The Mishneh Torah

Maimonides' halakhic magnum opus.

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The books of the Mishneh Torah are:

Sefer Ha-Madda (The Book of Knowledge), which examines the fundamentals of Jewish faith.

Sefer Ahavah (The Book of Love [of God]), which covers prayers and blessings.

Sefer Zemanim (The Book of Seasons), which is devoted to the Sabbath and holidays.

Sefer Nashim (The Book of Women), which deals with family law, including marriage and divorce.

Sefer Kedushah (The Book of Holiness), which includes sexual prohibitions and dietary laws.

Sefer Hafla'ah (The Book of Utterances), which treats subjects such as oaths and vows.

Sefer Zera'im (The Book of Seeds), which deals with agricultural law and other commandments effective in the Land of Israel.

Sefer Avodah (The Book of Temple Service), which focuses on Temple worship.

Sefer Korbanot (The Book of Sacrifices), which details the laws of sacrificial offerings.

Sefer Taharah (The Book of Purity), which is devoted to the rules governing ritual purity.

Sefer Nezikin (The Book of Damages), which focuses on property damage and personal injury.

Sefer Kinyan (The Book of Acquisition), which deals with property rights and includes sections on sales, neighborly relations, and partnerships.

Sefer Mishpatim (The Book of Civil Laws), which includes hiring, borrowing, loaning, and inheritance.

Sefer Shofetim (The Book of Judges), which covers the legal system, the political system, and mourning.

Each book is divided into sub-sections by topic, and each topic is reflected in the sub-section's title, as in "Hilkhot Shabbat" ("The Laws of Sabbath"), which is included in The Book of Seasons. The sub-sections are internally divided into numbered chapters and paragraphs.

An Original Design

The format of the Mishneh Torah was among its most innovative features. Prior to Maimonides, halakhic writing followed either the order of the Torah, whose organizing principle is difficult to discern, or the order of the Talmud, which is not entirely logical in its classification or sequence. The organization of the Mishneh Torah into books, sub-sections, chapters, and paragraphs was inspired by the similar format of the Mishnah, yet deviates from the specifics of the talmudic arrangement, which Maimonides found lacking.

In reflecting upon his own organizational principle, Maimonides held both logic and pedagogical instincts responsible for his ultimate choice of arrangement, which was dogmatically topical. Indeed, he considered the Mishneh Torah's original design and its successful implementation to be among the greatest achievements of his work.

Halakhic Methodology

In promoting his magnum opus, Maimonides emphasized the comprehensive, all-inclusive nature of his work, a feat of scholarship which had not been attempted since the composition of the Mishnah. He envisioned his work as a library of Jewish scholarship and suggested that one who studied his code would have no need of consulting other books.

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Rachel Furst is a Talmud teacher and a graduate student in medieval Jewish history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.