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W ithout R ed S tr ings or Holy Water: Ma imonides’ Mishneh Torah Judaism and Jewish Life G e o f f r ey A l d e r m a n (U n ive r si t y of B u ck i ng h a m, Eng la nd) M e i r B a r - I l a n (Ba r- I la n U n ive r si t y, Isra e l) H e r b e r t B a s s e r (Q u ee n’s U n ive r si t y, Ca na d a) D o n a t e l l a E s t e r D i Ce s a r e (U n ive r si ta La Sa p i e nza, Ita ly) S i m c h a Fi s h b a n e ( To u ro Co l leg e, N ew Yo rk), Se ri e s Ed i to r A n d r e a s N a c h a m a ( To u ro Co l leg e, B e rl i n) I r a Ro b i n s o n (Co nco rd ia U n ive r si t y, M o ntrea l) N i s s a n R u b i n (Ba r- I la n U n ive r si t y, Isra e l) S u s a n St a r r S e r e d (Suf fo l k U n ive r si t y, B os to n) Re ev a S p e c t o r S i m o n ( Ye sh iva U n ive r si t y, N ew Yo rk) Without Red Strings or Holy Water: Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah H . Nor m a n Str ick m a n B o s t o n | 2011 Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data A catalog record for this title is available from the Library of Congress Copyright © 2011 Academic Studies Press All rights reserved ISBN 978-1-936235-48-3 Book design by Ivan Grave Published by Academic Studies Press in 2011 28 Montfern Avenue Brighton, MA 02135, USA [email protected] www.academicstudiespress.com Dedicated to Zahava on our fiftieth wedding Anniversary. Words cannot express my thanks for a half a century of love, patience and devotion. Table of Contents Preface 9 Chapter One. The Mishneh Torah 12 Chapter Two. God 35 Chapter three. the commandments 56 Chapter four. magic: demons and evil spirits 74 Chapter five. Dangerous practices 93 Chapter six. astrology 101 Chapter seven. medicine 106 Chapter eight. communicating with the dead 111 Chapter nine. The messianic era 119 Chapter ten. The oral law 126 Postscript 139 Appendix. another look at the mishneh torah 148 Bibliography 158 Index 165 About the author 178 Preface In December 1989 I delivered a lecture at the Twenty-First Annual Conference of the American Association for Jewish Studies, entitled “Judaism Without Superstition: Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah.” The talk dealt with Maimonides’ attitude to astrology, medicine, evil spirits, the evil eye, amulets, magic, theurgic practices, omens, communicating with the dead and the like. Ever since then I have delivered a variant of that lecture to assorted audiences. A number of people found the topic fascinating and liberating. They apparently were bothered by some of the issues raised or alluded to, and were gratified to learn that one of Judaism’s greatest minds apparently at some level shared some of their concerns. A number of them asked me for copies of my talk. Others requested that I publish it. I of course am not the first to discover in the Mishneh Torah a rational version of Judaism. In fact when I showed a copy of my lecture to a colleague he noted that the late Dr. Yitzchak Twerksy of Harvard had made some of the very same points. I then came across important works on this topic by Dr. Marc Shapiro of University of Scranton, Dr. Menachem Kellner of Haifa University and Rabbi Marc Angel of the Spanish and Portuguese synagogue. Nevertheless I decided to go ahead and publish this paper. The Rabbis say, en beit midrash le-lo chiddush:1 there is no study without something new. I hope that the same applies to my work and leave it to the reader to judge. Ever since Rabbi Saadiah Gaon composed his Sefer Emunot Ve-De’ot two approaches to Scripture and Rabbinic texts have been wrestling with each other in traditional Jewish literature, 1 Chagigah 3a. 9 10 Preface the rational and some variation of that which Rabbi Nachman of Breslav called “simple faith” (emunah peshutah). In all honesty the aforementioned is an oversimplification. One can find examples of simple faith in Rabbi Saadiah Gaon and rational interpretations of classic texts in the works of those who championed some form of emunah peshutah.2 However, the above dichotomy among Jewish thinkers is certainly true as a working hypothesis. The great medieval Jewish philosopher Rabbi Moses Maimonides was one of the greatest representatives of the rational school. Maimonides