7/27/2009

Book Announcement/ Review: The Single Volume Rambam


[Full disclosure: I was involved in the publication of this volume, as I translated the Hebrew introduction into English and have helped them with their website and English language communications. That said, I gain nothing from increased sales.]

Debate has long raged between the community of philosophers and the community of Torah scholars regarding the intellectual legacy of the Rambam, with each side claiming him as his own. The Rambam of the beit midrash and the Maimonides of the university can seem so different that it is hard to reconcile them into one person. In fact, many have gone to great lengths to minimize or discount those aspects of the Rambam that seem at odds with the beliefs of the particular scholar.

There is, however, a third Rambam, who is often ignored. He is not the contemplative, philosophical Rambam of the academy, nor the great halakhic authority whose every word teaches mountains of halakhot. He is everyman’s Rambam, the Rambam that was preserved best by those Yemenite communities who saw the Rambam and his Mishne Torah as a practical guidebook for every aspect of Jewish life. Of course, some could delve deeper and some remained closer to the surface, but the image of the Rambam was one of inherent and supreme simplicity. They viewed the Yad as its author intended it – as a comprehensive but intelligible guide to Jewish life.

The vision of the editors of this volume is to restore this forgotten image of the Rambam. They did so by doing primarily two things, though they have done a host of other things as well: they have published the entire Mishne Torah in a single volume with no commentary, and they have meticulously restored the version of the text based primarily on the best Yemenite manuscripts, omitting the thousands of errors that have crept into the various printed editions. In addition, there are several helpful indices to help the reader navigate the text.

I recall hearing Rav Lichtenstein opining that learning Rambam Yomi is far more useful than learning Daf Yomi. With the Rambam, one truly gets a systematic overview of the entire Torah she-Be’al Peh in a coherent, organized fashion.If the goal is ‘beki’ut’, mastery and familiarity with a broad corpus of information, the Yad is a far better vehicle to that end than Daf Yomi. Furthermore, the Yad presents a much more holistic vision of all of Torah that is best appreciated through the overall structure of the Rambam’s magnum opus. It remains, to this day, the single best restatement of Torah she-Be’al Peh, and perhaps the single greatest monograph, ever produced by the People of the Book. The present volume refocuses the learner on that aspect of the Rambam which is the aspect that the Rambam himself chose to highlight in his introduction, and which guided the name that he chose for his masterwork.

Of course, the present volume certainly has value as a desk reference and in schools where multi-volume editions can be cumbersome or where specific passages of the Rambam are studied on their own. The volume is quite beautiful as well. Nevertheless, its greatest contribution is in the restoration of that aspect of the Rambam that has been omitted from the yeshiva as well as the academy – the man who created a digest that would allow the average Jew to understand and live the fullness of his heritage.

The volume is (or will be) available at local Jewish bookstores. It is being distributed in the US by R. Yankel Levitz (718-377-0047), and available worldwide through the project’s website: http://www.mishnetorah.com/en/

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