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The Rambam's Introduction1
to the Mishneh Torah

Preface

"In the name of God, Lord of the world"2 (Genesis 21:33)

"Then I will not be ashamed when I gaze at all Your mitzvot"3 (Psalms 119:6).

The mitzvot given to Moses at Mount Sinai were all given together with their explanations,4 as implied by [Exodus 24:12]: "And I will give you the tablets of stone, the Torah, and the mitzvah."

"The Torah" refers to the Written Law; "the mitzvah," to its explanation. [God] commanded us to fulfill "the Torah" according to [the instructions of] "the mitzvah."5 "The mitzvah" is called the Oral Law.

Moses, our teacher, personally transcribed the entire Torah before he died. He gave a Torah scroll to each tribe and placed another scroll in the ark as a testimonial, as [Deuteronomy 31:26] states: "Take this Torah scroll and place it [beside the ark...] and it will be there as a testimonial."

"The mitzvah" - i.e., the explanation of the Torah - he did not transcribe.6 Instead, he commanded it [verbally] to the elders, to Joshua, and to the totality of Israel,7 as [Deuteronomy 13:1] states: "Be careful to observe everything that I prescribe to you." For this reason, it is called the Oral Law.

Even though the Oral Law was not transcribed, Moses, our teacher, taught it in its entirety in his court to the seventy elders. Elazar, Pinchas, and Joshua received the tradition from Moses. [In particular, Moses] transmitted the Oral Law to Joshua, who was his [primary] disciple, and instructed him regarding it.8

Similarly, throughout his life Joshua taught the Oral Law. Many elders received the tradition from him.9 Eli received the tradition from the elders and from Pinchas. Samuel received the tradition from Eli and his court. David received the tradition from Samuel and his court.

Achiah of Shiloh was one of those who experienced the exodus from Egypt.10 He was a Levite and heard [teachings] from Moses. He was, however, of low stature in Moses' age. Afterwards, he received the tradition from David and his court. Elijah received the tradition from Achiah of Shiloh and his court. Elisha received the tradition from Elijah and his court.

Yehoyada, the priest, received the tradition from Elisha and his court. Zechariah received the tradition from Yehoyada and his court. Hoshea received the tradition from Zechariah and his court. Amos received the tradition from Hoshea and his court. Isaiah received the tradition from Amos and his court. Michah received the tradition from Isaiah and his court. Yoel received the tradition from Michah and his court. Nachum received the tradition from Yoel and his court. Chabbakuk received the tradition from Nachum and his court. Tzefaniah received the tradition from Chabbakuk and his court.

Jeremiah received the tradition from Tzefaniah and his court. Baruch ben Neriyah11 received the tradition from Jeremiah and his court. Ezra and his court received the tradition from Baruch and his court. [The members of] Ezra's court are referred to as Anshei K'nesset Hagedolah (the men of the great assembly). They included Chaggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Daniel, Chananiah, Mishael, Azariah, Nechemiah ben Chakaliah, Mordechai the linguist, Zerubavel and many other sages - 120 elders in all.12

The last [surviving] member of this group was Shimon the Just. He was included among the 120 elders and received the Oral Law from all of them. He served as the High Priest after Ezra. Antignos of Socho and his court received the tradition from Shimon the Just and his court.

Yosse ben Yo'ezer of Tzreidah and Yosef ben Yochanan of Jerusalem13 and their court received the tradition from Antignos and his court. Yehoshua ben Perachiah and Nittai of Arbel and their court received the tradition from Yosse ben Yo'ezer and Yosef ben Perachiah and their court. Yehudah ben Tabbai and Shimon ben Shatach and their court received the tradition from Yehoshua ben Perachiah and Nittai of Arbel and their court. Shemayah and Avtalion, who were righteous converts,14 and their court received the tradition from Yehudah and Shimon and their court.

