Chabad centers around Greater Washington this weekend will celebrate the movement’s completion of daily study of the medieval scholar and philosopher Rambam’s major work, Mishneh Torah. It’s a course of study three years long, says Rabbi Berel Wolvovsky, of Chabad of Silver Spring.
“As we culminate these three years of the study of Rambam, there are many people in the Chabads in the area that have completed this cycle,” he said.
On Sunday, Wolvovsky will host a siyum, or a celebration of the completion of a course of study. Chabad centers in Maryland, the District and Virginia are taking part.In addition to lunch, the siyum will feature lectures by Rabbi Ahron Lopiansky, head of the Yeshiva Gedola of Greater Washington; Rabbi Moshe Slavaticki, head of Yeshivas Lubavitch of Baltimore; and Rabbi Leibel Fajnland, director of the Chabad of Reston and Herndon.
Completing Mishneh Torah is “something that deserves not just a celebration, but a coming together so people can learn from each other and from the people who will be giving lectures,” Wolvovsky said, “And to create momentum for the upcoming cycle [of study], to have more people join and have this experience.”
Also known as Maimonides, Rambam — an abbreviation of Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon — was a Sephardic philosopher and one of the most influential Jewish intellectuals of the Middle Ages. The Mishneh Torah expands upon Jewish law, dictating different parts of daily life and religious rituals.
Chabad’s Rambam study program was begun in 1984 by the movement’s rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson.
The Mishneh Torah was controversial when Rambam composed it in the 12th century, with Rambam being criticized for not citing his sources. The work’s accessibility and inclusion of different aspects of Jewish scholarship was another point of contention, as many early critics feared the Mishneh Torah would render the Talmud irrelevant.
Today, the Mishneh Torah’s accessibility is considered one of its greatest qualities, said Rabbi Sholom Raichik of Chabad of Upper Montgomery County in Gaithersburg.
“Rambam was the first one to take all of the Talmud and the practical details of it and put it in an organized way, section by section,” Raichik explained. “Nothing of that nature had done before. He writes in his introduction that he wanted to give people access to everything God gave us at Sinai.”
Raichik believes that anyone can understand Rambam’s teachings, regardless of their background.
“When he wrote this work, Maimonides didn’t intend for it to be something reserved for scholars. He wrote it for everyone,” he said.
Raichik said Schneerson helped popularize the work further.
“What the rebbe did with this was that he encouraged everyone to study Maimonides, which up until that point was reserved for intense yeshivah study.”
Self-study options have increased the work’s reach, Wolvovsky said. He noted that the rise of remote learning during the COVID-19 pandemic created greater accessibility for those who may not have had the resources to study the Rambam before.
Rambam’s works have also reached people of other religions, said Rabbi Levi Shemtov executive vice president of American Friends of Lubavitch (Chabad). His works are also studied by many Islamic scholars.
Shemtov said he has traveled to Muslim communities in the Gulf region, “It’s amazing how they refer to ‘Moussa bin Mimoun’ [Moshe ben Maimon] with awe. Although they differ religiously, the impact he has on the scholars in the Muslim world, not only in terms of his theological mastery but philosophy, history and medicine, is awe-inspiring.”
Shemtov said he recently visited Saudi Arabia and met with a Muslim scholar. When Shemtov mentioned how important Maimonides is to the Jewish people, the scholar noted that he is a very important figure to Muslim scholars as well.
“What I learned about Maimonides for decades from the rebbe and my rabbinic teachers was more than sufficient for me to understand why he is referred to in Jewish scholarship as ‘the great eagle,’” Shemtov said. “But increasingly discovering how revered he is beyond the Jewish world is even further illuminating.” ■
Siyum Harambam will be held on April 30 at 1 p.m. at Chabad of Silver Spring, 519 Lamberton Dr., Silver Spring; free; for reservations, visit rambamgw.com/siyum