Bonfils (Tov Elem), Joseph ben Samuel

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BONFILS (Tov Elem), JOSEPH BEN SAMUEL (11th century), the first French scholar about whom more than his name is known; called by Rashi's disciples "R. Joseph the Great." A contemporary and colleague of R. Elijah the Elder of Le Mans, he was born in Narbonne, but lived at Limoges and at Anjou. Bonfils was among the early few who shaped the Jewish way of life and halakhic tradition in France and Germany; his principal decisions are frequently quoted by later rabbinic authorities. His positive attitude toward the recitation of piyyutim in the prayers (Shibbolei ha-Leket, Prayers, 28) and his decisions with regard to taxation exerted particularly great influence, the latter serving as a basis for the later takkanot ("regulations") of the Jewish communities in France and Germany. Bonfils copied in his own hand and for his own personal use, some of the more important books of his predecessors, and the later rishonim relied heavily on these copies in order to establish correct versions of these texts. Among these books are: Halakhot Gedolot (cf. Semag, Lavin, 60 end; Tos. to Naz. 59a); Seder Tanna'im ve-Amora'im (Tos. to Naz. 57b); Seder Tikkun Shetarot (Tos. to Git. 85b); Hilkhot Terefot by *Gershom b. Judah and Teshuvot ha-Ge'onim (Tos. to Ḥul. 46–47; Tos. to Pes. 30a); as well as works on Hebrew grammar, liturgy and masorah. There is no basis for S.J. *Rapoport's assumption that the collection of geonic responsa published by D. Cassel (Teshuvot Ge'onim Kadmonim, Berlin, 1848) is the one copied by Bonfils. Bonfils belongs to the classical French school of paytanim and his piyyutim are composed in the difficult language adopted by the writers of this genre, all being based on midrashic material, interspersed with numerous halakhot concerning the day on which the piyyutim are to be recited. Early authorities quoted from his piyyutim in order to arrive at halakhic decisions (Tos. to Pes. 115b; Or Zaru'a 2:256; Raban, 532). Some of Bonfils' piyyutim are to be found in the maḥzor according to the French rite, but for the most part they have been superseded by later compositions easier to follow. Of his commentary on the Pentateuch, mentioned by Isaac de Lattes, not even one quotation has been preserved.


D. Kassel (ed.), Teshuvot Ge'onim Kadmonim (1848), introd. by S.J.L. Rapoport; Gross, Gal Jud, 308; Davidson, Oẓar, 4 (1933), 404, S.V. Yosef Tov Elem (ben Shemu'el).

[Israel Moses Ta-Shma]