Mishneh Torah

Jewish Texts >> Mishneh Torah

The Mishneh Torah (“Repetition of the Torah”) subtitled Sefer Yad HaHazaka (“Book of the Strong Hand,”) is a code of Rabbinic halakhah (Jewish religious law) authored by Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, also known as RaMBaM or “Rambam”), one of history’s foremost rabbis. The Mishneh Torah was compiled between 1170 and 1180, while Maimonides was living in Egypt, and is regarded as Maimonides’ magnum opus. Accordingly, later sources simply refer to the work as “Maimon“, “Maimonides” or “RaMBaM“, although Maimonides composed other works. Mishneh Torah consists of fourteen books, subdivided into sections, chapters, and paragraphs. It is the only Medieval-era work that details all of Jewish observance, including those laws that are only applicable when the Holy Temple is in existence, and remains an important work in Judaism. Its title is an appellation originally used for the Sefer Devarim (Book of Deuteronomy), and its subtitle, “Book of the Strong Hand,” derives from its subdivision into fourteen books: the numerical value fourteen, when represented as the Hebrew letters Yod (10) Dalet (4), forms the word yad (“hand”).

Sefer HaMadda (Knowledge):

  • Yesodei ha-Torah: belief in God and other Jewish principles of faith
  • De’ot: general proper behavior
  • Talmud Torah: see Torah study
  • Avodah Zarah: the prohibition against idolatry
  • Teshuvah: the law and philosophy of repentance

Sefer Ahavah (Love): the precepts which must be observed at all times if the love due to God is to be remembered continually (prayer, tefillin).

  • Kri’at Shema: laws of the Kri’at Shema
  • Tefilah and Birkat Kohanim: laws of prayer and the Priestly Blessing
  • Tefillin, Mezuzah, and Sefer Torah: laws of the tefillin, mezuzah, and Torah Scroll
  • Tzitzit: laws of the tzitzit
  • Berachot: laws of blessings at meal times
  • Milah: laws of circumcision
  • Order of Prayers: text of various prayers

Sefer Zemanim (Times):

  • Shabbat: laws of shabbat
  • Eruvin: laws of a Rabbinic device that facilitates Sabbath observance
  • Shevitat `Asor: laws of Yom Kippur, except for the Temple
  • Yom Tov: prohibitions on major Jewish holidays which are different from the prohibitions of Sabbath
  • Chametz u-Matzah: laws of Passover
  • Shofar, Sukkah, ve-Lulav: laws of Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot
  • Shekalim: laws regarding money
  • Kiddush HaChodesh: laws of the calendar
  • Ta’aniyot: laws of times of stress and difficulties
  • Megillah vChanukah: laws of Chanukah and Purim

Sefer Nashim (Women):

  • Ishut: laws of marriage, including kiddushin and the ketubah
  • Geirushin: laws of divorce
  • Yibum vChalitzah: laws of levirate marriage
  • Na’arah Betulah: the law of a man who seduces or rapes an unmarried woman
  • Sotah: laws concerning a woman suspected of infidelity

Sefer Kedushah (Holiness)

  • Issurei Biah: forbidden sexual relations, including niddah, incest and adultery. Since intermarriage with non-Jews is forbidden, the laws of conversion to Judaism are also included.
  • Ma’akhalot Assurot: laws of forbidden foods
  • Shechitah: laws of ritual slaughter

Sefer Hafla’ah (Separation): laws of vows and oaths

  • Shevuot: laws of vows (to refrain from doing an action)
  • Nedarim: laws of oaths (to do an action)
  • Nezirot: laws of Nazirites
  • Arachim Vacharamim: laws of donations to the temple

Sefer Zera’im (Seeds): agricultural laws

  • Kilayim: laws of forbidden mixtures
  • Matnot Aniyiim: laws of obligatory gifts to the poor
  • Terumot: laws of obligatory gifts to the priests
  • Maaser: laws of tithes
  • Maaser Sheini: laws of secondary tithes
  • Bikurim: laws of first fruit offerings
  • Shemita: laws of the sabbatical year

Sefer Avodah (Divine Service): the laws of the Temple in Jerusalem

  • Beit Habechirah: laws about the Temple building
  • Kli Hamikdash: laws about the Temple religious objects
  • Biat Hamikdash: laws regarding the Temple, priests, and worshippers
  • Issurei Mizbeach: laws of sacrifices
  • Maaseh Hakorbonot: laws of sacrifices
  • Temidin uMisafim: laws of daily sacrifices
  • Pesulei Hamukdashim: slaughter and offerings of sacrificial animals
  • Avodat Yom HaKippurim: laws of sacrifices on Yom HaKippurim
  • Me’ilah: laws of misappropriating consecrated articles

Sefer Korbanot (Offerings): laws for offerings in the Temple, excepting those of the whole community

