And my son Avraham, G‑d gave him charm and blessing from the one who he is named after ... for he is humble of spirit amongst men … Without a doubt, he will, G‑d willing, acquire a name among the great ones.”

These words are taken from a letter written by Maimonides himself in praise of his son, giving us a glimpse of a lesser-known scholar and defender of tradition, whose place in history is often overshadowed by that of his larger-than-life father.

Early Years & Education

Rabbeinu Avraham was born in Egypt in 1186, when his father, Maimonides, was at the zenith of his career as the royal physician to the sultan, leader (naggid) of the Jewish community of Egypt, and arguably the greatest Torah scholar of his generation.

By all accounts, Rabbeinu Avraham was talented and bright. Studying with his father from a young age, by his teenage years he was already an accomplished Torah scholar.

In addition to assisting his aging father with tending to communal matters, he also helped him answer the hundreds of questions on Jewish law that poured into their home in Fustat (old Cairo) from all over the Jewish world.

After Maimonides’ passing in 1204, Rabbeinu Avraham took over all of his father’s positions. He became naggid, as well as a physician in the court of the sultan, all at the age of 18!

That the community appointed him as their leader at such a young age testifies not only to the love they had for his illustrious father, but also to the tremendous level of scholarship Rabbeinu Avraham achieved in his own right.

Leader of the Mystics

Rabbeinu Avraham married the daughter of R’ Chananel ben Shmuel Hadayan, also known as Rabbeinu Chananel Hachassid. R’ Chananel was a member (possibly leader) of a group of what were known as the Chassidei Mitzrayim (“the pious of Egypt”). This was a select group of advanced Torah scholars who strove to rise to great spiritual levels and achieve a unique relationship with G‑d.

Although somewhat similar to today’s chassidim due to their emphasis on deep meaningful prayer, the Chassidei Mitzrayim were an entirely different group, who placed a heavy focus on meditation and introspection.

While simultaneously serving as the rabbi of the community at large, Rabbeinu Avraham also became a leader of the Chassidim, even praying in a separate synagogue together with his fellow mystics.

Defender of His Father

One of a rabbi’s main responsibilities is to answer questions, and Rabbeinu Avraham was no different. He answered hundreds of letters that poured in from across the Diaspora, with questions ranging from difficult issues in the Talmud to queries on Jewish law and practice.

Many rabbis sent him questions about his father’s writings, probing, and occasionally challenging, Maimonides’ halachic decisions and works.

One such challenger was Rabbi Daniel Habavli (“the Babylonian”), a leading scholar in Persia, who sent a long letter with 47(!) questions and challenges on a wide range of Maimonides’ rulings. Rabbeinu Avraham, who had previously heard of Rabbi Daniel’s critiques of his father’s works, addressed each point he raised.

At times, he praised Rabbi Daniel’s questions: “I had the same question for many years and I exerted much effort in it, but it isn't a question on my father (may he rest in peace), for all Geonim and commentators rule that way.” Or: “This question is worthy of asking, and for a long time I myself had this question during the lifetime of my father and master (may he rest in peace). He explained to me the reason, and after he passed away more proofs were revealed to me, and I wrote them in my commentary ...”

Other times, he was more critical. But his overall priority was always to uphold the truth of his father’s teachings, which he vigorously defended his whole life (this includes his defense of his father's teaching that the branches of the Temple Menorah were straight, not curved).

A tremendous controversy erupted in Spain and Provence regarding Maimonides’ Moreh Nevuchim (“Guide to the Perplexed”), which tragically led to the public burning of the text in 1233.

In response, Rabbeinu Avraham picked up his quill and penned Milchemet Hashem (“The War of G‑d”), defending his father’s views against his critics.

His Other Works

In addition to his responsa, commentaries on the Talmud (of which only fragments have survived), a commentary on Genesis and Exodus, and his writings defending his father, perhaps the greatest legacy Rabbeinu Avraham left us was his monumental ethical work, Hamaspik La’avadei Hashem (“What Will Suffice to Servants of G‑d”).

Originally written in Judeo-Arabic (called Kitab Kifayeh al Abidim) before being translated into Hebrew, it serves both as a halachic guide to fulfilling mitzvot and as a way to achieve spiritual growth. The work also provides a glimpse into the spiritual mindset of the Chassidei Mitzrayim, as the chapters on self perfection are written to help one climb above human physicality and cling to the divine.

Unfortunately, as with many of his other writings, this work hasn’t survived the passage of time in its entirety, and only sections have been published over the years. That which we do have, has become a classic ethical work.

His Passing and Legacy

Rabbeinu Avraham passed away in the year 1237 at 51 years old.

Although he lived much of his life in the posthumous shadow of his father, Rabbeinu Avraham was very much his own person who enriched the world with his rulings and ethical teachings.

His children, Rabbeinu David and Rabbeinu Ovadiah, continued their father’s legacy by writing their own commentaries.

Rabbeinu David also followed in the way of his father and grandfather by serving as naggid and leader of the Chassidim, as did members of the family for several more generations.

Rabbeinu Avraham’s life story shows us that no matter what greatness we come from, we can utilize our own potential to accomplish achievements unique to us, while at the same time appreciating and building upon the background we are fortunate to have.