Benjamin ben Abraham Anaw

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Benjamin ben Abraham Anaw was a Roman Jewish liturgical poet, Talmudist, and commentator of the thirteenth century, and older brother of Zedekiah ben Abraham Anaw.

Perhaps the most gifted and learned of his Roman contemporaries (although chiefly a poet), Anaw possessed a thorough mastery of halakhic literature, diligently studied philology, mathematics, and astronomy, and wielded a keen, satirical pen. His poetical activity began in 1239, when the apostate Nicholas Donin assailed the Talmud and appealed to Pope Gregory IX to order its destruction and the persecution of its students. Donin's agitation filled the Roman Jews with terror, and they seem to have appointed a day for fasting and prayer. At that time—and possibly for that fast-day—Anaw composed a penitential hymn " To whom shall I flee for help"—an acrostic of twelve stanzas.

Donin's endeavors met meanwhile with great success. In June, 1239, several wagon-loads of Talmudic manuscripts were burned in Paris and Rome: at the latter place the Jewish cemetery was destroyed. These events stirred the poet to a bitter elegy, "My heart is convulsed", in which he deeply laments the fate of Israel and passionately appeals to God to avenge the desecration of the dead.

Anaw wrote numerous Hebrew poems for the liturgy, which are embodied in part in the Roman Machzor, partly still extant in manuscript. He is the author of the following works:

  • (1) "The Burden of the Valley of Vision", a satirical poem directed against the arrogance of the wealthy and the nobility (Riva di Trento, 1560; reprinted, Lemberg, 1859, by M. Wolf, in his Hebrew chrestomathy (Israel's Praises).
  • (2) "Alphabetical Commentary", on the Aramaic pieces of the Shavuot liturgy. In this treatise he exhibits a knowledge of Italian, Latin, Greek, and Arabic.
  • (3) "Sefer Yedidut" (Book of Friendship), a ritualistic work, which has disappeared. It is mentioned by Anaw in the preface to his abridgment of Eliezer ben Samuel "Sefer Yereim."
  • (4) "Sha'are 'Etz Chayyim" (The Gates Conducting to the Tree of Life), a work on practical ethics, in the form of moral sayings. The poem contains sixty-three strophes, arranged according to the letters of the alphabet. Each chapter deals with one virtue or one vice. Among the subjects treated are love, hospitality, faithfulness, cheating, thankfulness, shame, pride, charity. It was printed in Prague, 1598 (Zunz, "Z. G." p. 280), and reprinted in "Kobetz 'al Yad" (ed. Mekitze Nirdamim, 1884, i. 71 et seq.)
  • (5) Glosses to Rashi's commentary on the Bible and to Solomon ben Shabbethai's commentary on the "Sheëltot."
  • (6) "Rules for Making a Calendar," in which he utilizes his mathematical and astronomical knowledge. This manuscript served several later writers on the same subject. Anaw was in correspondence with Abigdor Cohen, to whom he addressed numerous halakic questions. He himself gave many halakic decisions, which are referred to in his brother's work, "Shibbole ha-Lekhet."

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