Medieval Manuscripts in Law Book Bindings, no. 19

February 16, 2010

Fragment: Maimonides’s Mishneh Torah / Vidal of Tolosa’s Maggid Mishneh
Date: c. 1300-1500
Found in: Milan (Duchy). Constitutiones dominii mediolanensis. Novara: Francesco Sesalli, 1567.

Between 1170 and 1180 the famous rabbi, physician, and philosopher Moses Maimonides (d. 1204) compiled a comprehensive compendium of Jewish law (halakha) that he named the Mishneh Torah. While many people opposed the Mishneh Torah when it first circulated, Maimonides defended it as a necessary distillation of existing legal reasoning into a practical code. Regardless of the attacks, the Mishneh Torah rapidly became one of the core texts within Jewish law.

Binyamin Elizur, Head of the Department of Ancient Hebrew at the Academy of the Hebrew Language in Jerusalem, informs us that the small text on the left of the leaf comes from Maimonides’s Mishneh Torah. The portion visible here is from the section on “Financial Damages” (Nizke Mammon), chapter 1, subsection 9. The larger writing to the right is the corresponding passage from the Maggid Mishneh, an exegetical commentary on the Mishneh Torah written by the Catalan rabbi Vidal of Tolosa (1283-1360). According to Elizur, the noteworthy and unusual thing about this fragment is that Vidal’s commentary is written in large letters, while Maimonides’s text is written in small letters on the side. He speculates that the leaf may have originally contained only the commentary, and that passages from the Mishneh Torah were added in the margin later. He notes that the script, both large and small, appears to be Sephardic semi-cursive from the 14th or 15th century.

Dr. Ezra Chwat of the Department of Manuscripts, National Library of Israel, notes that the publication date of the host volume, 1567, “is precisely on the spike of redeployment of Jewish manuscripts” as they were confiscated by the Inquisition in Italy; see Mauro Perani & Enrica Sagradini, Talmudic and midrashic fragments from the Italian Genizah: reunification of the manuscripts and catalogue (Firenze: Giuntina, 2004), pp. 124-125.

Dr. Chwat has added this fragment to the online catalog of Hebrew manuscripts maintained by the Department of Manuscripts, National Library of Israel; the record (in Hebrew) can be viewed here.

     – Notes by Benjamin Yousey-Hindes, Stanford University

Larger versions of this and other images are available from the Medieval binding fragments gallery of the Rare Book Collection’s Flickr site. If you can provide additional information about the manuscript fragment displayed here, you are invited to send an email to .[at]>

“Reused, Rebound, Recovered: Medieval Manuscript Fragments in Law Book Bindings” is curated by Benjamin Yousey-Hindes and Mike Widener, and is on display through May 2010 in the Rare Book Exhibition Gallery, Level L2, Lillian Goldman Law Library, Yale Law School.

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