by Ilil Arbel, Ph.D.
An old legend tells a most heroic story about Maimonides' escape from Fez. According to the tale, Maimonides functioned as a dayyan ¹. He worked next door to a Muslim judge who hated all Jews. That judge once claimed that if a Jew touched the clothes of a Muslim, the Muslim must bathe to purify himself and change his clothes. Maimonides refused to see the Jews humiliated, and waited for his chance to return the insult.
One day, a Jew came to consult Maimonides. The Jew owned two vats, one of oil, the other of wine. The day before, a mouse fell into the oil and drowned, and a Muslim passed by and touched the vat of wine. Could the Jew still use the oil and the wine? Maimonides, as usual surrounded by many listeners, deliberated the two problems. Finally, he said that the Jew may remove the mouse and use the oil. As for the wine, he continued, this was another matter. A Jew is forbidden to drink wine that had been touched by a Muslim. The Jew had to discard the vat of wine.
As Maimonides intended, the judge next door heard that decision. Furiously, he got up and screamed at the crowd that Maimonides considered a dead mouse a purer entity than a living Muslim! Such a man must be destroyed! The enraged and violent crowd chased Maimonides through the streets. He ran to the first city gate. God sent a pride of lions to his rescue, and they tore many of his pursuers to pieces. The lions' attack slowed the crowd and Maimonides managed to run to the second city gate. At the gate, God sent him swords, and they brandished themselves in the air and stabbed some of the pursuers. During the miraculous fight, Maimonides ran to the third city gate. There, fire blazed through the gate and burned many of the pursuers. Maimonides ran to the fourth and last city gate, and saw that a huge boulder blocked it! Trusting in God, Maimonides hurled himself into the stone, and God made him magically disappear through it -- and reappear in Cairo, safe and sound.
¹ A Jewish judge.
Ilil Arbel. Maimonides: A Spiritual Biography. New York: Crossroad Publishing Company. (To be published September 2001).
Yitzhak Avishur. Shivhe ha-Rambam. Jerusalem: The Magnes Press, The Hebrew University. 1998.