Abraham ben Isaac of Narbonne
Abraham ben Isaac was probably born at Montpellier. His teacher was Moses ben Joseph ben Merwan ha-Levi, and during the latter's lifetime Abraham was appointed president (Av Beth Din) of the rabbinical board of Narbonne – composed of nine members – and was made principal of the rabbinical academy. In the latter capacity he taught two of the greatest Talmudists of Provence – namely, Abraham ben David III, who afterward became his son-in-law, and Zerahiah ha-Levi. Abraham ben Isaac died at Narbonne in 1179.
Like most of the Provençal scholars, Raavad II was a diligent author, composing numerous commentaries upon the Talmud, all of which, however, have been lost with the exception of that upon the treatise Baba Batra, of which a manuscript has been preserved in Munich. Numerous quotations from these commentaries are to be found in the writings of Zerahiah Gerondi, Nahmanides, Nissim Gerondi, and others. Many of his explanations of Talmudical passages are also repeated in his responsa which give his method of treatment. In Abraham's comments on the Talmud he seems to have taken Rashi as his model; for they are marked by the same precision and clearness of exposition. An idea of this writer's Talmudical knowledge may be gathered from his book Ha-Eshkol (three parts of which were published by M. Auerbach, Halberstadt, 1867–68).
This work, the fourth part of which exists in manuscript in the library of the Alliance Israélite of Paris, was modeled after the well-known work of Alfasi, and was the first important attempt at a legal code made by the French Jews. It can not, however, be said to equal Alfasi's work either in originality or in depth, but it contained some noteworthy improvements upon its model, such as the arrangement of its contents according to subject-matter, which greatly facilitated its practical use. Raavad II also drew upon the Jerusalem Talmud and the gaonic literature much more fully than Alfasi, and treated at much greater length many subjects which were only briefly considered by the latter. His depth and acumen, however, are shown to much better advantage in his responsa, quoted in the collection Temim De'im (part iv of Tummat Yesharim, by Benjamin Motal, Venice, 1622), and in the Sefer ha-Terumot of Samuel Sardi. Other responsa sent to Joseph ben Ḥen (Graziano) of Barcelona and Meshullam ben Jacob of Lunel are found in a manuscript belonging to Baron de Günzburg in Saint Petersburg. As an acknowledged rabbinical authority and president of the rabbinical board, he was frequently called upon to give his decision on difficult questions: and his answers show that he was not only a lucid exegete, but also a logical thinker.
Though he lacked originality Abraham's influence upon Talmudical study in Provence ought not to be underrated. Languedoc formed politically a connecting link between Spain and northern France; in like manner Jewish scholars played the rôle of intermediaries between the Jews of these countries. Abraham ben Isaac represented this function; he was the intermediary between the dialectics employed by the tosafists of France and the systematic science of the Spanish rabbis. The French-Italian codifiers – Aaron ha-Kohen of Lunel, Zedekiah ben Abraham, and many others – took Abraham b. Isaac's Ha-Eshkol for their model; and it was not until the appearance of the Ṭur, written by Jacob ben Asher, a German Jew resident in Spain, that Ha-Eshkol lost its importance and sank into comparative oblivion. The school founded by Abraham ben Isaac, as exemplified in RABaD III and Zerahiah ha-Levi, was nevertheless the creator of a system of Talmudic criticism; and the method it employed was in fact no other than the tosafist dialectic modified and simplified by Spanish-Jewish logic.
Jewish Encyclopedia bibliography
- Henri Gross, in Monatsschrift, 1868, xvii.241-255, 281-294;
- idem, Gallia Judaica, pp. 414–415;
- Ernest Renan, Les Rabbins Français, pp. 510, 518, 520, 543;
- Michael, Or ha-Ḥayyim, No. 133;
- Leopold Zunz, in Geiger's Zeitschrift f. J. Theol. ii.307-309.