The Jewish community of Sydney, Australia, kicked off a worldwide celebration Tuesday night with a festive meal and scholarly discussion in honor of the near-annual completion of the study of the Mishneh Torah, the foundational legal code authored by the 12th century sage Rabbi Moses Maimonides.

Held at the Yeshiva Center, which serves as the regional Chabad-Lubavitch headquarters in New South Wales, the event began as a formal dinner and study of the first and last chapters of Maimonides’ work, but like similar celebrations around the world, erupted into a night of singing and dancing.

Continuing into Wednesday, the day of festivities marked the completion of the 27th cycle of learning Maimonides’ code, which the Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson, of righteous memory, instituted in 1984. All told, hundreds of thousands of Jewish men, women and children took part in this last cycle; they will be gathering in locations spanning the globe in the coming days to celebrate the monumental task of learning the code, and reflect on its author, known in religious circles as the Rambam.

When the Rebbe encouraged people everywhere to learn the code, he stressed the unity achieved by the entire Jewish People studying the same subject in Torah at the same time. He suggested three different study tracks: a three-chapter-a-day cycle that completes the 14-volume code in less than a year, a one-chapter cycle that completes the work in just less than three years, and for children and those whose backgrounds are not conducive to rigorous in-depth study, a daily examination of pertinent topics in Sefer Hamitzvot, a companion work of Maimonides’ that lists all of the 613 commandments in the Torah.

The emphasis on daily study mirrored the Rambam’s own suggestions on how his work should be learned, but until the Rebbe’s innovation, most people studied the Mishneh Torah piecemeal.

In Albany, N.Y., children in the Grades Five through Seven at the Maimonides Hebrew Day School marked the completion of their study of the Rambam’s smaller work with a festive meal Wednesday afternoon. And although they spent every day for the past 11 months studying Sefer Hamitzvot, at the celebration, they examined the last chapter of the Mishneh Torah – which concerns the coming Messianic era – and then moved right on to the first chapter of the code, an explication of the foundations of Torah.

During the program, Rabbi Sarshi Nachum, a widely-respected scholar from the Yemenite Jewish community, shared stories of the Rambam passed down from generation to generation. The Jews of Yemen have historically revered Maimonides, ever since a lengthy dispatch he authored from Cairo sustained them during a time of severe persecution. The letter is still studied today for its combination of logic, precise legal analysis, deep compassion and sensitivity.

One of Nachum’s stories struck a particular chord with the children, recalled Rabbi Avraham Abba Rubin, a teacher at the school and director of Chabad of Saratoga Springs.

“Apparently, at one point the Rambam himself was not such a strong learner, and his father wanted to take him out of school to teach him a trade,” said Rubin. “But he showed such determination, even staying in the synagogue all night, that his father decided to nurture his scholarly pursuits.”

Rabbi Sarshi Nachum, a widely-respected member from the Yemenite Jewish community, speaks about the Rambam at the Maimonides Hebrew Day School in Albany, N.Y.
Rabbi Sarshi Nachum, a widely-respected member from the Yemenite Jewish community, speaks about the Rambam at the Maimonides Hebrew Day School in Albany, N.Y.

Online and More

In Manchester, England, community members gathered for a festive meal at the Beis Menachem Community Centre. Rachaman Goodman, who was honored with leading the study of the last chapter of the Rambam’s code, received a standing ovation when he mentioned that in the 25 years since the Rebbe initiated the daily study program, he hasn’t missed a single day.

When asked how he managed, he replied: “I am just a regular working guy. There is no special trick. I just do it first thing in the morning when my mind is fresh. It you do it first thing every day, you will never miss it.”

Speaking after the Tuesday night event, Rabbi Yisroel Cohen of the city’s Lubavitch yeshiva said that the Rambam is unique in that his code is the only work of Jewish law that encompasses the entire Torah, including those topics that only apply when the Temple is in existence. In addition, Maimonides is universally revered by practically all segments of Jewish society, and in the non-Jewish world, as well.

“One of the things that has been mentioned over and over tonight, by different speakers and by other members of the community, is the fact that the Rambam is accepted by all Jews,” stated Cohen. “Sephardim and Ashkenazim, right-wing, left-wing: All Jews respect the Rambam and recognize his genius. Studying his work is really something that brings all types of Jews together.”

In the holy city of Tiberias on the shore of the Sea of Galilee, thousands of people crowded around the Rambam’s resting place. Arriving by bus from Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and cities elsewhere, participants began celebrating at 7 p.m. Wednesday night, and didn’t clear out until much later.

Festivities in other locations are scheduled to continue through the end of the week. In Chicago, Lubavitch Chabad of Illinois will join together with Congregation Beni Reuven and the Seymour J. Abrams Cheder Lubavitch to host a community-wide banquet Sunday night that will be simulcast live on the Internet by

Focusing on the theme of Jewish unity, the event will include a lecture by Rabbi Menachem Mendel Gluckowky, spiritual leader of the Chabad community of Rechovot and vice chairman of the Chabad rabbinical court in Israel.

And as people begin studying the Mishneh Torah once more, the Web site has assembled material on the Rambam and his code in a brand-new section. Containing essays on his life and work, the site’s centerpiece is the code’s Hebrew text arranged according to the study cycle, as well as a partial English translation and a complete series of daily audio classes. [To visit, click here.]

“It is just amazing to me how all of this is coming together,” said Rivka Margo Gestetner, co-director of the women’s program at the Mayanot Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem.

Gestetner hosted a special gathering for women Wednesday night after several of her students completed the study cycle. At the event, several more committed to study the Rambam over the course of the next year.

“This is the completion of the Rambam’s work and the bringing together of so many Jews, and we’re so close to Shavuot, when we received the Torah as one,” she explained. “Well, here we are now, so many people celebrating the study of Torah as one.”