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The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
Talmudist, philosopher, astronomer, and physician; born at Cordova March 30, 1135; died at Cairo Dec. 13, 1204; known in Arabic literature as Abu 'Imran Musa ben Maimun ibn 'Abd Allah. The history of the "second Moses," as Maimonides came to be called, is overlaid with fable. According to some of his biographers, he evinced in boyhood a marked disinclination for study. This, however, is highly improbable, for the works produced by him in his early manhood show that their author had not passed his youth in idleness. Moses ben Maimon, or Maimonides, received his rabbinical instruction at the hands of his father, see see Maimon, himself a scholar of high merit, and was placed at an early age under the guidance of the most distinguished Arabic masters, who initiated him in all the branches of the learning of that time. Moses was only thirteen years old when Cordova fell into the hands of the fanatical Almohades, and Maimon and all his coreligionists there were compelled to choose between Islam and exile. Maimon and his family chose the latter course, and for twelve years led a nomadic life, wandering hither and thither in Spain. In 1160 they settled at Fez, where, unknown to the authorities, they hoped to pass as Moslems. This dual life, however, became increasingly dangerous. Maimonides' reputation was steadily growing, and the authorities began to inquire into the religious disposition of this highlygifted young man. He was even charged by an informer with the crime of having relapsed from Islam, and, but for the intercession of a Moslem friend, the poet and theologian Abu al-'Arab alMu'ishah, he would have shared the fate of his friend Judah ibn Shoshan, who had shortly before been executed on a similar charge. These circumstances caused the members of Maimonides' family to leave Fez. In 1165 they embarked, went to Acre, to Jerusalem, and then to Fostat (Cairo), where they settled.
During the first years of his residence in Egypt Maimonides experienced many misfortunes. After the death of Maimon, Moses' brother David supported the family by trading in precious stones. David perished at sea, and with him was lost not only his own fortune, but large sums that had been entrusted to him by other traders. These events affected Maimonides' health, and he went through a long sickness. Compelled now to work for a living, and considering it a sin to earn a livelihood from religion, he adopted the medical profession. After several years of practise Maimonides' authority in medical matters was firmly established, and he was appointed private physician to Saladin's vizier Al-Ḳaḍi al-Faḍil al-Baisami, who recommended him to the royal family and bestowed upon him many distinctions. According to the Arabic historian Al-Ḳiṭti, Maimonides declined a similar position offered to him by "the King of the Franks in Ascalon" (Richard I. of England). The method adopted by Maimonides in his professional practise was to begin with a simple treatment, endeavoring to cure by a prescribed diet before administering drugs. Speaking of his medical career in a letter addressed to his pupil Joseph ibn 'Aḳnin, Maimonides says: "You know how difficult this profession is for one who is conscientious and exact, and who states only that which he can support by argument or authority." In another letter, addressed to Samuel ibn Tibbon, he describes his arduous professional duties, which occupy him the whole day and very often a great part of the night. Nevertheless, Maimonides' powerful genius and indefatigable industry enabled him, amid his numerous occupations, to produce monumental works, answer hundreds of questions on various subjects addressed to him from various parts of the world, and administer the affairs of the community of Cairo, in which, soon after his arrival, he took a leading part, apparently becoming its recognized official head by 1177.
Between the years 1158 and 1190 Maimonides produced, besides several minor writings (see the list of works below), a commentary on the Mishnah entitled "Kitab al-Siraj," a book on the precepts, "Kitab al-Fara'iḍ," the code Mishneh Torah (called by Maimonides' admirers "Yad ha-Ḥazaḳah"), and the philosophical work "Dalalat al-Ḥa'irin" ("Moreh Nebukim"). The first three works are the chief concern of the supplementary article following, while here is outlined the philosophical system expounded in the introductions to the Mishnah of Pirḳe Abot and of Ḥeleḳ, in the first book of the "Yad ha-Ḥazaḳah," entitled "Sefer ha-Madda'," and especially in the "Dalalat al-Ḥa'irin," which became of extraordinary importance, not only for the rational development of Judaism, but for the history of philosophy in the Middle Ages. The object of the work last mentioned is explained by Maimonides in the following terms:
"I have composed this work neither for the common people, nor for beginners, nor for those who occupy themselves only with the Law as it is handed down without concerning themselves with its principles. The design of this work is rather to promote the true understanding of the real spirit of the Law, to guide those religious persons who, adhering to the Torah, have studied philosophy and are embarrassed by the contradictions between the teachings of philosophy and the literal sense of the Torah."
Philosophy and Religion.
According to Maimonides, there is no contradiction between the truths which God has revealed and the truths which the human mind, a power derived from God, has discovered. In fact, with few exceptions, all the principles of metaphysics (and these are, for him, those of Aristotle as propounded by the Arabic Peripatetics Al-Farabi and Ibn Sina) are embodied in Bible and Talmud. He is firmly convinced that, besides the written revelation, the great prophets received orally revelations of a philosophical character, which were transmitted by tradition to posterity, but which were lost in consequence of the long periods of suffering and persecution the Jews experienced. The supposed conflict between religion and philosophy originated in a misinterpretation of the anthropomorphisms and in the superficial readings of Scripture, which are to the inner or allegorical interpretations what silver is to gold. Maimonides' predecessors, Saadia, Baḥya, and Judah ha-Levi, in treating of anthropomorphism, contented themselves with the statement that any term under consideration must be regarded as a metaphor. Maimonides, however, set up the incorporeality of God as a dogma, and placed any person who denied this doctrine upon a level with an idolater; he devoted much of the first part of the "Moreh Nebukim" to the interpretation of the Biblical anthropomorphisms, endeavoring to define the meaning of each and to identify it with some transcendental metaphysical expression. Some of them are explained by him as perfect homonyms, denoting two or more absolutely distinct things; others, as imperfect homonyms, employed in some instances figuratively and in others homonymously.
The Divine Attributes.
From the anthropomorphisms Maimonides passes to the much-discussed question of the divine attributes. As in the case of the anthropomorphisms, it was, according to him, the misinterpretation of certain Biblical passages that caused some to admit divine attributes. Against this admission Moses argues (1) that an attribute expresses some quality or property which is not inherent in the object described, in this case being an "accident," or (2) that it denotes a property consistent with the essence of the object described; in the latter case the fact of the coexistence of such an attribute would, if applied to God, denote a plurality in the divine essence.
Maimonides divides all the positive attributes into five classes: (1) Those that include all the essential properties of an object. This class of attributes can not be applied to God, because, as all philosophers agree, God can not be defined, inasmuch as definition can be established only by giving genus and differentia. (2) Those that include only a part of the essential properties. Neither can these attributes be applied to God, who, being incorporeal, has no parts. (3) Those that indicate a quality. These are also inapplicable to God, who, having no soul, is not subject to psychical analysis. (4) Those that indicate the relation of one object to another. At first thought it would seem that this class of attributes might be employed in reference to God, because, having no connection with His essence, they do not imply any multiplicity or variety in Him; but on closer examination their inadmissibility becomes evident. A relation can be imagined only between two things of the same species, but not between two things of different species, though they may belong to the same class. For example, between wisdom and sweetness, meekness and bitterness, there can be no relation, although in their general signification they come under the head of "quality." How, then, could there be any relation between God and His creatures, considering the great difference between them? the creature having only a possible existence, while His existence is absolute. (5) Those that refer to the actions of the object described. Attributes of this kind, inasmuch as they are distinct from the essence of the thing and do not imply that different elements must be contained in the substance of the agent, are most appropriate to the description of the Creator. Indeed, with the exception of the Tetragrammaton, all the divine names are explained by Maimonides as descriptive of His actions. As to His essence, the only way to describe it is negatively. For instance, He is not non-existent, nor non-eternal, nor impotent, etc. These assertions do not involve any incorrect notions or assume any deficiency, while if positive essential attributes are admitted it may be assumed that other things coexisted with Him from eternity.
