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2004 marks the 800th anniversary of the death of the renowned medieval Jewish philosopher, legal scholar and Jewish leader, Moses ben Maimon or Maimonides (1138-1204).  Maimonides was the most original and influential Jewish thinker in pre-modern times.  In addition to producing a centrally important corpus of legal and philosophical writings that shaped Jewish thinking and practice in many regions of the world over the centuries, his Guide to the Perplexed entered Western history through St. Thomas Aquinas who quoted Maimonides in Latin translation.  Though born in Cordoba, Spain, he lived most of his life in Egypt where he served as physician to the Jewish community and to the Moslem court.

Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah (Repetition of the Law)

Perhaps Maimonides’ greatest achievement, the Mishneh Torah is a classification and codification by subject matter of the entire corpus of talmudic, post-talmudic, and rabbinic literature.  It is divided into 14 books each representing a category in the Jewish legal system.  The work also discusses metaphysics and theology.  Also known as Yad ha-hazakah (Strong hand) because the word yad has the numerical value of 14 for the number of books that make up the work, it was held in such high regard that large numbers of manuscript copies of the work were made in the Middle Ages and many were illuminated.  Included in this exhibit are some examples.  The importance of the Mishneh Torah has not diminished with time.  It continues to be a basic text for the study of Jewish law to this very day and the Yale University Press has undertaken to publish the entire work in English translation.  The Press has just published the latest volume in the series, “The Book of Love” translated by Menachem Kellner. 

The Books of the Mishneh Torah also known as the Yad ha-Hazakah

  1. Mada' (Knowledge): Jewish principles of faith, the nature of God, the way to study Torah, and the prohibition against idolatry.
  2. Ahavah (Love): the precepts which must be observed at all times if the love due to God is to be remembered continually (prayer, tefillin).
  3. Zemanim (Times): laws which are limited to certain times, such as the Sabbath and the Jewish holidays.
  4. Nashim (Women): laws of marriage, divorce, levirate marriage and conduct between the sexes
  5. Kedushah (Holiness): forbidden sexual relations, forbidden foods, and the method of ritual slaughter
  6. Hafla'ah (Separation): laws of vows and oaths
  7. Zera'im (Seeds): agricultural laws
  8. Avodah (Divine Service): the laws of the Temple in Jerusalem
  9. Korbanot (Offerings): laws for offerings in the Temple
  10. Tohorah (Cleanness): the rules of ritual purity
  11. Nezikin (Injuries): criminal and tort law
  12. Kinyan (Acquisition): laws of the marketplace
  13. Mishpatim (Rights): civil law
  14. Shofetim (Judges): the laws relating to legislators, the Sanhedrin (high court), the king, and the judges.

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