Biographies & Memoirs

39. Moses Maimonides

THERE IS SOMETHING SUBLIME in the spectacle of men joining together in a spirit of harmony to honor the memory of a man whose life and work lie seven centuries in the past. This feeling is accentuated all the more sharply at a time in which passion and strife tend more than usually to obscure the influence of reasoned thought and balanced justice. In the bustle of everyday life our view grows clouded with desire and passion, and the voice of reason and justice is almost inaudible in the hubbub of the struggle of all against all. But the ferment of those times long past has long since been stilled, and scarcely more is left of it than the memory of those few who exerted a crucial and fruitful influence on their contemporaries and thus on later generations as well. Such a man was Maimonides.

Once the Teutonic barbarians had destroyed Europe’s ancient culture, a new and finer cultural life slowly began to flow from two sources that had somehow escaped being altogether buried in the general havoc—the Jewish Bible and Greek philosophy and art. The union of these two sources, so different one from the other, marks the beginning of our present cultural epoch, and from that union, directly or indirectly, has sprung all that makes up the true values of our present-day life.

Maimonides was one of those strong personalities who by their writings and their human endeavors helped to bring about that synthesis, thus paving the way for later developments. Just how this happened will be related to us tonight by friends whose studies have come closer than I to the heart of Maimonides’ lifework and the history of the European mind.

May this hour of grateful remembrance serve to strengthen within us the love and esteem in which we hold the treasures of our culture, gained in such bitter struggle. Our fight to preserve those treasures against the present powers of darkness and barbarism cannot then but carry the day.

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