Why study the Mishne Torah by Maimonides and not other books?
This question comes up from time to time. Some ask if we should not study the Shas first? Others claim that someone who wants to learn Jewish law should srtudy the Shulchan Aruch and its commentaries, Since halacha is decided according to them and not necessarily according to Maimonides.
All this is true. But the question is what is the purpose of studying?
When you learn Maimonides sayings in the correct order the purpose is clear: To go over the entire Oral Torah in a relatively short amount of time, to learn the general concepts of halacha and to know the connection between the different halachas.
We will elaborate a bit on this issue:
Each way of study has a purpose. The Talmud study method as practiced in yeshivas has two goals:
1. Studying for proficiency, to know the issues dealt with in each tractate of the Talmud and recognize the many issues in general. Such study focuses mainly on the text and Rashi and occasionally Tosafot as well. In this method the learner tries to study a page or half a page (one side) every day to master the specific masechet.
2. Studying in depth, to delve into the issue, understand the underlying logic, to develop the capacity to study and to know the way of Talmudic negotiations and how to apply it to other issues. This way of study’s focus is on in-depth learning, slowly and thoroughly, the legal sources, parallel sources, the commentaries of the Rishonim and Acharonim and sometimes the sequence of discussion of the issue until the halachic ruling. There is no doubt that this way of learning is essential for those who want to be scholars, rabbis or teachers, and to become a Dayan.
But there is a way of study in order to study halacha. And it too has two main ways:
1. Studying for proficiency, to know the practical laws, mostly those relating to everyday life, and in fact to learn Orach Chayim. Included in the primary laws taught in this way of study are: Laws of Prayer, Laws of Blessings, Laws of Shabbat and holidays, and more. This method of study has those who prefer to learn through books of the Achronim – such as Mishnah Berurah, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, Chayei Adam and more – and there are those who prefer to learn the Shulchan Aruch With his minions. The uniqueness of this way of study is that it is designed to accumulate knowledge and proficiency of practical halachas, learning in order to do.
2. Studying in depth, especially common among those who seek to deepen thier study for teaching purposes. Those who are studying for smicha lerabbanut from the Chief Rabbinate Are required to show great proficiency with a big volume of material as well as indepth knowledge of common halachas, and major disagreements among the authorities as to the ways of halachic rulings. There are those who study certain issues carefully for their jobs, such as kashrut supervisors who are required to paskin daily in their fields, who need to be versed in Jewish law and with it also the implementation of laws and to be able to distinguish between things that are lechatchila and things that are bediaved.
But we, the students of Maimonides, study for a different purpose.
The study of Maimonides has a different purpose and no less important, to learn for proficiency in all areas of the Torah. Practical laws we need from day to day, and laws we would need at the time of the temple may it speedily be built. Our main goal is to encompass all parts of the Torah in a short time, in between one to three years.
The benefits of studying Maimonides by order are:
- Familiarity with the concepts of Halacha
- Familiarity with the main rules that are in every mitzvah
- Studying relatively quickly and simply without the need for debate among the sages in the Mishna and the Talmud
- Familiarity in the relationship between related laws
- Creating a framework for studying that will help us study other issues, so that when we learn other things we will place them in their proper place: we will identify to which commandment it is related, What the details commandment are, who are those which are exempt and more
- Studying the sacrificial service, which has special significance even though the laws do not apply in this day and age
Finally we will recall the words of the Chofetz Chaim in his book Torah Or (chapter 7):
התורה הקדושה אינה דבר נפרד מנפש איש הישראלי, שאפשר להריק אותה ולהפרידה ממנו, ורק היא עצם חיות נפשו. והתורה לנפש איש הישראלי היא בדוגמת נשמה, שכשם שהנפש מחיה את הגוף, שבהסתלקה ממנו יסתלק חיותו לגמרי, כך התורה היא נשמת חיים להנפש, שבלעדיה נחסר לנפש חיותה וקדושתה לאור באור החיים […] ולכן כל מה שמגרע אדם מחלק התורה שעליו להשיג בימי חייו, הוא מגרע מחיות נפשו ושלמותה בעולם הנצח. ולהפך, כל מה שמרבה האדם להתדבק בתורה ולקנות חלקי התורה בימי חייו, הוא מרבה לתת כח וחיות בנפשו, ולהשלימה בקדושתה לנצח נצחים […] ואם ילכו עיתותיו לדברים בטלים, יש לו לדאוג פן על ידי זה יחסר לו בימי חייו חלק אחד מחלקי התורה, ובודאי ירגיש החסרון לסוף בקדושת נפשו, וזהו מעוות לא יוכל לתקון, כי לא ישיגנו שם. וכל שכן אם יישאר ריק מכמה חלקי התורה, שבודאי נוגע הרבה לקדושת נפשו וחיותה […] אבל תכלית שלמותה וקדושתה היא בודאי בהכנס בקרבו כל חלקי התורה, שהיא שורש כל התרי”ג מצוות, ואז היא מאירה לכל רמ”ח איברי נפשו ושס”ה גידי נפשו.
May we be so lucky as to learn all of the parts of the Torah, all 613 commandments in a relatively short time and purchase in our souls the whole Torah an everlasting purchase!
That is exactly our goal in publishing the Mishne Torah in one volume and in it the 613 commandments.
(Written by David Peleg)