Maimonides completes his study of the attributes by demonstrating that the philosophical principle that God is the "intellectus" (), the "ens intelligens" (), and the "ensintelligibile" (), does not imply a plurality in His essence, because in matters of the intellect the "agens" (which acts in the formation of the notions), the action, and the object of the action, are identical. Indeed, following the theory of ALEXANDER OF APHRODISIAS, Maimonides considers that the intellect is a mere disposition, receiving notions by impulse from without, and that consequently ideas are at the same time subject, action, and object.
The last chapters of the first part of the "Moreh" are devoted to a criticism of the theories of the Motekallamin (Arabic Philosophy). These theories are embodied in twelve propositions, from which they derived seven arguments in support of the doctrine of "creatio ex nihilo." This once established, they asserted, as a logical consequence, that there is a Creator; then they demonstrated that this Creator must be one, and from His unity deduced His incorporeality. Maimonides exposes the weakness of these propositions, which he regards as founded not on a basis of positive facts, but on mere fiction. Contrary to the Aristotelian principle that the whole universe is "one" organized body, every part of which has an active, individual relation to the whole, the Motekallamin deny the existence of any law, organization, or unity in the universe. For them the various parts of the universe are independent of one another; they all consist of equal elements; they are not composed of substance and properties, but of atoms and accidents (ATOMISM); the law of causality is ignored; man's actions are not the result of will and design, but are mere accidents. Maimonides criticizes especially the tenth proposition of the Motekallamin, according to which everything that is conceivable by imagination is admissible: e.g., that the terres-trial globe should become the all-encompassing sphere, or that this sphere should become the terres-trial globe.
Proofs of the Existence of God.
The second part of the "Moreh" opens with the enumeration of the twenty-six propositions through which are proved the existence, the unity, and the incorporeality of the Primal Cause. For the existence of the Primal Cause there are four proofs: (1) no motion can take place without an agent producing it, and the series of causes leading to a certain motion is finite; (2) since some things both receive and impart motion, while other things are set in motion without imparting it, there must exist a being that imparts motion without being itself set in motion; (3) as existing beings are partly permanent and partly transient, there must be a being whose existence is permanent; (4) nothing can pass from a state of potentiality into that of actuality without the intervention of an agent; this agent requires for its own transition from potentiality to actuality the help of another agent, and the latter, again, of another; and so on until one arrives at an agent that is constant and admits of no potentiality whatever.
The unity of God is proved by the following arguments: (1) Two gods can not be assumed, for they would necessarily have one element in common by virtue of which they would be gods, and another element by which they would be distinguished from each other; further, neither of them could have an independent existence, but both would themselves have to be created. (2) The whole existing world is "one" organic body, the parts of which are interdependent. The sublunary world is dependent upon the forces proceeding from the spheres, so that the whole universe is a macrocosm, and thus the effect must be due to one cause. The incorporeality of God can be proved by the preceding arguments and by the principle that every corporeal object consists of matter and form, and that every compound requires an agent to effect its combination.
As there is no disagreement between the principles of Aristotle and the teachings of Scripture as to God, or the Primal Cause, so there is none between their systems of natural philosophy. As "Primum Motum" of this world there are, according to Aristotle,the heavenly spheres, each of which possesses a soul, the principle of motion, and is endowed with an intellect. They move in various senses through unmoved immaterial beings, or Intelligences, which are the cause of their existence and their motion in the best possible way, namely, a uniform rotary motion. The first Intelligence, which is the agent of motion for the uppermost or the all-encompassing sphere, is a direct emanation of the Primal Cause; the others emanated one from the other. There were altogether nine spheres, namely, the all-encompassing sphere, that of the fixed stars, and those of the seven planets; nine Intelligences correspond to the nine spheres; a tenth Intelligence, which is attached to the lowest sphere, the one nearest to the center, the sphere of the moon, is the Active Intellect. This last causes the transition of man's intellect from a state of potentiality to that of actuality.
The earth, which is spherical, reposes unmoved at the center of the world, and any changes that happen thereon are due to the revolutions of the spheres, which, as animated and intellectual beings, are acting in full consciousness. God does not act by means of direct contact. When, for instance, He destroys anything with fire, the fire is set in motion through the movements of the spheres, and the spheres by the Intelligences.
All these theories are, according to Maimonides, supported both by Holy Writ and by post-Biblical Jewish literature. That the spheres are animated and intellectual beings is clearly expressed by the Psalmist. "The heavens declare the glory of God" (Psalms 19:2 [A. V. 1]) can not be taken as a mere figure of speech. The angels mentioned in the Bible are identical with the Intelligences. There is, however, one point on which Maimonides differs from his master. According to Aristotle, these spheres, as well as the Intelligences, coexisted with the Primal Cause, while Maimonides holds that the spheres and the Intelligences were created by the will of God. Maimonides asserts that he was prompted to reject the doctrine of the eternity of matter not because certain passages in Scripture confirm the "creatio ex nihilo," for such passages could easily be explained in a manner that would leave them in harmony with the former doctrine, but because there are better arguments for the "creatio ex nihilo" than for the eternity of the universe.
Denies Eternity of Matter.
Moreover, Aristotle himself was well aware that he had not proved his thesis. The adherents of the doctrine of the eternity of the universe rely on the following seven arguments, partly founded on the properties of nature and partly on those of the Primal Cause: (1) Motion is eternal, for if it had a beginning there must have been motion when it came into existence, because transition from non-existence to existence—that is, from potentiality into actuality—always implies motion. (2) The first substance underlying the four elements must be eternal. "To become" implies taking on form; but first substance means a formless substance; hence it has never "become." (3) As the spheres are indestructible because they do not contain opposing elements, which is evidenced by their circular motion, they must be without a beginning. (4) Suppose the universe had a beginning; then either its creation was possible, or necessary, or its previous existence was impossible; but if it was necessary, it could never have been non-existent; if impossible, it could never have come into existence; and if possible, then there must have been a subject with attributes involving the possibility. (5) The assumption that God has produced a thing at a certain fixed time would imply that He has changed from the condition of a potential creator to that of an actual creator. (6) The supposition that the world was created would mean that God's will had undergone a change, or that He must be imperfect, for either God did not will previously to create the world, or, if He did, He had not the power. (7) The universe being the result of God's wisdom, it must, like the latter, be eternal.
Against these arguments Maimonides argues that though the properties of nature are thus at present, when the universe is in actual existence and fully developed, it does not follow that things possessed them at the moment when they were produced; it is even more than probable that these properties themselves came into existence from absolute nonexistence. Still less conclusive are the arguments based upon the properties of the Primal Cause, for it is impossible to obtain a correct notion of the heavenly spheres and their Intelligences; the incorrectness of the views of Aristotle on the subject has been proved by Ptolemy, although the system of that astronomer is likewise far from being faultless.
Reconciliation of Bible and Aristotle.
