In the spring of 1984, the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, of righteous memory, called for an innovative addition to the daily study schedule of every Jewish man, woman and child. He suggested that everyone study a portion of Maimonides' compendium of Jewish law, known as the Mishneh Torah or simply as Rambam.
While many people had been turning to the fourteen-volume work to supplement their study of the Talmud or Jewish law, it was not being studied as a text on its own. Maimonides' work was somewhat neglected, as the chief rabbi of Israel, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, wrote at the time, "The Rebbe brought Rambam back from being a book for scholars to being a book for the masses to study from."
"The Rebbe brought Rambam back from being a book for scholars to being a book for the masses to study from."Part of the reason for this neglect was because the Mishneh Torah includes many laws that are not relevant today for daily life—laws that only applied during Temple times, and will again be pertinent during the Messianic Era. So people turned, instead, to the works that focus on Jewish laws that are immediately applicable.
But it was for precisely this reason that the Rebbe recommended studying the Mishneh Torah: "It gathers all of Jewish law in a concise and clear fashion." Every individual is commanded to study the entire Torah, a goal not within reach for most people. However, it is possible to study the whole Torah as compiled by Maimonides.
The Rebbe suggested that the Mishneh Torah should be studied straight through, from beginning to end, and that this be done according to an organized schedule.
The Rebbe suggested a three-track system:
- For those capable, a three chapter per-day schedule, which completes the Mishneh Torah in slightly less than one year.
- For those who lack the time to study three chapters a day, a one chapter per-day program that lasts close to three years.
- For those whose level of scholarship doesn't allow for the study of Mishneh Torah, the Rebbe suggested that they study every day from Maimonides' Sefer Hamitzvot, the "Book of Commandments," those commandments being studied in great detail by those participating in the three chapter per-day regimen—concluding all 613 commandments in the same course of time.
"One of the principal elements in the study of Rambam is the unification of Jewry," the Rebbe was quoted in the New York Times as saying.
In a talk on April 28, 1984, the Rebbe explained that when everyone studies the same thing on the same day, their learning is united across continents. The Rebbe added that when different people study the same topic, they will come to discuss and debate it. This friendly and scholarly debate, the Rebbe said, will bring people closer to each other, contributing to unity among Jews.
Large numbers of Jewish people around the world immediately took it upon themselves to study the Mishneh Torah daily. Torah scholars and Chassidic masters issued their recommendation to join this new study cycle. Many of the Jewish dailies and weekly newspapers began printing the study schedule for the Mishneh Torah together with other existing daily study schedules.
When everyone studies the same thing on the same day, their learning is united across continentsAt the completion of the first cycle, hundreds of celebrations took place in locations spanning the globe. Torah scholars from every segment of the Jewish community joined these gatherings, delivering in-depth analyses on sections of Rambam.
"The people praising [Maimonides] were centuries removed from the life of Maimonides, who was born 851 years ago in Cordoba, Spain," read the New York Times on March 6, 1986, following the celebration of the second completion of the cycle, at the Marriott Marquis Hotel in New York City. "Yet, after intensely studying his work this last year and applying his teachings, they gathered yesterday to celebrate the wisdom of the sage known to them as Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, the Rambam."
The article continued that "since Rabbi Schneerson instituted the program, studying Maimonides has become an integral part of many Jewish households."
Today, Jews across the globe celebrate at the completion of the cycle every year.