Although there is dispute about the authenticity of many holy graves in Israel, we can safely say the Rambam’s Grave (The Tomb of Maimonides) is in Tiberias.
Who was Rabbi Moses ben Maimon?
Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, known as the Rambam (acronym for Moses ben Maimon) or Maimonides, lived in 12th century Egypt, where he was a great halachic (Jewish law) authority. Maimonides, who was born in Cordova, Spain in 1135. Later he moved from there to Morocco and then to Egypt. The Rambam died in Fustat, Egypt in 1204. He was a scholar, philosopher, doctor, writer and one of the greatest minds ever produced by the Jewish people. In Egypt, Maimonides served as the royal physician to the Sultan. Rambam died in Egypt, but Rambam’s Grave is in central Tiberias, on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee.
His most comprehensive work on Jewish law was the 14-volume Mishne Torah.
Legends about the burial of Maimonides
Some dispute exists about his Rambam’s Grave, whether it is really in Tiberias or in Egypt. According to Jewish tradition, his students placed his bones for a week in a small shrine where he used to study and to heal strangers. Next to the Rambam Synagogue in Egypt stood a tent in memory of the temporary interment of the Rambam before he was buried in Tiberias.
Legend has it that before the Rambam died, he asked his sons to bury him in Israel.
- According to one legend when the Rambam felt that he would soon pass away, he called his students to gather by his bedside. He asked them to put his dead body on a camel and let it walk wherever it wanted. The students were supposed to follow the camel and bury the dead body of the Rambam wherever the camel stopped. When the Rambam passed away, the students put his dead body onto the back of a camel and the camel started walking. Somehow it walked all the way to Tiberias and only stopped walking near the grave of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai.
- Another legend tells that a group of Bedouins were about to attack the funeral cortegé. When they realized whose funeral it was and that he had taken medical care of them and their families, they “hung their heads in shame” and proceeded to guard the procession instead.
Sources referring to the Tomb of Maimonides
- In the 13th century, Rabbi Ya‟acov of Paris kept a record of holy places and cemeteries that he visited on his travels and published it under the name “Eleh Masa’ot”
- Rabbi Eshtori Farhi of Provence author of the book called “Kaphtor Va Ferah” states at the beginning of chapter 16 that Rabbi Kehane andRabbi Yochanan are buried in Tiberias
- Rabbi David Hanagid, the Grandson of Maimonides lived several years in Israel and then moved back to Egypt where he died. His remains where brought back to Israel and were buried in Tiberias next to the grave of his Grandfather.
- A late medieval poem (Piyut) called “Eretz Asher Lo Bemiskenut Yivul Nitna” states clearly:
- In a work written by a student of Nachmanides (Rabbi Moses benNachman) called “Totza’ot Eretz Israel” describes the burial sites of the righteous in Tiberias:
“In the cemetery is buried Rabbenu Moshe ben HaDayan Rabbi Maimon”.
The Rambam’s Grave in Tiberias
Rabbi Yaakov Moshe Toledano purchased the area around Rambam’s grave and the Tomb of Rabbi Akiva from local Arabs in 1920. He also built a wall around the Tomb of Maimonides. Toledano became Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv and later Minister of Religious Affairs. The place of the tomb of Maimonides is also the burial place of Rabbis Isaiah Horowitz and Yochanan ben Zakai.
The grave is a site of pilgrimage, despite the fact the Rambam himself was against pilgrimage to graves of rabbis. The recent renovation of the tomb might have turned Maimonides’ tomb into a pilgrimage site on the scale of that of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron. However, Maimonides was an analytical thinker who dismissed mysticism.
The entrance to the grave is flanked by seven pillars on each side, with the name of each of the Rambam’s Mishne Torah volumes engraved on it. On the wall of metal-topped shrine in Tiberias is the saying: “From Moses to Moses, there has never been another Moses” — a reference to the biblical lawgiver Moses.
3D Virtual Tour of the Rambam’s Grave
Maimonides Heritage Center
Adjacent to Maimonides’ grave you can visit the Maimonides Heritage Center. The space is small yet includes a fascinating walk through the life of Maimonides, his literary and professional legacy and his impact on Judaism, Medicine and Philosophy.
More to see in Tiberias: