The Later Rishonim of England and Provence

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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

The Later Rishonim of England

The Jewish community of early medieval England was strongly associated with the community of northern France.1)In 1066, the Norman (French) King, William I captured England in the battle of Hastings. This united France with England and led to increased commercial travel between the two regions. Their language, culture, and liturgy was similar to that of the French community.

In regard to Talmud study, the teachings of the French Tosafists reached England through the students of R. Tam.2)One student was R. Yaakov of Orleans. He moved to London and was tragically murdered al kiddush Hashem during an anti-Jewish massacre during the coronation of King Richard in 1189. Another student, R. Yom Tov of Joigny, France was killed al kiddush Hashem during the infamous massacre at York in 1190. An additional student was R. Binyamin of Cambridge; he seemingly travelled to France to study under R. Tam, before returning to England. After this initial influence, the English Tosafists developed more independently, but they still maintained a correspondence with the French Tosafists.

Perhaps the most well-known English Tosafist in the later period of Rishonim was R. Eliyahu Menachem of London. R. Eliyahu was a Talmudist and a medical doctor. He quotes from the Tosafist commentary of R. Yechiel and seemed to have authored his own commentary on tractate Sanhedrin. He is likely the “Rabbi of London (הרב מלונדר”ש)” found in halachic literature.

 

Tosafos Chachmei Angleia (תוספות חכמי אנגליא)

Tosafos Chachmei Angleia is a Talmud commentary that quotes many Tosafists from English cities and is assumed to have been written by an English Tosafist. The author quotes classic Tosafist sources, such as teachings of R. Tam and the Ri, as well as teachings from the French academy in Evreux, noted with a ש”א, which stands for שיטת אייברא. In general, the Tosafos Chachmei Angleia is less dialectical in style and more tersely written than the classic Tosafos commentaries.

The manuscript of this commentary was unknown for many years and was discovered and printed in the second half of the twentieth century. It appears that the commentary was written during the period of the 1290 expulsion from England.3)Another known English work from this period is the Sefer Etz Chaim of R. Yaakov Chazan of London. It was written in 1287, three years before the expulsion of the Jews from England. Significantly, it quotes heavily from the Rambam’s Mishna Torah, in addition to rulings from the Tosafists. This again reflects the penetration of the Rambam’s work into Ashkenaz at this time.

 

The Later Rishonim of Provence

During the middle period of the rishonim, the focus of learning in Provence was on the Rif’s Halachos and the Rambam’s Mishna Torah, and not on the Talmud itself. Some works from this time period that reflect this focus on the Rif and the Rambam are:

  1. Hasagos HaRamach on the Rambam’s Mishna Torah, written by R. Moshe HaKohen of Lunel (d. early thirteenth century), a contemporary of the Rambam. The Hasagos are quoted often in R. Yosef Karo’s Kesef Mishna.
  2. Sefer HaMechtam of R. Dovid b. Levi of Narbonne (d. late thirteenth century) focuses on the rulings of the Rif. We have the sefer on many of the tractates in Seder Mo’ed.
  3. Sefer HaMenucha of R. Manoach (d. late thirteenth century). The sefer is basically a line-by-line commentary on the Rambam’s Mishna Torah. R. Manoach generally attempts to show how the Rambam agrees with the Rif. We only have the sefer on part of Sefer Ahavah and Sefer Zemanim. R. Manoach’s commentary is printed in the Frankel Edition of the Rambam’s Mishna Torah.

 

R. Menachem HaMeiri (מאירי)

R. Menachem (d. 1310) was from the city of Perpignan in southern France.4)At the time of the later Rishonim, Perpignan was politically part of Catalonia, but in terms of Jewish scholarship it was still associated with the Provencal tradition. He is the author of an important halachic commentary on the Talmud called Beis HaBechira. The Meiri writes in the introduction to his sefer that his goal is to bring clear interpretations of the Talmud without all of the back and forth that is typical of dialectical analysis. From the Meiri’s writings, it is clear that he was profoundly influenced by the Rambam’s teachings.

The Beis HaBechira features several unique characteristics. It always begins by quoting the Mishna with the Rambam’s commentary. The Meiri then provides his commentary on the Mishna. Following this, the Meiri records all of the halachic laws that emerge from the relevant Talmudic discussion. For each law, the Meiri records a summary of the major opinions of the Rishonim. It is important to note that the Meiri does not quote the various Rishonim verbatim, rather he summarizes their view in his own words.

The sefer is written very clearly and uses a more modern style of Hebrew. Curiously, the Meiri chose not to refer to the Rishonim he quotes by name. Rather he created honorific nicknames for each Rishon. Rashi is called Gedolei HaRabanim (גדולי הרבנים), the Rif is Gedolei HaPoskim (גדולי הפוסקים), the Rambam is Gedolei HaMechabrim (גדולי המחברים), the Raavad is Gedolei HaMifarshim (גדולי המפרשים).

