R. Nissim b. Reuven (Ran, d. 1376)
The Ran, also known as the Ranbar (רנב”ר), was originally from Gerona but flourished in the city of Barcelona. He studied under his father and R. Peretz Ha-Cohen (d. 1370), a Provencal scholar who moved to Barcelona. The Ran, like the Ritva and Rashba before him, eventually became the leading Catalonian scholar of his generation. The Ran’s Beis Midrash in Barcelona is considered the final link in the chain of tradition of the Catalonian Beis Midrash of the Ramban.
During the lifetime of the Ran, the population of Barcelona, like that of the rest of Spain, was decimated by outbreaks of the Black Plague. Historians surmise that between a half to a third of the population of Barcelona succumbed to the plague. The Ran’s communal and religious leadership guided, comforted, and inspired the Jews of Barcelona during this tragic period.
The Ran’s writings are known for their clarity of language and organization. He writes from the tradition of the Ramban, Rashba, and Ritva, and also quotes regularly from the Rambam’s pesakim in Mishneh Torah and the teachings of the Provencal masters. The Ran’s writings are peppered with Mussar and philosophy.
The Ran’s Writings
The Ran wrote a commentary on the Talmud, printed as Chiddushei Ha-Ran.1 It has a distinct focus on pesak halacha, and it quotes often from the Rambam’s rulings in the Mishnah Torah. Today, we have the commentary on a number of mesechtos.
After writing his commentary on the Talmud,2 the Ran wrote a commentary on the Rif’s Halachos that appears in printed editions of many tractates on the margin of the Halachos. Although it was officially written on the Rif, the Rif does not receive any more attention in the work that any other posek. For instance, the pesakim of the Rambam in the Mishnah Torah receive a lot of attention from the Ran in this commentary.3 Moreover, the Ran often comments on discussion in the Talmud that the Rif omitted completely.
It has been suggested that the Ran’s commentary on the Rif contains three distinct elements: (1) It is running commentary on the Gemara and Rif, heavily based upon Rashi’s commentary (often quoted verbatim without attribution). (2) It is a summary of the choicest teachings of the Ramban’s Beis Midrash. (3) It is one of the first works to integrate the rulings of the Rambam with the teachings of the other Rishonim.
One of the better-known commentaries of the Ran is his commentary on Meseches Nedarim, which is the primary commentary used today on this tractate. It is printed in modern editions of the Talmud on the outer margin of the page of the Gemara in place of Tosafos. The Ran also wrote Teshuvos and a popular work on Jewish thought and philosophy, known as the Derashos Ha-Ran.
The Ran’s commentary was very influential in the generations that followed him. R. Yosef Karo, the author of the Shulchan Aruch, writes that after his primary sources – the Rif, Rambam, and Rosh – he relied heavily on the Ran.
The Ran’s Students
R. Yosef Chaviva of Bercelona, known by his work the Nemmukei Yosef, was a primary student of the Ran4 and the younger R. Hasdei Kreskas (d. 1410).5 The Nemmukei Yosef is a commentary on the Rif that is heavily based on the teachings of the Ritva and the Ran, and it shares many similarities to the Ran’s commentary. In fact, over the years the commentaries of the Ran and R. Yosef have been confused.
R. Yitchzak b. Sheshes (Rivash, d. 1408) was another student of the Ran in Barcelona. He was a great Talmudist and author of many teshuvos. In response to mounting persecution against the Jews of Spain, the Rivash fled Spain later in his life and moved to Algiers, North Africa.6 One of the Rivash’s younger contemporaries in Algiers was R. Shimon b. Tzemach Duran (Rashbetz, d. 1444). He too fled his Spanish homeland in response to the mounting persecutions. The Rashbetz was a student of R. Ephraim Vidal, author of the Magid Mishnah on the Rambam. The Rashbetz was extremely prolific and authored many works in numerous fields of Torah study. He is best known for his many teshuvos, and he suceeded the Rivash as the leading scholar in North Africa.
There are many questions surrounding the authorship of many of the commentaries. For example, the editors of the Mossad HaRav Kook Seforim have shown that the printed Chiddushei Ha-Ran on Shabbos was written by one of his students, whereas the printed Chiddushei Ha-Ritva on Shabbos was written by the Ran. ↩
The chronology is known to us based on the fact that the Ran makes references in his commentary on the Rif to his commentary on the Talmud, and not vice versa. In the Sefer Yad Malachi (Klalei HaRamban Ve-Rashba ve-Ritva ve-Ran #10) it is suggested that when there is a contradiction between the Ran’s two works, Ran’s commentary on the Rif should be considered more authoritative for it was written. A theory that is consistent with the above chronology: It could be that the Ran is more conservative in his earlier work on the Talmud, as would be expected from a younger writer. For example, in the beginning of tractate Gittin (2a) he interprets the term מדינת הים like the other Rishonim, but in his later commentary on the Rif, he argues with the earlier Rishonim and suggests his own novel interpretation. ↩
Sourcing the Rambam – In both of his commentaries, the Ran tries to extrapolate from the ruling in the Mishnah Torah how the Rambam learned the sugyah. A contemporary of the Ran, R. Ephraim Vidal, also was involved in this endeavor. He authored a commentary on the Rambam’s code called the Maggid Mishnah, in which he sought out the Rambam’s sources. Both of these Rishonim were influenced by the Rashba, who also took a distinct interest in the pesakim of the Rambam. ↩
The Nimmukei Yosef’s student was the father of R. Yitzchak Kampanton. R. Yitzchak was the teacher of R. Yitzchak Abuhav, who was the teacher of R. Berav, who was a teacher of the R. Yosef Karo. ↩
R. Hasdai also studied under the Ran. He was the author of an important work in Jewish thought called Or Hashem. His student, R. Yosef Albo (d. 1444) was the author of the Sefer Ikkarim. ↩
The Rivash fled in 1391. From that time until the final and complete expulsion of all Jews from Spain in 1492, the Jews of Spain suffered greatly, and many fled to Africa and other locations. ↩