Literature on Jewish themes and in languages regarded as Jewish has been written continuously for the past 3,000 years. What the term Jewish literature encompasses, however, demands definition, since Jews have lived in so many countries and have written in so many different languages and on such diverse themes. In this article it will be understood to include the following categories: (1) works written by Jews on Jewish themes in any language; (2) works of a literary character written by Jews in Hebrew or Yiddish or other recognized languages, whatever the theme; (3) literary works written by writers who were essentially Jewish writers, whatever the theme and whatever the language. This entry covers the subject up to the threshold of the modern period. The continuation will be found in other entries including *Hebrew Literature, Modern; *Yiddish Literature; *Ladino Literature.
This article is arranged according to the following outline:early beginnings to the medieval period
halakhah and aggadah
the tosefta ("additions")
Other Homiletic Midrashim
medieval period (500-1750)
grammar and lexicography
rabbinic literature (500–1250)
rabbinic literature (1250–1750)
Philosophy and Theology
pre-zohar and zohar literature
geography and travel
biographies and autobiographies
satire and humor
Polemical and Apologetic Literature
The earliest, greatest, and most enduring Jewish literary works are the books of the Bible, known collectively in Hebrew asTanakh, made up of the initial letters of Torah ("Pentateuch"), Nevi'im ("Prophets"), and Ketuvim ("Hagiographa"). The Bible consists of either 25 or 39 books, depending on whether the 12 prophets are counted as one or 12 books and whether Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles are counted as one or two books each.
The Pentateuch comprises five volumes and offers an account of the creation of the world, the early history of mankind, the life and experience of the forefathers of the Jewish people, the experiences of Israel in Egypt, the Exodus, and the Jews' wanderings in the desert for 40 years under the leadership of Moses. Extended sections are devoted to laws governing individual and social behavior, to ethical principles, to theological statements, and to details of ritual for priest and layman. The underlying theme is that God has entered into a covenant with the patriarchs and subsequently, in a revelation at Mount Sinai, with the Jewish people as a whole. The covenant demands that the people of Israel worship God exclusively and abide by the law as set forth in the Torah; God, in turn, undertakes to make them "His own peculiar treasure" among the nations and to give them the Land of Canaan. The Jews thus became a choosing and a chosen people.
The Nevi'im are subdivided into two sections: Early Prophets and Later Prophets. The Early Prophets are historical works, portraying the experiences of Israel when entering Canaan (Book of Joshua), a period of turmoil and settlement (Judges), a period of consolidation under the kings (Samuel and Kings), and the period of division of the land into two kingdoms down to the destruction of the Northern Kingdom by the Assyrians and the Southern Kingdom by the Babylonians (Kings). These books are selective history and reflect a point of view and philosophy of history which seems to be that of the prophets. The Latter Prophets include the three large books of the major prophets: Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, and the 12 books of the minor prophets (so named because of the brevity of the books). The themes which unite the books are that the prophets present revelations from God whose substance is that Israel has strayed from true worship, has departed from proper ethical behavior, both individually and socially, and that it is called upon to repent its ways. The penalty for obduracy will be the destruction of the polity. The hope is, however, offered that "a saved remnant" of righteous people will have the opportunity to renew and continue the covenant with God. This prophetic preachment seems to have been a continuous element in Jewish life from the time of Moses (13th century b.c.e.) to the time of Malachi (450 b.c.e.) and seems to have been the concern and responsibility of "schools of prophets" or of a prophetic party.
The Ketuvim comprise works as diverse as the lyrics of the Psalms, the searching dramatic exploration of suffering of the Book of Job, the skepticism of Ecclesiastes, the love poetry of the Song of Songs, the laments attributed to Jeremiah, and such historical works or semihistorical works as the Chronicles, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Ruth, and the foreshadowing of an apocalyptic literature in the Book of Daniel.
The books of the Bible were written over a period extending from the 11th century b.c.e. (upon the basis of traditions perhaps several centuries older) to the third century b.c.e. Although the canon was substantially closed by 250 b.c.e., an argument as to the propriety of including the Song of Songs and Ecclesiastes in the Bible was apparently not settled until about the year 90 c.e. The authorship of the various books of the Bible is rarely clear. The talmudic assumption is that all the books were written under the influence of "the holy spirit" which means that they are attributed to figures who were the recipients of divine revelation. Thus where no author is indicated, as in the Book of Judges, the Talmud ascribes it to the prophetic figure Samuel, more or less a contemporary, and in the case of the Book of Kings makes the assumption that it was the work of Jeremiah. The major books of the Bible, in terms of their significance for Jewish life, are the Five Books of Moses. The traditional view, which is used as an underlying assumption by the Talmud, and subsequently by Jewish law, is that they were a direct revelation from God to Moses and that every word, therefore, has chosen and special meaning. Biblical critical scholarship of the 19th and 20th centuries has assumed that the Pentateuch is the work of man and has proposed that its five books are an amalgam of several distinct and ancient versions which no longer exist and which are denominated as the J, E, and P documents. Presumably they were put together in one document by a redactor or a body of editors known as R sometime between the end of the seventh century b.c.e. and the middle of the fifth century b.c.e.
While the Bible is the only extant literature of the early centuries of Jewish existence, the Bible itself indicates that there were other works such as the "*Book of the Wars of the Lord" (Num. 21:14) and the "*Books of the Chronicles of the Kings of Judah and Israel" (ii Chron. 25:26; 28:26; 32:32). It is also probable that there were works of "true prophets," writings of "false prophets," and a great many lyrical poems, like the Book of Psalms and the Song of Songs, which have not survived (see *Bible; *Pentateuch; the individual books of the Bible; *Allegory; *Poetry, Biblical; *Fable; *Parable).
From the third century b.c.e. the literary creativity manifested in the Bible continued undiminished in works called *Apocrypha (Sefarim Hizonim, meaning "excluded" or "hidden" works). These writings, usually of unknown authorship, included fictional and moralistic works (*Tobit); didactic books (*Ben Sira or Ecclesiasticus); disguised historical allegories (the Book of *Judith); historical works (the Books of the *Maccabees); and apologetic works (iv*Maccabees). Some of them, such as the Addition to Esther, were designed as supplements to the Bible to fill in apparent lacunae in that text. Some were imitations of biblical patterns, or conceived as continuations of biblical traditions, like Ben Sira which is in the vein of the books of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes, and the recently discovered Dead Sea *Thanksgiving Psalms Scroll which is in the tradition of the biblical psalter. Some were already early Midrashim, homiletic and moral extensions of biblical material, like the *Dead Sea Scrolls: the Genesis Apocryphon and the *Pesher Habakkuk which applies the prophetic statement of an earlier age to the Jewish-Roman confrontation of the first century b.c.e. and the first century c.e.
The extent of this literature is not known. The discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls has made it clear that there were many works, perhaps sectarian books, which were not preserved as part of the literary and religious mainstream. Moreover, even the previously known works of the Apocrypha were excluded and hidden from Jewish literature, apparently in an attempt to prevent competition with the canon and to suppress dissident sectarian points of view. Consequently, most of them did not survive in their original language, whether Hebrew or Aramaic, but were preserved in Greek versions by Christians who invested them with semisanctity.
More striking than the literary quality of the works is the appearance of certain themes. The arguments about religious practices and philosophies and the emergence of new doctrines, such as immortality, resurrection, and Messianism are present in the Apocrypha. The confrontations of Jews with the Hellenistic world and the need to authenticate the Jewish tradition is reflected both in historical works and in apologetic books, like iv Maccabees and the Letter of *Aristeas. A nationalistic, revolutionary literature appears in the Dead Sea Scrolls, such as the War of the Children of Light against the Children of Darkness, and from the same source there are new indications of the stresses and strains within the Jewish community. It is a literature of dignity and beauty whose merit does not depend upon anything but its intrinsic quality (see *Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha; *Dead Sea Scrolls; *Dead Sea Sect; *Hebrew Language of the Dead Sea Scrolls).
During the period of the Apocrypha (c. 200 b.c.e. to about the end of the first century c.e.) another body of literature, apocalyptic works, also developed. Like the Apocrypha, they were set aside by later Jewish authorities and were preserved in the Christian tradition surviving either in Greek or Ethiopic revisions. Features common to these works were a claim to be revealed books and to reveal the future, and their pseudepigraphy, purporting to be the writings of ancient heroic or saintly figures. Clearly reactions to political events of the time as well as to theological problems, their essential themes were eschatological – the question of evil and of suffering, the vision of the Messiah, Messianic times, the Day of Judgment, and the vision of a new world. iv*Esdras, a national Job, was probably written right after the destruction of the Temple. The author's solution to the tragedy of the Jewish people is to assert that while God's will is inscrutable, His love for Israel is abiding. After evil has run its course, there will be a 400-year Messianic period to be followed by the Day of Judgment, the resurrection, and the creation of a new world. Similarly, the Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs hesitates between a Messiah out of the tribe of Levi and one from the tribe of Judah and presumably represents a reaction, first positive then negative, to the rule of John *Hyrcanus, the Hasmonean ruler.
Another characteristic of the apocalyptic books is their tendency to employ elaborate allegories and embellish the biblical stories with much legendary material designed to fill the lacunae in the biblical text. Mainly Pharisaic (although the Book of *Jubilees differs in places, particularly in calendar dating, from authoritative doctrine), these works often depict the Messiah as a supernatural being, and much is made of angels. The Book of *Enoch in particular, with its view of the Messiah as "the son of man," its portrayal of fallen angels, and its vision of final judgment, foreshadowed much of Christian thinking.
Ten books are regarded as apocalyptic works, to which must be added some of the Dead Sea Scrolls, particularly the War of the Children of Light against the Children of Darkness, and the so-called *Zadokite fragments. It is probable that there were others as well and that they, and perhaps some of the known works, were of a sectarian character. The rabbinic attitude of the times led to their disappearance in their original languages of Hebrew and Aramaic. Some polemical works, however, such as the *Sibylline Oracles and the Assumption of *Moses were written in Greek in Alexandria, but have come down with many Christian interpolations. Thus the style of the apocalyptic books cannot really be gauged, but the sweep of imagination and the structure of several of them is of a very high order (see *Apocalypse; *Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha; *Dead Sea Scrolls).
While some books, written originally in Greek and probably the works of the Alexandrian community, have already been referred to as apocryphal or apocalyptic literature, a large body of writings was the product of the several million Jews who between the third century b.c.e. and the first century c.e. took up their residence outside Ereẓ Israel in lands dominated by Hellenistic culture. They produced a considerable and distinctive body of literature, much of which has been lost. The Bible was translated into Greek and upon these translations were written exegeses and interpretations, all of them designed to meet the needs of Jews in Hellenistic lands and to offer apologetics for the Jewish religion, which was under assault from within and from without. As an extension of these needs, Jewish philosophy developed with the aim of harmonizing Jewish and Hellenistic thought. At the same time, historical and belletristic works were composed both for the benefit of the Jewish population and for apologetic purposes. Thus a body of writings developed which was to be a prototype for an elaborate literature that would be produced whenever Judaism, in later centuries, came into contact with other dynamic civilizations. Simultaneously, in Palestine, a literature designed essentially for Jews free from the problems of acculturation and assimilation was being developed in Hebrew and Aramaic. Its objective was the explication of Judaism in religious, legal, and homiletic terms; it was also a prototype for the expansive Jewish literature of the ages (see *Hellenistic Jewish Literature, *Apologetics).
Literary undertakings of Hellenistic Jewry started in the third century b.c.e. with the translation of the Bible into Greek (*Septuagint). According to the Letter of Aristeas, which purports to be the account of the emissary of the king of Egypt, Ptolemy ii Philadelphus (285–246 b.c.e.), to Eliezer, the high priest, Ptolemy commanded that 70 translators be engaged to render the Bible into Greek. The facts seem to be that the Bible translation was undertaken by savants of Egyptian Jewry to meet the needs of the Jewish population. The Septuagint, as the first translation of the Bible, had a significant effect and was employed as a pattern for subsequent translations. The Greek style is not distinguished since it relied heavily on Hebrew constructions. It was not a literal translation, however, since it incorporated commentary in the text, consciously attempting to harmonize biblical and Greek thought and to include halakhic and aggadic ideas which were current in Palestinian commentary. Some interesting features of the text are its deletion of all anthropomorphic expressions and the provision of many readings of the text which are different from the standard masoretic version. Whether this was because the translators worked with different texts is not clear, but the variants have provided fruitful interpretations of difficult biblical passages and material for speculation on how the biblical text developed.
Two other translations into Greek were undertaken in subsequent centuries because Palestinian rabbis deemed the Septuagint not to be altogether authentic and because it had become subject to interpolations and manipulations by Christians. At the behest of R. Eliezer b. Hyrcanus and R. Akiva, *Aquila, a Greek-speaking native of Pontus and a proselyte, undertook a new translation at the beginning of the second century c.e. The result was a literal translation, incorporating many of the rabbinic interpretations. It was widely used and approved, but has disappeared, and only fragments are retained in the writings of *Origen (185–254 c.e.), one of the Church Fathers. The translation of Theodotion (about 200 c.e.), another proselyte, has also been lost, except for his version of the Book of Daniel. It was however integrated by the Church into a revised version of the Septuagint (see *Bible, Translations).
The translations of the Bible into Greek, undertaken in Alexandria, were paralleled in Palestine by translations (Targums) into Aramaic. Presumably, the same need for understanding the Hebrew text motivated the Aramaic translations, and in consequence, particularly in Babylonia, it became customary to read the Targum together with the original text. The standard Aramaic translation of the Pentateuch is Targum Onkelos which is printed in almost every edition of the Hebrew Bible. The Talmud ascribes it to a proselyte named Onkelos who worked under the direction of Joshua b. Hananiah and Eliezer b. Hyrcanus at Jabneh in the first third of the second century c.e. More probably, however, it was a standardization of translations which had continued for decades or even centuries. Like the Aquila translation, it gives a literal rendition of the text but adds halakhic interpretations and aggadic embellishments wherever they are deemed necessary to present the Bible in the best possible light. Anthropomorphisms are thus avoided and the biblical figure Rachel "takes" the teraphim rather than "steals" them (Gen. 31:19); the phrase "visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children" (Ex. 34:7) is rendered with the addition "when the children follow the sinful ways of their fathers." Another translation called the Targum Yerushalmi (the Palestinian Targum), known also as Pseudo-Jonathan (probably due to an early printer's error), is essentially a compilation of freely rendered passages of the Pentateuch rather than a translation. It bears the homilist stamp and is replete with midrashic, aggadic, and halakhic statements. From internal evidence it appears that it must have been finally redacted in the seventh century in Palestine, but that it contains layers of interpretations from centuries past.
