The Later Rishonim of Italy

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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 Jewish community in Italy is the oldest of the European communities.[1]Tradition records a small community in Rome after the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash. In terms of Jewish scholarship, we have records of piyutim written in Italy in the ninth century and a … Continue reading There was a significant rabbinic presence in Italy in the very early years of the Rishonim,[2]In the responsa of the early Tosafists, R. Tam asks questions to the Rabbis of Rome (חכמי רומי) and also praises the Torah scholarship of the Italian cities Bari and Otranto. Additionally, we … Continue reading and the study of Torah seemed to continue there throughout the period of the Rishonim. However, many of the names of the great Italian Talmudists are not known to us, and their direct impact on future generations is hard to perceive.

In the later period of the Rishonim, there were a few well-known Talmudists and poskim from Italy. All of them spent time studying in Germany, and most of them are intellectually part of the Ashkenazic Talmudic tradition. They generally address many of the issues raised by the German Talmudists, and they largely quote from Ashkenazic sources.

R. Yeshaya HaZaken of Trani (רי”ד)

R. Yeshaya (d. 1240) of Trani, Italy is referred to as the Rid (ר’ ישעיה דטרני) or the Rid Hazaken to distinguish him from his grandson, also named R. Yeshaya and often referred to as the Riaz (ריא”ז).

R. Yeshaya studied in Italy, but he also travelled to Germany and studied under R. Simcha of Speyer. When he returned to Italy, R. Yeshaya authored an important Talmud commentary that is traditionally called the Tosafos Rid.[3]In one of the manuscripts of the Tosafos Rid the sefer is referred to as Chiddushei HaRid. This seems to be a more appropriate title. However, other manuscripts do refer to it as the Tosafos HaRid. … Continue reading In truth, it does not really conform to the genre we usually call “Tosafos.” While R. Yeshaya does confront many of the issues raised by the Tosafists, his writing style is not that of the Tosafists, nor does he particularly quote the Tosafists more than other Talmudists. Most significantly, R. Yeshaya’s commentary is not redacting earlier teachings, or presenting himself as a member of a specific intellectual culture. Throughout his commentary, R. Yeshaya operates as an independent Talmudist; his commentary is filled with many of his own creative and novel interpretations, and he has no reservations about arguing on his predecessors.[4]In a famous comment, R. Yeshaya justifies arguing on the Rif by stating that he is a “midget standing on the shoulders of a giant” (Shu”t HaRid, #62). This justification is repeated by R. … Continue reading

Many of the Rid’s comments begin by quoting “The Moreh (המורה),” which is a reference to Rashi. This might have been a contributing factor to the Tosafos Rid being printed on the margins of a few tractates in the standard printing of the Talmud.

R. Yeshaya wrote at least 5 different versions (מהדורות) of his commentary, and he references the earlier versions in his later versions. Historically, the teachings of the Rid have been confused for the Ritva, as both works were originally printed together, one beside the other.

R. Yeshaya also wrote a sefer of halachic pesak, called the Piskei HaRid. This sefer was written as a pesak sefer and was written after the Tosafos Rid. It is therefore considered more authoritative than the Tosafos Rid. However, many of R. Yeshaya’s views expressed in the Tosafos Rid are recorded in the Piskei Rid. The Piskei Rid is quoted regularly by later scholars.

R. Yeshaya also wrote responsa, a Torah commentary, and another work of halachic analysis called the Sefer HaMachriah.

R. Yeshaya’a grandson, also named Yeshaya of Trani, and known as the Riaz (ר’ ישעיה אחרון ז”ל), wrote a terse sefer of pesakim that follows the order of the tractates, and includes his grandfather’s rulings, which are referenced as the teachings of מז”ה. Unlike his grandfather’s pesakim, the Riaz’s work does not include analysis and mostly suffices with issuing direct rulings. Riaz also wrote a separate sefer of Talmudic analysis that justified his halachic rulings; he references this work, calling it the Kuntres HaRaayos (קונטרס הראיות). It is extant only on a handful of tractates. The Riaz’s rulings are quoted regularly in the Shiltei Geborim of the great sixteenth century Italian posek R. Yehoshua Boaz.

