Rambam: Hilkhot yesode ha-torà

Contribute by: dr. Roberto Gatti, Ph.D., Post. Doc., Medieval Jewish Philosophy.

MOSÈ MAIMONIDE, Norme sui fondamenti della Torà (Hilkhot yesode ha-torà), trad. e note di R. Gatti, Giuntina, Firenze 2023. 

The book is the first complete Italian translation (with an introduction and notes to the text) of the first Treatise of Book One (The Book of Knowledge, which comprises other four Treatises) of the Mishneh Torah, the code of Jewish law composed by Moses Maimonides in the course of the seventies of the XIIth c. The Mishneh is also called in Hebrew as yad chazaqah, (“[God’s] hand of strength”), by pointing to the numerical value of the word yad (“fourteen”, like the number of the Books of the whole work).

The title Mishneh Torah can be rendered as “Repetition of the Law” (both the Written and the Oral ones), by referring to Maimonides’ job of identification and rational systematization of the classical 613 Jewish precepts (mitzwot). This job is his own hallmark as philosophical halakhist and stresses the profound unity between philosophy and Law found in his thought (the term Law here refers to a complex of norms not only of religious and ethical nature, but also of juridical one, relating for example to civil and penal cases). On passing, it may also be said that the Mishneh (andparticularly, the Treatise here presented) is highly significant since it is of great help in overcoming some ways of interpreting Maimonides, which have been inspired by Leo Strauss and posited on the contrary a profound dichotomy between philosophy and Law.

Coming now to the present Treatise, its Hebrew title is Hilkhot yesodei ha-torah. It may be translated as “system of norms occuring in the domain of the fundamental doctrines defining the Jewish identity of someone qua aware believer”. In the opening paragraph of the Treatise, the pillar or basis of these doctrines is identified in the act of knowing that there is a First Existent that gives rise, out of its own necessary existence, to all the other contingent beings (both spiritual and corporeal ones).

This move is philosophically oriented and motivated. Its roots ground not only in Aristotle’s physics and metaphysics, but also in the interpretation these disciplines underwent in Arabic thought (mainly, through al-Farabi and Avicenna). The plan of conceptually founding Jewish faith through Greek-Arabic philosophy (while also transforming the latter, by its being implanted into the domain of Jewish legislation) underscores Maimonides’ profound allegiance towards both Jerusalem and Athens. A similar allegiance is also shared by Averroes, Maimonides’ famous contemporary and fellow-citizen in Cordoba. It finds its own expression in the latter’s phrase which says that “Truth does not contradict Truth”, since it is one. The phrase is found in The Decisive Treatise of the Arab thinker, a work which blends together philosophy and sharia’, in the same manner as Maimonides’ Mishneh does in relation to the torah

A last remark concerning the way in which, throughout this Maimonidean Treatise, Athens itself turns out to be radically transformed, while being transferred into the Jewish realm of thought and action. In fact, philosophy thus becomes a love-inspired act of knowledge, as it will with Spinoza’s amor Dei intellectualis.

* Biographical note of the author: Roberto Gatti, Ph.D. is a scholar of medieval Jewish philosophy, also interested in mapping out medieval Jewish philosophical sources in Spinoza’s thought.  He has studied medieval Jewish Neoplatonism (Shelomoh ibn Gabirol) and Aristotelianism (Maimonides, Gersonides and Jewish reception of Averroes’ noetics). He has translated in Italian Gersonides’ The Wars of the Lord (Pagina, Bari 2011) and edited the latter’s Commentary on the Three Epistles by Averroes and His Son Concerning the Union of the Active Intellect with Man (Paideia, Turin 2021).