Ibn Ḥabib, Jacob ben Solomon

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IBN ḤABIB, JACOB BEN SOLOMON (1445?–1515/16), rabbinic scholar. Jacob was born in Zamora in Castile, Spain, where he is said to have been a pupil of Samuel Valency, and was one of the renowned scholars of Castile, heading a yeshivah in Salamanca which was one of the largest in Spain. On the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 he went to Portugal and before 1501 proceeded to Salonika where he became one of the leading scholars. First he taught in the Calabrian (native) community, and later was appointed rabbi of the Gerush community (of Spanish exiles), a position which he held until his death. His name appears among the first signatories on the early regulations of Salonika. He was personally responsible for some of these regulations, which would even seem to have been formulated by him. He also conducted a yeshivah in Salonika. His contemporaries and successors spoke of him in terms of the highest esteem and referred to him as gedol ha-dor ("the greatest of the generation"), mofet ha-dor ("the wonder of the generation"), and ha-ga'on. Individual responsa by him have been preserved in the works of contemporary and later scholars (Elijah Mizraḥi, Samuel de Medina, and in the collection of responsa Zera Anashim (1902), while others exist in manuscript. He is quoted at length in the works of the great scholars of the period (David b. Ḥayyim ha-Kohen of Corfu, Joseph *Caro, Joseph ibn Lev, and others). Remnants of his halakhic works have also been preserved. In his Beit Yosef, Joseph Caro gives quotations from Jacob's commentary on the beginning of Oraḥ Ḥayyim and the beginning of Yoreh De'ah of the Arba'ah Turim. Samuel de Medina in his responsa (yd, 44) gives a synopsis of his article on the law of terefah, and there are references to disputes between him and his contemporaries on halakhic topics. His extant responsa show his special concern with the problems that occupied the generation after the expulsion – such as the case of a childless widow whose brother-in-law, from whom she had to receive ḥaliẓah, had become converted to Christianity – as well as the new problems which had arisen as a result of the settling of the Jews of Spain in places where the religious customs (minhag) differed from those in vogue in Spain. Jacob took up a tolerant attitude toward the customs of these communities and their scholars and accepted compromises, instead of forcing his views upon them, as did the scholars of the following generation. He states explicitly that he had not studied philosophy and the sciences methodically, although he had occupied himself with these subjects in his youth. His knowledge of Kabbalah, toward which he took a positive attitude, was also the result of casual reading.

Jacob's fame, however, rests not on the fact that he was a halakhist and communal leader in Salonika, but on his Ein Ya'akov, in which he assembled the aggadot of the Babylonian Talmud and some of those of the Jerusalem Talmud. To this collection he added a commentary culled from the commentaries of Rashi and tosafot on the Talmud and from the novellae on the Talmud of Naḥmanides, Solomon b. Abraham Adret, Yom Tov b. Abraham Ishbili, Asher b. Jehiel, and Nissim b. Reuben Gerondi. He consistently and frequently quotes the words of "the Torah scholars," i.e., the commentators of the Talmud and the halakhists, on the aggadah. However, he purposely refrains from giving the explanations of philosophical works, the authors of which he consistently criticizes. Although quotations from early authorities are numerous in the first orders that were published in his lifetime, Zera'im and Mo'ed, his original contribution is extensive (particularly in Berakhot and Shabbat), and only in the remaining orders published by his son *Levi b. Ḥabib is the original part small and the vast bulk extracts. The commentary also contains quotations from the commentaries of rishonim not otherwise known. In his commentary he gives expression to his religious, social, and cultural aims, and where he sharply criticizes the philosophical school, he relies greatly upon such authorities as Naḥmanides and his school, Nissim Gerondi, and Ḥasdai *Crescas, whose works he regarded as authentic expositions of the Torah. He seeks to lead the reader to the plain meaning of the text and to simple uncritical faith. He takes every opportunity of stressing what he considers to be the correct outlook on problems of faith, disputing other views. At times one can detect both overt and concealed polemics against Christian views and beliefs.

Since the purpose of the work was to educate the general public to religious ways and true faith against the historical background of his time and events, the commentary is of great importance in revealing the problems facing his generation in the various spheres of faith and knowledge. Thus, for instance, in choosing what he determined to be the correct approach to the question of belief in the Messiah and the attitude to be taken to secular studies, Jacob at the same time takes note of the prevailing conditions and attempts to better them. It would seem, therefore, that the purpose of his work was identical with that of his communal and halakhic activity – to lead and reshape his generation in the right way, as he viewed it in the light of his experience. Despite his strong and decisive personality, Jacob's work reveals his humility and his care not to impose his way upon others, whether the scholars of the original community (the Romaniot) or his Spanish contemporaries. Jacob declared that from the time he began this work he withdrew from all his communal activity, and apparently from 1514 he devoted himself to his work, the first part of which was published in 1516. The Ein Ya'akov has been published in more than 100 editions and scores of commentaries have been written on it. Changes have taken place since the first edition, as a result of Christian censorship, and in order to adjust the text of passages to that in the standard edition of the Talmud. Although designed as a work for broad and popular circles, it is extensively used by scholars. An abridged translation into English (with Hebrew text) by S.H. Glick appeared under the title Legends of the Talmud; En Jacob, 5 vols. (1919–21).


Conforte, Kore, 32a, 33a–b; Rosanes, Togarmah, 1 (19302), 84–85, 101–5; A. Obadiah, Ketavim Nivḥarim (1942), 97, 101; I.S. Emmanuel, Histoire des Israélites de Salonique (1936), 85, 86; A. Marx, Studies in Jewish History and Booklore (1944), 85, 89, 91; H.H. Ben-Sasson, in: Sefer Yovel… Y. Baer (1961), 222; idem, in: Zion, 26 (1961), 27, 50.

[Joseph Hacker]

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Ibn Ḥabib, Jacob ben Solomon

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