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I have heard personally (and seen in chat) people (who are not Teimanim [for whom there is a tradition to rule like the Rambam]) ruling like the Rambam. I have heard that he has the authentic tradition, etc.

Why are people going back to the Rambam over, say, the Mordechai, the Tur, the Rif, R"i Megash, Tosfos, etc?

The Rif and the R"i Megash were before the Rambam and the Tosfos were contemporaries.

Moreover, the Mordechai and Tur quoted earlier poskim, some of whom lived around the same time as the Rambam. Yet, I have never heard of anyone following exclusively the Mordechai.

I have heard (DoubleAA IIRC) say that it's possible that it's because the Rambam wrote on Kol Hatorah Kula. But that doesn't seem to be a good reason. People rule like the Mishna Brura, Chayey Adam, Kitzur over, say, the Aruch Hashulchan even though the Aruch Hashulchan covers more ground.

Why are there people who exclusively follow the Rambam?

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Tosfos isn't a person. –  Double AA Mar 3 '13 at 5:49
Some people rule like the Aruch haShulchan over the Mishna Berura for that reason. Just because some rule otherwise doesn't change that. See for example Bnei Banim 2:8 –  Double AA Mar 3 '13 at 5:50
@DoubleAA there is a "piskei tosfos" which extracts all the piskei dinim from tosfos. –  Shmuel Brin Mar 3 '13 at 5:52
What does authentic tradition mean? Everyone has a right to learn the sugya in depth and come out with a conclusion(origin of machlokes).Also majority of klal Yisroel paskens like the Mechaber since he was accepted by basically everyone.For one to veer completely and switch to the Mishne Torah exclusively I never heard of such a thing. –  sam Mar 3 '13 at 20:53
@sam Indeed, following any one historical rabbi exclusively is odd, whether it's the Rambam, the Gra, or the Shulchan Aruch haRav. But people do it. (And why switch between calling the group that tends to follow the Mechaber a 'majority of klal Yisroel' and 'basically everyone'?) –  Double AA Mar 3 '13 at 20:58

3 Answers 3

There are several historical factors to consider, particularly the advent of the internet.

We live in the age of information. The gap between rabbinic leadership and the lay is being broached with great rapidity. More people are interested in a more horizontal society wherein they approach sources, analyze them, digest them, etc. and interact on such basis rather than a hierarchic top down, approach. Indeed this very group is indicative of such a trend despite the disclaimer softly heard "but consult your LOR." Put this in tangent with those turned off by the standard x,y,z incarnation of local frumkeit but an inclination towards traditionalism then you've got a real magnification of the "pick and choose" type Judaism which emerged in the 20th c. through the coalescing of many different Jewish communities from various far flung regions in urban centers. Customs, nushaoth, etc. are readily swapped in and out and between members of the Jewish community in a fashion which would have been impossible 100+ years ago.

There is also a great proliferation of groups with all kinds of niche interests across the board. Let's say you are into writing fan-fiction for some indie sci-fi film no one has ever heard of from the early 80's... today you can find others online like yourself with the same interest and develop a group, fomenting the development of a subculture which otherwise would have been relegated to isolated individuals operating as islands of ignorance of one another. Not only that, now there is even the opportunity for others with similar interests with the potential for such intrigue to become affiliated and involved too through greater exposure and the sheer presence of a virtual community. The same could be so for such self-styled "Talmidei HaRaMBaM."

