The Laws of Idolatry | Rambam’s Mishneh Torah | Part Eight
The Mishneh Torah (literally, “Review of the Torah”) was conceived as an all-inclusive halakhic compendium, a guide to the entire system of Jewish law. Maimonides was explicit about his reasons for undertaking an encyclopedic work of such magnitude. He noted that the trials and tribulations of life in the Diaspora had deprived scholars and laymen alike of the ability to understand and assimilate the vast Talmudic literature and the essential rulings of the geonim (the leaders of Babylonian and North African Jewry); consequently, Jews were unable to discern or properly observe the law. In its comprehensive scope, its pragmatic style, and its systematic classification, the Mishneh Torah was designed to simplify the process of study and to make the law accessible to all.
The Mishneh Torah is introduced by Sefer Ha-Mitzvot (“Book of the Commandments”), which Maimonides actually wrote some years earlier, in preparation for drafting his code. In Sefer Ha-Mitzvot, Maimonides enumerates the traditional 613 mitzvot of the Torah, dividing them into positive and negative precepts, and elaborating upon the rationale behind his system of classification.