Monday, October 29, 2007

Rambam Responds to Criticism On Mishne Torah.

After last post I am entitled to some lighter fare for a while so here goes an interesting comment Rambam makes in one of his letters. The letter is in the Sheilat edition page 300. Rambam writes to his pupil R. Yosef who apparently was reporting about disparaging remarks made by Rambam’s opponents in Aleppo.

Here it is in my usual translation/paraphrase:

I knew and it was clear to me when I was writing [Mishne Torah] that it will fall, without doubt, into the hands of a jealous and evil person who will denigrate its merits by showing that it [the book] is unnecessary or deficient. Or [fall into the hands of] an ignorant or a fool, who will not appreciate the value of what was accomplished in writing it and will see little usefulness in it. Or [fall] into the hands of a novice, who just began learning, has nonsensical notions, errs and finds difficulties in various places because he does not know the sources or because he is unable to extract from the text what I was able. Or [fall] into the hands of a person who sees himself as fearing Heaven [Yerei Shamayim], who is entrenched [literally: frozen in his own residue], a fool, who will criticize the foundations of belief that are included in the book. All of the above comprise the majority. [Rambam clearly is referring to the supposed Talmidei Chachamim, the elite and not the plain people]. Thus the book will be of value [literally: fall] [in the hands] of the remnants that God calls upon, people who are straight, correct and have good minds; they will know what we have done. You are the first of that group and should you have been the only one during my lifetime it would have satisfied me. How much more [am I delighted] having already received letters from the French wise men and from others in their name, expressing their wonderment about what was done and are asking for the book in its totality. [Apparently, the MT was published in segments and many had only parts of it at the early stages. See Sheilat comment ad locum]. The book has already spread to the ends of civilization. Regarding your report that there are some people who have not received it well, that is so only during my lifetime. In future times, when jealousy and power seeking are no longer a factor, all the children of Israel will be satisfied using only it [Mishne Torah] and abandon all others [Sefarim] without a question. They [the other Sefarim] will be used only by someone who is looking for something to occupy himself during a lifetime without any goal.

I wonder to which Sefarim he was referring to in the last sentence? Apparently, Rambam took very seriously his statement in the introduction to MT where he categorically says that there will no longer be any need to learn the Gemara before reading the MT. In another letter, he mentions that when there are doubts about the meaning of his ruling, the Gemara should be consulted. Apparently, he proposed that Gemara should be learned as an adjunct to his MT.

See also this post for an additional insight into Rambam’s understanding of what learning is all about.


  1. May I suggest the unpopular view that "all other sefarim" refers to just that - as he explains in the introduction to the MT. Those who see the true merit of the MT will abandon all other study.

    The fact that Rambam continued teaching "other sefarim" (as he explains in another letter) should not be troublesome - those are all the individuals 'who don't know what he did' (consider the fact that Rambam views Yosef as unique)

  2. Where is the reference in the MT? Thanks

  3. at the end of the introduction
    כללו של דבר, כדי שלא יהא אדם צריך לחיבור אחר בעולם בדין מדיני ישראל; אלא יהיה חיבור זה מקבץ לתורה שבעל פה כולה, עם התקנות והמנהגות והגזירות שנעשו מימות משה רבנו ועד חיבור התלמוד, וכמו שפירשו לנו הגאונים בכל חיבוריהן, שחיברו אחר התלמוד

  4. Contradiction:
    "[Rambam clearly is referring to the supposed Talmidei Chachamim, the elite and not the plain people]"
    "How much more [am I delighted] having already received letters from the French wise men and from others in their name, expressing their wonderment about what was done and are asking for the book in its totality."

    I think the Rambam is referring to people who do not see benefit in a code like the Minshneh Torah. I do not think the Rambam would hold someone like Rabbi Yose or Rabbi Yoshohua ben Levi as a fool. He clearly does not call the French wise men, fools, despite them coming to different conclusions than him.

    All I see is he is calling people who are sticking to the talmudic give and take as fools because in talmudic times each rabbi would instruct the people with one opinion an one conclusion without the give and take.

    Well that is my 2am chiddish. Yes, I got just out of bed to post this comment.

    Good night folks.

  5. 40 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 understand them. And one hardly needs to mention the Talmud itself--the Babylonian Talmud, the Jerusalem Talmud, the Sifra, the Sifre, and the Toseftot--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.

    41 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 intently 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 Teacher to the present.

    42 This is so that all the rules should be accessible to the small and to the great 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 in the World in the rules of any of the laws of Israel; but that this work might collect the entire Oral Law, 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 [Complete] Restatement of the [Oral] Law (Mishneh Torah), for a person reads the Written Law first and then reads this work, and knows from it the entire Oral Law, without needing to read any other book between them.

  6. >He clearly does not call the French wise men, fools, despite them coming to different conclusions than him.

    He is referring to R. Yonathan of Lunil who corresponded with him. Rambam had the greatest regard for these people as he did for his greatest critic Ra'avad who he refers to Harav Hagadol Mi Posquierre in a letter. Rishonim learned to arrive at a conclusion lehalacha and in this sense they were on the same wavelength as Rambam. Just like nowadays, in his days there were people who learned without that goal in mind and that to whom he refers to critically.

    As an earlier commenter mentioned he had a good understanding of his own self worth.

  7. Anonymous 2 - You seem to confirm . Am I correct?

  8. They are both me. I quoted that from the introduction to extend on my point.

    Furthermore the Rambam does not exclude himself from this statement:
    30 After the court of Rav Ashe, who wrote the Talmud in the time of his son and completed it, the people of Israel scattered throughout all the nations most exceedingly and reached the most remote parts and distant isles, armed struggle became prevalent in the World, and the public ways became clogged with armies. The study of the Torah declined, and the people of Israel ceased to gather in places of study in their thousands and tens of thousands as before.

    31 But there gathered together a few individuals, the remnant whom the LORD calls in each city and in each town, and occupied themselves with the Torah, understood all the works of the sages, and knew from them the correct way of the Law.

    32 Any court that was established in any town after the time of the Talmud and enacted legislations or enacted customs for the town's residents or for several towns' residents, its enactments did not gain the acceptance of all Israel, because of the remoteness of their settlements and the difficulties of travel, and because the members of the court of any particular town were just individuals and the Great Rabbinical Court of seventy members had ceased to exist several years before the writing of the Talmud.

    33 So a town's residents are not forced to observe the customs of another town, nor is one court told to enact the restrictive legislations of another court in its town. So too, if one of the Geonim understood that the correct way of the Law was such and such, and it became clear to another court afterwards that this was not the correct way of the Law written in the Talmud, the earlier court is not to be obeyed, but rather what seems more correct, whether earlier or later.

    34 These matters apply to rulings, enactments, and customs that arose after the Talmud had been written. But whatever is in the Babylonian Talmud is binding on all of the people of Israel; and every city and town is forced to observe all the customs observed by the Talmud's scholars and to enact their restrictive legislations and to observe their positive legislations.

    Shabbat Shalom, from Jerusalem.