Tuesday, March 3, 2015

History of the Masorah: Early Rishonim of Provance - 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. Zerachiah Halevi (רז"ה, d. 1186)

R. Zerachiah was born in Gerona, Catalonia and moved in his youth to Narbonne, Provance. There he studied under Rav Avraham the “Rav Av Beis Din” and R. Moshe b. Yosef, Narbonne’s Rosh Yeshiva.  In 1145, R. Zerachiah moved to the Provencal city of Luniel as part of a mass migration of Rabbis from Narbonne to Luniel.[1]

R. Zerachiah’s major work on Talmud was his Sefer Maor, authored by R. Zerachiah at a very young age.  This work gained for R. Zerachiah the title: “The Ba’al Ha-Meor.”  The Sefer Maor contains the Maor Ha-Katan, authored on tractates that need “less light” to illuminate it, and the Maor Ha-Gadol on tractates that need more elucidation.  At its core, the Sefer Maor is a critique of Rif’s Halachot.  R. Zerachiah writes tersely, and his style bears resemblance to that of the early Tosafists, most notably R. Tam, who was a few years older than R. Zerachiah.[2]

R. Zerachiah also wrote a work of klalei ha-Talmud and Talmudic methodology called the Sefer Ha-Tzava'ah, in addition to a number of other important works.  These include Hilchos Shechita, Glosses on Raavad’s perush on Kinim, Sela HaMachlokes: Glosses on Raavad’s perush on Nidah, Teshuvos, and Piyutim .

R. Isaac ben Abba Mari of Marseilles (d. 1193)

Not much is known about R. Isaac’s personal life.  He maintained a correspondence with the “Rav Av beis Din” and R. Tam.  His major work was Sefer Ittur Sofrim, more commonly referred to as the Sefer Ha-Ittur.  The Sefer ha-Ittur was a popular work in the time of the Rishonim.  It drew from the teaching of R. Yitzchak of Barcelona, author of Sefer ha-Ittim, and from R. Ephraim, a student of Rif.   Unfortunately, current editions are filled with errors.  R. Isaac also wrote Me`ah She`arim, which contains comments on tractates from Seder Nashim and Seder Nezikin, and is printed in standard editions of the Talmud.

R. Avraham b. Dovid (ראב"ד, d.1197)

R. Avraham was known as the Raavad.  He studied in Lunel, but is associated with the neighboring town of Posquieres (known today as Vauvert).  He was one the leading figures to emerge from the intellectual community of Provance.[3] R. Avarham was the student and son-in-law of the “Rav Av Beis Din,” but his primary teacher was R. Meshullum b. Yaacov, author of the Menorah Tehora

His learning style generally followed the approach of his father-in-law, which is more Sefardic in style, focusing on peshat related issues and pesak.   This was distinct from the approach of his older contemporary, R. Zerachiah, who was influenced by the Tosafist style of learning.  The differing approaches of Raavad and R. Zerachiah led to many heated debates between these two great Provencal scholars.

Raavad was a prolific writer.  His writings and commentaries are known for their profundity, creativity, and sharp language.[4]  Raavad wrote a commentary on the Talmud that is quoted often by the Rishonim after him.[5] Today we only have his commentary on four tractates. 

Although he wrote extensively, Raavad is most famous for his critical notes (hasagos) on the Rambam’s Mishnah Torah.[6]  Some of Raavad’s other works include: Hilchos Lulav, Hilchos Netilas Yadayim, Issur V'heter la’Raavad, Ba’alei Ha-Nefesh on the laws Niddah, Kasuv Sham on R. Zerachiah’s writings, and Teshuvos Ha-Raavad, which is a collection of response from Raavad, Raavad’s father, and other Rishonim.  Raavad also wrote on many obscure areas of Torah.  He authored a commentary on tractates Kinim and Eduyos and on the halachic midrash Toras Kohanim

R. Yonason of Luniel (ר"י מלוניל, d. 1215)

R. Yonason learned under R. Moshe b. Yosef, the Rosh Yeshiva in Narbonne, and was also a student and contemporary of R. Zerachiah and RaavadHe communicated with the Ri and Rambam.  R. Yonasan’s major work, Chiddushei Rabbenu Yonasan, is a commentary on Rif.


[1] Beis Midrash of Luniel - Luniel had an established Torah center.  During the time period of the Rav Av Beis Din in Narbonne, the Torah center in Luniel was headed by R. Meshullum of Lunel (d. 1170)R. Meshullum was the author of Menorah Tehorah.
[2] The Ramban wrote a critique of the Sefer Maor, called Milchamos Hashem where he defends the Rif from the young R. Zerachiah.  It is interesting to note that the Milchamos and Sefer Maor were generally not featured on the printed pages of Rif until the 18th century.
[3] The Raavad was also a Kabbalist, and his son, R. Yitchak Sagi Nahor was a celebrated kabbalist. 
[4] It is interesting to note that the Raavad is not quoted much in Provance.  Primarily his comments on the Talmud were popularized by the Ramban’s academy, while his other opinions and Teshuvos were popularized by the Kol Bo and R. Yerusham.
[5] Ramban and Rosh quote him often. In fact Meiri calls him “Gedolei Ha-Meforshim.”

[6] The Hasagos start with the letters א"א, which stands for אמר אברהם.  This is because early printers did not have different fonts or letters sizes, and hence inserting these letters would indicate to the reader that it was the Raavad’s words and not those of the Rambam.  There were many other hasgaos that were left out of the original printings of the Rambam.  Some are recorded in the commentary of the Migdal Oz, and have been now been printed with the other hasagos of the Raavad.  Many of these later hasagos have been prefaced with the wordskasuv ha-Raavad.”  There are still other hasagos that are found in the commentaries of the Maggid Mishna and Kesef Mishna, but have not been included in the printed hasagos of the Raavad.

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