Ibn Yaḥya (or Ibn Yihyah), Gedaliah ben Joseph
IBN YAḤYA (or Ibn Yihyah), GEDALIAH BEN JOSEPH
IBN YAḤYA (or Ibn Yihyah ), GEDALIAH BEN JOSEPH (1526–1587), historiographer and talmudist in Italy. Born in Imola, Gedaliah lived most of his life in the papal cities in Italy. He studied at several yeshivot including these of R. Jacob Finzi and of R. Ovadia Sforno and was ordained as rabbi and dayyan. When Pius v expelled all the Jews from his domains in 1569, Gedaliah, who lost much of his possessions, wandered for some time from city to city in Italy. In 1575, after living in Ferrara for a few years he settled in Alessandria in Piedmont (northern Italy) and in 1579 became the local rabbi.
Of Gedaliah's more than 20 books only three, including Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah, a very significant work, is extant. From a list of his other writings which he appended to this work, it seems that Gedaliah was master of rabbinic literature and was also interested in magic and history. The list mentions a commentary on the tractate Avot, a collection of 180 sermons, a book on dreams and their interpretations, a homiletical exegesis on the Torah, ethical writings, and numerous other works. Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah ("The Chain of Tradition," Venice, 1587, and many subsequent editions) became one of the most famous Hebrew chronicles, and was used by later Hebrew historiographers, just as Gedaliah himself made use of several earlier Hebrew historiographical works, notably the Sefer ha-Kabbalah by Abraham *Ibn Daud. The book became popular because of the many stories included in it, but Joseph Solomon Rofe of Kandia (YaSHaR) criticized it as "a chain of lies."
Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah has three parts. The first is a short history of the Jewish people from the Creation to the time of the author. Gedaliah generally lists historical facts but always tries to include as many stories as possible. He retells the biblical history, with the addition of many non-biblical stories, mostly midrashic, but some from medieval works, such as *Sefer ha-Yashar and *Josippon. The history of talmudic and geonic times is based upon the chronicle by R. *Sherira Gaon and Sefer ha-Kabbalah. While most of the information about medieval sages and scholars is taken from other Hebrew historiographers, some biographical and bibliographical notes are included which are not known from any other source. In this work, Gedaliah also made extensive use of hagiographical stories which he either read or which he heard (e.g., the cycle of stories about Naḥmanides). Historically, the greatest importance of this work lies in the many biographical and bibliographical facts it contains about scholars whom he knew personally, or contemporaries or other scholars whom he heard about first-hand. Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah thus constitutes one of the main sources for Renaissance Jewish history, especially in Italy. The second part of the work consists of a collection of short scientific tractates unconnected with the historical orientation of the book as a whole. Among the subjects of these tractates are magic, angels, heaven and hell, ghosts, medicine, heavenly spheres, coins and measurements, the formation of the embryo, and the making of paper. In most of these discourses, Gedaliah also includes stories of his own personal experience in the various fields. From this it seems that he was a typical Renaissance scholar, who considered all fields of knowledge as his own concern both in his life and in his writings. The third part of the work is again a chronicle, from the Creation to the 16th century, with the emphasis, however, on the history of the other nations: Greeks, Romans, Arabs, and medieval empires and popes. Although in the main the material in this section is more mythological and legendary in nature than historical, it is, nevertheless, one of the earliest Hebrew works in the field of world history. Jewish history establishes the chronological framework of this section, events within the Jewish world being correlated with those outside it. The vivid and interesting stories in this part undoubtedly contributed to the popularity of Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah.
Benjacob, Oẓar, 590; Michael, Or, 303; A. Marx, in: huca, 1 (1906), 605–9; Neubauer, in: Israelietische Letter-bode, 10 (1886), 139; M.A. Shulvass (Szulwas), Ḥayyei ha-Yehudim be-Italyah bi-Tekufat ha-Renaissance (1955), passim; E. Carmoly, Divrei ha-Yamim li-Venei Yahya (1850); Waxman, Literature, 2 (1960), 476–9. A. David, "Mifalo ha-Historiografi shel Gedaliah ibn Yahya Baal Shalshelet Ha-Kabbalah" (diss., 1976).