The standard Aramaic translation of the Prophets, though ascribed by the Talmud to *Jonathan b. Uzziel, a pupil of Hillel, was probably an ordering of earlier material rather than the work of one man. It resembles the Onkelos in phrasing but makes more frequent use of aggadic material. It is particularly important for exegesis because it deviates frequently from the masoretic text and agrees with the Septuagint and with other sources which are unknown.
The translations of the third section of the Bible, the Hagiographa, are of uncertain origin and authorship and are incomplete. Except for the translation of Proverbs, which is quite literal, they make extensive use of the aggadah. The books of Daniel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, which were partly written in Aramaic, were not translated (see *Bible, Translations).
The great exegete of Hellenistic Jewry, *Philo of Alexandria (c. 30 b.c.e.–42 c.e.), sought to provide an interpretation of the Bible which would be acceptable in terms of Hellenistic thought. He wrote or began a commentary on the entire Pentateuch, but only parts of the commentary on Genesis and Exodus have survived (in an Armenian translation and a Latin translation). He also undertook an outline of Mosaic legislation which was supplemented by treatises on politics, on teaching virtue, and on the creation. A commentary on Genesis, his major exegetical work, consists of essays on various subjects such as the immutability of God and the value of sobriety. Philo's approach to the Bible was allegorical. Thus he interprets "Adam, where are thou?" as Adam being the symbol of wicked man who hides from the voice of Reason. Hamez is a symbol of passion and matzah of purity of soul. Despite his allegorical view, he insisted that the laws be obeyed literally and his interpretations show an awareness of the halakhic and aggadic interpretations which were current in Palestine (see *Bible, Exegesis).
Formal Jewish philosophy begins in the Hellenistic world as a result of the confrontation with another culture. Among the first philosophers is *Aristobulus (c. 150 b.c.e.) who sought to demonstrate the dependence of peripatetic philosophy upon Mosaic law. Philo, the major philosophic figure, exerted little direct influence upon Judaism, but much upon the history of philosophy and upon Christian thought. Concerned with the problem of the relation of a perfect God to an imperfect world, Philo proposed a series of intermediate causes, of which the main one is the Logos, described variously as the word of God, the supreme manifestation of divine activity, and as moral law. It is the chief medium through which God created the world. In Philo's philosophy there is in man, as in the universe, a dualism between the soul and the body, the spiritual which is good and the material which is evil. The greatest good for man is contemplation, but the basis of practical ethics is duty, induced by education and habit (see Jewish *Philosophy).
Between 200 b.c.e. and 100 c.e. a considerable body of Jewish historical works was written, but after this 300-year period Jewish historiography lapsed for almost two millennia, not to be taken up again until the 19th century. There are records and fragments of the work of *Demetrius, an Alexandrian (early third century b.c.e.), on the kings of Judah, and of *Eupolemus (middle of the second century b.c.e.), a Palestinian, on the same subject. The Letter of Aristeas is the source of the familiar story about the Septuagint, although it was probably written between 200–100 b.c.e. Philo also wrote history, describing contemporary events, and several poets apparently took events in Jewish history as themes, the most notable being *Ezekiel, whose drama Exagoge ("The Exodus") appeared about 250 b.c.e.
The most notable historian of the period was *Josephus whose major works, The Wars of the Jews (seven vols.), the Antiquities of the Jews (20 vols.), The Life, and Against Apion, were widely read and quoted throughout the ages. The books were at once a defense of the conduct of Josephus in the war against Rome (66–70 c.e.), a generally affirmative presentation of Judaism to the pagan world, and a defense of the doctrines of Judaism. One of the few Jewish sources for the postbiblical period, Josephus' works incorporate a great deal of aggadic material, but fail to give a sufficient view of the spiritual life of Jewry at the time. Essentially a political history, the material on the Great *Synagogue, the soferim, a group of scribes, and the nonpolitical talmudic sages is quite meager. His contemporary, *Justus of Tiberias, who wrote on the same themes, may have offered a different account, but his works were lost. The historical works of the period generally attempted to evolve a philosophy of Jewish history and through their apologetics show Judaism to be historically more significant and of a truer religious perception than the paganism which dominated the ancient world (see *Historiography).
The Bible, as the fundamental document of Judaism, became, in the course of time, the base of an inverted pyramid out of which a vast and varied literature developed that included law, theology, ethics, philosophy, poetry, and grammar. The most significant body of literature, extending over a period of 1,000 years (500 b.c.e.–500 c.e.), was a corpus of writing called *halakhah and *aggadah. Based on the Pentateuch, it was rooted in the tradition (set forth in the Mishnah, Avot 1:1) that Moses received not only a Written Law at Sinai but also an Oral Law which was transmitted to leading figures, including the prophets, of successive generations.
Save for stray references, there is no knowledge of the Oral Law during the First Temple period. Talmudic traditions, however, ascribe the beginning of great expansion in the Oral Law to Ezra (c. 450 b.c.e.), the soferim, and to the Great Synagogue. Employing the method of Midrash (from the root darash, to search out), they established the process of extending and detailing the law and set the pattern of finding biblical support for new practices and for some which had already become normative. Among their enactments were the public reading of the Torah with accompanying interpretation, the organization of the daily worship pattern, and the building of "fences" (cautionary rules and legislation) around the Torah.
A supreme court, the *Sanhedrin, headed by *zugot, pairs of scholars, continued the work of the soferim from about 200 b.c.e. The last pair, *Hillel and *Shammai (fl. 20 b.c.e.–20 c.e.) were two of the greatest figures in the development of the law. During this 200-year period religiopolitical parties developed in Palestine whose differences were partially based on the interpretation and application of Jewish law. The major parties, the *Pharisees and the *Sadducees, alternated in ascendancy, but dominance in the religious legal field ultimately fell to the Pharisees, while the Sadducees became the major force in civil affairs. When the Jews lost their independence, the sphere of the Pharisees ultimately became primary and the talmudic record of the period reflects their dominance. Nonetheless, there were different strands of thought within the Pharisaic movement and the leading figures, Hillel and Shammai, represent different emphases which were perpetuated by their disciples. On the whole, the school of Hillel tended to be broader and more lenient in its interpretation of the law than the school of Shammai which was more literal in the application of biblical texts. The convention of the Talmud ultimately became that the ruling of the school of Hillel (presumably the majority) was accepted as law.
Hillel formalized the development of the *Oral Law by establishing seven rules of interpretation of the Torah which he and others employed as a measuring rod for the halakhot or laws which were being developed. The effect of the method and the authority of figures like Hillel became evident with the acceptance of the Hillelite ruling of prosbul which, in response to the economic needs of the time, enabled debtors and creditors to circumvent the explicit biblical law of the sabbatical year limitation on debts. His great disciple, *Johanan b. Zakkai, in the last decade of his life when the Temple was destroyed, initiated one of the great revolutions in Jewish history by transferring the seat of Jewish authority to Jabneh. He established there a Sanhedrin, which functioned like a senate, for Jews both inside and outside of Palestine. The need to define Jewish patterns anew led to a marked expansion of the Oral Law, which was accomplished by five generations of tannaim. Leading figures were Eliezer b. Hyrcanus and Joshua b. Hananiah in the first generation; their disciples Akiva and Ishmael; R. Akiva's disciples Meir, Judah, Simeon, and Yose b. Halafta. The major personality of the fifth generation was Judah ha-Nasi (135–219).
Simultaneously with the growth of the halakhah, another oral tradition, that of aggadah (from hagged, to impart instruction), was developed. A vast body of literature, it may be grouped under two major headings: legendary-historical material and ethicoreligious literature.
The legendary-historical material has ancient origins and comprises stories and chronicles in which the lives of biblical figures and biblical episodes are elaborated and accounts of national and personal trials, crises, and salvations are given. It often suggests a kernel of historical fact. Much of this material made its way into the Apocrypha and into the Targums. But, there were, in addition, special collections of the early talmudic period: the *Megillat Ta'anit, organized around special days celebrated as minor feast days and special fast days; *Seder Olam ("The Order of the World"), a chronicle of events in Jewish history from creation to the time of Alexander, which both records and interprets events and is ascribed to Yose b. Halafta (middle of the second century).
The ethicoreligious aggadah concentrates on a philosophy of life and faith, with practical and metaphysical implications. Often cast in a semi-poetic form or in an aphoristic style, it includes fables and parables. Though some has been lost, much aggadah has been preserved in the Talmud and in the collections of Midrashim. Two of its finest works are Pirkei*Avot ("The Sayings of the Fathers"), a work of the Mishnah, and the *Avot de-Rabbi Natan ("The Teachings of the Fathers According to the Collection of Rabbi Nathan"). Written in an aphoristic style, the works include much of the ethics and some of the theology of the talmudic sages. The aggadah generally employs the Bible as its frame of reference and represents the homiletic interpretations of preachers in the synagogue on Sabbath afternoons. They also resorted to *gematria (using the numerical value of the letters for interpretation) and other devices. Since they were the works of preachers, they responded to events of the time, to the mood of people, and to the need to communicate faith and values. Stories, parables, and epigrams are therefore characteristic forms employed in the literature.
The oral tradition in halakhah and in aggadah became too complex as the decades went by and the difficult circumstances in Palestine, with periodic revolutions and the disruption of academies, finally made it imperative that the material be reduced to writing. This process essentially, though not entirely, concentrated on the halakhic material which represents the actual laws by which life was governed.
The compilation of the oral halakhah resulted in three bodies of works: "motivated halakhot," the Mishnah, and the Tosefta.
In "motivated halakhot" a rule of law was set forth together with the appropriate biblical verses and their interpretations. They include the *Mekhilta, organized around the Book of Exodus and attributed to R. *Ishmael b. Elisha of the third generation of tannaim; the *Sifra, a collection based on Leviticus attributed to R. Judah of the fourth generation; and the *Sifrei material on the Books of Numbers and Deuteronomy, collected by R. Simeon of the same generation. In all probability these men were the original compilers and redactors, while the finished products were the work of later hands (see *Halakhah).
The greatest body of law, the Mishnah, is a compilation of "unmotivated halakhot," that is, material not related to a text. The work was begun in various academies, notably those of Akiva of the third generation, and of his disciple, Meir, in the second century c.e. Meir apparently developed a very complete work. The final redaction of the Mishnah however was by Judah ha-Nasi who was head of the court, the academy, and the Jewish civil government. He was a man of wide culture and organizing talent and while he based himself on the compilation of Meir, he studied in various academies and assembled different collections of mishnayot before he began his own work. In the Mishnah he redacted, which was the product of a collegium, the Oral Law was organized into six major orders (sedarim): (1) Zera'im ("seeds"), detailing agricultural laws and precepts connected with agriculture (e.g., berakhot, prayers, and blessings); (2) Mo'ed ("festival"), on the laws of holidays and the Sabbath; (3) Nashim ("women"), involving family law; (4) Nezikin ("damages"), including civil and criminal law, courts, and legal procedure; (5) Kodashim ("holy things"), dealing with sacrifices, the Temple service, and dietary laws; and (6) Tohorot ("purifications"), on ritual purity and impurity. The sedarim were divided into tractates (massekhtot) of related materials; a total of 66 tractates were compiled. These were subdivided into chapters (perakim) which were divided into sections (mishnayot).
The Mishnah was designed to organize a body of scattered material, to set forth a code for practice and for judgment, and to provide a code for study. It was intended to be all-inclusive in the sense that it dealt even with matters which were no longer observed, such as the laws of sacrifice. Simultaneously, however, it was exclusive in that it set an order of importance and left out thousands of halakhot. It was decisive in that it made rulings on matters which had been in dispute. But it was designed to promote development, as well, and therefore included minority opinions, and cited their proponents. While the Mishnah was essentially a legal document, it devoted a tractate (Pirkei Avot) to ethical statements and emphasized, in various tractates, certain dogmas, such as the unity of God, providence, reward and punishment in this world and the hereafter, freedom of will, the doctrine of the Messiah, and resurrection. Fundamental to its thinking was the notion that the Torah was revealed and every word of it was subject to interpretation; that the Oral Law was equally revealed and had been transmitted; that the Mishnah, which embodied it, therefore enjoyed authority; and that the sages had a right to interpret the law. The entire work, written in a direct and lucid Hebrew, was completed about 200 c.e. The Mishnah with later elaborations, the Gemara, represents hundreds of years of lawmaking and has been the decisive corpus of writings in Jewish life for almost two millennia (see *Mishnah).
This body of literature includes many of the halakhot omitted from the Mishnah, as well as elucidations of mishnaic statements and some aggadah. The work was begun by *Ḥiyya b. Abba and Oshaiah (Hoshaya) Rabbah, disciples of Judah ha-Nasi, but the final redaction probably took place about 500 c.e. (see *Tosefta).
The Mishnah had scarcely been completed when the process of expanding the Oral Law began. This activity resulted in a vast body of literature known as the Gemara (from the Aramaic gamar, to learn). The impetus came from the fact that the Mishnah was concise and, therefore, needed explanation; that there were thousands of halakhot, known as beraitot (baraita), which had not been included in either the Mishnah or the Tosefta and had to be reconciled with the Mishnah; and that new problems arose in daily living which demanded new solutions. These elements were particularly evident in Babylonia where the problem of maintaining Jewish law in the midst of a society governed by other laws was immediate. The classic formulation of R. *Samuel (Mar; 180–254), dina de-malkhuta dina ("the law of the land is law") so far as nonreligious matters are concerned, is an attempt at dealing with the question. There were, however, many other problems and the need to deal with them, as well as the conviction that the Jew's highest purpose was to study God's law, produced an extensive body of debates, decisions, obiter dicta, and historical material.
Two Gemarot were formulated: a shorter work developed in Palestine and known as the Jerusalem Talmud; and a longer body of writing, the product of the Babylonian community where perhaps a million Jews lived and which was studied throughout the ages. These Gemarot together with the Mishnah are collectively known as the Talmud.
