Home » Maimonides
Category Archives: Maimonides
I am presently working on an interesting article by Qadi Iyyad Zahalka on the question and status of Shari’a Courts in Israel, which I look forward to sharing with you, but first I really need to answer a comment by Herdian, to an older post by me.
“Maybe this is a semantic problem. Perhaps you meant that Jews are forbidden to study other religious texts in the same way that they study the Torah i.e. by pondering it, taking it into heart, and applying it to one’s own life. But scholarly studies of them are fine to certain extents.”
The question relate to the post, where I speculate on the claim that I, as a religious Jew, am not allowed to study the texts of other religions, based on the reading of Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:1, where I related to a number of Talmudic verses in order to nuance the verse and claim in question.
What Herdian states in his question actually is how I understand the reading of the Talmudic verses, that those pre-Mishnah texts, which are very similar to the Holy Jewish Scripture, are not allowed to be read/studied, while other texts after the time of the Mishnah (and the canonization of the TaNaCh) are okay to read, since they would be read as “one reads a letter”, that is, one would know that they are not part of the Holy Texts, and therefor one would’t subscribe them the same value or learn from them in the sense of “holy learning”. That is, studying them is not part of a spiritual process, but rather being a secular affair.
Herdian’s following comment is interesting:
“The age of Enlightenment is an interesting phenomenon. All religions in general will never be the same after passing through that age. It is a change of attitude towards life, which in some ways are in conflict with religious outlooks. And the battle still continues to this day. Religious people sholdn’t ignore what the Enlightenment has to say about religion, although they don’t agree with it. Rather, they should study it seriously, scholarly, intensively, and critically if they want to maintain their (intellectual) integrity.”
Herdian, I agree with you, at least in the general.
I’m not sure that the Enlightenment is of bigger importance than other historical schisms, for example the coming of Christianity and Islam, which – I believe – played a huge role for Judaism, just as the destruction of the two Temples did, as well as Holocaust and the establishment of the modern state of Israel. At least these events are deciding for Judaism and the Jewish people, both in self-awareness and development.
That I relate to a number of great events, and not the Enlightenment alone, probably also is the reason that I don’t see Herdian’s criteria (studying their religion seriously, scholarly, intensively, and critically) in order to maintain integrity. Basically, when I view some Jewish groups and movements who have taken upon themselves to study their religion according to these criteria, I am not so sure about their integrity, but that is just my personal opinion.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t agree with Herdian, indeed, the critical and scholarly study of Judaism, among learned Jews, has been an important element. I just need to mention people like Yehudah HaNasi, Sa’adya Gaon, Maimonides, Ibn ‘Ezra, and in more recent times, R. Soloveitchik and R. Yosef Qappah, to point to the important element of scholarly and critical study in Judaism.
More important, I believe, we should be aware that Religion, as other in other cases, is a product of the reality it exists in. Progress and developments in religions are reactions to what happens around them, and these reactions are left as historical imprints, being viewed and understood as something close to a revelation for the followers afterwards. Let me take one example to illustrate.
In Halachah it is not allowed for Jews to eat the food of non-Jews, since they might intermingle too much and marry their children to the children of the non-Jews. This prohibition is Talmudic, and there are discussions on whether one may eat food cooked by non-Jews, as long as the fire is lit by a Jew. For a more extensive discussion on this, see the following three discussions:
From the reasoning in these three discussions, we see the argument being that “[t]here are two reasons for the why our Sages decreed that a Jew may not eat food cooked by a non-Jew: The first is since a Jew may not marry a non-Jew, if Jews are accustomed to eating with non-Jews and mingling with them, this may cause intermarriage between them […] The second reason is because our Sages were concerned that the non-Jew may place non-kosher ingredients in the food and feed it to the Jew.”
See also Talmud Bavli Yevamoth 46a and Avodah Zarah 59a.
The prohibition is clearly based on a reaction to assimilation in Babylon. Based on the fear that the Jews would intermingle and become to friendly with the non-Jews, and from that marry their children with each other, the Talmudic Sages, z”l, saw to it to create boundaries which would make this intermingling difficult.
This is a decision taken, in order to protect the Jewish minority against the non-Jewish majority, and I wonder – had this been in the opposite case – whether they would have made the same decision, if they didn’t see the Jews marrying non-Jews.
Today in Israel – as is witnessed by the three discussions linked to – we are experiencing the aftermath of these rulings, but this time in the opposite situation, now in a state, where the Jews are the majority, and the non-Jews are the minority, as well as the consequences of this change. We see for example, in the discussion on legumes cooked by non-Jews, that there is leniency on canned legumes, since the danger that Jews intermingle with non-Jews does not exist in this case, and therefore there isn’t a problem in eating canned legumes, even when they are cooked by non-Jews, though other authorities do differ on this, relating instead to the chance that there might be non-kosher elements in the food.
And relating to the discussion on restaurants employing non-Jews, we see that as long as the fire is started by a Jew – in case of Ashkenazim – then the food is accepted, even if a non-Jew places the food (making the rationale be that the one starting the fire is the one cooking the food), whereas other – Sfardic – authorities rule that as long as the Jew does not place the food, then it is not kosher (relating the question of who cooks the food to who places the food, rather than who turns on the fire), though having R. Ovadyah Yosef, shelita, establishing the leniency that as long as the restaurant is owned by a Jew, and hence being under halachic authority and having to follow kashrut, then it is enough that a Jew lights the fire.
What this means in practice is, that the decision of R. Ovadyah Yosef, shelita, makes it possible for Jewish restaurant owners to survive in Israel, something which would be harder, had he not adopted this leniency, which again shows development being a reaction to developments in the society the religion exists in. Had we been in a society where the vast majority had been Jews, and only very few workers in a restaurant would have been non-Jews, making it a fact that there always would have been Jews in the restaurant, then I doubt that we would have seen this decision.
This leads us back to Herdian’s criteria. I don’t believe that his criteria alone is enough for integrity. Rather, the religious scholar need also understand the demands of the followers, the situation the religion exists in, as well as relating all his decisions to traditional rulings, as well as relating to Herdian’s criteria. But this has been the historical reality for those Jewish leaders, who managed to gather the Jews and strengthening the acceptance of the Jewish Rabbinical tradition, relating to the incidents and reality of their time, also before the Enlightenment.
That way we see that Ezra, a”s, related to the Jews’ return to Jerusalem, Yehudah HaNasi, z”l, relating to the need of conserving the Oral Tradition, Sa’adya Gaon’s understanding of a number of factors, Maimonides need to help the unlearned Jews having an easier time finding rabbinical rulings (as well as the general need of being an attentive and empathetic leader), and so on.
