13th Century Gedolim


Rav Moshe the son of Nachman was born in Gerona, Spain in 1194. He is perhaps best known for his two major commentaries - his commentary on the Chumash, which both interprets the verses and discusses the topic in a broader spectrum, and his commentary on the Talmud, written in the style of the Tosafists. In addition, he wrote two works defending Rif, namely his Milchamot Hashem, which answered the charges of the Ba'al HaMaor, and the Sefer Ha-Zechut, which defended Rif from Ra'avad. He also wrote several smaller works on specialized topics. In 1263 he was ordered by the king of Aragon to participate in a religious disputation with Pablo Christiani, a Jewish apostate. Ramban won the debate, and published an account of the proceedings. However, the Dominicans showed the king several passages that were deemed to be blasphemies against Christianity, and the work was burned. Ramban ultimately moved to Israel, settling in Acco until his death in 1270. His students included both Ra'ah and Rashba.


Yad Rama

Rav Meir HaLevi Abulafia was a Kabbalist who was born in Spain in 1180. He served as a religious judge in Toledo and later became Rabbi of that town. He was opposed to the study of philosophy, and tried unsuccessfully to prohibit the study of Rambam's writings before a certain age. His main extant work is Yad Rama, a Talmudic commentary of which only the sections on Sanhedrin and Bava Batra still survive.



Rav Moshe of Coucy lived in France in the early 13th century. This work, an acronym for Sefer Mitzvot Gadol, was a halachic text that defined and explained the 613 commandments and their halachic implications. It draws heavily on the Mishne Torah, and it is referenced in the Ein Mishpat, which appears on every page of the Talmud. He also wrote a commentary on the Chumash and had a hand in authoring some of the Tosafot on the Talmud. His teacher was Rav Yehuda HaChassid.


Or Zarua

Rav Yitzchak the son of Moshe (Riaz) was born in Bohemia in 1180, but attained his fame in Vienna, where he lived until his death in 1250. His work was a halachic guide arranged according to the Talmudic tractates, and was very popular among Ashkenazic Jewry. He studied under many people, including Ra'avyah and the author of the Rokeiach, and he was among the teachers of Maharam MiRutenberg.


Rabbeinu Yona of Gerona

Born in the late 12th century in Gerona, Spain, Rabbeinu Yonah is best known for his Sha'arei Teshuva, a work on ethics and repentance. He also wrote a commentary on Rif's Sefer HaHalchot, although only the section on tractate Berachot survives. He wrote several smaller works, including a commentary on Avot. He studied under Rav Shlomo Montpelier, and he taught, among others, Rashba.



Rav Yitzchak the son of Avraham was one of the Tosafists, and died in France around the year 1210. He was the older brother of Rav Shimon of Sens. In addition to his work on the Tosafot, he also wrote a guide to the Pesach seder. His students included his younger brother and Rav Yechiel of Paris, known for his involvement in the debates surrounding the burning of the Talmud in 1242.


Maharam MiRutenberg

Rav Meir of Rothenburg was born in Worms, Germany in 1220. He studied in the French Tosafist schools under Rav Yechiel of Paris and Rav Shmuel of Evreux. He served as Rabbi of Worms and Rothenburg, and wrote many halachic responsa while in those positions. In addition, he wrote commentaries to Zera'im and Taharot, and authored the Tosafot that appear in our editions of tractate Yoma. He wrote several smaller works, and his responsa are frequently cited by Or Zarua and Mordechai. His students included Mordechai and Rosh.



Rav Aharon Halevi was born in Gerona in 1235, and studied under his father and brother, as well as Ramban. He published critical notes on Rashba's Torat HaBayit, which he entitled Bedek HaBayit. He also wrote a commentary on the Talmud, select parts of which have been published. There are those who believe that he is the author of the Sefer HaChinuch, although this claim has been rejected by many. Ritva was one of his students.



A former financier, Rav Shlomo the son of Aderet rose up to become the leader of Spanish Jewry in his time. He was born in Barcelona in 1235, and lived there until his death in 1310. His responsa, covering the entire gamut of Jewish life, are concise and widely quoted by many halachic authorities. While he defended Rambam during the debates over his works, he was opposed to the philosophic-rationalistic approach to Judaism, and was part of the Beit Din in Barcelona that banned the study of philosophy before the age of twenty-five. A collection of the bans and counter-bans put forth in this period are collected in the work Minchat Kena'ot. Rashba also wrote an extensive commentary on the Talmud, as well as Torat HaBayit, a work on dietary laws, Mishmeret HaBayit, a defense against the critique of Ra'ah, Sha'ar HaMayim, a work on mikveh, and several other specialized works. He was taught by Ramban and Rabbeinu Yona, and his numerous students included Ritva and Rabbeinu Bechaye.



