initiator: Rabbi Moses b. Maimon
recipient: Sages of Tyre
text: May 1-30.  Old Cairo. Rabbi Moses b. Maimon [Maimonides] replies to questions put to him by the Sages of Tyre, the disciples of Rabbi Ephraim of Tyre. (1). Maimonides is asked to explain a Talmudic passage [Nedarim 88b] relating to the financial claim of a husband to his wife’s acquisitions during their marriage. This question arises from a previous correspondence with Ephraim of Tyre, since deceased. (2) Maimonides is asked to explain a Talmudic passage [Nazir 3b], according to which a Nazirite, who is barred from drinking wine, may not do so even for ritual purposes. (3) Asked for the source of a statement by Rabbi Isaac Alfasi, Maimonides replies that he does not know the source. (4) Asked whether a linen garment must have fringes [tzitzit] made of linen, Maimonides endorses the opinion of Isaac Alfasi that the fringes of a linen garment should be made of linen. (5) Maimonides is asked about the meaning of the term ‘ten idle men’ mentioned in the Palestinian Talmud [Megillah 1:6]. (6) Maimonides is asked whether the custom of the Jews of Tyre to celebrate two days of Purim [on the fourteenth and fifteenth of Adar] is legitimate. Cities with a wall from biblical times (paradigmatically Jerusalem) celebrate on the fifteenth, and all other communities celebrate on the fourteenth. Maimonides agrees with the opinion of the Sages’ teacher, Ephraim of Tyre, that no blessings may be recited in the Purim celebrations on the fifteenth. (7) Maimonides is asked whether the custom of the Jews of Tyre to observe the second festival day on Tabernacles, Passover and Pentecost is legitimate. Within the religious borders of the Land of Israel, only one festival day is observed, whereas throughout the Diaspora, Jewish communities observe two days. The popular custom among the Jews of Tyre is to follow the Diaspora practice, but the Sages suggest that Tyre should be considered part of the Land of Israel. Maimonides rejects their suggestion, and commends the popular custom. (8) Following questions posed by their late teacher, Rabbi Ephraim, Maimonides is asked by the Sages to explain the lottery of tasks in the Temple service, described by the rabbis [in Mishnah Yoma chapter 2]. He replies that Ephraim’s questions had been anticipated by earlier rabbis. (9) Asked about the southern border of the Land of Israel for religious purposes, Maimonides sends a map of the religious borders of the land, and explains that the southern border begins from Ascalon. 10) Maimonides is asked about the application of the Sabbatical-year laws in Syria and the Land of Israel, with regard to lands worked by Gentiles. (11) Maimonides is asked about the application of tithe laws in the Land of Israel and Syria, in regard to lands worked by Gentiles. (12) Maimonides is asked whether the prohibition of mixed seeds [Leviticus 19] applies to lands worked by Gentiles. (13) Maimonides is asked whether a ruling by two scholars of Tyre, Meir (of Carcassonne?) and Hiyya,  is correct. The two scholars had ruled that in Tyre, as in other places outside the Land of Israel, two portions of hallah should be taken from bread dough. One is burned and the other is given to a priest for his personal consumption. Maimonides endorses the position of these scholars. (14) Asked to explain the physiological meaning of ‘uprooting’ as an [invalid] form of slaughtering, mentioned in the Talmud [Hullin 9a], Maimonides replies that practical experience in slaughtering is key to understanding this concept, and that, in any case, the question arises rarely with respect to quadrupeds and is a practical concern only with poultry. (15) Asked to explain the movement of the sun, since some people say that the sun follows a 6 lunar-month cycle, yet others claim it is a 12-month cycle, Maimonides replies that the sun itself moves into a different zodiac sign every month, but the highest sphere, which contains the stars, moves every day. He ends by pointing out that it is easier to explain these matters face-to-face. (16) Asked whether statements in the Talmud about the position of the sun over the course of the day relate to summer or winter, Maimonides replies that the Talmud speaks of variable hours, the length of which changes each day, but that these descriptions would not apply accurately to every latitude. In any case, this is a matter for astronomy and not for Jewish law. (17) Maimonides is asked to explain a Talmudic passage [Nedarim 81a]. (18) Maimonides is asked what types of ink may be used for ritual scrolls [such as Torah scrolls and phylacteries]. The questioners refer to different inks by their Arabic names, and Maimonides replies by describing the various methods of production and the relevant discussions in the Talmud. (19) Maimonides is asked a series of questions relating to the production of ritual objects: phylacteries, mezuzah scrolls and ritual fringes [tzitzit]. (20) Maimonides is asked about the correct wording of the blessing recited before blowing the shofar [ram’s horn] during New Year celebrations. (21) Maimonides is asked whether, for the purpose of avoiding mixture of milk and meat, the udder of a lamb is to be treated like that of a nursing sheep and must be cooked separately from other meat; and also whether certain non-binding prohibitions in the laws of kosher food may be revealed to non-scholars. Maimonides responds that the udders are treated alike. As for revealing non-binding prohibitions, Maimonides supports this fully, and recounts that in the [Muslim] West, where Jewish travellers cook their food in inns, Gentiles throw forbidden foods into the pot in order to render the Jews’ food invalid. Because knowledge of these non-binding prohibitions is widespread among Jewish lay people and even among women and servants, the travellers all know that the amount of forbidden food can be outnumbered by the rest of the food in the pot. (22) Maimonides is asked to explain a biblical verse [Leviticus 7, 34]. (23) Asked whether the ritual impurity that adheres to Jewish graves is likewise applicable to the graves of non-Jews, Maimonides replies that the impurity imparted by corpses and by graves applies equally to Jews and Gentiles, while other forms of death impurity [such as tent impurity] are exclusive to Jewish dead. (24) Asked whether priests, who receive agricultural tithes, are required to give the tithe of animals, which is offered as a sacrifice in the Temple, Maimonides replies that they are required to do so, as are non-priests. (25) Maimonides is asked about a law relating to oaths. (26) Asked whether a Jew may circumcise a non-Jew, and whether the law differentiates between Christians and Muslims on this point, Maimonides replies that it is permitted, without distinction between Christian and Muslim, and any Jewish religious precept fulfilled by a Gentile is considered laudable. (27) Asked whether the Talmudic statement [Sanhedrin 49a], that a Gentile who studied the Torah must die, is binding and whether Jews must avoid teaching Jewish lore to Gentiles, Maimonides replies that while the statement is true, such a Gentile is never actually executed. Jews may teach the commandments to Christians in order to draw them to Judaism, but they may not teach them to Muslims, who would only use the knowledge in order to criticize Judaism, because of a different attitude towards the Old Testament. (28) Maimonides is asked to explain a statement in the Talmud [Shabbat 75a] censuring people with astronomical expertise who do not engage in calendrical calculations.
May 1-30.  Old Cairo. Rabbi Moses b. Maimon [Maimonides] replies to questions put to him by the Sages of Tyre, the disciples of Rabbi Ephraim of Tyre. (1). Maimonides is asked to explain a Talmudic passage [Nedarim 88b] relating to the financial claim of a husband to his wife’s acquisitions... more
sources: R. Moses b. Maimon, Responsa, pp. 204-86, nos. 119-50, summarized by Pinchas Roth and Jonathan Rubin