I hope that gave a more full picture of my thoughts on the issue.
Okay, I’m way overdue with this one. My last post on the five pillars of Judaism, where I promised to follow Amani’s explanations of the Five Pillars of Islam, was posted on the first of April, more than a month ago. And even though I wanted to let Amani post before me, I certainly cannot blame her for my great delay. I’m terribly sorry for that.
Anyway, the last pillar was prayer, in Hebrew Tefillah. The next pillar, the third one, is alms-giving or, in Arabic, Zakât. Amani has already written a wonderful post on Zakât, which I really want to encourage you to check out. In general Amani is a writer, who knows what she is writing about, a great source for those, who want to have an easy introduction into Islamic themes, so please, take a little time and check her posts out.
Back to Judaism. As in Islam we also have a pillar focused on charity or alms-giving. The interesting thing though, is that we use the Hebrew term ‘Tzedaqah,’ a term which is also found in Arabic, namely ‘Sadaqah,’ but where Zakât is obligatory, Sadaqah is voluntary but still recommended.
The interesting thing is that when we look up the term in the TaNaCh, the Jewish Bible, the word always is used as ‘righteousness,’ as something being either correct or corrected. The root, TZaDaQ, implies being right or doing the right thing, showing justice and integrity. That is also the idea in Tzedaqah, being more of a Mitzwah, that is, a commandment, than a volunteering act. When one gives Tzedaqah, he does what is correct of him, what is expected of him. As said, the term tzedaqah, and its other form, Tzedeq, appear in the Bible in context of doing the right thing. For example we see in WaYiqra (Leviticus) 19:36 that the word tzedeq is used four times, about applying just or correct weights, balances, ephah, and hin (measures used in business transactions). But the Bible itself doesn’t coin the term to charity.
Only later, during the rabbinic times, did the idea of Tzedaqah become connected with charity, mostly with the Biblical commandment of not reaping the corners of the fields, in order that some may be left for the poor, as it is stated in WaYiqra (Leviticus) 19:9. In context of that verse we see a discussion in the Mishnah, tractate Peah 5:6, it being said that “one who prevents the poor to gather, or allows one but not another, or helps one of them, is deemed to be a robber of the poor.” The same was reflected in a discussion between R. Papa and R. Idi ben Abin, Z”L, about the same matter, where the latter reacted to the former’s reciting of things belonging to the Levites. What is reflected in these examples, is that giving the poor what is due for them is Tzedaqah, righteousness, and in that way Tzedaqah came to reflect charity, a charity that the poor actually have the right for, more than it is a deed of goodwill from the giver.
In later times other rabbis expanded on the rules, evolving an ethical system, which both should relieve the poor receiving the Tzedaqah for embarrassment, as well as securing that the giver gave out of love for Heaven. This we can see, among other examples in RaMBaM’s (Maimonides), Z”L, Mishneh Torah, his Halachich work, in the Hilchot Matanot ‘Aniyim, where he lists eight principles in the giving of Tzedaqah:
The first way of helping is by giving either a loan, making the needy a business partner, give him a job or help him find a job, all leading to the case that the needy no more will have to rely on others. This is the most praiseworthy form of Tzedaqah, since the needy will retain pride and be dependent on himself, and maybe even ending in a situation where he himself can help others.
The second way of helping is to give the money to a middleman, who is knowledgeable enough to know what to do with the money, helping others without the giver knowing who. This will make sure that neither the giver, nor the receiver, is aware that they were part of the action, should they meet each other. The receiver will be spared the humility to the giver, and the giver won’t risk feeling inclined to be arrogant towards the receiver. They will meet on equal terms.
The third way is to tell a middleman to give the Tzedaqah to a specific person. The person himself still doesn’t know who did it, but the giver does know who received.
The fourth way is to give to an unknown person publicly and directly. Though they don’t know each other, they both know who gave and received, and the receiver won’t be spared the feeling of humility.
The fifth way is to give before being asked. Though that will spare the needy the humility having to ask, it will still reveal an attitude with the giver, seeing the receiver as being below himself.
The sixth way is to give after being asked, and give what is needed.
The seventh way is to give with an open attitude, but not give enough.
The eighth way is to give with a sad attitude, not being happy about giving. The most likely way of understanding this, according to what is explained, is that one gives because the receiver is in need and in a bad state, not because one rejoice in fulfilling a positive commandment, imitating the three Patriarchs, Avraham Avinu, Yitzhaq Avinu, and Ya’aqov Avinu, A”S, who gave gladly and always had their homes open for visitors.
Today the most normal thing is to either give through an organization or to put money in a so-called Tzedaqah-box. These boxes can be found, if not in any Jewish shop, then at least by far the most Jewish shops. Some places they are even put various places, such as by bus-stops, so nobody at all will know who the giver is, so far he or she chooses to wait until the stops are abandoned.
Giving Tzedaqah is certainly considered a great Mitzwah, and it is encouraged to give Tzedaqah, when one has to atone for one’s sins, before praying for forgiveness. And it is not only through money, but comes in many ways, giving clothes or food. In fact, during Pessah one should open one’s house to poor people, and make sure to give them plenty of food, as well as one should give two abundant meals the day before Purim. Before oneself takes joy of the joyous seasons, one should make sure that the poor of the land also can find joy.
Lately I have been spending some times diving into the Jewish-Muslim polemics, mostly focused on attitudes to the Bible, but also in general. I do want to keep it more actual, that it, focus on the polemics of our days, but interestingly (though not so surprising) enough most of the polemics going on between Jews and Muslims today is focused on the Israel-Palestine issue, more than the religions themselves. Or that is, the religions are within the scope, but the conflict takes the main focus in the polemics.
Not so in the medieval times, where the religions, their faith, and especially the status of scripture and prophets were in focus. And, of course, there were no Israel-Palestine conflict back then. Most of the Muslim polemics were actually focused on Christianity and their religious claims, though they often also lead to reactions to Judaism and the Jews. See for example Ibn Hazm, who is one of the more known polemicists.
One who focused mainly on Judaism, and who – as far as is known – wrote the first polemic work directed against the Jews alone, is the Jewish convert, Samaw’el al-Maghrabi (also spelled Samau’al). He was born in Baghdad in 1126 (though some traditions puts his year of birth in 1130 – I have chosen to follow Moshe Perlmann here), the son of a Jewish rabbi who moved there from Northern Africa. He was taught in mathematics and is mostly known for his works on that subject, especially his al-Bahir fi’l-Jabr, but after his conversion in 1163 he began to write his polemic work against the Jews, Ifham al-Yahûd (Silencing the Jew). That book was rewritten in a new version four years after with some additions.
