Later Rishonim VI: Rashba

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by R. Aryeh Leibowitz

R. Shlomo b. Aderes (Rashba, d. 1310)

With the Ramban’s departure for the land of Israel, the Rashba inherited the mantle of intellectual and communal leadership in Spain. The Rashba resided in Barcelona, from there served as the head Rabbi of Spain, and was recognized by all as the gadol ha-dor. Besides his role as a Talmudist, teacher, communal Rabbi, and posek, the Rashba also had to take lead in various internal debates that developed within the Torah world, such as the role of philosophy1 and mysticism, as well as external debates that arose with the community’s gentile neighbors, such as polemical arguments with the Christians.

The Rashba was a prolific posek. He wrote thousands of teshuvos, as he responded to communities from all over Europe, North Africa, and even Israel. His teshuvos had a marked impact on the Tur and Shulchan Aruch and continue to be significantly influential in halacha.

The Rashba’s primary teachers were the Ramban and Rabbeinu Yonah, and he was the leading Talmudist of his day. Many scholars and students flocked to his Beis Midrash in Barcelona, including many Ashkenazim, who brought with them the teachings of Ashkenaz and the Ba’alei Tosafos. This was especially true of the students of R. Meir of Rothenberg (Maharam). Thus, unlike the Ramban, whose access to Ashkenazic teachings primarily came through secondary sources, the Rashba came into direct contact with the Torah of Ashkenaz. He also enjoyed a personal relationship with the Rosh, who fled to Spain during the Rashba’s lifetime, yet, the Rashba never lost his primary allegiance in pesak to the Catalonian traditions of the Ramban and classic Spanish tradition.

 

The Rashba’s Commentary

The Rashba’s commentary is one of the most popularly studied works on the Talmud. It quotes regularly from the classic Sephardic Rishonim. The Rif and Rambam are quoted hundreds of times; however, the greatest influence on the Rashba’s commentary was the Ramban. In fact, in many passages, the Rashba is simply clarifying the Ramban’s terse remarks, and, in many locations, the Rashba’s commentary is more like a super-commentary on the Ramban than an original work.2

Like the Ramban, the Rashba was also greatly influenced by the work of the Tosafists. The Rashba confronted many of the dialectic arguments raised by the Tosafists; however, the version of the Tosafist tradition that the Rashba possessed is different than the printed Tosafos that we have today. In many instances, the Rashba quotes from Tosafos and the teachings that are not found in our Tosafos text.3

Besides addressing the positions of the earlier Rishonim, the Rashba’s commentary also raises new issues and contributes unique perspective – many of them highly creative.

 

Other Works

Unlike many of the Rishonim we have discussed thus far, the Rashba also composed a commentary on the Agadic sections of the Talmud. In fact, the Rashba’s commentary on the Agada is the first extant commentary of its kind,4 and it was popularly studied throughout the generations. It specifically had a great influence on the Agada commentary of R. Yaacov ibn Chaviv, the popular work Ain Yaacov.5

The Rashba also composed an important halachic work on Issur Ve-Heter, called Toras Ha-Bayis. This work drew the Rashba into heated debates with R. Ahron of Barcelona (Ra’ah), who criticized Rashba’s Toras ha-Bayis in a work titled Bedek Ha-Bayis.  The Rashba responded with the Mishmeres Ha-Bayis.

The Rashba’s Toras Ha-Bayis was extremely influential, especially on the Tur. In fact, there are entire sections of Shulchan Aruch that are basically word for word quotations from the Toras ha-Bayis.

The Rashba also wrote Avodas ha-Kodesh on Shabbos and Yom Tov, Piskei Challah, and thousands of responsa.

 


  1. His correspondences with the Rabbis of Provence regarding this issue are printed in a sefer by R. Abba Mari Ha-Yarchi of Provence called Minchas Kina’os.   

  2. Generally, the Rashba paraphrases the Ramban, rather than quoting him directly. By presenting the Ramban’s teachings in different words, the Rashba’s commentary is extremely helpful for understanding the Ramban’s position. 

  3.   For instance, more than a quarter of the times (!) that the Rashba quotes from “Tosafos” in his commentary on tractate Bava Basra the reference does not appear in our printed Tosafos.   

  4. His commentary wasn’t the first, as R. Asher b. Meshullum wrote a (non-extant) commentary.   

  5. Many possible things led him to write this perush: (1) Polemics with the Christians who sought out hints to their faith in the Talmud. (2) The second Maimonidean controversy regarding philosophic interpretations of the agadic passages in the Talmud, and the debates in Provence over the use of allegory. (3) The popularization of mysticism and mystical explanations of the agados (Rashba himself does not discuss mystical teachings explicitly, but he makes references that indicate that he is well versed in its teachings). 

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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