Rabbi Moses ben Nahman, commonly known as Nachmanides and also referred to by the acronym Ramban and by the contemporary nickname Bonastruc ça Porta (literally "Mazel Tov near the Gate"), was a leading medieval Jewish scholar, Sephardic rabbi, philosopher, physician, kabbalist, and biblical commentator.
Ramban was born in Girona in 1194, where he grew up and studied (hence he is also called Mosheh ben Nahman Gerondi, or "Moses son of Nahman the Gironan"), and died in the Land of Israel about 1270. He was a descendant of Isaac ben Reuben of Barcelona and cousin of Jonah Gerondi (Rabbeinu Yonah). Among his teachers in Talmud were Judah ben Yakar and Nathan ben Meïr of Trinquetaille, and he is said to have been instructed in Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) by his countryman Azriel of Gerona, who was in turn a disciple of Isaac the Blind.
According to the responsa of Solomon b. Abraham Aderet (part 1, 120, 167) Nachmanides studied medicine. During his teens he began to get a reputation as a learned Jewish scholar. At age 16 he began his writings on Jewish law. In his Milhamot Hashem (Wars of the Lord) he defended Alfasi's decisions against the criticisms of Zerachiah ha-Levi of Girona. These writings reveal a conservative tendency that distinguished his later works — an unbounded respect for the earlier authorities.
He became rabbi of Gerona, but his great scholarship and personality brought him recognition as the spiritual leader of all Spanish Jewry. He earned his living as a doctor and was on occasion consulted by the king, James I of Aragon. The four-day disputation took place in Barcelona in the presence of the king, his court, and high Church dignitaries. Subsequently both an official Christian version and Nahmanides’ own account were published and although these inevitably differed in many details, a comprehensive picture of the occasion emerges.
Therefore no christological inferences could be drawn from these texts; he went on to affirm the beliefs of Judaism and even dared to call absurd some Christian dogmas related to the nature of God. Challenging the Christian belief of Jesus as the “prince of peace,” Nahmanides boldly stated "from the time of Jesus until the present the world has been filled with violence and injustice and the Christians have shed more blood than all other peoples.” The Church representatives, concerned by the direction taken by the disputation and by Nahmanides’ openness, pressed for its conclusion and it was broken off without any formal conclusion or summing up. Nahmanides is a major figure in the development of the study of the Talmud through his waitings on the subject. However, he is best known for his lucid Bible commentary, written in his old age.
This propounds in the first place the literal meaning of the text as well as analyses of the structure and order of the narrative This is combined with homiletical, philosphical, and mystical interpretations at the same time holding to a fundamentalist approach based on the firm belief that God dictated the entire Torah to Moses. He branches out from the text to give his own ideas on a wide variety of topics. While rejecting philosophical rational¬ism and insisting on the superiority of revelation over philosophy, he often utilizes philosophical ideas in his commentary. Much of his thinking is kabbalistic in origin, although he felt that mystical inquiry should be confined to the privileged few. His references to this “esoteric wisdom” are brief and elusive but they were studied and developed by later mystics, and the fact that so authoritative a figure as Nahmanides legitimated mystical thinking contributed to its subsequent central role in Jewish thought.
Nachmanides died in the Holy Land after having passed the age of seventy-six. There is a disagreement as to his actual burial place. Some say that his remains were interred at Haifa. Others say that they are as he requested, next to the building housing the grave sites of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in Hebron. Supporting this latter theory was the discovery of a small underground tomb by an expert in dowsing, in the exact place that his request mentioned, under the seventh step of the small stairs to the right of the building. This location is visited at times by people to give respect to this Torah Master.
Other traditions hold that a rock-hewn cave, called the Cave of the Ramban in Jerusalem, is the Ramban's final resting place.
He became rabbi of Gerona, but his great scholarship and personality brought him recognition as the spiritual leader of all Spanish Jewry.
Nahmanides countered that Talmudic legends were not meant to be taken literally and that even the Jews saw them primarily as imaginative allegories, not to be seen as true events.
In the view of Nachmanides, the wisdom of the rabbis of the Mishnah and Talmud, as well as the Geonim (rabbis of the early medieval era) was unquestionable. Their words were to be neither doubted nor criticized. "We bow," he says, "before them, and even when the reason for their words is not quite evident to us, we submit to them" (Aseifat Zekkenim, commentary on Ketubot). Nachmanides' adherence to the words of the earlier authorities may be due to piety, or the influence of the northern French Jewish school of thought. However, it is thought that it also may be a reaction to the rapid acceptance of Greco-Arabic philosophy among the Jews of Spain and Provence; this occurred soon after the appearance of Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed. This work gave rise to a tendency to allegorize Biblical narratives, and to downplay the role of miracles. Against this tendency Nachmanides strove, and went to the other extreme, not even allowing the utterances of the immediate disciples of the Geonim to be questioned.
In Nachmanides's Torat ha-Adam, which deals with mourning rites, burial customs, etc., Nachmanides sharply criticizes writers who strove to render man indifferent to both pleasure and pain. This, he declares, is against the Law, which commands man to rejoice on the day of joy and weep on the day of mourning. The last chapter, entitled Shaar ha-Gemul, discusses reward and punishment, resurrection, and kindred subjects. It derides the presumption of the philosophers who pretend to a knowledge of the essence of God and the angels, while even the composition of their own bodies is a mystery to them.
For Nachmanides, divine revelation is the best guide in all these questions, and proceeds to give his views on Jewish views of the afterlife. He holds that as God is eminently just, there must be reward and punishment. This reward and punishment must take place in another world, for the good and evil of this world are relative and transitory.
Besides the animal soul, which is derived from the "Supreme powers" and is common to all creatures, man possesses a special soul. This special soul, which is a direct emanation from God, existed before the creation of the world. Through the medium of man it enters the material life; and at the dissolution of its medium it either returns to its original source or enters the body of another man. This belief is, according to Nachmanides, the basis of the levirate marriage, the child of which inherits not only the name of the brother of his fleshly father, but also his soul, and thus continues its existence on the earth. The resurrection spoken of by the prophets, which will take place after the coming of the Messiah, is referred by Nachmanides to the body. The physical body may, through the influence of the soul, transform itself into so pure an essence that it will become eternal.
He is known by the acronym Ramban. He earned his living as a doctor and was on occasion consulted by the king, James I of Aragon. The turning point in his life came in 1263, when the king forced him to defend Judaism in a public controversy with a Jewish convert to Christianity. His opponent, Pablo Christiani, had been engaged in missionary activities among the Jews, claiming that passages in the Talmud proved the truth of Christianity. The king guaranteed Nahmanides complete freedom of speech and the rabbi spoke with a frankness that offended the Church representatives. Pat., Christiani cited Talmudic legends to show that the Messiah had already appeared, that he was "human and divine,” that his death atoned for mankind’s sins, and that with his life and death the commandments of Judaism had lost their validity. Nahmanides countered that Talmudic legends were not meant to be taken literally and that even the Jews saw them primarily as imaginative allegories, not to be seen as true events.