His conversion was done with the rabbi who taught him, and his fellow studen Yitzhaq ben Avraham ibn ‘Ezra, who is generally believed to be the son of the great commentator and poet, Avraham ibn ‘Ezra. But while the rabbi converted in an old age and died shortly after, and Yitzhaq apparently regretted his conversion, attempting the rest of his life to correct it, Samaw’el embraced Islam fully, seeing it as the only answer.
What is interesting about Samaw’el is that he lived contemporary with the great Jewish philosopher, Maimonides, though they probably never met. And while Samaw’el wrote his Ifham al-Yahûd in 1163, rewritten in 1167, Maimonides wrote his Iggeret Teyman (Letter to Yemen) in 1172, where he deals with some of the points in Samaw’el’s Ifham. It is possible that Maimonides had read the Ifham, but his answer to the Yemenites was not based on this, but rather on another Jewish convert, who used Samaw’el’s arguments against the Yemenite Jewish community. It is not weird that later Muslims, especially Jewish converts, took use of the Ifham, but this happened relatively early after it was written, hinting at some early popularity (as far as it wasn’t just a coincidence, but many of the points being raised seems to similar for it to be a coincidence).
The Ifham is indeed a classical Islamic work of polemics, points from it even being raised by Muslims today, but while the Jews, who converted to Islam in the Medieval times, understood the context of their polemical arguments, and therefore brought a high level of discussions forth, Muslims today seem to lack this understanding, only repeating these arguments without really understanding them. This points to the fact that not many Muslims really are studying Judaism on its own terms, but rather – when they study it – in terms of disproving it. This is not wrong of them, many Christians who study Judaism or Islam, or indeed Jews who study the two other religions, have the same approach. I have to point out though that these are examples outside the academic world, where such approaches generally are put aside, and a more open attitude are taken. But even within the academic world we see that there are not many Muslim scholars in Judaism, while there certainly are quite a high number of Jewish scholars in both Islam and Christianity.
I wish it was different. I am sure that we, in the academic study of Judaism and Christianity, could benefit from serious Muslims scholars, who dedicated themselves to the study of the two other Abrahamic religions. Until we see more Muslim scholars in Judaism and Christianity, we have to settle with the polemics of the Medieval times.
I have been working on this paper on the Iggeret HaShmad, Maimonides’ letter on Martyrdom, some time, and though I’m not done with it yet, I thought I wanted to share it with my readers. My problem is that when it is done, it might be used in a publication, and therefore I can’t publish the finished result on my blog because of copyrights. For those who would be interesting in the final product though I would be more than happy to direct you to where it can be achieved, though it will be part of a magazine. So far it will be published, that is. If not then I will publish the final product here.
Anyway, it’s eleven pages long, deals with a response he wrote during the Almohad persecutions of Jews and Christians in the twelfth century, reacting on a rabbi’s statement that the only right thing to do for Jews, was to accept martyrdom when faced with the demand to convert to Islam or die.
Please share thoughts.
As I have stated in various relations to other themes I consider myself a rationalist. Sure, seeing a religious person writing about himself that he’s a rationalist, most likely seems a little, well, odd. But realizing this I still view myself as a rationalist. Let me explain. Within most religions people normally will find both a rationalist and a mystical (or spiritual) approach, and so is it also the case in Judaism. Or rather, there are actually three approaches to living a “correct” life as a Jew, though this is not something being expressed or believed in the notion that you have to live like one or the other. It is more a matter of personal approach and thought on how to fulfill the life as a religious Jew.
The one is based on an ethical approach, called Musar, which is mostly followed by the group among the Ashkenazim called “Litvik,” being derived from its origin, Lithuania. This tradition is based on a range of ethical works and approaches by great rabbis, such as R. Bahya ibn Paquda and R. Moshe Haim Luzzato, and to a certain extent also Maimonides, though some also finds mystical elements in his philosophical writings and believe that this was his true approach. This tradition is about acting correct, and put primary emphasis on the rational approach to the commandments and the world we find ourselves in. That is not to say that there is no religion or spirituality in it, but rather that through the correct conduct can we approach God the right way and get closer to Him. Or rather, the Musar attempts to analyze and approach the ethical teachings in a systematic way, relating to them in a more rational organized way, than what we see in the other approaches.
The second approach is the spiritual approach, which is expressed by the Hassidic movement, being founded by R. Yisrael ben Eliezer, called Baal Shem Tov, the Owner of the Good Name. Living in the 18th century in what today is Ukraine, he saw the need for a more “popular” approach to Judaism, bringing the religion back to the people, instead of being some elitist wisdom, only being taught and related to in the Yeshivot (religious schools). His approach meant a revival for the general Jewish population, making it able to learn complex Jewish thoughts in a popular fashion. This approach focus more on the right motives and attitude than acting in a strict ethical matter, though in no way intending the fulfilling of the commandments to be unnecessary.
The last approach, which often gets fused into the Hassidic approach, is not per se an approach, at least not in itself. It is the Jewish mysticism, the Kabbalah, which emphasizes the attempt to get closer to God through esoteric teachings. The most well known mystical work in Judaism is the Zohar, but there are even earlier works, going all the way back to the time of the Second Temple. This approach can be very personal, and as such could seem to be countering the Hassidic approach, but with both playing on the more spiritual understandings of Judaism, they tend often to go hand in hand.
All that said I feel it important to point out that these approaches in no way deny each other or cannot be mixed. There are Hassidic books on Musar, as well as some people considered to teach teachings belonging to Musar has been suspected to be “mequbal,” that is, one who practices Kabbalah, such as Maimonides.
Personally I feel somehow between the Musar and the Hassidic approach, leaning to the Musar, but still seeing the need for the correct intentions and motives, as well as having a popular religion, not an elitist religion, only belonging to those sitting and studying its text all day. But that said, looking at how many religious people are behaving today, Jews as well as non-Jews, I believe that there’s a need to focus much more on correct conduct than what is being done now. And not only on what can be called “Duties of the Limbs” – that is, the visible actions, such as praying and keeping strict kosher, or what have you, but rather on the “Duties of the Heart” – that is, having a positive attitude and struggle with the inner commandments, such as love for your fellow human being, being polite, humble, and so on. Or as Maimonides put it, to focus on the “Lifnim Mishurat HaDin” – that is, acting beyond the letter of the law, not only doing exactly what is demanded of us and then stop there, but rather doing more than what is expected of you.
