Monday, December 15, 2014

History: The Early Rishonim of Southern Spain

The Origins of the Torah Center in Andalusia[1]

Rav Leibowitz

Note: This post has been incorporated into a pamphlet on the Early Rishonim.  It can be purchased on Amazon by clicking here.  

Tradition relates that Jews came to Spain during the time of the churban.  Certainly, by the time of the Mishna there was already a Jewish settlement in Spain.[2]    But until the Arab conquest of Spain in 711 C.E. we hear very little about Torah learning in Spain.  After this point we begin to find records of a relationship with the yeshivos in Bavel.  In fact, tradition records that in 770 one R. Notrinoi b. Chachinai left Bavel, eventually settling in the Iberian Peninsula.  In Spain, he wrote from memory a copy of the Talmud, initiating a major increase in Talmud study.[3]  As Torah study increased in Spain, the connection to the yeshivos in Bavel increased.  Indeed, the ninth century witnessed increased Teshuvos arriving in Spain from Sura and Pumbedisa.    

However a major change in the Spanish Torah center occurred with the arrival of R. Moshe b. Chanoch (d. 965).[4]  Like R. Chushiel, R. Moshe was one of the “four captives” on the pirated ship from Italy.  The community in Cordoba, Spain ransomed R. Moshe, and he established there a Torah center, which attracted many students.  With the establishment of his Beis Midrash, Spain gained a degree of independence from Bavel.  This independence continued with his son, R. Chanoch. 

In the following generations, Spain was home to illustrious Torah scholars.  The most famous being R. Chanoch’s student, R. Shmuel Ha-Nagid (d. 1056), and his student, R. Yitzchak Ibn Gayas (d. 1089).[5] Although these great scholars were contemporaries of R. Chananel and the Rif, remnants of their works are scarce.  Save for some references in the writings of other Rishonim, little is left of their legacy. 

R. Shmuel Ha-Nagid (d. 1056)

R. Shmuel ha-Nagid was a contemporary of R. Chananel, and served as Rosh Yeshiva in Lucena, Spain, a post that would later be filled by the Rif.  R. Shmuel was a major Talmud scholar and was a colleague of Rav Hai Gaon.  He was also, perhaps, the greatest political figure in the Jewish history of Muslim Spain.  He authored a number of important seforim, including a Talmud commentary.  His Talmud commentary was not a comprehensive commentary, but focused on challenging sugyos.  It was based heavily upon the Geonic tradition.  The commentary is no longer extant, but it is the first known work on the Talmud written on Spanish soil, and is basically contemporaneous to the first sefer of Talmud parshanut written in Christian Europe, the perush of Rabbenu Gershom.  R. Shmuel’s most famous work, was a halachic work on issues relating to daily life called Hilchos Ha-Nagid or Hilchasa Gavrevasa.  It too is no longer extant, but it is quoted by other Rishonim.  

R. Yitzchak Ibn Gayas (d. 1089)

R. Yitchak Ibn Gayas (רי"ץ גיות) succeeded his teacher, R. Shmuel, as the Rabbinic leader in Andalusian Spain.  He too was Rosh Yeshiva in Lucena, and in this role may have been a teacher of the Rif, who also served as Rosh Yeshiva in Lucena.  R. Yitzchak was very prolific and left many works.  He wrote a Talmud commentary in Arabic called called ספר סראג', which in Hebrew is Sefer Ha-Ner.[6]  The commentary focuses primarily on hard words and concepts in the Talmud.  R. Yitzchak’s main halachic work was Halachos Kelulos, printed under the title Sha’arei Simchah.  It is heavily based on the Geonim, with many verbatim quotes from Geonic works, but through the prism of the Spanish tradition, especially the teachings of his Rebbe.

[1] General Historical Overview of Andalusia Andalusia is the southern region of Spain that is situated along the Mediterranean coast.  During the time of the Mishna and Gemara, Andalusia was part of the Roman Empire.  In the 4th century, the Roman Empire officially converted to Christianity, and hence Spain fell under the influence of the Christian Church of Rome.  In the 6th century, Spain was conquered by the Visagoths, and their rule extended to Andalusia.  The Visagoths were a Germanic tribe that had pagan roots, but by the 6th century had converted to Arianism.  Hence, under the Visgoths, Spain remained under the general influence of Christianity.  This changed in the year 711 when the Moors (indigenous Muslims of North Africa) penetrated the Spanish coast and established a caliphate in Southern SpainIn the 10th century, Christian warriors from the North began to wrestle control from the Muslims with the goal of reconquering Spain.  For the next 500 years Spain was the battleground between the Christians in the North and the Muslims in the South, with the Jews often caught in the middle.  For most of this period, Andalusia was ruled by Muslim dynasties.  In the mid-12th century through the early 13th century the two main dynasties in Andalusia were the Almoravid and Almohad dynasties.  Both dynasties consisted of Berbers (indigenous North Africans) from Morocco that converted to Islam and formed an Islamic state (Caliphate).   In the late 13th century, most of Andalusia fell to the Christian Reconquista.  But it was not until the late 15th century that the Christians succeeded in ridding Spain completely of Muslim dominion.
[2] See Bava Basra 38a.
[3] Reported by R. Shmuel ha-Nagid.
[4] R. Chasdai Ibn Shaprut - A well-known contemporary of R. Moshe was R. Chasdai Ibn Shaprut (d. end of the 10th century)  R. Chasdai lived in Cordoba and was a very influential adviser (and physician) to the Caliph.  He also acted as a sort of minister of foreign affairs. 
[5] Another  rabbinic figure to mention is R. Yitchak b. Reuven of Barcelona.  Although he was born in the city of Bercelona, located in Christian Spain, he later moved to Denia in the Southern Province of Alicante in Muslim Spain.  He is called הרב אלברגלוני in some sources and was an ancestor of the Ramban.  He wrote a Talmud commentary on at least a few mesechtos, but none of it is extant.  However, there are Reishonim who quote him.
[6] Not to be confused with the Sefer ha-Ner of R. Zechariah Agamati

No comments:

Post a Comment