However, Maimonides is fully aware that he did not give positive proofs for the "creatio ex nihilo," and he warns his pupil Joseph ibn 'Aḳnin, to whom the "Moreh" was dedicated, to beware of the opposite doctrine; for if, as Aristotle taught, everything in the universe is the result of fixed laws, if nature does not change, and if there is nothing supernatural, it would be absurd to believe in miracles, in prophecy, and in revelation. But as Maimonides recognizes the authority of Aristotle in all matters concerning the sublunary world, he proceeds to show that the Biblical account of the creation of the nether world is in perfect accord with Aristotelian views. Explaining its language as allegorical and the terms employed as homonyms, he summarizes the first chapter of Genesis thus: God created the universe by producing on the first day the "reshit," or Intelligences, from which the spheres derived their existence and motion and thus became the source of the existence of the entire universe. This universe consisted at first of chaos and the four elements; but, through the influence of the spheres and more directly through the action of light and darkness, its form was developed. In the five subsequent days came into existence the minerals, plants, animals, and the intellectual beings. The seventh day, on which the universe was for the first time ruled by the natural laws that still continue in operation, was blessed by God, who designed it to proclaim the "creatio ex nihilo." The account of Adam's sin is interpreted by Maimonides as an allegorical exposition of the relation between sensation,intellect, and moral faculty; the three sons of Adam are an allusion to the three elements in man—the vegetable, the animal, and the intellectual.
The Requisites of Prophecy.
With the doctrine of "creatio ex nihilo" prophecy becomes possible; but what are the requisites of prophecy? Maimonides cites three different opinions on the subject: (1) the opinion of those who believe that any man, whether wise or stupid, young or old, provided he be to some extent morally good, can be inspired by God with the spirit of prophecy and entrusted with a mission; (2) the opinion of the philosophers who, considering prophecy the highest expression of mental development, assert that it can be attained by study only; and (3) his own opinion, which he considers to be the view of Scripture. He agrees with the philosophers in regarding the prophetic faculty as natural to man and in accordance with the laws of nature; in holding that any man whose physical, mental, and moral faculties are in perfect condition may become a prophet; but he holds also that, with all these qualifications, man may still, by divine, miraculous interference, be prevented from prophesying.
The last chapters of the second part of the work are devoted to the explanation of the Biblical prophecies and visions, showing the part taken therein by imagination, which is, according to Maimonides, an essential element in prophecy.
Origin of Evil.
After having given, in the first seven chapters of the third and last part of the "Moreh," the exposition of the vision of Ezekiel, which he explains as an allegorical description of the sublunary world, the spheres, and the Intelligences, Maimonides endeavors to show that evil has no positive existence, but is a privation of a certain capacity and does not proceed from God; when, therefore, evils are mentioned in Scripture as sent by God, the Scriptural expressions must be explained allegorically. Indeed, says Maimonides, all existing evils, with the exception of some which have their origin in the laws of production and destruction and which are rather an expression of God's mercy, since by them the species are perpetuated, are created by men themselves.
God's Providence and Omniscience.
The question of evil is closely connected with that of Divine Providence. As is well known, Aristotle asserted that humanity as a whole, but not the individual, is guided and protected by Divine Providence. The reason which led Aristotle to adopt this view is that Providence implies omniscience, while, according to him, God's knowledge is limited to universals, for if He had knowledge of particulars He would be subject to constant changes. Maimonides rejects this theory and endeavors to show that belief in God's omniscience is not in opposition to belief in His unity and immutability. "God," he says, "perceives future events before they happen, and His perception never fails. Therefore no new ideas can present themselves to Him. He knows that a certain individual will be born at a certain time, will exist for a certain period, and will then cease to exist. The coming into existence of this individual is for God no new fact; nothing has happened that He was unaware of, for He knew this individual, such as he now is, before his birth." As to the objections advanced by the Peripatetics to the belief in God's omniscience—namely, that it is inconceivable that God's essence should remain indivisible considering the multiplicity of knowledge of which it is made up; that His intelligence should embrace the infinite; that events should maintain their character of contingency in spite of the fact that they are foreseen by the Supreme Being—these objections, according to Maimonides, are based on an error. Misled by the use of the term "knowledge," men believe that whatever is requisite for their knowledge is requisite for God's knowledge also.
The fact is, no comparison whatever is possible between human knowledge and God's knowledge, the latter being absolutely incomprehensible to human intelligence. But omniscience implies predestination; how, then, can man's will assert itself freely? Does not the very fact of God's knowledge compel man to act in accordance with it? To refute this objection Maimonides endeavors to show that "the fact that God knows things while they are in a state of possibility—when their existence belongs to the future—does not change the nature of 'possible' in any way; that remains unchanged; and the knowledge of the realization of one of several possibilities does not affect that realization."
The Object of the Commandments.
The discussion of the question of Divine Providence is followed by another question: What is the purpose of the divine precepts? According to Maimonides, ethics and religion are indissolubly linked together, and all the precepts aim either directly or indirectly at morality. As in the "Yad ha-Ḥazaḳah," he divides the laws of the Pentateuch into fourteen groups, and discusses the principal object of each group and the special object of each law. Thus, for instance, the object of the laws concerning the sacrifices lies in the accompanying prayers and devotions; as to the sacrifices themselves, they were only a concession to the idolatrous habits of the people.
As in metaphysics, Maimonides closely follows Aristotle's ethical system, which he expounds in his introduction and commentary to Abot, in various passages of the "Sefer ha-Miẓwot," and in his "Yad ha-Ḥazaḳah," especially in the "Hilkot De'ot" and the "Hilkot Teshubah." According to Maimonides, the final aim of the creation of this world is man; that of man is happiness. This happiness can not consist in the activity which he has in common with other animals, but in the exercise of his intellect, which leads to the cognition of truth. The highest cognition is that of God and His unity; consequently the "summum bonum" is the knowledge of God through philosophy. The first necessity in the pursuit of the "summum bonum" is to subdue sensuality and to render the body subservient to reason. In order that man should be considered the aim and end of the creation of this world he must be perfect morally and intellectually. Virtue and vice have their source in the five faculties of the soul: the nutritive, the sensitive, the imaginative, the appetitive, and the deliberative. The soul is to intellect what matter is to form: it is susceptible to both good and evil, according to the choice made by the deliberative faculty.
Human excellence is either of the appetitive faculty (moral virtues) or of the deliberative faculty (intellectual virtues). The vices of the appetitive faculty are the opposite of the appetitive virtues; for instance, cowardice and rashness are the opposite extremes of courage, and both are vices. Virtue is a proficiency in willing what is approved by reason, developed from the state of a natural potentiality by action. The development of virtue requires exercise and intelligence. Ethical virtue is that permanent direction of the will which maintains the mean of conduct, as determined by the reason of the intelligent. Courage is the mean between cowardice and temerity; temperance, the mean between inordinate desire and stupid indifference.
In the field of personal ethics Maimonides established rules deduced from the teachings of the Bible and of the Rabbis. These rules deal with man's obligations to himself and to his fellow men. To the former belongs the obligation to keep oneself in health by regular living, by seeking medical advice in sickness, by cleanliness, by earning a livelihood, etc. The conditions essential to the soundness of the soul are contentment, and moderation in joy and grief. Pity is a generous quality of the soul; to develop this sentiment the Law forbade cruelty to animals. Mutual love and sociability are necessary to men. The sentiment of justice prescribed by the Law consists in respecting the property and honor of others, even though they be one's slaves.