Originally, the Meiri’s Beis HaBechira was primarily known through short quotations in R. Bezalel Ashkenazi’s (d. 1592) Shita Mekubetzes. In the eighteenth century, the Beis HaBechira on a few tractates was printed, but the commentary on the rest of the Talmud was lost. It was only in the early twentieth century that the other tractates were printed based on a newly found singular manuscript.5)The Chazon Ish (Mo’ed 67:12) writes that since the Beis HaBechira was lost for many centuries and did not benefit from the analysis and scrutiny of the many great Talmudists throughout the centuries, the writings of the Meiri cannot be afforded the same stature as that of other Rishonim whose writing were not lost.

The Meiri was a prolific writer. In addition to the Beis HaBechira, he also wrote chiddushim on the Talmud. However, they are mostly lost, and only his commentary on tractates Eruvin, Pesachim, and Beitzah are extant. He also composed an important commentary on Avos, Kiryas Sefer on the laws of Sefer Torah, Chibbur HaTeshuva on repentance, and commentaries on Tehillim and Mishle. Another monumental work of the Meiri was his Sefer Magen Avos that defends the traditions of Provence against the attacks of the students of the Ramban who arrived in Provence and began to question some of the local practices.

 

R. Avraham Min HaHar (ר’ אברהם מן ההר)

R. Avraham (d. 1315) lived in Montpellier and was a contemporary of the Meiri. Like the Meiri, he was greatly influenced by the Rambam’s writings, and R. Avraham’s commentary on the Talmud draws regularly from the Rambam. The commentary is extant on a few tractates.6)Modern day editions of the Talmud on tractate Nedarim do not have Rashi’s original commentary printed within. However, R. Avraham’s commentary on Nedarim quotes Rashi’s original commentary on the tractate. In fact, modern printings of tractate Kiddushin have the commentary of R. Avraham printed in the margin, erroneously titled Tosafos Ri HaZaken.7)The misidentification is blatantly obvious when one notes the scholars quoted in the commentary that lived after the Ri HaZaken. The title page of the printed Talmud also notes that R Avraham is the correct author of the commentary.

 

R. Aharon HaKohen (אורחות חיים)

R. Aharon Hakohen of Lunel lived in Provence until 1306, when the Jews were expelled from all of France. He moved to the Island of Majorca off the eastern coast of Spain, which had an established Jewish community since it first served as a place of refuge for Jews fleeing the Almohad persecutions in Spain in the twelfth century.

R. Aharon is the author of the Orchos Chayim, which is an important halachic compendium that records the rulings and practice of Provence. The sefer also features ethical teachings.

The Sefer KolBo is an influential work from this period that contains similar content to the Orchos Chayim. Its author is not known with certainty. However, some suggest it was written by R. Aharon, possibly as a first draft of the Orchos Chayim. Others suggest it was written later as an abridgment of the Orchos Chayim. The KolBo is quoted regularly by R. Yosef Karo and R. Moshe Isserlis (Rema).

 

Endnotes   [ + ]

1.In 1066, the Norman (French) King, William I captured England in the battle of Hastings. This united France with England and led to increased commercial travel between the two regions.
2.One student was R. Yaakov of Orleans. He moved to London and was tragically murdered al kiddush Hashem during an anti-Jewish massacre during the coronation of King Richard in 1189. Another student, R. Yom Tov of Joigny, France was killed al kiddush Hashem during the infamous massacre at York in 1190. An additional student was R. Binyamin of Cambridge; he seemingly travelled to France to study under R. Tam, before returning to England.
3.Another known English work from this period is the Sefer Etz Chaim of R. Yaakov Chazan of London. It was written in 1287, three years before the expulsion of the Jews from England. Significantly, it quotes heavily from the Rambam’s Mishna Torah, in addition to rulings from the Tosafists. This again reflects the penetration of the Rambam’s work into Ashkenaz at this time.
4.At the time of the later Rishonim, Perpignan was politically part of Catalonia, but in terms of Jewish scholarship it was still associated with the Provencal tradition.
5.The Chazon Ish (Mo’ed 67:12) writes that since the Beis HaBechira was lost for many centuries and did not benefit from the analysis and scrutiny of the many great Talmudists throughout the centuries, the writings of the Meiri cannot be afforded the same stature as that of other Rishonim whose writing were not lost.
6.Modern day editions of the Talmud on tractate Nedarim do not have Rashi’s original commentary printed within. However, R. Avraham’s commentary on Nedarim quotes Rashi’s original commentary on the tractate.
7.The misidentification is blatantly obvious when one notes the scholars quoted in the commentary that lived after the Ri HaZaken. The title page of the printed Talmud also notes that R Avraham is the correct author of the commentary.

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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