There are Gemarot for 39 mishnaic tractates in the Jerusalem Talmud and for 37 tractates in the Babylonian Talmud. Presumably, there must have been Gemarot for all of the 66 tractates of the Mishnah but some of them may have been lost and others, such as the tractates dealing with tohorot (laws of purity and impurity) and zera'im (agricultural laws, tithes, and sabbatical year), may have been discarded as no longer pertinent to post-Temple days. The missing Gemarot are not necessarily the same in the two Talmuds. Thus the Babylonian Talmud has Gemarot for the order of Kodashim (dealing with the Temple cult), while those of the Jerusalem Talmud, mentioned by early authorities, were lost. The Jerusalem Talmud has Gemarot to the ten tractates of the order of Zera'im, whose laws were observed in Palestine in post-Temple days, and there is only one such Gemara (Berakhot) in the Babylonian Talmud.
The pattern of the text in both Talmuds is to record a Mishnah and to follow it with the Gemara discussion and debate. While the Mishnah bases itself upon the Bible, the Gemara bases itself upon the Mishnah as its authority, although in certain matters requiring clarification or in developing new halakhot it refers back to the Bible. The usual order of the text is to analyze the Mishnah and to broaden the debate by citing a baraita (an external halakhah not recorded in the Mishnah) which may then also be subject to analysis and to opposing statements. Connections are often loose because the oral tradition relied heavily upon memory. In consequence, while a series of unrelated statements of one man may be cited in full, probably only one of them is connected with the matter under discussion. This may expand into an explanation of the meaning of the other statements and their application which may prompt aggadic interpolations for several lines or pages. Then the halakhic theme is picked up once again, and usually, but not always, a halakhic decision is rendered. Both Talmuds contain much of aggadah: stories, philosophizing, proverbs, ethical maxims, historical information, medical and scientific observations, and practical advice for daily living. There is a certain amount of humor, considerable wit, and some sharp satirical comments. Approximately one third of the Babylonian Talmud and one sixth of the Palestinian Talmud are comprised of aggadah. The style of both Talmuds tends to be terse.
The Jerusalem Talmud is the product of five generations of amoraim who conducted their studies at various academies. The major centers at first were Sepphoris, Galilee, the seat of the patriarchate, Judea, and later Tiberias, whither the patriarchate was transferred. Leading figures of the first generation were Ḥanina b. Ḥama, Yannai, Bar Kappara, Oshaiah Rabbah, and *Joshua b. Levi. *Johanan Nappaha and *Simeon b. Lakish were second generation notables in whose lifetime the academy at Tiberias became the major center, attracting students from Babylonia as well as from all over Palestine. This period represents the peak of creativity for the Jerusalem Talmud. The succeeding generations also produced men of note, among them Ammi, Assi, *Eleazar b. Pedat, Zeira, and *Abbahu (of Caesarea) who was the acknowledged leader of Palestinian Jewry. He was a diplomat and a formidable controversialist in polemics with Christians.
By the beginning of the fourth century, the condition of Jews in Palestine had begun to deteriorate due to heavy taxes, a worsening of the economic situation, more frequent persecutions, and the hegemony of Christianity which had now been established by a decree of Constantine. The situation was not propitious to learning or to the maintenance of the academies and many scholars immigrated to Babylonia. The decision was therefore made to reduce to writing the oral debates and decisions of the past five generations. The redaction seems to have been undertaken by Yose b. Bun and to have been completed about 365 c.e.
The Jerusalem Talmud is only about one eighth the size of the Babylonian Talmud and its intellectual, dialectical, and logical quality is inferior. Its explanations of the Mishnah tend to be direct and terse but at times seem cryptic. This was partly because subjects which called for debate in Babylonia were self-evident in Palestine where the terrain and the conditions were better known, and partly because of indifferent editing. Subjects are often juxtaposed without any connection between them; halakhot are neither introduced nor elaborated; and only parts of quotations are given. Clearly, the redaction was undertaken by a community under stress which was losing its grasp and authority to the extent that it abandoned the fixing of the calendar by witnesses and resorted to mathematical calculation.
The Babylonian Talmud was composed under more felicitous conditions. The community enjoyed size and stability, academies like Nehardea and Sura, later Pumbedita and Mahoza, and an autonomous government under the leadership of the exilarch. The foundations of the Babylonian Talmud were laid by *Rav who had studied with Judah ha-Nasi, and by Samuel (Mar). Rav was a specialist in religious law, an aggadist, and a liturgist of note, while Samuel, the major authority in civil law at the time, was also famed as an astronomer and physician. Their disciples included Rav *Huna and Rav *Judah b. Ezekiel, who founded the academy at Pumbedita and developed the dialectical method which won for the sages of Pumbedita the reputation that they could cause "an elephant to go through the eye of a needle." Huna expanded the academy at Sura so that it had 800 students. Their successors, *Rabbah Nahamani and *Joseph b. Ḥiyya, developed their methods. Rabbah evolved the dialectical approach to a point where the subject matter of the Talmud increased to such an extent that in part it became independent of the Mishnah. Joseph excelled in accumulated knowledge, basing his teachings upon tradition, thus providing a rein to the exuberance of Rabbah. The fourth generation of scholars, in the first part of the fourth century, *Abbaye and *Rava, also expanded the subject matter and dialectical acuteness of talmudic study. The succeeding generations produced such notable figures as *Papa (b. Nahman) and *Nahman b. Isaac. It came to be clear, however, that the mass of material was too great for oral transmission and that systematization was needed. The redaction was undertaken by *Ashi (335–427), who became president of the academy of Sura at the age of 23, but a large group of scholars who met twice a year in Adar and in Elul, known as the kallah months, also engaged in the work, which lasted 30 years. At this time full academic sessions were held for the dispersed students who were often business and professional men and who otherwise pursued their studies at home. A tractate was edited at each session. After the edition was completed, all the tractates were revised, a process which apparently lasted another 30 years. Further editing and supplementation of the basic material was under the leadership of *Mar Bar Rav Ashi, *Meremar, and particularly *Ravina b. Huna who died in 499. In the following year (500) *Yose, his successor, declared the Talmud officially closed.
The Babylonian Talmud is much better edited than the Jerusalem Talmud. It was redacted over a period of 100 years, so that there was ample time for editing and revision. Logical connections are sought, quotations are complete, editorial explanations abound, and decisions on law are given. While the style is often verbose, the approach is subtle and highly dialectical. Material is analyzed minutely, hypotheses are offered and tested, and discussions are carried through. As in the Jerusalem Talmud, the language is Aramaic, but while the Palestinians employed the Western Aramaic dialect the Babylonians used Eastern Aramaic. In both there is an admixture of Hebrew, but the Babylonian text has a great deal more. The completed Talmud is more than a legal work; it reflects the Jewish view of God, man, and society; of theology and ethics; of Jewish values and of the way they were exemplified in daily life. While it is the work of many generations, it represents only the elite fraction of the population both in ability and in consideration for the people. The Talmud in its time elevated religious scholarship to the highest calling in Jewish life, and the long-term effects of this view have been evident ever since. For 15 centuries the Talmud has been the major concern of Jewish studies and the major guide to Jewish life. Judaism is far less the child of the Bible than that of the Talmud. If the Bible is the base of the Jewish structure, the Talmud is the house within which the Jews have dwelt (see *Talmud).
The same concern for preservation which led to the compilation of the Oral Law caused the aggadah to be organized and committed to writing. While much of it was contained in the Talmud, it was widely scattered and not suitably arranged for reference. Both the scholar and the ordinary Jew had a need for works in which the interpretations of the Bible would be arranged according to books, chapters, and verses. The scholars required it to facilitate finding and comparing interpretations; the laymen needed it because the aggadic statements were major formulations of Jewish ethics, theology, and values, but at the same time were light reading and provided assurances and comfort in the dark hours which Jews, particularly those in Palestine, were experiencing.
The midrashic literature was compiled in places as diverse as Palestine, Babylonia, and Italy, approximately between the sixth and twelfth centuries, although much of the material is of an earlier date. Written largely in Aramaic, though some of the compilations have a considerable admixture of Hebrew, it consists largely of homilies preached by rabbis in synagogues on Sabbaths and festivals and at study classes. Unlike modern preachments, they involved not only the Pentateuch and the books of the Prophets, but the Hagiographa which was read in the synagogue on Saturday afternoons, the time when sermons were given. The Midrash does not contain complete sermons, but rather the core of ideas, insights, illustrations, and special interpretations upon which the sermon was based. The sermonic technique was to take a point of interest to the listener and to cast new light upon it or to relate it to other matters. The universal subjects of discourse were the Bible or Jewish observance and law. The sermon usually began by pointing out contradictions or similarities in widely scattered parts of the Bible or by raising a question of law, resolving it, and then proceeding to consider moral and religious aspects of the matter. Stories, poetic statements, parables, and epigrams were employed by gifted preachers (see *Aggadah, *Midrash).
The first major compilation was the *Midrash Rabbah ("The Large Midrash"), so designated because ofits length. It consists of Midrashim to each of the books of the Torah and to each of the five megillot. Internal evidence indicates that the earliest Midrash, *Genesis Rabbah, dates from the sixth century and the latest, *Numbers Rabbah, from the 12th. Most of them were composed in Palestine, although several seem to have been subjected to Babylonian re-editing. In many of the Rabbah Midrashim the homiletic commentary technique is used whereby a series of comments refer to a specific verse. *Leviticus Rabbah, Numbers Rabbah, and *Deuteronomy Rabbah, however, use the sermon method. They select a verse or two from the Torah reading of the Sabbath, adduce various comments, skip the rest of the verses, and proceed to verses derived from the next Sabbath reading. The triennial cycle, customary in Palestine, is the Torah order followed.
Another major midrashic compilation is the *Tanḥuma-Yelammedenu cycle on the Pentateuch of which three versions are extant, either in part or whole. The original version was probably compiled in Palestine in the sixth century; the other two also seem to be products of Palestine but are probably late ninth-century. It is possible, however, that they may be from Babylonia and southern Italy. The Tanhuma title is derived from Tanhuma b. Abba, a noted Palestinian aggadist of the fourth century who is frequently quoted. The title Yelammedenu ("let our master teach us") refers to a formula frequently employed in the book which involved the raising and answering of a halakhic question after which the discussion branched off into aggadah and commentary.
The midrashic cycle Pesikta (paska, "to divide") has two versions: the *Pesikta de-Rav Kahana, probably compiled in Palestine before the end of the seventh century, and the *Pesikta Rabbati, which records the year 845 as the date of composition and in its use of Hebrew and of snatches of rhymed poetry gives evidence of having been influenced by the Palestinian Hebrew poetry school which began to flourish in the seventh century. The material consists of homilies on the Torah and prophetic readings for festivals and for special Sabbaths.
In addition to these general compilations, there seem to have been in earlier times Midrashim on all the prophetic and hagiographic books, most of which have been lost. Extant are *Midrash Tehillim, consisting of homilies; *Midrash Proverbs, which is more in the nature of an aggadic commentary and is replete with parables, apothegms, and short homiletic interpretations; *Midrash Samuel, a Midrash on Samuel i and ii, a collection of sermons involving references to one or two verses. All three works are of 10th- or 11th-century origin and were probably compiled in southern Italy.
The characteristic patterns of all the midrashic cycles is their focus, either by way of commentary or sermon, on biblical verses and their reflection of the thinking and experiences of many generations. They are interrelated in a peculiar sense; they plagiarized from one another, sometimes even to the extent of bodily lifting passages. The Tanhuma borrows from the Pesikta de-Rav Kahana and the Pesikta Rabbati from the Tanḥuma; the later books of the Midrash Rabbah, on Exodus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, borrow heavily from the Tanḥuma. All of them derive a great deal of material from the scattered references in the Talmud (see *Homiletic Literature; *Preaching).
In addition to the homiletic Midrashim, there are midrashic works of another kind, e.g., the eighth-century Hebrew work *Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer, in which biblical narratives serve to teach ethical and religious lessons on such themes as the Sabbath, reward and punishment, paradise and hell, and Messianic doctrine. It also discusses cosmogony, astronomy, and the calendar; abounds in legends and stories, many of them ancient and similar to stories in the Apocrypha; and is written in a poetic style. The resort to numbers as a form of organization is an interesting device and the use of numerical groups, especially of seven and ten, is common. It was probably written in Palestine. A book of a similar stamp, Seder Eliyahu, by Abba Elijah, a tenth-century Palestinian, is divided into two parts (Rabbah, large and Zuta, small) and includes a moral discourse on Torah, the love of Israel and of mankind, and the love of God. Written in Hebrew in a poetic style, it makes great use of stories and parables. Other midrashic compilations of the eighth, ninth, and tenth centuries, of undetermined authorship and provenance, are about Moses, Solomon, the Messiah, and paradise and hell. Later midrashic works rearranged traditional material and supplemented it. Such works were composed by *Moses ha-Darshan of Narbonne and Rabbi Tobiah of Germany, both of the 11th century. A more significant work, *Yalkut Shimoni, by Simeon Karo (13th century), drew heavily on the Talmud and on many midrashic compilations. Karo organized a compendium of aggadic statements and commentaries on all the 25 books of the Bible.
In a sense midrashic literature has never ended since homily, commentary, and elaboration on biblical themes continue to be creative activities. Jewish and Christian traditions have drawn heavily on the midrashic literature whose roots are in deep antiquity. The Midrash lent color and variety to Jewish tradition; concentrated on ethical and theological problems; recorded and interpreted difficult episodes of Jewish history; and enriched Jewish culture. It was particularly sustaining to the average Jew, man and woman alike, who was not at home in halakhic literature. He drew his philosophy and his sense of worth and purpose from the stories, parables, proverbs, and intuitive insights in which midrashic literature abounded.
A characteristic feature of Jewish history is that while Jews lacked stability and experienced declining fortunes in one land, they prospered or were tolerated in another. In consequence, there was always one major center, and usually two or three, where Jewish literary creativity continued unabated. In the 1200-year period which constitutes the Jewish Middle Ages, Babylonia, North Africa, Spain and Provence, the Franco-German area, and Italy were the major centers. There were intermittent periods of significant literary activity in Palestine and, after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain, in the Eastern Levant, including Palestine, Turkey, and Egypt, which became centers for a century or two. From the 16th century onward Germany declined for about two centuries while the Slavic countries rose to a prominence both in literary productivity and in Jewish population which they retained until the 20th century.
On the whole, Jewish productivity was greatest and most varied in lands which were part of the mainstream of history, and declined as it began to bypass those countries. The most notable examples are Babylonia and Spain at the height of Arab culture and the most marked exceptions are Slavic countries where the general cultural level was low, but where Jewish literary productivity, concentrating almost exclusively on rabbinics, was high. One important factor which should be noted is that contact between Jewish communities was considerable and that what was produced in one land had an effect upon Jewish literature in other countries. There seems, in the earlier period, to have been two particular streams of influence – one flowing from Palestine into Italy and then into the Franco-German area, and the other stemming from Babylon, flowing through North Africa into Spain.
