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There are many yeshiva systems and darchei halimud (most famously Brisk) who analyze the Rambam "k'chut hasa'arah" - that is to say, exacting to the point that if the Rambam uses one word, specifically doesn't use another word, or puts a certain halachah in one place versus another. Tremendous amounts of Torah have come out based on these types of questions, but the axiomatic theme is that the Rambam is so exacting in his writing of the Mishnah Torah.

On what basis is that assumption made?

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  • 3
    The same is said about Rashi and all Rishonim
    – Chatzkel
    Commented Nov 13, 2021 at 23:44
  • 3
    Isn't this the default assumption when reading just about any law text? Who writes laws sloppily???
    – Double AA
    Commented Nov 14, 2021 at 1:00
  • 4
    I've probably spent too much time learning for the question to make sense. If you learn for just a little bit you think could this person really have written so carefully? And if you learn a lot you realize how could they not?
    – Double AA
    Commented Nov 14, 2021 at 15:17
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    The Rambam requires the most explanation because he explained himself the least. Therefore one must also rely on subtler clues to figure out his meaning.
    – N.T.
    Commented Nov 16, 2021 at 6:45
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    @Yehuda When it comes to Rashi on Chumash, you have hundreds of commentaries written by the great Acharonim: the Mizrachi, Maharal, Maharshal, Levush, Taz, Mas'as Binyamin, to name just a few. And then you have thousands of commentaries who spend significant time trying to answer his words. To connect to my earlier point, Rash in Chumash is kind of similar to Mishneh Torah. He culled all the sources in Chazal to provide an explanation of the verses without really explaining his method or sources, leading to questions about why he picked a minority opinion, or blended opinions into a new ...
    – N.T.
    Commented Jul 21, 2022 at 8:23

1 Answer 1

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This approach, which sees the Rambam as having been precise, systematic and rigorous, in his restatement of the halakhah in the Mishneh Torah, has roots way further than Brisk or the other contemporary methodologies. It can be found expressed in diverse rabbinic characters going back for centuries.

R. Shem Tobh ibn Gaon (1283 – c. 1330), in his commentary on the Mishneh Torah Migdal Oz (H. Shehitah 6:8) wrote:

ודברי ר"מ ז"ל מקובלים מפי רבותיו נ"ע מפי הגאונים ז"ל וכפי לשון הגמרא לא פחות ולא יתר דקדק על לשונו כמו שתדקדק על לשון הגמרא

The words of the Rambam were recieved from his masters, and from the Geonim, and just as the language of the Talmud is precise and doesn't include more or less than necessary, so to may be scrutinize his language just as we scrutinize the language of the Talmud

According to this perspective, not only are the Rambam's words precise, they are deserving of the same degree of scrutiny as the words of Hazal!

Discussing a case where the Rambam appears to have overlooked a rabbinic passage in his formulation of the law, R. Yaaqobh Emden (1697 – 1776) wrote (Lehem Shamayim, Sheqalim 8:8):

אמנם על כרחנו צריך שנפרש דברי הרמב"ם ז"ל בענין שיסכימו להלכה ואל האמת, כי אי אפשר להמאור הגדול שיטעה בדבר ברור . . . ואף אנו יודעין כמה קושי יש בהבנה זו. ומה נעשה וצער גדול היה לנו להחליט הטעות ח"ו בדברי הרמב"ם ז"ל. על כן לא נמנענו מללמוד עליו זכות מה, שכך היא חובתינו וכך יפה לנו.

In other words, though we must read the Rambam as being in consonance with the halakhah and the truth, it's not possible that the Rambam - the "Great Illuminator" made a simple mistake and overlooked a known/relevant rabbinic passage. We must develop a limmud zekhuth when facing such perplexities, and to do so is fit and proper.

In response to a scholar that sought to resolve a difficulty in the Rambam by alleging that the Rambam was less than exacting in his formulation of the halakhah, the Hida (1724 - 1806) wrote (Haim Shaal, vol. 1, s. 15):

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If such approaches are adopted every insignificant student will be able to offer them, and what value is there in writing such things? Furthermore, Maimonides' greatness is renowned. A number of Maimonides' words are difficult to understand, yet the later authorities found a proper explanation, for all of his words are carefully formulated. Therefore, if due to the weakness of our intellect we cannot resolve his words, assume that the fault lies with us, and if it is empty, it is because of us. This is something that doesn't need to be said and is obvious, and so have I received from my teachers that in our day far be it to offer such explanations... The great authorities of years past were masters of the Torah and they could say whatever appealed to them, but not us.

In others words, saying the Rambam was imprecise is a cheap way of getting out of a difficulty and doing so detracts from learning. If we apply ourselves, we will come to a resolution just like previous generations that faced such questions.

If you are interested in exploring this topic further, I highly suggest Marc. B. Shapiro's "Studies in Maimonides and His Interpreters" which spends about 85 pages navigating it.

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