Abraham ben David


Abraham ben David

"Rabbeinu" Abraham ben David was a Provençal rabbi, a great commentator on the Talmud, "Sefer Halachot" of rabbi Yitzhak Alfasi and Mishne Torah of Maimonides, and is regarded as a father of Kabbalah and one of the key and important links in the chain of Jewish mystics. He was born in Provence, France, about 1125 CE; died at Posquières, 27 November 1198 CE.

He was the son-in-law of Abraham ben Isaac of Narbonne "Av Beth Din" (known as the "RABaD II"). He was the father of "Rabbeinu" Isaac the Blind, a Neoplatonist and important Jewish mystical thinker. The teachers under whose guidance he acquired most of his Talmudic learning were "Rabbeinu" Moses ben Joseph and "Rabbenu" Meshullam of Lunel "(Rabbeinu Meshullam hagodol)".

RABaD (abbreviation for "Rabbeinu" Abraham ben David) or RABaD III remained in Lunel after completing his studies, and subsequently became one of the rabbinical authorities of that city. He went to Montpellier, where he remained for a short time, and then moved to Nîmes, where he lived for a considerable period. "Rabbeinu" Moses ben Judah ("Temim De'im", p. 6b) refers to the rabbinical school of Nîmes, then under "Rabbeinu" Abraham's direction, as the chief seat of Talmudic learning in Provence.

Life

The center of the "Ravad's" activity was Posquières, after which place he is often called. The town is known as Vauvert today. It is difficult to determine when he moved to Posquières; but about 1165 Benjamin of Tudela, at the outset of his travels, called upon him there. He spoke of the "Ravad's" wealth and benevolence. Not only did he erect and keep in repair a large school-building, but he cared for the material welfare of the poor students as well. To this date in Vauvert a street exists with the name "Rue Ravad." It was his great wealth which brought him into peril of his life; for, in order to obtain some of it, Elzéar, the lord of Posquières, had him cast into prison, where, like Rabbi Meir of Rothenburg, he might have perished, had not Count Roger II of Carcassonne, who was friendly to the Jews, intervened, and by virtue of his sovereignty banished the lord of Posquières to Carcassonne. Thereupon the "Ravad" returned to Posquières, where he remained until his death.

Among the many learned Talmudists who were his disciples in Posquières were "Rabbeinu" Isaac ha-Kohen of Narbonne, the first commentator upon the Yerushalmi; "Rabbeinu" Abraham ben Nathan of Lunel, author of "Ha-Manhig"; "Rabbeinu" Meir ben Isaac of Carcassonne, author of the "Sefer ha-'Ezer"; and "Rabbeinu" Asher ben Meshullam of Lunel, author of several rabbinical works. The "Ravad"'s influence on "Rabbeinu" Jonathan of Lunel also is evident, though the latter did not attend his lectures.

Literary Works

The "Ravad" was a prolific author. He not only wrote answers to hundreds of learned questions—which responsa are still partially preserved in the collections "Temim De'im", "Orot Hayyim", and "Shibbale ha-Leket" — but he also wrote a commentary on the whole Talmud and compiled several compendiums of rabbinical law.

Most of his works are lost; but those which have been preserved, such as the "Sefer Ba'ale ha-Nefesh" (The Book of the Con-scientious), a treatise on the laws relating to women, published in 1602, and his commentary on "Torath Kohanim", published in 1862 at Vienna.

The title of "Baal Hasagot" (Critic), given him frequently by the rabbis, shows that they viewed the direction in which his ability lay. Indeed, critical annotations display his powers at their best, and justify his being ranked with the "Rif", Rashi, and the "Rambam" (Maimonides).

The "Ravad" did much for the study of the Talmud. Without accusing the "Rambam" of intending to supplant the study of the Talmud itself by means of his compendium, the Mishneh Torah, it is nevertheless a fact that if the "Rif" and "Rambam" had not encountered such keen opposition, rabbinical Judaism may have degenerated into an exclusive study of the legal code, which would have been fatal to any original intellectual development in a considerable portion of the Jewish people.

This danger was not so imminent for those Jews who lived in lands where Arabian culture ruled; for there the study of the Hebrew language and poetry, and especially of the sciences and philosophy, would always have afforded a wide field for intellectual development. It was, therefore, sufficient that the leading Jewish rabbis domiciled in Moorish countries should devote much attention to furnishing a clew to the labyrinth of the Talmud, intricate and perplexing as the latter had become by the addition of the copious post-Talmudic literature of law and custom. Some sort of guide had become imperatively necessary for the practical application of this voluminous and intricate material. But in Christian countries like France and Germany, where the largest communities of Jews existed, throughout the Middle Ages there was no such outlet for Jewish intellectuality as the culture of literature or of the sciences which existed in Moorish Spain. Their own religious law was the only field open to the intellects of the Jews of Germany and northern France.