Objections to the "Moreh."
The "Moreh" was completed by Maimonides at the age of fifty-two. It was the climax of his literary career in the field of Judaism. After having in his previous works systematized all the Biblical and rabbinical laws and ceremonies and drawn up the thirteen see ARTICLES OF FAITH in which every Israelite is bound to believe, he shows, in the "Moreh," that Judaism is the very expression of human intelligence and that there is nothing in Scripture or rabbinical literature, if properly explained, that contradicts true philosophy. As might be expected, the adversaries of Maimonides' code declared war against the "Moreh." His views concerning angels, prophecy, and miracles, and especially his assertion that he would have had no difficulty in reconciling the Biblical account of the Creation with the doctrine of the eternity of the universe, had the Aristotelian proofs for it been conclusive, provoked the indignation of the orthodox. Maimonides' theory of the unity of souls (comp. Alexander of Aphrodisias) was declared by them to be an outright denial of the immortality of the soul.
Maimonides disdained these attacks and continued his laborious life, enriching medical literature with some valuable works and enlightening his admirers and disciples upon a multitude of questions. Among these was an inquiry concerning astrology, addressed to him from Marseilles. In his answer Maimonides says that, in his opinion, man should believe only what can be supported either by rational proof, by the evidence of the senses, or by trustworthy authority. He affirms that he has studied astrology and that it does not deserve to be described as a science. The supposition that the fate of a man could be dependent upon the constellations is ridiculed by him; he argues that such a theory would rob life of purpose and would make man a slave of destiny.
With the completion of the "Moreh," Maimonides was at the zenith of his glory. He had the satisfaction of seeing his work translated into Hebrew and received with great admiration by enlightened Jews; even Mohammedans studied it and admired the genius of its author. The renowned Arabic physician and theologian 'Abd al-Laṭif of Bagdad confessed that his wish to visit Cairo was prompted by the desire to make the acquaintance of three men, among whom was Musa ibn Maimun. The latter's greatness as a physician was no less recognized, and the Arabic poet and cadi Al-Sa'id ibn Surat al-Mulk sang it in ecstatic verse, which, translated into English, reads as follows:
Galen's art heals only the body, But Abu Imram's [Maimonides'] the body and the soul. With his wisdom he could heal 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, Cure her of her periodic defects, And at the time of her conjunction save her from waning.
The last years of Maimonides' life were marked by increasing physical ailments; he died in his seventieth year, mourned by many congregations in various parts of the world. In Fostat both Jews and Mohammedans observed public mourning for three days. In Jerusalem a general fast was appointed; a portion of the "Tokaḥah" was read, and the history of the capture of the Ark of the Covenant by the Philistines. His body was taken to Tiberias, and his tomb became a place of pilgrimage.
With the death of Maimonides the "Moreh" became the occasion for a long and bitter fight between conservative and liberal Jews in France and Spain. So bitter, indeed, was the contest that fierce invectives were speedily followed by anathemas and counter-anathemas, issued from both camps. Finally, about 1234, the dispute was referred to the Christian authorities, who ordered Maimonides' works to be burned. However, in spite of the strenuous opposition of the orthodox, perhaps because of this opposition, the "Moreh" became the "guide" of enlightened Jews for many generations, and its study produced philosophers like Spinoza, Solomon Maimon, and Moses Mendelssohn. Nor was its fame confined to the narrow pale of Judaism; as early as the thirteenth century portions of it were translated into Latin, and many Christian scholastics, like ALBERTUS MAGNUS, Duns Scotus, Alexander of Hales, etc., drew from this inexhaustible well of learning.
The following is a classified list of Maimonides' works:
Works on Philosophy and Theology.
- Philosophy and Theology: "Dalalat al-Ḥa'irin." Translated into Hebrew by Samuel ibn Tibbon, in 1204, under the title "Moreh Nebukim."The Hebrew translation was first published somewhere in Italy before 1480; since then it has been frequently published with commentaries. Another Hebrew translation, by Al-Ḥarizi, was published by Schlossberg (vol. , London, 1851; vols. and , Vienna, 1874 and 1879). There are two Latin translations of the "Moreh," by Aug. Justinianus (Paris, 1520) and by Buxtorf, Junior (Basel, 1629); the earlier is based on the Hebrew version of Al-Ḥarizi and is a mere copy of an older Latin translation; the later is based on that of Ibn Tibbon. The Arabic original, with a French translation entitled "Guide des Egarés," was published by Salomon Munk (3 vols., Paris, 1856-66). The work was translated twice into Italian, by Jedidiah ben Moses of Recanati (1580) and by D. J. Maroni (1870). The first part was translated into German by Fürstenthal (Krotoschin, 1839); the second, by M. E. Stein (Vienna, 1864); and the third, by Scheyer (Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1838). Part was translated into English, under the title "The Reasons of the Laws of Moses," by Townley (London, 1827). A complete English translation, in three volumes, was published by M. Friedländer (London, 1889)."Maḳalah fi-Ṣina'at al-Manṭik," on the terminology of logic, in fourteen chapters; written at the age of sixteen. It was translated into Hebrew by Moses ibn Tibbon under the title "Millot ha-Higgayon," and was first published, with two anonymous commentaries, at Venice in 1552; it has since passed through fourteen editions. A Latin translation was published by Sebastian Münster (Basel, 1527); German translations were made by M. S. Neumann (Venice, 1822) and Heilberg (Breslau, 1828). Among the numerous commentaries written on this work the most noteworthy is that of Moses Mendelssohn."Maḳalah fi al-Tauḥid," an essay on the unity of God. Translated into Hebrew by Isaac ben Nathan, in the fourteenth century, under the title "Ma'amar ha-Yiḥud.""Maḳalah fi al-Sa'adah," an essay, in two chapters, on felicity (Paris, Bibliothèque Nationale, No. 7193). Published for the first time in Hebrew, under the title "Peraḳim be-Haẓlaḥah," in 1567.An essay on forced conversions. Translated anonymously into Hebrew under the title "Iggeret ha-Shemad," or "Ma'amar Ḳiddush ha-Shem." It sets forth (1) the extent to which a Jew may yield and the extent to which he must resist when under compulsion to embrace another religion, and maintains (2) that Mohammedanism is not a heathenish religion. Maimonides wrote this essay in reply to a certain rabbi who asserted that compulsory converts to Islam, though they may secretly observe all the Jewish precepts, can not be considered as Israelites. It is generally held that in this case Maimonides preached "pro domo sua," he and his family having been themselves forced to embrace Islam. This, however, is contested by some scholars, who, on very good grounds, even doubt Maimonides' authorship of this essay. The "Iggeret ha-Shemad" was published by A. Geiger in his monograph on Maimonides (Breslau, 1850).Letter to Rabbi Jacob al-Fayyumi, on the critical condition of the Jews in Yemen (1172). It was translated into Hebrew by Samuel ibn Tibbon, Abraham ibn Ḥisdai, and Nathan ha-Ma'arabi. Ibn Tibbon's translation was published under the title of "Iggeret Teman" (Vienna, 1857); that of Nathan ha-Ma'arabi, under the title "Petaḥ Tiḳwah" (1629); that of Abraham ibn Ḥisdai is still extant in manuscript.An essay on resurrection. Translated into Hebrew by Samuel ibn Tibbon and published under the title "Ma'amar Teḥiyyot ha-Metim" (1629). A Latin translation, still extant in manuscript, was made by Mithridates.
Works on Halakah.
