Hakdama-Rambam’s introduction to Mishnah Torah

Hakdama-Rambam’s introduction to Mishnah Torah

The chronological order of the teaching of Torah from Moshe on Sinai until today


1.       From Sinai until Yehoshua-The giving over of the written and oral Torah:

  • The oral Torah was also given on Sinai: All the mitzvahs that were given to Moshe on Sinai were given together with their explanations, which is known as the oral Torah.
  • The writing of the written Torah: Moshe wrote the entire written Torah prior to his death in his own handwriting.
  • Distributing the written Torah to the tribes: Moshe gave a Torah scroll to each one of the tribes and is well placed one of the scrolls inside of the ark as testimony.
  • Not writing the oral Torah: The oral Torah was never written by Moshe and rather he orally instructed it to the elders, and to Yehoshua, and to the rest of the Jewish people. It is for this reason that it is called the oral Torah.
  • Who did Moshe teach the oral Torah to? The oral Torah was taught by Moshe in his court to the 70 elders in its entirety. Particularly, it was taught to the following three people: Elazar, Pinchas, and Yehoshua.
  • Teaching it to Yehoshua to teach the masses: [Amongst the above three students] it was particularly taught to Yehoshua who was the prime pupil of Moshe. Moshe handed to him the oral Torah and instructed him regarding it to be in charge of teaching it to the masses.
  • Yehoshua teaches the oral oral tradition to his generation: Yehoshua spent his entire life teaching oral Torah to the masses, and many elderly sages received the oral Torah from Yehoshua.

2.       The order of sages who received the oral tradition from Yehoshua until Rabbeinu Hakadosh:

  • Eli received the oral tradition from the elders and from Pinchas.
  • Shmuel received the oral tradition from Eli and his court.
  • David received the oral tradition from Shmuel and his court.
  • Achiyah Hashiloni: Achiyah Hashiloni received the oral tradition from David and his court. He was around during the time of the exodus from Egypt and was a Levite. Although he also heard the teachings from Moshe, he was of young age at the time.
  • Eliyahu received the oral tradition from Achiyah Hashiloni and his court.
  • Elisha received the oral tradition from Eliyahu and his court.
  • Yehoyada, the priest, received the oral tradition from Elisha and his court.
  • Zechariah received the oral tradition from Yehoyada and his court.
  • Hoshea received the oral tradition from Zechariah and his court.
  • Amos received the oral tradition from Hoshea and his court.
  • Yeshayahu received the oral tradition from Amos and his court.
  • Michah received the oral tradition from Yeshayahu and his court.
  • Yoel received the oral tradition from Michah and his court.
  • Nachum received the oral tradition from Yoel and his court.
  • Chabbakuk received the oral tradition from Nachum and his court.
  • Tzefaniah received the oral tradition from Chabbakuk and his court.
  • Yermiyahu received the oral tradition from Tzefaniah and his court.
  • Baruch ben Neriyah received the oral tradition from Yermiyahu and his court.
  • Ezra and the Anshei K’nesset Hagedolah: Ezra and his court received the oral tradition from Baruch and his court, which is known as the Anshei K’nesset Hagedolah and included Chaggai, Zechariah, Malachi, Daniel, Chananiah, Mishael, Azariah, Nechemiah ben Chakaliah, Mordechai, Zerubavel and many other sages for a total of 120 in all.
  • Shimon Hatzadik: The last member of the Anshei K’nesset Hagedolah who counted as one of the 120 men, was Shimon Hatzadik. He received the Oral tradition from all of the sages of the assembly and he served as the High Priest after Ezra.
  • Antignos Ish Socho and his court received the oral tradition from Shimon Hatzadik and his court.
  • Yosse ben Yo’ezer of Tzreidah and Yosef ben Yochanan of Jerusalem and their court received the oral tradition from Antignos and his court.
  • Yehoshua ben Perachiah and Nittai of Arbel and their court received the oral tradition from Yosse ben Yo’ezer and Yosef ben Yochanan and their court.
  • Yehudah ben Tabbai and Shimon ben Shatach and their court received the oral tradition from Yehoshua ben Perachiah and Nittai of Arbel and their court.
  • Shemayah and Avtalion and their court received the oral tradition from Yehudah and Shimon and their court. They were both Geirim.
  • Hillel and Shammai and their court received the oral tradition from Shemayah and Avtaliyon and their court.
  • Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai and Rabbi Shimon, the son of Hillel the elder, received the oral tradition from Hillel and his court.
  • The students of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai: Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai had five students who were great sages and received the oral tradition from him. They were: Rabbi Eleazar the great, Rabbi Yehoshua, Rabbi Yossi the priest, Rabbi Shimon ben Netanel and Rabbi Elazar ben Arach.
  • Rabbi Akiva ben Yosef received from Rabbi Eleazar the great. Yosef, his father, was a Ger. Rabbi Akiva’s colleagues also received the oral tradition from Rabbi Eleazar the great.
  • Rabbi Yishmael and Rabbi Meir who was the son of a Ger, received the oral tradition from Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Meir and his colleagues also received the oral tradition from Rabbi Yishmael.
  • The colleagues of Rabbi Meir included: Rabbi Yehudah, Rabbi Yossi, Rabbi Shimon, Rabbi Nechemiah, Rabbi Elazar ben Shamu’a, Rabbi Yochanan the shoemaker, Shimon ben Azzai, and Rabbi Chananiah ben Teradion.
  • The colleagues of Rabbi Akiva included: Rabbi Tarfon – the teacher of Rabbi Yossi Hagelili, Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar, and Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri.
  • Rabban Gamliel Hazakein received the oral tradition from Rabban Shimon, his father – the son of Hillel Hazakein.
  • Rabban Shimon, his son, received the oral tradition from him.
  • Rabban Gamliel, his son, received the oral tradition from him.
  • Rabban Shimon, his son, received the oral tradition from him.
  • Rabbi Yehudah, the son of Rabban Shimon received the oral tradition from his father and from Rabbi Elazar ben Shamu’a, and from Rabban Shimon and his colleagues. He is referred to as Rabbenu Hakadosh.