In the Middle Ages, as in antiquity, Jewish literature constituted several layers. As the Bible was the basis for the Mishnah and the Mishnah for the Gemara, the total tradition was the basis for the literary labors of the Middle Ages, much of which concentrated on the explication of the Bible and the Oral Law through grammar, exegesis, commentary, philosophy, mysticism, and liturgical and didactic poetry. Secular poetry, prose, and science were ornaments of the religious tradition which by the Middle Ages had become complex and stratified. Fundamental to the literature was a belief in the revealed Torah, God's providence, the chosenness of Israel, the coming of the Messiah, and the restoration to the Land of Israel. These ideas were examined, but never seriously disputed until the modern era. They reflected a national characteristic, manifested both in law and literature, which called for life to be lived and coped with, no matter what the circumstances, and which assumed that the details of living, according to the Torah, could be spelled out. In the same spirit, the many kinot ("lamentations") written during the Middle Ages were rarely overwhelmingly pessimistic and despairing.
The literature will be organized here into categories of writing. Obviously, there were interrelationships and effects which, however, cannot be noted; only highlights can be mentioned. Thus grammatical writing influenced Bible exegesis and poetry; rabbinics influenced Bible exegesis; and the impact frequently was all the greater because many of the writers were versatile, writing in many fields. Thousands of works have been lost and thousands more cannot be mentioned. The literary productivity of a small group, highly literate and dedicated to study, was phenomenal.
The question of language also deserves attention. Jews wrote in many languages, but mostly in Hebrew, Aramaic, and toward the end of the period, in Yiddish and Ladino. Much, however, was written in Arabic, and some in other languages. This multiplicity of languages points to another feature of Jewish literary activity which cannot be dealt with here. Since Jews were dispersed through many countries, were multilingual, and moved from land to land, they performed a major function as cultural intermediaries, translating from one language to another and making the riches of one culture available to the other. A third linguistic feature of significance is that the Hebrew language after the talmudic era, when it lapsed as a literary language, suddenly came to life in the early Middle Ages, notably in Palestine and Spain. Most of the great works during the entire 1200-year period were written in Hebrew.
The formulation of rules of grammar prompted by a need to study and understand the Bible was basic to the revival of Hebrew as a literary language. The renewed interest in Bible study due to a controversy with the Karaites, who rejected the Oral Law and insisted that the Bible alone was authoritative, was sparked by the realization that the rabbinic position had to be defended. Such an examination inevitably led to the formulation of rules of language. It was further motivated by the fact that the correct reading of the Bible, in its vowels, accents, and keri (the way a word was read), as against ketiv (the way a word was written), was an oral tradition and needed to be set down, since Jews were dispersed in many lands. Finally, Arabic culture, which stressed poetry, and consequently grammar, had a major impact in those centers of Jewish life – Babylon, Palestine, and Spain – which came under Arab rule.
The first philological effort was the *masorah, a collective work of many generations. While its origins date back to Ezra, significant masoretic activity began in the sixth century, continuing to the tenth, and was concentrated in Palestine and Babylonia. The work resulted in a definition of vowels, accents, ketiv, and keri. It noted all exceptions in spelling and peculiarities of words and orthography. Through the use of accents, correct relationship of words and thought were achieved and the chant for biblical reading was fixed. In effect, the relating of words was itself a form of biblical commentary. Ultimately, all the masoretic works were compiled by Jacob b. Ḥayyim, an Italian scholar, and printed in the *Bomberg edition of the Bible (1525). The notes which were designed to clarify the text and to prevent further errors were of three kinds: the masorah parva ("small"), printed in the outer margin; the masorah magna ("large"), printed in the inner margin, or above, or below the text; and the masorah finalis at the end of the text, which also included an alphabetical list of word peculiarities. Since the masorah is a collective undertaking, few of the scholars who worked on it are known. However, the Tiberian school, where the major work was done, recorded the names of Pinḥas (eighth century) and Asher the elder (eighth century), the first of a family who for six generations labored on the masorah. Aaron *Ben-Asher (beginning of the tenth century) substantially brought the masoretic work to a close. Literary work on the masorah is found in Europe as late as the 12th century, and still later Elijah *Levita (1468–1549) published the Masoret ha-Masoret, in which he explained how to read and use the masoretic material.
The formal foundations of grammar and lexicography were laid in Babylon by *Saadiah b. Joseph Gaon (tenth century) in Agron, a dictionary, and in Sefer ha-Lashon ("Book of the Language"), a work on grammar. His most notable successors were *Menahem b. Jacob ibn Saruq of Spain whose Hebrew work Maḥberet ("Joined Words") is a dictionary of biblical language and a grammar. Judah *Ḥayyuj (end of the tenth century), writing in Arabic, established the principle of the bilateral Hebrew root and Jonah *Ibn Janaḥ almost completed the structure of Hebrew grammar in Book of Critique (in Arabic), in which he laid the groundwork of Hebrew syntax. A century later David *Kimhi of Provence rearranged and expanded Ibn Janaḥ's study in his Mikhlol ("Compendium"), a grammar and dictionary of roots. In the 14th century Joseph ibn *Kaspi of Provence attempted a logical structuring of words and grammar, a venture which was repeated more elaborately by Isaac Profiat *Duran (15th century), who in Ma'aseh Efod ("The Work of the Ephod") combined logical structure with an elaborate philosophy of language. The last major grammatical authority of the Middle Ages was Elijah Levita, whose Meturgeman ("The Interpreter") is the first dictionary of the Targum (see *Hebrew Language).
Simultaneously with literary creativity in grammar there was a development of biblical exegesis. The same scholars were often active in both fields. Four major methods of commentary were developed: peshat ("plain sense"), derash ("aggadic interpretation"), remez ("allegory and philosophy"), and sod ("mystical interpretation"). Here, too, the versatile Saadiah b. Joseph Gaon laid the foundations with his translation of the Bible and his commentaries in Arabic in a work most of which has been lost. The greatest figure of the era, *Rashi, wrote a phrase-by-phrase commentary on almost the entire Bible which was a harmonious blend of peshat and derash. His commentary was popular for many generations so that Hummash (Pentateuch) and Rashi became almost synonymous. His major rival, Abraham *Ibn Ezra (12th century) of Spain, a poet, grammarian, and scientist who was a master of grammar and Hebrew, chose the path of peshat. His commentary is lucid although occasionally he permitted himself veiled allusions to doubts he entertained about the text. He commented on the entire Bible but only the works on the Pentateuch, Isaiah, and some of the Hagiographa have survived. Preeminently an intellectual's commentator, Ibn Ezra was the subject of supercommentaries.
Another major commentator who is usually associated with the above-mentioned scholars is David Kimhi, who emphasized peshat, but also resorted to aggadic and philosophic interpretations in his commentaries on the prophets, Psalms, Genesis, and the Books of Chronicles.
While the above are the best exponents of the peshat and derash methods, they based themselves on precursors. There were also contemporaries who pursued the same paths, and successors who adopted their methods. Thus, Rashi's grandson, R. *Samuel b. Meir, wrote extensive commentaries on the Bible in the peshat method. As mystical and philosophical tendencies were manifesting themselves in the Jewish world, the other two approaches (sod and remez) also began to be employed. Sod owed much to the rise of *Kabbalah, of which the *Zohar (itself a sort of commentary on the Torah) was the outstanding work of the period. Meanwhile the approach and spirit of *Maimonides'Guide of the Perplexed, which centered about the philosophic exposition of many biblical passages, gave impetus to remez. The major commentary in the mystical spirit was the work of *Naḥmanides (13th century), a major figure of Spanish Jewry. His commentary on the Pentateuch reflects the belief that the Torah is capable of yielding many meanings to the initiated, and he therefore offers multiple interpretations in the spirit of halakhah, peshat, and mysticism. His mysticism is, however, limited since he believed that mystic teachings in their full strength should be confined to an elect, and that the masses should be taught a Judaism based upon faith, piety, and reason. His younger contemporary, *Baḥya b. Asher, took the mystical approach further in his commentaries, and *Jacob b. Asher, the noted codifier, utilized the techniques of gematria (devising meanings from the numerical value of the words) and notarikon (employing initial or final letters of words to discern hidden meanings).
The outstanding exponent of the philosophical school was *Levi b. Gershom of Provence. Commenting on all the Bible except the Latter Prophets, he attempted to find speculative truths in it, to ascertain the principles of ethics, and to supply reasoned interpretations of biblical precepts. His commentary enjoyed a high repute among Jewish intellectuals. To a lesser degree, the commentaries of Joseph b. Abba Mari Kaspi employed the same approach and enjoyed a similar reputation.
The last great commentator of the period was the statesman and financier, Don Isaac *Abrabanel of Spain. At home in both Christian and Jewish exegesis and in general literature, he brought all of these into play in his commentaries, which covered the entire Bible. In his approach he first posed a series of questions arising out of the text and then proceeded to resolve them through the use of philosophy, theology, history, and modified mysticism. Apart from his singular method, he is noted for devoting considerable attention to the problems of political philosophy and historical chronology (see *Bible, Exegesis).
The Arabic influence and the renaissance of the Hebrew language also led to a remarkable flourishing of Hebrew poetry in the Middle Ages. An equally important factor was the structuring of the prayer book and the liturgy (at that time still fluid) which occurred during these centuries, when thousands of poems which became part of the liturgy were being composed. In this field there was continuity rather than innovation, since the composition of liturgy had persisted throughout the talmudic period. However, the writing of secular poetry – love songs, wine songs, didactic poetry, epigrams, and the like – represented a new development whose immediate origins may be traced to Arabic influence and whose remote roots may be found in the poetry of the Bible.
The characteristic forms of medieval Hebrew poetry are partly influenced by the Bible, but more by Arabic literature and, at the end of the period in Italy, by European forms like the sonnet and the tercet. Biblical poetry, based on parallelism, had occasionally used both the alphabetical form and rhyme. Medieval Hebrew poetry, while using some parallelism, employed the alphabetical form (forward or backward), the acrostic, rhyme, and meter as its characteristic elements. Rhyme, both in poetry and prose, was relatively easy due to the Hebrew suffixes; thus variant and more complicated forms developed. Palestinian and West European poetry tended to use the simple rhyme, while Babylonian and notably the Spanish poetry used the two- and three-syllable rhyme. Masters of the language, the Hebrew poets prided themselves on the ability to use the same word, with different meanings, for rhyming. Meter, introduced by *Dunash b. Labrat (tenth century) and current mainly in Spain, was essentially spondaic and iambic, but was employed in complicated forms so that 19 (or according to some 52) different meters developed. Trick poetry was also composed, often of surprisingly high quality, such as the "Elef Alfin" of Abraham *Bedersi in which each word of a 1,000-word poem begins with the letter alef.
The major types in medieval Hebrew poetry, secular verse and piyyut, ranging from doggerel to moving lyrics and to long, beautiful philosophical poems, were frequently composed by the same poets. The combination, however, was largely confined to Spain, Provence, and Italy. The Palestinian and Franco-German poets were essentially paytanim and their poetry was generally inferior in quality to that of their Iberian coreligionists. Both secular and religious poetry drew extensively on the same sources and employed biblical and aggadic phrases allusively in order to display technical mastery.
The liturgical poems composed in Palestine in the seventh and eighth centuries mark the beginnings of medieval Hebrew poetry. Some were anonymous, like "All the World Shall Come to Serve Thee" of the Day of Atonement service, but most of them can be attributed to three poets, *Yose b. Yose, *Yannai, and Eleazar *Kallir (ha-Kallir). Their compositions are standard prayers in the High Holy Days mahzor and in the festival services. Yose is the author of the Avodah (a Temple service poem) recited on the Day of Atonement and Kallir wrote the Geshem ("Rain") prayer recited on Sukkot. The influence of Palestine was felt most notably in Italy (and from that country in the Franco-German area), which always followed of Palestinian developments and learning. In both areas there were families of paytanim who continued to compose piyyutim, seliḥot ("penitential verse"), and kinot in successive generations. Notable among them was the *Kalonymus family whose founder, *Meshullam, composed works in Italy and whose descendants moved to Germany at the end of the tenth century. In Germany Meshullam (c. 976), his son Kalonymus (c. 1000), the author of U-Netanneh Tokef, a prayer in the High Holy Days mahzor, the latter's son, *Moses (c. 1020), and grandsons Kalonymus and Jekuthiel (c. 1050), were prolific in their writing of piyyutim. Other prominent poets in France and Germany were *Gershom b. Judah and *Ephraim of Bonn, the author of the Hymn of Unity. In later periods these countries produced hundreds of paytanim. Virtually every scholar tried his hand at this form of writing, including Solomon *Luria, Samuel *Edels, and Yom Tov Lipmann *Heller.
Spanish, Provençal, and later Italian poetry can claim many distinguished poets who wrote both religious and secular poems. They were men of varied accomplishments, very much at home in all the intellectual and social worlds of their time. The first major Hebrew poet of Spain, *Samuel ha-Nagid (11th century), vizier of Granada, a military commander and a talmudist, wrote extensively but his works have only recently become fully known. They include sacred poetry, reflections on war, love poems, wine songs, elegies, and three volumes of imitations of the books of Psalms, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes. His younger contemporary, Solomon ibn *Gabirol, who died at an early age, is one of the outstanding figures of Hebrew poetry. Dexterous in the use of language and a master of every form of rhyme and meter, Gabirol wrote on all themes. His few surviving secular poems on nature, love, wine, and death are gems of their kind. His poetic genius found, however, full expression in his religious poetry and in several long philosophical poems of which Keter Malkhut ("The Royal Crown") is his most consummate work. The poem masterfully integrates the poet's great philosophical and scientific knowledge to create a lofty ode to God.
Moses *Ibn Ezra covered the gamut of secular and religious poetry. Author of more than 6,000 verses, he wrote about "wine and the delights of men," "the world and its vicissitudes," and "poems in praise of the creator." Many of his verses are reminiscent of Omar Khayyam, although Ibn Ezra's range, his delicacy of fancy, and use of imagery exceed the poetic quality of the Persian poet. His masterpiece, Tarshish, composed of 1210 verses, shows a great variety in language and themes. His religious poems are at once philosophical and deeply moving.
