A new exhibit at the Israel Museum on the life and work of Moses Maimonides, the leading halakhist and Jewish theologian of the Middle Ages, displays fourteen rare manuscripts of his work. Describing the exhibit, Rhona Lewis begins with a copy of the sage’s great code of Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah, with a note in his own hand vouching for its authenticity:
Owned by the University of Oxford, [this edition of the Mishneh Torah] is handwritten in ink on paper (1170-1180). Next come two volumes of [an earlier work, his] commentary on the Mishnah. . . . I linger over the sketches of the Temple and notice some handwritten notes in the margins. “By comparing the handwriting with documents that we have from the Cairo Genizah, we can be pretty sure . . . that these are Maimonides’ own notes,” [the curator Anna Nitza Caplan] tells me. “These two . . .volumes were brought to Syria in 1375 and remained in Maimonides’ family until the 15th century. Between 1630 and 1635, one volume was taken to Oxford. The [other] volume . . . became the property of the Israel National Library. Now, 400 years later, the two volumes are temporarily together,” says Caplan.
We move on to the first two volumes of the Mishneh Torah from northern Italy (ca. 1457). The manuscripts are richly illuminated, with six large painted panels decorated in precious pigments and gold leaf, as well as 41 smaller illustrations with gold lettering adorning the opening words of each chapter. The volumes were separated some 200 years ago. Volume 1 is now owned by the Vatican Library; Volume 2 is jointly owned by the Israel Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. While illuminated siddurim, haggadot, and Hebrew Bibles aren’t that hard to come by, Maimonides’ works are unique in that they are scholarly texts meant for study. . . .
Caplan [also] points out a copy of the Mishneh Torah from Portugal at the end of the 15th century, about 20 years before the [forced conversion of the country’s Jews].