12th Century Gedolim

Machzor Vitri

Rav Simcha of Vitri, France, who died in 1105, authored this halachic work. It focuses mainly around the daily and Shabbat prayer services, and includes halachic decisions from his teacher Rashi or from other early scholars. It also includes halachic decisions on issues of kashrut, family purity, tefillin, mezuzah, and ethics.



Rav Eliezer from Metz, France, one of the Tosafists, wrote this work on the 613 commandments. He lived from 1115 until 1198 and was a student of fellow Tosafist Rabbeinu Tam. This work categorizes the 613 commandments into 7 main groups, and discourses on each one, incorporating Talmudic and halachic discussions. His students included Ra'avyah and Rokeiach.



Rav Avraham the son of David (Ra'avad III) was born in Narbonne, Provence in 1120 and passed away in Posquieres, Provence in 1198. His commentary on several tractates and on the Sefer HaHalachot of Rif still exist. However, he is best known for his glosses on the Mishne Torah of Rambam, which criticized the author for not following the lead of other codifiers and listing the sources for his laws.


Ba'al HaMaor

Rav Zerachyah HaLevi was born in 1135 in Gerona, Spain and passed away in 1186 in Lunel, Provence. His work Sefer HaMaor was written when he was only nineteen years old, and contained his criticisms of the Sefer HaHalachot of Rif. He prefaced this work with comments justifying his ability to criticize Rif despite his young age. This work was heavily attacked, most notably by Ramban in his Milchamot Hashem ("The Wars of The Lord") and by Ra'avad.



Arguably the greatest of all scholars in Jewish history, Rav Moshe ben Maimon was born in Cordova in 1135 and lived there until his family was forced to flee to Africa to escape Islamic fundamentalists. He traveled with his family first to Christian Spain, then to Morocco and finally to Egypt, where he died in Cairo in 1204. His magnum opus is his Mishne Torah, a halachic work that codifies all of the laws found throughout the Talmud, including those that were no longer applicable (such as laws of sacrifices). Over 300 commentaries have been written on this work, and it is a major focus point for much of what has been written since. In addition, he wrote his own Sefer HaMitzvot, which in addition to listing his opinion of what qualifies as the 613 commandments also includes the 14 principles that he used as a guide to determine what qualifies as a commandment and what does not. His two other major works are his commentary on the Mishna and Moreh Nevuchim, a philosophical treatise heavily influenced by the writings of Aristotle and Aristotelian Muslim philosophers. His thirteen principles of faith, discussed in his commentary to the 10th chapter of Sanhedrin, are recited daily as Yigdal. He learned under his father and Ri MiGash, and taught his only son, Rav Avraham.



Rav Eliezer the son of Yoel HaLevi, a member of the Tosafists, lived in Germany from 1140 until 1225. His main work, Avi HaEzri, is a halachic compendium arranged according to the order of the Talmud and utilizing the method of the Tosafists. His teachers were his Grandfather Ra'avan and the author of the Yere'im. Among his students were the Or Zarua and the Rokeiach.



Rav Shimon of Sens was born in France in 1150, and emigrated to Israel in the face of persecution in 1211, where he lived until his death in 1230. He was one of the Ba'alei Tosafot, and his lectures have been published separately as Tosafot Shantz. His commentary on the Mishna appears alongside those tractates which lack Talmudic discussion. His teachers were Rabbeinu Tam, and Ri HaZakein, and his students included the author of the Semak.



Rav Elazar Rokeiach of Worms, Germany was one of the Chassidei Ashkenaz, a group of German pietists. He lived from 1165 until 1238. His work, Sefer HaRokeiach is a guide to ethics and halacha. His teachers included, among others, Ra'avyah and the author of the Yere'im, and among his students were Ramban and Rav Menachem Recanati.


Sefer HaChassidim

Rav Yehuda HaChassid was another member of the German pietists. He was born in Speyer (Shapira) in 1150 and dies in Regensburg in 1217. Although he was a Tosafist, this work of his is his best known. It is a collection of short thoughts, ideas, and pieces of advice on virtually every area of Jewish life. Many of these notes are based on Kabbalah rather than halacha. He received much of his knowledge from his father, Rav Shmuel HaChassid, and he taught luminaries such as the authors of the Or Zarua and Semag.


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