Later Rishonim III: Rabbeinu Yonah

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by R. Aryeh Leibowitz

Rabbeinu Yonah (d. 1263)

R. Yonah was born in Girona, Catalonia but was appointed Rav and Rosh Yeshiva in Toledo following the death of the Ramah. R. Yonah studied under R. Shlomo Min ha-Har (Montpelier) in Provence, and also travelled to northern France to study in the Tosafist academy in the city of Evreux (אווירא). In the Evreux academy, R. Yonah studied under R. Moshe of Evreux, a student of R. Shimshon of Shanz and R. Yehudah of Paris. [1]In Evreux, R. Yonah was likely influenced by the pietistic teachings of the Chasidei Ashkenaz, which had a foothold in the Evreux academy.

R. Yonah is the first major Talmudist from Spain that is known to have studied in the French Tosafist academies. After his studies, he returned to Spain with the teachings and learning style (derech ha-limud) that he learned in France.

R. Yonah’s major work is the Sefer Aliyos of Rabbeinu Yonah. As was standard in Sefardic works, the Aliyos features halachic summations. They generally appear at the end of a sugya and record the halachic conclusion that emerge from the Talmudic discussion. These halachik summation begins with the words, “עלה בידינו.” Hence, the title of the sefer.

However, elements of the Aliyos also reflect the influence of the Tosafists. The Aliyos contains detailed and highly sophisticated dialectic analysis of the Talmud. To this end, it raises questions from other Talmudic discussions, includes cross-references to parallel passages, and features creative resolutions of contradictions. Additionally, the Aliyos does not follow the flow of the Talmudic discussion, as was typical of the Sefardic works, but is instead structured into independent paragraphs that begin with a dibbur ha-matchil and focus on specific lines within the sugya. Also, the Aliyos were written in Hebrew and not in Aramaic.

In light of R. Yonah’s background, it is not surprising that the content of the Aliyos is multi-cultural, drawn from the three different traditions that influenced Rabbeinu Yonah: The classic early Sefardic Rishonim, The Tosafists of Northern France and Germany, And the Talmudic masters of Provence. His inclusion of Tosafist teachings, his utilization of their methods, and his focus on the specific issues raised in their works is the beginning of a trend that will eventually dominate the Talmudic culture in Christian Spain. In this sense, R. Yonah was a figure who bridged the traditional Sephardic style of learning with the “newer” style that was dominant in Ashkenazic lands. This approach would reach a zenith with R. Yonah’s cousin, the Ramban.

Only the Aliyos on tractate Bava Basra have been printed, although we know that he wrote his commentary on other tractates as well. In addition to his Talmudic writings, R. Yonah also authored seminal works in Mussar. His commentary on Pirkei Avos, his Sha’arei Teshuva and Iggeres Ha-Teshuva on repentance, and his Sefer Ha-Yirah on piety are classic works of mussar and ethical living. [2]R. Yonah authored a famous commentary on Pirkei Avos. Interestingly though, in the Aliyos R. Yonah does not comment on issues related to agadah or mussar. However, in Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah on … Continue reading

Talmidei R. Yonah

The students of R. Yonah composed a Talmud commentary based on his lectures. It is printed in the margins of the Rif’s Halachos on tractate Berachos in standard editions of the Talmud and is quoted often in the Shitah Mekubetzes. While it is reflective of R. Yonah’s teachings, it was authored by his students, not R. Yonah himself. There are even occasions where it contradicts R. Yonah’s own writings. Direct quotations from the Ba’alei Tosefos, the Rambam, and the Ramah, appear more prominently in the commentary of the Talmidei R. Yonah than in the Aliyos.

Endnotes

Endnotes
1In Evreux, R. Yonah was likely influenced by the pietistic teachings of the Chasidei Ashkenaz, which had a foothold in the Evreux academy.
2R. Yonah authored a famous commentary on Pirkei Avos. Interestingly though, in the Aliyos R. Yonah does not comment on issues related to agadah or mussar. However, in Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah on Barachos, many issues of agadah and mussar are addressed. This suggests that although R. Yonah did not include such discussions in his own commentary, he did discuss them in his lectures.

About Aryeh Leibowitz

Rabbi Leibowitz is a Ram at Yeshivat Sha'alvim and serves as the Assistant Dean of the Overseas Program.

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