Aboab, Isaac I

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ABOAB, ISAAC I (end of the 14th century), rabbinic author and preacher; probably lived in Spain. His father seems to have been called Abraham and may have been the Abraham Aboab to whom *Judah b. Asher of Toledo (d. 1349) addressed responsa (Zikhron Yehudah, 53a and 60a). After devoting most of his life to secular affairs Isaac turned to writing and preaching.

Isaac's fame rests upon his Menorat ha-Ma'or ("Candlestick of Light"), one of the most popular works of religious edification among the Jews in the Middle Ages. Written "for the ignorant and the learned, the foolish and the wise, the young and the old, for men and for women," the work has had over 70 editions and printings (1st ed. Constantinople, 1514; Jerusalem, 1961) and has been translated into Spanish, Ladino, Yiddish, and German. Moses b. Simeon Frankfort of Amsterdam, who translated the work into Yiddish and wrote a commentary on it (Nefesh Yehudah, Amsterdam, 1701 and many subsequent eds.), also edited a shorter version under the title of Sheva Petilot ("Seven Wicks," Amsterdam, 1721; Sudzilkow, 1836). The book became a handbook for preachers and served for public reading in synagogues when no preacher was available.

Isaac wrote his book, apart from its practical aim, to return aggadah to its rightful place. Complaining that, because of lack of order in the sources, aggadah had been neglected in favor of legal casuistry, he argues that aggadah is an essential part of rabbinic tradition, as necessary for man as halakhah. According to Isaac, the aggadah carried the same authoritative weight as halakhic rabbinic writings. Thus, the reader is expected to believe that the aggadah is true, just as the halakhah is true. It has been suggested that he wanted to provide a structured compilation of aggadah, similar to that which Maimonides, in his Mishneh Torah, had provided for the halakhah.

Developing the image of the seven-branched candlestick (cf. Num. 4:9), Isaac divides his work into seven nerot ("lamps"). These, in turn, are subdivided into main divisions, parts, and chapters. Using the three parts of Psalms 34:15 as general headings, he assigns the seven lamps to them in the following manner: (a) "Depart from evil," (1) guard against envy, lust, ambition; (2) be wary of sins attendant upon speech. (b) "Do good," (3) observance of mitzvot such as circumcision, rearing of children, prayer, festivals, honoring parents, founding a family, charity, justice; (4) study of Torah; (5) repentance. (c) "Seek peace and pursue it," (6) peace and love for fellowman; and (7) humility.


Into this rather loose framework lsaac fitted a wealth of aggadic material, culled from the Talmud and the vast midrashic literature. His use of passages from aggadic works now lost and the variants in the talmudic and midrashic texts he cites make the Menorat ha-Ma'or of great importance for establishing the text of the Talmud used in the Spanish-North African academies as distinct from that of the Franco-German school. Isaac is selective in using esoteric texts, and he fights shy of statements that may provoke doubt and heresy. While he agrees with Sherira Gaon that some of the sayings of the rabbis are imaginative exercises, he wants to limit their number. He contends that the great majority of aggadic statements are divinely inspired and, hence, beyond questioning. If they appear strange to us, it is because of our limited understanding. Isaac also quotes from the geonic literature, Alfasi, Rashi, the tosafists, Abraham Ibn Ezra, Maimonides, Abraham ibn Daud, Jacob Anatoli, Jonah of Gerona, Naḥmanides, Isaac ibn Latif, and Solomon b. Abraham Adret, the ritual compilations of Abraham b. Nathan of Lunel (Ha-Manhig) and (David) Abudarham, Baḥya's Ḥovot ha-Levavot, Joseph Gikatilla's Sha'arei Orah, Asher b. Jehiel, and Jacob b. Asher's Tur. He often neglects to name the author from whose work he quotes, and his materials are derived many times from secondhand sources.


The Menorat ha-Ma'or is above all an ethical religious treatise. When discussing religious practices such as circumcision or Sabbath and Festival observances, Aboab limits himself to their underlying reasons and general importance. In his speculative views he combines the teachings of Maimonides, whose Mishneh Torah and Guide he cites constantly, with the ideas of the teachers of Kabbalah, though the complete absence of quotations from the Zohar has puzzled some scholars. In contrast to Maimonides he postulates that God's individual providence for man is unconditional. Isaac recognizes the need for the study of general sciences, of which, according to him, the rabbis of old were masters, and he quotes Plato, Aristotle, and "the physicians who have recently emerged among

the Gentiles." He also reflects the rabbis' ambivalent attitude to this world and the next: on the one hand, this world is merely a preparation for the next; on the other hand, the Jew must enjoy this world and the life given by God for serving Him and his fellowman.

Al-Nakawa's Menorat-ha-Ma'or

Ever since S. Schechter described the Menorat-ha-Ma'or of Israel Al-Nakawa (d. 1391; mgwj, 34 (1885), 114–26, 234–40) and H.G. Enelow published it (1929–34), the relationship between the two books has interested scholars, with most of them inclining toward the dependence of Aboab on Al-Nakawa. Certain scholars contend that this would imply the postdating of Aboab's work. The subjects discussed under their various headings are strikingly similar in the two works, but their arrangement is hardly more logical in one than in the other. In Aboab's Menorat ha-Ma'or the choice of title is justified by the plan, and the need for an ordered presentation of aggadah is explained in the "Introduction," whereas Al-Nakawa has nothing to say on this subject. (For the arguments in favor of the precedence of Al-Nakawa's work see lsrael b. Joseph *Al-Nakawa.)

Other Works

In the "Introduction" Isaac mentions that he had written two halakhic works: Aron ha-Edut ("Ark of Testimony"), whose talmudic materials are arranged according to the Ten Commandments with the opinions of the geonim and later commentators in the margin; and Lehem ha-Panim ("Showbread"), devoted to prayers and blessings (unique manuscript in Schocken Library, Jerusalem).

The traditional portrait of Isaac Aboab is actually that of Isaac Aboab da Fonseca.


A bibliography of editions and translations is found in the introduction to Menorat ha-Ma'or, ed. by Ben-Menaḥem (1953), 1–14; Zunz, Ritus, 204–10; S.A. Horodezky, in: Ha-Goren, 3 (1902), 5–29; H.G. Enelow, Israel Al-Naqawa's "Menorat ha-Maor" (1929), 17–22 (introd.); Efros, in: jqr, 9 (1918/19), 337–57; Levitan, ibid., 11 (1920/21), 259–64; Davidson, ibid., 21 (1930/31), 461–8; Higger, ibid., 27 (1936/37), 59–63; Waxman, Literature, 2 (19602), 282–7; Baer, Spain, index, s.v.Isaac Abohab.

[Encyclopaedia Hebraica]