Story begins with discussion of grandfather, who was arrested for murder after a boy's corpse was planted and discovered in his house. He was tortured...moreStory begins with discussion of grandfather, who was arrested for murder after a boy's corpse was planted and discovered in his house. He was tortured but refused to confess, and was eventually exonerated.
Maimon's father kept a library of Hebrew books, some on secular topics. One in particular, David Ganz's "Zemah David", opened his eyes for the first time to modern science. It turned out that Ganz had studied astronomy with Tycho Brahe in Copenhagen, and had a lot to say on the subject. Also on the father's bookshelf was a (garbled) Hebrew translation of Josephus. But it was the astronomy what most appealed to the 7-year old.
Despite his general dislike for Talmud study, Maimon excelled at it. This made him, by the time he reached age 12, an exceedingly eligible bachelor (within the traditional Jewish community, in any case). At one point he found himself betrothed to two women simultaneously. Around this time he also taught himself Latin and German alphabets by studying printers' marks on the signatures of Hebrew books. He also discovered the Zohar, the principal work of Jewish mysticism, and studied it intensively. He likened himself to the 1st century sage Rabi Meir, of whom it was said (regarding his willingness to study with the heretic Elisha ben Abuya): "He found a pomegranate, and he ate the fruit but cast the rind away." Maimon found Jewish mysticism fascinating, but thought the imagery was sometimes strange. There was the image of God's Beard, for example, "in which the hairs are divided into numerous classes with something peculiar to each, and every hair is a separate channel of divine grace. With all my efforts," he writes, "I could find no rational meaning in these representations." At one point, he experimented with "Kabalah maasit," or Practical Kabbalah, invoking the "roeh ve-eno nireh" (seeing but not being seen) technique, and attempted to box a friend on the ears, but, not really being invisible after all, the friend immediately turned around and returned the blow.
Eventually Maimon made his way to Berlin where he befriended (and later estranged) Moses Mendelssohn and other enlightenment thinkers. After a period of extreme poverty, Maimon began a study of Kant's critical philosophy, won the philosopher's praise, and published a Kantian work of his own entitled "Transcendental Philosophy".(less)