Kimḥi, Joseph

views updated


KIMḤI, JOSEPH (also known as Maistre Petit ; Rikam , from the acronym of R abbi J oseph Kimḥi ; c. 1105–c. 1170), grammarian, exegete, translator, and polemist. Kimḥi migrated from Spain in the wake of the Almohad persecutions and settled permanently in Narbonne. Overshadowed by his more prominent sons, Moses and David *Kimḥi, he nevertheless performed a major function as a pioneer scholar by helping to introduce the learning and methodology of Spanish Jewry into Christian Europe. In this respect, his activities paralleled those of Abraham Ibn Ezra, whom Kimḥi probably knew personally and who cited him in his writings. He had several disciples, including his son Moses, Menahem b. Simeon of Posquières, R. Solomon b. Isaac ha-Nesiah, and Joseph ibn Zabara. He composed works for the benefit of his countrymen who could not read the grammars written in Arabic, especially those of *Ḥayyuj and *Ibn Janaḥ, whom he generally followed. In the Sefer ha-Zikkaron (published by W. Bacher, 1888), he introduced the concept of five long and five short vowels, presented the pi'el and the hofal as distinct conjugations, and provided a list of nominal forms. In addition to its influence on the grammars written by his sons, the Zikkaron was used by Elijah Levita and Abraham de Balmes. His second grammatical treatise, the Sefer ha-Galui (published by H.J. Mathews, 1887), consists of two parts; a critique of R. Jacob *Tam's Hakhra'ot on the Maḥberet of *Menahem b. Jacob ibn Saruq and a compilation of Kimḥi's own critical remarks on points in the Maḥberet left untouched by Tam. A defense of the latter by Benjamin of Canterbury has been incorporated into the text of the Sefer ha-Galui.

As an exegete, Kimḥi stressed the "plain sense" or peshat of Scripture in contrast to the homiletical school of exegesis prevalent in the Provence of his day. In addition to the exegetical material in his grammars, he composed the following commentaries: Sefer ha-Torah on the Pentateuch (published by H. Gad, in Ḥamishah Me'orot Gedolim, 1953); Sefer ha-Miknah on the Prophets (no longer extant); on Proverbs (entitled Sefer Ḥikkah by the publisher, 1868); on Job (published incompletely by I. Schwarz in Tikvat Enosh, 1868); on Song of Songs (in Ms.). An unknown commentary Ḥibbur ha-Leket was ascribed to him by his son David. Much of Kimḥi's exegesis in-fluenced and was cited in the commentaries of his sons, of Menahem b. Simeon, and of Jacob b. Asher. Kimḥi prepared a translation of Baḥya ibn Paquda's Ḥovot ha-Levavot (fragment published in the I.A. Benjacob edition (1846) of Ibn Tibbon's translation). He was the author too of the Shekel ha-Kodesh, extant in two recensions (one of which was published by H. Gollancz in 1919), a rhymed collection of gnomic sayings based upon the Mivḥar ha-Peninim of Solomon ibn *Gabirol. Kimḥi himself composed a number of liturgical works which found their way into the prayer books of several communities. His polemical treatise, the Sefer ha-Berit (Constantinople, 1710), vies with Jacob b. Reuben's Milḥamot ha-Shem for the honor of being the first anti-Christian polemical work written in Europe. Cast as a dialogue between the "believer" (ma'amin) and the "heretic" (min), the work attacks certain basic christological interpretations of scriptural passages, in addition to such doctrines as original sin, the incarnation, and the relative morality of Jews and Christians including the question of lending money on interest. The Sefer ha-Berit especially influenced the polemics of Kimḥi's son David and of Naḥmanides.


Blueth, in: mwj, 18 (1891), 1ff.; 19 (1892), 89ff.; Eppenstein, in: mgwj, 40 (1896), 173ff.; 41 (1897), 83ff.; Geiger, in: Oẓar Neḥmad, 1 (1856), 97–119; 2 (1857), 98f.; 3 (1860), 114f.; Marx, in: huca, 4 (1927), 433–48; Newman, in: Jewish Studies in Memory of I. Abrahams (1927), 365–72.

[Frank Talmage]