The peak of Spanish poetry is found in the harmonious verse of *Judah Halevi. Rejoicing in life, love, and friends and passionate in his quest of God, Halevi wrote of God and man with equal felicity. Love of Zion, expressed in several poems whose theme is "I am a harp for thy [Zion's] songs," also characterizes the work of Halevi. These poems, as well as his religious verse, have been incorporated into the liturgy.
Another great Spanish poet, Abraham Ibn Ezra, wrote on a wide variety of subjects. His secular poetry, while embracing conventional themes, displayed a mastery of style, form, and language, and a great capacity for wit and satire, turned as frequently against himself as against others. His religious poetry, however, is deeply fervent and moving, ranging from the lyrical to the philosophical. A restless traveler whose journeys took him to Babylonia and Persia, Ibn Ezra also roamed through the realms of the imagination. "The Letter of Hai ben Meliz" is an allegory in rhymed prose of a journey through three worlds.
The last major poet of Spain, Judah b. Solomon *Al-Harizi, the author of Tahkemoni ("Book of Wisdom"), wrote in maqāma form (rhymed prose) frequently interspersed with verse. The poems embraced devotional and love poetry, satire and narrative; some were riddles, others proverbs. The Taḥkemoni, consisting of 50 chapters, each devoted to a different subject and treated in a variety of forms, displays remarkable linguistic skill, manipulation of biblical phrases to serve unusual ends, wit, and great literary variety.
While poetry continued to be written in Spain for another two centuries, the golden age had passed. The poets of southern Spain, like Meshullam *da Piera, engaged largely in polemical verse as part of the *Maimonidean controversy; others, like Abraham b. Samuel *Ibn Ḥasdai and Shem Tov b. Joseph *Falaquera, wrote didactic poetry. In northern Spain, Solomon da *Piera (14th century) made his mark primarily as a religious poet, although he composed secular poetry as well. Solomon *Bonafed (15th century) wrote secular poetry. In one of his poems lamenting the decline of poetry, he incidentally left a record of Hebrew literature of the 14th and 15th centuries. In Provence medieval Jewish literature was distinguished by the Bedersis: Abraham (13th century) and Jedaiah (14th century), his son.
The major center of Jewish poetry from the 13th century onward was Italy, where *Immanuel of Rome wrote his Maḥbarot, following Al-Ḥarizi in the use of the maqāma form. Buoyant, gay, and sorrowing by turns, employing varied meters and diverse forms (including the sonnet), the Maḥbarot touches on widely different subjects and satirizes and parodies other poets. Two unusual features are that his love songs are highly erotic, and that the last of the 28 chapters is an imitation of Dante's Divine Comedy. Immanuel of Rome had no immediate successors of distinction; Moses *Rieti (15th century), however, modeled his Heikhal on Immanuel's imitation of Dante. After a period of decline, Italian poetry revived with Leone *Modena (mid-17th century) and notably with the brothers Jacob and Emmanuel *Frances (17th century). While Jacob wrote excellent caustic polemic poetry directed against the Shabbatean movement, his brother composed religious and secular verse in various styles, including a substantial number of epigrams. With Moses *Zacuto (17th century) Italian medieval poetry came to an end. Although he introduced poetic drama into Hebrew literature, Zacuto was a poet rather than a dramatist: Yesod Olam ("Foundations of the World") and Tofteh Arukh ("Hell Prepared"), his two dramas, resemble the medieval miracle play in form and development of plot.
A brief period in the composition of poetry in Palestine developed under the influence of the kabbalists. Israel *Najara wrote a substantial body of religious poetry. Employing Turkish, Arabic, Greek, and Italian forms and meters, Najara's themes were God, Israel, and the redemption. Many of his works are essentially love poems to God and a considerable number were incorporated into the liturgy, including the Sabbath table hymn Yah Ribbon (see *Poetry, Medieval; *Prayer).
The most voluminous body of writings in the medieval period was the legal rabbinic literature consisting of commentaries, codes, and responsa. The number of writers probably runs into the thousands. Beginning with the geonim in Babylonia, the activity extended into every country, embracing the Slavic states, which became the major centers toward the end of the period. Due to its scope and quantity, this literature will be divided into two chronological sections: 500–1250 and 1250–1750.
The first activity took place in Babylonia where in the ninth century the gaon*Ḥemah composed an arukh ("A Prepared System") which was both a dictionary and a commentary on talmudic phrases and selected passages. Not long thereafter, Saadiah wrote brief commentaries (in Arabic), which have been lost, on several tractates. *Hai Gaon in his commentaries on large parts of the Talmud (not all are extant) explicated words and phrases and paraphrased passages in the Talmud. This pattern became the model for the commentaries of the North African and Spanish schools which were in close contact with Babylonia.
In Babylonia, the talmudic tradition was kept alive in the very institutions where it had been nurtured and the need for commentary, therefore, was not great. However, in the newly developing centers, commentary was essential. Abraham *Ibn Daud associates the beginning of talmudic learning and academies outside Babylonia with four rabbis who set out from southern Italy, were captured, and ultimately dispersed to Cordova, Kairouan, and Alexandria. According to another tradition, at the end of the eighth or ninth century the Kalonymus family migrated to Mainz, in Germany, where an academy was founded. Whatever the case, by the tenth century talmudic learning was established in all these places.
From Babylonia, commentary activity passed first to Kairouan where R. *Hananel b. Ḥushi'el (11th century), employing the method of Hai, commented on several sedarim of the Talmud. He was however more elaborate in his paraphrase, often compared the discussion on the same subject in the two Talmuds, and gave a pesak ("decision") at the end of each discussion. His contemporary, *Nissim b. Jacob, pursued the same method in elucidating the Babylonian Talmud, but made more extensive comparisons with the Palestinian Talmud and tannaitic Midrashim. Other distinguished 11th-century figures were Spanish Jewish scholars. Isaac b. Jacob *Alfasi, the most eminent among them, had emigrated to Spain from Fez in 1088. His great work, Halakhot, a compendium of the Talmud, is a combination of code and commentary; it became a basic text for talmudic studies and was the subject of numerous supercommentaries. His immediate disciple, Joseph ha-Levi *Ibn Migash, also employed the method of paraphrase in his commentaries on many tractates.
A new method was introduced by *Maimonides of whose commentaries on three talmudic sedarim only fragments have survived, but whose commentary (in Arabic) on the Mishnah is complete. Maimonides applied logic and systematization to the Mishnah, analyzing the principles of Oral Law, classifying the halakhot, offering logical sequence for the order of the Mishnah, and providing a historical survey. He was concerned with aiding the ordinary student and in consequence was at pains to indicate the law in each case and to incorporate the relevant material from the Gemara.
In the Franco-German region, commentary was developing along different lines. At the academy of Mainz, headed by *Gershom b. Judah, hundreds of students engaged in the study of the Talmud. They took notes (kunteresim) on the lectures delivered, and the Commentary of Rabbi Gershom is in fact a collection of several generations of such kunteresim based on the teachings of R. Gershom b. Judah or his disciples. The academy developed the Franco-German system of running commentary on words and phrases, a method for the training of scholars, in contrast to the Spanish method which sought general principles under which particulars were organized and were designed as a resource for students who only learned periodically. The most notable representative of the Franco-German method is Rashi whose commentary on almost all tractates appears side by side with the text in every major edition of the Talmud. It reflects his capacity for lucidity, brevity, penetration to the heart of a matter, and is a notable example of pedagogy. Several commentators, members of Rashi's family, followed his method and rounded out his work. Among them were *Judah b. Nathan and Samuel b. Meir. Talmudic commentary in the Franco-German region however took a different turn in the commentaries known as the *tosafot ("additions"). The tosafist undertook to restore the Gemara method: he raised questions about the text and resolved them, following the order of the Gemara page by page. The tosafot, a product of several generations, appear side by side with the text in all the standard editions. The major scholars who initiated the method and are quoted frequently were *Meir b. Samuel of Ramerupt and his three sons Samuel, *Isaac, and particularly Jacob (Rabbenu *Tam). The next generation produced the great luminary *Isaac b. Samuel of Dampierre who is quoted almost as frequently as Jacob b. Meir. Under the leadership of figures like *Samson b. Abraham of Sens, *Moses b. Jacob of Coucy, and *Meir b. Baruch of Rothenburg, tosafist activity flourished until the beginning of the 14th century.
Simultaneously with Franco-German scholarship there was considerable talmudic activity in Italy where *Nathan b. Jehiel of Rome (11th century) wrote the Arukh, a dictionary-encyclopedia of the Talmud which is the basis for all modern talmudic lexicography. Nathan explicated words and passages, quoted and cited authorities and comments which would otherwise have been lost, and in his explications and elucidations used comparative philology. Contemporaries and successors have imitated him and the tosafist school. A major figure of the next generation was *Isaiah b. Mali di Trani, the author of Tosafot Rid. In Provence, situated midway between the Spanish and Franco-German centers, academies also flourished and the methods of both northern and southern schools were employed. Zerahiah b. Isaac *Gerondi ha-Levi (12th century) in Sefer ha-Ma'or composed an analytical commentary on Alfasi which combined critical evaluations of earlier and contemporary commentaries with additions to Alfasi. *Abraham b. David of Posquières (12th century), the leader of the anti-Maimonides school, commented on several tractates of the Talmud and on the Sifra, and wrote a severe criticism on Maimonides' code.
The need for codes arose out of the demands of life: the Jewish community was dispersed and thus lacked readily available authority; the law had also become increasingly complex and required codification. The first responsa were written in Babylonia and were often intended for far-flung Diaspora communities. She'iltot by R. *Aḥa (Ahai) Gaon of Shabḥa (eighth century) deals with the mitzvot as they are arranged in the Pentateuch and organizes the relevant talmudic material under those headings. It is assumed that the work, consisting of 171 discourses, originally dealt with the entire 613 commandments. Rabbi Aha initiated the method of codification in which decisions and sources are given. Another method is that of *Yehudai Gaon, head of the academy of Sura (757–61), in whose *Halakhot Pesukot ("Halakhic Decisions") only decisions are handed down. The third major codification, the *Halakhot Gedolot ("Large Halakhot"), ascribed by some to Simeon Kayyara (eighth century), compiled and organized under single headings the scattered material in the Talmud on given mitzvot. The order of the talmudic tractates is followed, except for the laws relevant to the Temple, which are omitted, with the author modeling himself on the She'iltot and quoting extensively from the Talmud. During the following century, *Amram b. Sheshna Gaon, adopting the method of Yehudai Gaon, wrote his Seder ("Ordering"), a code on the prayer book. Starting with general principles, Amram deduced subsidiary laws, which he subsequently divided into classes. Hai Gaon, the last gaon of Pumbedita, wrote a series of codes on civil law.
The great codes, however, were the products of other lands. Isaac b. Jacob Alfasi's Halakhot, partly commentary but mainly code, is an abridgment and paraphrase of the Talmud section by section which adheres to the main line of discussion of the Mishnah and comes to a conclusion about the law. Alfasi thus provides a basis for decisions, but fails, as the Talmud does, to achieve an orderly systematic discussion of all aspects of a subject. Such a systematization is the work of Maimonides in his Mishneh Torah ("The Second Law"). The code brings the entire body of Jewish law into an orderly and systematic arrangement, including laws which were omitted by Alfasi and his predecessors. It sets forth divergent opinions, decides between them, and renders clear decisions. Maimonides' work encompasses the Talmud, the geonim, and the works of other scholars. He bases himself upon the 613 precepts, but organizes them according to his own system: God and man, the life of the individual, laws relating to the Land of Israel, and laws relating to society. While the work was widely accepted and remains one of the monuments of Jewish literature, it also evoked opposition from those who feared it would supplant the study of the Talmud. It has one grave drawback, however, in that it fails to indicate the sources for the rulings, and it was this deficiency, plus the fact that new problems constantly arose, which led to the development of other codes (see *Maimonidean Controversy).
The Franco-German school followed different criteria and did not attempt to formulate an overall code of the scope and system of that of Maimonides, but many less comprehensive codes were written. *Isaac b. Abba Mari of Marseilles (12th century) in Ittur Soferim ("The Crowning of Scholars"), a code on civil law, marriage and divorce, and dietary laws, adopts the source method, including under each subject treated the relevant talmudic, geonic, and Alfasi discussions. Ha-Terumah ("The Heave-Offering") by *Baruch b. Isaac of Worms, dealing with dietary, Sabbath, and marriage laws, uses the code method; the work presents a selection of the best scholarship of his generation. More decisive was the *Mahzor Vitry of Simḥah of Vitry. Organized around the liturgy and the religious cycle, it cites prayers and laws and is a major work in the history of liturgy, as well as a significant source for geonic and midrashic texts which have otherwise disappeared.
An effort on a broader scale was made by *Eliezer b. Samuel of Metz in Sefer Yere'im where he attempted a complete code; he organized the material along the lines of Maimonides but cited sources verbatim. A code distinctively Franco-German in tone is that of *Eleazar b. Judah of Worms, Roke'ah ("A Compound of Spices"), which deals with the entire body of religious laws. The work, a pure code, without quoting sources, is at the same time a compendium of customs and practices which reflect the daily life of the period. Its pervading spirit, neither intellectual nor purely legal, is one of deep medieval piety which mirrors the effect of the Kabbalah in daily life (see *Codification of Law).
Huge and varied, responsa literature is usually precisely what the name implies, responses to legal questions which were asked by individuals and communities. It is rarely an organized or systematic body of scholarship. Many responsa were written but many were undoubtedly lost and others have never been printed. Only a small amount of this vast body of writings is extant. The importance of the responsa is not only legal, but historical. They constitute source material for virtually every phase of Jewish life, since the responsa often involved comment upon community conditions.
