Monday, December 22, 2014

History: The Early Rishonim of Spain, Part II

Rav Leibowitz

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

R. Yosef b. Meir ibn Migash (d. 1141)

The Ri Migash was from Seville, Spain.  When he was twelve years old, the Rif arrived in Lucena, and the Ri left Seville to study with the Rif in Lucena.  Eventually, the Ri succeeded the Rif and served as the Rosh Yeshiva in Lucena for thirty-eight years.  Ri Migash’s greatness was described by the Rambam in his Introduction to the Mishna as follows: “That man’s intellectual abilities are frightening to one who studies his words and realizes the depths of his thinking.  We can apply to his style and approach in learning, [the verse in Kings II 23:25], “Before him there had never been a king like him.”

Ri Migash’s Talmud commentary is the first complete commentary we have that was written on Spanish soil.  His commentary was unique in Spain due to his comprehensive treatment of a tractate and his dialectic style of analysis.[1]  Indeed, the Meiri describes the Ri Migash’s commentary as the beginning of a new genre in Spain to included analysis with pesak.  This was unlike many of the commentaries that were produced at this time in Spain, which focused on pesak or on explaining specific hard words, concepts, or passages.  Still, Ri Migash’s commentary is heavily based on his predecessors, although he does not always quote them by name.  When he does, he most often references the Rif (who he calls רבינו), R. Chananel, and R. Hai Gaon.

While there are indications that Ri Migash wrote his commentary on many tractates, we only have it on Shevuos and Bava Basra.  In fact, the Reishonim also seem to only have his commentary on those two tractates.[2]

Ri Migash maintained a correspondence with the Rabbis of Narbonne, Provance.  He is the first known direct connection between the Torah leaders of Spain and those of Provance. 

[1] Dialectic Talmud Study - In the context of Talmud study, dialectic analysis refers to a rigorous style of study that questioned every aspect of a Talmudic discussion.  The Talmudic dialecticians would scrutinized every step of a Talmudic passage.  They questioned the passage’s assumptions, challenged the logic of a suggested answer, and ever raised skepticism about reported teachings.  Beyond the fine reading of the Talmudic text, the dialecticians would often question a Talmudic passage based on information learned from a Talmudic discussion in another location.  The position of the Talmud in one tractate would be used to question the validity of a passage in another tractate, leaving the dialectician to uncover a creative resolution.  Later dialecticians would put the same rigor into their analysis of the work of the earlier dialecticians. 

[2] Meiri writes that he is only in possession of Ri Migash’s commentary on Bava Basra and Shevuos.  It has been suggested that only his commentary on these two tractates were written in Hebrew, the rest were written in Arabic and hence they did not survive.  The commentary on Bava Basra only survived in fragments.  Current editions were edited by R. Moshe Shmuel Shapiro zt”l, former Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Be’er Yaacov.  It is a mixture of the original fragments augmented with passages from Shita Mekubetzes and Sefer ha-Ner of Rav Zecharia Agmati.   

The Reishonim also reference a work by the Ri Migash called Megilas Setarim.  The nature of this work is not clear.  It may have been on complicated sugyos, but other suggest that it was critical comments on the Rif’s Halachos.   

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