As for why the Rambam as opposed to any other Rishon? Setting aside all of the arguments against the Mishneh Torah that emerged in his own day and in the following centuries, his project was indeed monumental. One thing is that it is the first (and only?) code of halakha to cover the entire range of potential and past praxis based on the rulings of Hazal. On top of which, he does not import local custom into Hazalic legislation nor even Geonic rulings. He may on occasion make reference to them but is always very clear in making such delineations. Such cannot be said of many (perhaps most) other codifications. Indeed it also altogether absent of any Kabbalistic influence - something everyone seems to agree should not infringe upon the autonomy of halakha, yet nevertheless frequently does in other halakhic works of later vintage. Some, such as the students of Hakham Faur in particular take issue with the methods employed by Franco-German Talmudists/Halakhicists and in particular the Baalei Tosafoth (we can read about that here) and admire the strength of purity of the Andalusian mesorah. This mesora is the one that went up in a very direct line through the Babylonian academies to Rabbenu Hananel, to Rabbenu Alfasi, to R. Yosef Megas to R. Maimon to the Rambam. Indeed in the Rambam's introduction to his commentary on the Mishna he claims that he differs from the Rabbenu Alfasi in no more than 10 places and expresses profound gratitude for his and the R. Megas formative impact upon his approach and rulings. In tangent with having this strong mesorah, he was very much so insistent upon following the truth even when in conflict with pervasive and widespread sentiment. Whereas the methods of other Rishonim (especially Ashkenazic ones) would strongly defend tradition as it stands on the ground and attempt to reconcile to Talmudic legislation the Rambam was almost scientific and modern in his approach to texts. Comparing girsaoth, and willing to overturn Geonic precedent when in conflict with Talmudic legislation. Judaism today has become a kind of a shmoregesboard (whether that is lamentable or great a discussion for another time) and many are gravitating towards such a back to the roots (Meqori) attitude that the Rambam's rulings in the MT represents.

Your question whilst primarily concerning halakha ought not discount the appeal that the Rambam's work has for hashqafic reasons. The intellectualist "rationalism" that he has come to represent and shines through even in the MT in the fist volume, Sefer HaMada. Many find therein a clear articulation of beliefs that resonate as fundamentally traditional yet in conflict with many of the ideas that circulate in frum society today. Those who shy away from the pan-Hasidic orientation that has developed (even in the Litvishe yeshiva velt) and the emphasis on ideas with Kabbalistic origins find an ally in the Rambam.

As for why "100% exclusively" the Rambam, I don't think that there are any who really practice as such - rather the MT is being reclaimed as the primary codex of halakha as opposed to the Shulhan Arukh which supposedly all of Orthodoxy "holds by." Rather than relying primarily on R. Yosef's 2/3 method of determining halakha, an approach that a more meqori oriented individual may find fault with, the general launching base and fallback to is to the MT, which is attractive for the aforementioned reasons.

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Perhaps Aruch haShulchan could qualify as another such complete code. –  Double AA May 24 '13 at 16:59
@Deuteronomy I know of at least one group that rules exclusively according to Mishne Torah, even excluding other works of the Rambam and his responsa: –  Robert S. Barnes Oct 1 '13 at 17:17

Put quite simply, the Rambam's Mishneh Thorah is not only the most complete, but the most simple and easily understood of codified halakhah ever written.

Although he is often portrayed as an innovator when it comes to codification, this is simply untrue. Rather, he should be properly seen as capstone - the makeh be-faTish as it were - in this endeavor.

  • Rabbenu Hananel restated the Gemara and included many quotations from other works of Hazal, most notably the Talmudh Yerushalmi
  • Rav YiSHaq Al-Fasi (the Rif) - a student of Rabbenu Hananel - in his Halakhoth restated the opinions of the Gemara which he deemed to be the practical halakhah, leaving out all else but including some explanations of the text in places
  • The Geonic codes, such as the Halakhoth Gedoloth of Shim^on Qayyara and the Halakhoth Pesuqoth of Yehudai Gaon, simply restate the final decisions of the Mishnah and the Gemara with some expansive comments

The practical problem of all of these codes is that they were either incomplete (i.e. only written on areas of halakhah readily applicable to Diaspora Jewry) or they were written in a mixture of talmudic Aramaic and Arabic - or both. This made them useful as references for scholars but of little use to the general population of religious Jewry who often possessed only a basic education in Humash, Mishnayoth, and their respective dialects of Hebrew.

Many of the other codes, such as the Rosh and others, were not really "codes" at all and were only commentaries on the work of the Rif.

The works of the Tur, Beth Yosef, and the later ShulHan ^Arukh, were more akin to attempts at commentary rather than codification. And even that halakhic material which is codified is often not conclusive, but cites various opinions (i.e. yesh omrim). This, in addition to similar language barriers as the others, likewise makes their works difficult to access and to practically integrate.

