by R. Aryeh Leibowitz, author of the recently published The Neshamah: A Study of the Human Soul
R. Aharon ha-Levi (Ra’ah, d. c.1300)
R. Aharon of Barcelona, known as the Ra’ah, was born in Girona, but spent most of his life in Barcelona. He was a descendent of R. Zerachiah ha-Levi, the Ba’al Ha-Meor, and was one of the most illustrious students of the Ramban. The Ra’ah was a communal leader and had a relationship with the secular authorities. He was a disputant of his well-known colleague, the Rashba.
Ra’ah wrote a Talmud commentary that he called Nezer Ha-Kodesh. It has mostly been lost, although we have some material on various mesechtos. Like the Rashba’s Chiddushim, the Ra’ah’s work is heavily based on the Ramban, and in many locations are a mere rephrasing and explanation of the Ramban’s words. However, the Ra’ah commentary also includes many of his own original ideas and unique perspectives on the Talmudic discussion. The Ra’ah also included, at times, pesak halacha in his discussions.
The Ra’ah penned a commentary on the Rif’s Halachos, known as Sefer Pekudas Ha-Leviem, and wrote on topics of philosophy and mysticism.
For years, the Ra’ah was the assumed author of the Sefer Ha-Chinuch. Today we know that the sefer was written either by his older brother and teacher, R. Pinchas of Barcelona, R. Pinchas also wrote a commentary on the Talmud, but it has not survived. His teachings are quoted by the Ra’ah, the Ritva, and R. Kreskas. or by a fellow student of the Ramban.
The Sefer ha-Chinuch is one of the most treasured works of the period, studied to this day by both laymen and scholar alike. The work follows the order of the Torah and dedicates a short chapter to each of the 613 commandments. Each chapter identifies the source of the commandment, provides some of the basic laws and issues that concern the commandment, and states who is obligated in the commandment and if it applies today. Additionally, each chapter contains a section that suggests the root (שורש), i.e. the reason, for the commandment. This section is the most creative, and well-known, part of the sefer.
A famous commentary on the Sefer Ha-Chinuch was written in the 19th century by R. Yosef Babad (Ukraine, d. 1874) entitled, Minchas Chinuch. The work is very popular among yeshiva students due to its rigorous conceptual-analytical style.
R. Yom Tov b. Avraham (1250-1330)
The Ritva was the intellectual heir of the Catalonian Beis Midrash of the Ramban after the death of the Rashba and Ra’ah. Other Important students of the Rashba, contemporaries of the Ritva, include: (1) R. Bachya ben Asher, the great Torah commentator and author of the Kad Ha-Kemach on Jewish thought. His Torah … Continue reading The Ritva studied in Barcelona, Catalonia under his primary teacher, the Ra’ah, and with the Rashba. At other points in his life he lived in the city of Zaragosa Zaragosa, also spelled Saragossa, was reconquered in 1118 by Christian. The Ritva’s teacher, the Ra’ah, also spent time in Zaragosa, serving a Rabbinical appointment. Sources reveal that the … Continue reading and the Andalusian city of Seville. It is with this later city that he is associated; he is called R. Yom Tov Al-Ishvilli, which means “from Seville.” Seville was reconquered by Christian forces in 1248, two years before the birth of the Ritva. It bordered the Emirate of Granada (dissolved in 1492), the last Muslim holdout on the Iberian Peninsula. … Continue reading
The Ritva’s Talmud commentary, the Chiddushei Ha-Ritva, is a rich collection of the Talmudic tradition he inherited. It features classic Sefardic teachings (Geonim, R. Chananel, Rif, Rambam), material from the Provencal Masters (R. Zerachiah Ha-Levi and Ra’avad), the Tosafists teachings, as well as the subsequent analysis and teachings of the Ramban and his students. The often terse and cryptic comments of the Ramban are given special treatment and explanation in the Ritva, on the backdrop of the Rashba’s and Ra’ah’s analysis. Additionally, the Ritva included many of his own original teachings. For these reasons the Ritva’s commentary is very popular in today’s yeshivos.