3.       The writing of the Mishna, and the history of Jewish literature:

  • It’s author: Rabbenu Hakadosh wrote the Mishnah.
  • The history of Jewish literature until the writing of the Mishna: From the time of Moshe until Rabbenu Hakadosh there was no published documentation of the oral tradition made available for the sake of teaching the public.
  • Every leader of that generation would compile a personal documentation of the oral tradition: Nonetheless, despite there being no published literature on the oral tradition, the head of the court or prophet of each generation would take personal notes of the teachings which he received from his masters. He would then in turn verbally teach them to the public.
  • Every student would also compose notes of the teachings: Likewise, each student would write notes for himself of the teachings that he heard. This included the details and explanations of the oral tradition and Torah laws, as well as the novelties in Torah law that were deduced in each generation.
  • The 13 principles of deduction: Certain principles of Torah law which were not included in the oral tradition, were deduced by each generation using the 13 principles of deduction. These deduced teachings would become law after they were accepted by the Supreme Court. These teachings and principles were documented by the students of each generation.
  • This order of personal notetaking, versus published literature remained until the times of Rabbeinu Hakadosh.

4.       The compilation of the Mishna:

  • What it includes: The Mishna which was compiled by Rabbeinu Hakadosh includes the entire oral tradition. He gathered in it all the teachings and laws and explanations and commentaries that were heard from Moshe and taught by the courts in each generation, regarding the entire Torah.
  • Teaching it to the masses: Rabbeinu Hakadosh taught the Mishna publicly to the Sages and hence had a disseminated to the entire Jewish people, who in turn wrote it all down. It was disseminated to all areas in order so the Oral tradition would not be forgotten by the Jewish people. He spent his entire life together with his court teaching the Mishna to the masses.
  • The reason for its compilation: The reason that Rabbeinu Hakadosh changed from the status quo, and decided to publish and disseminate the Mishna is because he saw that otherwise the oral tradition was at risk of being extinct. As the generations passed, there were less and less students, and due to the exile of the Jewish people caused by the Roman Empire, Jews became scattered throughout the far ends of the world. This threatened to cease the continuity of the oral tradition which was aurally handed from generation to generation. He therefore compiled a publication that would be available to everyone, so that everyone can learn it and not forget the tradition.

5.       The students of Rabbeinu Hakadosh and their compilations:

  • The following 11 Sages were part of the court of Rabbenu Hakadosh and received the oral tradition from him: His sons, Shimon and Gamliel, Rabbi Effess, Rabbi Chanina ben Chama, Rabbi Chiyya, Rav, Rabbi Yannai, bar Kafra, Shemuel, Rabbi Yochanan who was the youngest of the students, Rabbi Hoshaia. Thousands and myriads of other sages received the oral tradition from Rabbenu Hakadosh together with these great sages.
  • Rabbi Yochanan and Rav later became a student of Rabbi Yannai and received Torah from him.
  • Sifra and Sifir compilation: Rav composed the Sifra and the Sifri to explain the foundations and sources of the Mishnah.
  • Shmuel received the oral tradition from Rabbi Chanina ben Chama.
  • Tosefta: Rabbi Chiyya composed the Tosefta to further expound on the subjects discussed in the Mishnah.
  • Beraisos: Rabbi Hoshaia and bar Kafra composed the Beraisos to further expound on the words of the Mishnah.
  • The Jerusalem Talmud: Rabbi Yochanan compiled the Jerusalem Talmud in Eretz Yisrael. It was compiled approximately three hundred years after the destruction of the second Temple.