In more recent times, the very important and impressive work of halakhah by HaRav YeHiel Mikhel Epshtein z"l - the ^Arokh HaShulHan - was published. Although it is complete in its scope and extremely useful for a deeper and broader understanding of the halakhic discussion underlying any given subject (as well as a liquT of all relevant sources), it too is written in rabbinic Hebrew and in the Aramaic of the sources which it cites. Further, its legal decisions are based in large part on the daily realities of Lithuanian Jewry, making it in many ways inapplicable for other Diaspora communities.

What the Rambam did - and what makes him so unique as to engender a movement in connection to his halakhic code - is as follows:

  • Complete: The 14 books of the Mishneh Thorah comprise the entirety of halakhah for all ages and epochs of Jewish existence, both inside and outside of Eress Yisra'el.
  • Accessible: The Mishneh Thorah is written in a largely simple and straightforward dialect of Mishnaic Hebrew and the material is organized in a logical and topical fashion.
  • Transcends Local and Later Customs: The Mishneh Thorah is a work that usually quotes the relevant Mishnayoth verbatim, translates the relevant passages of the Gemara and then quotes them verbatim, and also includes simple explanations and reasoning based largely on the consensus of the Geonim. Although the Rambam will at times mention the customs of Babylon, Israel, and even those of his own teachers in Spain, his work is virtually bereft of local and later customs developed in the exile. This has a unifying and simplifying effect that is unparalleled and unmatched.
  • A Rational Approach: This aspect of the Mishneh Thorah has always attracted adherents, however in today's culture of information and a desire for religion that makes sense, it stands alone as an expression of authentic halakhah and ethical teachings that is thoroughly based in reason and practicality, its attraction is all the more so. It lacks mentions of evil spirits, demons, segulas, reincarnation, instructions on the efficacy of amulets, and the like. Rather, it attempts to rid common Jewish practice of such superstitious elements that had crept into Judaism even in the time of the Rambam.
  • Reaches a Singular, Confident Conclusion: Far from the later trend to try and be careful to respect and fulfill all halakhic opinions [or as many as possible] simultaneously - even rejected opinions from the Mishnah and Gemara themselves - the Mishneh Thorah brings one exclusive and confident conclusion in almost every case it contains.

The reason why his work is most popular these days among converts and especially ba^alei teshuvah is because by utilizing their basic knowledge of Hebrew they were exposed to as a child, a good dictionary, and a shorter amount of time than pouring themselves into a Daf Yomi program, they can understand the halakhah. Not only this, but they can master a lot more and without the confusion of the back and forth of the Gemara.

Essentially, the vision of the Rambam is beginning to find fruition in our times. May it be to his merit.

[For a full explanation of the purpose and intention behind the authoring of the Mishneh Thorah, read the haqdamah to the Mishneh Thorah.]

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If you can read Hebrew, then there is an extensive explanation of "why Mishne Torah" by a group of Talmidei HaRambam associated with Ohel Moshe who rule exclusively according to MT.

A very short and incomplete summary ( from memory ) of the above:

  1. It's the only complete compendium that covers all of Jewish Observance.
  2. It's written with the intention of making the average Jew self sufficient in common matters of practical halacha.
  3. It's not influenced by Kabbalah or extra Talmudic minhagim or rulings
  4. The Beit Yosef himself said that anyone can choose to rely exclusively on the MT. ( have to look up the reference for that )
  5. It makes the point of trying to identify the origins of rulings, i.e. Torah M'Sinai, Daat Moshe, Daat Yehudit, M'Divrai Sofrim, Ezra, Chumra, etc...
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Why the downvote? –  Monica Cellio Oct 1 '13 at 17:53
Indeed, what's wrong with my answer? –  Robert S. Barnes Oct 1 '13 at 18:17
I don't think any of those statements are 100% accurate –  Double AA Oct 1 '13 at 18:30
@DoubleAA It's a summary from memory of what these people are claiming - I thought it was clear that this is not my personal opinion. –  Robert S. Barnes Oct 1 '13 at 18:45
I never said it was your opinion nor did I downvote. –  Double AA Oct 1 '13 at 18:47

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