Cambridge University Library

Maimonides Exhibition: Autographs and other documents

These web pages are based on an exhibition of Maimonides' autograph manuscripts and related contemporary documents. The exhibition was displayed in the North Front corridor of Cambridge University Library during May and June 2004
Maimonides' philosophical work


 Autograph draft of the Guide for the Perplexed
 Cambridge University Library T-S 10Ka4.1
Maimonides' philosophical work Dalalat al-Ha'irin (in Hebrew, More ha-Nevukhim), the 'Guide for the Perplexed', is one of the two books, the other being the Mishneh Torah, on which Maimonides' lasting fame rests. This is an early draft of the work (which was probably completed by 1190), complete with the author's corrections, additions and deletions. It is in the - at times almost illegible - hand that Maimonides habitually employed in his drafts.

Maimonides' halakhic work


 Autograph draft of the Commentary on the Mishnah
 Cambridge University Library T-S F3.11
On display here are two leaves from Maimonides' commentary to tractate Shabbat of the Mishnah. The Mishnah commentary was one of his earliest halakhic works and one which he tinkered with throughout his later life; for this reason, it often differs markedly from the standard published edition, and the autographs provide intriguing glimpses of the evolution of his ideas over the course of his intellectual career.


 Hilkhot ha-Yerushalmi
 Cambridge University Library T-S F17.7
Unique autograph fragments of Maimonides' work on the Palestinian Talmud, Hilkhot ha-Yerushalmi, have been preserved in the Cairo Genizah. The work was never published by Maimonides and was only known through his mention of it in another of his works. Thanks to our knowledge of Maimonides' handwriting, a few precious fragments of this long-lost work have now been identified.


T-S 10K8.1,r

a href= "/cgi-bin/GOLD/thumbs?class_mark=Or.10K8.1"> Autograph leaf of the Mishneh Torah
 Cambridge University Library T-S 10K8.1

Autograph draft of the Mishneh Torah, a leaf from the opening of Hilkhot Nizqe Mamon. The leaf dates from the period 1170-80, when Maimonides was compiling the work. The crossing out and correction in the centre of the page is where Maimonides originally wrote the title Hilkhot Neziqim and corrected it to Hilkhot Nizqe Mamon. The rest of the leaf is virtually identical to the modern published editions.



 Autograph responsum concerning an oath made in anger and later regretted
 Cambridge University Library T-S 12.201
Maimonides' responsa (answers to halakhic queries) were in Judaeo-Arabic, as was customary at the time. Though the questions are often long and always formally phrased, his responses were invariably short to the point of terseness, no doubt due to the pressing demands on his time of all his interests and responsibilities. His replies are always prefaced by al-jawab, 'the answer', and finish with 'Moses wrote this'. Interestingly, none of these autographs appear in medieval collections of his responsa, suggesting that no copies of them were ever made.



 Autograph responsum concerning marriage
 Cambridge University Library T-S 12.202
The questioner politely inquires of Maimonides (described as 'the precious diadem' and 'the great councillor') whether a certain man may legitimately marry his nephew's widow. Maimonides' magnificently succint reply occupies the small amount of blank space left underneath the question at the bottom of the leaf.



 Autograph responsum concerning a case of sexual slander
 Cambridge University Library T-S 8K13.8
The first part of the question is preserved in another Genizah fragment (T-S K13.8). It explains how accusations of improper conduct have been made against a respected teacher of children, who is pure of heart and never been involved in love affairs. Maimonides' answer - which is both halakhically acceptable and full of common sense - follows at the end of the question and is signed, as usual, with 'Moses wrote this'.


Maimonides' medical work


 Maimonides' On Sexual Intercourse
 Cambridge University Library T-S Ar.44.79
Maimonides' fame as a philosopher and halakhist sometimes eclipses his medical reputation, but, during his lifetime, he was equally as famous as a physician, with his knowledge and skills being sought by Jews and Muslims, and, reportedly, even by the Crusader king of Jerusalem. Several of his medical writings are preserved in autograph in the Cairo Genizah, but on display here is one of his lesser known works, Fi `l-Jima'a (On Sexual Intercourse), which was a treatise on sex and aphrodisiacs concentrating heavily on dietetics, a branch of medicine in which Maimonides was a pioneer. It was commissioned by the sultan Omar, son of Nur al-Din and nephew of Saladin. Since it was intended for a non-Jewish reader, the fair copy of the work would have been in Arabic script, but it is interesting to note that Maimonides wrote the draft in Judaeo-Arabic (Arabic in Hebrew characters, the written vernacular of medieval Egyptian Jewry). Evidently he found it more convenient to write in Hebrew characters when preparing the work.