R. Zedkiah b. Avraham HaRofe (שבלי הלקט)

R. Zedkiah (d. 1280) was from a prominent Italian rabbinic family in Rome.[5]Tradition records four families that were exiled to Rome by Titus: The Anavim, Ne’arim. Adumim, and Latifim families, referred to, using their first initials, as ענא”ל. R. Zedkiah was … Continue reading In his youth,[6]R. Zedkiah was likely a young child in Rome when the Fourth Lateran Council was convened in Rome by Pope Innocent III in 1215 and issued anti-Semitic regulations requiring Jews to wear identifying … Continue reading he travelled to Germany and studied in Wurzburg under a student of R. Shimshon of Shantz. He then returned to his hometown of Rome. In Rome, he studied under R. Avigdor HaKohen, who was in Italy at the time, and other Italian Rabbis.

R. Zedkiah’s magnum opus was a halakhic work called the Shibbolei HaLeket, which focuses on topics related to daily halacha, Shabbos, and the holidays. As its name suggests, the Shibbolei HaLeket is a wide-ranging compendium of halachic rulings of his predecessors. R. Zedkiah not only quotes from early sources, such as the writings of the Geonim, the Machzor Vitri, and other seforim that emerged from Rashi’s academy, but also draws on the many generations of Ashkenazic Talmudists and poskim. R. Zedkiah quotes frequently from his Italian contemporaries, especially his scholarly brother, R. Binyamin, and his cousin R. Yehuda (d. c1280), known as the Rivivan (ריבב”ן), who he refers to as his teacher.[7]R. Binyamin was the author of a commentary on the Rif that is printed on the side of the page of the Rif in a few tractates.

R. Zedkiah was influenced by the writings and teachings of the Rid, the leading Italian Talmudist of the previous generation, and he quotes from him frequently. It is noteworthy that R. Zedkiah was apparently not exposed to the teachings of the Rambam, and the latter’s writings are not quoted in the Shibbolei HaLeket.

The Shibbolei HaLeket was an influential sefer on later generations. R. Yosef Karo quotes from the Shibbolei HaLeket hundreds of times in the Beis Yosef on Orach Chayim.[8]At this time in Italy, a collection of laws and practices was written called the Sefer Tanya. The assumed author is R. Yechiel b. Yekutiel HaRofe, and some have suggested that it was written as an … Continue reading

R. Zedkiah wrote additional sections of the Shibbolei HaLeket that focused on other areas of halacha, such as ritual laws of kashrus, marriage and divorce, and monetary law. The material remained in manuscript until the late twentieth century.

Endnotes

1Tradition records a small community in Rome after the destruction of the second Beis HaMikdash. In terms of Jewish scholarship, we have records of piyutim written in Italy in the ninth century and a number of early seforim, including the Sefer Yosipon, Sefer Tachkemoni, and the Megilas Achimtaz. Additionally, the responsa of the Geonim speak of the “Yeshiva of the City of Rome (מתיבתא דמתא רומי).”
2In the responsa of the early Tosafists, R. Tam asks questions to the Rabbis of Rome (חכמי רומי) and also praises the Torah scholarship of the Italian cities Bari and Otranto. Additionally, we find that before certain religious ordinances were established in France and Germany, letters were sent to the Roman Rabbis asking for their support.
3In one of the manuscripts of the Tosafos Rid the sefer is referred to as Chiddushei HaRid. This seems to be a more appropriate title. However, other manuscripts do refer to it as the Tosafos HaRid. The Rid himself refers to his work as a “Kuntres.”
4In a famous comment, R. Yeshaya justifies arguing on the Rif by stating that he is a “midget standing on the shoulders of a giant” (Shu”t HaRid, #62). This justification is repeated by R. Zedkiah HaRofe in the introduction to his Shibbolei HaLeket.
5Tradition records four families that were exiled to Rome by Titus: The Anavim, Ne’arim. Adumim, and Latifim families, referred to, using their first initials, as ענא”ל. R. Zedkiah was from the broad Anavim family, and it is likely that HaRofeh was his immediate family’s name, and not an indication that he was a doctor.
6R. Zedkiah was likely a young child in Rome when the Fourth Lateran Council was convened in Rome by Pope Innocent III in 1215 and issued anti-Semitic regulations requiring Jews to wear identifying clothing in public.
7R. Binyamin was the author of a commentary on the Rif that is printed on the side of the page of the Rif in a few tractates.
8At this time in Italy, a collection of laws and practices was written called the Sefer Tanya. The assumed author is R. Yechiel b. Yekutiel HaRofe, and some have suggested that it was written as an abridgment of the Shibbolei HaLeket. Others, however, assume that it is an independent work that emerged from the environs of R. Zedkiah, and therefore contains much similar material.

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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