  • Korban Pesach: laws of the Passover sacrifice
  • Chagigah: laws of the pilgrimage festivals
  • Bechorot: laws of the firstborn
  • Shegagot: laws of sin-offerings
  • Mechussarey Kapparah: laws of impurity
  • Temurah: laws of holiness

Sefer Taharah (Cleanness): the rules of ritual purity

  • Tum’at Met: laws of impurity imparted by a human corpse
  • Parah Adummah: laws of the red heifer
  • Tum’at Tzaraat: laws of impurity imparted by tzara’at
  • Metamme’ey Mishkav uMoshav: laws of persons who impart impurity to places where they lay or sit
  • She’ar Avot ha’Tumah: laws of other primary sources of impurity
  • Tum’at Okhalin: laws of the impurity of foods
  • Kelim: laws pertaining keilim
  • Mikvot: laws pertaining to mikveot

Sefer Nezikim (Injuries): criminal and tort law

  • Hilchot Nizkei Mammon: laws regarding damages
  • Genevah: laws pertaining to theft
  • Gezelah va’Avedah: laws pertaining to robbery and the return of lost articles
  • Chovel uMazzik: laws of injury and damage
  • Rotseah uShmirat Nefesh: laws of murderers and the protection of life

Sefer Kinyan (Acquisition): laws of the marketplace

  • Mechirah: laws of selling
  • Zechiyah uMattanah: laws of acquisition and gifts
  • Shechenim: laws of neighbors
  • Sheulchin veShuttafin: laws pertaining to agents and partners
  • Avadim: laws of servants

Sefer Mishpatim (Rights): civil law

  • Sechirut: laws of rental and employer-employee relations
  • She’elah uFikkadon: laws of borrowing and entrusted objects
  • To’en veNit’an: laws pertaining to disputes between plaintiffs and defendants
  • Nehalot: laws pertaining to inheritances
  • Malveh veLoveh: laws pertaining to lenders and borrowers

Sefer Shoftim (Judges): the laws relating legislators, the Sanhedrin, the king, and the judges. It also addresses the Noahide Laws and those pertaining to messianic times.

  • Sanhedrin veha’Onashin haMesurin lahem: laws of the courts and the penalties placed under their jurisdiction
  • Edut: laws of witnesses
  • Mamrim: laws of the rebellious ones
  • Avel: laws of corpses
  • Melachim uMilchamot: laws of the king, the land, specific peoples, military, and wartime

Maimonides intended to provide a complete statement of the “Oral Law,” so that a person who mastered first the Written Torah and then the Mishneh Torah would be in no need of any other book. Contemporary reaction was mixed, with strong and immediate opposition focusing on the absence of sources and the belief that the work appeared to be intended to supersede study of the Talmud. Maimonides responded to these criticisms, and the Mishneh Torah endures as an influential work in Jewish religious thought.

According to several authorities, a decision may not be rendered in opposition to a view of Maimonides, even where he 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. Likewise: “One must 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.”

Maimonides sought brevity and clarity in his Mishneh Torah and, as in his Commentary on the Mishnah, he refrained from detailing his sources, considering it sufficient to name his sources in the preface. He drew upon the Torah and the rest of Tanakh, both Talmuds (Jerusalem and Babylonia), Tosefta, and the halakchic Midrashim, principally Sifra and Sifre. Later sources include the responsa (teshuvot) of the Geonim. 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 Alfasi’s pupil Joseph ibn Migash are prefaced by the words “my teachers have decided” (although there is no direct source confirming ibn Migash as Maimonides’ teacher). According to Maimonides, the Geonim were considered “unintelligible in our days, and there are but few who are able to comprehend them.” There were even times when Maimonides disagreed with what was being taught in the name of the Geonim.

A number of laws appear to have no source in any of the works mentioned; it is thought that Maimonides deduced them through independent interpretations of the Bible or that they are based on versions of previous Talmudic texts no longer in our hands. Maimonides himself states a few times in his work that he possessed what he considered to be more accurate texts of the Talmud than what most people possessed at his time. The latter has been confirmed to a certain extent by versions of the Talmud preserved by the Yemenite Jews as to the reason for what previously were thought to be rulings without any source. The Mishneh Torah is written in Hebrew in the style of the Mishnah. As he states in the preface, Maimonides was reluctant to write in Talmudic Aramaic, since it was not widely known. His previous works had been written in Arabic. The Mishneh Torah never cites sources or arguments, and confines itself to stating the final decision on the law to be followed in each situation. There is no discussion of Talmudic interpretation or methodology, and the sequence of chapters follows the factual subject matter of the laws rather than the intellectual principle involved.


Sources: “Mishneh Torah.” wikipedia.org. Wikipedia, n.d. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mishneh_Torah]
Eliyahu Touger. “Mishneh Torah (English).” chabad.org. Chabad, n.d. [http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/682956/jewish/Mishneh-Torah.htm]