- Halakah: Commentaries on the Mishnah, entitled "Kitab al-Siraj." They were translated into Hebrew by several scholars: on Berakot, Peah, Demai, Shebu'ot, by Judah al-Ḥarizi; the remainder of Seder Zera'im and Seder Mo'ed, by Joseph ben Isaac ibn al-Fu'al; Seder Nashim, by Jacob ben Moses of Huesca; Seder Neziḳin—with the exception of Abot, which was translated by Samuel ibn Tibbon—by Solomon ben Jacob of Saragossa; Seder Ḳodashim, by Nethaneel ben Joseph of Saragossa; Seder Ṭohorot, by an anonymous scholar; various other parts, by Israel Israeli. The Hebrew translations were first published at Naples (1492). Of the original were published: the general introduction and the prefaces to seder and , and to the treatise Menaḥot, with a Latin translation by Pococke (Oxford, 1654); the introduction to Abot ("Shemonah Peraḳim"), with a German translation by M. Wolf (Leipsic, 1863); the Seder Ṭohorot, with a Hebrew translation by Joseph Derenbourg (Berlin, 1886-92); various treatises, some with Hebrew and some with German translations, published as university dissertations in the last twenty years. The Hebrew translations were rendered into Latin by Surenhusius; into Spanish by Reuben ben Naḥman Abi Saglo."Kitab al-Fara'iḍ." Twice translated into Hebrew, first by Moses ibn Tibbon, and then by Solomon ben Joseph ibn Ayyub. Ibn Tibbon's translation was printed first in Italy and then in Lisbon in 1497, and frequently since. Part of the original, with a German translation, was published by M. Peritz (Breslau, 1882), and a complete edition, with a French translation entitled "Le Livre des Préceptes," by Moses Bloch (Paris, 1888).Commentary on Ḥullin and on nearly all of three sections—Mo'ed, Nashim, and Neziḳin. Of these commentaries, which Maimonides cites in the introduction to the Mishnah, only that on Rosh ha-Shanah is known; it was edited by J. Brill in the periodical "Ha-Lebanon" (8:199 et seq.)."Mishneh Torah," or "Yad ha-Ḥazaḳah." The earliest edition appeared in Italy about 1480; the second at Soncino, 1490; the third at Constantinople, 1509; the fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh editions at Venice, 1524, 1550, 1550-51, and 1574-75; the eighth at Amsterdam, 1702-3; the most recent and complete edition is that of Leipsic, 1862. Parts of an Arabic translation of the "Mishneh Torah" and an Arabic commentary on the "Sefer ha-Madda'" are still extant in manuscript. Extracts from the "Mishneh Torah" were translated intoEnglish by H. Bernard and E. Soloweyczik (London, 1863).Halakot, extracted from the Talmud of Jerusalem; cited by Maimonides in his commentary on Tamid (, infra).
- Astronomy and Medicine: An essay on the Jewish calendar, based on astronomical principles. It is divided into two parts: on the "Molad" (conjunction of the moon), and on the "Teḳufah" (seasons of the year). It was translated into Hebrew by an anonymous writer and was inserted in the "Dibre Ḥakamim" of Eliezer of Tunis (Metz, 1849), and also in "Ḳobeẓ Teshubot Rambam" (Leipsic, 1859)."Fi al-Jama'ah," on sexual intercourse, in three parts, dedicated to Malik al-Mustafir, Sultan of Hamat and nephew of Saladin. It was twice translated into Hebrew: under the title "Ma'amar 'al Ribbui ha-Tashmish," by Zerahiah ben Isaac, and under the title "Ma'amar ha-Mashgel" (anonymous). Both original and translations, as well as a Latin version, are extant in various manuscripts."Al-Sumum wal-Mutaḥarriz Min al-Adwiyyah al-Ḳitalah" (also called "Al-Maḳalah al-Faḍiliyyah"), on various poisons and their antidotes, in two volumes. Translated into Hebrew, under the title "Ha-Ma'amar ha-Nikbad," or "Ha-Ma'amar be-Teri'aḳ," by Moses ibn Tibbon; extant in various manuscripts. A Latin translation of this work was made by Armengaud Blasius of Montpellier. A French translation from the Hebrew version was made by M. Rabbinowicz under the title "Traité des Poisons" (Paris, 1865), and a German translation by M. Steinschneider entitled "Gifte und Ihre Heilungen" (Berlin, 1873)."Fi al-Bawaṣir," on hemorrhoids, in seven chapters. Translated into Hebrew under the title "Ha-Ma'amar bi-Refu'at ha-Ṭeḥorim," and into Spanish under the title "Sobre los Milagros." Original and translations are found in manuscript."Fuṣul Musa," an imitation of the aphorisms of Hippocrates. Translated into Hebrew by Zerahiah ben Isaac and by Nathan ha-Me'ati ("Pirḳe Mosheh," Lemberg, 1804; Wilna, 1888). A Latin translation was published in 1489."Maḳalah fi al-Rabw," on asthma. Translated into Hebrew by Samuel ben Benveniste and Joseph Shatibi.Commentary on Hippocrates' aphorisms. Extracted from the commentary of Galen; translated into Hebrew by Moses ibn Tibbon and anonymously.Essays on hygiene, or consultations with Malik al-Faḍl, son of Saladin. Translated into Hebrew by Moses ibn Tibbon, and published first in "Kerem Ḥemed" (3:9-31), and later by Jacob Safir ha-Levi (Jerusalem, 1885). A Latin translation was published at Venice (1514, 1518, 1521) and Leyden (1531). Another Latin translation was made from the Hebrew by John of Capua; a German translation was published by D. Winternitz (Venice, 1843)."Maḳalah fi Biyan al-A'raḍ," on the case of the Prince of Rikka. Translated into Hebrew anonymously under the title "Teshubot 'al She'elot Peraṭiyyot." A Latin translation was published in 1519 under the title "De Causis Accidentium Apparentium."
Maimonides' correspondence and some consultations appeared at first without place or date, and later, under the title "Teshubot She'elot we-Iggarot," at Constantinople (1520). His responsa were translated from the Arabic into Hebrew by Mordecai Tammah, and published at Amsterdam, 1765, under the title "Pe'er ha-Dor," and at Leipsic, 1859, under the title "Ḳobeẓ Teshubot Rambam."
- Modern: Peter Beer, Leben und Wirken des Maimonides, Prague, 1834;
- Geiger, Jüd. Zeit. 1:97 et seq.;
- idem, Moses ben Maimon, Breslau, 1850;
- Jost, Annalen, 1839, pp. 308 et seq.; 1840, pp. 32 et seq.;
- idem. Allg. Gesch. 4:116 et seq.;
- idem, Gesch. des Judenthums, 2:430 et seq.;
- Munk, Notice sur Joseph ben Jahoudah, Paris, 1842;
- idem, in Arch. Isr. 1851, pp. 319 et seq.;
- Bukofzer, Maimonides im Kampf mit Seinen Neuesten Biographen, Berlin, 1844;
- F. Lebrecht, Ueber die Apostasie des Maimonides, in Magazin für Literatur des In-und Auslandes, 1844, No. 62;
- A. Baruch, Two Lectures on the Life and Writings of Maimonides, London, 1847;
- Wüstenfeld, Gesch. der Arabischen Aerzte, p. 110;
- Carmoly, Histoire des Médecins, p. 52;
- Steinschneider, Cat. Bodl. cols. 1861-1942;
- idem, Hebr. Uebers. passim;
- idem, Die Arabische Literatur der Juden, § 158;
- idem, Sammlung Gedichten über Maimonides, in Ḳobeẓ al-Yad, Berlin, 1885 and 1886;
- Weiss, Bet Talmud, , No. 6;
- Scheyer, Das Psychologische System des Maimonides, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1845;
- Joël, Die Religionsphilosophie des Moses ben Maimon, Breslau, 1876;
- Kaufmann, Die Attributenlehre, passim;
- idem, Zur Biographie Maimonides, in Monatsschrift, 1896, p. 460;
- M. Friedländer, Introduction to the Guide of the Perplexed;
- Hermann Kahan, Hat Maimonides dem Krypto-Mohammedanismus Gehuldigt? 1899;
- Berliner, Zur Ehrenrettung des Maimonides, in Israelitische Monotsschrift, 1901, No. 6;
- J. Friedländer, Der Arabische Sprachgebrauch des Maimonides, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1902;
- Abrahams, Maimonides, Philadelphia, 1903;
- Grätz, Gesch. 6:310.