The gaonate in Babylonia, the recognized authority for world Jewry for several centuries, produced a vast body of responsa of which only a few hundred have survived. On the whole they are very brief and direct. Many of them standardized synagogue practices and worship throughout the Jewish world. The famous responsum of Amram Gaon to a Spanish community was of this order. Other major writers of responsa were *Sherira Gaon and Hai Gaon. In North Africa, Alfasi left a considerable collection of responsa in Arabic as did his Spanish student, Joseph ibn Migash, and Maimonides, who wrote in Arabic as well as in Hebrew. Mikhtav li-Yhudei Teiman ("Letter to the Jews of Yemen") is a famous example of Maimonides' responsa. In France, Rabbi *Gershom b. Judah and Rashi wrote numerous responsa, which were not collected, but are referred to and quoted by others, as are the responsa of Kalonymus and Meshullam. By the 12th century, responsa had become lengthy essays written in Hebrew and incorporating an analysis of relevant material. They also began to be preserved by the authors themselves. There are collections of Jacob b. Meir Tam and of Solomon b. Abraham *Adret (13th century) of Spain, who wrote approximately 7,000 responsa. Meir of Rothenburg (13th century) of Germany, Jacob b. Moses *Moellin (14th–15th century), and Israel *Isserlein (beginning of 15th century) of Vienna also wrote extensively. Moellin insisted that responsa, as case law, were more important than the codes. In the 14th and 15th centuries Joseph *Colon, the great writer of responsa of Italy, *Isaac b. Sheshet, and his younger contemporary Simeon b. Ḥemaḥ *Duran of North Africa, greatly enriched responsa literature (see *Responsa).
The second half of the Jewish Middle Ages was marked by a heightening of persecution, an increased physical, social, and intellectual isolation of the Jews in most countries, and a consequent turning inward to peculiarly Jewish studies. It was characterized too by the rise to eminence of new Jewish centers, most notably those in Eastern Europe and the Turkish Empire, embracing Palestine. The production of rabbinic literature was vast, numbering thousands of works. Only a few of the major efforts can be considered here and they will be discussed chronologically rather than by country. This approach may be adopted the more readily since by the end of the 15th century Spanish Jewry had disappeared or been dispersed and German Jewry had declined in creativity.
The significant commentators of the 13th century were Spanish Jews. Naḥmanides, a pupil of *Jonah b. Abraham Gerondi, adopted the French method and wrote extensive *novellae on three major orders of the Talmud, providing decisions as well as raising and resolving difficulties found in the Talmud. His disciple Solomon b. Abraham Adret wrote novellae to 16 tractates of the same three major orders of the Talmud, but was more analytical than his master and more given to straight commentary. He selects passages from virtually every page of the Talmud for his novellae. At the beginning of the 14th century *Asher b. Jehiel was the most eminent commentator. Originally from Germany, he became rabbi of Toledo in 1304 and enjoyed a reputation which brought students to his academy from all over Europe. Unconcerned with the sciences, opposed to philosophy, he concentrated his attention on the Talmud. His greatest achievement was a code, but he also wrote tosafot (glosses and remarks), which are characterized by simplicity and logic, to 17 tractates and commentaries to several tractates of the Talmud and to several orders of the Mishnah. Other scholars of the period were Meir b. Todros ha-Levi *Abulafia of Toledo whose Yad Ramah followed the old Spanish method of summary and comment, and Menahem b. Solomon *Meiri don Vidal of Provence, who wrote commentaries on all the tractates of the Talmud. Lucid and systematic in style, he adopted the approach of Maimonides. He introduced each section – whether tractate, chapter, or Mishnah – with a statement of its themes, and while his discussion centers on the Mishnah, he also gives the gist of the Gemara and the decision.
In the 14th century, Rabbi *Yom Tov b. Abraham Ishbili, a disciple of Solomon b. Abraham Adret, continued the novellae method, writing on the three major orders of the Talmud. His contemporary, *Nissim b. Reuben Gerondi, a major force in Spanish Jewry, not only wrote novellae on the same orders but composed one of the two major commentaries on Alfasi. His student Joseph *Ḥabiba completed the work on Alfasi and concentrated particularly on the classification of decisions, a practice which made him a favorite of later codifiers.
During the 15th century, a period of turmoil, significant scholarship declined but was again prominent in new centers in the 16th century. Obadiah of *Bertinoro, who had moved from Italy to Jerusalem, wrote his major exposition on the Mishnah, which is the standard commentary included in all editions. It discusses every order and does not only explain the words, but explicates entire passages, illuminating them with the discussions of the Gemara. Another commentator of the East, Bezalel *Ashkenazi of Egypt, in Shitah Mekubbeẓet excerpted and arranged the interpretations of a large number of commentators on difficult passages of the Talmud. He employed tosafot, Arabic commentaries, and commentators who were not well known and whose work would otherwise have been lost.
The 16th century also saw the rise of Poland as a major center of Jewish learning. The migration of German scholars to Poland initiated a period of activity which continued until the tragic end of Polish Jewry in the 20th century. In 1507 Jacob b. Joseph *Pollak, the most eminent of these scholars, headed the academy at Cracow where he continued his work for three decades. He developed the method of hilluk in the study of Talmud, i.e., division and analysis. It consisted of taking an apparently unified talmudic subject, dissecting it into its component parts, drawing shades of distinction, and building up a new subject out of the newly defined parts. Pollak, however, left no books. His younger contemporary, Solomon b. Jehiel *Luria, the first important talmudic commentator of Poland, wrote Yam shel Shelomo which is essentially a code and partly a commentary, on seven tractates of the Talmud, presented in a plain, non-pilpulistic style. A second work, Hokhmat Shelomo, consists of glosses and comments on the entire Talmud, on Rashi, and on tosafot. The great merit of the work is in its corrections of the texts, and it is considered so significant that the relevant comments are incorporated at the back of each talmudic tractate. The novellae of Meir b. Gedaliah *Lublin and Samuel Eliezer *Edels, two important scholars of the next generation, were essentially comments on Rashi and tosafot rather than on the Gemara. Those of Edels, more deeply penetrating, applied the tosafist method of posing challenges to the text in order to arrive at a new and more cogent answer.
Leading lights of the 17th century were Yom Tov Lipmann *Heller and Meir b. Jacob ha-Kohen *Schiff. Heller, in response to the need of Mishnah study groups, which had become common, and to what he felt were inadequacies in previous commentaries, composed a major commentary on the Mishnah, entitled Tosafot Yom Tov ("The Glosses of Yom Tov"). Basing himself upon Obadiah of Bertinoro's commentary, he expanded the material and introduced philosophic and ethical views. Schiff wrote extensive and very terse novellae on the entire Talmud with the intention of setting forth plain meaning, but only the comments on ten of the tractates remain, the others having been destroyed in a fire in 1711.
Penei Yehoshu'a, an 18th-century collection of novellae to most of the Talmud by Jacob Joshua *Falk, is distinguished by keen analysis and brilliance. The work has remained an accepted reference book for students of the Talmud. Ezekiel b. Judah *Landau (18th century), whose major reputation is that of a writer of responsa, and who was considered the leading rabbinic authority of his time, also wrote a highly pilpulistic collection of novellae, Ḥelaḥ (in Hebrew the initials of "Monument to a Living Soul").
Works of codification exceeded books of commentary during this period. The code of Maimonides, since it lacked sources and was a specifically Sephardi work, did not end the process of code making. Codes continued to be written among Franco-German and Spanish Jews, and at the end of the period, among Jews in Poland. The form followed the pattern of the previous era: a compendium, a digest of the talmudic discussion, arrangement according to the precepts of the Torah, arrangements according to the order in the Pentateuch, and compilation of groups of kindred laws. In the Franco-German region the first great code of the period was Sefer Mitzvot Gadol ("The Large Book of Precepts," also called Semag), by *Moses b. Jacob of Coucy (13th century). Basing himself on the 613 precepts, which he divided into affirmative and negative precepts, Moses distinguishes six categories of laws and in giving both the law and the sources, relies not only on the Talmud, but on later authorities as well. He does not limit himself to legal matters only, but discusses beliefs and ethics and cites Jewish philosophers. The Hebrew style is clear and excellent, and is similar to that of Maimonides. The Semag was inevitably followed by the Semak (Sefer Mitzvot Katan, "The Small Book of Precepts") by *Isaac b. Joseph of Corbeil (late 13th century). The book, designed for the scholarly layman rather than the scholar, classifies Jewish law into seven categories, but is much more sparing in the citation of sources than the Semag. Two other distinguished codes of the 13th century were Or Zaru'a, by Isaac b. Moses of Vienna, and Mordekhai, by *Mordecai b. Hillel ha-Kohen of Nuremberg. Or Zaru'a, a compendium rather than a code, cites sources copiously. It is intended for scholars, and is particularly useful because of its extensive resort to post-talmudic sources and decisions. Mordekhai is badly arranged and seems to be a source book for a code rather than the finished product. It comprehends, however, a great mass of material and cites many responsa on the subjects it treats. Both works were employed extensively by later codifiers as sources.
The 13th-century Italian school is represented by the Shibbolei ha-Leket of Zedekiah b. Abraham *Anav in which the author limits himself to the rituals and festivals. Employing the code method, he also presents a selection of material from other codes and responsa, including the opinions of Italian scholars. A digest of it, entitled Tanya, designed for popular use, was prepared by Jehiel b. Jekuthiel *Anav.
The great codes of the period were composed by Spanish Jews. They tend to be more systematic, less rigorous in decision, and less guided by custom than the Franco-German works. Among the 13th-century codes were some small works by Naḥmanides and the Torat ha-Bayit ("Household Laws"), by Solomon b. Abraham Adret, devoted to laws of the Jewish home. Adret, applying the same method, commented and interpreted extensively. He also wrote a résumé which appears in the margin of the book. Particularly noteworthy is the pedagogical work, Sefer *ha-Ḥinnukh ("Book of Education") attributed to Aaron ha-Levi of Barcelona which arranges the mitzvot according to the weekly portions of the Torah, discusses their origin, their ethical meaning, and their application. He does not quote sources, but indicates where they may be found. The book, written in excellent Hebrew, was and continues to be popular. The first major 13th-century code, Piskei ha-Rosh, the compendium of Asher b. Jehiel, a German-trained scholar who immigrated to Spain, bears the imprint of both the German and the Spanish schools. Its great value is that while it follows the Alfasi method of paraphrasing the Talmud section by section, it goes far beyond that. Alfasi relies on the Talmud, the geonim, and himself. Asher b. Jehiel brings to bear all the weight of preceding codes, commentaries, and responsa, with particular emphasis on the discussions of the Franco-German schools. Enjoying great authority, the decisions of the work are quoted in later codes and were used as a basis in Sefer ha-Turim (Tur) written by Jacob, Asher b. Jehiel's son. Sefer ha-Turim takes the rulings of Asher b. Jehiel as a basis for an entire code of Jewish law, excluding those which ceased to operate with the destruction of the Temple. The title refers to the four rows (turim) on the breastplate of the high priest. Jacob b. Asher consequently divided his code into four sections: (1) Tur Oraḥ Ḥayyim on daily religious conduct, the Sabbath, and the festivals; (2) Tur Yoreh De'ah on prohibited and permitted things, e.g., dietary laws, laws of purity, etc.; (3) Tur Even ha-Ezer on the laws of family relations; (4) Tur Ḥoshen Mishpat on civil law. The code provides decisions without sources and includes Franco-German and Spanish views. Clear in content, style, decision, and authority, it was accepted as the authoritative code by a large segment of Jewry for several centuries. The attempt by *Jeroham b. Meshullam of Provence, a pupil of Asher b. Jehiel, to codify Piskei ha-Rosh resulted in a pure code of all of Jewish law, except civil law, entitled Toledot Adam ve-Ḥavvah. The work was well regarded, but did not win general acceptance.
The work which finally became the decisive code of Jewry was that of Joseph b. Ephraim *Caro who was born in Spain and moved to Bulgaria, and ultimately to Safed. His great work, Beit Yosef, which Caro conceived of as a commentary to Sefer ha-Turim, was designed to include other opinions and to expand the source references in Sefer ha-Turim. It emerged, however, as an independent work which utilized the fourfold form of organization of Sefer ha-Turim, traced the development of laws, cited various opinions and the reasons for them, and finally concluded with Caro's decision. As a preparatory manual of study for the work, Caro composed the *Shulḥan Arukh which is arranged in the same way, but generally gives only one opinion and one decision and limits each paragraph to a specific point of law, a pattern which facilitates study and decision. In formulating decisions, Caro was guided by three earlier codes: Alfasi, Maimonides, and Asher b. Jehiel. His approach was to rely on any two opinions against the third. The code, essentially Sephardi in outlook, became the definitive code of Jewry and has remained so to the present day.
As it was written the Shulḥan Arukh was not acceptable to Franco-German and Polish (Ashkenazi) Jewry. Solomon Luria protested against it, and a way of meeting this protest was devised by Moses b. Israel *Isserles. Apart from other works, Isserles undertook an addition to the Shulḥan Arukh, Mappat ha-Shulḥan, in which he set forth the Ashkenazi view and, in cases of controversy, rendered decisions according to that outlook. In addition, he noted customs prevalent among Ashkenazi Jewry, raising many of them to the status of law. On the whole, he was more rigorous than Caro. But there are many instances where he is more lenient, notably in the case of hefsed merubbeh, instances involving a considerable loss. It was the Caro-Isserles Shulḥan Arukh which became the universal code.
While it was still struggling for universal acceptance, other codes were being formulated. The most important was Levush by Mordecai b. Abraham *Jaffe of Prague and Poland. He set out to create a code, midway between Beit Yosef, which he deemed too lengthy, and the Shulḥan Arukh, which he thought too brief. His method was to state a decision and to give the history of the law. His decisions frequently differed from those of Caro and Isserles. For a time, it appeared that this work might supplant the Shulḥan Arukh but in the end the Shulḥan Arukh prevailed, both because of the errors in Levush and because of the power of the combined authority of Caro and Isserles.
Although a definitive code had finally been produced, it proved, like all the others, to be imperfect both in itself and because new situations continued to arise for decision and codification. The result was that an entire field of commentaries on the various codes arose of which 186 commentaries on the Maimonidean code alone have survived, and there were doubtless many more. The first important commentary on the Maimonidean code, that of Shem Tov b. Abraham *Ibn Gaon (14th century) of Spain, entitled Migdal Oz, sought to classify Maimonides' way of reasoning in the code. Don *Vidal Yom Tov of Tolosa, Spain, defended the Maimonidean system in his Maggid Mishneh as did Caro in his Kesef Mishneh. Sefer ha-Turim was equally the subject of commentaries, the best known (apart from Beit Yosef) being Darkhei Moshe ("The Ways of Moses") by Isserles, which was essentially a polemic against Caro and was the foundation of his later glosses to the Shulḥan Arukh. The best commentaries on Sefer ha-Turim were those of Jacob Joshua Falk and Bayit Hadash by Joel *Sirkes. Falk added explanations, decisions, and sources to Sefer ha-Turim, while Sirkes sought to reestablish it as the decisive code in place of the Shulḥan Arukh.