composed both philosophical and Halakhic works. There are those who would distinguish between Maimonides the Halakhist and Maimonides the philosopher.3 In fact in traditional Jewish circles it is possible to find people who know “the Rambam”4 as a great authority in Halakah but are hardly aware of “the Rambam’s” philosophic thought. It will be the purpose of this paper to show that Maimonides’ rationalistic approach to Jewish tradition was not limited to his philosophic writings but also underlay his greatest Halakhic work, the Mishneh Torah. The paper which follows will not only deal with Maimonides’ approach to theurgy, magic and the like, it will also deal with Maimonides’ 2 Rabbi Judah Ha-Levi’s Kuzari falls into this category. The latter championed simple faith over belief based on philosophic proofs. Nevertheless he maintains that Judaism does not require a Jew to believe in anything that the mind rejects. See Kuzari 1:89. 3 Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch believed that Maimonides the Halakhist saved Judaism while Maimonides the philosopher harmed Judaism. See The Nineteen Letters of Ben Uziel: “It is to this great man (Maimonides) alone that we owe the preservation of practical Judaism until the present day. By accomplishing this and yet, on the other hand, merely reconciling Judaism with the ideas from without, rather than developing it creatively from within, and by the way in which he effected this reconciliation, he gave rise to all the good that followed—as well as all the bad.” The World of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, The Nineteen Letters. Newly translated by Karin Paritzky. Revised and with a comprehensive commentary by Joseph Elias (New York, 1965), p. 265. 4 Maimonides’ full Hebrew name and title was Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon. Traditional Jews refer to him by the Hebrew acronym of his title and name—Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon-Rambam. Preface approach to a number of Jewish doctrines and beliefs dealt with in the Mishneh Torah. I want to express my deepest appreciation to the following people, whose encouragement and generous contribution made the publication of this volume possible. May God bestow His blessings upon them so that they can continue in their support of Torah studies. I offer my sincere thanks to: Guy & Miriam Alba; Ari & Deborah Brand; Robert Boriskin & Esther Hakalir; Shelomo & Marylin Chavez; Yossi & Amy Golshan, Reuben & Carol Greenberg; Moshe & Lori Eidlisz; Eli & Avigail Kohn; Harris & Avital Leitner; Avrohom & Hindy Norensberg; Rafael & Barbara Steiner; Aviezer & Yael Saperstein; Dovid & Elisheva Teitelbaum; Aryeh & Michelle Jacobson; Jonathan & Edna Sohnis; Yaakov & Chani Ugowitz. I want to thank Re’uvan Greenberg and Shelomo Chavez for reading my manuscript and encouraging me to have it published. I similarly offer my deepest thanks to Rafael Steiner and Guy Alba who played key roles in gathering the funds to make the publication of this work possible. I would also like to express my thanks to Ms. Sharona Veda Acquisitions Editor of the Academic Studies Press for the help she extended in preparing my manuscript for publication. H. Norman Strickman Rabbi Emeritus: Marine Park Jewish Center Prof. of Judaic Studies: Touro College 11 Ch apter O ne The Mishneh Torah Moses Maimonides was one of the greatest personalities produced by the Jewish people in the middle ages. He was a Halakhist par excellence and a great philosopher, a political leader of his community, and a guardian of Jewish rights. He served as a spiritual guide to Jewish communities and to individual Jews all over the world, offering them direction in Halakhah, theology and politics. Moses Maimonides was born on the eve of Passover in Cordova, Spain, in 1138.1 He passed away in Fostat, Egypt, in 1204. Passover commemorates the liberation of the Israelites from Egyptian bondage. Moses son of Amram led that liberation. Moses was not only Israel’s liberator but also its lawgiver. For many a medieval Jew, Moses ben Maimon was a duplicate of Moses ben Amram. He, like the Moses of old, was a lawgiver. He gave Israel the Mishneh Torah. Maimonides, like the Moses of old, was a liberator. He freed