Although the Ritva’s most immediate sources were his teachers, the Ra’ah and the Rashba, he also based his work on the writings of the later Tosafists. The Ritva had access to many more actual Tosafos texts than his predecessors, and in his Chiddushim, he quotes extensively from them. Unlike the Ramban and Rashba who likely worked with records of the Ri’s lectures and the writings of R. Shimshon of Shantz, the Ritva was in possession of Tosafos works that included the teachings of many important later Ashkenazic figures, such as: R. Moshe b. Shne’ur of Evreux, R. Yechiel of Paris, and R. Meir of Rothenburg. The teachings of these great scholars significantly enrichen the Ritva’s work, and add a dimension not found in the early works of Ramban and Rashba. It should be noted that as the case with the Rashba before him, much of the material quoted from “Tosafos” in Ritva’s Chiddushim is not found in our printed Tosafos. The Ritva was likely in possession of the Tosafos R. Peretz, and it was through this work that he received the teachings of the later Tosafists. Many of the printed Tosafos in the Gemara today are … Continue reading
The Ritva’s Chiddushim were written in two versions. At least some of the Ritva’s works were written after the Ritva had left Catalonia. See Shabbos 124, where he quotes from his Catalonian teachers, but also makes it clear that he is no longer in … Continue reading The first was longer, and then when he was older he wrote a shorter, condensed, edited version. In comparison to the Rashba’s commentary, and certainly the Ramban’s, the Ritva’s Chiddushim are more comprehensive, i.e. they comment more frequently and don’t just focus on trouble spots. Moreover, the Ritva’s Chiddushim are known to be written very clearly. It should be noted that there are many questions regarding the authorship of many commentaries printed in the name of Ritvah.
Besides his commentary on Gemara he also wrote a commentary on the Rif, collections of Piskei Halachos, Drashos, responsa, and other smaller works. The Ritva’s Sefer Zikaron is a defense of the Rambam opinion in Moreh Nevuchim that are criticized by the Ramban in his Torah commentary. The Ritva also wrote on agadah, philosophy and mystical topics.
|↑1||R. Pinchas also wrote a commentary on the Talmud, but it has not survived. His teachings are quoted by the Ra’ah, the Ritva, and R. Kreskas.|
|↑2||Other Important students of the Rashba, contemporaries of the Ritva, include: (1) R. Bachya ben Asher, the great Torah commentator and author of the Kad Ha-Kemach on Jewish thought. His Torah commentary draws, in some sections, from the Ramban’s commentary, and also quotes from R. Yonah’s commentary on Mishlei. (2) R. Shem Tov, author of the Migdal Oz commentary on the Rambam.|
|↑3||Zaragosa, also spelled Saragossa, was reconquered in 1118 by Christian. The Ritva’s teacher, the Ra’ah, also spent time in Zaragosa, serving a Rabbinical appointment. Sources reveal that the Ra’ah instituted important communal enactments in the city.|
|↑4||Seville was reconquered by Christian forces in 1248, two years before the birth of the Ritva. It bordered the Emirate of Granada (dissolved in 1492), the last Muslim holdout on the Iberian Peninsula. This proximity may have provided the Ritva with exposure to both Christian and Muslim Spain. Note his commentary on Nedarim 2a where he makes reference to the languages of his day by calling them: לע”ז and ער”ב, which are seemingly references to the language of the Christians (Either a form of Latin or Spanish, which was developing in Spain just around this time) and the language of the Muslims, respectfully.|
|↑5||The Ritva was likely in possession of the Tosafos R. Peretz, and it was through this work that he received the teachings of the later Tosafists. Many of the printed Tosafos in the Gemara today are from the Tosafos Tukh. This accounts for the discrepancies between the Chiddushei Ha-Ritva and the printed Tosafos. It is interesting to note that the Tosefos ha-Rosh, or any teachings of the Rosh for that matter, are not present in the Ritva’s writings, even though the Rosh’s Tosafos were already popular in Spain at this time. Similarly, the Rosh is not quoted much by the Rashba, even though the Rashba was very involved in securing the Rosh a rabbinic position in Toledo, Spain.|
|↑6||At least some of the Ritva’s works were written after the Ritva had left Catalonia. See Shabbos 124, where he quotes from his Catalonian teachers, but also makes it clear that he is no longer in Catalonia, when he reports the practice of his region, which is like the Sefardic Rif, and different than the Catalonian practice. It appears that this passage was likely written in the Andalusian region (which enjoyed a purer Sefardic influence) and after the Ritva had left Catalonia.|
|↑7||It should be noted that there are many questions regarding the authorship of many commentaries printed in the name of Ritvah.|