The Shulḥan Arukh was also the subject of numerous commentaries which finally set the seal of authority upon it. David b. Samuel ha-Levi in Turei Zahav (abbr. as TaZ and meaning "Golden Rows") defended the rulings of the Shulḥan Arukh, quoted contrary opinions, and arrived at final decisions. Siftei Kohen (abbr. as ShaKh and meaning "The Lips of the Priest") was similarly motivated; it explained the sources of the code and attempted to harmonize the difference between Caro and Isserles. Characterized by intellectual brilliance and logical acumen, these works became the standard commentaries on the Shulḥan Arukh (see *Codification of Law).
In the third major category of rabbinic literature of the period, responsa, there was remarkable productivity; the number of collections runs into several thousands, and thousands of others are still in manuscript. They were composed because life outstripped the codes and new problems arose which were either not properly dealt with in the codes or not included in them. Since the early Middle Ages every major rabbinic figure answered questions and the responsa, essentially essays in law, were collected either by himself or by others. These served as supplements to the codes and as bases for later codes.
Medieval responsa should be divided into two time periods: the 13th century to the end of the 15th, during which the rabbis responded to conditions in the Franco-German region and in Spain, and the 16th century through the 18th, when Jewish life was centered in the East, Germany, and Poland. Responsa reflect Jewish life of the times and thus differ greatly in content. The responsa from Spain and the East, where Jewish life was in greater contact with the surrounding world and enjoyed a larger measure of autonomy, testify to greater judicial authority, more severe punishments, better communal organization, and more cases dealing with moral behavior than other parts of the Jewish Diaspora. Spanish responsa also discussed questions of philosophy and theology, whereas the German-Polish questions centered mostly around law. The greater seclusion in Germany and Poland and the greater persecution are reflected in the frequent cases dealing with taxes, special levies, religious questions, cases of women whose husbands had disappeared (agunot), and the like (see *Responsa).
The most important collections of Spanish responsa are those of Solomon b. Abraham Adret and Asher b. Jehiel. Adret's extant responsa number 3,000 of a possible original 7,000. Almost half of them deal with civil law and commercial affairs and thus reveal much about Jewish life in Spain. They reflect strong community organization, the power of leaders to fix prices, regulate promissory notes, and establish and prohibit study patterns. Philosophical and theological questions comprise another large section, including discussions on the relation between mitzvot and intention (kavannah). A third group deals with religious and family problems. Asher's 1,500 responsa are concerned essentially with halakhah. They indicate that Jews had and exercised the power of capital punishment, and that the community had great power to regulate economic, spiritual, and moral life. Two other collections of the period, those of Isaac b. Sheshet Perfet (14th century), a Spaniard who ultimately became rabbi of Algiers, and his successor Simeon b. Ḥemaḥ Duran, a mathematician and grammarian, reflect, apart from other matters, the turbulence of life in Spain at the end of the 14th century and the complicated problem of the Marranos. Duran also responded to many questions on mathematics and grammar.
The number of surviving collections of responsa from Germany (13th to 15th centuries) is not extensive but those that are extant are illuminating. Meir of Rothenburg wrote several thousand responsa on questions of lending with interest to gentiles, the duties and salaries of teachers, and the import and export business. Jacob Moellin left some 200 responsa on civil law and family life, and Jacob b. Judah *Weil, his disciple, deals extensively with community affairs. The responsa of Israel b. Pethahiah *Isserlein and Israel b. Ḥayyim *Bruna mirror the rigorous piety of medieval Germany, indicating the importance that customs assumed and their endorsement by the writers of responsa. During the same period Joseph Colon was writing responsa which reflect contemporaneous life in Italy. Among other things they point to the low scholarly level of the rabbinate in Italy, to the state of the medical profession among Jews, and to the fact that some physicians formed partnerships. The responsa of Judah b. Eliezer ha-Levi *Minz and Meir b. Isaac *Katzenellenbogen (16th century) broaden the picture of Italian Jewish life, indicating that the moral tone was rather lax in the upper stratum. The general tenor of the Italian responsa reflects, in contrast to Germany, a spirit of liberalism and a readiness to deal with problems arising out of the confrontation of Jews with the life of the general society.
With the expulsion from Spain a large part of Spanish Jewry migrated to the East where an indigenous Jewish community had continued to exist. As a result intellectual activity greatly increased. Even before the exile, R. Elijah b. Abraham *Mizraḥi, a native of Constantinople and the chief rabbi of Turkey, had won a reputation as a major figure both in Jewish and secular learning. His responsa, reflecting Jewish life in Turkey, testify to the great autonomy enjoyed by the community. The rabbi was the recognized intermediary between the government and the community and the assessor of taxes for the Jews. Soon afterward David b. Solomon ibn Abi *Zimra, a native of Spain who had served as chief rabbi of Cairo for 40 years, became the leading Jewish authority in the East. His 3,000 responsa (of which 1,300 have been preserved) present a picture of life in Eastern lands. They indicate that polygamy was practiced, that the Jewish laws of emancipation regarding slaves were still in force, and that relations with Karaites were closer than they had been in earlier centuries, but had deteriorated since the time of Maimonides. Theological questions point to varied beliefs about dogma. Other important collections of the 15th and 16th centuries are those of Moses b. Isaac *Alashkar of Cairo, Jacob *Berab, *Levi b. Ḥabib, and Moses b. Joseph *Trani. The responsa of Trani have some particularly interesting comments about the role of Jews in the export trade and about a boycott organized by Turkish Jewish traders, at the instigation of Dona Gracia *Nasi, against the papal port of Ancona, Italy, as a reprisal against the pope for the burning at the stake of Marranos there (see *Responsa).
A fourth area of rabbinic study, methodology, namely the rules of talmudic logic, the terms employed, and how decisions are made, which had scarcely been touched during the early Middle Ages, developed considerably in the 18th century. *Samson b. Isaac of Chinon (France) and *Jeshua b. Joseph ha-Levi of North Africa had dealt with the subject in the 14th and 15th centuries, respectively. The first major work on methodology, however, was Yad Malakhi, by *Malachi b. Jacob ha-Kohen (middle of the 18th century), which discusses 667 talmudic rules and terms, arranged in alphabetical order. Some sections are extended essays, such as the essay on the authenticity of halakhic statements which were transmitted by disciples in the name of their teachers. Another part of the book discusses the methods of the great codifiers. Isaac *Lampronti of Italy, in Paḥad Yiẓḥak, the second major work of the period, has arranged all the subjects and terms treated in talmudic and rabbinic literature in alphabetical order. Included also are talmudic sources and the views of codifiers and writers of responsa.
While there was less Jewish philosophical than exegetical, halakhic, and poetic writing in the Middle Ages, it was nonetheless substantial and of high quality. As in the Hellenistic period, medieval Jewish philosophy was born out of confrontation with other cultures. By the eighth century, Aristotle and Plato had been translated into Arabic, and Islam was trying to reconcile religion and reason through the philosophy of Kalam (meaning "word"). Judaism was also experiencing internal problems: the Karaites rejected the Talmud, and *Hiwi al-Balkhi (late ninth century) represented a school of thought which violently attacked the Bible. Jewish philosophy, primarily theological, sought to defend Jewish religion against philosophical attack, and to found the principles of belief on a speculative basis. Scholarly writings thus were directed toward metaphysics and related fields and to a philosophical interpretation of the Bible. These literary activities were undergirded by writings and translations in logic, psychology, and the sciences. Jews also made a significant contribution in these disciplines and other spheres as cultural intermediaries between the Islamic and Christian worlds.
The earliest Jewish medieval philosophers (9th to 11th centuries) wrote in Arabic. David ibn Marwān *al-Mukammis of Babylon in Book of Twenty Tractates advances proofs for the existence of God; Isaac b. Solomon *Israeli of Kairouan, in Book of the Elements, sought to defend the doctrine of creation against the theory of the eternity of matter. Emmunot ve-De'ot ("Doctrines and Beliefs"), by Saadiah Gaon, attempts to prove the compatibility of revelation, Torah, and reason. Saadiah posited ten basic principles, founding them on a theory of knowledge through which he established the existence and nature of God, the need for revelation, and the reasons for revealed doctrines and mitzvot. In his ethics he advocated the middle road between the contending forces in human nature. With regard to the Jewish people, he asserted that it was a people only by reason of the Torah. After Saadiah, Spain became the center of Jewish philosophy where the first philosopher of note was the brilliant young poet Solomon ibn Gabirol, whose major philosophical work Mekor Ḥayyim (originally Arabic, Latin Fons Vitae, 1150) had until the 19th century been ascribed to an Arab named "Avicebron." The book deviates from traditional medieval Jewish philosophy, being closer in tone to neoplatonism. It is a religious philosophical work concerned with personal salvation and with man's purpose and its thesis is that the human soul, which has been united with matter, seeks to return to its source through reason and contemplation. In this connection it discusses God, a theory of emanations, the world (composed of matter and form), and creation. Mekor Ḥayyim, which had a considerable effect in Christian circles, was rather less accepted among Jews, although Ibn Gabirol's thinking, often unattributed, was incorporated into Jewish mystical thought. About the same time, *Baḥya b. Joseph ibn Paquda, in Ḥovot ha-Levavot ("The Duties of the Heart"), primarily ethical in content, and in Toratha-Nefesh ("The Doctrine of the Soul"), a philosophical work, advanced the theory of design as a proof of God's existence. He proposed the doctrine of negative attributes of God and developed a theory of emanations.
The first philosophical book in Hebrew is *Abraham b. Ḥiyya'sHegyon ha-Nefesh ha-Aẓuvah ("Meditation of the Sad Soul") where he sets forth the theory that the world was first created in potentiality and then actualized by the word. The microcosm doctrine was propounded by *Joseph b. Ẓaddik (in his Olam Katan, "the Microcosm"): man is a microcosm and can know the world by knowing himself. With Judah Ha-levi the emphasis in Jewish philosophy shifted. His Kuzari is a philosophy of Judaism which seeks to prove that the truths of revealed religion are superior to those of reason and that God is best understood through Jewish history. It is also a philosophy of history whose theme is that Israel is the heart of the nations, endowed with a prophetic capacity, and that the Torah is the expression of the Will of God. Within the framework of Jewish and human endeavors, he assigns a central role to the Land of Israel. Literarily, the Sefer ha-Kuzari is distinctive in Jewish philosophy since it is composed as a dialogue and is founded on a historical event (the conversion of the Khazars to Judaism). Abraham Ibn Ezra, however, reverting to the more conventional approach, proposes that God's Will flashing through the upper, middle, and lower worlds is the staying power for everything and that spirituality is resident in everything in the universe. Abraham ibn Daud (12th century) of Toledo also discusses familiar themes along Aristotelian lines, but pays great attention to the problem of free will and providence. Asserting that God knows man's options but not his choice, Ibn Daud discusses providence and suggests that there are gradations in providence which depend upon how earnestly a man strives for the knowledge of God.
The master work of Jewish philosophy, a synthesis of the Jewish philosophical process, is Moses Maimonides' Guide of the Perplexed, which was written in Arabic in 1190. Studied by Christians and Muslims, it had a deep effect on scholastic literature apart from its influence on all of Jewish thought. Maimonides, indicating that he is writing for those who know philosophy but are perplexed about contradictions between philosophy and religion, touches upon specific problems and often takes the biblical verse and expressions as his framework. Discussing anthropomorphism, he deals with proofs for the existence of God and with His attributes which, he asserts, can only be understood negatively. He rejects the doctrine of the eternity of matter as unproved and propounds the concept of creatio ex nihilo, in accordance with the Torah which he holds to be immutable. He contends that the Torah is designed to guide the body, the body politic, and the soul and to help a man endowed with sufficient contemplative capacity to achieve union with the active intellect in the universe and thus gain immortality. Other major themes in Guide of the Perplexed are Divine providence, which is presented as graduated according to man's capacity; evil, which is largely the work of man; and ethics, to which the Torah directs man.
The Maimonidean synthesis was almost immediately challenged in commentaries and in different systems as Jewish philosophy expanded its scope and embarked upon new ventures. Two main factors contributed to this development: (a) The major Arabic works in philosophy, translations and commentaries of the Greek philosophers, and original works of the Arabic philosophers, were translated into Hebrew along with the works of the Jewish philosophers. Thus *Plato, *Aristotle, *Al-Farabi, *Avicenna, *Al-Ghazali, and *Averroes became available to Hebrew readers in Christian Spain and Provence who did not know Arabic. Among the distinguished translators were Judah ibn *Tibbon (12th century), his son Samuel, and his son Moses. Other translators were Jacob b. Abba Mari *Anatoli (13th century), Jacob b. Machir Tibbon (13th century), and Kalonymus b. Kalonymus (14th century), all of Provence. In the same period the task of translating Latin philosophic works into Hebrew was also undertaken (see *Translators and Translations). (b) A Hebrew philosophic terminology was created. The way was now open to Jews, whose major literary language was Hebrew and whose audience read Hebrew, to engage in philosophical writing.
Once the basic philosophical language was developed and works were translated into Hebrew, several new spheres were open to Jewish philosophy, one of which was commentary. Some scholars wrote commentaries on Arabic and Greek philosophers, among them: Levi b. Gershom (14th century), on Averroes; *Moses b. Joshua of Narbonne on Averroes and Al-Ghazali; and Joseph *Ibn Shem Tov and *Judah b. Jehiel Messer Leon on Aristotle. Guide of the Perplexed frequently served as the basis for commentaries which were often original works. The earliest commentary, Moreh ha-Moreh ("The Guide of the Guide"), by Shem Tov Falaquera, compiles extensive excerpts from Arabic and Jewish philosophers on subjects treated by Maimonides. Maskiyyot Kesef by Joseph *Kaspirepresents the highly rationalistic Provençal school which set philosophic principles above tradition. Kaspi denies that creatio ex nihilo is a Jewish dogma and interprets the creation story, not literally, but in philosophical terms. Other commentaries, which are essentially explanatory and are usually printed with the text of Guide of the Perplexed, were those of Profiat Duran and Asher (Bonan) b. Abraham *Crescas.