Israel from its religious conflicts and directed them towards the Promised Land. Scripture tells us that Moses was so named because he was drawn from the water (Ex. 2:10). Some of Maimonides’ admirers interpreted his given name Moshe to mean, the man who drew Israel out of ignorance. Others said: From Moses to Moses there was none like Moses. The philosopher Joseph Ibn Caspi (1279-1340) described Maimonides as “the holy” “the perfect” and “the light of the world.”2 Shlomo Pines, who translated the Guide For the Perplexed into English, believes that “Maimonides 1 Earlier works give 1135 as the year of Maimonides’ birth. However, the latest evidence reveals that he was born in 1138. 2 Israel Abrahams, Hebrew Ethical Wills (Philadelphia, 1948); Part One p. 129. 12 T h e M i s h n e h To ra h is the most influential Jewish thinker of the Middle Ages, and quite possibly of all time.”3 Maimonides was also referred to as the “Great Eagle.” Sara Stroumsa, one of his biographers, notes that “This biblical sobriquet (from Ezekiel 17:3) was meant, no doubt, to underline his regal position in the Jewish community. At the same time, the imagery of the widespread wings does justice not only to the breadth of Maimonides’ intellectual horizons, but also to the scope of his impact, which extended across the Mediterranean, and beyond to Christian Europe.”4 The great Hassidic sage Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz (1728-1709) is quoted as saying, “I thank God every day that I was not born before the Zohar was revealed, for it was the Zohar that sustained me in my faith as a Jew.”5 There are and were many who would say the same regarding the works of Moses Maimonides. Maimonides was a prolific writer. He composed a work on logic called the Sefer Ha-Higayon; a commentary on the Mishnah referred to by posterity as the Maor; a work on the commandments called Sefer Ha-Mitzvot and a ground-breaking work on Jewish philosophy called the Moreh Ha-Nevukhim6. All of the above were written in Judao-Arabic. He also produced responsa on Jewish Law and composed a variety of medical works. 7 3 S. Pines in a speech delivered in Paris at UNESCO conference on Maimonides; Dec. 1985 (Time magazine, December 23, 1985). 4 Sara Stroumsa, Maimonides in His World: Portrait of a Mediterranean Thinker (New York, 2004), p.1. 5 Louis Jacobs, “The Influence of the Zohar,” in The Jewish Religion: A Companion (New York, 1995). 6 Literally, Guide of the Perplexed. Friedlander (The Guide for the Perplexed, translated from the Arabic by M. Friedlander, New York, 1904) translates it as Guide for the Perplexed. I have employed Friedlander’s rendition throughout this work. 7 For Maimonides’ work as a physician see: Suessmann Muntner, Moshe Ben Maimon: Medical Works (Hebrew); Volumes 1-4 (Jerusalem, 1965). Fred Rosner, Medicine in the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides (New York, 1984). Fred Rosner, The Medical Aphorisms of Moses Maimonides (Israel, 1989). Fred Rosner, The Medical Legacy of Moses Maimonides (New York, 1989). 13 14 Chapter One In addition to the above, Maimonides also composed a work which he named the Mishneh Torah. The Mishneh Torah was published in 1180 and was Maimonides’ Halakhic magnum opus. The Mishneh Torah is without exaggeration the greatest code of Jewish law to be composed in the post-Talmudic era. It is unique in scope, originality and language. The Mishneh Torah was the only work which Maimonides composed in Hebrew. Its language is clear and concise. The Mishneh Torah is a model of orderly arrangement; its chapters and paragraphs follow in logical sequence. Maimonides’ code contains all the laws found in the Pentateuch and Talmud without regard to contemporary relevancy. The fourteen volumes that comprise the Mishneh Torah deal not only with laws of prayer, Sabbath and festival observances, dietary regulations, laws governing the relation between the sexes, and civil law, but also include Halakhot dealing with the sacrificial system, tithes, skin eruptions, the construction of the temple, the making of priestly garments, and laws pertaining to a Jewish monarch. Maimonides’ code differs from its predecessors and successors in that the latter were limited to those Halakhot that were currently