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Frequently Asked Questions and Answers

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Question 3.36:
What is the Mishneh Torah (Yad Ha-Hazaqah , Sefer Mehoqeq)?

Answer:

Moses Maimonides (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, usually referred to in Hebrew by the acronym "Rambam") was one of the towering figures in medieval intellectual and religious life. In addition to his law code, he excelled in the fields of philosophy, science, medicine, exegesis and communal leadership. Though born in Spain, in his youth his family fled religious persecution, settling in Egypt. Maimonides' literary output includes: a work on philosophical logic; an Arabic commentary to the Mishnah; an enumeration of the 613 precepts of the Torah; the Mishneh Torah law code; the Arabic philosophical treatise The Guide of the Perplexed; and many letters and responsa addressed to various Jewish communities.

Maimonides lived from 1138 to 1204. He spent ten full years compiling the Mishneh Torah, which he continued to revise throughout his lifetime. The term "Mishneh Torah" means "The Second Law" and is the name used in the Bible itself to designate the book of Deuteronomy, which is a kind summary or review of the rest of the Torah. Maimonides's Mishneh Torah was intended to be a summary of the entire body of Jewish religious law.

The Mishneh Torah is sometimes referred to as the Yad Ha-Hazaqah, "the mighty arm." This is a play on the numerological value of the Hebrew word for arm, "yad," which is 14, equal to the number of volumes in this code. Maimonides actually referred to the book as "Sefer Mehoqeq" ("The Book of Legislation"), a title which is rarely employed.

The Mishneh Torah is composed in Rabbinic Hebrew, after the style of the Mishnah. It is divided up into fourteen general sections (similar to the "orders" of the Mishnah), each of which is further subdivided into books (like tractates), and then into numbered chapters and laws. Some of the distinctive features of the Mishneh Torah are the following:

An online version of Mishneh Torah, according to the Yemenite manuscripts, may be found at http://www.mechon-mamre.org/i/0.htm. Immanuel O'Levy's translation of the Rambam's entire Sefer Mada (Book of Knowledge) can be found on Jon Baker's web site at http://www.panix.com/~jjbaker/rambam.html.


The FAQ is a collection of documents that is an attempt to answer questions that are continually asked on the soc.culture.jewish family of newsgroups. It was written by cooperating laypeople from the various Judaic movements. You should not make any assumption as to accuracy and/or authoritativeness of the answers provided herein. In all cases, it is always best to consult a competent authority--your local rabbi is a good place to start.

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