Abulafia, Meir

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ABULAFIA, MEIR (1170?–1244), talmudic commentator, thinker, and poet; the most renowned Spanish rabbi of the first half of the 13th century. His only son Judah died in 1226, but his grandchildren and great-grandchildren through his daughters lived in Toledo about a century after his death. Meir himself and his family carried the title nasi, and the whole family was connected by marriage with the foremost families of Toledo. In his youth, Abulafia went from Burgos to Toledo where he spent the rest of his life. It seems that as early as 1204 he was a member of the Toledo bet din, together with Meir ibn Migash and *Abraham b. Nathan ha-Yarḥi. He played an important part in the organization of the communities in Spain, especially that of Toledo, where he instituted many religious regulations.

Abulafia's literary activity spans four general areas: halakhah, masorah, the controversy over Maimonides' opinion on the subject of resurrection, and Hebrew poetry. His greatest though least known work is his extensive commentary, which covered about half the Talmud. This commentary, unique both in quantity and in quality, may be considered the summation and the conclusion of the talmudic school of the Spanish rabbis, and Abulafia its last representative (his younger contemporary and countryman *Naḥmanides brought an end to the local traditional method by his introduction of the tosafists' method of study from Germany and France). In his book, originally named Sefer Peratei Peratin ("Book of Minute Details"), Abulafia goes into the smallest details of each subject, attempting to extract from his explanations the maximum of practical rules. Its rapid disappearance may be attributed to its relative verbosity, as well as to the preference shown for the books of Naḥmanides. The work is written entirely in Aramaic, in the style of the geonim and Isaac *Alfasi, and all decisions are presented with confidence. Abulafia never mentions his teachers and rarely his predecessors by name, but he does draw upon and even quote (though anonymously) the early Spanish rabbis. Most of Abulafia's specific references are to the geonim, especially to *Hai and *Sherira, and he refers as well to Alfasi, *Hananel, Joseph *Ibn Migash, *Rashi, *Maimonides, and Jacob *Tam. His knowledge of the teachings of the French and German talmudists is evidently limited.

His work presents many old Spanish versions of the Talmud which are of special importance. Only two parts have hitherto been published (under the name Yad Ramah) – those dealing with the tractates Bava Batra and Sanhedrin (Salonika, 1790–98). However, manuscripts of his commentaries to many other tractates (none of which is extant) were known to the rabbis in earlier generations. Thus a great part of his commentary on the tractate Horayot is included in *Azulai's Sha'ar Yosef on the tractate Avot, in Samuel Uceda's Midrash Shemu'el (1579), and on the tractates of Nezikin, in Bezalel *Ashkenazi's Shitah Mekubbeẓet. He is quoted a great deal anonymously in Menahem ha-Meiri's commentaries on the Talmud.

Even from his own time, the study of Abulafia's work was limited because of the penetration into Spain of the tosafists' method of learning. Surprisingly, however, *Asher b. Jehiel of Toledo, a scholar of German origin, considered Abulafia the decisive local authority and he, his pupils (among them Jehoram and Abraham ibn Ismael), and his sons, especially *Jacob b. Asher, author of the Turim, studied his teachings, a great part of the Turim being based upon them. There were two editions of Abulafia's work, one longer than the other. The shorter edition came first, and not the reverse, as is generally held. Examples of both editions are extant. The existing commentary to Bava Batra is from the longer edition and that to Sanhedrin from the shorter one. In the longer edition Abulafia first explains all the Mishnayot, and only then the talmudic discussion. Of the hundreds of responsa which Abulafia wrote, only an incomplete collection of about 70 paragraphs is available. They are included in the Or Ẓaddikim (Salonika, 1799). Many of his responsa are scattered in the literature of the rishonim and others were inserted in the Turim. Other collections of responsa attributed to him in the rabbinical literature are not his.

His work Masoret Seyag la-Torah (Florence, 1750) dealt with research, based on old manuscripts, into the traditional text of the Scriptures, and, for a long time, influenced laws governing the writing of scrolls of the Torah. Menahem ha-Meiri'sKiryat Sefer on the same subject is based on Abulafia's version. For many generations there existed in Spain scrolls of the Torah which were allegedly copied from the one Abulafia wrote for his own use. Abulafia wrote a scroll of the Sefer Torah as a master copy (mastercodex) and it achieved great fame both in Germany and in the countries of North Africa. "A great and outstanding rabbi, distinguished in wisdom," R. Samuel ben Jacob came especially from Germany to Toledo in order to make a copy of this scroll in 1250 and another copy was made in 1273 in Burgos by R. Isaac ben Solomon of Morocco. Additional copies were made in Spain and Provence from the earlier copies until 1410. The Masoret Seyag la-Torah also attained a remarkable popularity and Abraham ibn Ḥassan, one of the exiles of Spain, related that R. Isaac de Leon, who was one of the outstanding posekim in the generation before the Expulsion, issued instructions that all scrolls of the Torah in Spain were to be corrected according to the rules laid down in the Masoret.