in force. Thus in Isaac Alfasi’s eleventh-century code of Jewish Law the Halakhot was mainly based on the laws found in the Talmudic orders of Mo’ed (festivals), Nashim (women), and Nezikin (damages), plus the tractate Berakhot (blessings) from the order Zera’im (seeds) and Niddah (the menstruous women) from the order Tohorot (cleanliness). Similarly, today’s universally accepted compendium of Jewish Law, Rabbi Joseph Karo’s (14881575) Shulkhan Arukh, contains only those laws that have practical application. It mainly deals with civil law, marriage and divorce law, festivals, prayers and dietary rules. It does not concern itself with laws pertaining to the Holy Temple or laws relating to a Jewish King. The Mishneh Torah consists of fourteen books. They are: Book 1. The Book of Knowledge (sefer ha-mada). The Book of Knowledge deals with: The basic principles of the Torah; correct beliefs; the study of Torah; the prohibition of idol worship; pagan practices; repentance. T h e M i s h n e h To ra h Book 2. The Book of Love (sefer ahavah). The Book of Love deals with: The reading of the shema; prayer; the priestly benedictions; tefillin; mezuzah; the Torah Scroll; tzitzit; blessings; circumcision. Book 3. The Book of Seasons (sefer zemanim). The Book of Seasons deals with: The Sabbath; eruvin; Yom Kippur; work prohibited on the Festivals; chametz and matzah; the shofar; the sukkah; the lulav; The half shekel; sanctification of the new moon; fast days; the reading of the Megillah; Chanukah. Book 4. The Book of Women (sefer nashim). The Book of Women deals with: Marriage; divorce; levirate marriage (yibbum); release from levirate marriage (chalitzah); laws pertaining to a virgin maiden; laws dealing with women suspected of adultery (sotah). Book 5. The Book of Holiness (sefer kedushah). The Book of Holiness deals with: Prohibited sexual relations; forbidden foods, laws of slaughtering. Book 6. The Book of Promises (sefer hafla’ah). The Book of Promises deals with: Oaths; vows; the Nazarite; valuations; devoted property. Book 7. The Book of Seeds (sefer zera’im). The Book of Seeds deals with: The prohibition of planting different seeds together (kilayim); charity; heave offerings (terumot); tithes; the second tithe; plants of the fourth year; first fruits; gifts to be given to the kohanim outside of the sanctuary; the Sabbatical year; the year of Jubilee. Book 8. The Book of Service (sefer avodah). The Book of Service deals with: The Holy Temple; the vessels of the Sanctuary and those who serve in it; laws of entry into the Sanctuary; things forbidden on the Altar; laws of sacrificial procedures; the daily offerings; the additional offerings; sacrifices that become unfit; the Yom Kippur service; use of consecrated objects. Book 9. The Book of Sacrifices (sefer korbanot). The Book of Sacrifices deals with: The Passover sacrifice; pilgrimage festival sacrifices; laws of the First-Born; unintentional 15 16 Chapter One sins; incomplete atonement; substitution for consecrated animals (temurah). Book 10. The Book of Purity (sefer tohorah). The Book of Purity deals with: The laws of uncleanness issuing from a dead body; the red heifer; leprosy; uncleanness with regard to a bed or seat; uncleanness of foods; laws of vessels; laws of ritual baths. Book 11. The Book of Torts (sefer nezakim). The Book of Torts deals with: Monetary damages; theft; robbery; lost property; injury to person or property; murder; preservation of life. Book 12. The Book of Acquisition (sefer kinyan). The Book of Acquisition deals with: Sales; acquisition of ownerless property; gifts; neighbors; agents; partners; slaves. Book 13. The Book of Judgments (sefer mishpatim). The Book of Judgments deals with: Hiring; borrowed and deposited items; creditors and debtors; claims and denials; inheritance. Book 14. The Book of Judges (sefer shofetim). The Book of Judges deals with: The Sanhedrin; evidence; rebellion; mourning; Kings; war; the Messiah. Maimonides gave his code the name Mishneh Torah Omit (Deuteronomy). The term Mishneh Torah is replete with meaning. It is the Talmudic term for the Book of Deuteronomy,8 which contains Moses’ repetition of the Torah and functions as Moses’ last will and testament to the Jewish people. Maimonides believed that his work was the final statement on Jewish law. The term Mishneh Torah has the connotation of Companion to the Torah, or Second to the Torah.9 In his introduction to the Mishneh Torah Maimonides writes: “When one first studies the Written Torah10 and thereafter reads the Mishneh Torah he obtains here-from a complete knowledge of the 8 See Berakhot 21b; Megillah7a. 9 See Gen. 41:43; 1 Sam. 23:17; 2 Chron. 