David ben Solomon ibn Abi (Avi, ben Abi) Zimra

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DAVID BEN SOLOMON IBN ABI (Avi, Ben Abi ) ZIMRA (known as RaDBaZ = R abbi D avid B en A bi Z imra; 1479–1573), talmudic scholar, halakhic authority, and kabbalist. Abi Zimra was born in Spain into a wealthy family, but by the age of 13 he was in Safed (possibly going via Fez – see Sambari in Neubauer's Chronicles, vol. 1 (1887), 157). The most eminent of his teachers was Joseph Saragossi of Sicily who left Spain in 1492 and eventually settled in Safed. Abi Zimra moved to Jerusalem but shortly before 1513 immigrated to Egypt, apparently due to bad economic conditions in Palestine. He remained there for 40 years, first in Alexandria, then in Cairo where he joined the bet din of the nagid, Isaac Sholal. After the conquest of Egypt by the Turks (1517) and the decline of the office of the nagid, Abi Zimra became the official head of Egyptian Jewry. He was not only dayyan but also head of a yeshivah, trustee of the hekdesh, and administrator of charity collections. He held all of these offices in an honorary capacity, as he was financially independent. Apart from his inherited wealth Abi Zimra was apparently successful in business and as a moneylender to non-Jews (S. Assaf, Mekorot u-Meḥkarim (1946), 199–203). His library, containing rare manuscripts, was famous. His was an open house; R. Isaac *Akrish lived there for many years and was the tutor of his children and grandchildren. Abi Zimra exercised a great influence upon his contemporaries which can be seen from his success in settling a quarrel between the Mustaʿrabs (the indigenous Jewish community) and the Maghrabis (the community with origins in other parts of North Africa), and in issuing many ordinances beneficial to Egyptian Jewry. The most famous of them are the abolition of the dating of legal documents according to the Seleucid era (minyan shetarot), and its replacement by dating according to the era of Creation (see *Calendar); formation of a ḥevra kaddisha (burial society; previously the dead had to be buried secretly to avoid attacks from the non-Jews); and the prohibition of the employment of non-Jews as dancers and musicians at Jewish weddings. He also tried to reintroduce into the public liturgy the recital of the Amidah by both the congregation and the reader (from the time of Maimonides this had been said by the reader only).

His reputation extended beyond the boundaries of Egypt and legal and religious questions were sent to him from many communities. Abi Zimra often engaged in disputations with Muslim and Karaite scholars, and his initially lenient attitude to the *Karaites became more stringent. Shortly before 1553 he decided to return to Palestine. He settled first in Jerusalem where he was dissatisfied with the local governor as well as with some of the Jews, and moved to Safed, where he remained until his death. Although Abi Zimra praised Jewish scholars who were versed in natural sciences and spoke with warm appreciation of the contribution of Jewish philosophers in promoting Jewish belief, he discouraged his students from studying philosophy (Resp. published by Assaf in Minhah le-David (1935), 228–33). His negative attitude toward philosophy is more firmly expressed in his later works (Resp. no. 1616, Migdal David (1883), introd. and 34b; Meẓudat David (1862), no. 446). When asked which system of articles of faith (Ikkarei ha-Dat) he approved, he replied that he opposed any system, since each commandment was of paramount importance (Resp. no. 344). In Abi Zimra's view, the aggadah, which he regarded as equal in holiness to other parts of the Oral Law, can bear two meanings, one literal (nigleh) and one esoteric (nistar). He strongly criticized the Bible commentaries of Abraham *Ibn Ezra and David *Kimḥi who referred to a certain aggadah as "irrational." He believed in demons (Resp. no. 848) but strongly opposed superstitious practices, particularly those which conflict with religious laws. In some respects Abi Zimra was very stringent in religious practice, but he was also very humane and objected to imposing new restrictions.

His methods were scientific. He examined texts critically, comparing the different versions and tracing them back to their original sources, investigating their authenticity, and emending them only when necessary and no other solution could be found. A treatise on the methodology of the Talmud (Kelalei ha-Gemara, printed in Me-Harerei Nemerim, Venice, 1599; separately Zolkiew, 1749) was attributed to Abi Zimra, but modern scholarship doubts he is the author of this work. Nevertheless, a good number of his responsa are devoted to methodological principles.