The great importance of this work was equally recognized in later generations, and such distinguished scholars as Menahem ben Judah de *Lonzano in his Or Torah, Jedidiah Solomon *Norzi in his Minhat Shai, and Solomon ben Joseph *Ganzfried in his Keset Ha-Sofer laid down that the defective and plene spellings in a Sefer Torah were to be in accordance with this copy of Abulafia.

Nevertheless the extant copy, the first work of Abulafia to be published (Florence, 1750), is faulty and incomplete and also includes later additions. For instance, the Likkutei ha-Masoret and the Tikkunei Soferim as well as the list of Petuḥot and Setumot in the Torah, which are printed at the end of the volume, are not by Abulafia. They represent Ashkenazi traditions which were compiled according to the Tikkun Sefer Torah of Yom Tov Lipmann *Muelhausen which was recently discovered in manuscript and subsequently published. These traditions were added to the Masoret during the 16th century. On the other hand, the original book included references to the Talmud and halakhic discussions which were omitted from many of the manuscripts, and from the published edition. These changes explain the numerous discrepancies between the existing Masoret and the masoretic views of Abulafia as reflected in the Kiryat Sefer of Ha-Meiri, which are based on Abulafia's master copy. Abulafia also took special pains to explain the correct way of writing the scriptural portion of Ha'azinu, as set forth in an authenticated manuscript of Maimonides' Yad ha-Ḥazakah, which he received from Samuel ibn *Tibbon. His comments in this regard are important for establishing the authenticity of the manuscript copy of the Bible known as the Aleppo Codex.

Abulafia is best known for his controversy with Maimonides over the doctrine of resurrection. Maimonides' views on this subject seemed heretical to him. Abulafia, in spite of his youth, publicly denounced them, and was the first in Europe to do so during Maimonides' lifetime. His accusations were mainly in the form of letters to the rabbis of southern France, especially the "sages of Lunel," who held Maimonides in great esteem and strongly defended his views. The whole correspondence, which also included an exchange of letters with the rabbis of northern France, did not bring the hoped for result and was a great disappointment to Abulafia. Thirty years later, when the controversy was renewed, he was asked by Naḥmanides to take part in it again, but remembering his earlier failure, he refused. Much of the correspondence, edited by Abulafia, was published as Kitāb al-Rasa'il (Paris, 1871). Abulafia's conception of resurrection, far from being an abstract philosophy, is based upon the traditional belief, according to which the words of the rabbis on the subject are taken in their literal sense. Notwithstanding this (and contrary to Graetz's opinion), Abulafia possessed a wide knowledge of the Hebrew and Arabic philosophy of his time. In his work are mentioned the ḥakhmei ha-tushiyyah ("philosophers") and their opinions concerning the creation of man, the nature of the "heavenly host" (angels), and the like (see his instructive words on Sanh. 38b concerning "Adam was a heretic"). Those of his pupils who are known by name are principally philosophers and translators of works on astronomy and natural sciences from Arabic into Hebrew. Among them are Isaac Israeli (ii), author of Yesod Olam, and Judah b. Solomon, author of Midrashei ha-Ḥokhmah (Ms.). In his correspondence with the rabbis of Provence, Abulafia objected to many of the decisions rendered by Maimonides in his Yad ha-Ḥazakah. Some of his hassagot ("criticisms"), like those of Abraham b. David, were printed at the side of Maimonides' text. A collection of these, on the tractate Sanhedrin, was published by Y. Ha-Levy Lipshitz in Sanhedrei Gedolah (1968), but there are many errors in his introduction. Although Abulafia opposed many of Maimonides' opinions and beliefs and resented the exaggerated respect which the rabbis of Provence accorded him, he held Maimonides in great esteem. In his work on Sanhedrin, which (in chapter Ḥelek) contains quotations from Kitāb al-Rasā'il, Maimonides is one of the few rabbis mentioned by name. After Maimonides' death Abulafia wrote a long elegy on him (published together with his piyyutim). A collection of Abulafia's letters (and a small number of his poems), published by Brody in 1936, reveals Abulafia to have been acquainted with the poetry of earlier Spanish Jews and to have been influenced by Moses Ibn Ezra in his meter, rhyme, and construction.


Graetz, Gesch, 7 (c. 19004), 30–32, 45–47, 52, 86; Yellin, in: ks, 6 (1929/30), 139–44; Brody, in: Tarbiz, 6 (1934/35), 242–53; idem, in: ymḤsi, 2 (1936), 2–90; Benedikt, in: Sinai, 33 (1952/53), 63–64, n. 3; Goshen-Gottstein, in: Kitvei Mifal ha-Mikra, 1 (1960), 21–31; Albeck, in: Zion, 25 (1959/60), 85–121; J.L. Maimon, Sinai 45 (1959), 12–16; H. Lieberman, idem, 68 (1971), 182–184; Al-beck, in: Mazkeret… Rav Herzog (1961/62), 385–91; Baer, Spain, 1 (1961), 100, 106 ff., 397 ff.; Ta-Shema, in: ks, 43–45 (1967/69). add. bibliography: B. Septimus, Hispano-Jewish Culture in Transition: The Career and Controversies of Ramah (1982); N. Vogelman-Goldfeld, Moses Maimonides' Treatise on Resurrection: An Inquiry into Its Authenticity (1986).

[Israel Moses Ta-Shma]