“…within Mishna Torah, there may be Talmudic laws which have been redefined or reformulated for anti-Qaraite reasons”

Professor Haym Soloveitchik has argued convincingly that the unique arrangement of Hilchos Shabbos in Rambam’s Mishna Torah was organized specifically with anti-Qaraite intent. Briefly, Rambam’s formulation of the Shabbos laws does not follow a chronological order or any other expected logical order. In his opening chapters, Rambam lays down the following rules: preserving lifesaving overrides the restrictions of Shabbos; only work done on Shabbos itself is forbidden (e.g. shehiyah and hatmanah are allowed); work done by a Gentile upon a Jew’s request is only forbidden by rabbinic law. These three rulings were denied by Qaraites. Rambam is then careful to segregate the Torah laws (di’Oraisas) into one group of chapters (7-12) and all the rabbinic rulings (di’rabbanans) into another set (21-24), with eight chapters separating the two. Soleveitchik argues that this was done to “highlight the very existence and legal force of rabbinic enactments, both of which were denied by the Qaraites”. Finally, Maimonides concludes the laws of Shabbos with an uplifting positive note: the laws of kibbud ve’oneg Shabbos. This further emphasizes the difference between the Qaraite and Rabbanite Shabbos, because Qaraites treated Shabbos “as a day of ascetic retreat and allowed only the barest minimum of eating and sleeping.” Rambam emphasizesאיזה הוא עינוג: זה שאמרו חכמים שצריך לתקן תבשיל שמן ביותר, ומשקה מבושם, הכול לשבת and אכילת בשר ושתיית יין בשבת, עינוג הוא לה.

With this argument Soloveichik is suggesting that Rambam organized material in Mishna Torah so that the differences between Qaraite and Rabbanite Shabbos are emphasized to the reader. However, Soloveitchik takes matters one step further: He notes that Rambam is the first to define intimacy on Shabbos as oneg Shabbos: תשמיש המיטה, מעונג שבת הוא. The Talmud only states that intimacy on Shabbos is allowed, but does not elevate this act to the categorization of mitzvas oneg Shabbos. Here, Soloveitchik argues that Rambam actually redefined the Talmudic law for polemical reasons. This is a revolutionary proposition as we are generally under the assumption that the Mishna Torah is a practical summary of the Talmud – as Rambam tells us in his introduction to Mishna Torah. Professor Soloveitchik has opened the door for the understanding that within Mishna Torah, there may be Talmudic laws which have been redefined or reformulated for anti-Qaraite reasons.

Tzvi H. Adams, “Waiting Six Hours for Dairy – A Rabbanite Response to Qaraism”, Seforim Blog (11 August 2015) [http://seforim.blogspot.com/2015/08/waiting-six-hours-for-dairy-rabbanite.html]