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Crossroads & Connections: In Maimonides’ Own Hand

By The National Library of Israel

Published Apr 26, 2023

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Maimonides's Commentary on the Mishnah, circa 1160, Egypt

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Drafted in Morocco, completed in Egypt, sold in Syria, brought to England, auctioned in Switzerland, and purchased by Israel—this is the 800-year odyssey of Maimonides’ (1138–1204) masterwork, Commentary on the Mishnah, written in the sage’s own hand. This autograph copy allows us to follow Maimonides’ revisions throughout his life; his son, Rabbi Avraham, and grandson added further marginal notes based on Maimonides’ oral teachings.

The first of three monumental works by Maimonides, the Commentary laid the legal and philosophical groundwork for the later Mishneh Torah (Code of Jewish Law) and Dalalat al-Ha’irin (Guide of the Perplexed). The Commentary’s three lengthy introductions, in which Maimonides explains the nature of Jewish law, ethics, and theology, are among the most important works of Jewish philosophy of all time. The six orders of the Mishnah of this Commentary were dispersed throughout the world over the centuries. When two sections went to auction in 1975, the Israeli Minister of Education, the mayor of Jerusalem, and other important Israeli figures who realized their cultural importance called on philanthropists and the general public to contribute funds for their purchase. The successful acquisition of the manuscripts with collective funds made these documents the symbolic heritage of the entire Jewish people.

 

Autograph manuscript of Maimonides, Commentary on the Mishnah, Order of Women (Nashim), Egypt, c. 1160s. Ms. Heb. 4° 5703, folio 31r.

Photography by Ardon Bar-Hama.

 

Click here to return to the full Crossroads & Connections: Collections of the National Library of Israel digital exhibition on Kolture.

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Founded in Jerusalem in 1892, the National Library of Israel (NLI) serves as Israel's preeminent research library

Reflections

Click here to visit the exhibition resource page to learn more and to browse accompanying lesson plans, webinars, and videos, about the treasures in this exhibition.

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