Rashi and the Ravad

In his commentary, Rashi furnished a well-paved road to the Talmud; while the Ravad, by his acute criticism, pointed out the way intelligently and with discrimination. This critical tendency is characteristic of all the writings of the "Ravad". Thus, in his commentary upon "Torath Kohanim" (pp. 41a, 71b), we find the caustic observation that many obscure passages in rabbinical literature owe their obscurity to the fact that occasional explanatory or marginal notes not tending to elucidate the text have been incorporated.

Attitude as a Critic

The strength of "Ravad", may be shown by his criticisms of the works of various authors. The tone which he employs is also characteristic of his attitude toward the persons under criticism. He treats the "Rif" with the utmost respect, almost with humility, and refers to him as "the sun by whose brilliant rays our eyes are dazzled" ("Temim De'im", p. 22a). His language toward "Rabbeinu" Zerachiah ha-Levi, the "Baal Hamoer" is harsh, almost hostile. Though only eighteen years old, this scholar possessed the courage and the ability to write a sharp criticism upon the "Rif", and the "Ravad" refers to him as an immature youth who has the audacity to criticize his teacher. However, in fairness it must be stated that "Rabbeinu" Zerachiah had himself provoked this treatment by sharply criticizing the "Ravad", and by incorporating into his own work some of the "Ravad's" interpretations without acknowledgment to the author (compare Gross, l.c., 545, and Reifmann, "Toledot," p. 54).

Maimonides (Rambam) and Ravad

The "Ravad's" criticism of the "Rambam's" code of Jewish law, the Mishneh Torah, is very harsh. This was not due to personal feeling, but to radical differences of view in matters of faith between the two greatest Talmudists of the twelfth century.

The "Rambam's" aim was to bring order into the vast labyrinth of the Halakha by presenting final results in a definite, systematic, and methodical manner. But in the opinion of the "Ravad" this very aim was the principal defect of the work. A legal code which did not state the sources and authorities from which its decisions were derived, and offered no proofs of the correctness of its statements, was, in the opinion of the "Ravad", entirely unreliable, even in the practical religious life, for which purpose the "Rambam" designed it.

Such a code, he considered, could be justified only if written by a man claiming infallibility - by one who could demand that his assertions be accepted without question. If it had been the intention of the "Rambam" to stem the further development of the study of the Talmud by reducing it to the form of a code, the "Ravad" felt it his duty to oppose such an attempt, as contrary to the free spirit of rabbinical Judaism, which refuses to surrender blindly to authority.

Ravad as a Kabbalist and Philosopher

Many Kabbalists view the "Ravad" as one of the fathers of their system, and this is true to the extent that he was inclined to mysticism, which led him to follow an ascetic mode of life and gained for him the title of "the pious." He frequently spoke of "the holy spirit disclosing to him God's secrets in his studies" (chasidim regard this as a reference to the direct presence of Elijah in the court of the "Ravad") (see his note to "Yad ha-Chazakah", "Lulav", viii. 5; "Beth ha-Bechirah", vi. 11), great mysteries known only to the initiated ("Yesode ha-Torah", i. 10).

The "Ravad" is widely considered to be the source of the commonly-used diagram of the Sephirot of the Tree of Life that was ultimately written down by his son Isaac the Blind.

The "Ravad" was not an enemy to science, as many deem him. His works show that he was a close student of Hebrew philology; and the fact that he encouraged the translation of "Rabbeinu" Bahya ibn Paquda's Chovot ha-Levavot shows that he was not hostile to philosophy. This philosophic work argues strongly against the anthropomorphistic conception of the Deity; and the favor with which the "Ravad" looked upon it is sufficient ground on which to acquit him of the charge of having held anthropomorphistic views.

Some of his works show acquaintance with philosophy; for instance, his remark on "Hilchoth Teshuvah", v., end, is a literal quotation from Honein ben Isaac's "Musre ha-Philosophim," pp. 11, 12—or Loewenthal, p. 39, below—which is extant only in Al-Charizi's translation.

Descendents

The "Ravad" had many illustrious descendants and several hundred members of the family live in this time under the names Rayvid, Ravid, and Ravad. Family records indicate they made their way to Spain where they appeared in Toledo and Barcelona and were reputedly advisers in the court of Ferdinand and Isabella. After the Inquisition they were exiled to Italy, from whence they made their way to northern, then later, Eastern Europe where they served as Rabbis in Telšiai Lithuania, likely in the Telshe yeshiva. Before the first world war, they emigrated to various places and are known to exist today in England, Canada, South Africa, the United States, Israel, Brazil and Ireland.

External links and references

* [http://www.jewishencyclopedia.com/view.jsp?artid=420&letter=A Abraham ben David of Posquieres] , jewishencyclopedia.com
* [http://www.jewishgates.com/file.asp?File_ID=342 Abraham Ben David of Posquieres - Great 12th Century Legalist Of Provence] , jewishgates.com

*"Rabad of Posquières A Twelfth-Century Talmudist", Editor Isadore Twersky, Harvard University Press (1962), ISBN 13: 978-0-674-74550-6, ISBN 10: 0-674-74550-7


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