Maimonides as Halakist:
Object of the Precepts.
The fundamental purpose of all the halakic works of Maimonides was to bring system and order into the tremendous mass of traditional law and to promote the knowledge thereof by presenting it in a comparatively clear and brief form. This self-imposed task was the necessary consequence of his views regarding the mission and the purpose of the Jews and their relation to the revealed law; for in his eyes the Law, which the Jew was bound to follow, was not confined to the written code, but, in accordance with the traditional view (ORAL LAW) adopted by Maimonides, embraced oral explanations, regulations, and provisions that had been given to Moses. These precepts and regulations were of equal validity with the written law, as were all those which scholars had deduced from the Bible by rules of logic or hermeneutics. There were, moreover, precepts set forth by prophets and sages which had no connection with the written law, although they were accepted by the entire people and were obligatory (Commentary on the Mishnah, Introduction). A necessary condition for the observance of the Law was a knowledge of it, and the Jew was obliged to enter upon scientific studies that he might rightly understand the truths contained in the Torah and attain spiritual perfection; thus he was unable to devote his entire time to the investigation of the commandments of the Law.
A fixed code, therefore, became necessary if each man was to know the Law and its precepts, and in it the rules and regulations must be contained with pregnant brevity. The Mishnah of Judah ha-Nasihad once been such a code, but it then had no commentary, and the Talmud, designed to fill this want, fell short of its object. The treatment of the Mishnah in the Talmud was often unintelligible, as when it asserted that a given mishnah contained this or that when such was not stated in the Mishnah itself, or that one mishnah was incomplete, while another required correction. Nor was the general plan of the Talmud as a commentary satisfactory, for it frequently explained a mishnah by discussions which were too detailed and too involved, while the language employed was unintelligible to the majority. It was often impossible to interpret a mishnah except by statements scattered through two or more treatises, so that a thorough knowledge of the entire Talmud, which few could attain, was necessary to determine the exact ruling of the mishnah in practical matters. It was impossible, moreover, to regard even the mishnaic code as complete, since it did not contain the many rules and regulations which were developed and elaborated in the later Talmudic period; and the Jewish people consequently lacked the body of law which was so requisite (Letter to Ibn 'Aḳnin, in the collection of responsa and letters of Maimonides, p. 30b, Leipsic, 1859).
Commentary and Code.
Maimonides set himself the task of meeting this want. This he sought to do by commenting on the Mishnah and making it available as a code, from which decisions of practical bearing might be deduced without the necessity of working through many involved disquisitions (Introduction). He planned also a new and more comprehensive body of law which, based upon the written Torah, should contain all that a faithful Jew must know, so that he need not spend his entire time in Talmudic controversies and disputations (Letter to Ibn 'Aḳnin, c. p. 31b). The two methods of commentary and codification were, in the opinion of Maimonides, the only ones open to every author to follow, the model of the one being the Talmud and of the other the Mishnah (Responsa, No. 140, Leipsic, 1859). It thus becomes possible to distinguish between the commentatorial and the codificatory contributions of Maimonides to the religious law.
Commentary on the Mishnah.
Commentatorial Activity: In a survey of the activity of Maimonides as a commentator only his gloss on the Mishnah comes under consideration, for while it is true that Maimonides wrote commentaries on the Talmud, especially on the three orders of Mo'ed, Nashim, and Neziḳin, as well as on the treatise Ḥullin (Introduction), they have all been lost, while the gloss on Rosh ha-Shanah (ed. Brill, Paris, 1865) is of doubtful authenticity. These are of importance in this connection only in so far as it must be assumed that many decisions in the works of Maimonides that apparently contradict the meaning of the Talmud were probably based on divergent interpretations which he had adopted in his lost Talmudic treatises. Very different is it with his commentary on the Mishnah, which has been preserved in its entirety, and in which may be seen the combination of gigantic plan and detailed method that Maimonides adopted. In his mishnaic gloss Maimonides was for the most part a commentator, seeking to expound the Mishnah to those who studied it and giving them the general rules by which they might understand its true meaning. These principles, which afford a correct interpretation of many passages of the Mishnah, are scattered through his commentary, and he urges the reader to impress them on his memory that there may be no need of repeating them (Commentary on the Mishnah, B. B. 5:2 and Nazir ).
The gloss itself was designed to enable the layman to understand the Mishnah, since he could not work through the involved disquisitions of the Talmud, and was in many cases unable even to understand the language (comp. "Yad," Preface). And even Talmudic scholars might receive great aid from the commentary, since it removed the difficulties of many mishnaic passages and explained them correctly; for numerous passages in the Mishnah were not understood even by the Geonim and leading authorities (Commentary on the Mishnah, 'Ab. Zarah 5:8 and Ket. 1:6). The entire mishnaic order Ḳodashim was unintelligible alike to scholars and laymen, since the great majority had little knowledge of the laws relating to sacrifice, so that his commentary on this portion of the Mishnah was designed to be of assistance to teacher and pupil alike (Introduction to Ḳodashim). In addition to this purely commentatorial service, the gloss was designed to give rulings in religious law of practical importance, which the layman would be entirely unable to deduce from the Talmud, while even to an expert their deduction would be difficult and precarious. After Maimonides' explanation of the meaning of each mishnaic passage, therefore, he states how the practical halakic decision is determined.
Wishing his commentary to serve for instruction both in religious and in moral matters, he frequently omitted a detailed discussion of the view of a tanna where it was not accepted practically (comp. Frankel, "Hodegetica," p. 324). He did not limit himself, consequently, to an explanation of the Mishnah and a statement of the definitive halakic decisions, but rather seized every opportunity to expose abuses, superstitions, and errors, even in cases where his remarks have only a slight connection with the content of the Mishnah, or, indeed, none at all (comp. his polemic against those who wrote amulets, in the Commentary on the Mishnah, Soṭah 7:8, and against those who used learning as a means of gain, ib. Ned. 4:3 and Bek. 4:6).
