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Eliezer ben Joel Ha-Levi of Bonn


ELIEZER BEN JOEL HA-LEVI OF BONN (Heb. acronym ראבי"ה, Ravyah; 1140–1225), rabbinic scholar in Germany. His maternal grandfather was Eliezer b. Nathan. Eliezer studied under his father *Joel ha-Levi of Bonn, as well as under Judah he-Ḥasid, and Judah b. Kalonymus of Mainz. His brother Uri died a martyr's death in 1216; Eliezer's mourning for him was so great that his vision was impaired and he was compelled to dictate his novellae to his students, among them *Isaac b. Moses Or Zaru'a. In the course of his long life, Eliezer wandered from place to place: Bonn, Worms, Wuerzburg, Mainz, Metz, Cologne, Regensburg, and, apparently, through France and Lombardy. He refused to accept rabbinical office so as "neither to be glorified by, nor benefit from, the Torah" (Ravyah, no. 396) until he was robbed of his fortune. At his father's request, he accepted the rabbinate of Cologne in 1200. The status he then attained as spiritual leader and halakhic expert bore out the prophecy of Eliezer of Metz, "Honor will pursue you, and you will merit a lofty seat on high" (ibid.). In 1220 he participated in the communal synod at Mainz and was among the signatories of the enactments passed there. Nothing further is known of him after this date.

His major work, Ravyah, also called Avi ha-Ezri ("My Father is my Help"), is a compendium of articles that developed into a book. It contains halakhot and legal decisions according to the order of the tractates in the Talmud as well as research on halakhic subjects which he calls "responsa." Among these "responsa" are some genuine responsa written by him and his father to contemporary scholars. They are written in simple, lucid language, and are generally prefaced by rhymed introductions. In 1885 Ḥ.N. Dembitzer published tractate Berakhot with the relevant responsa from a manuscript of Ravyah to which he added his own notes, Livyat Ḥen. V. Aptowitzer continued the task in a two-volume critical edition (published by Mekiẓe Nirdamim, Berlin, 1913; Jerusalem, 1935) up to section 893. He later published addenda and corrigenda (1936) and an introduction (1938). She'ar Yashuv Cohen and E. Prisman revised Aptowitzer's editions in three volumes (Jerusalem, 1965) and added a fourth volume covering sections 894–919. Eliezer also wrote Mishpetei Ketubbah, to which Seder Binyan Bayit Sheni ("The Order of the Construction of the Second Temple") is an appendix. Yom Tov Lipmann Heller quotes it 15 times in his commentary on tractate Middot. Early authorities mention his Avi'asaf, a commentary on the orders Nashim and Nezikin, in addition to other material not included in Ravyah, which was seen by Ḥ.J.D. Azulai. He apparently also composed tosafot on various tractates; likkutim, consisting of explanations of passages of the Pentateuch; and six piyyutim. Although his chief purpose was the determination of the halakhah, Eliezer's approach to textual clarification and to the basic sources (Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds; rishonim) is reminiscent of the approach of the tosafists. His works were considered basic in halakhic literature until the publication of the Shulḥan Arukh. The great codifiers relied heavily upon him and R. Eliezer of Metz called him "the pillar of decision and the foundation of halakhah." He was also famous for his piety and for his ethical teaching, his contemporaries referring to him as "one who by his exhortations brought about repentance" (Ravyah, no. 922 in Ms.).


Zunz, Lit Poesie, 326f.; Gross, in: mgwj, 34 (1885), 303–20, 367–75, 505–24, 555–72; 35 (1886), 24–32, 74–81; Weiss, Dor, 5 (19044), 72–73; Davidson, Oẓar, 4 (1933), 365; Germ Jud, 1 (1963), 75–78; V. Aptowitzer, Mavo le-Sefer Ravyah (1938); H. Tchernowitz, Toledot ha-Posekim, 2 (1947), 50–54; Urbach, Tosafot, 315–21; Monumenta Judaica, Handbuch (1963), 95, 103, 121, 122f.; S.Y. Cohen and E. Prisman (eds.), Sefer Ravyah, 4 (1965), 11–38.

[Yehoshua Horowitz]

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