Category: Rishonim

Enter the worlds of the Rishonim and early Achronim. The focus of the articles in this category is historical, including sociopolitical and intellectual history.

  • Rambam as Kabbalist: An Early Account

    Rambam as Kabbalist: An Early Account

    The idea that Rambam was actually a Kabbalist and not (or, depending on the theory, not just) a philosopher, became widespread about a century after his death. This idea takes two different forms: the first holds that Rambam turned his back on philosophy at the end of his life, renouncing his rationalist works, namely Sefer […]

  • Ibn Ezra in England

    Ibn Ezra in England

    At the end of his life, after years of itinerant scholarship, the great commentator Avraham Ibn Ezra found himself at the far edge of the world: England. It is there (probably) that he wrote an exposition of his philosophy, known to us as Yesod Mora; and there, too, that he wrote the unusual Iggeret ha-Shabbat. We even have […]

  • The Jewish Mapmakers of Majorca

    The Jewish Mapmakers of Majorca

    Image: Four leaves (each split in two) of the Catalan Atlas, showing the Mediterranean basin. On an island in the Mediterranean in the 14th century there lived a mapmaker and his son. Their story, like all good stories, is at once highly particular, a tale about idiosyncratic individuals in a distinct time and place, but […]

  • Radak’s Use of Bereshit Rabbati

    Radak’s Use of Bereshit Rabbati

    Image: “Arch of Titus” by Nick in exsilio is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0 In his long comment on Bereshit 1:31, Radak includes an interesting midrash that he attributes to Bereshit Rabbati. Actually, the reference is itself embedded in an arresting interpretation of this blockbuster pasuk: וַיַּ֤רְא אֱלֹקים֙ אֶת־כׇּל־אֲשֶׁ֣ר עָשָׂ֔ה וְהִנֵּה־ט֖וֹב מְאֹ֑ד וַֽיְהִי־עֶ֥רֶב וַֽיְהִי־בֹ֖קֶר י֥וֹם […]

  • Rashi’s Citations of Moshe ha-Darshan

    Rashi’s Citations of Moshe ha-Darshan

    Among the contemporaries Rashi cites in his commentaries, Moshe ha-Darshan is quoted a relatively few, yet still significant, number of times: Rashi cites him by name 17 times in his Tanakh commentary and twice in the Talmud commentary. Moshe ha-Darshan was a scholar active in Provence in the first half of the 11th century, in the generation before Rashi’s. Though connected culturally to Tzarfat (northern France) where Rashi lived, especially in the 11th and 12th centuries, Provence was a distinct community. Rashi’s repeated citations of him point to the prominence of Moshe ha-Darshan, whose beit midrash in the city of Narbonne, one of the oldest Jewish Provençal communities, apparently produced works that were influential and well-circulated…