In This Article Moses Maimonides: Mishneh Torah

  • Introduction
  • Primary Sources: Hebrew Editions
  • Primary Sources: Translations and Anthologies
  • Primary Sources: Classical Commentaries
  • Secondary Sources: Classical Commentaries
  • Short Introductions
  • General Introductions
  • General Subjects
  • Mediterranean, Sephardic, Islamic Influences
  • The Book of Knowledge
  • Mysticism
  • Prayer
  • Ethics
  • The Middle Path
  • “The Other”
  • Messianism
  • Reception and Impact
  • Modern Judaism
  • Contemporary Traditionalist Commentaries: Teshuva

Jewish Studies Moses Maimonides: Mishneh Torah
by
Bernard Steinberg
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 May 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199840731-0152

Introduction

Maimonides’ (b. 1138–d. 1204) Mishneh Torah (1178–1180), translated “Reiteration of the Law” or “Second Torah,” is a fourteen-volume legal code of Jewish belief and practice. Intended to be authoritative, comprehensive, and accessible to the entire Jewish people, the Mishneh Torah encompasses the complete scope and content of the Jewish Oral Tradition, including laws in effect in the present in lands of the exile and laws to be effected during messianic time in the land of Israel. In contrast to most of his other writings, Maimonides wrote the Mishneh Torah in an updated mishnaic Hebrew. Although Maimonides cites the Mishnah (200 CE) as precedent to justify his writing down of the Oral Tradition (technically forbidden by Jewish law), the Mishneh Torah is sui generis. Maimonides reconceptualizes and reorganizes the Oral Law under fourteen large themes, subdivided by specific categories of laws. He does not cite Talmudic sources, explain his reasoning, or offer alternative options. Yet he does codify theological and philosophical beliefs, and he uses narrative to frame and augment laws and infuses specific laws with medical and scientific teaching, all novel features. The Mishneh Torah by virtue of its magisterial erudition is among the most authoritative codes of Jewish law, and simultaneously by virtue of its incisive originality among the most controversial. During the mid-20th century, the most seminal controversy concerns the relation between the Mishneh Torah and The Guide of the Perplexed. Do the Mishneh Torah, an exoteric work earmarked for the community at large, and The Guide of the Perplexed, an esoteric work earmarked for a moral, intellectual and spiritual elite, present essentially different, or similar worldviews? Leo Strauss, the predominant Maimonidean scholar of the first half of the 20th century, pioneered the view that the Law, grounded in revelation, and philosophy, grounded in reason, are mutually exclusive teachings. Contra Strauss, Isadore Twersky and David Hartman argue that the Mishneh Torah and The Guide, however different their proximate goals, methods, and audiences, shared an overarching religious worldview, integrating philosophy and law. Subsequent scholars on both sides of the issue have developed, refined, and offered nuanced variations applied to a variety of specific topics. From its inception to the present, scholars have wrestled with the overarching question: To what extent and in what ways does the Mishneh Torah represent continuity with or break from the Jewish tradition? The range of scholarly perspectives, methodologies, and conclusions regarding this large question is vast.

Primary Sources: Hebrew Editions

Standard editions are printed with medieval commentaries and glosses, usually based on the Vilna manuscript. Frankel 2000, the best standard edition, is based on Yemenite and signature manuscripts. Rabinowitz 1985 and Makbili 2009, modern vocalized editions, do not include the classical commentaries, yet do offer extensive notes. The Book of Knowledge, due to its extensive philosophical, theological, and ethical content, has been published in single, free-standing volumes, as seen in Liebermann 1964 and Qufih 1964. Because the correlated themes of knowledge and love together constitute Maimonides’ summum bonum, “worship in/through the heart,” editions of The Book of Knowledge have been published in conjunction with The Book of Love, the second volume, as presented in in Havlin 1997 and Steinsaltz 2014.

  • Frankel, Shabse, ed. Mishneh Torah. Jerusalem: Hotzaat Shabse Frankel, 2000.

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    Best standard edition; lucid, classical commentators. MS Oxford with Maimonides’ signature.

  • Havlin, Shelomoh Zalmin, ed. Mishneh Torah: Book of Knowledge and Book of Love. Cleveland, OH: Makhon Ofeq, 1997.

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    Book of Knowledge and Book of Love based on autograph manuscripts of Mishneh Torah. Published as facsimile by Havlin. Can be viewed online.

  • Liebermann, Shaul, ed. Mishneh Torah: The Book of Knowledge. Jerusalem: Mosad ha-Rav Kook, 1964.

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    Only critical edition of The Book of Knowledge; includes excellent annotations.

  • Makbili, Yohai, chief ed. Mishne Torah: Code of Maimonides. Haifa, Israel: Or Vishua, 2009.

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    Single volume of entire Mishneh Torah, fully vocalized; includes eleven indexes on a variety of topics. (Also see Reference Works.)

  • Qufih, Yosef, ed. Mishneh Torah: The Book of Knowledge. Jerusalem: Mosad ha-Rav Kook, 1964.

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    Authoritative edition by a luminary Maimonidean scholar, Qafih’s edition is based on Yemenite manuscripts and includes his lucid commentary.

  • Rabinowitz, Mordechai, ed. Mishneh Torah: Rambam L’am. Jerusalem: Mosad ha-Rav Kook, 1985.

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    Popular, most accessible complete edition; widely used in classrooms. Vocalized text, extensive annotations on Biblical and rabbinic sources, and Maimonidean cross-references. Companion Maimonidean volumes include The Book of Commandments, Epistles, Introductions to the Commentary on the Mishnah, and Commentary on Avot.

  • Steinsaltz, Adin. Mishneh Torah: The Book of Knowledge and Book of Love. Jerusalem: Shefa, 2014.

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    Vocalized Hebrew; lucid, incisive commentary and notes by luminary Talmudist Adin Steinsaltz; classical critical gloss of the RaBaD (acronym for Abraham Ben David of Posquières), known for his trenchant criticisms of the Mishneh Torah.

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