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

What Israel Can Offer Africa

Last week, the Israeli analyst Yechiel Leiter addressed a group of scholars and diplomats gathered in Addis Ababa to discuss security issues facing the Horn of Africa. Herewith, some excerpts from his speech:

Since the advent of Zionism and the birth of modern Israel, there has been a strong ideological connection between Israel and the African continent. . . . For decades, [however], the notion that the absence of peace in the Middle East was due the absence of Palestinian statehood prevented a full and strategic partnership with African countries. . . . The visits to Africa by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—in 2016 to East Africa and in 2017 to West Africa—reenergized the natural partnership that was initiated by Israel’s Foreign Minister Golda Meir in the 1960s.

There is much we share, many places where our interests converge. And I don’t mean another military base in Djibouti. . . . One such area involves the safety of waterways in and around the Red Sea. Curtailing contraband, drugs, arms smuggling, and other forms of serious corruption are all vital for us. . . . But the one critical area of cooperation I’d like to put the spotlight on is in the realm of food security, or rather food insecurity.

Imagine Ethiopia’s cows producing 30 or 40 liters of milk a day instead of the two or three that they produce today. Imagine an exponential rise in (organic) meat exports to Middle Eastern and even European countries, the result of increased processing, storage, and transportation possibilities. Cows today can have a microscopic chip behind their ears that sends messages to the farmer’s computer or mobile phone that tracks what the cow ate, what its temperature is, and what care it might need. Imagine a dramatic expansion of the wheat yield that can make Ethiopia a net exporter of wheat—to Egypt, perhaps in the context of negotiations over the waters of the Nile.

Israel has proven technology in all of these agricultural areas and we’re here; we’re neighbors. We are linked to Africa, particularly the Horn of Africa, in so many ways.

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Read more at Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs

More about: Africa, Ethiopia, Israel diplomacy, Israeli agriculture, Israeli technology