In the Name of HASHEM, G-d Eternal
In the Name of HASHEM, G-d Eternal

The 13 Fundamental Principles Of Our Torah Tradition

With Tolerance, Respect, and Love for Jews of Other Torah Traditions

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Principle 8

Principle 7 – The Best and Most Practical Way to Learn and Practice the Entire Halakhah: The Bible and Rambam’s Mishneh Torah

The best way to learn, practice and teach halakhah in our times, and the way envisioned by the RaMBaM (Maimonides), is straight from the Mishneh Torah, after and together with a study of TaNaKh, under the guidance and discipline of a competent Torah teacher (see Principle 10 below). (1)In the Introduction to the Mishneh Torah 42, it clearly states that a student requires the use of no other book between the TaNaKh and Mishneh Torah. ...continue It is the only code of Jewish Law that relates to the entire Torah as a whole, and written to be practical in any generation. It was written in order to put the entire breadth of halakhah in the hands of laymen, women, and children, besides Torah scholars. Moreover, it is the only comprehensive summary of the entire Talmudic literature.

Theoretically, the entire halakhah can be completely learned, successfully practiced and taught straight from the written sources: Bible and the sum total of Talmudic literature (Mishnah, Tosefta, Mekhilta, Sifra, Sifre, Jerusalem Talmud, and Babylonian Talmud). Practically, however, this is very complicated. Many years of intense learning are required to master this vast literature. The most authoritative work, the Babylonian Talmud, is written in a difficult dialect of Aramaic mixed with other languages. (2)This and the points above are in the Introduction to the Mishneh Torah. Furthermore, in our times, we no longer have texts of all of the Talmudic literature that are uncensored and totally accurate. We no longer have the tradition required to identify non-authoritative conclusions added into the Talmud by post-Talmudic sages. We no longer have the ability to accurately distinguish between the authentic, legal traditions received by the Geonim (3)A term generally used for the rabbis who led the Jewish people during the period between 4349 (589 CE) and 4798 (1038 CE). –which were not included in the Talmud– and their occasional non-authoritative conclusions. RaMBaM, one of the greatest masters of Talmud ever, was a highly critical researcher, who was able to do all of the above. (4)This includes the RaMBaM’s access to at least partial manuscripts of the Babylonian Talmud that were about 500 years old in the RaMBaM’s ...continue

We must not delude ourselves that Mishneh Torah is infallible (with no possibility of error), as if the RaMBaM’s every word was guided by angels. There are legal conclusions that are unclear in the Talmud itself, and the Mishneh Torah reflects that unclarity. Considering the breathtaking advance of science and medicine in the last 800 years, we cannot hide from the fact that Hilkhoth Yesode HaTorah and Hilkhoth De`oth do contain a few mistaken beliefs and concepts (that have no bearing on halakhah, see Principle 8 below). Moreover, there are laws with other valid approaches to them by other Torah giants, although they differ from the RaMBaM’s approach.

Nonetheless, none of these contradict the fact that the Mishneh Torah preserves, over all, the most reliably authentic understanding of the Talmudic literature (and that from 800 years ago, a far clearer vantage point than any time since then, until today).

This is why, more than any other work, the RaMBaM’s Mishneh Torah is the common ground –the universally respected common frame of reference– between the different broad sectors of the modern Torah world, which are so deeply divided over a number of issues: Sephardic and Ashkenazic, Chassidic and Lithuanian-Misnagid, Charedi and national religious. (5)This stems from the RaMBaM’s role as the chief, recognized halakhic authority of North Africa, the Land of Israel, and rest of the Middle East ...continue It could be said that those who walk in the straight path of the Mishneh Torah are the greatest pioneers in Jewish unity and the Final Redemption. For it is they who are building up the only true, halakhic common ground, outside of politics, that all Torah Jewry can recognize; the necessary foundation for a successful Sanhedrin to one day be built (see Principle 12).

The Mishneh Torah is also the most comprehensive and easiest code to master in its entirety, being written in relatively clear, simple Hebrew, and requiring far less time to master. Normal, healthy, and serious individuals under proper tutelage and discipline have the ability to master the entire halakhah, using the Bible and the RaMBaM’s Mishneh Torah alone, without any other source, even outside of formal rabbinical or yeshiva training. Again, this is the very purpose for which the book was written.

