Or’hos Tzadikim

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Or’hos Tzadikim is an anonymous religio-ethical book that has had a tremendous and lasting impact on Judaism. The question we will address here is when and where the book was written.

R. Eliyahu de Vidas, in his 1575 work Reishis Hokhmah (sha’ar ahavah, ch. 6), quotes the Or’hos Tzadikim so we can set that year (or, taking into account the time for publications to spread, approximately 20 years earlier) as the latest possible date. However, there is much internal evidence as to the time and place of its writing.

Sources

Or’hos Tzadikim draws heavily on earlier sources, often quoting them verbatim and, on one occasion, even leaving in the name of the original author when he identifies himself. This gives us the ability to determine a minimum date of authorship. The book quotes frequently from Rambam (d. 1204), R. Shlomo Ibn Gabirol’s Tikkun Midos Ha-Nefesh (ca. 1055), Rabbenu Yonah’s (ca. 1180-1263) Sha’arei Teshuvah, R. Bahya Ibn Pakuda’s Hovos Ha-Levavos (ca. 1161), R. Moshe of Coucy’s Semag (mid-1200s), R. Yehuda He-Hasid’s (ca. 1150-1217) Sefer Hasidim and other works. All of this places the writing of Or’hos Tzadikim at least into the late 13th century. So far, we have narrowed down the authorship to a three century time period from late 13th century to mid 16th century.

Internal Evidence

However, there is one section of Or’hos Tzadikim in which the author gives us valuable information about his time and background. In the Sha’ar Ha-Torah, the author traces the development of the Torah until his time. It is quite telling that the author focuses largely on the French schools of learning. After the Rambam, the author lists the Semag and a few German halakhic works, and then proceeds to laud the French tosafists. He describes the process of development of the tosafist literature, beginning with Rashi and continuing with Rabbenu Tam and the Ri. Then came the tragic expulsion of Jews from France (1306) at which point, according to the author, creativity in learning seemed to come to an end. The author then continues at length about how “nowadays” people are not on as high a level of learning as those from before the expulsion.

What is explicit is that the book was written after the expulsion from France in 1306. Furthermore, the author seems to be at least a generation or two removed from the expulsion, so that he can talk about how scholars “today” differ from pre-expulsion scholars. He must have had to wait until the pre-expulsion scholars died out. [While there were actually three expulsions from France – 1306, 1322 and 1394, with permission to return granted periodically in between, the centers of learning never returned after the first expulsion so it seems likely that the author was referring to that event.]

That the author does not mention any German work from after the early 13th century and focuses largely on the French tosafists, it seems clear that he was living an a French community, either in France itself or among exiles.

Conclusion

What we can state with certainty is that the author lived in or after the early 14th century and, despite being influenced by the German hasidim, was largely influenced by the French tosafists. We can suggest that the author lived in the late 14th century in France or among French exiles, but not in Germany.

On the other hand, I have not taken the time to see what the scholars say. If anyone is aware of an article on the subject, please share the conclusions.

About Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the Publisher and Editor-in-Chief of TorahMusings.com, a leading website on Orthodox Jewish scholarly subjects, and the Book Editor of the Orthodox Union’s Jewish Action magazine. He writes a popular column on issues of Jewish law and thought featured in newspapers and magazines, including The Jewish Link, The Jewish Echo and The Vues. In the past, he has served as the President of the small Jewish publisher Yashar Books and as the Managing Editor of OU Press. Rabbi Student serves on the Executive Committee of the Rabbinical Council of America. He also serves on the Editorial Boards of Jewish Action magazine, the Journal of Halacha and Contemporary Society and the Achieve Journal of Behavioral Health, Religion & Community, as well as the Board of OU Press. He has published five English books, the most recent titled Search Engine volume 2: Finding Meaning in Jewish Texts -- Jewish Leadership, and served as the American editor for Morasha Kehillat Yaakov: Essays in Honour of Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks.

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