Hillel and Shammai and their court received the tradition from Shemayah and Avtalion and their court. Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai and Rabbi Shimon, the son of Hillel the elder, received the tradition from Hillel [and Shammai] and his [their] court[s].15

Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai had five students [who were] great sages and received the tradition from him. They were: Rabbi Eleazar the great, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Yosse the priest, Rabbi Shimon ben Netanel and Rabbi Elazar ben Arach. Rabbi Akiva ben Yosef received from Rabbi Eleazar the great. Yosef, his father, was a righteous convert.

Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Meir, a son of righteous converts, received the tradition from Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Meir and his colleagues also received the tradition from Rabbi Yishmael. The colleagues of Rabbi Meir include Rabbi Yehudah, Rabbi Yosse, Rabbi Shimon, Rabbi Nechemiah, Rabbi Elazar ben Shamu'a, Rabbi Yochanan the shoemaker, Shimon ben Azzai, and Rabbi Chananiah ben Teradion.16

Similarly, Rabbi Akiva's colleagues also received the tradition from Rabbi Eleazar the great. Rabbi Akiva's colleagues include Rabbi Tarfon - the teacher of Rabbi Yosse of the Galil - Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar, and Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri.

Rabban Gamliel the elder received the tradition from Rabban Shimon, his father - the son of Hillel the elder. Rabban Shimon, his son, received the tradition from him. Rabban Gamliel, his son, received the tradition from him and Rabban Shimon, his son, received the tradition from him.

Rabbi Yehudah, the son of Rabban Shimon and referred to as Rabbenu Hakadosh ("our saintly teacher"),17 received the tradition from his father, from Rabbi Elazar ben Shamu'a, and from Rabban Shimon and his colleagues.

Rabbenu Hakadosh composed the Mishnah. From the days of Moses, our teacher, until Rabbenu Hakadosh, no one had composed a text for the purpose of teaching the Oral Law in public. Instead, in each generation, the head of the court or the prophet of that generation would take notes of the teachings which he received from his masters for himself, and teach them verbally in public. Similarly, according to his own potential, each individual would write notes for himself of what he heard regarding the explanation of the Torah, its laws, and the new concepts that were deduced in each generation concerning laws that were not communicated by the oral tradition, but rather deduced using one of the thirteen principles of Biblical exegesis and accepted by the high court.

This situation continued until [the age of] Rabbenu Hakadosh. He collected all the teachings, all the laws, and all the explanations and commentaries that were heard from Moses, our teacher, and which were taught by the courts in each generation concerning the entire Torah. From all these, he composed the text of the Mishnah. He taught it to the Sages in public and revealed it to the Jewish people, who all wrote it down. They spread it in all places so that the Oral Law would not be forgotten by the Jewish people.

Why did Rabbenu Hakadosh make [such an innovation] instead of perpetuating the status quo? Because he saw the students becoming fewer, new difficulties constantly arising, the Roman Empire18 spreading itself throughout the world and becoming more powerful, and the Jewish people wandering and becoming dispersed to the far ends of the world. [Therefore,] he composed a single text that would be available to everyone, so that it could be studied quickly and would not be forgotten.19 Throughout his entire life, he and his court taught the Mishnah to the masses.

These are the great Sages who were part of the court of Rabbenu Hakadosh and who received the tradition from him: His sons, Shimon and Gamliel, Rabbi Effess, Rabbi Chanina ben Chama, Rabbi Chiyya, Rav, Rabbi Yannai, bar Kafra, Shemuel, Rabbi Yochanan, Rabbi Hoshaia. Thousands and myriads of other sages received the tradition from [Rabbenu Hakadosh] together with these great sages.

