How the Original Manuscript of Maimonides’ First Mature Work Made It from Morocco to Jerusalem

Dec. 14 2018

The great Jewish philosopher and rabbi Moses Maimonides completed his commentary on the Mishnah—the earlier stratum of the Talmud—in 1161, at the age of thirty. Although he had already settled in Cairo by then, he began work on the commentary seven years earlier, when he was probably still living in Morocco. Much of the original manuscript remains extant, and resides in Israel’s National Library; Daniel Lipson explains how it got there:

Maimonides’ family preserved the manuscript (along with other writings of his) and even added their own notes to it. On most of the pages of the manuscript kept at the National Library of Israel we can see the handwritten notes . . . of Maimonides’ grandson, Rabbi David ha-Nagid. This same David eventually immigrated to Syria, taking the manuscript with him. His family settled in the city of Aleppo. . . . At some point Maimonides’ family apparently split apart. It is likely that the famous patriarch’s relatives . . . decided to divide the manuscript into six fragments, each containing one of the six “orders” into which the Mishnah is divided. . . .

In an introduction to the first part of the commentary manuscript, Rabbi Solomon, one of Maimonides’ great-grandchildren, dedicated the text to God and to the past and future generations of his family, up until the coming of the messiah. [He] noted that all who wished to read the text were welcome to do so, as that was the wish of the author, but “he who commits the offense of selling or loaning with deposit will be damned by the God of Israel.”

We don’t know exactly who was cursed with eternal damnation, but one thing is certain: the manuscript was sold. Edward Pococke served as the priest of the English community in Aleppo during the years 1630-1634. While there he purchased the N’zikin (“damages”) and Kodashim (“holy things”) sections of the manuscript, taking them with him when he returned to England. He would later publish some of the material in a book in 1655.

Robert Huntington served in the same role as Pococke in Aleppo later that century. He managed to acquire the Zra’im (“seeds”) section dealing with prayer and agricultural laws. Huntington sold this segment to the University of Oxford in 1693, which also purchased Pococke’s collection during the same year, meaning the university was now in possession of three of the six orders. . . . We know nothing of the Tohorot (“purities”) section of the manuscript, which vanished somewhere in Syria. . . .

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More about: History & Ideas, Jerusalem, Manuscripts, Moses Maimonides

The Riots on the Gaza Border are Carefully Coordinated Attacks on Israel, and Should Be Treated as Such

Jan. 16 2019

On Friday, the weekly riots at the Gaza security fence resumed in full force: 13,000 people participated, and a Palestinian woman was apparently killed by Israeli gunfire. The UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR) had established a commission of inquiry in May, not long after these riots began, “to investigate all alleged violations and abuses of international humanitarian law and international human-rights law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, . . . particularly in the occupied Gaza Strip, in the context of the military assaults on the large-scale civilian protests that began on March 20, 2018.” In a report to the commission, Richard Kemp, a retired senior British officer, concludes, after investigating the situation at the Gaza border, that there is no evidence whatsoever of Israeli wrongdoing, and that the commission is operating under faulty assumptions:

The terms of [the commission’s] mandate are self-evidently biased against the state of Israel and the IDF. The context cited—“the military assaults on the large-scale civilian protests”—make clear that the UNHRC either failed to understand what was happening on the ground or deliberately misrepresented the reality. In addition, the commission’s mandate terms the Gaza Strip “Occupied Palestinian Territories,” which it is not. . . .

[T]he so-called “civilian protests” in reality were, and continue to be, a deliberate military operation, orchestrated and controlled by Hamas, [a] terrorist group that has been waging an armed conflict against Israel for many years. Their intention was and remains to kill and wound IDF soldiers, to break through the border fence, to murder and maim innocent civilians, to destroy property, and to compel the IDF to take defensive action resulting in the death of Gaza civilians for exploitation in the international arena. [Israel’s] “military assaults” were not what was implied by this prejudicial mandate. They were in fact lawful, proportionate, and restrained defensive actions. . . .

Suggestions that these demonstrations are [protests] against Israeli policy toward the Gaza Strip are demonstrably false and easily refuted by cursory viewing of Hamas and other public statements made at the time of the events. . . . Further, it is clear that Hamas intended this violence to continue its long-standing strategy of creating and intensifying international outrage, vilification, isolation, and criminalization of the state of Israel and its officials. . . .

[T]he starkest indication that these events were entirely under Hamas control is the simple fact that, when it suited Hamas’s political interests, the [demonstrations] occurred and were of a violent nature, and when such actions did not serve Hamas’s interests, the border was quiet. As the most recent example of this, in November 2018, Qatar began to make large cash payments to Hamas in Gaza. The most recent payment of $15 million was handed over in December 2018. These payments are reportedly part of an agreement with Hamas to diminish violence along the Gaza border. [After] the first payment, the border violence [was] reduced [and the] demonstrations [became] far more restrained.

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More about: Gaza Strip, Hamas, IDF, Israel & Zionism, Laws of war, UNHRC