Title: Without Red Strings Or Holy Water: Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah
Author: Rabbi H. Norman Strickman
Publisher: Academic Studies Press
Rabbi Moses Maimonides (1135-1204) was a halachist par excellence, philosopher, physician, and a political leader of the Jewish community at the ibn Ezra Synagogue of Egypt. Born in Cordovero, Spain and caused to flee a fanatical Muslim sect, the Rambam travelled to Morocco, Eretz Yisrael, Alexandria, and then served as a physician in the court of the Sultan in Cairo Fostat.
In 1180, Maimonides composed his halachic magnum opus, the Mishneh Torah. The latter was the most comprehensive code of Jewish law to be composed in the post Talmudic period and the main work of Rambam’s oeuvre. Rambam also wrote Sefer HaHigayon (book of Logic), a commentary on Mishnah – which includes the 13 Principles of Faith, Sefer HaMitzvot (Book of Commandments), Sifrei Refuah (various medical writings including treatises on diet, asthma, poisons, and commentaries on Hippocrates and Galen), letters on subjects such as resurrection (Iggeret Techiyyat ha-Metim), martyrdom (Sefer Ha’shamad), Iggeret Teman, astrology (to the Jews of Marseille), Hilchot ha-Yerushalmi (a fragment on the Jerusalem Talmud, identified by S. Lieberman), and the last controversial composition of the Rambam, ordered in seven sections, Sefer Moreh HaNevuchim – the Guide for the Perplexed.
The Mishneh Torah is unique in scope, originality and language, and the only work that Maimonides composed in Hebrew. Its language is clear, and concise.
Maimonides’ code contains all the laws found in the Bible and Talmud without regard to contemporary relevancy. The 14 volumes of the yad (yud + daleth = 14) chazakah that comprise the Mishneh Torah deal not only with laws of prayer, Sabbath and festival observances, dietary regulations, laws governing the relation between the sexes and civil law, but also includes halachot dealing with the sacrificial system, tithes, skin eruptions, the construction of the Temple, the making of priestly garments, laws pertaining to a Jewish monarch, and the messianic era when the Sanhedrin and Beit HaMikdrash will be restored on the Temple Mount.
According to Maimonides: “When one first studies scripture and thereafter reads the Mishneh Torah, he obtains a complete knowledge of the Oral law.” Aside from being a code of Law, the Mishneh Torah represents Maimonides’ conception of Judaism.
One of the things that Maimonides seeks to impress upon his readers is that Jewish law and ritual make sense and are free from irrational and superstitious practices.
Without Red Strings or Holy Water: Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, Rabbi H. Norman Strickman’s excellent new study of this work, explores Maimonides’ views regarding astrology, medicine, the evil eye, amulets, magic, theurgic practices, omens, and communicating with the dead, and evil spirits.
Maimonides insisted that all magical practices are, “false and deceptive.” He held that it is not proper for Israelites who are highly intelligent to allow themselves to be deluded by such inanities or to imagine that there is anything in them, as it says in Bamidar, “For there is no enchantment with Jacob, neither is there any divination with Israel” (23:23). Maimonides taught that, “Whoever believes in these and similar things in his heart, holds them to be true and scientific and only forbidden by the Torah, is nothing but a fool, deficient in understanding.”
According to Maimonides, our concept of reality should be based on the teachings of the Torah properly understood by reason. logic, mathematics, physics, metaphysics, and sense perception. All of these help us to understand the teachings of the Scripture. Any interpretation of the Torah that contradicts the latter is unacceptable.
Without Red Strings or Holy Water: Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah also deals with Maimonides’ views regarding G-d, the commandments, midrashim, and the oral law.
Rabbi Strickman – a rabbinics professor at Touro College and rabbi emeritus of the Marine Park Jewish Center – has written a thoughtful book, filled with the highest level of intellectual integrity. The book is a most important contribution to the field and will join Rabbi Dr. Isidore Twerski’s book on the Mishneh Torah. Rabbi Strickman’s work will be of great interest to readers of The Jewish Press. I highly recommend it without reservation.