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Chapter 8

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

David Yellin and Israel Abrahams

Jewish Publication Society of America
Philadelphia, 1903

The text is in the public domain.

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Chapter 10

 p147  Chapter IX
The Holy War

"The news of the fall of Jerusalem," writes Mr. Archer, "reached Europe about the end of October 1187. It is hard at this distance of time to realise the measure of the disaster in the eyes of the Western world. It was not merely that the Holy City had fallen; that all the scenes of that Bible history, which constituted emphatically the literature of medieval Christendom, had passed into the hand of the infidel. It was all this and something more; the little kingdom of Jerusalem was the one outpost of the Latin Church and Latin culture in the East; it was the creation of those heroes of the first under whose exploits had already become the theme of more than  p148 one romance; it lay on the verge of that mysterious East with all its wealth of gold and precious stones and merchandise, towards which the sword of the twelfth-century knight turned as instinctively as the prow of the English or Spanish adventurer four centuries later turned towards the West. . . . Thus Palestine inspired alike the imagination, the enterprise, and the faith of Western Christendom."62

The response which Europe made to Saladin's challenge, the glories and horrors of the third Crusade, lie outside our present story. Egypt was scarcely affected by the struggle which for five years raged throughout the length and breadth of Palestine.​63 When Saladin vanquished the army of Guy of Lusignan at Hittin, near Tiberias, the conquest of Palestine and the capture of Jerusalem followed within a few months. Saladin, however, committed the fatal mistake of leaving  p149 Tyre in his enemies' hands, and this fortress by the sea became the rallying point of the Franks. From Tyre marched, in 1189, the army which began the famous siege of Acre. Two days later Saladin besieged the besiegers, but after two years of heroism on both sides, the city surrendered to the Crusaders within five weeks of the arrival of Richard I of England. At Arsuf Richard inflicted a serious defeat on Saladin, but neither the brilliant personal feats nor the military genius of the Lion-hearted King could counterbalance the dissensions which prevailed in the Christian camp. The noblest feature of the third Crusade was the chivalrous courtesy which marked the relations between Saladin and Richard, though the two men never met at a personal interview. In the end, Saladin's power was unshaken. The whole of Palestine, except a narrow strip of the coast from Jaffa to Tyre, remained in Saracen  p150 hands. It is remarkable with what fidelity Saladin was supported throughout the Holy War by every portion of his vast empire from Egypt to the Tigris. "Kurds, Turkmans, Syrians, Arabs, and Egyptians mingled in his armies, and all were Moslems and his servants when he called upon them for an effort. Not a province had fallen away, only one youthful vassal rebelled for an instant, though trials and sufferings of the long campaigns had severely taxed the soldiers' endurance and faith in their leader."​64 Saladin had accomplished his ambition. He had re-united Islam. He had regained the Holy City, which, as he informed Richard on one occasion, was even more to the Moslem than to the Christian. "Jerusalem," replied Saladin to Richard's appeal, "is holy to us as well as to you, and more so, seeing it is the scene of our Prophet's journey, and the place where our people must assemble at the Last Day. Think  p151 not that we shall go back therefrom, or that we can be compliant in this matter."​65 And there the matter has rested until our own day.

Egypt had served as a recruiting ground for the army during the five exhausting years of the Holy War. In all these campaigns, actual warfare was confined to the summer. Saladin's army did not go into winter quarters, but the various contingents were sent home to attend to their personal concerns. A Moslem is never content to remain away from home for long, and this policy of Saladin's helped to keep his army content and spirited. Egypt suffered less than might have been expected from the constant drain of men.​66 For many out of the levies returned for the winter, and in Egypt the winter was the period for the chief processes of agriculture. When the Crusaders came within sight of Jerusalem, though Richard himself  p152 averted his glance, a Council of War decided on relinquishing the scheme of attacking the Holy City in favour of a march upon Cairo. If this wearisome campaign of 250 miles over the desert had been accomplished, the story of Egypt might have been very different. But as things turned out, the third Crusade left Cairo as it found it, secure and faithful to the Moslem cause.

Saladin's brother, el‑Adil, with the coöperation of the Khadi Alfadhel, of whom we have already spoken, administered the affairs of Egypt during and after the war. El‑Adil was the ablest and most "Western" member of Saladin's family; he was a skilful general, a resolute fighter, a shrewd diplomatist, and absolutely loyal. Year by year he led the Egyptian contingent to the annual assemblage in Palestine. Not once did the temptation to seize Egypt for himself rest in his thought. His prowess and his personal fascination  p153 made him a favour with the impetuous and lovable Richard. Coeur de Lion even proposed a marriage between el‑Adil and his own sister Joan. El‑Adil was the intermediary between the two hosts in the negotiations for the treaty of Ramleh, which ended the war. During Maimonides' last years, el‑Adil was the recognised Sultan of Egypt.

