Avraham ben David of Posquières

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AVRAHAM BEN DAVID OF POSQUIÈRES (c. 11251198), known by the acronym RaʾABaD (Rabbi Avraham ben David). Avraham ben David is best known for his original and versatile contributions to the literature of halakhah. He composed commentaries on various types of Talmudic literature: on the Mishnah (e.g., ʿEduyyot and Qinnim ); on the Talmud (e.g., ʿAvodah Zarah and Bavaʾ Qammaʾ ); and on halakhic midrashim (e.g., Sifraʾ ). Further works include responsa (Heb., teshuvot, decisions concerning the interpretation of application of the law), which reveal his character and method; homiletic discourses (e.g., Derashah le-Roʾsh ha-Shanah ); codes of rabbinic law; and critical annotations or glosses (hassagot ) on standard works of rabbinic literature.

The most important and influential of Avraham ben David's codes, which include Hilkhot lulav (Laws concerning the palm branch), ibbur harshaʾot (A manual on the laws of agency), and Perush yadayim, is the Baʿalei ha-nefesh, a careful presentation of the laws of uncleanness and purity. The last chapter of his Shaʿar ha-qedushah (Gate of holiness) is an ethical-homiletical disquisition that formulates and analyzes the moral norms and religious attitudes that enable one to achieve self-control in sexual matters and attain purity of heart and action.

Avraham ben David is referred to as the baʿal hassagot ("author of the glosses") because of the critical scholia and animadversions that he composed toward the end of his life on the Halakhot of Yitsaq ben Yaʿaqov Alfasi, the Sefer ha-maʾor of Zerayah ha-Levi, and especially the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides. These glosses combine criticism and commentary; they are not exclusively polemical, and their polemical emphasis varies in intensity and acuity. Hassagot, a wide-ranging form of writing based on a firm premise and finely honed polemical skill, are refined by Avraham ben David and his Provençal contemporaries into an expressive genre of pointed, precise, and persuasive critique. This genre played an important role in the preservation of the spirit of criticism and intellectual freedom so central to rabbinic literature.

Beyond his literary creations, Avraham ben David contributed significantly to the development of a critical-conceptual approach to Talmudic literature that sought to define with rigor and precision complex concepts discussed fragmentarily in numerous, unrelated sections of the Talmud. Many of his interpretations and innovations were endorsed and transmitted by subsequent generations of Talmudists and incorporated into standard works of Jewish law.

During the lifetime of Avraham ben David the centers of rabbinic learning in southern France provided a home for the transplanted philosophic-scientific-ethical literature of Spanish Jews. At this time, an undercurrent of mystical speculation began to emerge that was to find its expression in medieval qabbalistic literature. Avraham ben David was involved in both these developments. He encouraged and benefited from this newly translated philosophical literature, and his own writing reflects some traces of philosophy and philology in the use of terms, phrases, and concepts from this new literary phenomenon. He is described by later qabbalists (e.g., Yitsaq of Acre, Shem ov ben Gaʾon, and Menaem Recanati, and others from the school of Moses Nahmanides and Shelomoh ben Avraham Adret) as one of the fathers of qabbalistic literature. This is supported by references in the writings of Raʾabad's son, Yitsaq the Blind, and Yitsaq's nephew, Asher. They depicted him as a mystic who was worthy of receiving special revelations and who actually did receive them. In the absence of explicitly qabbalistic statements in Avraham ben David's own works, our knowledge of his use of doctrines and symbolism of Qabbalah depends on passages quoted by others in his name. These deal with mystical meditations during prayer (kavvanot ) and the doctrine of the ten sefirot, and they reveal an acquaintance with early Heikhalot terminology and its fusion with contemporary philosophic vocabulary.


Abramson, Sheraga. "Sifrei halakhot shel ha-Raʾabad." Tarbiz 36 (December 1966): 158179.

Gross, H. "R. Abraham b. David aus Posquières." Monatsschrift für Geschichte und Wissenschaft des Judenthums 22 (1873): 337344, 398407, 446459; 23 (1874): 1929, 7685, 164182, 275276.

Twersky, Isadore. Rabad of Posquières: A Twelfth-Century Talmudist. Rev. ed. Philadelphia, 1980. Includes a complete bibliography.

New Sources

Mutius, Hans-Georg von. "Eine nichtmasoretische Vokalisierung im masoretischen Konsonantentext von Jeremia 9,18 bei Abraham Ben David von Posquières (12. Jrh.)." Biblische Notizen 100 (1999): 2226.

Soloveitchik, Haym. "History of HalakhahMethodological Issues: A Review Essay of I. Twersky's 'Rabad of Posquières' [1962, rev. ed. 1980]." Jewish History 5 (1991): 75124.

Trigano, Shmuel L. "Intention d'amourles Maîtres de l'âme, de Rabbi Abraham ben David: un guide matrimonial en Languedoc au XIIe siècle." Pardes 1 (1985): 149172.

Isadore Twersky (1987)

Revised Bibliography