In the majority of cases Maimonides gave the Talmudic interpretation of a mishnah with the omission of all subtle explanations and disquisitions, and to that extent his commentary serves as an introduction to the Talmud, inasmuch as, after the reader or the student has acquired, with the help of this gloss, a knowledge of the Mishnah and is acquainted with the results of Talmudic exposition contained in it, he is able successfully to venture on the sea of the Talmud itself (Introduction). He did not, however, follow Talmudic interpretations everywhere, for in many places where the mishnaic exegesis of the Talmud did not seem to him tobe correct, regardless of its authority he stated his own views (comp. Schorr in "He-Ḥaluẓ," 1860, 5:43-49). This he did even in cases where another view of the Halakah as regards practical decisions resulted from his interpretation (Schorr, ib.; comp. Lipmann Heller, "Tosafot Yom-Ṭob," on Naz. 4:4 and Sheb. 4:10). In passages in which the Talmud gave two contradictory mishnaic explanations, one of which was received as valid for a halakic decision while the other was rejected, he, apparently, did not hesitate to accept the latter (comp. his interpretation of B. Ḳ. 10:8 and Gemara ib.).
Attitude Toward Predecessors.
Maimonides likewise employed the works of his predecessors, although he cited them but seldom, since he deemed it superfluous to mention the name of his authority in every instance. Thus he says in the preface to the eight chapters which he prefixed to his commentary on Abot: "I have not invented this explanation, or myself framed these assertions, but I have taken them from the words of the wise and gathered them from the works of others. Though I do not name them, I do not claim, by my silence, the learning of others as my own, for I have just admitted that much is taken from other sources." He was, however, entirely independent with regard to his precursors, and he frequently refuted the explanations of the Geonim, stating in the letter to 'Aḳnin (p. 3lb) that many errors in his commentary were due to his adherence to his predecessors, including Rabbi Nissim.
Maimonides interpreted the language of the Mishnah according to the rules of Hebrew and Aramaic grammar, and employed the "'Aruk" in his explanations of words, although he often fell into the error of regarding Greek loan-words in the Mishnah as Hebrew and explaining them accordingly (comp. Weiss, "Mishpaṭ Leshon ha-Mishnah," p. 11, Vienna, 1867). Toward a better interpretation, he frequently cited the principles of other sciences, such as mathematics and physics, while he attained his object of bringing system and order into the mass of tradition by detailing, before each important discussion, the general principles upon which it rested. Maimonides provided several treatises and orders with prefaces, and prefixed to his entire commentary a general introduction, in which he discussed the origin, plan, and arrangement of the Mishnah and gave an account of the transmission of the oral law. In this introduction and in his preface to the "Yad," as well as in his letters and in numerous scattered notes in his commentary, Maimonides gave coherent and comprehensive information regarding the origin of the Mishnah, the Tosefta, the halakic midrashim, and both Talmuds, in which he evinced a knowledge of literary history superior to that of all his predecessors.
As a commentator Maimonides attained but half his aim, although he had reduced his interpretation of the halakic code to the smallest possible compass. He was, therefore, obliged to plan a new and more comprehensive system of law. It was by no means necessary, however, in his opinion, that this should follow the older mishnaic code; it should rather be arranged according to its subject-matter. All legal regulations, consequently, were to be divided into groups, but before the precepts could be classified it was necessary to enumerate them and to determine what regulations were to be considered as commandments. Many a passage in the Torah which is a commandment or a prohibition in form is not one in reality. Some ordinances, Maimonides declared, are mere foundations for other laws and can not be regarded as independent.
In the enumeration of all the commandments of the Torah, which, according to tradition, numbered 613, great confusion existed before the time of Maimonides, since no principle of classification was established, and consequently the various systems conflicted in many respects. As a sort of introduction to his new code, Maimonides prefixed to it a work containing a dry list of all the commandments of the Torah. In the "Sefer ha-Miẓwot" he systematized the commandments by deducing them from fourteen self-evident principles, enumerating the 613 commandments on this basis. This work was generally accepted, and formed the foundation of the majority of subsequent lists. It must be admitted, however, that Maimonides himself frequently deviated from his own rule and cited individual commandments which, according to his system, could not be regarded as precepts, a point to which attention was called as early as the time of Naḥmanides (Weiss, c. pp. 197-199). See COMMANDMENTS, THE 613.
Codificatory Activity: After establishing the list of all the injunctions of the Torah in his "Sefer ha-Miẓwot," Maimonides proceeded to write his great work, the "Mishneh Torah," on which he labored for ten successive years. In this book he planned a complete legal system which should give in a brief but clear form the final decision in the case of each law, so that, by the omission of long discussions and demonstrations, every regulation, law, and custom of religious life might be learned without any other manual. He named the work, therefore, the "Mishneh Torah," or the "Second Law," since it was only necessary to read first the written Torah and then this work in order to acquire the entire body of the so-called "oral law." The book contains all definitions of the Law together with all traditional explanations, statutes, and regulations, as well as the traditions and explanations of the Geonim and the customs which were given, introduced, or recognized from the time of Moses to the conclusion of the Talmud (Preface to the "Mishneh Torah"). It includes also the ethical ideas, the moral teachings, and the doctrinal principles which were traditional or which had been established by the sages or adopted by general consent.
The "Mishneh Torah."
In the "Mishneh Torah" the commandments of the Law are divided into fourteen coherent groups. This forms the first complete classification of the Mosaic and rabbinical laws; each group constitutes a book, and each book is subdivided into sections, chapters, and paragraphs.
The first book, called "Madda'" (Knowledge), treats of the articles of faith and such essential verities as the unity of God and His incorporeality; itdeals also with the study of the Law and the prohibition against idolatry. The second book contains the precepts which must be observed at all times if the love due to God is to be remembered continually; wherefore it bears the name of "Ahabah" (Love). The third book discusses those laws which are limited to certain times, such as the Sabbath and the festivals, and is therefore termed "Zemannim" (Times). The fourth book, "Nashim" (Women), treats of marriage laws. The fifth book contains laws concerning forbidden sexual relations and forbidden foods, and as Israel was distinguished by these commandments from the other nations and was hallowed thereby, it bears the name of "Ḳedushshah" (Holiness). The sixth book is concerned with the law regarding vows and oaths, and since he who makes a vow is separated by his vow from others, this section is called "Hafla'ah" (Separation). The seventh book, "Zera'im" (Seeds), treats of the laws and precepts connected with agriculture. The eighth book, "'Abodah" (Divine Service), is concerned with regulations pertaining to the Temple and its worship and the offerings of the community. The ninth book, "Ḳorbanot" (Offerings), contains laws for offerings, excepting those of the whole community. The tenth book, "Ṭohorah" (Cleanness), discusses the rules of cleanness and uncleanness. The eleventh book, "Neziḳin" (Injuries), is concerned with criminal law. The twelfth book, "Ḳinyan" (Acquisition), is devoted to purchase and sale; the thirteenth, "Mishpaṭim" (Rights), to civil law; and the fourteenth, "Shofeṭim" (Judges), to the prescriptions concerning the magistrates, the Sanhedrin, the king, and the judges, as well as the duties which they must fulfil and the prerogatives which they enjoy.
The utmost brevity was sought by Maimonides in his "Mishneh Torah," as in his commentary on the Mishnah, and he therefore continued his method of avoiding citation, thinking it sufficient to name in the preface the works he had used, and the sages, links in the chain of tradition, who had transmitted the Law from Moses (Preface to his "Sefer ha-Miẓwot"). In addition to the Babylonian Talmud, he drew upon the Jerusalem Talmud, the halakic midrashim, and the Sifra, Sifre, and Mekilta. Therein he surpassed all his predecessors, none of whom made so extensive a use of the Jerusalem Talmud and the halakic midrashim; he occasionally preferred these works to the Babylonian Talmud (comp. Malachi ha-Kohen in "Yad Mal'aki," p. 184b; Weiss, c. p. 232). These Talmudic and midrashic works form the basis of most of the material contained in this book without special mention of the sources (Responsa, No. 140).