28:7; Esther 10:3. 10 The Pentateuch. T h e M i s h n e h To ra h Oral Torah and he has no need to read any other work between them.”11 A person in Maimonides’ view can be a Jew in deed and in creed by studying the Mishneh Torah and following its dictates. In his introduction to the Mishneh Torah Maimonides gives his reason for composing this work. He notes that God revealed both the Written Torah and the Oral Torah to Moses at Sinai. Scripture states: And I will give thee the tables of stone, and the law (Torah) and the commandment, which I have written that thou mayest teach them (Exodus 24:12). Maimonides explains that the law refers to the Written Torah and the commandment to its interpretation.12 Maimonides notes that originally the interpretation of the Written Law was passed on from generation to generation by word of mouth. The dissemination of the Oral Law in written form was strictly prohibited. However, eventually a time came when because of the calamities that befell Israel there was a danger that the Oral Torah would be forgotten. The sage Rabbi Judah Ha-Nasi (second century) sensed the danger and composed a work containing the essence of the Oral Torah. He named his work the Mishnah. The Mishnah contains, “all the traditions, enactments, interpretations and expositions… of the Torah, that had either come down from Moses or had been deduced by courts in successive generations.”13 According to Maimonides, copies of the Mishnah were widely circulated and studied. The Oral Torah was thereby preserved.14 Maimonides notes that the sages in the Land of Israel and in Babylonia commented on and explained the Mishnah. Eventually these comments and additional material produced by the sages 11 Book of Mishneh Torah, translated by Simon Glazer (New York, 1917). Introduction, with some changes. 12 See Berakhot 5a. 13 Moses Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Introduction. See Isadore Twersky, A Maimonides Reader (New York, 1972), p. 36. 14 Ibid. 17 18 Chapter One were set down in the Talmuds produced in the Land of Israel and Babylonia. The Talmudic tradition also preserved a number of other works of the Oral Law, such as the tosefta, the sifra and sifre.15 Maimonides emphasizes that without a thorough knowledge of Talmudic literature one cannot understand and observe the Written Torah. Maimonides writes: The sages who arose after the Talmud was composed and studied it deeply… are called the Geonim. All the Geonim who arose in the Land of Israel, the Land of Babylon, Spain, and France taught the way of the Talmud, clarified its obscurities, and explained its various topics, for its way is exceedingly profound. Furthermore, it is written in Aramaic blended with other languages: for that language had been clear to all in Babylon, at the time when it was written; but in other places as well as in Babylon in the time of the Geonim, no one understood that language, until he was taught it. Many questions were asked of each Gaon of the time by the people of various cities, to comment on difficult matters in the Talmud, and they answered according to their wisdom; those who had asked the questions collected the answers, and made them into books for study. The Geonim in every generation also wrote works to explain the Talmud: Some of them commented on a few particular laws, some of them commented on particular chapters that presented difficulties in their time, and some of them commented on Tractates or Orders. They also wrote collections of laws as to what is forbidden and permitted, liable and exempt, according to the needs of the time, so that they could be easily learned by one who is not able to fathom the depths of the Talmud. That is the work of the Lord that all the Geonim of Israel did, from the time the Talmud was written to the present day, which is 1108 years from the Destruction of the Temple (1177 C. E.).16 15 Ibid. It is noteworthy that Maimonides omits Aggadic Midrashim. 