Author Archives: Moses Maimonides

Moses Maimonides

About Moses Maimonides

Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) was also known as Rabbi Moses ben Maimon or the Rambam. One of the greatest Torah scholars of all time, he was a rabbi, physician, and philosopher in Spain, Morocco, and Egypt during the Middle Ages. He was the preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher whose ideas also influenced the non-Jewish world.

Maimonides on Seder Nezikin

Reprinted with permission from Maimonides’ Introduction to His Commentary on the Mishnah, translated and annotated by Fred Rosner, and published by Jason Aronson.

Following [Seder Nashim (women)], he subdivided the subject matter in Seder Nezikin (damages) and separated the first tractate thereof into three parts. He began with Bava Kamma (the first gate), which deals with various agents of injury and how to avoid them, such as an ox, a ditch, consumption, the laws of assault, and their like. A judge is obligated to first litigate the removal of sources of injury from among people.

Next follows Bava Metzia (the middle gate), which deals with claims, deposits, hirings, the laws of borrowers and hired laborers, and everything else that is appropriately connected with this topic. This is similar to the sequence in Scripture, namely, after the laws of ox (Exodus 21:38), ditch (21:33), consumption (22:4-5), and if men fight together (21:22), it speaks about the four types of watchmen (22:6-14). Then comes tractate Bava Batra (the last gate), and its subject matter deals with laws about divisions of property, laws per­taining to dwellings held in partnership, and laws concerning neighbors, and annulment of a sale or transaction due to the discovery of a physical de­fect therein. It further speaks of the sale and acqui­sition of property, how to adjudicate these cases, and the laws of bonds and inheritance. This section is described last, because it consists en­tirely of tradition and legal arguments, none of it being explicit in the Torah.
seder nezikin
Having enlightened us concerning the civil laws, he then speaks about the judges who implement these laws and, therefore, placed tractate Sanhedrin (court) after Bava Batra. However, tractate Makkot (flogging) is attached to tractate Sanhedrin in many ancient texts and is counted as part of it because he speaks of “These are strangled” and then continues with “These are flogged.” This is not a valid reason, however, because it is a separate tractate. It is placed next to Sanhedrin because it is not permissible for anyone save the judges themselves to administer floggings and punishments as it is written in Scripture: “The judge shall cause him to lie down and to be beaten before him according to his wickedness” (Deuteronomy 25:2).

Maimonides on Seder Zeraim

Reprinted with permission from Maimonides’ Introduction to His Commentary on the Mishnah, translated and annotated by Fred Rosner, and published by Jason Aronson.

After [dividing the Mishnah into] these six categories, which contain all the precepts of the Torah, were collected, [Judah the Prince], saw fit to subdivide each general category into its topics as appropriate. He called each topic a tractate. Then he further subdivided the subjects within each tractate into parts, and called each part a chapter. After that, he segregated the subjects of each chapter into yet smaller parts so that it is easy to remember them and to teach them. He called each of these smaller parts of a chapter a halakhah (law).
seder zeraim
He subdivided the subjects of Seder Zera’im (agriculture) as I will describe. He commenced with tractate Berakhot (blessings). The reason for this is that when an experienced physician wishes to maintain the state of health of a healthy individual, he first attends to the diet as the primary therapy.

Similarly, this great Sage saw fit to begin [the Mishnah] with Berakhot, since anyone who wishes to eat is not permitted to do so until he has recited a benediction over the food. Therefore he found it appropriate to begin the Mishnah with tractate Berakhot in order to supply the necessary preparation for partaking of food. So that nothing be lacking in any aspect, he speaks about all the benedictions that a person is obligated to recite both over edibles and for fulfilling other precepts in the Torah. There is no commandment that every person is obligated to fulfill every day except for the recita­tion of the Shema. It would not be correct to speak of the blessings of the Shema before speaking of the Shema itself, and, therefore, he begins with the words; “From when may one recite the Shema…” and everything pertaining thereto.

Following this, he returned to the main subject of the order, and that is to speak of the command­ments pertaining to the produce of the earth. He began with tractate Pe’ah (corners of the fields), which follows Be­rakhot, because all the offerings that a person is obligated to provide concerning produce are not required until after their cutting. But the obli­gation of Pe’ah exists while the produce is still in the ground, and for this reason he speaks of it first. After Pe’ah he placed tractate Demai (questionably tithed produce), because the poor have a privilege therein, just as they do in Pe’ah. So, too, did they state: “One may give Demai produce to the poor for food.”

Maimonides on Seder Tohorot

Reprinted with permission from Maimonides’ Introduction to His Commentary on the Mishnah, translated and annotated by Fred Rosner, and published by Jason Aronson.