One of the chief authorities of Maimonides was the written Torah itself, and there are many regulations and laws contained in his work which are not mentioned in Talmudic or midrashic works, but which were deduced by him through independent interpretations of the Bible (comp. Abraham de Boton, "Leḥem Mishneh" on "Yesode ha-Torah," 9:1; "Yad Mal'aki," Rule 4; Weiss, c. p. 231, Note 234). The maxims and decisions of the Geonim are frequently presented with the introductory phrase "The Geonim have decided" or "There is a regulation of the Geonim," while the opinions of Isaac Alfasi and Joseph ibn Migas are prefaced by the words "My teachers have decided" (comp. "Yad," She'elah, § 6; "Yad Mal'aki," Rule 32). Maimonides likewise refers to Spanish, French, and Palestinian authorities, although he does not name them, nor is it known to whom he refers. He furthermore drew from Gentile sources, and a great part of his researches on the calendar, contained in "Yad," Ḳiddush ha-Ḥodesh, was based upon Greek theories and reckonings. Since these rules rested upon sound argument, he thought that it made no difference whether an author was a prophet or a Gentile (ib. 17:25). In a like spirit he adopted principles of Greek philosophy in the first book of the "Mishneh Torah," although no authority for these teachings was to be found in Talmudic or midrashic literature.
Maimonides did not surrender his originality or his independent judgment even when his views were in conflict with those of all his authorities, for it was impossible, in his opinion, to renounce one's own reasons or to reject recognized truths because of some conflicting statements in the Talmud or the Midrash. Thus he made a ruling on his own authority and based upon his medical knowledge without being able to establish it by any statement of the older authorities ("Yad," Sheḥitah, 8:23; comp. Responsa, No. 37, addressed to the scholars of Lunel). He likewise omitted many regulations contained in the Talmud and Mishnah because they did not coincide with his views—e. g., those precepts which depended on superstitious views or on the belief in demons—and in a similar spirit he passed over much that was forbidden in the Talmud as injurious to health, since his medical knowledge led him to consider these things harmless.
In his choice of language, also, Maimonides deviated from custom, being averse to the Talmudic Aramaic, with its mixture of many elements drawn from other languages, since it was known only to those who were specially interested in it and had acquired it solely for the pursuit of Talmudic studies (Preface to the "Mishneh Torah"). He therefore preferred to write in the later Hebrew of the Mishnah, which was his precedent also for his brevity, his avoidance of discussions, and his scanty citations of the sources from which he had drawn his laws and his decisions.
Opposition of RABaD.
This great work of Maimonides was bitterly attacked as soon as it appeared, and from every side its author was assailed with questions and refutations. Many attacked the work from mere envy and because of their failure to understand certain things in it, and accused the author of wishing to destroy all study of the Talmud (Responsa, No. 140). He had, on the other hand, many sincere opponents, one of the most important being ABRAHAM BEN DAVID OF POSQUIÈRES. These antagonists were especially bitter against the new methods which he had employed, and the very peculiarities which he had regarded as merits in his work failed to please his opponents simply because they were innovations. Thus they reproached him because he wrote inHebrew instead of in the customary Talmudic idiom (comp. RABaD on "Yad," Shebu'ot, 6:9); because he departed from the Talmudic order and introduced a division and arrangement of his own (RABaD on "Yad," Nedarim, 3:5, and on "Yad," Shofar, 2:8); because he dared to decide according to the Tosefta and the Jerusalem Talmud as against the Babylonian (RABaD on "Yad," Ma'aser Sheni, 1:8).
Especially sharp was the blame heaped upon Maimonides because he neglected to cite his sources; this was considered an evidence of his superciliousness (RABaD, in his notes on the preface of Maimonides), since it made it difficult, if not absolutely impossible, for scholars to verify his statements, and compelled them to follow his decisions absolutely (ib.). Maimonides, of course, defended himself. He had not composed this work for glory; he desired only to supply the necessary but lacking code (Letter to 'Aḳnin, p. 30b), for there was danger lest pupils, weary of the difficult study, might go astray in decisions of practical importance (Letter to Rabbi Jonathan of Lunel, in which he thanks the latter for certain corrections; Responsa, No. 49). It had never been his intention, furthermore, to abolish Talmudic studies, nor had he ever said that there was no need of the "Halakot" of Alfasi, for he himself had lectured to his pupils on the Gemara and, at their request, upon Alfasi's work (Responsa, No. 140). His omission of his sources was due solely to his desire for brevity, although he regretted that he had not written a supplementary work citing his authorities for those halakot whose sources were not evident from the context. He would, however, should circumstances permit, atone for this error, however toilsome it might be to write such a supplement (Responsa, No. 140). RABaD was forced to acknowledge, despite his attacks and refutations, that the work of Maimonides was a magnificent contribution (note on "Yad," Kilayim, 6:2), nor did he hesitate to praise him and approve his views in many passages, citing and commenting upon the sources (comp. Weiss, c. p. 259).
Influence of the "Yad."
Thus the work of Maimonides, notwithstanding the sharp attacks upon it, soon won general recognition as an authority of the first importance for ritual decisions. A decision might not be rendered in opposition to a view of Maimonides, even though the latter apparently militated against the sense of a Talmudic passage, for in such cases the presumption was that the words of the Talmud were incorrectly interpreted ("Yad Mal'aki," Rule 26, p. 186, cited in the name of several authorities). One must, in like manner, follow Maimonides even when the latter opposed his teachers, since he surely knew their views, and if he decided against them he must have disapproved their interpretation (ib. Rule 27, cited in the name of Samuel of Modena). Even when later authorities, like Asher ben Jehiel, decided against Maimonides, it became a rule of the Oriental Jews to follow the latter, although the European Jews, especially the Ashkenazim, preferred the opinions of Asheri in such cases (ib. Rule 36, p. 190). But the hope which Maimonides expressed in his letter to 'Aḳnin, that in time to come his work and his alone would be accepted, has been only half fulfilled. His "Mishneh Torah" was indeed very popular, but there was no cessation in the study of other works, with which his own had to endure comparison.
The object which Maimonides had sought in his "Mishneh Torah," the facilitation of the study of the Talmud through brevity and system, was not attained. His words and expressions were regarded as so precisely and accurately selected that they were themselves treated as carefully as the Talmud itself, and became material for interpretation and exegesis ("Yad Mal'aki," Rule 3). In this manner every word and every sentence of the "Mishneh Torah" was made the object of repeated commentaries and casuistic hermeneutics. As it had been hitherto impossible to deduce any decision from the Mishnah without a knowledge of the involved discussions and interpretations of the Talmud, so now no ruling of full validity in practise can be inferred from the "Mishneh Torah" unless due regard is paid to the commentaries upon this work, as well as to their discussions, investigations, and comparisons with other codes.
- Geiger, Moses ben Maimon, in Nachgelassene Schriften, 3:34-96;
- Malachi ha-Kohen, Yad Mal'aki, pp. 182a-187b, Przemysl, 1877;
- Weiss, Tolcdot ha-RaMBaM, in Bet Talmud, vol.;
- idem, Dor, 4:290-303.
These files are public domain.
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Mishneh Torah'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/m/mishneh-torah.html. 1901.