Although he was a kabbalist, he introduced Kabbalah in decisions only when not in contradiction with the Talmud, or where no definite decision is laid down in the Talmud. When Kabbalah conflicted with the Talmud preference was to be given to the latter. When a young man, Abi Zimra wrote a kabbalistic work on the letters of the Hebrew alphabet (Magen David, Amsterdam, 1713) and in later years he composed works dealing more generally with Kabbalah. In his kabbalistic system gematriot ("numerical value of letters") and the doctrine of metempsychosis played important roles, the latter being reflected even in his legal decisions (e.g., on ḥaliẓah). He was one of the most open defenders of the doctrine of cosmic cycles in creation (Shemittot).

Abi Zimra's most important work is his collection of responsa (Teshuvot ha-Radbaz, 1882) in seven parts (see Boaz Cohen, in: Ha-Ẓofeh le-Hokḥmat Yisrael, 14 (Budapest, 1930), 115–94, 211–356). Other of his responsa appear in the works of his contemporaries. Various individual responsa have been published from manuscript. A. Marx published one full of interest addressed to the Jewish community of Cochin, India, on the status of the black Jews (rej, 89 (1930), 293–304). Eight more from the same manuscript were published by H.J. Zimmels (Sefer ha-Yovel… S. Krauss (1936), 178–87) and S. Assaf published a responsum in Minḥah le-David (Koveẓ Ma'amarimle-Yovel… D. Yellin (1935), 228–33). Abi Zimra's halakhic opinions were widely quoted throughout the centuries. Even in modern times, his responsa continue to have an impact on a wide variety of issues, including medical questions. Even though Abi Zimra was not a doctor, his medical knowledge was quite formidable and accurate. He was very sensitive to patients' needs and feelings, looking for leniencies wherever he could. Abi Zimra's opinion is much quoted regarding another modern issue, namely the halakhic status of Ethiopian Jewry; he affirms their Jewishness.

Abi Zimra's novellae are quoted by his pupil Bezalel *Ashkenazi in his Shitah Mekubbeẓet and he himself refers to his novellae to tractate Shabbat (Magen David, Introd.). His other published works are Yekar Tiferet (Smyrna, 1757), a commentary on those portions of Maimonides' Mishneh Torah on which there is no Maggid Mishneh commentary, i.e., on the sections Hafla'ah, Zera'im, Kedushah, and Shofetim, which were published in the Romm (Vilna) editions of the Mishneh Torah, and on Sheluḥin ve-Shuttafin, and Avadim by S.B. Werner (Jerusalem, 1945); Meẓudat David (written 1556, Zolkiew, 1862), an explanation of the traditional 613 commandments, both rational and kabbalistic; Migdal David (written 1560, Lemberg, 1883), a kabbalistic commentary on the Song of Songs; and Keter Malkhut, a piyyut for the Day of Atonement, which has been frequently published and is included in the Heidenheim Maḥzor. The remainder are still in manuscript.


Azulai, 1 (1852), 44–45, no. 16; S. Hazzan, Ha-Ma'alot li-Shelomo (1894), 18a, no. 4; Rosanes, Togarmah, 1 (19302), 197ff.; 2 (1938), 151n, 181; 3 (1938), 326; H.J. Zimmels, Rabbi David ibn abi Simra (Ger., 1932); Ashtor, Toledot, 2 (1951), 458–70; Scheiber and Benayahu, in: Sefunot, 6 (1962), 125–34; Waxman, Literature, 2 (19602), 179–81; I.M. Goldman, The Life and Times of Rabbi David Ibn Abi Zimra (1971). add. bibliography: M. Shapiro, in: Judaism, 42:3 (1993), 332–43; A. Ophir Shemesh, in: Asufot, 14 (2002),125–54; Y. Shiloh, "Kelalei ha-Talmud ve-Shittat Limud ha-Talmud shel Rabbi David ben Zimra," dissertation, Bar-Ilan (2002); S. Morell, Studies in the Judicial Methodology of Rabbi David ibn Ali Zimra (2004).

[Hirsch Jacob Zimmels]

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David ben Solomon ibn Abi (Avi, ben Abi) Zimra

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