Even though all of the eleven sages mentioned above received the tradition from Rabbenu Hakadosh and attended his study sessions, [there are differences between them. At that time,] Rabbi Yochanan was of lesser stature. Afterwards, he became a disciple of Rabbi Yannai and received instruction from him. Similarly, Rav received the tradition from Rabbi Yannai, and Shemuel received the tradition from Rabbi Chanina ben Chama.20

Rav composed the Sifra and the Sifre to explain the sources for the Mishnah. Rabbi Chiyya composed the Tosefta21 to explain the subjects [discussed in] the Mishnah. Rabbi Hoshaia and bar Kafra composed baraitot to explain the matters [discussed in] the Mishnah. Rabbi Yochanan composed the Jerusalem Talmud in Eretz Yisrael approximately three hundred years after the destruction of the Temple.22

Among the great sages who received the tradition from Rav and Shemuel were:23 Rav Huna, Rav Yehudah, Rav Nachman, and Rav Kahana. Among the great sages who received the tradition from Rabbi Yochanan24 were: Ravvah bar bar Channah, Rav Ami, Rav Assi, Rav Dimi, and Rav Avin.

Among the Sages who received the tradition from Rav Huna and Rav Yehudah were Rabbah and Rav Yosef. Among the sages who received the tradition from Rabbah and Rav Yosef were Abbaye and Ravva. Both of them also received the tradition from Rav Nachman. Among the Sages who received the tradition from Ravva were Rav Ashi and Ravina. Mar bar Rav Ashi received the tradition from Rav Ashi, his father, and from Ravina.

Thus, there were forty generations from Rav Ashi back to Moses, our teacher, of blessed memory. They were:

1) Rav Ashi [received the tradition] from Ravva.

2) Ravva [received the tradition] from Rabbah.

3) Rabbah [received the tradition] from Rav Huna.

4) Rav Huna [received the tradi­tion] from Rabbi Yochanan, Rav, and Shemuel.

5) Rabbi Yochanan, Rav, and She­muel [received the tradition] from Rabbenu Hakadosh.

6) Rabbenu Hakadosh [received the tradition] from Rabbi Shimon, his father.

7) Rabbi Shimon [received the tra­dition] from Rabban Gamliel, his father.

8) Rabban Gamliel [received the tradition] from Rabban Shimon, his father.

9) Rabban Shimon [received the tradition] from Rabban Gamliel, the elder, his father.

10) Rabban Gamliel, the elder, [re­ceived the tradition] from Rabban Shimon, his father.

11) Rabban Shimon [received the Tradition] from Hillel, his father, and Shammai.

12) Hillel and Shammai [received the tradition] from Shemayah and Avtalion.

13) Shemayah and Avtalion [re­ceived the tradition] from Yehudah and Shimon [ben Shatach].

14) Yehudah and Shimon [received the tradition] from Yehoshua ben Perachiah and Nittai of Arbel.

15) Yehoshua and Nittai [received the tradition] from Yosse ben Yo'ezer and Yosef ben Yochanan.

16) Yosse ben Yo'ezer and Yosef ben Yochanan [received the tradi­tion] from Antignos.

17) Antignos [received the tradi­tion] from Shimon the Just.

18) Shimon the Just [received the tradition] from Ezra.

19) Ezra [received the tradition] from Baruch.

20) Baruch [received the tradition] from Jeremiah.

21) Jeremiah [received the tradi­tion] from Tzefaniah.

22) Tzefaniah [received the tradi­tion] from Chabbakuk.

23) Chabbakuk [received the tradition] from Nachum.

24) Nachum [received the tradition] from Yoel.

25) Yoel [received the tradition] from Michah.

26) Michah [received the tradition] from Isaiah.

27) Isaiah [received the tradition] from Amos.

28) Amos [received the tradition] from Hoshea.

29) Hoshea [received the tradition] from Zechariah.

30) Zechariah [received the tradition] from Yehoyada.

31) Yehoyada [received the tradition] from Elisha.

32) Elisha [received the tradition] from Elijah.

33) Elijah [received the tradition] from Achiah.

34) Achiah [received the tradition] from David.

35) David [received the tradition] from Shemuel.

36) Shemuel [received the tradition] from Eli.

37) Eli [received the tradition] from Pinchas.

38) Pinchas [received the tradition] from Joshua.

