Ibn Gaon, Shem tov ben Abraham

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IBN GAON, SHEM TOV BEN ABRAHAM (late 13th to 14th centuries), kabbalist and halakhist. Ibn Gaon was born in Soria, Spain, and migrated to Ereẓ Israel in 1312, producing most of his work in Safed. His principal teachers were Solomon b. Abraham *Adret and *Isaac b. Todros. He was primarily influenced by the writings of *Naḥmanides, in which he saw the synthesis of the rational and the mystical (halakhah, Kabbalah, and scriptural commentary). He endeavored to set the writings of his teacher, Solomon b. Abraham Adret, in similar perspective, and cites a tradition to the effect that *Maimonides, toward the end of his life, became an admirer of the Kabbalah (Migdal Oz, Yesodei Torah, 1:10).

Ibn Gaon is best known for his Migdal Oz, a commentary on the Mishneh Torah of Maimonides, including a polemic on the strictures of *Abraham b. David of Posquières. It marks the first systematic attempt to determine Maimonides' sources. Published in all editions of the Mishneh Torah since 1524, it is an important contribution to halakhic research, despite its many errors stemming from an uncorrected manuscript or, as is more likely, inadequate editing. Although his commentaries on books 7–10, dealing with laws which are applicable in Ereḥ Israel only or which are no longer in force, are missing, their existence is evidenced by quotations from Migdal Oz in Joseph Caro's Kesef Mishneh. Migdal Oz came in for heavy criticism (principally by Solomon *Luria in his Yam shel Shelomo) because of its many irrelevancies and because it said nothing really new in respect of Abraham ben David's strictures.

Among Ibn Gaon's other works are (1) Keter Shem Tov, a popular kabbalistic supercommentary on Naḥmanides' commentary on the Pentateuch, written in Spain (printed in Ma'orva-Shemesh, Leghorn, 1839); (2) An illuminated Bible codex, completed in Soria in 1312, unique not only for its primitive illustration but also for its inclusion of kabbalistic elements (Sassoon Collection); (3) Baddei ha-Aron u-Migdal Ḥananel (Ms.), a kabbalistic work completed in Safed in 1325 (one chapter published in the Sefer Tagin of Zacks, 1866). In it are quoted a large number of his own and other works which are no longer extant; (4) Shitot, commentaries and novellae on a number of talmudic tractates, quoted in his Migdal Oz and Baddei ha-Aron.


G. Scholem, Ursprung und Anfaenge der Kabbala (1962), index; idem, in: Tarbiz, 6 (1934/35), 36ff.; D.S. Loewinger, in: Sefunot, 7 (1963), 9–39.

[David Samuel Loewinger]

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Ibn Gaon, Shem tov ben Abraham

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