16 Moses Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, introduction. Rendition based on Book of Mishnah Torah: Yod Ha-Hazakah; Volume 1; Translated by Simon Glazer (New York, 1927), T h e M i s h n e h To ra h Maimonides believes that another critical juncture in the transmission of the Oral Torah has now arrived. He points out that: In our times, severe troubles come one after another, and all are in distress; the wisdom of our Torah scholars has disappeared, and the understanding of our discerning men is hidden. Thus, the commentaries, the responses to questions, and the settled laws that the Geonim wrote, which had once seemed clear, have in our times become hard to understand, so that only a few properly comprehend them. One hardly needs to mention the Talmud itself—the Babylonian Talmud, the Jerusalem Talmud, the Sifra, the Sifre, and the Tosefta—which all require a broad mind, a wise soul, and considerable study, before one can correctly know from them what is forbidden or permitted and the other rules of the Torah. For this reason, I, Moshe son of the Rav Maimon the Sephardi, found that the current situation is unbearable; and so, relying on the help of the Rock blessed be He, I intensely studied all these books, for I saw fit to write what can be determined from all of these works in regard to what is forbidden and permitted, and unclean and clean, and the other rules of the Torah: Everything in clear language and terse style, so that the whole Oral Law would become thoroughly known to all; without bringing problems and solutions or differences of view, but rather clear, convincing, and correct statements, in accordance with the legal rules drawn from all of these works and commentaries that have appeared from the time of Our Holy Teacher17 to the present. This is so that all the rules should be accessible to the small and to the great18 in the rules of each and every commandment and the rules of the legislations of the Torah scholars and prophets: in short, so that a person should need no other work pp.15-16; Isadore Twersky, A Maimonides Reader (New York, 1972) p. 38-39; and Moses Hayamson, Mishneh Torah: The Book of Knowledge (Israel, 1962), p. 4a-4b. 17 Rabbi Judah Ha-Nasi. 18 Hebrew, la-katan ve-la-gadol. Some (Glazer, Twersky, Hayamson) translate, young and old. 19 20 Chapter One in the world in the rules of any of the laws of Israel; but that this work might include the entire Oral Torah, including the positive legislations, the customs, and the negative legislations enacted from the time of Moshe Our Teacher until the writing of the Talmud, as the Geonim interpreted it for us in all of the works of commentary they wrote after the Talmud. Thus, I have called this work the Mishneh Torah, for when one first studies Scripture and thereafter reads the Mishneh Torah he obtains herefrom a complete knowledge of the Oral Torah and he has no need to read any other work between them.19 One of the outstanding features of the Mishneh Torah is its omission of its sources. Earlier codes had always given the sources of the halakhot codified therein. Maimonides does not explain how he arrived at his decisions. He does not discuss other opinions. Maimonides’ code lays down the Halakhah ex cathedra. The great twelfth-century provincial sage Rabbi Abraham ben David of Posquierres (henceforth Ra’abad) severely criticized Maimonides for omitting his sources. Ra’abad writes: He abandoned the path of all authors who preceded him; they supported their contention by quoting authority, so that one derived a great benefit, as when a member of a court is about to render a decision, either to forbid or permit, supporting his contention upon one authority, if he finds a higher authority who reverses him, he still can retract; whereas, now, with this work before me, I know not why I should abandon my tradition or my supporting authority simply on account of the work of this author; if the one who reverses me is greater than I it is well, but if I am greater than he, why should I annul my opinion because of his? Moreover, there are matters concerning which the Gaonim disagree, comes this author and selects the opinion of one in preference to another; why should I rely upon his choice, when the opinion does not please me, or when the contending authority is unknown to me, even whether or not he is competent to contend aught against another? This is none else, save … a spirit of arrogance.20 19 Glazer, pp. 17-18. 