2 - Halakhah
Halakhah is the legal tradition of Judaism, as opposed to the theology and folklore of the Aggadah. A large part of Jewish literature, from the Mishnah and Talmud in antiquity to the great codes of Maimonides (12th century), Joseph Caro (16th century) and others, not to speak of the Responsa of famous rabbis down to our own time, is Halakhah in the sense that it contains the discussion of legal questions concerning religious practices as well as many aspects of ordinary daily life. At the centre of every discussion is the Written Torah (Torah she-bi-ktav), the first part of Hebrew scripture, alongside the Oral Torah (Torah she-be-‘al pe), that is to say, the opinions and decisions recorded in the halakhic literature.
In the exhibition there are fragments of four mediaeval halakhic works.
1. Sefer Mordekai.
Four folios from 14th-15th century Germany, come from Sefer Mordekai ("The Book of Mordekai"), a halakhic work by the talmudist Mordekai ben Hillel (Germany c. 1240-1298). Written in the style of the Tosafists (glossators on Rashi's Commentary on the Talmud) and arranged in the order of the tractates of the Talmud, in a structure similar to that used by Alfasi, it was composed before 1286 and, on various complex legal issues, records the opinions of the Masters of the Franco-German Talmudic school, many of which are preserved only in this work.
2. Mishneh Torah of Maimonides.
Two double folios come from a manuscript, copied in Italy in the 14th century, containing the Mishneh Torah ("The Repetition of the Law") by Maimonides , also known as "Rambam" (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon) (1135-1204). This is a huge halakhic compendium by the greatest mediaeval Jewish philosopher, physician and thinker, who was born in Spain but lived most of his life in Egypt where he was physician to the vizier Saladin and head of the Jewish Community. His greatest philosophical work, the Guide for the Perplexed (1190) was translated into Latin and used by Christian writers including Thomas Aquinas (c.1225-1274).
3. Sefer ha-Terumah of Baruch ben Yitzchaq of Germiza (Worms).
Four folios from the binding of two printed books, containing part of a halakhic work, copied in a Franco-German region between the 14th and 15th centuries, by Baruch ben Yitzchaq of Worms (1170-1211), one of the Tosafists (glossators on Rashi's Commentary on the Talmud). The Sefer ha-Terumah is a compendium of halakhot or rules of conduct arranged according to the most relevant sections of the Talmud (massektot). Germiza is the Hebrew name for Worms, one of the most important centres of rabbinical scholarship in the Franco-German region where Rashi himself studied. The Jews of Worms and Mainz (Magonza) were exterminated during the crusades. In Worms there is a Jewish cemetery in which there are thousands of graves, the most ancient of which date back to the age of the Tosafists.
4. Sefer Mitzvot Gadol of Moshe ben Ya‘aqov of Coucy.
Twenty folios, from the binding of ten printed volumes, from a manuscript written in a square Ashkenazi script from a Franco-German region, dating from the 14th-15th centuries. It contains parts of Sefer Mitzvot Gadol ("The Great Book of Commandments"), an important compendium of halakhic law, by Moshe ben Ya'aqov of Coucy (France, first half of the 13th century). The work, generally known by the acronym SeMaG, contains a list of the 613 commandments in the Torah, divided into 248 positive and 365 negative, in an arrangement strongly influenced by Maimonides' Mishneh Torah, but unlike Maimonides, Moshe of Coucy includes long discussions and a variety of interpretations of the halakhic material. He also makes ample use of Rashi's commentaries on the Bible and Talmud, and in particular the interpretations of the Tosafists, usually preferring the halakhic traditions of France and Germany to those of Maimonides.
The folios all come from the following parts of the work: Positive Commandments 234 and 243- 258.