I actually wanted to write this post as an introduction to one, who is considered a great mekubal in our time, R. Avraham HaKohan Kook, Z”L, and present you for some of his writings, as well as telling why I see him as a great inspiration for me, even though I’m more of a Musar-guy than the spiritual “dreamer,” but seeing how much I’ve already written I think that I’ll save that for the next post. But at least I got some basic explanations in place, so hopefully my next post will make that more sense.
Once in a while I try to find new interesting blogs, and sometimes I am lucky. Today I feel myself really lucky, having found two blogs, one called The Talmud Blog, publishing mainly articles on the study of the Talmud, and another called The Immanent Frame, publishing articles on the interdisciplinary perspectives on secularism, religion, and the public sphere. I highly recommend any with interest in the subjects to visit either or both, they are seriously goldmines.
Especially one writer, Lena Salaymah, who writes on The Immanent Frame, wrote an article for The Talmud Blog, where she explains her motives for and thoughts on studying and researching Near Eastern Legal Culture. For my readers it will come as no surprise that exactly that is my focus.
The article is interesting and well-written, explaining and putting words on many thoughts I have myself, but which I haven’t been able to express as well as Salaymah does it. Especially when she writes about “proto-Semitic” that “as a metaphor, “proto-Semitic” offers a useful heuristic for thinking through how we approach the study of Jewish and Islamic law. If you imagine scholars of Jewish law articulating their ideas in Hebrew and Aramaic, while scholars of Islamic law articulate their ideas in Arabic, then my objective is to converse with both groups of scholars in a meta-language (proto-Semitic) that engages both legal traditions. Just as “proto-Semitic” is the common ancestor of the Semitic language family, Near Eastern legal culture is the shared antecedent of Jewish and Islamic legal systems,” do I feel that she puts the finger precisely on my own thoughts.
After I wrote my assignment on Ibrahim as an early Monotheist (which I will publish later on), did I feel too that we are dealing with a common Middle Eastern – or maybe rather Near Eastern – expression, more than we are talking about a “Jewish” on the one hand and a “Muslim” on the other. Of course, I’m not attempting to say that the two religions are basically the same, though there are many similarities to be find, they are not only products of their original geographical homes, and even so there would have been differences, but they are also that, products of their original geographical homes, and therefore – of course – have many similar expressions and thoughts.
I am looking forward to see what results she must create from her coming works, and I hope that you also will find it interesting, at least some of you.
Anyway, take a look of the blogs, I can highly recommend it.
Amani over at “americanmuslimconvert” are writing on the five pillars of Islam, introducing us for the first of them, the Shahâdah, the confirmation of believe in Allah and His messenger, Muhammad, being expressed in the statement “Lâ ilâha ilâllâh, w’Muhammadan Rasûlullah” – “There is no god but Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah!”
I found it interesting, and I’m thinking that I’m going to follow his posts on the subject, but doing it with a twist, which I hope he can forgive me for. I am going to read and reflect on his posts, but at the same time I will try to find a Jewish answer to the pillars, that is, find how and where the same things are being expressed in Judaism, if at all. I think that it could be pretty interesting to see how my studies of Islam can be reflected in my studies of my own religion, and as such learn about them both, as well as doing a comparative study at the same time as well.
Anyway, the first pillar of Islam is, as stated already, the Shahâdah, the declaration of faith, and the most obvious answer in Judaism is the Shma’ or Qriat Shma’, which is so called by the first name in the declaration, which goes “Shma’ Yisrael, A-onay Eloqenu, A-onay Ehad!” It is found in Devarim (Deuteronomy) 6:4, introducing the first part of the actual Shma’, which consists of three parts, found in Devarim 6:4-9, commanding the Jew to love God of all his heart, his soul, and his heart, as well as keep the commandments in mind, teach them to his children, always talk and ponder on them, whether sitting at home or walking on the street, when he lays down in the evening and gets up in the morning, that he shall bind them as signs on his arm and between his eyes, write them on his doorposts and the city gates (the visitor in Jerusalem will see that there are cylinders at the entrances to the old city, those are what we call ‘Mezuzot,’ the words of the Torah, fulfilling this commandment).
The second part, which can be found in Devarim 11:13-21, talks about the rewards and consequences of keeping or not keeping the commandments, which is solely connected to the Land of Israel, making sure of good seasons and good times, so far as the Jews stays observant, or bad times, or even being expelled from the land, as far as they don’t.
The third and last part, found in BaMidbar (Numbers) 15:37-41, commands the Jews to wear the Tzitzit, the fringes, which is a sign for reminding the Jews about the commandments, as well as commanding the Jews to remember the exodus from Egypt.
The first part of the Shahâdah is called “Tawhîd,” the Unity of Allah, and that is found expressed in the first part of the Shma’ as well, in stating that God is One (Ehad). We see this expressed other places as well, for example in Exodus 20:3, “You shall have no other gods before me,” so I would say that Muslims and Jews at least share the first part of the Shahâdah. The second part though is more tricky. On two levels even. First off, Jews don’t recognize Muhammad as their prophet. Most Jews probably don’t even acknowledge him as a prophet, while some would say that he most likely could have been a prophet, though only sent to the Arabs, not to the Jews, acknowledging the praiseworthy mission of spreading the Tawhîd. But it isn’t only in regard to the “lack” of acceptance of Muhammad, there isn’t an equal for Moshe Rabenu, A”S, to be found in the Torah, at least not expressed in statements like with the unity of God. There are many incidents though where his prophethood is stated and emphasized, making it rather clear that his prophethood is to be accepted. Only later does it become part of a list of clear doctrines to be accepted as part of Jewish faith, namely in Maimonides thirteen principles of faith, all being introduced with the statement “I believe with perfect faith that…” It is the seventh declaration, after declaring that all the words of the prophets were true, stating that the prophecy of Moshe Rabenu, A”S, is true and that he is the “father” of the prophets, meaning the greatest of all the prophets, both those before and after.
So in conclusion I would believe that it’s possible to say that Muslims and Jews share some foundational similar expressions on God’s Unity, as well as reverence for those they consider the greatest prophet respectively, though there are some difference, the Jews not have a single expression, as is the case with the Muslims. On the other hand the Jews have a – I would dare to say – much longer and more detailed expression of faith than that of the Muslims.
 Please forgive me for not spelling these two expressions of His Name, but I am, after all, still a religious Jew, respecting my God. I am sure that if you really do need to see the two expressions spelled out, then there are lots of places to see that, just make a search on “Shma.”
I have been working on an introduction to Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, and thought that I wanted to share what I have done so far with you. It is far from done, for now only being a general introduction to the background and structure of the work, which needs to be edited and have more information added, as well as other parts, such as criticism, commentaries and so on. That’ll come later, BE”H.
Please give share thoughts and reactions.