It may have been from el‑Adil that Richard heard of the fame of Maimonides as a medical practitioner. The "King of the Franks in Ascalon" sought his services as his physician, but Maimonides declined the honour.​67 He was well content with his position under the Vizir Alfadhel, and if he was acquainted with the events which had occurred at Richard's coronation, he must have felt safer in Cairo than in London. Maimonides had made vast strides forward in medical proficiency and repute. As he wrote to Jonathan of Lunel: "Although from my boyhood  p154 the Torah (Law) was betrothed to me, and continues to hold my heart as the wife of my youth, in whose love I find a constant delight, strange women whom I first took into my house as her handmaids become her rivals, and absorb a portion of my time." Among these "strange women" medicine took a foremost position. Alfadhel placed the name of Maimonides on the list of royal physicians, bestowed an annual salary upon him, and loaded him with distinctions. Maimonides shows less originality than learning in his medical works; he relied on precedent, and was noted for his familiarity with the older authorities. His medical writings, all of which are composed in Arabic, are for the most part summaries or elaborations of Galen, "the Medical Oracle of the Middle Ages."​68 His medical aphorisms, in the judgment of Graetz, "contain nothing further than extracts and classifications of older theories." Yet  p155 this does incomplete justice to our hero. Maimonides certainly used experience as well as precedent as his guide; he tested his remedies by actual experiment; he recognised how deeply physical conditions are affected by psychic causes, and maintained with a strong touch of modernity, that the aim of the doctor is to prevent illness more than to cure it. It was in times of health that the patient might most effectively prepare to meet and conquer the assaults of disease. ʽAbd-el‑Latif, the famous Bagdad physician, who stayed in Cairo for ten years (1194‑1204), asserted that his visit to Egypt was in part due to his anxiety to see three men there, among them Musa ben Maimon. "The poet and khadi, Alsaid ibn Sina Almulk," adds Graetz, "sang of Abu-Amram's (Maimonides') greatness as a doctor in ecstatic verse:—

 p156  "Galen's art heals only the body,

But Abu-Amram's the body and soul.

He could heal with his wisdom the sickness of ignorance.

If the moon would submit to his art,

He would deliver her of her spots at the time of full moon,

Complete for her her periodic defects,

And at the time of her conjunction restore her from her waning."​69

The fall of Jerusalem into Saladin's hands in 1187 reopened the Holy City to the Jews.​70 Saladin freely permitted Zion's eldest sons to settle there, and they blithely availed themselves of the opportunity. It was long before the Jewish population attained large dimensions, but the growth of the new Jerusalem dates from the resumption of Moslem supremacy. Maimonides had suffered in spirit when in 1165 he beheld the desolation of Jerusalem, and it may well be that to his influence with Saladin were due the privileges now conferred on his brethren. Saladin, the nobility of whose character has not been exaggerated by Lessing or  p157 Scott, needed little persuasion. Just as he welcomed the desire of Christian priests to hold services in the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, so he held out his friendly hand to Jews who longed to worship at the sites sacred to their past. During the brief years of Saladin's personal rule, Jerusalem first justified the claim it still enjoys — the claim to the fulfilment of the Hebrew prophet's dream: "My house shall be called a house of prayer to all peoples."

The Vizir Alfadhel is said at this period to have saved Maimonides from a serious danger. Maimonides was now the official head of the Jewish community, "Nagid" (Prince) over the whole Egyptian Jewry. He used his position for public not for private gain. He accepted no salary for himself, but turned his influence to good account. Yemen, the much-enduring, felt a lighter yoke when Maimonides, at the head of Jewish affairs,  p158 had the ear of the Vizir and the Vizir's master. But the very prominence of Maimonides' position exposed him to risks which he had little foreseen. That Samuel ben Ali of Bagdad should become embittered as his rival progressed is intelligible; but another danger now threatened. Among our hero's friends in Fez had been Abul-Arab ibn Moisha. When the latter came to Cairo from the Maghreb, he recognised in the head of the Jewish community the man whom he had taken in past years for a Moslem. The Vizir had no difficulty in acquitting Maimonides of the charge of apostasy now preferred against him. The whole story is too circumstantial to be lightly rejected as inaccurate.​71 Alfadhel's regard for Maimonides was quite strong enough to carry our hero through a fiercer storm. As we shall see, Maimonides was so trusted and admired at Alfadhel's court that he had to pay daily visits to it. Engaged  p159 in communal affairs, with a large practice as a doctor, Maimonides was nevertheless able to occupy himself with his theological studies. During these years, while the Holy War was raging, Maimonides was engaged on the third and last of his great works, the treatise which was to set the crown on his reputation.

The Authors' Notes:

62 The Crusades ("Story of the Nations" Series), p305.

63 Lane-Poole, History of Egypt, p208.

64 Ibid., p211.

65 Lane-Poole, Saladin, p328, from Baha-ed‑din, 275.

66 History of Egypt, p212.

67 This statement is derived from Alkifti; the very probable identification of Richard I with the "King of the Franks at Ascalon" is due to Graetz.

68 On the medical works of Maimonides see Steinschneider, Heb. Uebersetz., § 481 seq.; Hebrew Graetz, IV.374‑5 (with notes), and Appendix, p57; Yellin, Hebrew Maimonides, p73, text and notes.

69 Munk, Notice, p29.

70 Charizi, Tachkemoni, ch. XXIX.

71 For the statement of Alkifti and Dscheli see Munk, Archives Israélites, 1881, p329; compare references in note 9 above.

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