6.       The order of the sages from Rav and Shmuel until the writing of the Talmud:

  • Students of Rav and Shmuel: Of the great sages who received the oral tradition from Rav and Shmuel were: Rav Hun: Rav Huna, Rav Yehudah, Rav Nachman, and Rav Kahana.
  • Students of Rabbi Yochanan: Some of the great sages who received the oral tradition from Rabbi Yochanan were: Ravah bar bar Channah, Rav Ami, Rav Assi, Rav Dimi, and Rav Avin.
  • Students of Rav Huna: Of the Sages who received the oral tradition from Rav Huna and Rav Yehudah were: Rabbah and Rav Yosef.
  • Students of Rabah: Of the sages who received the oral tradition from Rabbah and Rav Yosef were: Abbaye and Rava. Both also received the oral tradition from Rav Nachman.
  • Students of Rava: Among the Sages who received the oral tradition from Rava were Rav Ashi and Ravina.
  • Mar bar Rav Ashi received the oral tradition from Rav Ashi, his father, and from Ravina.

7.       The order of the sages from Rav Ashi until Moshe:

  • There was a total of forty generations from Rav Ashi until Moshe. The following is the list of individuals each one having received from the Rabbi preceding him, unless stated otherwise:
  • Rav Ashi
  • Rava
  • Rabbah
  • Rav Huna
  • Rabbi Yochanan, Rav, and Shmuel
  • Rabbenu Hakadosh
  • Rabbi Shimon
  • Rabban Gamliel
  • Rabban Shimon
  • Rabban Gamliel
  • Rabban Shimon
  • Hillel and Shammai
  • Shemayah and Avtalion
  • Yehudah and Shimon Ben Shetach
  • Yehoshua and Nittai Harbeili
  • Yosse ben Yo’ezer and Yosef ben Yochanan
  • Antignos
  • Shimon Hatzadik
  • Ezra
  • Baruch
  • Yermiyahu
  • Tzefaniah
  • Chabbakuk
  • Nachum
  • Yoel
  • Michah
  • Yeshayahu
  • Amos
  • Hoshea
  • Zechariah
  • Yehoyada
  • Elisha
  • Eliyahu
  • Achiyah Hashiloni
  • David
  • Shmuel
  • Eli
  • Pinchas
  • Yehoshua
  • Moshe who received the Torah from Hashem.
  • Thus, the source of all the knowledge that these individuals contained goes all the way back to the God of Israel.

8.       The Talmud and its purpose:

  • The position of the above-mentioned scholars: All the above-mentioned scholars were all considered leaders of their generation, with some of them serving as the heads of yeshivas and other serving as the leaders of the exile and other serving as members of the Supreme Court. Together with them were tens of thousands of other students who absorbed their teachings, and amongst these students were Ravina and Rav Ashi who lived in the end of the Talmudic era, and were the last of their sages.
  • The compiling of the Talmud: Rav Ashi compiled the Babylonian Talmud in the land of Shinar. It was compiled approximately 100 years after the Jerusalem Talmud was compiled by Rabbi Yochanon. The Talmud was later completed in the days of the son of Rav Ashi.
  • The purpose of the Talmud’s: The purpose of both the Jerusalem and Babylonian Talmud is to elaborate on the Mishna, and explain its deep and cryptic statements. Likewise, it comes to document the various new Torah laws that were adapted in each court of each generation from the days of Rabbeinu Hakadosh until the Talmud was compiled.
  • The main source for Jewish law: The above two Talmuds, as well as the Tosefta, Sifra and Sifri, serve as the main source in Jewish literature for determining the forbidden versus the permitted, the impure versus pure, those liable versus those exempt, the invalid versus the valid, as was handed down from generation to generation all the way back to Moshe.
  • Documents the rabbinical decrees: In addition to the above, the Talmud documents all of the decrees that were decreed by the sages and prophets in each generation for the sake of making a fence around the Torah.
  • The legal mandate for making rabbinical decrees: This act of making decrees as fences around the Torah is itself based on an instruction that was heard from Moshe, as the verse states that one should make a guarding upon the guarding.
  • Customs and institutions: In addition to the above, the Talmud also documents all the customs and institutions that were enacted in each generation, in accordance to what the court of that generation saw fit to enact. These customs and institutions are binding on every generation onwards as Scripture commands us not to swerve from their words neither to the writer to the left.
  • New biblical laws based on the 13 principles of expounding: In addition to the above, the Talmud compiles all the laws and rules that were not received from Moshe but were rather discussed and accepted into law by the elders of the court of each generation based on the principles in which the Torah can be expounded upon.
  • All of the above from the times of Moshe until his day was included by Rav Ashi in his compilation of the Talmud.
  • Other books of Jewish law: There were also other books of Jewish law that were composed by the sages in the times of the Mishnah, and these include the following books:
  • Rebbe Hoshiyah who was a student of Rabbeinu Hakadosh authored a commentary on the book of Bereishis.
  • The Mechilta: Rebbe Ishmael authored a commentary on the book of Shemos until the end of the Torah. This book is known as the Mechilta. Rebbe Akiva also authored a book known as the Mechilta.
  • There were sages who lived after their time that also composed books on the Torah. All these books preceded the writing of the Babylonian Talmud.

