Commentaries on the Mishneh Torah

The Mishneh Torah sparked the creation of extensive and voluminous commentary.

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Reprinted with the author's permission from Jewish Law: History, Sources, Principles (Jewish Publication Society).

The appearance of a comprehensive code naturally stimulates the composition of a literature of commentaries that seek to probe the code's comprehensiveness, accuracy, and other qualities. The high esteem in which Maimonides' Mishneh Torah was held, on the one hand, and the sharp controversy it engendered, on the other, sparked the creation of an extensive and voluminous literature of commentary.

These commentaries had various objectives: some to criticize Maimonides, others to defend him against the critics, or to explain or supplement his treatment of particular subjects. The central function of most of the commentaries, particularly the earlier ones, was to trace the talmudic sources from which Maimonides distilled his halakhot.

No other halakhic work has had the distinction of being the subject of so many commentaries; indeed, commentaries on the Mishneh Torah are still being written. Some of the commentaries are usually printed on the pages of the Mishneh Torah. They include:

Migdal Oz by Shem Tov ibn Gaon

Shem Tov ibn Gaon, Rashba's disciple, was a Spanish halakhic authority and kabbalist of the mid-fourteenth century. He was the first to supply source references for Maimonides' text, and he also included references to Maimonides' responsa. His main objective was to defend Maimonides and counter Rabad's criticisms. He also corrected scribal errors in the text.

Maggid Mishneh by Vidal of Tolosa

Vidal of Tolosa, a colleague of Nissim Gerondi (Ran), was a leading Spanish halakhic authority in the fourteenth century. His goals in Maggid Mishneh were to explain Maimonides' text, to indicate the halakhic sources, to suggest reasons why Maimonides preferred the views he adopted over those he rejected, and to defend Maimonides against his critics, especially Rabad.

Unlike the author of Migdal Oz, Vidal did not always agree with Maimonides, but at times was inclined to accept the opinion of Rabad or of other critics. Maggid Mishneh is extant on six of the fourteen books of the Mishneh Torah.

Kesef Mishneh by Joseph Caro

Joseph Caro, the author of the Shulhan Arukh, wrote a comprehensive commentary on the Mishneh Torah, entitled Kesef Mishneh. His aims were largely similar to those of the Maggid Mishneh, which he often cited and discussed. His commentary also covers books of the Mishneh Torah for which Maggid Mishneh is lacking.

Yekar Tiferet by David ibn Zimra (Radbaz)

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Menachem Elon

Justice Menachem Elon has had a long and distinguished career as a legal scholar. He is a retired professor of Jewish Law at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and a prolific author on Jewish Law. In 1977 Justice Elon was appointed to the Supreme Court of Israel and served as its Deputy President from 1988 until 1993. He lives in Jerusalem.