The Mishneh Torah is a Halachic work, consisting of the 613 Commandments (mitzvoth), the so called Taryag (based on the reading of the Hebrew writing of 613), defined by Maimonides, who is also the author of the book, or books as it is. It consists of fourteen books, each consisting of smaller parts, which again is consisting of chapters, which consist of a number of Mitzvot. The number of books, fourteen, have given the work its other name, yad, hand – from the Hebrew writing of 14, yod:dalet – which was added the adjective “hazaqah”, strong, and hence got known as “Yad haHazaqah”, the Strong Hand.
The name, Mishneh Torah, which means “Repetition of Torah”, was given by Maimonides, since he saw the work as being the only necessary thing to read for the observant, but uneducated, Jew in order to know all of the Commandments of the Torah.
Maimonides points at Moshe Rabenu, A”S, receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai (Exodus 24:12), as the foundation of Jewish Law. There, we are told, Moshe Rabenu, A”S, was given the “Tablets of Stone,” the “Torah,” and the “Mitzvah.” These are the three parts of the Law, the Tablets of Stone being the two Tablets with the Ten Commandments, the Torah being the Written Law, and the Mitzvah being the Oral Tradition, which Moshe Rabenu, A”S, did not write down, but instead commanded it orally to the elders, to Yehoshu’a, and the congregation. It is in this verse, that we find the hint at the Oral Law, and can learn that the Torah was given both orally and written. Maimonides then goes on to explain the chain of tradition, mentioning the receivers and givers of the Oral Tradition, all the way down to Yehudah HaNasi, Z”L, who found it necessary to write down the Oral Tradition, which became known as Mishnah. He then explains how Rav, who was the disciple of one of Yehudah HaNasi’s disciples, R. Yannai, composed the Sifre and Sifra, two other Halachic works, so called Midrashim, and Rabbi Hiyah composed the Tosefta, Mishnaic material, that wasn’t written down in Mishnah, and how R. Hoshaia and Bar Qapara composed Beraitot, other Mishnaic material, that wasn’t included in neither the Mishnah nor the Tosefta. This material was collected and commented by the following era of Rabbis, called “Amoraim”, which is what is known as Talmud today. This is the basis for Maimonides’ decision, as we find them in his Mishneh Torah, except few cases, where he finds himself in disagreement.
Maimonides felt himself compelled to write this work, based on the situation of the Jewish people of his time. After accounting for the chain of the tradition of the Oral Law, all the way from Moshe Rabenu, A”S, until Rav Ashi, Z”L, who composed Talmud Bavli (according to Maimonides), he began to explaining how the situation evolved from a reality where the masses of the Jews went to the Yeshivot, the religious schools, to study there, to a reality where all the Jewish people were dispersed in “all the countries”, and each country followed the decisions of their local courts. The Talmud got closed for the layman Jew, who – even in Babylonia – didn’t speak the language of the Talmud, Aramaic, and hence didn’t have understanding nor insight in the Oral Law. As he writes in his introduction to Mishneh Torah:
“At this time, we have been beset by additional difficulties, everyone feels [financial] pressure, the wisdom of our Sages has become lost, and the comprehension of our men of understanding has become hidden. Therefore, those explanations, laws, and replies which the Geonim composed and considered to be fully explained material have become difficult to grasp in our age, and only a select few comprehend these manners in the proper way.”
Hence he saw the need to make a compilation, where he would explain the Oral Law, so people would only need to read his work of Halachah, next to the Written Law, in order to understand what was demanded of and prohibited to them:
“To summarize: [The intent of this is] that a person will not need another text at all with regard to any Jewish law. Rather, this text will be a compilation of the entire Oral Law, including also the ordinances, customs, and decrees that were enacted from the time of Moses, our teacher, until the completion of the Talmud, as were explained by the Geonim in the texts they composed after the Talmud.
Therefore, I have called this text, Mishneh Torah [“the second to the Torah,” with the intend that] a person should first study the Written Law, and then study this text and comprehend the entire Oral Law from it, without having to study any other text between the two.”
The work was written in Mishnaic Hebrew, in order to emulate the Mishnah and, as stated earlier, consists of fourteen books; each separated in sub books and again separated in chapters, representing the Mitzvot, which again are separated in explanations, and definitions of the Mitzvot. Hence the Mishneh Torah is consisting of the following fourteen books, with their respective sub-books:
|Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah
Hilchot Talmud Torah
Hilchot ‘Avodat Kochavim
הלכות יסודי התורה
הלכות תלמוד תורה
הלכות עבודת כוכבים ומזלות וחוקות העכו”מ
|Hilchot Qri’at Shma’
Hilchot T’fillah u’Virkat Kohanim
Hilchot T’fillin uM’zuzah v’Sefer Torah
הלכות קריאת שמע
הלכות תפלה וברכת כהנים
הלכות תפילין ומזוזה וספר תורה
Hilchot Shvitat ‘Asor
Hilchot Shvitat Yom Tov
Hilchot Hametz u’Matzah
Hilchot Shofar v’Sukkah v’Lulav
Hilchot Qiddush haHodesh
Hilchot Megillah v’Hanukkah
הלכות שביתת עשור
הלכות שביתת יום טוב
הלכות חמץ ומצה
הלכות שופר וסוכה ולולב
הלכות קידוש החדש
הלכות מגילה וחנוכה
Hilchot Yibum v’Halitzah
Hilchot Na’arah Betulah
הלכות יבום וחליצה
הלכות נערה בתולה
|Hilchot Issurei Biah
Hilchot Ma’achalot Asurot
הלכות איסורי ביאה
הלכות מאכלות אסורות
Hilchot ‘Arachin v’Harmim
הלכות ערכין וחרמין
Hilchot Matnot ‘Ani’im
Hilchot Ma’aser Sh’ni v’Neta’ R’vi’i
Hilchot Sh’mitah v’Yovel
הלכות מתנות עניים
הלכות מעשר שני ונטע רבעי
הלכות בכורים ושאר מתנות כהונה שבגבולין
הלכות שמיטה ויובל
|Hilchot Beit haB’hirah
Hilchot Klei haMiqdash v’ha’Ovdim bo
Hilchot Biat haMiqdash
Hilchot Issurei haMizbeah
Hilchot Ma’aseh haQorbanot
Hilchot Temidim u’Musafim
Hilchot Pesulei haMuqdashim
Hilchot ‘Avodat Yom haKipurim
הלכות בית הבחירה
הלכות כלי המקדש והעבודה בו
הלכות ביאת המקדש
הלכות אסורי המזבח
הלכות מעשה הקרבנות
הלכות תמידין ומוספין
הלכות פסולי המוקדשין
הלכות עבודת יום הכפורים
|Hilchot Qorban Pesah
Hilchot Mehusar Kipurim
הלכות קרבן פסח
הלכות מחוסר כפורים
|Hilchot Tumat Met
Hilchot Parah Adumah
Hilchot Tumat Tzara’at
Hilchot Metamei Mishkav uMoshav
Hilchot Sh’ar Avot haTumot
Hilchot Tumat Ochalin
הלכות טומאת מת
הלכות פרה אדומה
הלכות טומאת צרעת
הלכות מטמאי משכב ומושב
הלכות שאר אבות הטומאות
הלכות טומאת אוכלין
Hilchot Gezeilah vAvidah
Hilchot Hovel uMaziq
Hilchot Rotzeah uShmirat Nefesh
הלכות נזקי ממון
הלכות גזילה ואבידה
הלכות חובל ומזיק
הלכות רוצח ושמירת נפש
Hilchot Zechiyah uMatanah
Hilchot Shluhin v’Shutafin
הלכות זכייה ומתנה
הלכות שלוחין ושותפין
Hilchot Sheilah uPiqadon
Hilchot Malveh v’Loveh
Hilchot To’en v’Nit’an
הלכות שאלה ופקדון
הלכות מלוה ולוח
הלכות טוען ונטען
Hilchot Melachim uMilhamoteyhem
הלכות סנהדרין והעונשין המסורים להם
הלכות מלכים ומלחמותיהם
The books are ordered in importance and relevance for the individual Jew’s relation and worship of G-D, hence we see that he begins with the Book of Knowledge, where he explains concepts as the foundation of faith, study of Torah and Idol worship, and ends with the Book of Judges, that works with concepts in governing societies.
