Moses ben Nachman

(1194-1270) (Moses Nachmanides, also known by the acronym Ramban.)

A learned rabbi and commentator on the Bible, the leader of the Jewish community in Spain. Born in Gerona, he was known from his earliest youth as a Talmudic scholar. In addition to being the rabbi of Gerona, he was also the spiritual leader of the entire Jewish community in Spain. He supported himself by practicing medicine, and had luminaries such as King James of Aragon as his patients.

In 1263, at the king's request, he took part in a public dispute regarding a baptized Jew. Nachmanides was to defend Judaism in a debate with Pablo Christiani, who was active in missionary work among the Jews. Christiani argued that many passages in the Talmud prove the truths proclaimed by Christianity. The theological dispute lasted four days, and took place in Barcelona in the presence of the king and his court, as well as Church dignitaries. After it had finished, both sides published their versions of events. Despite the discrepancies in details, these publications make it possible to reconstruct the dispute quite faithfully. Pablo Christiani argued that the legends contained in the Talmud confirm the fact that the Messiah had already come as Jesus—God and man, whose death redeemed man's sin; as a result, Judaism's teachings had lost their significance. Nachmanides opposed the drawing of Christological conclusions on the basis of texts that must not be read literally, since allegory was their greatest strength. Nachmanides confirmed the truth of Judaism, while simultaneously attacking some of the dogmas regarding the nature of God. He also accused the Christians of transgressions that were far from their teachings about peace and love.

The debate was interrupted, and no final conclusions were announced. Afterwards, Nachmanides taught for a week in the synagogue in Barcelona, where previously a Christian monk had given a sermon encouraging Jews to convert to Christianity.
Nachmanides then returned to Gerona. He could not stay there, however, because he had offended the Dominicans with his statements. As a result, they launched a case against him in the court of the Inquisition in 1265, charging him with blasphemy. The king, who was favorably inclined towards Nachmanides, proposed that the case end with a sentence of two years' expulsion from Spain and destruction of Nachmanides' account of the debate. This did not satisfy the Dominicans, however.

Nachmanides left Spain and arrived in the Holy Land in 1267. Nachmanides stayed for a time in Jerusalem, where he reorganized a community and founded a synagogue that for centuries was to be the only synagogue in Jerusalem. In 1268, he moved to Akra, where he spent his last days.

Nachmanides became best known for his commentary on the Bible, written during the latter years of his life. He concentrated on the texts' literal meaning, analyzing their narrative structure and the order stemming from the assumption that God dictated the entire Torah to Moses. He often supplemented his explanations with homiletical, philosophical, or even mystical passages. Nachmanides rejected philosophical rationalism in favor of revelation. He called on Kabbalistic tradition, though he also believed that forays into mysticism should be limited. His authority undoubtedly helped raise the position of mystic thought in Jewish philosophy.

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