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Anyone know of a good book to learn Arabic in order to unlock the Moreh Nevuchim and other seforim?

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Professor Michael Schwartz did the unlocking work for you; you should consider availing yourself of his meticulous translation and notes, for free: press.tau.ac.il/perplexed/toc.asp –  Curiouser Jan 20 '13 at 17:44
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5 Answers

     The industry standard book for Classical Arabic is "A Grammar of the Arabic Language" by William Wright. This is a translation of a tutorial originally written in German by Carl Caspari. The edition I have is actually two volumes in two separate books.

     I am not an expert in Judeo-Arabic or Jewish Arabic of the middle ages. However, I would speculate that a scholar with a mastery of both Biblical Hebrew and Classical Arabic would be able to navigate through Rambam's writings. Modern Standard Arabic (فصحى) grammar has not changed much from the language of the Qur'an (~600 CE). Since Rambam's Judeo-Arabic fell in between these two times, I would not expect his grammar to be vastly different. As Paquda mentioned above, there may be foreign vocuabulary words which are unfamiliar.

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Knowledge of Classical Arabic is sufficient; any specifically Medieval (more exactly: 'Middle Arabic') deviations from the classical in the Rambam's language are very minor. And learning the convention for representing Arabic in Hebrew letters as used in the Guide is a trivial task if you know the Arabic alphabet. You can therefore use primers meant for Classical Arabic to learn the basics and dictionaries of Classical Arabic when working through the text. Arabic dictionaries are organized by root, so you need to figure out a word's root before you can look it up, which can be quite a challenge when the root has weak letters that disappear or change in various conjugations or when letters are prefixed, suffixed, or in-fixed (as often happens in plural forms), i.e., just to look up a word in the dictionary you have to have basic competence in grammar and a 'feel' for the language.

Linguistically, there is another layer on top of Classical Arabic itself: Aristotelian philosophical and scientific terminology (as Shalom noted). These are terms that would not be familiar to most people who read Classical Arabic nowadays: Greek terms for which the original translators of Greek texts into Arabic found or invented Arabic equivalents. The Rambam uses these constantly. This issue will come up, by the way, even if you read the Guide in Hebrew: ibn Tibbon created his own matching vocabulary in Hebrew and it is just as unknown to even well-educated contemporary readers of Hebrew.

Learning any language is an enormous amount of work. You can spend years and years and still be just a beginner. Arabic is a particularly complex and difficult language--it is much more complex than Hebrew, for example. It is hard to get anywhere without people to teach you and without hour after hour of struggle.

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Well said. I do think one needs to learn Aristotle in order to fully apprehend many of the philosophers (including RaMBaM) of the Middle Ages (at least, when they write about theology and philosophy, and not simply writing commentary). And, that is an endeavor in its own right. –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Jan 22 '13 at 18:12
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I'd recommend the standard texts below:

David Cowan's Modern Literary Arabic

and the Hans Wehr Dictionary of Modern Written Arabic.

The reason I recommend these is that, while there are some differences between modern standard Arabic and classical Arabic, these are excellent works on the former, and mastering written Arabic will be more than adequate to prepare you to approach classical texts.

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Also, there's An Arabic-English Lexicon composed by William Edward Lane (1863) and it is freely available here: tyndalearchive.com/tabs/lane. I know that site is a Christian site, but I'm unaware of another site offering this lexicon, so take advantage of it (can't beat free). I have Hans Wehr's for MSA, but Lane's is indispensable! –  H3br3wHamm3r81 Jan 20 '13 at 21:00
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If you are simply looking for a Grammar in Medieval Arabic(which if I am not mistaken would be Classical Arabic), you should try an Islamic bookstore, as that is what the Qu'ran is written in and thus what most Muslims need to learn in order to read it in its original language. Or you could try typing Classical Arabic into Amazon as I just did.

If you are trying to learn Judeo-Arabic that could be a bit trickier. First you have the Hebraisms in the language. Then you have the transliteration system(which is not always so standard), as well as adjustments for local dialect as you come into the Modern Arabic period(which the Rambam wrote during the cross over period).

If you are really committed to learning Arabic and Judeo Arabic, I would say start with Classical Arabic, and then tackle some side by side translations such as Shalom suggested. If your goal is to gain a deeper understanding of the Moreh aside from what is available in translation and commentaries by other Judeo-Arabic speaking Rishonim, understand that it will probably take you several years of serious study to develop the necessary fluency to understand the nuance of the language sufficiently. Hatzlaha.

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I agree that classical Arabic should be the starting point, but by no means the ending point. That's like saying, you want to learn Yiddish? Go get a German dictionary. For starters, the alphabets are different. –  Seth J Jan 20 '13 at 20:08
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Mossad HaRav Kook has Rambam's own Sefer HaMitzvot with his original Judeo-Arabic and the Hebrew translation, side-by-side ("mekor v'targum.") You could probably pick it up from those parallel texts.

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The way Rav Kapach learnt Judeo Arabic to translate the Above was because he grew up in Yemen –  SimchasTorah Dec 17 '10 at 5:02
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For what it is worth, I agree with Shalom, but I still find the philosophical terminology quite challenging as most of it has no parallel in Sefer Hamitzvos. Here is a copy of the Moreh in Arabic: seforimonline.org/seforimdb/… –  Yahu Dec 17 '10 at 5:09
    
Agree with R' Yahu, the philosophical vocabulary is its own hurdle. The parallel-text book is this: mosadharavkook.com/store/item2.php?id=248 (not available for viewing online as far as I know); see also mi.yodeya.com/questions/4277/moreh-nevuchim-arabic-hebrew –  Shalom Dec 17 '10 at 5:30
    
"pick it up" huh? Makes it sound rather easy. Perhaps better to simply rely on translations from those more experienced or learn it properly. However could this is still worth sometihng in terms of learning –  Yehoshua Jan 20 '13 at 11:41
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