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 Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey