Sunday, February 22, 2015

History of the Masorah: The Early Rishonim of Provance

Rav Leibowitz

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

The Origins of the Torah Center in Provance[1]

The region of Provance in Southeastern France was situated between the Ashkenaz community of Northern France and Germany and the Sefardic community of Spain and North Africa.  Politically and socially, Provance (and the neighboring region on Langdoc) was more connected to Ashkenaz than it was to Sefard.  However, due to its proximity to Spain, the Provencal Rishonim were also exposed, and influenced, by Sefardic culture.  

The Torah center in Provance predates the period of the Rishonim.  During the tenure of the Geonim, the city of Narbonne was an important Torah center in Provance.  R. Moshe ha-Darshan was a pre-Rishonim figure in Narbonne who flourished in the 11th century.  Sources indicate that both his father and grandfather were heads of the yeshiva in Narbonne before him.  Rashi quotes from R. Moshe often in his Torah commentary. One of R. Moshe’s students was R. Nosson of Rome (d. 1106), author of the Sefer ha-Aruch, a Talmudic dictionary quoted often by the Rishonim. 

Another important early figure in Narbonne was R. Yosef b. Shmuel Tov Elem (BonFils) (d. 1050).  Rav Yom tov was a brother-in-law of R. Hai Gaon, and his commentary on Talmud and his halakhic rulings are quoted by the Rishonim.  Rav Yom Tov was also a paytan of note, and authored the concluding piyut of the pesach seder - “Chasal Sidur Pesach.”

The Torah Community of Catalonia 
Neighboring Provance to the south was Catalonia, a region that lies in northeastern Spain. The Torah community in Catalonia, became extremely influential during the period of the later Rishonim, when the cities of Barcelona and Gerona emerged as major Torah centers.  However, during the period of the early Rishonim we do not hear much of the Catalonian scholars.  One of the few well-known early figures of Catalonia was R. Yehudah b. Barzilai of Barcelona (ר"י אברגלוני, d. early 1100’s).  He lived in Barcelona and his teachings were very influential in nearby Provence.  He wrote a Talmud commentary on at least a few mesechtos, but none of it is extant.  He major work was a halakhic code, called Sefer ha-Ittim, which deals with the laws of the festivals.  It draws from the teachings of R. Shmuel HaNagid and the responsa of Rif.  It was a very important work before the codes of Rambam and Rosh.  An earlier contemporary of his was R. Yitzchak of Barcelona, also called הרב מברגלוני.  R. Yitzchak was also born in in Barcelona but later moved to lead the community of Denia in Muslim Spain. 

R. Avraham b. Yitzchak, (ראב"י, d. 1159)

R. Avraham was a prominent member of the Narbonne Beis Midrash,[2] and is often referred to as the “The Av Beis Din of Narbonne.”[3]  He was a student of R. Yehuda of Barcelona, in neighboring Catalonia.[4]

R. Avraham wrote a commentary on the Talmud that has mostly been lost (except Bava Basra).   His major work that is extant is Sefer ha-Eshkol, a sefer of Pesakim.  The sefer has been printed in two very different editions (It sparked a major controversy in the 19th century).

[1] General Historical Overview of Provance – Provence was mostly under Christian control throughout the middle ages.  The 10th century brought Muslim raids to Provance, but from the early 11th century through the mid-13th century, Provence was a fiefdom of the Holy Roman Empire.  During much of that time (starting in the early 12th century) it was directly ruled by the Christian Catalan (Catalonian) Dynasty.
[2] Narbonne Beis Midrash – R. Avraham was a member of the Narbonne Beis Midrash, which for years was a major center of learning.  An older contemporary and teacher of R. Avraham was R. Moshe b. Yosef (Mirvan) of Narbonne (d. mid 1100’s), Rosh Yeshiva in Narbonne.  R. Moshe’s uncle was R. Yitzchak b. Mirvan, a leading Rabbi in Narbonne in the early 12th century.  R Moshe’s grandfather, and R. Yitzchak’s father, was R. Mirwan HaLevi, a prominent Jew in 11th century Narbonne. 
[3] Hence he is also referred to as Raavad (ר"א ב"ד), which is an acronym for רב אב בית דין.  Rav Avraham is traditionally referred to as Raavad II, and is often time confused with his son-in-law, the prolific Raavad III who authored hasagos on the Rambam and wrote many halakhic works.  Raavad I is the early Sefardic scholar, R. Avraham ibn Daub, author of Sefer ha-Hakabbalah

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