Thursday, February 19, 2009

Mishneh Torah - Sefer Madda

I mentioned in the previous post that we are going to analyze the halakhik organization of the Mishneh Torah versus Shas. For example, Shas begins with Massechet Berachot and there is no mention of any of those halakhot in Sefer Madda. One possible explanation is that Rambam organized the Mishneh Torah with introductions and general concepts at the beginning of the book, with specific details explained later. Wheras, anyone who has learned Gemara knows that Chazal start with specific details and do not always discuss the general principles.

The first book of Mishneh Torah is Sefer Madda and it contains the following five sections of halalkhot:

  • Hilkhot Yesodei HaTorah - Fundamental beliefs of the Torah
  • Hilkhot Deot - Proper personality and character traits
  • Hilkhot Talmud Torah - Laws of learning and teaching Torah
  • Hilkhot Avodah Zarah and Chukkot HaGoyim - Laws of idolatry and forbidden non-Jewish practices
  • Hilkhot Teshuvah - Laws of repentance

I am going to briefly discuss Hilkhot Avodah Zarah and Hilkhot Teshuvah. (Would that I had more time to do an analysis of all the sections!) Hilkhot Avodah Zarah discusses similar halakhot to Massechet Avodah Zarah which is found in Seder Nezikin in Shas. One possible explanation for Chazal’s organization is that Massechet Avodah Zarah discusses items that must be destroyed because they were used as part of an idolatrous ceremony. There is a connection between the Seder Nezikin topic of laws of damages, and Massechet Avodah Zarah’s items that must be destroyed. Nevertheless, Rambam’s organization seems to make more sense: first list the halakhot of emunah, then describe the issurim of idolatry.

Hilkhot Teshuvah is my favorite section in the Mishneh Torah. It is one of the classic Rabbinic works on the concept of repentance, and contains Rambam’s description of how to have the ideal relationship with HaShem. The final perek explains that this relationship is like being love sick for HaShem just like the love that is described in Shir HaShirim (or a high-school crush). The main halakhik sections of Hilkhot Teshuvah can be found in Massechet Yoma, and specifically in the final Perek which discusses the halakhot that we observe on the day of Yom Kippur. The rest of the Massechet discusses the special korbanot that were done on Yom Kippur, which Rambam places with the other halakhot of communal korbanot. Chazal organized all of the halakhot of the chagim together: both for the regular individual (like the halakhot of fasting) and for the Mikdash (like the halakhot of the Yom Kippur Avodah).

In summary, we discussed two examples of different ways to organize all of the halakhot. The halakhot of Avodah Zarah were grouped by Chazal as a part of the laws of damages. Whereas Rambam placed them in Sefer Madda, to contrast the halakhot of Emunah and learning Torah, with idolatry. The halakhot of Teshuvah were primarily grouped by Chazal in Massechet Yoma as part of the laws of Yom Kippur. Whereas Rambam placed them as the final section of Sefer Madda. I leave it to you to draw your own philosophical conclusions about why Rambam placed Hilkhot Teshuva in Sefer Madda - but you can be sure that he put them there on purpose.

Photo Credit - New Jersey Courthouse

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