39) Joshua [received the tradition] from Moses, our teacher.

40) Moses, our teacher, [received the tradition] from the Almighty.

Thus, [the source of] all these people's knowledge is God, the Lord of Israel.

FOOTNOTES
1.

The heading "Introduction" is not found in any of the manuscript editions of the Mishneh Torah and appears to be a printer's addition. Note Hilchot Shechitah 1:4, where the Rambam refers to "...the Oral Law, which is called `the mitzvah,' as we explained in the beginning of this text."

By referring to these passages as "the beginning" of the text and not "the introduction to the text," the Rambam implies that the subject matter contained in these passages is an essential part of the Mishneh Torah and not merely an author's preamble.

2.

Though this verse is omitted by many printed editions of the Mishneh Torah, it is included in the manuscript editions. It is also found at the beginning of the Rambam's other works, the Commentary on the Mishnah, Sefer HaMitzvot, and the Guide to the Perplexed. The Rambam's intention is to clarify that he does not see this work as an expression of his individual efforts alone, but that it was composed "In the name of God, the Lord of the world."

3.

The Rambam introduces every one of the books of the Mishneh Torah by quoting an appropriate verse from the Bible. It is possible to explain that he chose this verse for the introduction to the entire text in reply to objections he knew would arise to the Mishneh Torah. The Rambam's conception of his work as "a compilation of the entire Oral Law" would not be acceptable to many. Therefore, he begins by emphasizing that his actions were not presumptuous. There is no need for him to be "ashamed" at taking such a step. Since he can "gaze at all Your mitzvot" - i.e., has the knowledge of the entire Oral Law - he is obligated to try to communicate that knowledge to others, as stated in Hilchot Talmud Torah 5:4 (Yayin Malchut).

4.

By emphasizing that, at the revelation at Sinai, the mitzvot were given "together with their explanations," the Rambam stresses that the Written and Oral Laws cannot be viewed as two separate entities, but rather as two dimensions of a single whole. See also the Rambam's Introduction to his Commentary on the Mishnah, where he elaborates on the same concept.

5.

See Emunah V'De'ot (Discourse 3, Chapter 3), where Rav Sa'adiah Gaon explains at length how the oral tradition is necessary to understand how to fulfill the mitzvot

6.

Note Gittin 60b, which prohibits writing down the teachings of the Oral Law. Nevertheless, from the Rambam's statements here and in the Introduction to his Commentary on the Mishnah, it appears that the prohibition only applies to the composition of a text from which to teach, and not writing down notes for one's personal study.

7.

See the Rambam's Introduction to his Commentary on the Mishnah, where he quotes Eruvin 54b which describes the order in which Moses would teach Aharon, his sons, the elders, and then the entire Jewish people.

8.

I.e., regarding its transmission to others (Sifre, Pinchas).

9.

By listing the entire chain of tradition, the Rambam demonstrates how the Oral Law was transmitted in a continuous chain and was not the invention of the later Sages. However, beyond this obvious intent, the Rambam had another goal in mind. In his Introduction to Sefer HaMitzvot (where he outlines some of his deliberations about the composition of the Mishneh Torah), the Rambam writes:

I chose to omit the supports and proofs [for the laws], and instead mention the major figures who transmitted the tradition. Thus, I will not say "These are the words of Rabbi ---," or "Rabbi --- says such and such" regarding each particular matter. Instead, I will mention all the sages of the Mishnah and the Talmud, of blessed memory, in general at the beginning of the text. I will state that all the judgments of the Torah - i.e., the Oral Law - were received and transmitted from so and so to so and so, until Ezra and until Moses. I will mention together with [the leading sage of the generation], who received the tradition, the other well-known personalities in his generation whose position in the chain of tradition is equivalent to his. All this [will be done] out of a desire for brevity.

