Maimonides’ Son’s Long-Forgotten Commentary, and the Quixotic Scholar Who Made It Available

September 17, 2021 | David Farkas
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Known mostly for his attempts to incorporate Sufi practices into Judaism, Abraham (1184-1237), the only son of Moses Maimonides and his successor as head of the Egyptian Jewish community, set out in his later years to write a commentary on the Torah, something his father never attempted. Abraham only completed the volumes Genesis and Exodus, and the manuscript—written in Arabic with Hebrew letters—remained unpublished until the 20th century, when it was translated into Hebrew. But a more recent translation, writes David Farkas, might finally give the work the attention it deserves:

A limited print run, head-scratching organization, and difficult linguistic choices conspired to prevent [the 1958 version] from reaching anyone beyond a very small circle of scholars. However, a lucid new edition and commentary has recently been published in Lakewood, New Jersey, the yeshiva capital of the Diaspora, by a scholar named Moshe Maimon.

Maimon, who claims direct descent from his namesake, Abraham’s father, signs his name with a prominent Samekh-Tet, meaning Sfardi Tahor (pure Sephardi), and is intent on redeeming the glory of his putative ancestor’s work. His two volumes contain between them nearly 1,500 punctuated and cleanly laid-out pages; they also include a detailed introduction describing the history of the manuscript, Abraham’s agenda as an interpreter, and an interpretive essay setting the commentary within the broader world of Maimonidean scholarship.

It is in the footnotes, however, where Maimon really shines. In a wonderful Hebrew style that is both thoroughly modern and suffused with tradition and classical quotation, Maimon provides thousands of illuminating comments and insights. Basic sources, of course, are provided, but Maimon goes much further, comparing and contrasting the opinions of rabbinic scholars both from Abraham’s milieu and of later periods. Points of grammar are properly explained. And comments from Maimon’s contemporaries in the [the more conservative circles of non-ḥasidic Orthodoxy] are also featured, a decidedly nice touch. It is this last feature that gives Maimon’s volumes particular distinction in a fascinating new scholarly genre.

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