The contents of the books are as follows:
Sefer HaMada’ (The Book of Knowledge)
This book is consisting of five halachot, namely the Laws of the Foundation of the Torah, the Laws of Personal Development, the Laws of Studying the Torah, the Laws concerning Idol worship, and the Laws of Repentance.
The whole perspective of this book, is the individual worship and relationship to G-D, beginning with the understanding of the Laws of faith, then how to evolve as a person, how to study Torah and the laws related to this, prohibition of Idol worship, and what is related to Idol worship, and in the end the laws on repentance.
It consists, in total, of 75 Mitzvot, 16 positive and 59 negative Mitzvot.
Sefer Ahavah (The Book of Love)
This book, the Book of Love, is consisting of six halachot, which is the Laws concerning the Recitation of the Sh’ma, the Laws concerning Prayer and the Kohanitic Blessings, the Laws concerning T’fillin, Mezuzot and Torah Scrolls.
As the name of the book alludes to, Maimonides views these subjects as expressions of love to G-D. Hence the Qriyat Sh’ma’, the recitation of Sh’ma, is said sitting, since “the predominant emotion of [Qriyat Sh’ma’] is love rather than awe.” (R. Jonathan Sacks, shlita, in the Koren Siddur).
It consists, in total, of 11 Mitzvot, all positive. Since the positive Mitzvot is representing love to G-D, and the negative Mitzvot represent awe of G-D, this book only consists of positive Mitzvot.
Sefer Z’manim (The Book of the Seasons)
This book is consisting of ten halachot, namely the Laws concerning Shabbat, the Laws concerning ‘Eruvin, the Laws concerning resting on Yom Kippur (the tenth day of the year), the Laws concerning resting on Hagim (Holy Days), the Laws concerning Hametz and Matzah, the Laws concerning the Shofar, the Sukkah and the Lulav, the Laws concerning the half-shekel, the Laws concerning, the Laws concerning sanctifying the new month, the Laws concerning the Fasts, and the Laws concerning the Megillah and Hanukkah.
The word, “z’manim” (“zman” in singular) actually means “times”, and relates to the fact that this book is about the times and periods in the Jewish calendar, that has value as a holy time. Hence we see that there are rules relating to Shabbat and the haggim, and the circumstances related to them.
It consists of 35 Mitzvot, 19 positive and 16 negative, but also also three Mitzvot d’Rabbanan (of Rabbinic decision).
Sefer Nashim (The Book of Women)
This book is consisting of five halachot, namely the Laws of Marriage, the Laws of Divorce, the Laws of Yibbum and Halitzah, the Laws concerning a non-married virgin, and the Laws concerning Sotah.
Though the title of the book connotes that it is about women, it is not only that, but more specific about sexual relation and the rules related to them. Hence there are laws concerning marriage and what is necessary for marriage, as well as the status of a “Sotah” (a whore), and how this subject is to be treated.
It consists of 17 Mitzvot, 9 of them positive, and 8 negative.
Sefer Qedushah (The Book of Holiness)
This book is consisting of three halachot, namely the laws concerning Forbidden Sexual Relations, the Laws concerning Forbidden Food, and the Laws of Ritual Slaughter.
The title of the book hints at how to be “Holy”, and hence focuses on subjects as (sexual) relations that are forbidden, and of which one should refrain from, as well as it is with the kind foods, that is also deemed “impure” and in such matter would be “unholy” to the Jew. It ends with the subject “Ritual Slaughter”, in order to make it possible for the Jew, to make sure that the kosher animal is slaughtered accordance to the Torah, and hence will be “sanctified”. It is also organized like this by Maimonides, since this is what G-D did to sanctify and separate the Jewish People from the other Nations, as he writes: “[I have grouped the two] (forbidden sexual relations and forbidden foods) [together] because it is in these two matters that G-D has sanctified us and separated us from the [other] nations.” (Introduction to Mishneh Torah, The Division of the Mitzvot According to the Halachot of the Mishneh Torah).
It consists of 70 Mitzvot, of which only 8 is positive, and 62 are negative, hinting that the subject of being Holy, is related to awe of G-D.
Sefer Hafla’ah (The Book of Utterances)
This book is consisting of four halachot, namely the Laws concerning Oaths, the Laws concerning Vows, the Laws of the Nazarite, and the Laws concerning Endowment Evaluations and Devotion Offerings.
This book is concerned on the oaths, vows, Nazarite commitments, and donations and devotions, for example not to swear in the Name of G-D falsely, when making an oath, to fulfill one’s vow, live up to the conditions for taking the Nazarite vow and what they are, as well as the rules for deeming an endowment value, as well as the rules concerning the devotion offering.
It consists of 25 Mitzvot, 10 positive and 15 negative.
