Adret, Shelomoh ben Avraham

views updated


ADRET, SHELOMOH BEN AVRAHAM (c. 12351310), known by the acronym RaSHBaʾ (Rabbi Shelomoh ben Avraham); Spanish rabbi and legal authority. Born into a leading family of Aragon, Adret studied with Yonah Gerondi and with the great Talmudist, biblical commentator, and qabbalist Moses Nahmanides (Mosheh ben Naman). During his four decades as rabbi of Barcelona, Adret was considered by the Aragonese kings to be the dominant Jewish figure in the realm.

Adret's scholarly reputation was established by his novellae (Heb., iddushim ) on many Talmudic tractates, and contemporaries recognized him as an outstanding authority on Jewish law. Rabbis of Aragon and of many distant countries submitted their formal legal inquiries to him, and his collected responsa, numbering in the thousands, made him one of the most prolific and influential of all Jewish legal respondents. An important source for the history of Jewish communal life, these responsa treat problems relating to communal self-government, fiscal administration, and institutions such as the synagogue, court, house of study, and voluntary societies.

Occasionally Adret was confronted with formal questions of a theological nature, usually flowing from problematic biblical passages or rabbinic pronouncements. Scattered through his responsa are significant statements on the proper role of philosophical speculation in interpreting traditional texts, the possibility of contemporary prophecy, astrology, dreams, magic and divine providence, the search for rational explanations of the commandments, the immutability of the Torah, and eschatological doctrine.

Adret strongly denounced the messianic pretensions of the eccentric mystic Abraham Abulafia and later claimed that without his firm opposition many Jews would have been deceived. He also warned Jewish communities against a Jew called the "prophet of Ávila," who maintained that a mystical work had been revealed to him by an angel.

His most controversial foray into public affairs was instigated by complaints from southern France about the destructive impact of philosophical learning upon young Jews. In 1305, after a three-year correspondence, Adret promulgated a formal ban in his Barcelona synagogue, prohibiting those less than twenty-five years old from studying books of Greek natural science or metaphysics. The writings of Maimonides were not proscribed, and the study of medicine was explicitly excluded from the prohibition.

Because of his role in this conflict, Adret was frequently depicted by nineteenth-century Jewish historians as part of a group of narrow-minded, obstinate zealots. His own work, however, especially his novellae on selected Talmudic aggadot, reveals an openness to the use of philosophical literature for exegetical purposes, although he clearly repudiated the extreme philosophical positions denying creation and individual providence. He also suggested qabbalistic interpretations of rabbinic statements. The fact that several of his disciples wrote commentaries on the Torah or explications of Nahmanides' commentary in which the mystical element was pronounced led Gershom Scholem to speak of the qabbalistic "school" of Adret.

Adret's writings include answers to Christians who used the aggadah to undermine the authority of the sages or to support Christian theological positions; one source describes an actual debate with a Christian thinker. Adret is also presumed to have written a Maʾamar ʿal Yishmaʿeʾl, published by Perles, responding to the anti-Jewish tracts of the eleventh-century Spanish Muslim intellectual Ahmad ibn Hazm. This apologetical work defends the Torah against charges of containing inconsistencies and describing repugnant behavior; it answers the claim that the original Torah had been lost and that Judaism contained perversions and distortions of God's authentic teaching.


The biography by Joseph Perles, R. Salomo ben Abraham ben Adereth: Sein Leben und seine Schriften (Breslau, 1963), remains the only full-length treatment of this important figure. The best discussion of his role as communal leader in historical context is in Yitzhak F. Baer's History of the Jews in Christian Spain, vol. 1 (Philadelphia, 1961), pp. 278305. Isidore Epstein's The Responsa of Rabbi Solomon Ben Adreth of Barcelona (12351310) as a Source of the History of Spain (London, 1925) is still a useful collection of passages dealing with communal organization and administration, although it overlooks some of the most important historical material. Louis Jacobs summarizes the responsa pertaining to problems of Jewish religious thought in Theology in the Responsa (London, 1975), pp. 5779. The most extensive account of Adret's role in the conflict over the study of philosophy, in Joseph Sarachek's Faith and Reason (Williamsport, Pa., 1935), requires modification based on more recent studies in periodicals, such as Joseph Shatzmiller's "Bein Abbaʾ Mari le-Rashbaʾ," in Meqarim be-toledot ʿam Yisraʾel ve-Erets Yisraʾel 3 (19741975): 121137.

New Sources

Adang, Camilla. "A Jewish Reply to Ibn Hazm: Solomon b. Adret's Polemic against Islam." In Judíos y musulmanes en al-Andalus y el Magreb: contactos intelectuales. Actas reunidas y presentadas por Maribel Fierro, pp. 179209. Madrid, 2002.

Cohen, Jonathan. "Charitable Contributions, Communal Welfare Organizations, and Allegiance to the Community according to Rashba." HUCA 72 (2001): 85100.

Horwitz, David. "Rashba's Attitude towards Science and Its Limits" (in Hebrew). Torah U-Madda Journal 3 (19911992): 5281.

Marc Saperstein (1987)

Revised Bibliography