9.       The post Talmudic era and its loss of universal power:

  • The sealing of the oral tradition: Based on all the above, it is found that Ravina and Rav Ashi and their colleagues were the last of the sages of Israel who recorded and documented the oral tradition.
  • The expiry of making rabbinical decrees: They were also the last to enact decrees, institutions, and customs upon the Jewish people, as they were the last to have the capability of influencing for the rabbinical decrees institutions and customs to be spread throughout all the Jewish people and all their lands and settlements and be accepted by them.
  • The dispersion of the Jewish people into exile: In the era after the court of Rav Ashi and his son who completed the Talmud, the Jewish people were dispersed into exile throughout all the lands, including very distant islands. The world also experienced many wars, and the ability to travel had become very difficult and dangerous.
  • The state of Torah knowledge in the exile: The above exile and state of war caused the learning of Torah to be diminished, and diminished the number of students who would gather in the yeshiva to learn Torah. No longer were there tens of thousands of Torah students, and rather there were only a few individuals in each city and country who would gather to study the Torah, and understand the Talmud and the resulting Jewish law.
  • The lack of ability to make decrees during exile: The courts of law that were established after the Talmudic era in each country were unable to spread their decrees and customs and institutions throughout all the Jewish people due to the distance of their settlements and the lack of ability of travel. Accordingly, no court of one country can enforce their institutions upon the residents of another country, as they do not have the status of the Supreme Court but rather of individuals. They also cannot instruct the court of another country to enact the same decrees that they enacted.
  • Ability for a later generation to reject their interpretation of law: Likewise, if one of their leaders interpreted the law in a certain way, and a later court rejects this interpretation and interprets it differently based on the Talmud, then one is not obligated to adhere to the interpretation of the first leader. Rather, a person may follow whichever opinion seems more plausible in his eyes, whether it be the former or the latter.

10.   The laws in the Talmud are binding upon all Israel:

  • The above ability for a later court to reject the decrees of a previous court only applies regarding those laws, decrees, institutions, and customs, that were made after the writing of the Talmud. However, all the matters that are written of in the Babylonian Talmud are binding upon all the Jewish people and they are all required to follow it, and its laws are to be enforced in the community of every city and country.
  • Customs and decrees: This obligation applies to all of the customs that were followed by the sages of the Talmud as well as to all of the decrees and institutions that were passed in their times.
  • The reason the Talmud is binding: The reason that all the customs and decrees of Talmudic times are binding upon all Israel is because these matters have been accepted by all the Jewish people, and hence have become law.
  • The reason of power of the Talmudic sages: The Talmudic sages who made the above decrees and institutions and customs, and taught the detailed laws of the commands, included all of the Jewish sages, or majority of them, and they received the tradition regarding all of the fundamentals of Torah from the previous generations all the way up until Moshe.