Sefer Zera’im (The Book of Agriculture)
This book is consisting of seven halachot, namely the Laws concerning the Mixing of Forbidden Species, the Laws concerning the Gifts to be Given to the Poor, the Laws concerning T’rumah, the Laws of Tithes, the Laws concerning the Second Tithe and the Produce of the Fourth Year, the Laws concerning the First Fruits, and the Laws of the Seventh and the Jubilee Year.
As the title of the book reveals, the subject is agriculture, or – as the Hebrew title says – “seeds”. Hence Maimonides here teaches about which species are forbidden, that we are not to mix the species, how to contribute to the poor from the fields, and the rules for tithes, and the Sabbatical seventh year, where the fields has to “rest”.
It consists of 67 Mitzvot, 30 of them positive and 37 negative.
Sefer ‘Avodah (The Book of the Temple Service)
This book is consisting of nine halachot, namely the Laws concerning of the “Chosen House” (the Temple), the Laws concerning utensils used in the Temple and the people using them, the Laws concerning the entrance to the Temple, the Laws concerning animals that are forbidden for offerings on the Altar, Laws concerning the procedures of the Offerings, the Laws concerning the Daily and the Special Offerings, the Laws concerning Offerings that are no longer accepted, the Laws concerning the Yom Kippur Service, and the Laws concerning the misuse of Sacred Property.
The title of the book, Sefer ‘Avodah, reveals that the subject is Temple Service, and anything related to it. The term, ‘avodah, which can be translated to “work”, is considered to be understood as “work devoted to G-D” in contrast to the word po’el, which is “normal” work. So even though la’avod and ‘avodah can relate to the work of workers or slaves, here it is meant to signify “holy labor”, mainly done by the Kohanim or the Levi’im.
It consists of 103 Mitzvot, 47 of them positive and 56 negative.
Sefer Qorbanot (The Book of Sacrifices)
This book is consisting of six halachot, namely the Laws concerning the Pessah offering, the Laws concerning the Festive Offerings, the Laws concerning the Firstling Animal, the Laws concerning the Atonement Offerings for Unintended Transgression, the Laws of the Offerings of those whose Process of Atonement is incomplete, and the Laws of Substitute Offerings.
From the halachot in this book, it is clearly a book that is concerned with Sacrifices and Offerings, which the title of the book also claims. Hence we here read about almost all the rules and relations that evolves the Sacrifices, though some are found too in other books of the Mishneh Torah.
It consists of 39 Mitzvot, 20 of them positive and 19 negative.
Sefer Tohorah (The Book of Ritual Impurity)
This book is consisting of eight halachot, namely the Laws concerning Ritual Impurity caused by contact with a Human Corpse, the Laws concerning the Red Heifer (and the Purification Process it is involved in), the Laws concerning Ritual Impurity caused by Leprosy, the Laws concerning Ritual Impurity causing the places of dwelling (both sitting and laying) to be Impure, the Laws concerning other Sources of Ritual Impurity, the Laws concerning Ritual Impurity caused by certain Food, the Laws of Ritual Impurity caused by contact with Impure Vessels, and the Laws concerning Mikvaot (the Ritual Cleaning Baths).
As revealed, the theme of this book is Ritual Impurity, what causes it, and how to relate to it. Hence we read about all the circumstances and contacts, that will lead to Ritual Impurity, as contact with a human corpse. We read about how to relate to Ritual Impurity, as in the case of the leper, who is commanded to make his state known. And we read about how to clean ourselves of the Ritual Impurity, as in the case of immersing in a Mikveh (a Ritual Cleaning Bath).
It consists of 20 Mitzvot, 18 of them positive and two negative.
Sefer Neziqin (The Book of Damages)
This book is consisting of five halachot, namely the Laws concerning Damage to Property, the Laws concerning Theft, the Laws concerning Robbery and returning Lost Objects, the Laws of Personal Injury and Damages caused by direct human action, and the Laws concerning Murder and Protection of Life.
The title of the book reveals that it is focused on the subject of damages, but damages here are understood in a wider sense, not only on things that are damaged or destroyed, but also things that are lost, stolen or robbery, and even with more severe cases, as for example injuries on humans as well as murder, and how we are supposed to relate to these cases. Hence we can read about how to relate to the grazing of animals. We can read that we are forbidden to steal and the laws concerning the punishment of a thief. We can read that we are not allowed to desire the belongings of another man, and that we are not allowed to ignore a lost object seen on the road. We can read about the laws concerning a murder, that he is not to be killed without a trial, that the pursuer [of a man fleeing to one of the cities set of for refuge] should be stopped, and that we are not to show him mercy. And we can read about how we are commanded to guard life, for example by setting up a guard rail on our roofs.
It consists of 36 Mitzvot, of them 16 positive and 20 negative.
Sefer Qinyan (The Book of Acquisition)
This book is consisting of five halachot, namely the Laws Governing Sales, the concerning the Governing the Acquisition of Property and Gifts, the Laws concerning the Relations with Neighbors, the Laws concerning Agents and Partners, and the Laws concerning Slaves.
This is a book, whose theme is the rules and circumstances regarding acquisition things and objects. Hence we can read about the rules of sales and purchases. We can read about the circumstances and rules concerning the relation between neighbors, agents and partners. And we can read about the circumstances of slaves and how to tread them.
It consists of 18 Mitzvot, six of them being positive and 12 of them negative.
Sefer Mishpatim (The Book of Judgments)
This book is consisting of five halachot, namely the Laws concerning the Relations between the Employer and the Employee, the Laws concerning Borrowed or Entrusted Objects, the Laws concerning Lenders and Borrowers, the Laws concerning Disputes between Plaintiffs and Defendants, and the Laws concerning Inheritances.
The title is somehow misleading, since the theme of the book is more concerned with the relations between people who own something to others, and how to protect the weaker part in these relations. Hence it is still a book of judgments, but more about relations than judgment. Hence we can read about the rules concerning a hired worker or a paid watchman, and that we have to pay them their wage when it is due time for it. We can read the rules concerning an unpaid watchman. We can read that we are commanded to lend a poor and unfortunate person money, and not to demand repayment of his dept, and the rules of about this relation. And we can read about the claims and how to deal with them, whether the defendant admits to them or denies them.
It consists of 23 Mitzvot, of them 11 being positive and 12 negative.
Sefer Shoftim (The Book of Judges)
This book is consisting of five halachot, namely the Laws concerning the Courts and the Punishments they have Jurisdiction over, the Laws concerning Witnesses, the Laws concerning the Rebellious Ones, the Laws concerning Mourning, and the Laws concerning the Kings and their Wars.
