Gerondi, Zerahiah ben Isaac Ha-Levi

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GERONDI, ZERAHIAH BEN ISAAC HA-LEVI (12th century), rabbinical scholar and poet. His father, isaac hayiẒhari ben zerahiah ha-levi gerondi, was a Hebrew poet and talmudic scholar in Spain. His poetry was included in the rites of the communities of Avignon, Carpentras, Montpellier, Oran, and Tlemcen. Zerahiah, born in Gerona, Spain, left his native city in his youth, possibly to escape from his many enemies there, and settled in Provence. In Narbonne he studied under *Moses b. Joseph, as well as under *Abraham b. Isaac and Joseph *Ibn Plat. He lived for many years in Lunel, which he was compelled to leave on several occasions because of disputes. In Lunel he was the teacher of Samuel, the son of Judah ibn *Tibbon. Judah characterized Zerahiah as unique in his generation, called him his superior in knowledge, and extolled the stylistic excellence of his letters and poems (I. Abrahams (ed.), Hebrew Ethical Wills, 1 (1926), 72). Zerahiah was proficient in Arabic as well as in philosophy and astronomy, having acquired knowledge of the latter in Provence. At the age of 19 he composed a piyyut in Aramaic and began to write his chief halakhic work, Ha-Ma'or ("The Luminary"), which he completed in the 1180s in Lunel. It is divided into two parts –Ha-Ma'or ha-Katan ("The Lesser Luminary" – a play on Lunel, "the moon") on Berakhot, many tractates of the order Mo'ed, and Ḥullin; and Ha-Ma'or ha-Gadol ("The Great Luminary" – a play on his name Zerahiah), on Nashim and Nezikin. (These have several times been published separately, often together with Isaac Alfasi's commentary, and from 1552 appeared in the Venice edition of the Talmud.) This work, which is deeply critical of *Alfasi, constitutes part of the literature of criticism and is representative of the approach adopted by *Abraham b. David of Posquières in his criticism of Maimonides. *Ta-Shema asserts that Ha-Ma'or is not a work of criticism. He demonstrates that the work is really a talmudic commentary. A careful reading of Ha-Ma'or reveals that the center of discussion is the talmudic text and not Alfasi's commentary. Over fifty percent of Zerahiah's work does not mention Alfasi altogether. Indeed, Zerahiah discusses halakhic issues ignored by Alfasi because they have no practical application. Many of Zerahiah's disagreements with Alfasi do not concern the practical halakhah. Rather, they are about the correct understanding of the talmudic text. Nevertheless, Zerahiah did develop numerous rules for correctly reading and interpreting Alfasi, especially when it is unclear as to how Alfasi decides the law. In many instances Zerahiah preferred the version of the talmudic text as emended by Rashi, and he relied to a considerable extent on the methodology adopted by the northern French commentators, thus combining in his work the principles of the halakhic and exegetical schools of Spain and France which merged in Provence. The Ma'or on Rosh Ha-Shanah 20b contains a comprehensive exposition on the calendar and the principles of intercalation, Zerahiah having found it necessary to reaffirm the views of the Talmud against those who deviated from it. The language and style of the Ha-Ma'or are unique in their exactitude, brevity, and clarity. It is evident from the fine detail – such as the accuracy in citing other sources – that the work was edited carefully and presented as a completed work. Zerahiah was particularly adept at weaving together quotations from various rabbinic sources to make his point. Many generations of halakhists were influenced by the Ma'or, which, however, was strongly criticized by several scholars (especially Naḥmanides) who composed works in defense of Alfasi.

One area of particular note that exemplifies Zerahiah's influence on subsequent halakhic decisions is the determination of the halakhic dateline. His discussion of the laws of the New Moon and the necessity for some place in the world other than Jerusalem to experience a full 24 hours of rosh ḥodesh (the day of the new moon) led Zerahiah to determine that the halakhic international dateline was 90° east of Jerusalem. He was the first to make such a determination, all the while demonstrating the Talmud's understanding that the earth was round.

Zerahiah also wrote Sefer ha-Ẓava, a sequel to his earlier work, in which he endeavored to show that Alfasi had disregarded the accepted principles of talmudic interpretation (see Rabad, Temim De'im, 28a–29b, no. 225). In the acrimonious dispute between Abraham b. David and himself, Zerahiah came off second best in a halakhic exchange of letters (D. Crachman, Divrei ha-Rivot, 1908). Zerahiah wrote a criticism of Abraham's Ba'alei ha-Nefesh (published together with that work, Venice, 1741; Berlin, 1762) and attacked him in Sela ha-Maḥaloket, to which Abraham retaliated by severely criticizing Ha-Ma'or (Katuv Sham, ed. by I.D. Bergman (1957), introd., 26, 39, 42). Zerahiah was also the author of Hilkhot Sheḥitah u-Vedikah, Sefer Pitḥei Niddah, a commentary on the tractate Kinnim, and of responsa. Hilkhot Sheḥitah u-Vedikah was finally published by Lopiansky and Bordon (1984). The Sephardi maḥzor contains 18 of his piyyutim, one of which contains a reference to the Crusader rule in Jerusalem.

[Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson /

David Derovan (2nd ed.)]

His brother berechiah ben isaac ha-levi, also called "Yizḥari" (12th century), was a Spanish liturgical poet and Talmud scholar. According to Gross, the epithet "Yizḥari" refers to the name of a Spanish town (perhaps Oliva or Olivares) where his ancestors had lived. He also was born in Gerona (Spain) but lived in Lunel, Provence. In one section of his Sefer ha-Ma'or, Zerahiah ha-Levi answers a halakhic question posed by his brother, and he also refers to Berechiah in a poem at the end of his Hassagot al Sefer Ba'al ha-Nefesh le-ha-Rabad. Berechiah was the author of a number of piyyutim, some extant only in manuscript.

[Joseph Elijah Heller]



J. Reifmann, Toledot R. Zeraḥyah ha-Levi (1853); Marx, in: rej, 59 (1910), 200–24; S.M. Chones, Toledot ha-Posekim (1910), 107–13; Ch. Tchernowitz, Toledot ha-Posekim, 1 (1946), 149–63; Urbach, index; Rabad, Katuv Sham, ed. I.D. Bergman (1957), introd., 26, 39, 42; I. Twersky, Rabad of Posquières (1962), 120ff. and passim; C.B. Chavel, Ramban, his Life and Teachings (1960), 20ff. add. bibliography: A. Shoshanah, in: Sefer Ha-Zikkaron le-Zekher Rabbi Rephael Sorotzkin (1982), 14–39; A.S. Lopiansky and M.J. Bordon, in: Sefer Ha-Zikkaron Le-Naran ha-Pahad Yiẓḥak (1984), 401–32; Y. Ta-Shema, Rabbi Zeraḥiah ha-Levi Ba'al Ha-Ma'or u-Venei Ḥugo (1992). berechiah: Zunz, Lit Poesie, 463, 495; Landshuth, Ammudei, 56; Michael, Or, no. 648; Fuenn, Keneset, 202; Gross, Gal Jud, 255–6; Davidson, Oẓar, 4 (1933), 373.

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Gerondi, Zerahiah ben Isaac Ha-Levi

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