The Mishnah Torah is a code of Jewish law and tradition by one of the most important Jewish philosophers, Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, better known as Maimonides.

In this work Jewish law and tradition is divided into fourteen groups. Each group constitutes a book, and each book is subdivided into sections, chapters, and paragraphs.

Table of contents
1 The books
2 Opposition
3 Influence

The books

The first book, "Madda" (Knowledge), discusses Jewish principles of faith, the nature of God, the way to study Torah, and the prohibition against idolatry.

The second book, "Ahavah" (Love) contains the precepts which must be observed at all times if the love due to God is to be remembered continually.

The third book, "Zemannim" (Times) discusses those laws which are limited to certain times, such as the Sabbath and the Jewish holidays.

The fourth book, "Nashim" (Women), treats of marriage laws.

The fifth book, "Kedushshah" (Holiness), contains laws concerning forbidden sexual relations, forbidden foods, and how Israel was to be distinguished from other nations by said commandments.

The sixth book, "Hafla'ah" (separation), discusses the laws of vows and oaths.

The seventh book, "Zera'im" (Seeds), discusses agriculture.

The eighth book, "'Abodah" (Divine Service), discusses the laws of the Temple in Jerusalem.

The ninth book, "Korbanot" (Offerings), contains laws for offerings in the Temple, excepting those of the whole community.

The tenth book, "Tohorah" (Cleanness), discusses the rules of ritual cleanliness.

The eleventh book, "NeziKin" (Injuries), is concerned with criminal law.

The twelfth book, "Kinyan" (Acquisition), is devoted to purchase and sale.

The thirteenth book, "Mishpatim" (Rights), to civil law.

The fourteenth book, "Shofetim" (Judges), deals with the laws relating legislators, the Sanhedrin, the king, and the judges.

Maimonides' sources

Maimonides sought brevity in his Mishnah Torah, as in his commentary on the Mishnah, and he therefore continued his method of avoiding citation. He felt it sufficient to name his sources in the preface. He drew upon the five books of Moses (The Torah), both [[Talmud]s, the midrashim literature. On occasion he preferred rulings in certain midrash collections to rulings in the Talmud, which at the time was a rare opinion.

There are many laws contained in his work which are not mentioned in Talmudic or midrashic works, but which were deduced by him through independent interpretations of the Bible.

The maxims and decisions of the Geonim are frequently presented with the introductory phrase "The Geonim have decided" or "There is a regulation of the Geonim," while the opinions of Isaac Alfasi and Joseph ibn Migas are prefaced by the words "My teachers have decided".

Maimonides likewise refers to Spanish, French, and Palestinian rabbinic authorities, although he does not name them, nor is it known to whom he refers. He drew from non-Jewish, and a great part of his researches on the calendar was based upon Greek theories and reckonings. Since these rules rested upon sound argument, he thought that it made no difference whether an author was a prophet or a Gentile. In a like spirit he adopted principles of Aristotelian Greek philosophy in the first book of the Mishnah Torah, although no authority for these teachings was to be found in Talmudic or midrashic literature.


Maimonides did not surrender his independent judgment even when his views were in conflict with other authorities. It was impossible, in his opinion, to renounce one's own reasons or to reject recognized truths because of some conflicting statements in the Talmud or the Midrash. Thus he made a ruling on his own authority and based upon his medical knowledge without being able to establish it by any statement of the older authorities.

He likewise omitted many regulations contained in the Talmud and Mishnah because they did not coincide with his views, such as those precepts which depended on superstitious views or on the belief in demons. In a similar spirit he passed over much that was forbidden in the Talmud as injurious to health, since his medical knowledge led him to consider these things harmless.

Maimonides was averse to writing in Talmudic Aramaic, since it was known only to those who were specially interested in it (Preface to the "Mishneh Torah"). He therefore preferred to write in the later Hebrew of the Mishnah.


The Mishnah Torah was bitterly attacked as soon as it appeared. Many attacked the work from envy, or from a failure to understand certain things in it. Some rabbus accused Maimonides of wishing to destroy all study of the Talmud. On the other hand, Maimonides's work had many sincere opponents, one of the most important being Abraham ben David of Posquières.

His critics were especially bitter against the new methods which he had employed, and the very peculiarities which he had regarded as merits in his work failed to please his opponents because they were innovations. Thus they reproached him because he wrote in Hebrew instead of in the customary Talmudic idiom; because he departed from the Talmudic order and introduced a division and arrangement of his own; because he dared to decide according to the Tosefta and the Jerusalem Talmud as against the Babylonian Talmud.

Maimonides' Reply

Especially sharp was the blame heaped upon Maimonides because he neglected to cite his sources; this was considered an evidence of his superciliousness, since it made it difficult, if not absolutely impossible, for scholars to verify his statements, and compelled them to follow his decisions absolutely. Maimonides defended himself. He had not composed this work for glory; he desired only to supply the necessary but lacking code, for there was danger lest pupils, weary of the difficult study, might go astray in decisions of practical importance (Letter to Rabbi Jonathan of Lunel, in which he thanks the latter for certain corrections; Responsa, No. 49).

He noted that it had never been his intention to abolish Talmudic studies, nor had he ever said that there was no need of the "Halakot" of Alfasi, for he himself had lectured to his pupils on the Gemara and, at their request, upon Alfasi's work (Responsa, No. 140).

He said that his omission of his sources was due solely to his desire for brevity, although he regretted that he had not written a supplementary work citing his authorities for those halakot whose sources were not evident from the context. He would, however, should circumstances permit, atone for this error, however toilsome it might be to write such a supplement (Responsa, No. 140).

Rabad was forced to acknowledge that the work of Maimonides was a magnificent contribution (note on "Yad," Kilayim, vi. 2), nor did he hesitate to praise him and approve his views in many passages, citing and commenting upon the sources.


Thus the work of Maimonides, notwithstanding the sharp attacks upon it, soon won general recognition as an authority of the first importance for ritual decisions. A decision might not be rendered in opposition to a view of Maimonides, even though the latter apparently militated against the sense of a Talmudic passage, for in such cases the presumption was that the words of the Talmud were incorrectly interpreted ("Yad Mal'aki," Rule 26, p. 186, cited in the name of several authorities).

One must, in like manner, follow Maimonides even when the latter opposed his teachers, since he surely knew their views, and if he decided against them he must have disapproved their interpretation (ib. Rule 27, cited in the name of Samuel of Modena). Even when later authorities, like Asher ben Jehiel, decided against Maimonides, it became a rule of the Oriental Jews to follow the latter, although the European Jews, especially the Ashkenazim, preferred the opinions of Asheri in such cases (ib. Rule 36, p. 190). But the hope which Maimonides expressed, that in time to come his work and his alone would be accepted, has been only half fulfilled. His "Mishneh Torah" is indeed still very popular, but there has been no cessation in the study of other works.

See also: Maimonides