This answer explains (very nicely) the justification and practice of those who consider themselves followers of the Rambam, as opposed to any other opinion. In the cited responsa of the Beis Yosef, he is specifically addressing those who become followers of the Rambam.

I am unaware of "Rashba-ists," "Halachos Gedolos-ists, "or "Tur-ists," even though they all have their own works of systematized Halachic codification. I am unaware of "Shachists" or "Aruch HaShulchanists."

Why did the Rambam, seemingly uniquely, develop a following of students, generations later, who follow him exclusively?

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    Admittedly, being a full-time Tur-ist might be difficult, with all the travelling involved :) Feb 3 '15 at 0:59
  • What about followers of the Gra? Not sure whether they would match Rambamists in degree.
    – yitznewton
    Feb 3 '15 at 1:29
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    I think there are those who rule like the Aruch Hashulchan. I don't think they're called -ists, though.
    – msh210
    Feb 3 '15 at 2:33
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    @msh210 Really? To the exclusion of any other? Feb 3 '15 at 3:19
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    @YeZ, I'd say that you should just post a new question.
    – Isaac Moses
    Feb 3 '15 at 21:22

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.]

Hope that this helps. Kol tuv.

  • +1, well done. A few points: The Rashba also wrote Toras Habayis etc. - he has more codified and organized writing than just his Teshuvos. "that had crept in even in the time of the Rambam" should seemingly be "even in the time of the Talmud." Does the amount of works that have been authored trying to figure out what the Rambam meant or how to resolve various contradictions have any bearing on the assessment of his being so "simplified?" And it isn't just a Litvish Rosh Yeshiva thing to try to figure out what he holds - it starts a long time ago. Feb 3 '15 at 19:35
  • Sorry, I am removing the non-duplicate part of the question to ask it separately, which makes your last paragraph obsolete. You could repost it here if you want. Feb 3 '15 at 21:31
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    @YeZ - Indeed the amount of books and commentaries written to attempt to figure out how the Rambam "holds" are vast indeed. However, the majority of them are flawed from the start by either having poor and/or censored manuscripts as well as not being familiar with the entirety of a) the MT itself and b) the full breadth of the Rambam's works. Once these are corrected, the vast majority of apparent contradictions and problems vanish. This is discussed in detail by Rav Yosef Qafih z"l in his introduction to the MT. The Rambam - in pure form - is still the simplest. Kol tuv.
    – user3342
    Feb 3 '15 at 22:42
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    @YeZ - Actually, the RambaN less so but, yes, even him. The Kesef Mishneh and Beth Yosef in some places, and certainly the Maggid Mishneh in many places. This is certainly not meant as a disrespect to kevodham ha-rabbanim (hw"s), but is rather a historical and textual reality that affected them. One example that has always struck as an extreme case is the Maharshal where he maintains definitively that the position of the Rambam is that ^ohf be-Halav is de-oraytha. But there are no less than TWO explicit statements to the contrary in the text of the MT itself! ...
    – user3342
    Feb 3 '15 at 23:54
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    contd.: One is in Hilkhoth Ma'akhaloth Assuroth and the other in Hilkhoth Mamrim. So, what are we to conclude? That the brilliancy of the Maharshal was somehow lacking (hw"s)? Rather, it behooves us to either say that his text was maculate (as most printed texts were in his time) or that he only had certain volumes of the MT - or both. These were all great scholars for sure, but the world was not like it is now and they were impeded in their respective understandings by faulty and censored/incomplete manuscripts of the Rambam. Kol tuv.
    – user3342
    Feb 3 '15 at 23:57

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