[Judah the Prince] then subdivided the treatises in Seder Tohorot (purities) and began with tractate Keilim (vessels).  Its subject matter includes the enumeration of all the primary ritual defilements and that which is subject to defilement, as well as that which cannot become defiled so that when we later speak of things that defile we will know which are the things that are susceptible to ritual defilement and which are not.

After Keilim comes tractate Oholot (tents), and its subject matter deals with defile­ments conveyed by a corpse.  This tractate is first because it deals with the highest degree of defilement.  Following this is tractate Nega’im (plagues, leprosy) whose contents deal with the defilement of leprosy because a leper conveys defile­ment through a common enclosure [tent].  Thus, it is somewhat similar to the defilement of a corpse, as will be explained in its proper place.

After completing discussions of the defilements by a corpse and the like, he began to describe the subject of purification from the aforementioned, namely the red heifer.  Thus after Nega’im, he placed tractate Parah (the red heifer).  Having concluded the discussion of high degrees of defilement and the manner in which one may become purified therefrom, he speaks of lesser degrees of defilement, which require only the setting of the sun [for purification].

He thus placed tractate Tohorot after Parah.  It is called Tohorot (purities) using euphemistic language, because therein are described the laws of defilement.  In addition, knowledge of defilements brings one to knowl­edge of purification therefrom.  If someone would think that the reason for calling the name of the whole Order "Seder Tohorot" and the use of the same appellation for one of the tractates thereof Tohorot is incorrect we would answer no, it is not unusual for men of ideas to call a particular item by the name of the general category that includes it.

Maimonides on Seder Nashim

Reprinted with permission from Maimonides’ Introduction to His Commentary on the Mishnah, translated and annotated by Fred Rosner, and published by Jason Aronson.

[After Seder Mo’ed (Appointed Times), Judah the Prince]  then proceeded to subdivide the matter of Seder Nashim (Women) and commenced with tractate Yevamot (the levirate bride). The reason that compelled him to begin with Yevamot and not with tractate Ketubot (marriage contracts), since common sense dictates that the latter should more properly precede the former, is because marriage is related to a man’s wishes; and the courts do not coerce a man to marry a woman. However, regarding the Levirate marriage, they can do this by telling him: “Either perform Halitzah (renunciation of the Levirate obligation) or contract Levirate marriage.” It is more appropriate to begin with laws which are compulsory, and he therefore commenced with Yevamot and followed it with Ketubot.
maimonides on women
After Ketubot he lists tractate Nedarim (vows), because the entire scriptural portion dealing with vows speaks of vows of women as it is written: “Between a man and his wife, between a father and his daughter” (Numbers 30:17).  When the marriage is com­pleted by the woman coming under the canopy, the husband has the right to void her vows, and for this reason tractate Nedarim is next after Ketubot. After Nedarim he placed tractate Nazir (the Nazirite), because Nazirite oaths are also included among the laws of vows and if a woman should make a Nazirite vow the husband can void it and, therefore, he placed Nazir after Nedarim.

Having completed the discussion of matters re­lated to marriage and the laws regarding the voiding of vows, he commenced the topic of di­vorce because after marriages come divorces; and thus he arranged tractate Gittin (divorce) after Nazir.  And after Gittin is tractate Sotah (the suspected adultress) because its subject matter is related to the topic of divorce since if a suspected adulteress is found to have committed adultery one forces both the husband and the wife to go through with divorce pro­ceedings, as I will explain in its proper place.

Maimonides on Seder Moed

Judah the Prince then subdivided Seder Mo’ed (appointed times) into its indi­vidual topics, as he did for Seder Zera’im. He began with tractate Shabbat (the Sabbath) because it is first in importance and because it occurs every seven days and its cycle is most frequent in the time scale. In addition the portion of Scripture dealing with Festivals (Leviticus 23) begins with the Sabbath. After Shabbat he placed tractate Eruvin (mixtures) because it is of the same subject matter as Shabbat.

Following this is tractate Pesahim (Passover) because it is the first of the commandments given to us by Moses (Exodus 12). It is also proximate to the Sabbath in the portion of Scrip­ture dealing with the Festivals. After this he placed tractate Shekalim (coins for Temple taxes) according to their sequence in the Torah. And he placed Yoma (the Day of Atonement) after Shekalim, according to their sequence in the Torah, because the precept of Shekalim is in the portion Ki Tisa (Exodus 30), whereas Atonement is in the scriptural portion Ahare Mot (Leviticus 16).

He then completed the subject of the three pilgrimage festivals. Since he had already spoken about Passover above, it remained for him to speak on the subject of Tabernacles and the Festival of Weeks.  Concerning the latter, he had nothing to discuss except for those laws that apply to every Festival and those are included in tractate Betzah (egg, also called Yom Tov, holiday). He therefore placed Sukkah (Tabernacles, booths) before Betzah because of the multitude of commandments that apply to Sukkot. Of all the portions [dealing with Holy Days] mentioned in the Bible, there remained only Rosh Hashanah (New Years) and therefore after tractate Betzah he speaks about Rosh Hashanah. Thus were com­pleted the discussions about the topics of the Festi­vals mentioned in the Torah.