Mordechai the son of Hillel, the son-in-law of Rav Yechiel of Paris, lived in Germany in the latter half of the 13th century. He main work is known simply as Mordechai, a halachic compendium arranged according to the order of the Talmud that cites many of the French and German Rishonim. He, along with his entire family, perished in the Rindfleish massacres around the turn of the century.


Hagahot Maimoniyot

Written by Rav Meir the son of Yekutiel HaKohein, these glosses on the Mishne Torah of Rambam stress the views of the Tosafists and other Ashkenazic scholars. Rav Meir lived in Rothenburg, Germany, and passed away during the Rindfleish massacres in 1298. He was the student of Maharam MiRutenberg.


Shibbolei HaLeket

Rav Tzidkiyah HaRofei, from Italy's Anav family, described this halachic work as being not a original composition, but rather being a compilation of laws taken from the major works of Rishonim available at that time. The author based his decisions on what seemed to be the most halachically correct to him. He lived from 1230 until 1300, and studied under Rav Yaakov or Wurzburg, Rav Avigdor Katz, and Rav Daniel of Rome.



One of the most monumental works written on the Talmud is the Beit HaBechirah of Rav Menachem Meiri, born in Provence in 1249. This work is less a commentary and more of a digest of all of the comments in the gemara, arranged in a manner similar to the gemara - presenting first the mishna and then laying out the discussions that are raised concerning it. This commentary cites many of the major Rishonim, referring to them not by name but rather by distinguished titles. He also wrote several minor works, including a commentary to Avot whose introduction includes a recording of the chain of tradition from Moshe through the Tana'im. He was the student of Rav Reuven the son of Chaim of Narbonne, and passed away early in the 14th century.



Rav Yom Tov the son of Avraham Asevilli was born in Seville in 1250, and lived there until his death in 1330. He was the student of Ra'ah and Rashba, and was the author of a major commentary on the Talmud. His commentary is extremely concise and as such is one of the most frequently referred to Talmudic works until today. Many sections of the commentary have been subject to debate regarding their actual authorship, but a large majority of the work has remained free from controversy. He was the teacher of Rav Yitzchak the son of Manor.



The most important disciple of Maharam MiRutenberg was Rav Asher ben Yechiel, born in Germany in 1250. He rose to be one of the leaders of German Jewry after the Rindfleish massacres, but soon began to fear for his own life and fled to Spain in 1303, where he became Rabbi of Toledo until his death in 1327. While he wrote many responsa to Jews in all parts of Europe and the Mediterranean region, he is best known for his massive halachic commentary to the Talmud. This work appears as the first commentary in the back of standard editions of the Talmud, and presents both Talmudic discussions as well as halachic rulings. He also wrote Tosafot HaRosh, which added a few details to the writings of earlier Tosafists, as well as a commentary to the Mishna. His main students were his son, Rav Yaakov Ba'al HaTurim and the author of Zichron Yehuda.



Sefer Mitzvot Katan, so-called due to its being briefer than Rav Moshe of Coucy's Sefer Mitzvot Gadol, lists the commandments applicable in the post-Temple era, analyzing them and sometimes offering halachic rulings concerning them. It is divided into seven sections corresponding to the seven days of the week, so as to encourage the weekly review of the book. He was the son-in-law and student of Rav Yechiel of Paris and of Shmuel and Moshe of Evreux, and was the teacher of Rabbeinu Peretz.



After Mishne Torah, the next major halachic code was Rav Yaakov the son of Asher's (Rosh) Arba'ah Turim (lit. "four pillars"). He dealt only with the laws that are still relevant, and divided them into four major sections: Orach Chayim, dealing with the daily laws and laws of Shabbat and holidays, Yoreh De'ah, dealing with laws of kashrut, mourning, and niddah, Even HaEzer, dealing with women's issues such as marriage and divorce, and Choshen Mishpat, which deals with the civil code. These divisions became the standards for many later works, and this work remains as the standard source-text for halachic discussions. In addition, he also wrote a brief commentary on the Torah, known as Ba'al HaTurim, which focuses on gematria, as well as a longer commentary. He studied under his father, and was the teacher of Abudraham.


Rav Aharon HaKohein

Rav Aharon HaKohein of Lunel was born in Narbonne in 1280, a child of a prominent rabbinic family. He wandered for several years before settling in Majorca, Spain, where he passed away around 1330. His main work is Orchot Chayim, a compendium of the opinions of earlier codifiers on the laws of prayer, Shabbat, holidays, marriage, divorce, and kashrut. An abridged form of this work, known as Kol-Bo, is of unknown authorship. Some attribute it to Rav Aharon, although some claim that it may have preceded him.


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