Rabad of Posquieres – Isidore Twersky – notes

6 sections: Life; Works; Works II: Criticism of the Mishneh Torah; Sources; Disciples and Followers; Relation to Philosophy and Kabbalah


Twelfth-century Provence becomes a relatively exciting Jewish scholarly scene – context of a) Christian intellectual activity b) influence from Spanish Jewry.

Most of what we know about his Life comes from clues in his writing (and those of others) and data about the general context. Jews have “comparatively favourable” sociopolitical status (hah) and the community has enough money that it can sustain quasi-monastic kollelim, for example.

Book headings – Family and Teachers (he has them; we know some stuff about some of them); Provence in the twelfth century (see above); Teaching and Writing (he does lots of it); Personality (balanced (apologetics?)); Influence (considerable).


Early Writings (sometimes it is rather hard to date his works); Talmud Commentaries (abundant but not extant); Codes (code literature is starting to flourish at this point); Commentaries on Halakhic Midrashim (not extant, for the most part); Mishnah Commentaries (on obscure masechtas); Sermons and Responsa (he has them); Hassagot on Alfasi, Razah, and Maimonides (he wrote them).

Works II: Criticism of the Mishneh Torah

Literature on the Mishneh Torah (Rabad starts the excavation process of figuring out where M. got it all); Corroborative or Explanatory Hassagot (some of his hassagot are these – “critical quest for sources”); Critical Glosses and Animadversions (some of his hassagot are these); Rabad’s Motives in Composing the Hassagot (a) jealousy/pugilism/desire to discredit M because disapproving of his other works b) ideological – disagreeing with content or method of MT “there is no certitude in halakha” – anti-authoritative-codes project c) irritated by lack of sources; the antagonism is protagonism, refining in fire)

Interesting comment on girsaot: that in general, there are a lot of divergent texts of rabbinic literature floating around, and Rabad (and other scholars of his time) know this very well. Sometimes they go to some trouble to find a version which agrees with some statement in the
MT. On the whole, Spanish mss are more reliable and Rabad knows this; sometimes he goes witth a French version because he thinks it is actually better. Crass to say ‘the MT is superior because it is grounded in superior Spanish texts and Provencale scholars have inferior texts so are generally wrong’. Also interesting:”…admissibility of two parallel, equally valid and
defensible readings was a widespread methodological canon which contributed a measure of tolerance and restraint to halakhic controversy”.

There are lots of hassagot which aren’t printed on the page. Also lots of places where he just doesn’t say anything; we sometimes suppose silence is acquiescence, but sometimes he is known to have held conflicting views.

This chapter builds towards Twersky’s Argument – that Rabad’s hassagot on the MT are of the nature of constructive criticism – the forerunner of the nosei kelim, wanting to identify its flaws so as to correct them. He supports this argument in various ways (Rabad basically likes codes, he likes things to be clear and well-explained, he isn’t as bitchy as he was about Razah, for example).


Talmudic; Post-talmudic

This bit was interesting because it talks about availability of books in 12th-c Provence – they’re pretty scarce; often people have to suspend discussions because they haven’t got the source text; borrowing books and running about trying to find a book are common (will of Judah ibn Tibbon). Rabad never mentions not having access to a text and often mentions having several copies of things; he has a library at Posquieres containing lots of things (p.198, but he doesn’t say how we know this).

Chapter in general an interesting and apparently thorough discussion of the state and availability of various sources in 12th-c Provence.

Literary, if not personal, contact with scholars of northern France. Evidence for early influence: Rashi using Provencale responsa and vocabulary.

Disciples and Followers

Disciples (he has an academy); Contemporary Followers and Correspondents (he has lots); Descendants (he has a couple who become notable for various things).

Relation to Philosophy and Kabbalah

In the latter part of his life Provence is a “scene of great intellectual fermentation” but it’s still in its very early stages so you couldn’t expect Rabad to be very much part of it.

Attitude towards Secular Learning (he’s basically a talmudist; not anti-philosophy, perhaps even pro-philosophy, just apparently not all that into it); Use of Philosophic Literature (“reservedly benevolent attitude”; much speculation); Rabad and Kabbalah (no extant kabbalistic works; contemporaries attribute him as a kabbalistic inspiration; much speculation).

Soloveitchik’s review

Well, Gabriel’s advisor said it was a review, but it isn’t exactly. It’s talking about the same subject, but its drift is more or less “Everyone thinks Rabad was awesome because he wrote glosses on the Mishneh Torah, and they present his life as a build-up to that event. This is a really stupid way to frame his life; historically he is part of the foundation of contemporary Talmud study, a man who broke free from the Gaonic vision and formulated a completely new way of thinking about Talmud; that’s far more exciting than a bunch of notes he made on the Mishneh Torah, a book based in Gaonic thought and therefore already obsolete. Better far to look at the state of Talmud study before Rabad and after, and explore how the man influenced the change.”

It’s kind of a review because it came out right after the second edition of Twersky, and it describes Twersky’s book as “a definitive portrait of the regnant conception of the man,” which is pretty damming since his whole thing is about how the regnant conception is totally misguided.

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