Israeli, Israel

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ISRAELI, ISRAEL

ISRAELI, ISRAEL (d. 1317), Spanish talmudist. Born in Toledo, Israeli lived there all his life. His family was among the leaders of its community and the names of many scholars in the family, as well as many scribes, are known. Israeli was the brother of Isaac *Israeli, author of Yesod Olam and according to him was a pupil of *Asher b. Jehiel (the Rosh) after the latter's arrival in Toledo. Israel was eminent both for his talmudic and secular knowledge. The best-known of his works is his commentary to Avot which was largely influenced by Maimonides' method and which in turn was the main basis of the commentary of his grandson, Isaac b. Solomon Israeli, on Avot (1965). Various quotations are found in the Midrash Shemu'el to Avot by Samuel b. Isaac of Uceda. In his commentary Israeli expresses his opinion that the prohibition against the study of "Greek wisdom" was never applied in practice, and that rabbis and teachers are not to be precluded from accepting a salary. This opinion is in direct contrast to the view of Maimonides on this subject. His commentary on the Bible was well known, and Joseph *Naḥmias frequently quoted from it in his various works. Israeli possessed wide general knowledge, as was common among Spanish Jews of the upper classes in his time, and it was he who translated for Asher b. Jehiel various halakhic passages from Arabic to Hebrew. As a result, Israeli became directly involved in one of the most renowned halakhic disputes in Jewish history, which touched upon the authoritative interpretation of the " Takkanot of Toledo" (see *Takkanot). These takkanot, one of which laid down the manner in which a husband inherited from his wife, differed completely from talmudic halakhah, and had been enacted by the leaders of the community a few generations before, and committed to writing in Arabic. When Asher arrived in Toledo, he found to his surprise that the takkanah had been extended in practice and interpreted by the Toledo bet din far beyond the implication of the original text. He objected strongly and insisted that the scope of the takkanah be limited to the minimum implied by its plain language, and beyond that it had to accord with talmudic law. Israeli took a contrary stand. He claimed that since the takkanah was written in literary Arabic and not in the vernacular, Asher b. Jehiel, who came from Germany, was not fluent in the language, and could not appreciate the exact meaning of the takkanah, nor could he rely upon the Hebrew translation. Israeli even went further and maintained that a takkanah, based originally upon reason and logic and not upon the religious halakhic tradition, must of necessity be interpreted in the widest and most rational manner, in the spirit in which it was written, and not in accordance with the traditional methods of interpretation used in halakhah. Israeli's claims are preserved, in incomplete form, in the responsa of Asher b. Jehiel (no. 55), and careful reconstruction of his arguments illustrates his broad horizons in Talmud, philosophy, and jurisprudence. It has been conjectured, without basis, that there were two scholars named Israel Israeli, both members of the same family, and that all the above details do not apply to the same individual.

bibliography:

M.S. Kasher and J.J. Belachrowitz (eds.), Perushei Rabbenu Yiẓḥak b. R. Shelomo mi-Toledo al Massekhet Avot (1965), 5–13 (preface); Teicher, in: Essays and Studies Presented to S.A. Cook (1950), 83–94.

[Israel Moses Ta-Shma]

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