In the fifteenth century, the Mishneh Torah was already viewed more as the textbook of Jewish law than a practical code. That function was being assumed by the Arba-ah Turim of Jacob ben Asher (1270(?)-1340), who in 1303 accompanied his father from their native Germany to Toledo, Spain. He felt that reasoning had become faulty, controversy had increased, opinions had multiplied, so that there was no halakic ruling which was free from differences of opinion, hence the need for a new code. Though he revered Maimonides and accepted his halakic authority, he found three difficulties with his classic code: it was too long, containing laws no longer applicable after the destruction of the Temple and outside of the Holy Land; it was overly theological; and it reflected the Sefardi tradition alone to the neglect of the Ashkenazi. Ben Asher based his code on Maimonides's, but its structure was existential, beginning with the laws one is to observe upon waking in the morning and presenting only laws applicable to life in the Diaspora.
The Mishneh Torah begins with:
The Arba-ah Turim opens with
The laws in the Turim reflect the Sefardi tradition, as recorded by Maimonides, and the Ashkenazi usage, as presented by Jacob's father, Rabbi Asher. Both communities could look to it as an authoritative compendium of the laws of Israel. The Mishneh Torah concludes with a vision of Messianic days:
The Arba-ah Turim ends with a citation from the Mishneh Torah:
The former is an exalted vision of the "end of days," the latter, ethical instruction, more immediate and more practical. The Mishneh Torah was a classic, the Turim, a code. Both were eventually superseded as the accepted code of Jewish Law by the Shulhan Aruch of Joseph Caro, who prepared for the composition of his great code by writing masterly commentaries on those of Maimonides and Rabbi Jacob, but the code he wrote was an abridged, revised, and refined version of the Turim, not the Mishneh Torah.
We include Jacob ben Asher's Tur Yoreh Deah, Hijar, 1487, as a representative example of the works inspired by the Mishneh Torah, for the fruits of a tree give evidence of the tree's vitality and creativity.
Sources: Abraham J. Karp, From the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress, (DC: Library of Congress, 1991).