11.   The period of the Geonim and the state of knowledge in their time:

  • The name Geonim: The sages who expounded on the Torah in the post Talmudic era and were of great reputation of scholarship, are referred to as the Geonim.
  • Their locations: The Geonim were in Israel, Babylon, Spain, and France.
  • Their purpose to explain the intent of the Talmud: The purpose of the Geonim was to teach the nation the meaning of the Talmud through explaining its difficult statements and arguments, which are extremely deep and challenging to understand.
  • Their purpose to translate the Talmud from Aramaic: Likewise, they would translate the words of the Talmud to the masses. The Talmud was written in a mixture of Aramaic and other languages, which was the language that was spoken by the residents of Babylon in the era that the Talmud was written. Thus, residents of other countries who lacked knowledge of this language were unable to access Talmudic knowledge. Likewise, even in Babylon itself, in the generation of the Geonim people no longer understood the original language, unless they were taught it.
  • The books of the Geonim-Responsa’s: The Geonim compiled books which contained their responses to queries that they were forwarded relating to the meaning of certain difficult passages in the Talmud. In every city, the Gaon of that city was asked many questions regarding difficult Talmudic passages, and they would respond to them in accordance to their understanding and wisdom. This was then eventually published by the Geonim in order so it be available to the masses.
  • The books of the Geonim-Talmudic commentary: In addition to the above responsible, the Geonim of each generation also wrote books which contained explanations of the Talmud. Some would write regarding selected topics of Jewish law [as gleaned from the Talmud]. Others would clarify entire selected Talmudic chapters that were difficult in his days. Others would clarify an entire tractate or order of Talmud.
  • The books of the Geonim-Halachic literature: In addition to the above, they also compiled instructions of Jewish law relating to the subjects of Kashrus, and monetary law, in accordance to what they viewed necessary in their times for people to know, due to their inability to extract these laws from the depths of the Talmud.
  • This was the great work of God that all of the Geonim performed from the times of the publishing of the Talmud until today, which is the year 1108 from after the destruction of the temple, and is the year 4937 of creation.

12.   The period of the Rambam and the state of knowledge in his time:

  • In this period, in which we are experiencing much persecution and challenges, the knowledge and wisdom of Torah has become closed and concealed from even amongst our scholars.
  • Lack of understanding of the works of the Geonim: Even those commentaries and laws and responses that were compiled by the Geonim, which were meant to clarify the difficulties of the Talmud, have now themselves become difficult to properly understand, with exception to a select few.
  • Lack of understanding of the Talmud: It goes without saying that people no longer understand the meanings of the passages of the Babylonian or Jerusalem Talmud, or the works of the Sifra, Sifri, and Tosefta.
  • Lack of ability to deduce Jewish law: In order to properly deduce Jewish law and become knowledgeable of the permitted and forbidden, it is imperative that one properly understand the above sources, which is only possible if one has a great breadth of knowledge and a spirit of wisdom, and a lot of time to invest in its study.

13.   Mishneh Torah-What it contains and why it was written:

  • All the Torah laws: It is due to all the above that I, Moshe the son of Maimon, of Spain, have decided to take upon myself the great task of compiling a work that includes all of the laws of the Torah.
  • Relying on God: I relied on God for the success of this mission.
  • The sources of the compilation: The laws written in my book are based on my understanding of all the above books of literature relating to Jewish law from the times of Rabbeinu Hakadosh until today, including within it all of the decrees and institutions of the sages and prophets. All this has been written in accordance to the commentary of the Geonim, as written in the compilations that they wrote after the writing of the Talmud.
  • The laws of every mitzvah written clearly and concisely: I have written the laws of every single mitzvah of the Torah in a clear and concise manner in order so the practical aspects of the entire oral tradition be readily accessible to be understood by everyone without argument and dispute, irrelevant of their status of knowledge or age.
  • This is the only book needed to know the oral tradition: All in all, my compilation includes all the laws enacted from the times of Moshe until today, whether they be biblical, rabbinical, or due to custom, that a person needs to know, in order so that he will not need to revert to opening any other book in order to verify and clarify a law within Judaism.
  • The name Mishneh Torah: I have named my compilation by the name Mishneh Torah, being that it suffices for a person to first read the entire written Torah, and then read my work, and from it he will know all of the oral tradition, without needing to read any other book in between.

14.   How it is organized:

  • Chapters and Halachos: I have organized the Mishneh Torah in accordance to topic, dividing each law into its own separate paragraph, and each topic into its own separate chapter. Every chapter is broken down into smaller subcategories of laws. The purpose of this organization is to assist in the memorization of the details of the laws.
  • Not organized according to the mitzvah’s: The book and its chapters are not organized in accordance to the number of mitzvah’s, but rather in accordance to the subject. Thus, there may be some chapters of laws which all surround the same single mitzvah, and some chapters which may include the details of many mitzvah’s, if the mitzvah’s all relate to each other. This will all be evident to the reader as he reads it.

15.   The number of minutes was in the Torah-613:

  • The number of commands customarily known throughout the generations is 613, which includes 248 positive commands which corresponds to the limbs of a man’s body and 365 negative commands which corresponds to the days of the solar year.

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