Being the last book in the Mishneh Torah, this book is focused on the Laws of governing and regulating the society. Hence we can read about the rules concerning the appointment of judges, how to appointment and who to appoint/not to appoint. We can read about the rules concerning their work and jurisdiction. We can read about the rules concerning witnesses, who can be a witness, and how to treat them. We can read about the rules concerning the “rebellious ones”, how to relate to them, how to “spot” them, that we are to honor our parents and not to rebel against them. We can read about the rules concerning for who to mourn and how to mourn. And we can read about the rules concerning whether to appoint a king [over Israel], who are and who are not allowed to be appointed as kings. And we can read about the rules that are related to the wars of the kings, which wars that are obligated, which are volunteering, and the circumstances and rules relating to these wars.
It consists of 74 Mitzvot, of them 27 are positive and 47 negative.
R. Geoffrey A. Mitelman has an interesting post on his blog at Huffington Post, about “Conscious Judaism”:
I found the post very interesting and inspiring, because how many of us are really conscious on a deep level, on how we live our lives? Of course, most people would tell you that they are aware of what they do, but let’s be honest, it doesn’t hold so.. Take a ride with the bus in the morning, watch people watching TV and so on, we might be conscious of our choices on a higher level, but on a more regular level it isn’t so..
One thing that I experience a lot, here in Israel, is the hope for miracles.. People are looking for “big” miracles outside ourselves, G-D doing great wonders and so on, while clinging to the belief, that as long as we’re doing as we’re told, then we – personally – are okay with G-D..
But that isn’t so.. The real miracle, the greatest miracle doesn’t lay out there, but much closer, in ourselves: We are the image of G-D, that is the greatest miracle we can find, and yet we ignore that and go on with our daily lives, totally lacking awareness of our own amazing potentials in this world..
R. Bahyah Ibn Paquda, Z”L, talks in his “Hovot HaL’vavot” about two levels of commandments, the outwards, which is the visible actions, and the inwards, the commandments dealing with our consciousness, and wonders why – at his time – that there hadn’t been written any books about the latter, thinking that maybe they weren’t that important.. But no, on the contrary, he discovered they indeed were important, that without them, the outwards duties would basically be without any worth..
Also the RaMBaM, Z”L, touches this subject many times, among other places in his letter to his disciple, R. Yosef ben Yehudah, Z”L, where he warns against people like Ali ibn Shmuel, the Gaon of the Babylonian community at the time, who was a bitter enemy of RaMBaM, Z”L:
…because this man and those like him among even greater men of former times, religion is nothing more than a way to avoid major sins, which is how the common people view it. They do not believe the duties of moral habits to be part of religion, nor are they as careful about what they say as men of piety are.
RaMBaM furthermore focused on the Lifnim MiShurat HaDin, as being the foundation for Din, which means that the spirit of the law is above the letter of the law.. When you’re doing the law only to do the law, you’re basically breaking the law, and render it useless.. Kavannah, that is, intention and awareness is what is supposed to be behind your actions.. You have to understand and know why you’re doing what you do, not just doing it..
Many others have written books and letters on the subjects, but I want to keep it short..
We need to be more focused in our lives, be more aware of who we are and what we do, and not only in relation to ourselves, but in general.. R. Avraham HaKohen Kook, Z”L, wrote about the three Loves in his “The Moral Principles”:
The heart must be filled with love for all.
The love of all creation comes first, then comes the love for all mankind, and then follows the love for the Jewish people, in which all other loves are included, since it is the destiny of the Jews to serve toward the perfection of all tings. And these loves are to be expressed in practical action, by pursuing the welfare of those we are bidden to love, and to seek their advancement…
That is, it isn’t enough just to focus on doing the right actions, but instead to have the right intention, to love, and act from that.. We are not placed as private being in this world, on the contrary, “man is a social being,” and we need to be aware of this, and “express them in practical actions,” in order to fulfill our roles as conscious beings in this world.. Only then can we become deserving of better times, the coming of Moshiah, may he come speedily in our days..
The change for a better world, begins inside the being wanting to make a better world, starting with changing himself for the better, becoming aware..
I have to find a new title..
Anyway, as mentioned in the first post on the subject, Maimonides’ view on the purpose of the Law, is as follows:
“The true Law, which as we said is one, and beside which there is no other Law, viz., the Law of our teacher Moses, has for its purpose to give us the twofold perfection. It aims first at the establishment of good mutual relations among men by removing injustice and creating the noblest feelings. In this way the people in every land are enabled to stay and continue in one condition, and every one can acquire his first perfection. Secondly, it seeks to train us in faith, and to impart correct and true opinions when the intellect is sufficiently developed. Scripture clearly mentions the twofold perfection, and tells us that its acquisition is the object of all the divine commandments.”
I had some points of ponder in this regards, such as who is supposed to govern the societies, why and so on..
Now, Maimonides has himself some questions, which he raises in chapter 28, where he claims the following:
“The reason of a commandment, whether positive or negative, is clear, and its usefulness evident, if it directly tends to remove injustice, or to teach good conduct that furthers the well-being of society, or to impart a truth which ought to be believed either on its own merit or as being indispensable for facilitating the removal of injustice or the teaching of good morals. There is no occasion to ask for the object of such commandments; for no one can, e.g., be in doubt as to the reason why we have been commanded to believe that God is one; why we are forbidden to murder, to steal, and to take vengeance, or to retaliate, or why we are commanded to love one another.”
For Maimonides some commandments are clear, as mentioned above. But there are those commandments, which doesn’t seem to have any clear purpose, at least not in this matter.. As he states:
“But there are precepts concerning which people are in doubt, and of divided opinions, some believing that they are mere commands, and serve no purpose whatever, whilst others believe that they serve a certain purpose, which, however, is unknown to man. Such are those precepts which in their literal meaning to not seem to further any of the three above-named results: to impart some truth, or to teach some moral, or to remove injustice. They do not seem to have any influence upon the well-being of the soul by imparting any truth, or upon the well-being of the body by suggesting such ways and rules as are useful in the government of a state, or in the management of a household.”
He mentions a couple of these commandments, such as wearing “sha’atnetz” (the mixing of wool and linen), not to boil a kid in its mother’s milk and so on.. At first sight, these commandments doesn’t seem to bring any rationale on why we have to apply them in society.. Neither does it regulate the well-being of the body, nor the well-being of the soul..
Though, as he sais, “…in some cases the law contains a truth which is itself the only object of the law, as e.g., the truth of the Unity, Eternity, and Incorporeality of God; in other cases, that truth is only the means of ensuring the removal of injustice, or the acquisition of good morals; such is the belief that God is angry with those who oppress their fellow-men…”
But what about the rest of the, apparently, irrational laws? That’s what he plans to explain further on, except for a few minor laws, which he still hasn’t reach an understanding of..