and intrusions of the government and bureaucrats.