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Rambam writings translated and published in Russian
Israel’s SHAMIR & New York’s FREE agencies in joint venture

BROOKLYN, NY — Wednesday, March 01, 2006
by Ray Kestenbaum

Brooklyn, NY--Never will the 12th century cities of Cordoba, Fez and Tiberius get more connected to modern Moscow, Be’ersheva and Brooklyn than by the newly published Russian-language book titled “Rambam - Collected Writings”. The Rambam, an acronym for Rabbeinu Moshe ben Maimon, or Maimonides, probably never figured his books or letters would be immortalized through the ages.

But they were and the present anthology is offering a taste of the epic Torah scholarship and gigantic intellect of the 12th century Spanish-born physician of whom it has been said, “From Moshe (Rabbeinu) to Moshe (Maimonides) there never stood another Moshe.” The offer is made without cost to over three million Russian-speaking Jews in the world today.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, recognized the Rambam’s contributions to Jewish life and learning and urged his chassidim to study the works of the Rambam, whether it was his towering Mishne Torah (Yad Hachazaka), which covers all of Jewish law and lore, or his Sefer Hamitzvos.

The present book was published in honor of the Rambam’s 800th yahrtzeit, which took place on the 20th of Taves, 5766. The Rambam was born in Cordoba, Spain, in 4895 (1135 CE) and died at age 70 in Fostat, Egypt. He is buried in Tiberius, Eretz Yisrael, right next to the famous Tana, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai.

The book was jointly published by the SHAMIR organization in Jerusalem and FREE Publishing House, a division of  Friends of Refugees of Eastern Europe, in Brooklyn, NY. Professor Herman Branover, Editor-in-Chief of SHAMIR, observes that “Russian people do a lot more reading than Americans.” He wasn’t concerned that the book would be too lofty for the average Russian Jewish reader.

Rabbi Yosef Y. Okunov, Director of FREE Publishing House, co-publisher of the book, says, “Our goal is to get this book into every Russian library and every shul where Russian Jews daven and to the homes of those who are searching for authentic Jewish learning.”
 
The 446-page hard-cover book was researched, translated and edited by a team of professionals headed by Dr. Branover in Israel. Rabbi N.Z. (Velvel) Rapoport served as chief translator and Pinchas Gil, Publishing Manager of Shamir, managed the operation. Over 3,000 copies were printed in the first press run by Chish Printing in Ramle, Israel, but many requests have prompted SHAMIR and FREE to embark on a second printing.

Six Themes of the Rambam

The book elaborates on six of the Rambam’s many thematic writings. It opens with a description of the Mishnah’s six tractates, the compendium of oral Torah law, and how these were derived and produced. The Mishnah, edited by Rabbi Judah Ha-Nasi in the second and third centuries, was disputed and composed over a period of some 250 years and is the forerunner of the 24 tractates of the Gemorrah.

The second part is Rambam’s description of the Sanhedrin, the Supreme Court and judicial authority of ancient times, and how it operated. The book focuses on the first and 10th chapters of the Tractate Sanhedrin. 

In the third part of the book, the Rambam undertakes to delve into the Pirkei Avot, The Ethics of Our Fathers, explaining how each ethical principal has its origin in the written and oral Torah law. Next is the Russian translation of the Rambam’s “Iggeret Teiman,” a letter to the leaders of Yemen that urges them to teach the Yemenite Jewish population to hold fast to Jewish law and life and not sink into the morass of assimilation as so many Jews in the Diaspora have succumbed to in the 12th century. The problems of the Jewish people in the Rambam’s era were not much different from those we face today.

Following the translation of Iggeret Teiman, Professor Branover chose his “Iggeret Redifut,” an essay on how to respond to persecution. The Rambam himself experienced persecution under the rule of the fanatical Muslim Almohads, who hated the Jews and tried to convert them to Islam. The Rambam and his family were forced to flee their home town of Cordoba and wander for survival. He finally settled in Fez, Morocco, the ancient capital of North Africa.

In the final section, the editors chose to elaborate on the Rambam’s treatment of “t’chiyat hameitim,” resurrection of the dead, which the Rambam affirms as the last declaration of his 13 principles of fundamental Judaism.

Fascinating as it is, the book is but a touch of the vast writings of Rebbe Moshe ben Maimon. “When one completes the works of the Rambam and internalizes what he’s read,” said Rabbi Okunov, “he has virtually mastered the entire Torah.” Rabbi Okunov was referring to his Mishne Torah, upon which Rabbi Yosef Karo’s Shulchan Aruch, Code of Jewish Law, is based, let alone his great philosophic work Moreh Nevuchim and his many Iggerot, letters, and essays.

FREE Publishing House is in the process of building up its Russian-Language Jewish library, particularly its translated classic works of Torah and commentary. Since its founding in 1971, it has published over 40 different titles in an effort to inform and educate the world’s three million plus Russian-speaking Jews. FREE Publishing House is a division of Friends of Refuges of Eastern Europe that was founded by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1969, as the Chabad-Lubavitch Russian immigrant program.

SHAMIR, which is based in Jerusalem, has published over 400 titles and is well known throughout the Russian Jewish world. SHAMIR and FREE have a winning partnership in the Rambam book venture.

SHAMIR, Israel’s Association of Jewish Professionals from the Former Soviet Union, was founded in 1972 and is still going strong. The name is an acronym for Shomrei Mitzvot Yotzei Russia, Mitzvah Observant Russian Émigrés. SHAMIR is the oldest voluntary association for Russian Jewry in Israel and has been lauded by Israel’s late Prime Minister Menachem Begin, the late Pulitzer Prize winner in Literature Herman Wouk, The Chairman and President of World Jewish Congress, Latvian Council of Jewish Communities, Yuli Edelstein, Chaver of the Israeli Knesset and others.

It was the Lubavitcher Rebbe who appointed Dr. Branover, in the early 70’s to organize in Israel with the aim of disseminating Torah education to Soviet émigrés, many of whom escaped to live as Jews and in freedom. The plan was to translate into Russian the holy Jewish texts. Indeed, within a few years, SHAMIR had published and distributed the translated Siddur, Machzor, Chumash, Tanach, Shulchan Aruch, parts of the Mishneh and the Rebbe’s Farbrengens.

Dr. Branover was himself a “refusnik” who had spent World War II years in Siberia with his family and because of his belief in and study of Judaism was always in contention with the Soviet authorities. Born in Riga, Latvia, Dr. Branover, managed to educate himself, earning a Doctor of Science in Physics from the Leningrad Polytechnic Institute. He became an expert in magneto-hydrodynamics and teaches that subject at the Ben Gurion University in Be’ersheva.

Widely respected as teacher, author and translator, Dr. Branover, in addition to academic responsibilities, undertook the Rebbe’s challenge and continued his Torah activism in Israel as he did in his younger years in defiance of the Communist dictatorship in Latvia and the Soviet Union. He hired teams of academics to study, research, translate, edit, publish and distribute the literary undertakings of SHAMIR.

“Rambam - Collected Writings” can be acquired from the FREE Publishing House at 1383 President Street , Brooklyn, NY, 11213, by telephone at 718-467-0860, by fax at 718-467-2146 or by e-mail at publications@russianjewry.org. It can also be ordered though FREE’s website at www.FREEPublishingHouse.com.

In Israel the book can be ordered from SHAMIR Publishing House, 6 Yellin Street. P.O.B. 5749, Jerusalem 91057, by telephone at 02-5385702, by fax at 02-5385118, by e-mail at shamirbooks@bezeqint.net or by ordering through its website at www.shamirbooks.org.il.

This Book is available online at FREE Publishing House Bookstore.


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