Monday, February 9, 2015

History of the Masorah: Early Rishonim of Ashkenaz - The Raavan and his Contemporaries

Rav Leibowitz

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

In Germany there were a number of great Talmudists who flourished during the period of the early Rishonim.  They continued the German tradition, despite the destruction of the first crusades that decimated much of the Rhineland communities.

R. Eliezer b. Nasan (ראב"ן)
R. Eliezer (d. approx. 1170) lived in Mainz and served there as Rosh Yeshiva.  He was a leader of the German Torah community during a time that France was emerging as the dominant Torah center under R. Tam.  R. Eliezer was extremely well respected as a leading Talmudist and maintained a correspondence with his French contemporaries, most notably Rashbam and R. Tam.[1]  Many of his progeny, such as Ravyah and Rosh, were great German rabbis and leaders in the subsequent generations. 

His major work was אבן העזר, (perhaps also known as צפנת פענח or פסקים של ראב"ן).[2]  Much of the sefer is a collection of minhagim and local practices. Like many other Ashkenazic works his sefer sought to harmonize accepted practice with the sugyos in the Talmud.

Raavan’s Contemporaries

  1. R. Yitzchak b. Mordechai (ריב"ם, d. 1175),[3] also known as Rivam or R. Yitzchak of Beiham (Bohemia), was a student of Rivah and Rabbenu Tam, and wrote Tosafot commentaries while studying with each of them.  Rivam is quoted in the printed Tosafos on at least twelve tractates. 
  2. R. Ephraim b. Yitzchak (רבינו אפרים, d. 1175) of Regensburg was a major personality in Ashkenaz.  He studied in France under R. Tam and maintained a correspondence with him upon returning to Germany.  At various stages of his life he was involved in intense halachik controversy and debate.  R. Ephraim is quoted in the printed Tosafos in over seven tractates (many times in Chullin). He also wrote at least one sefer (not extant) called ארבע פנים

Chasedei Ashkenaz
At this time in Germany, there were also a group of pietists that emerged, known as the Chasidei Ashkenaz. While the Talmudists we have been discussing were German Ba’alei Tosafos who followed in the way of Rashi, and operated in a similar way to Rashbam and R. Tam, the Chasidei Ashkenaz were connected to the old school of pre-crusade Germany.  They focused more on straight explanations of the Talmud, and less on the dialectics of the Tosafists.  They were also heavily steeped in sod.

R. Shmuel b. Koloneymous (ר' שמואל החסיד, d. 1175) was one of the early Rishonim who was associated with this movement.  R. Shmuel was a great-grandson of R. Eliezer HaGadol, and was an important link in the German sod tradition.  R. Shmuel lost his father when he was young, but his father entrusted the young Shmuel’s caregiver with “Tikun Tefilos” and other mystical secrets, and commanded him to teach them to Shmuel when the latter was older. 

R. Shmuel stressed learning areas of Torah that were not normally part of the curriculum.[4]  R. Shmuel also wrote commentaries on midrashei halacha, agadah, and tefilah.  Even his Talmud commentary drew heavily on pesukim, midrashim, and Toras HaSod.  His writings were also filled with gematrios

R. Shmuel’s son, R. Yehuda HeChasid was also a major pietistic figure, and is attributed with the important work, Sefer Chasidim.  His ethical and halakhic will (tzavah) is also well known for its many original stringencies.  A number of these stringencies have become incorporated into standard halakhic practice in many communities.  

[1] It was during this time that France, under the leadership of R. Tam, emerged as a dominant Torah center. 
[2] There is debate as to whether צפנת פענח was a separate sefer written by Raavan or not. 
[3] Not to be confused with R. Yitzchak b. Meir, a younger brother of R. Tam who is also referred to in Tosafos as Rivam.                                                                                               
[4] See for example Sefer Chasidim, siman 1, regarding learning seder Kodshim.

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