One of the most ardent admirers of the Rambam was Rabbi Moses ben Jacob of the small French town of Coucy. He devoted his entire life to talmudic study and practical work for Judaism and Jewry in France, Spain and the Provence.

Rabbi Moses, who was one of the last Tosaphists, was a disciple of the famous Rabbi Judah Hachasid of Paris, who had made an indelible impression upon the French method and tradition of Talmudical study. From him Rabbi Moses acquired the tendency to concern himself rather with practical deeds than with abstract study alone, for the true object of study is to practice good deeds. The great fruits which this attitude brought were manifold.

Jewish life in the Provence and in Spain had reached a low. While the scholars were divided into two groups, for and against the philosophical and halachic work of the Rambam, the Jewish communities had lost much of their faith and piety. Many of the basic laws were simply neglected or openly bypassed. They had become so much imbued with the standards of culture and civilization about them, that they became more and more estranged from Judaism in the process of assimilation. Rabbi Moses of Coucy, who admired the Rambam, did not join the forces of Rabbi Solomon of Montpellier and Rabbenu Jonah of Genoa, who spent their energy in a vehement fight against the philosophy of this great man and his disciples; but on the other hand he did not oppose them, because he himself had grown up in Rabbi Judah Hachasid's school of the French Talmudical tradition that avoided philosophy. He rather turned to practical communal work among the common people who were neglected in the heated controversy of their leaders.

In the year 1236 (4996) he left his hometown and traveled through the cities of the Provence and Spain. Despite many troubles and discomforts, he made it his business to visit every Jewish community in these countries and to preach to them in the simple wholehearted tone which he had inherited from his great rabbi, Rabbi Judah Hachasid. Without mentioning the controversy over the secular studies, he concentrated upon giving inspiring moral lectures and upon emphasizing the importance of such daily precepts as Mezuzah, Tzitzith and Tefillin. He attacked the great evil which harassed and destroyed many great Jewish communities: inter-marriage between Jews and non-Jews which had become a common practice among many noble families.

Rabbi Moses became renowned as a preacher in French, Spanish and Arabic, and his success was sensational. The Jewish people had not really turned away from the Jewish Law with their hearts and minds. They merely had fallen into a state of apathy to the religion of their fathers, because there was no one to show them the right and proper way. The deeply pious and sincere words of the plainspoken rabbi from the French small town made them aware of their wrong ways of life and "they returned by the thousands to the observance of the commands of the Torah." They put on Tzitzith and Tefillin, attached Mezuzoth to their doors, etc., no longer ashamed of their religious practices among their neighbors. Many of Rabbi Moses' contemporaries compare his great achievements to raise the sunken moral and religious standards of the Jewish communities of Spain and the Provence to those of Ezra who restored Jewish life in his generation, after their delivery from the Babylonian Exile.


In 1240 (5000), soon after his return from his holy mission to the south, Rabbi Moses was again called upon to serve his people. Together with the greatest Jewish scholar of France, Rabbi Jechiel of Paris, he was to serve on a four-man committee to defend the Jewish faith and Talmud against the accusations of the Dominicans who tried to prohibit all Talmudical study. Even though Rabbi Jechiel and his assistants, among them Rabbi Moses of Coucy, succeeded in refuting the false claims of Nicholas Donin, the ill-famed Dominican, in the public disputation, the Tribunal later proclaimed the Dominicans the victors. In 1242 (5002) twenty-four loads of Talmudic and other holy books were publicly burned in Paris and new printings were forbidden. This great catastrophe ended a glorious period of Talmudical research in France. Rabbi Moses of Coucy returned to his small town and wrote many small commentaries to the Talmud which he knew by heart.

In 1250 (5010) Rabbi Moses finished his great compilation of laws, called "Sefer Mitzvoth Godol" (known as the SeMaG, the initials of the title, after which the author became popularly known as the SeMaG). In this, he was influenced by the holy Rambam's "Mishneh Torah," a codification of Jewish law according to the Talmud. Rabbi Moses who understood the urgent need for a clearly defined form of the Jewish law, undertook the giant task of supplementing the work of the Mishneh Torah, which he calls "great and praiseworthy... it enlightens the eyes of Israel... and there will never be its like in all future." It was this urgent need for such a code, compiled in the light of the French and German Talmudic tradition, that prompted him to write his SeMaG.

Rabbi Moses of Coucy also wrote Tosafoth Yeshanim- a commentary on the Talmudic tractate of Yoma. This commentary, too, was distinguished for its clarity; it was included in modern printings of the Talmud.

Rabbi Moses ben Jacob of Coucy died in the year 5020 (1260).