Maimonides’ Commentary on the Mishna, Spain, 1190
This is a page from the manuscript of Maimonides’ Commentary on the Mishna, dated 1190, together with comments, corrections, and deletions made by Maimonides himself. The manuscript is written in literary Arabic peppered with Hebrew terms and uses the Hebrew alphabet. This page is from Tractate Nashim and includes a number of comments by Abraham Maimonides (Maimonides’ son) and two pages in his handwriting. On this page, the enlarged words פרק שלישי (third chapter) indicate the beginning of Maimonides’ commentary on a new chapter of the Mishna.
Maimonides, Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon, is thought to be the greatest Jewish religious scholar and commentator of all times. He was born in Cordoba, Spain in 1138 and was also a physician, scientist, and researcher. Maimonides was one of the most important medieval philosophers and a leader of his generation. A popular Jewish saying goes: “From Moses to Moses, there were none like Moses” – comparing the greatness of Moses Maimonides to his biblical namesake.
What is Judeo-Arabic?
Judeo-Arabic languages are different versions of Arabic that were spoken by Jews in the Arab world. Classical Arabic written with the Hebrew alphabet is also known as Judeo-Arabic.
In the early seventh century, the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa used two languages: they spoke using a local dialect and used Hebrew for religious ceremonies, prayers, and texts. As more of the region was conquered by Islam, Arabic replaced the local dialects. However, as in the rest of the Arabic-speaking world, Jews spoke different dialects of Arabic, depending on where they lived, and often borrowed words from Hebrew and Aramaic.
Jews in Muslim countries wrote Arabic using Hebrew characters rather than Arabic script. Egyptian-born Saadia Gaon, a prominent tenth-century rabbi, Jewish philosopher, and Bible scholar, was the first to use Arabic for scholarly writing and is seen as the founder of Judeo-Arabic literature. Due, in part, to his influence, Arabic took over from Aramaic as the language of Jewish scholarship, while Hebrew remained the ceremonial language. Some of the most important books of medieval Jewish thought were written in medieval Judeo-Arabic.
This page could be used in Talmud classes as an introduction to the study of the commentaries on the Mishna and the literature of the Sages. In Jewish History classes, the item could be presented when studying Maimonides and the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry. It could also be used as an example of Jewish creativity and philosophy during this period. Foreign Language teachers could use this source to illustrate the evolution of new languages.
Try to read the manuscript.
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This manuscript was written by Maimonides.
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The manuscript is a commentary on the Mishna.
What is the Mishna?
Make a timeline showing the chronological order of the Bible, Mishna, and Talmud.
What can you learn from the fact that Maimonides wrote one of his greatest Judaic works in the Arabic language but using Hebrew letters?
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When did Maimonides live?
What were the conditions for the Jews in his country at that time?
What other Jewish scholars are you familiar with from the medieval period?
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