The Rambam's willingness to sacrifice the mention of the sources for his decisions in favor of a brief and clear text became a major issue with regard to the acceptance of the Mishneh Torah by other rabbis. The Ra'avad writes:

This author abandoned the practice of all the previous authors, who would bring supports for their statements and quote them in the name of their sources. This was of great benefit because, at times, a judge would presume to forbid or permit [something] based on a specific source. If he knew that a greater authority holds a different opinion, he would retract his. However, in this instance, I do not know why I should retract from the tradition I received and my sources because of [the statements] in this work by this author.

Afterwards, the Rambam himself regretted his original decision. In a responsum, he wrote that he desired to add the sources on which the decisions of the Mishneh Torah were based. Unfortunately, the Rambam himself never succeeded in composing such a text, and the task of discovering these sources has been left to the sages of subsequent generations.

10.

See Bava Batra 121b.

11.

Jeremiah and Baruch witnessed the destruction of the First Temple. After Jeremiah's death, Baruch went to Babylon and taught Torah to the exiles there.

12.

The Anshei K'nesset Hagedolah presided over the return to Zion at the beginning of the Second Temple period and set the foundations for the reconstruction of the nation.

13.

These two sages begin the line of zugot (pairs) mentioned in the first chapter of Avot. The first of the sages mentioned was the nasi (head of the academy), and the second the av beit din (head of the court).

14.

See Eduyot 1:3 and Gittin ,57b. It is difficult to understand why the Rambam mentions Shemayah and Avtalion's ancestry. On the contrary, the fact that they were converts raises serious questions as to why they were allowed to serve as nasi and av beit din. (See Hilchot Melachim 1:4 and the commentary in the Moznaim edition of that Halachah.)

15.

Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai witnessed the destruction of the Second Temple. Before the fall of Jerusalem, he escaped with his students to Yavneh and laid a new foundation for our people's spiritual growth.

16.

The commentaries have noted some apparent contradictions between the Rambam's statements here and those in the Introduction to his Commentary on the Mishnah. For example, in the Introduction to his Commentary on the Mishnah, the Rambam states that Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Nechemiah were different names for the same person, while here he mentions them as separate individuals. Similarly, in the Introduction to his Commentary on the Mishnah, the Rambam places Rabbi Chananiah ben Teradion in the first generation of sages following the Temple's destruction, while here he places him in the third generation.

The Mishneh Torah is a later work, and it is possible that the Rambam changed his thinking on these particulars before its composition.

17.

In the Introduction to his Commentary on the Mishnah, the Rambam explains that Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi merited the title Rabbenu Hakadosh (our saintly teacher), because "he possessed all the desired and good qualities."

18.

The Roman Empire systematically attempted to suppress the study of Torah in all the lands under its control.

19.

Though Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi's composition of the Mishnah is a monumental achievement in its own right, perhaps the Rambam elaborates in his description of it because of the parallels to his own composition of the Mishneh Torah.

20.

Rav and Shemuel represent the first generation of Amoraim, the age in which the center of Torah study shifted from Eretz Yisrael to Babylonia.

21.

In the Introduction to his Commentary on the Mishnah, the Rambam explains Rabbi Chiyya's contribution as follows:

He followed his master's [Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi's] footsteps [in composing a text for the public] to explain the matters he saw to be confusing in his master's work.

This was called the Tosefta. Its intent was to explain the Mishnah and expound upon concepts that would require much effort to be derived from the Mishnah... to show how these ideas could be developed and deduced from the Mishnah.

22.

Thus, according to the Rambam, the approximate date of the composition of the

Jerusalem Talmud was the year 4025 (365 C.E.).

The commentaries have not found an explicit source supporting the Rambam's contention that Rabbi Yochanan composed the Jerusalem Talmud. Indeed, it appears that the final text of that work was composed by Rabbi Mannah and Rabbi Yosse ben Rabbi Bun approximately one hundred years after Rabbi Yochanan's death. Some commentaries explain that Rabbi Yochanan laid the foundation for the text that was completed by the later sages.

23.

In Babylonia.

24.

In Eretz Yisrael.

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