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Jonah ben Abraham Gerondi


JONAH BEN ABRAHAM GERONDI (c. 1200–1263), Spanish rabbi, author, and moralist. In his youth Gerondi studied in the French yeshivot under Moses b. Shneur and his brother *Samuel of Evreux, and later under *Solomon b. Abraham of Montpellier. When in 1232 the latter began his campaign against Maimonides' philosophical works, Jonah followed his teacher and became one of his most devoted assistants in the conflict, which ended, according to tradition, in the burning of these books by the Inquisition. A few years later, in 1240, in the same square in which Maimonides' books had been burnt, tractates of the Talmud were burnt and Jonah saw this as divine retribution. Tradition has it that he repented, proclaiming in the synagogues: "I undertake to prostrate myself at Maimonides' grave and to confess that I spoke and sinned against his books" (letter of Hillel of Verona). Consequently, Jonah devoted himself to the study of Maimonides' works. Legend tells that Jonah tried to travel to Ereẓ Israel to ask forgiveness at Maimonides' grave, but was delayed in Toledo, where he later died violently. Modern scholars disagree as to the veracity of this account. Everyone is in agreement that Jonah reversed his opinion of Maimonides in the latter part of his life. Gerondi was in contact with *Isaac the Blind, son of *Abraham b. David of Posquières, concerning Kabbalah. Naḥmanides was his cousin and in-law. Jonah returned from France to his birthplace, Gerona, and began to preach publicly his torat ha-musar (doctrine of ethics and morality) – a subject which was near to his heart all his life. Later he left Gerona and settled in Barcelona, where pupils from Spain and elsewhere flocked to him. These included some of the outstanding rabbis of the next generation, such as Solomon b. Abraham *Adret and *Hillel b. Samuel of Verona. Years later, he left for Ereẓ Israel, but on passing through Toledo, the Spanish community approached him and importuned him to stay in the city for a year or two. He consented to remain and established a large yeshivah there, and there he died.

Jonah was famous not only as a scholar, but as "father of the virtues" of piety, humility, and ascetism. He acquired enduring fame through his ethical books. In these books he protested forcefully against the many Spanish Jews who disregarded the mitzvot and against widespread sexual immorality. He proclaimed a "ban on concubines" and reacted sharply to the failure of society to keep the mitzvot governing the relations of man and his neighbor. Among the "ten gravest sins of the generation" which he specified, were: "disregarding the poor, slander, senseless hatred, confusion of the heart, and causing others to fear." Jonah condemned the actions of despots and tyrants, warning the large estate owners among the Jews of Spain against using force to evict small landowners from their plots. Not content with warnings, Jonah called for action and suggested that instead of strong community leaders who strike fear into the hearts of the public, "in every town volunteers should be ready to take action whenever a Jewish man or woman is in trouble" (ibid.). According to Jonah, communal activities should be incumbent on every Jew and not confined to communal leaders (ibid.). Even prayer in time of public or private sorrow and even the formulation of prayers are not matters for the pious or sages alone; it is the duty of every man to pray "every day, in accordance with his ability, on behalf of all the sick among the Holy People … and for the release of all prisoners…."

Jonah was doubtless familiar with the teachings of the *Ḥasidei Ashkenaz, but his ethical doctrine differed fundamentally from theirs. It was not based upon mystical speculation but on the halakhah and the popular aggadah. His ethical works were widely read. His repeated emphasis on the practice of social justice and social ethics undoubtedly contributed to their popularity throughout the Jewish world and to the influence they exercised upon the socio-religious thinking of later generations.

Jonah's works include: (1) Commentary on Proverbs (1910); (2) Commentary on Avot (Berlin-Altona, 1848, and compared to Mss., 1966); (3) novellae to tractate Bava Batra: "Aliyyot de-Rabbenu Yonah" up to page 77b (1966), and to Sanhedrin (in: Sam Ḥayyim, Leghorn, 1803); (4) Commentary on Alfasi to Berakhot, and printed with it, the commentary was compiled by his pupils; (5) Laws of examining the knife and lungs during shehitah (at the end of the Teshuvot ha-Ge'onim, 1871); (6) Iggeret Teshuvah (Constantinople, 1548); (7) Sefer ha-Yirah (Fano, c. 1505; Salonika, 1529; Yiddish translation Freiburg, 1583); (8) Sha'arei Teshuvah (Fano, 1505; Constantinople, 1511); a chapter out of this work, by name "Sha'arei ha-Avodah," which was known as lost, was printed in 1967 from an unknown manuscript but there are still grave doubts whether it is really his; (9) Novellae of Rabbenu Jonah's pupils on tractate Avodah Zarah (1955); (10) Sermon and explanation on the Torah, Sefer Derashot u-Perushei Rabbenu Yonah Gerondi le-Hamishah Humshei Torah, were published from manuscript in 1980; (11) Novellae on the laws of the Passover Seder were published from manuscript in 2001.

In addition to these works, there is reference in medieval rabbinic works to his novellae on Pesaḥim, Megillat Setarim, laws of Ḥanukkah, and sermons.


Michael, Or, no. 1038; A. Loewenthal, R. Jonah Gerundi und sein ethischer Kommentar zu den Proverbien (1910), 3–36 (introd.); A.T. Shrock, R. Jonah b. Abraham of Gerona (1948); H. Zarkowski (ed.), Ḥiddushei Talmidei Rabbeinu Yonah le-Massekhet Avodah Zarah (1955), introd.; Scholem, in: Sefer Bialik (1934), 141–55; Bronznick, in: Hadorom, 28 (1969), 238–42; J.M. Toledano, in: Ha-Ẓofeh le-Ḥokhmat Yisrael, 11 (1927), 239; I. Tishby, Mishnat ha-Zohar, 2 (1961), 67–8 n. 12. add. bibliography: I. Ta-Shma, in: Exile and Diaspora: Studies Presented to Prof. Haim Beinart (1988), 165–94; idem, in: Jewish Mystical Leaders and Leadership in the 13thCentury (1998), 155–77.

[Ephraim Kupfer /

David Derovan (2nd ed.)]

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