Maimonides, popularly known as Rambam, was born on March 30, 1135. Maimonides is best known as a philosopher, prolific author and jurist: the foremost intellect of Medieval Judaism. Although his chapter on health in his Mishneh Torah is still popular and studied today, most people are unaware that Maimonides actually wrote 10 medical works.
His fame as a physician spread rapidly in his later years. He became the court physician to the famous Sultan Saladin, and later to his son Al-Afḍal. In 1477, only a few years after the invention of printing, a Latin edition of his “Regimen of Health” was published in Florence. It was the first medical book to appear in print there. Prof. Waldmer Schweiseheimer, a mid-twentieth century historian, said of Maimonides’ medical writings: “Maimonides’ medical teachings are not antiquated at all. His writings are astonishingly modern in tone and content.” Mr. David Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister of Israel, and after him Prof. Albert Einstein, requested that Maimonides’ medical writings be published. As Sir William Osler so aptly put it, “Maimonides was Prince of Physicians.”
My journey began when I researched and wrote a book called The Life-Transforming Diet, published by Feldheim. This book is based on Maimonides’ nutritional and psychological advice found in his philosophical and legal works, especially his medical writings. The book was well received and is currently in its seventh printing. It has been translated into Hebrew. The Life-Transforming Diet has already produced dramatic life-changing results for thousands of people worldwide.
After the book was published, I pursued my interest in the herbal aspect of Rambam’s writings. Besides writing about nutritional and lifestyle habits, Rambam details herbal remedies extensively in his medical works. In fact, he has one dedicated thick volume about drug names and descriptions. I was especially fascinated by Maimonides’ favorite stress relief formula, which he describes: “This should be taken regularly, at all times. Its effects are that sadness and anxieties disappear. This is a remedy of which no equal can be found in gladdening, strengthening and invigorating the psyche. It should always be found in your possession.” (Maimonides Medical Writings)
At the same time, I researched the best herbal ingredients for an appetite suppressant based on Maimonides’ nutritional suggestions and the most current herbal scientific research.
My first concern was to ensure that the herbal ingredients and formulations found in Maimonides’ works were being translated accurately. In general, many translations of ancient texts are not accurate. In fact, some of the better-known translations of Maimonides’ medical works, which were originally written in Arabic, are not precise and this becomes an important issue especially regarding locating and defining the exact herbal ingredients. The first step was to find the most exact translation. I utilized all three main translations of his medical works and after months of searching, I succeeded in communicating with the most renowned expert in the translation of Maimonides’ works from the original Arabic and other manuscripts of that era. He is affiliated with Brigham Young University in the USA and proficient in classical and Semitic languages.
My next step was to actually travel to India, which I did twice. I went to New Delhi and Mumbai in order to meet current day experts in Unani Medicine. I provided them with the original Arabic manuscripts and they confirmed the exact translation of the various herbal ingredients.
I wanted to further confirm my findings in India and so I got research scientists and current day herbalists to test and confirm the ingredients and formulations.
The next step was to ensure that the formulations could be made kosher. This was actually a much bigger challenge then it seems. It took two years to make this a possibility. To make the formulations kosher one needs the actual ingredients to be sourced kosher and the actual encapsulation needs to be supervised.
I traveled to China to the CPHI conference, which hosts 2,200 exhibitors and 29,000 attendees from over 133 countries. It is the market leader for the global pharmaceutical ingredients industry. I also visited various facilities in Shanghai and India—New Delhi, Mumbai and Ahmedabad.
After much research, I concluded that the best location for ensuring quality and strict kosher supervision of the production line was to have the products made in the USA. Since all products are also Kosher Star K certified, there is additional assurance of quality and third party substantiation of included ingredients and encapsulation.
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In Jewish law, we are told that it is unjust to be biased and be swayed by poverty, to favor the case of the poor over the rich in a dispute. Within the realm of a formal court’s judgment this is crucial (Exodus 23: 3, 6). However, does this notion still apply today, where the disparity of wealth between the poor and the rich has become so large that the poor often can no longer properly advocate for themselves?
This notion of equality before the law is mostly a fallacy today in America, since the poor have such a serious disadvantage in the courtroom. The New York Times reported that more than 90% of criminal cases are never tried before a jury; most people charged with crimes just plead guilty, forfeiting their constitutional rights. The prosecution usually promises to give a deal to those who plead guilty and go all-out against anyone who tries to go to trial. It is simply cheaper to plead guilty than to try to pay for legal counsel.
Every individual should have the same fair opportunity before the law, because we must be committed to truth and justice. But this is not the reality today. Even if it were true, Judaism teaches that we must go over and above the law (lifnim mishurat hadin) to support those more vulnerable (Bava Metzia 83a). Furthermore, we learn that G-d created and destroyed many worlds that were built upon the foundation of din (judgment), and then G-d finally created this world built upon rachamim (mercy) (Rashi to Genesis 1:1). Our world can’t exist on pure judgment, rather, as fallible beings we rely upon the grace, empathy, and kindness of G-d and man.
We must be moved toward mercy for those who are suffering, and this must affect how we build society. President Obama explained the importance of empathy in jurisprudence when choosing Supreme Court justices: “I will seek someone who understands that justice isn’t about some abstract legal theory or footnote in a casebook; it is also about how our laws affect the daily realities of people’s lives. I view the quality of empathy, of understanding and identifying with people’s hopes and struggles as an essential ingredient for arriving at just decisions and outcomes.” Law is not only about principle, it is also about life.
This is all the more true outside of the courtroom. Within the realm of Jewish grassroots activism, we learn that our primary responsibility is not equality, but to prioritize our support for the vulnerable.
Numerous Jewish teachings remind us that our primary responsibility is to protect and prioritize the most vulnerable individuals and parties: “G-d takes the side of the aggrieved and the victim” (Ecclesiastes 3:15). When there is conflict, G-d simply cannot withhold support for the one suffering.
Rav Ahron Soloveichik writes: “A Jew should always identify with the cause of defending
the aggrieved, whosoever the aggrieved may be, just as the concept of tzedek is to be applied uniformly to all humans regardless of race or creed” (Logic of the Heart, Logic of the Mind, 67).
This is what it means to be Jewish, to prioritize the suffering in conflict.
This point is made time and time again by the rabbis. The Talmud, based on the verse “justice, justice, you shall pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20), teaches that the disadvantaged should be given preference when all else is equal. The Rambam teaches that even if the disadvantaged arrive later than other people, they should be given precedence (Sanhedrin 21:6, Shulhan Arukh CM 15:2).
Thus, in a court of law, all parties are ideally treated equally, as we are guided by the Jewish value of din (judgment); today, however, justice does not prevail. Further, in activism we must favor the vulnerable, since we are guided by the Jewish value of chesed (empathy, loving kindness). In life, we must learn to balance all of our values: love, justice, mercy, etc. In justice, we do not just choose one guiding principle: As Isaiah Berlin teaches, moral life consists of embracing a plurality of values.
We must always be absolutely committed to the truth and be sure that our justice system is fair for all parties. Yet we also, as changemakers, have a special and holy role to give voice to the voiceless and to support the unsupported in society. This is the role of Jewish activism. The rabbis teach that “Even if a righteous person attacks a wicked person, G-d still sides with the victim” (Yalkut Shimoni). All people deserve our love and care but we must follow the path of G-d and make our allegiances clear: with the destitute, oppressed, alienated, and suffering.