The Physician vs. the Halakhic Man: Theory and Practice in Maimonides's Attitude towards Treating Gentiles

Abraham Ofir Shemesh


Ancient Jewish law took a strict approach to medical relationships between Jews and non-Jews. Sages forbade Jews to provide non-Jews with medical services: to treat them, circumcise them, or deliver their babies, in order to refrain from helping pagan-idolatrous society. Such law created particularly severe social conflicts in cases of mixed societies based on joint systems. The current paper focuses on the attitude of Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides, Rambam, 1138-1204), a medieval Sephardic Jewish Rabbi towards providing medical service to gentiles. Following the classical rabbis R. Moshe ben Maimon in his halakhic tome Mishne Torah, objected to treating non-Jews. His rigid attitude found expression in several aspects of helping and giving medical treatment to non-Jews. Despite the classical rabbinical restrictions on medical relationships between Jews and non-Jews, and his own rigid halakhic verdicts, Maimonides treated gentiles. According to one understanding, Maimonides cured Muslims for a wage, which is permitted. However, it seems that the main factor that may have facilitated Maimonides halakhic position is the identification of Islam as a non-idolatrous faith. Interestingly not only on medical issues did the Maimonides act differently than his halakhic rulings in Mishne Torah, rather in other areas as well.


Medical Jewish prohibition, treating Muslims, Maimonides, medical treatment, idolaters, medieval medicine, Ethnic-medicine, Halakha, Judaism, Mishneh Torah

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