Letters of Maimonides


 Autograph letter of recommendation by Maimonides for a scholar from Morocco
 Cambridge University Library T-S 12.192
Maimonides wrote this letter on behalf of a scholar called Isaac al-Dar`i. Dar`i and his son, whose family hailed originally from Dar`a in Morocco, were newcomers to Egypt and needed help from the local Jewish community to pay the poll-tax (in Arabic, jizya or jaliya) which the Muslim authorities imposed on the Jewish and Christian minorities (the dhimmi) under their jurisdiction. The poll-tax was a considerable burden on all but the most wealthy, and it was common for the Jewish community to rally round and assist in its payment. This letter probably dates from earlier in Maimonides' time in Egypt (the 1170s perhaps) and it is easier to read than many of his autographs, being written in a more formal and earlier hand. His full signature, 'Moses son of the scholar Maymun - may the memory of the righteous be blessed', appears at the end.



 Autograph draft reply by Maimonides to a scholar who is seeking a meeting
 Cambridge University Library T-S 16.290
Having received a letter from a scholar, Maimonides drafted his reply on the back. Elaborately-phrased and containing fulsome praise for Maimonides' Guide for the Perplexed, the scholar's letter had asked for a meeting in order to discuss some passages in the work that had caused him difficulty. Not wishing to let slip an opportunity, he had also requested advice on the proper diet for someone engaged in studies. In his polite reply, Maimonides tells the inquirer how busy his medical work keeps him, explaining that he returns home only late and completely exhausted, but generously suggests that they might be able to meet on the sabbath in the study hall. He ends by recommending almonds, raisins and date honey as suitable snacks for a busy scholar. The letter clearly postdates publication of the Guide, and therefore was probably written sometime after 1190, towards the end of Maimonides' life.

Contemporary documents concerning Maimonides


 The last letter that Maimonides received from his brother
 Cambridge University Library Or.1081 J1
This badly damaged fragment is the last letter (c. 1170) that David Maimonides sent to his older brother before taking ship for a trading voyage to India. The letter was dispatched from `Aydhab, the Sudanese port, which had been David's original destination. Having failed, however, to find suitable goods to buy, David decided to follow in the footsteps of other Jewish merchants and take ship to India, a dangerous but potentially quite lucrative undertaking. His letter is mostly an explanation of this fateful decision, for his older brother had strongly warned against it. David's death on that voyage brought financial ruin upon the Maimonides family and caused Moses to take to his bed for a year. David, a trader in gems, had been the main provider for the whole family (though he was guided in everything by his older brother's wisdom). With his death, Moses was forced to seek work as a practising physician, an ultimately fortuitous move, since his medical career eventually brought him recognition and influence at the highest levels of Egyptian society, in the Ayyubid court (though, as he later stated in a letter, it did not deliver him great wealth).



 Appointed 'Head of the Jews'
 Cambridge University Library T-S J2.78
This is a draft of a proclamation declaring Maimonides Ra’is al-Yahud, 'Head of the Jews'. The holder of the post was chosen by the Jewish notables of Fustat and recognised by the Muslim authorities as the official representative of the Jewish community. Maimonides held the position twice (in 1171-2 and 1196-1204), and this document refers to his first term in office.


 A visit to Maimonides' home
 Cambridge University Library T-S 8J14.18
This is an account, by an unknown writer, of a visit that he made to Maimonides' house. It appears to have been the postscript to a letter that is now missing. The writer was clearly very excited by his visit and takes considerable delight in describing with great attention to detail how Maimonides, together with his son Abraham, behaved towards him and, al-Jalal, the writer's son. Although the host and his son are only referred to as R. Moses and R. Abraham, there can be little doubt from the tone of his account as to their identity.