THE RAMBAM’S EARLIER WORKS

While they are certainly important, the RaMBaM’s earlier sources do not reflect his final understanding as the Mishneh Torah does, since it was written in his maturity, and the work continued to be revised until his death. Furthermore, only Mishneh Torah editions from the Yemenite manuscripts should be used. The European printed editions are notorious for their numerous censorships and countless unintentional copyists’ errors.

ON THE STUDY OF MISHNAH, TALMUD, AND MORE RECENT HALAKHIC CODES

None of this is to say that the study of Talmud, and how much more so Mishnah, are unimportant. RaMBaM spoke of there being no need for any book between the study of TaNaKh and Mishneh Torah. Nonetheless, Mishneh Torah requires a knowledge of the language and concepts of the Mishnah. Even after a thorough study of Mishneh Torah, one lacks a depth of understanding and perspective without precious stories, accounts, and background that the Talmudic literature can provide. Talmudic study with a study partner provides excellent training in critical thinking and debate.

However, since the Talmud was not written to be a legal code as much as an archive (containing a wide and confusing range of opinions and perspectives), Mishneh Torah should ideally be mastered before any in-depth study of Talmud. Especially considering its stated purpose: to stand alone as a comprehensive halakhic guide, obviating the need for Talmudic study in order to know and practice the halakhah.

Accordingly, although there certainly is much value in understanding other perspectives, and in knowing how other schools understand and practice halakhah, studying other, more recent codes (such as Shulḥan `Arukh and Mishnah Berurah) is in no way required to learn how to perform the commandments properly.

Finally, it should be noted that remaining strong and focused on the correct path over many years is profoundly difficult without the fellowship of like-minded, righteous peers, ideally in a like-minded, righteous community, and in the Land of Israel. (6)Ohel Moshe strives to provide that fellowship and sense of community not only for our local students and friends, but for those all over the world ...continue However challenging this can be for a man, it is even more difficult for his wife and children.

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Notes   [ + ]

1. In the Introduction to the Mishneh Torah 42, it clearly states that a student requires the use of no other book between the TaNaKh and Mishneh Torah. (Again: like any other path of Torah study, this is fraught with difficulty and danger without strong loyalty to the guidance and discipline of a competent Torah teacher. Neither is it possible without at least a working knowledge of Hebrew. As stated above, prior study of the Mishnah is invaluable in this, as well.) In his epistle to his foremost student, Rav Yoseph ben HaRav Yehudah, the RaMBaM foresees a day when “all of Israel will subsist on it alone, and will abandon all else besides it without a doubt”. (Clearly, he is speaking of the masses. Dayyanim (judges), however, must be trained in the logic of halakhic debate, for which Talmud is critical.) He continues that all the Rabbinical works since the Mishnah were only created in order to clarify what to do and nothing more. Since he had codified all of the final rulings in a far simpler and encyclopedic work, there is no need for most scholars to delve into them.
2. This and the points above are in the Introduction to the Mishneh Torah.
3. A term generally used for the rabbis who led the Jewish people during the period between 4349 (589 CE) and 4798 (1038 CE).
4. This includes the RaMBaM’s access to at least partial manuscripts of the Babylonian Talmud that were about 500 years old in the RaMBaM’s day, and likely to be among the very first copies ever created. (M.T. Hil. Malweh We-Loweh 15:4[2])
5. This stems from the RaMBaM’s role as the chief, recognized halakhic authority of North Africa, the Land of Israel, and rest of the Middle East until the late 1500’s C.E. (See the words of HaRav Yoseph Karo, author of Shulḥan `Arukh, in Avqath Rokhel, Responsum #32) While this unified vision has deteriorated over last few centuries, the Mishneh Torah remains the greatest of the Rishonim in the eyes of leading halakhic decisors; the source that no halakhic argument can be built without taking into consideration.
6. Ohel Moshe strives to provide that fellowship and sense of community not only for our local students and friends, but for those all over the world via our online classes for Jews and Noahides. For information, contact us at torathmoshe@gmail.com.