20 Ibid., p. 18. T h e M i s h n e h To ra h Maimonides’ retort to Ra’abad would most probably have been: I did not compose my work only for Talmudic scholars. I also wrote the Mishneh Torah for the average literate Jew who cannot on his own master the Talmud and arrive at a Halakhic decision. There is no sense in confusing such a reader with a panoply of opinions. In fact Maimonides more or less expresses these very sentiments in a letter to Rabbi Yehonatan Ha-Kohen of Lunel. He writes: “My intention in composing this work was primarily to clear the roads and to remove the stumbling blocks from before the students so that they do not tire themselves [in the Talmudic] give and take and thus err in deciding the Halakhah.”21 Rabbi Judah Al Harizi (1170-1230), the translator of the Guide for the Perplexed and parts of Maimonides’ Commentary on the Mishnah, praised Maimonides for precisely what Ra’abad criticized him for. Al Harizi writes that Maimonides eliminated confusion in Talmudic studies, for he removed from the Mishneh Torah the names of commentators, Halakhic and Aggadic Midrashim and novel interpretations.22 He sorted the Talmud and produced pure flour. Whereas Israel had previously sat in the dark there was now light in the home of all of Israel. 23 In the words of Al Harizi: He (Maimonides) sifted the Talmud through his wondrous brain, lifted the choice grain….the children of Israel fed on manna. No longer had they need to limp or lurch about, search in vain through the Talmud’s vast domain, for he rid his composition of the names of sage and commentator, earlier or later, of fancy , of homily, of Aggadic explication… He straightened all the Talmud’s winding ways, he turned to the exile and did his voice loud raise: Enter these gates with thanksgiving, these courts with praise. 24 21 Letters of Maimonides, quoted by Ben Zion Dinur, Yisrael Ba-Golah (Israel in the Diaspora); Vol 2, Book 4, (Israel, 1969), p. 68 22 The reference is probably to farfetched new interpretations. See The Book of Tahkemoni, translated by David Simha Segal (Oxford, 2002), p. 337. 23 Tahkemoni; Chap. 46. 24 Ibid. p. 337. 21 22 Chapter One Today’s world is afloat with books explaining the Mishnah and Talmud both in Hebrew and the vernacular. Few such works were available to Jews in Maimonides’ era. One who wants to experience what a student of the Talmud faced in Maimonides’ era should pick up a medieval manuscript of the Talmud and try to make sense of it. He most probably will have great difficulty in deciphering it. Some of the post-Talmudic sages tried to solve these difficulties. Commentaries were written to the Talmud to help the student analyze and understand its text. One of the most famous of these was the one composed by Rashi (1040-1105). However, before the advent of printing, hand-written manuscripts were very expensive and hard to come by. Furthermore, as great, useful, and helpful as Rashi’s commentary is, it does not eliminate all difficulties. Even with the aid of Rashi’s commentary one still requires a great amount of skill to decipher many of the Talmud’s sugyot.25 Deciding the Halakhah presents further problems. A given topic is often discussed in various tractates of the Talmud. Maimonides himself notes that, It is beyond the ability of any person to know the entire Talmud by heart—and certainly not when a single law in a given Mishnah requires four or five pages of Talmudic explanation. Topic follows topic. One encounters so many arguments, questions and answers that only an individual who is an expert in Talmudic dialectics is able to choose the correct interpretation of the Mishnah under discussion. If so, what can one do with a law that is not fully explained, and for which a final decision cannot be reached without the study of two or three tractates?26 The Mishneh Torah solves the above. There are those who playfully interpret the acronym Rashi which stands for Rabbi Solomon ben Yitzchak, as standing for Rabban shel Yisrael, the teacher of Israel. That title can equally be applied to 25 Talmudic sections. 