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Mishneh Torah


Rabbi David Sperling

Tishrei 4, 5775
Dear Rabbi, I remember reading somewhere that through time errors entered into the text of Mishneh Torah, to the extent that the meaning of certain important sentences could be reversed due to the errors. On the other hand I understood that there were also corrections of these errors. How should we deal with this? Should a person first learn about the Halacha from a different source and only later from Mishneh Torah? Thank you very much in advance.
Shalom, Thank you for your question. You are correct that unfortunately errors have crept in to many classic Jewish texts, including the Rambam's Mishneh Torah. Some of this was due to censorship issues, and some was due to human error. However, in our generation we have merited to see some outstanding scholarship in the field of academic manuscript work, and more and more classic texts are being printed with very good footnotes and textual notations that help bring a more exact reading of the text to light. These can be found in several versions of the Rambam, especially the edition edited by the late Rav Kappach (zt"l) who was renowned for his work in this field. As to how to "deal" with this – there are several schools of thought. The Chazon Ish was a strong believer that the standard texts that were used in the study halls for generations have halachic weight as being the bearers of tradition, even with any errors they include. He was opposed to making halachic decisions based on new editions of the classical manuscripts. On the other hand, many Rabbis today believe that these corrections of the text should be taken into account when deciding halacha. The standard practice today is somewhere in the middle, with Rabbis sometimes using textual changes as additional proofs to their arguments, but not relying on them alone. As to your learning – the process of learning halacha involves two sides to it. Firstly there is the need to be familiar with the practical laws of what to do on a day to day basis. For this I would not advice that you study the Rambam – rather you should learn the more recent works of Rabbis from your own tradition, be it the Ashkanazi Mishna Brurah, Kitzur Shulchan Aruch etc, or the Sephardi Ben Ish Chai, or Yalkut Yosef. Or the works of those Rabbis who explain the halacha for every Jew, such as Pninay Halacha of Rav Melamed (some of which can even be found in English). The other side to learning halacha is the need to understand the source and overall picture of Jewish law. For this the Rambam is excellent. In fact Rav Kook zt"l encouraged the learning of a chapter a day (you can join thousands of Jews worldwide who are involved in a Rambam Yomi daily learning cycle). So, to answer your question – you should study both books that teach you practicle halacha for your daily life, as well as learning the Rambam for the big overall picture. Blessings.
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