He then began to speak of the topics cited by the prophets and these are the days of fasting ordained by the prophets. He, therefore, placed the topic of Fast Days (Ta’anit) after Rosh Hashanah. After Fast Days he placed Megillah (the Esther scroll) because it is an ordination of the prophets who lived later than those who decreed the fast days. After tractate Megillah, he placed tractate Mo’ed Katan (minor festival days), be­cause there is a connection between it and the time of Purim, in that on both occasions it is forbidden to pronounce eulogies or to fast. 

Maimonides on Seder Kodashim

Reprinted with permission from Maimonides’ Introduction to His Commentary on the Mishnah, translated and annotated by Fred Rosner, and published by Jason Aronson.

Following [Seder Nezikin (damages), Judah the Prince] subdivided the order deal­ing with Kodashim (Holy Things), and began with animal sacrifices, which constitute tracate Zevahim (sacrificial victims).

After Zevahim comes tractate Menahot (grain offerings), according to their sequence in the Torah (Leviticus 1 and 2, respectively). Having completed the topic of holy sacrifices and what pertains thereto, he speaks of other slaughterings [for ordinary meat consump­tion], also according to the sequence in Scripture.  Thus, after it states, “But in the place which the Lord shall choose in one of thy tribes, there thou shalt offer thy burnt offerings, and there thou shalt do all that I command thee” (Deuteronomy 12:14), it then says, “Notwithstandng thou mayest kill and eat flesh after all the desire of thy soul” (12:15); therefore, he placed tractate Hullin after Menahot. 

After Hullin comes tractate Bekhorot (first born animals), according to their sequence in Scripture, since after it states, “Notwithstanding, after all the desire of thy soul” (Deuteronomy 12:15), it asserts, “Thou mayest not eat within thy gates the tithe of thy corn, or of thy nine, or of thine oil or the firstlings of thy herd or of thy flock” (12:17).  After completing the discourse on things whose bodies are holy, he speaks of money [such as vows of valuation], because these are also holy and he, therefore, placed tractate Arakhin (assessments for vows) after Bekhorot.

After Arakhin is tractate Temurah (exchange of sacrifices), also according to their sequence in Scripture (Leviticus 27:1-8 and 27:9-10, respectively).  Having terminated discussions of these topics, he then placed tractate Keritot (extirpation), within which are enumerated all the offences for which Karet (excision of the soul) is the penalty, and all that is related to that subject.  The reason for classifying this topic in Seder Kodashim is that any offense for which the punishment is Karet when committed willfully, if committed unintentionally, the penalty is a sin offering, with few exceptions as will be explained there.

Maimonides’ Ladder of Tzedakah

Excerpted from The Challenge of Wealth: A Jewish Perspective on Earning and Spending Money. Reprinted with permission of the publisher. Copyright 1995 by Jason Aronson, Inc.

This translation of Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, Laws of Gifts to the Poor 10:7-14, by Dr. Meir Tamari, is annotated as well, adding background information and interpretation.

tzedakah quizThe highest degree of charity—above which there is no higher—is he who strengthens the hand of his poor fellow Jew and gives him a gift or [an interest-free] loan or enters into a business partnership with the poor person. [Interestingly, Maimonides within the internal allocation of this degree proceeds from the lower rank to the higher. The loan is a higher form of charity than is the outright gift since the poor are not shamed thereby (Rashi on Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 63a), while the business partnership is more praiseworthy than the loan or any other form of charity.] By this partnership the poor man is really being strengthened as the Torah commands in order to strengthen him till he is able to be independent and no longer dependent on the public purse. It is thus written, “Strengthen him [the poor person] so that he does not fall [as distinct from the one who has already become poor] and become dependent on others” (Leviticus 25:35).

[In modern terms, these are all charitable actions aimed at breaking the poverty cycle and enabling the poor to establish themselves as independent and productive members of society. For this reason, there is no halakhic objection to the poor working while they are receiving their basic needs from society. By the same standards, guidance regarding budgeting, financial planning, consolidation of loans, and so forth, would be included in this highest form of charity.]

ladderA lower standard of charity is one in which the benefactor has no knowledge of the recipient and the latter has no knowledge of the individual source of charity—matan b’seter [“giving in secret”]. This is practicing the mitzvah of charity for the sake of the mitzvah [since the benefactor has no benefit, social or egoistical]. Such charity is like the courtyard in the [ancient] Temple where the righteous used to place their donations secretly and the poor would benefit from them in secret. Similar to this secret courtyard is the act of one who puts his money into the charity box [or funds].