26 Moses Maimonides, Commentary on the Mishna, Introduction. T h e M i s h n e h To ra h Maimonides. In fact Rabbi Don Isaac Abarbanel refers to Maimonides as Ha-Rav Ha-Moreh, the Rabbi the teacher, or the Rabbi the Guide.27 Following in Abarbanel’s footsteps, an Israeli scholar, Meir Orayin, composed a work on Maimonides some years ago called Ha-Moreh Le-Dorot, or The Teacher (or Guide) for All Generations.28 Maimonides was a great educator. He tried to make the teachings of Judaism available to all Jews. The Mishneh Torah was an immediate success. It obviously served a great need. The Mishneh Torah quickly spread from Egypt to the Land of Israel, Syria, Babylonia, Yemen, Spain, Provence, and ultimately to France and Germany.29 Indeed, Maimonides spoke of the Mishneh Torah’s fame all over the Jewish world.30 There were places where the Mishneh Torah was studied in place of the Talmud.31 Aside from its comprehensiveness, the Mishneh Torah also differs from its predecessors in that Maimonides reworked the Talmudic material. Whereas the codes that preceded the Mishneh Torah excerpted the relevant Halakhic material from the Talmud and in some cases added notes thereto, Maimonides rewrote all of his source material in a beautiful Hebrew. He thereby often gave new meanings to his rabbinic sources. For example, the Talmud explains the significance of Chanukah as follows: The eight days of Chanukah start on the twenty-fifth of Kislev,... When the Greeks entered the Holy Temple, they defiled all the oils in it. When the Hasmonean dynasty overcame them, they conducted a search and found only one cruse of oil with the seal of the High Priest. However, it contained oil sufficient for only one day’s lighting. 27 Ha-rav Ha-Moreh is a play on Maimonides’ work the Moreh Ha-Nevukhim (Guide for the Perplexed). 28 Mosad Ha-Rav Kook, 1957. 29 Isadore Twersky, Introduction to the Code of Maimonides (New Haven, 1980), p 518. Also see Jeffrey Woolf, Maimonides Revised: The Case of the Sefer Mitzvot Gadol in The Harvard Theological Review (1997). 30 Ibid., Twersky. 31 Ibid., 527. 23 24 Chapter One A miracle occurred and they lit the menorah therewith for eight days. The following year these days were established as a festival with the recital of Hallel and thanksgiving.32 Maimonides rewrites the Talmudic passage as follows: During the days of the Second Temple the Greeks ruled over Israel. They issued evil decrees against the Jewish people. They prohibited their religion and did not allow them to study the Torah and to observe the commandments. They seized their property and their daughters. They entered the Sanctuary and ravaged it. They defiled that which was pure. As a result, Israel suffered greatly and underwent great persecution. This lasted until the God of our fathers took pity on them, and saved and delivered them from the hands of the Greeks. Ultimately the Hasmonean family of high priests gained the upper hand. They slew the Greeks, and saved Israel from their hands. They crowned a king from among the priests, and restored Israel’s kingdom for a period of more than two hundred years—until the destruction of the Second Temple. The day on which the Israelites defeated their enemies and destroyed them was the twenty-fifth day of Kislev. When they entered the Temple, they found within its precincts only one jar of ritually pure oil. However, the jar had only enough oil for one day. Yet they kindled the lights of the menorah with it for eight days, until they pressed olives and produced new ritually pure oil. As a result, the sages of that time ruled that the eight days beginning with the twenty-fifth of Kislev should be days of rejoicing on which the Hallel is to be recited, and that on each one of the eight nights lamps should be lit at evening over the doors of the houses, to display and publicize the miracle.33 Aside from elaborating on the historical events of the Chanukah period Maimonides adds something that is not mentio- 32 Sabbath 21b (Soncino translation, with some changes). 33 Mishneh Torah; Hilkhot Purim Ve-Chanukkah 3:1-3. Based on the translation in A Maimonides Reader, p. 118.