The Later Rishonim of Ashkenaz – France II

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A new series by R. Aryeh Leibowitz of Yeshivat Sha’alvim, excerpted from a book available for purchase: here

by R. Aryeh Leibowitz

 

R. Moshe of Coucy (סמ”ג, ר’ משה מקוצי)

R. Moshe (d. 1260) was a student of R. Yehuda of Paris and a contemporary of R. Yechiel. He too participated in the Paris disputation of the Talmud. R. Moshe authored Tosafist texts, and he is the assumed author of the “Tosafos Yeshanim” on tractate Yoma.

R. Moshe’s major work is the Sefer Mitzvos Gadol (סמ”ג = ספר מצוות גדול), an important work of Talmudic analysis, halacha, and drush. The sefer is structured around the six hundred and thirteen mitzvos of the Torah and features long and sophisticated analyses of the Talmudic discussions – in the dialectic style of the Tosafists – regarding each mitzvah.[1]In his introduction, R. Moshe writes that wishes to record the “foundations of the commandments according to tradition without all of their long-winded dialectics (חילוקיהם באורך).” … Continue reading These discussions are generally based upon the teachings of the Ri and his students, especially R. Moshe’s teacher, R. Yehuda of Paris.

The Semag is the first major Tosafist work to draw heavily from the teachings of the Rambam. The Rambam’s Mishna Torah was a central source for the Semag, its influence felt both in terms of structure[2]An example of the Mishna Torah’s influence on the Semag’s structure: Mitzvah #8 in the Semag is from the Rambam’s Hilchos Deos 6:2, Mitzvah #9 is from Deos 6:3, Mitzvah #10 is from Deos 6:4, … Continue reading and language. We even find entire passages from the Mishna Torah appearing word for word in the Semag. The inclusion of Sefardic teachings alongside the Ashkenazic teachings was extremely novel at this time and contributed to the uniqueness of the sefer.[3]When the opinion of the Rambam argues on that of the Ashkenazic tradition, R. Moshe generally sides with the Ashkenazic position.

R Moshe was also a prolific preacher. In 1236, he travelled to Spain to chastise the masses on contemporary societal issues and mitzvah observance. Snippets from the ethical lectures and impassioned speeches he delivered in Spain are included in the Semag.

As alluded to above, the Semag had great influence on halakhic discourse in Ashkenazic lands during the period of the later Rishonim and early Achronim. For many years it was considered a central halachic work, and hence we find that the Talmud’s halachic footnotes, the Ein Mishpat Ner Mitzvah of R. Yehoshua Boaz (d. 1557), direct the reader to the relevant rulings of the Semag, along with the Rambam and Tur. Additionally, many great Achronim – including R. Shlomo Luria (Maharshal, d. 1573) and R. Eliyahu Mizrachi (d. 1525) – wrote commentaries on the Semag; a number of abridgments were also written.[4]R. Mendel Zaks related that his father-in-law, the Chofetz Chayim, used to dance with a copy of the Semag on Simchas Torah and exclaim, “This book has within it the entire Torah (kol hatorah … Continue reading

R. Yitzchak of Corbiel (סמ”ק, ר’ יצחק מקורביל)

R’ Yitzchak (d. 1280) was a student and son-in-law of R. Yechiel of Paris, and spent time learning in the Tosafist academy in Evreux.

R. Yitzchak’s major work was called the Sefer Mitzvos Katan (Semak, סמ”ק), also known as the Amudei Golah. It was written, according to R. Yitzchak’s introduction, in the style of R. Moshe of Coucy’s Semag and focuses on the six hundred and thirteen mitzvos of the Torah. However, unlike the long-winded and complex Semag, the Semak contains relatively short treatments of each mitzvah, generally without all of the sophisticated dialectics. The Semak includes halachic and ethical material, and is much more accessible to the layman than the Semag.

R. Yitzchak writes in his introduction that Torah study is sorely neglected in his time, and he believes that his sefer can serve an important role in strengthening it amongst the masses. He even calls upon communities to encourage and popularize study of his sefer. To this end, R. Yitzchak divided the sefer into “days” to assist readers in organizing a regular study schedule.

The Semak was very popular in Ashkenazic circles. This is attested to by the fact that there are more manuscripts of the Semak than any other medieval Ashkenazic work. Moreover, a number of great rabbinic scholars wrote glosses or super-commentaries on the Semak. This includes the glosses of the great Tosafist R. Peretz of Corbiel and the commentary of R. Moshe of Zurich, a 14th century German scholar. The rulings of the Semak are also quoted regularly by R. Shabtai Cohen, the Shach, in his commentary on Shulchan Aruch.

 

Rabbeinu Peretz of Corbiel (רבינו פרץ)

R. Peretz (d. 1295) was a student of R. Yechiel of Paris and R. Yitzchak of Corbiel, and he wrote important footnotes on R. Yitzchak’s Semak that are printed in standard editions of the sefer. R. Peretz also spent time learning in Evreux.

R. Peretz wrote a popular Tosafos commentary, of which a few records are extant and printed as Tosafos R. Peretz. The Rishonim already note that the Tosafos R. Peretz was not purely the work of R. Peretz, and there appear to be many additions from his students.[5]The Rosh (Shu”t HaRosh 20:27) was asked about a specific commentary that recorded the Ri’s opinion on an issue. He responded by stating that the commentary under discussion should not be relied … Continue reading At times, these students quote their teacher directly as מהר”ף (מורינו הרב רבינו פרץ) and sometimes as משי”ח (מורינו שיחיה).

A few of the printed Tosafos in standard editions of the Talmud are the product of R. Peretz’s academy. This short list includes the printed Tosafos on tractates Nedarim, Sanhedrin, and Makkos.

A few years after the death of R. Peretz, the Torah community in northern France came to an abrupt end. After years of harassment, the Jews were expelled from France on July 22, 1306. Although they were allowed back in 1315, the expulsion of 1306 was the death knell for the French Torah community.

Endnotes

1In his introduction, R. Moshe writes that wishes to record the “foundations of the commandments according to tradition without all of their long-winded dialectics (חילוקיהם באורך).” His stated intentions notwithstanding, the work is fairly long-winded.
2An example of the Mishna Torah’s influence on the Semag’s structure: Mitzvah #8 in the Semag is from the Rambam’s Hilchos Deos 6:2, Mitzvah #9 is from Deos 6:3, Mitzvah #10 is from Deos 6:4, and Mitzvah #11 is from Deos 6:6-9.
3When the opinion of the Rambam argues on that of the Ashkenazic tradition, R. Moshe generally sides with the Ashkenazic position.
4R. Mendel Zaks related that his father-in-law, the Chofetz Chayim, used to dance with a copy of the Semag on Simchas Torah and exclaim, “This book has within it the entire Torah (kol hatorah kula).”
5The Rosh (Shu”t HaRosh 20:27) was asked about a specific commentary that recorded the Ri’s opinion on an issue. He responded by stating that the commentary under discussion should not be relied upon, and he adds that the same is true of the commentaries authored by the students of R. Peretz. Rosh continues that he has in his possession the Tosafos of R. Shimshon of Shantz, and that they are much more authoritative and precise in capturing the correct intent of the Ri.

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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