Skip to content


Your cart is empty

Article: In Maimonides’s Own Hand

וְתִקַּנּוּ פירוש המשנה

In Maimonides’s Own Hand

Daniel Lipson

Written in Morocco, completed in Egypt, sold in Syria, brought to England, auctioned in Switzerland, and purchased by Israel. This is the 800-year odyssey of Maimonides’s (1138–1204) masterwork, Commentary on the Mishnah, written in the sage’s own hand.

The first of three monumental works by Maimonides, the Commentary laid the legal and philosophical groundwork for the later Mishneh Torah (Code of Jewish Law) and Dalalat al-Ha’irin (Guide of the Perplexed). The Commentary’s three lengthy introductions, in which Maimonides explains the nature of Jewish law, ethics, and theology, are among the most important works of Jewish philosophy of all time.

Maimonides wrote the Commentary over a period of seven years, as his family navigated a treacherous path from Fez to Cairo. This autograph copy allows us to follow Maimonides’s revisions throughout his life; his son Rabbi Avraham and grandson added further marginal notes based on Maimonides’s oral teachings.

Two centuries after Maimonides’s death in Egypt, his descendants left Cairo. They settled in Aleppo, bringing his precious writings with them. Two English Christian scholars purchased three sections of the Commentary in the seventeenth century. They brought the volumes to England and ultimately bequeathed them to Oxford University’s Bodleian Library. Another section disappeared.

Rabbi Jacob Moses Toledano discovered the two remaining sections in Damascus and sold them to the famous bibliophile David Sassoon in 1908. After Sassoon’s death, his family decided to auction the works off in Switzerland in 1975. Realizing the cultural importance of these works, the Israeli Minister of Education, the mayor of Jerusalem, and other important Israeli figures called on philanthropists and the general public to contribute funds for their purchase. The acquisition of these manuscripts using collective funds made these documents the symbolic property of the entire Jewish people.