The Babylonian Talmud teaches that the Torah contains 613 commandments, 365 prohibitions corresponding to the number of days in a solar year and 248 positive mandates equal to the number of limbs in a human body (Makkot 23b). However, the Talmud does not specify which of the Bible’s many directives should be counted toward the total of 613. In the Middle Ages, rabbinic scholars began drawing up lists of which precepts they felt should be included. The most famous of these, Rabbi Moses Maimonides (1138-1204), composed the Sefer ha-mitsvot as a type of introduction to his magnum opus, Mishneh torah, a comprehensive codification of all of Jewish law.
The present lot is a substantial fragment of this work in its original Judeo-Arabic (editio princeps: Paris, 1888). Only approximately eight other complete or nearly-complete Judeo-Arabic manuscripts of the Sefer ha-mitsvot copied up to the mid-fifteenth century – all of them housed in institutional libraries – are known to have survived. Even the revised edition of the book published by Rabbi Joseph Qafih (1917-2000), which sought to correct the many mistakes of the first Judeo-Arabic edition, used as its base text an exemplar from the year 1492.
Rabbi Chaim Heller (1879-1960), in his revised edition of the classic Hebrew translation of Sefer ha-mitsvot by Rabbi Moses Ibn Tibbon (d. ca. 1283), notes that Maimonides was extremely careful when formulating his ideas in writing and that even the smallest changes in the text of his works can therefore carry significant weight. Given its early date, this codex is particularly valuable as a witness to Maimonides’ influential treatise on the precepts of the Torah.
Sotheby’s is grateful to Shlomo Zucker for providing information that aided in the cataloging of this manuscript.
f. 1: middle of prohibition 10 through middle of prohibition 15;
ff. 2-8: end of prohibition 31 through middle of prohibition 62 (63 in Qafih’s edition);
ff. 9-12: end of prohibition 79 through beginning of prohibition 101;
f. 13: end of prohibition 110 through middle of prohibition 118;
ff. 14-29: middle of positive mandate 117 through beginning of positive mandate 194;
f. 30: middle of prohibition 187 through beginning of prohibition 194;
ff. 31-34: beginning of positive mandate 194 through middle of positive mandate 213;
f. 35: middle of positive mandate 231 through beginning of positive mandate 239;
f. 36: beginning of positive mandate 247 through middle of concluding discussion;
f. 37: beginning of prohibition 251 through beginning of prohibition 257;
f. 38: middle of prohibition 267 through middle of prohibition 272;
ff. -43: middle of prohibition 280 through end of prohibition 302;
ff. 44-45: beginning of prohibition 352 through beginning of prohibition 356;
f. 46: beginning of positive mandate 9 through end of positive mandate 11;
f. 47: beginning of positive mandate 1 through end of positive mandate 4;
ff. 48-49: middle of positive mandate 56 through beginning of positive mandate 66;
f. 50: middle of prohibition 134 through middle of prohibition 138;
f. 51: middle of positive mandate 197 (196 in Qafih’s edition) through middle of positive mandate 202 (duplicates text appearing above, ff. 31r-32v).
Moses Maimonides, Le livre des préceptes, ed. Moïse Bloch (Paris: E. Bouillon et E. Vieweg; Armand Durlacher, 1888).
Moses Maimonides, Sefer ha-mitsvot, ed. Chaim Heller, 2nd ed. (Jerusalem; New York: Mossad Harav Kook, 1946), xx-xxi.
Moses Maimonides, Sefer ha-mitsvot: makor ve-tirgum, trans. Joseph Qafih (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook, 1971), introduction.
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