Another field developed from the 13th century onward but treated only cursorily in the past is psychology. Averroes' restatement of Aristotle reflects the basic problem of psychology. For Averroes, the active intellect is not an integral part of the soul, but an immaterial substance, derived from the universal intellect, which unites with the soul during a man's life and returns to its source at death, without retaining any individuality. Thus the religious beliefs in personal immortality and reward and punishment came under attack. *Hillel b. Samuel of Verona, Italy, discusses these problems and related points in Tagmulei ha-Nefesh ("The Rewards of the Soul"). He attempts to establish that the intellect is not only part of the soul, but is the actual form of the soul which directs all its forces. It is at once eternal and yet retains its individuality so that it is subject to reward and punishment, which he conceives as elevation to a higher level of contemplation or awareness of degradation. In proving and pursuing his contentions, Hillel necessarily deals with the question of free will and God's foreknowledge which he resolves by asserting that necessity and possibility are inherent in the very nature of man and that God conceives every human action as a possibility. Approaching the same question from another point of view, Shem Tov Falaquera composed his Sefer ha-Nefesh ("The Book of the Soul") in the spirit that "knowledge of the soul leads to knowledge of God." Like Hillel, he concludes that the soul is immortal and individual and ultimately unites with the universal intellect. Through these works psychology became part of Jewish philosophical speculation, and it has been reflected in the mainstream of Jewish philosophy since the 13th century.
The first major philosophical figure after Maimonides was Levi b. Gershom, also a translator and Bible commentator, whose main work, Milḥamot Adonai ("The Battles of the Lord"), like Maimonides', is Aristotelian in outlook, but differs from his in that it gives precedence to philosophical conclusions over biblical teachings. He substitutes for creatio ex nihilo the notion that the world, created in time and by the will of God, was shaped out of chaos or formless matter. He further asserts that positive attributes apply both to God and to man, though in different degree. Levi b. Gershom deals with a wide variety of problems, including psychology and the immortality of the soul, freedom of will, divine providence, and cosmology. In general he follows the Aristotelian view of the world and the soul, as modified by Arab philosophers and by neoplatonists. He affirms the immortality of the individual soul in terms of his system, in which the sum total of a man's thoughts of God and the order of the universe constitute the immortal soul, whose reward, after death, consists not of new knowledge but of greater clarity about knowledge acquired during life. Providence, he contends, equally depends upon man's attainment and consists not in miracles but in prior awareness of potential difficulties. Man has individual freedom because God knows and predetermines the general order of events and of possibilities, but not which of the possibilities available to a man will be realized in a single life.
Aristotelianism runs its course with Levi b. Gershom; his major successor, Ḥasdai *Crescas of Barcelona, a man of great critical and innovative faculties, no longer blindly accepts either "the philosopher" or Maimonides but criticizes them both. His major work, Or Adonai ("Light of the Lord," completed 1410, published in Ferrara, 1555), designed as a section of a two-part work embracing both halakhah and philosophy, is essentially a work on dogmatics in which, after extended philosophic analysis, Crescas sets forth dogmas of the Jewish faith that differ, both in detail and in emphasis, from many of those of Maimonides. He is motivated partly by his emphasis on emotion and action in religion, rather than speculation, and partly by a desire to dispute certain Christian teachings. Attacking Maimonides' proof of the existence of God, which is based upon the Aristotelian doctrine that there cannot be infinite space or infinite causes, Crescas offers a novel proof that there is a being, God, who is the necessary cause of all existence. The existence of God is one of the basic roots that Crescas posits. In his theory of attributes, he asserts that the attributes of God are essential, positive, and infinite in number and extent. God is goodness, and he speaks of God's infinite happiness in His infinite love for His creatures. Crescas applies critical analysis and originality to the themes of free will, reward and punishment, immortality, and providence, all of which he affirms. His views were challenged by the talmudist and writer of responsa Simeon b. Ḥemaḥ Duran of Algeria, whose Magen Avot ("The Shield of the Fathers") defends the Maimonidean viewpoint. Essentially concerned with dogmatics, Duran uses the Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:1 ("All Israelites have a share in the world to come…") to classify Maimonides' 13 principles under three major headings: the existence of God, the divine origin of the Torah, and reward and punishment. His philosophical statement is basically a synthesis of Maimonides and Levi b. Gershom, though he is more conservative than either in asserting that Divine providence extends to all men regardless of intellectual capacity.
A contemporary of Duran, Joseph *Albo of Spain, evolved a philosophical system which borrowed largely from Maimonides and Crescas, but added new ideas to the field of dogmatics. Albo, reacting to the strong pressure of Christianity upon the Jewish population, sought to standardize the principles of Jewish religion, and to demonstrate that philosophy and religion go hand in hand. In Ikkarim ("Principles") he employs the same threefold classification of Jewish dogmas as Duran but takes the classification further. He defines God, revelation, and reward and punishment as universal characteristics of divine religion and distinguishes between a conventional religion rising out of social life and a divine religion which is revealed. He asserts that these three principles must be accepted on faith if necessary, although they can be buttressed by reason. What distinguishes an individual religion, however, is a series of secondary dogmas which must be justified by reason. Besides these, a Jew must accept another six doctrines which though obligatory are not principles: creatio ex nihilo, the sui generis nature of the prophecy of Moses, the immutability of the Torah, the capability of even one precept to perfect the human soul, resurrection, and the coming of the Messiah. The entire work is written in a lucid and popular style, and became a favorite Jewish work.
The last of the Spanish philosophers, Don Isaac Abrabanel, wrote a considerable number of philosophic works on specific topics. Widely read in Jewish, Arabic, and Christian philosophy, Abrabanel draws on his extensive and versatile knowledge to explicate and give a full view of the philosophical problems which he discusses. Following his exegetical method, Abrabanel in his philosophical works also poses a series of objections to a theory and then proceeds to answer them one by one. While he tends toward Maimonides' philosophical view, he is even more traditional in his concept of Providence, rejecting the idea that Providence depends on the intelligence of man. He also repudiates the rational theories of prophecy and miracles, regarding prophecy as a direct influence from God, not dependent on intellectual excellence. Dialoghi di Amore (1535), a philosophical work by his son, Judah *Abrabanel, which is written in Italian and in dialogue form, alludes profusely to classical mythology. Renaissance in tone, its theme is outside the conventional stream of Jewish philosophy and centers mainly on the concept of love of God and how it affects the soul, and the concept of the beautiful. Love is the principle which permeates and unites the universe, extending from God through all creation and back to Him. The influence of the treatise was greater in general thought than in Jewish life since it discusses only few distinctly Jewish themes.
The severe criticism of the rationalistic tendency in the development of philosophy throughout the 13th, 14th, and 15th centuries elicited defenses by scholars who also partly shared the view that rationalism had gone too far. They asserted that philosophy and religion were separate domains and that while philosophic truths were worthy of study and were proper guides, the Torah pointed to still higher truths and ways of life. The notable proponents of this view were the 15th-century Spanish thinkers Abraham *Bibago b. Shem Tov and Joseph ibn Shem Tov. The latter cautioned, however, that the basic principles of religion must agree with logical truth. In the interpretation of the Torah he distinguished between law, which he accepted, and opinion, which need not necessarily be accepted.
The last major philosophical figure of the Jewish Middle Ages was Baruch *Spinoza. Though the Ethics belongs to the sphere of general rather than Jewish philosophy, it was clearly influenced by Jewish thought, most notably by Crescas, from whom Spinoza borrowed much. Spinoza's pantheistic view, however, at odds with the Jewish philosophical approach, took him in different philosophical directions. Nevertheless Tractatus-Theologicus-Politicus is a distinctly Jewish work which examines the Old Testament critically and, in effect, initiates modern biblical criticism. Spinoza discusses exhaustively the election of Israel, prophecy, miracles, the dogmas of faith, the constitution of the Hebrew state, and the authority of the state in religious matters. His purpose was to defend freedom of thought against religious authority, thus establishing a distinction between religion and philosophical speculation. He contends that prophecy is characterized by imagination and not by speculation, and proceeds to work out the dogmas of universal religion, which very much resemble those of Crescas. Having distinguished between religion and philosophy, Spinoza proceeds to a discussion of the state, which he conceives as founded upon a social contract that protects the right of every man to freedom of thought. Since Spinoza is clearly fighting with the Jewish authorities and attempting to show that they are misrepresenting Judaism, the book is partly a polemic. A fundamental point developed in the work is that the scriptural laws were given for the Jewish body politic and lost their cogency, as did of course rabbinic law, after the destruction of the state. Even for the Jews only the moral laws remain binding. In this approach Spinoza foreshadows Reform Judaism (see *Philosophy).
The distinction between philosophy and ethics in the Jewish Middle Ages was not very clear, since both fields centered on religious premises and Torah and the application of these to life. Accordingly, most of the philosophical works also discussed ethics, or at least were ethical in their implications. Nonetheless, there was a considerable corpus of writings whose purpose was distinctly ethical. Most of them were essentially pietistic or, like the aggadah, infused with the moral implications of biblical verses. Some of them, however, primarily works from Spain and Provence, presented formal ethical systems. Solomon ibn Gabirol's Tikkun Middot ha-Nefesh ("Improvement of the Moral Qualities"), written in Arabic, was the first noteworthy effort in this field. Predicated on psychological and physiological bases rather than religious premises, Gabirol's thesis conceives the soul as consisting of two parts: the higher, which strives for union with God, and the lower, the seat of the moral qualities of daily life. He proposed to teach the art of training and cultivating the soul. Ḥovot ha-Levavot, by Baḥya ibn Paquda, a more important and accepted work, has as its central thesis man's gratitude and relationship to God, which the author posits as the yardstick of moral behavior. After establishing a metaphysical foundation for his analysis in the first portal (section), Baḥya devotes nine portals to such virtues as sympathy, action for its own sake, meekness, and the harmonization of reason and passion. Altogether different in tone is *Sefer Ḥasidim ("The Book of the Pious"), a 12th-century Franco-German work attributed to *Judah b. Samuel he-Ḥasid of Regensburg (c. 1200). Comprised of manuals on ethics and piety, it contains detailed instructions for daily living in the spirit of talmudic and aggadic literature. Its subjects range from worship to marital life, to treatment of servants, to table manners, and is abundantly illustrated with stories. Though marked by strong superstition, the work is imbued with a spirit of piety and ethical sensitivity. It enjoyed great popularity in its time and for many generations. An equally popular, though distinctly formal work, was the Shemoneh Perakim ("Eight Chapters") of Maimonides which constituted the introduction to his commentary on Pirkei Avot. Writing as though he were "a doctor of the soul," Maimonides suggests that there are good dispositions and bad ones, that man is a free agent and a tabula rasa, and that he can be educated to the good. He proposes "the middle way" as the norm of conduct.
By the 13th century, ethical literature began to proliferate, although formal, analytical systems were on the decline. Among the important books of the century were Sha'arei Teshuvah ("The Gates of Repentance") by *Jonah b. Abraham Gerondi and Kad ha-Kemah by Baḥya b. Asher. Gerondi discusses the ways that arouse a man to repentance, the nature of repentance and forgiveness, and the obligatory precepts incumbent upon a Jew. He is particularly forceful in his demand for the observance of community enactments which, he says, are designed to strengthen the Jewish community and religion and thus to sanctify the name of God. Baḥya, like Jonah, writing from a religious point of view, arranges his subject matter alphabetically and discusses a wide variety of themes. Among his observations is the view that Jews are dispersed so that they may fulfill the mission of living like a model nation and spreading the knowledge of the One God and His Providence. Once the mission is fulfilled redemption will come.
*Sefer ha-Yashar, an anonymous ethical work which was mistakenly attributed to Jacob b. Meir Tam and to Zerahiah ha-Yevani, is of the 14th century. The author saw the people of his time as being so engrossed in the pursuit of riches and pleasure that they needed to be redirected to the love of God and right conduct. Making an appeal both to reason and piety, he emphasizes, in the manner of Baḥya, the awe of God, the wonder of the world, and the need to imitate God and thus fulfill the purpose of creation and of perfecting man. Less theoretical, and more given to the practical exposition of behavior, are the 14th-century work Menorat ha-Ma'or ("Candelabrum of Light") by Israel b. Joseph *Al-Nakawa of Spain, which concentrates on the meaning and application of specific mitzvot like loving-kindness and the Sabbath, and the anonymous 15th-century treatise Orḥat Ẓaddikim ("The Way of the Righteous"), stemming from Germany, which examines the art of training the soul to seek the good.
The major work of the period, also called Menorat ha-Ma'or, by Isaac *Aboab of Toledo, enjoyed great popularity. In contrast to contemporary trends, Aboab stressed the importance of the aggadah whose teachings were concerned with the education of the soul. The author, as stated in his preface, wrote the book with the explicit purpose of giving instruction to all in practical ethics. He bases his work on three principles set forth in Psalm 34:15: "Depart from evil, and do good; seek peace and pursue it," which he divides into seven categories characterized as the seven nerot (lamps) that make up the "candelabrum of light." Avoiding evil involves neither desiring nor speaking evil; doing good demands the observance of the mitzvot, the study of the Torah, and repentance; pursuing peace calls for love and meekness. Fusing philosophical speculation and mysticism, the book is an exposition of the meaning and application of these seven qualities. The text is richly interwoven with allegories and parables drawn from the aggadah which serve as illustrations to the author's instruction. A spate of other books appeared in subsequent centuries. Among them were Reshit Ḥokhmah ("The Beginning of Wisdom") of Elijah b. Moses de *Vidas, written in a mystical spirit, and the many commentaries on Pirkei Avot which elaborated the ethical approach to life. Notable among the latter, in addition to the commentaries of Rashi, Maimonides, and Bertinoro, were those of Simeon Duran, Joseph b. Ḥayyim *Jabez, and Judah b. Samuel *Lerma.
A novel note in ethical works, heralding a new era, appeared about 1705 with Kav ha-Yashar ("The Measure of Righteousness") by Ẓevi Hirsch *Koidonover. Neither well ordered nor particularly distinguished, the work is important because it reflects the vigorous and mystical spirit of Polish Jewry, and was written both in Hebrew and in Yiddish (see *Ethical Literature).
A body of literature which had a great vogue during the entire Jewish Middle Ages, but most notably from the 11th century onward, is the corpus of documents known as "ethical wills." This literature had its precursors in the Bible, the Apocrypha, and the Talmud, but it became common only in the Middle Ages. Ethical wills were written in the form of the communication of a father's experience, insights, and mandates to his son and vary in length, some of them being as large as a small book. These works are important testimonies to the thinking and values of eminent men and reflect the life of different periods and places. One of the earliest extant wills, that of *Eliezer b. Isaac of Worms (11th century), examines the attitude of man to his fellow men, the fulfilling of mitzvot, the rules of hygiene, and the religious tone of life. Judah ibn Tibbon (12th century) in his "testament" urges the study of Torah and science, gives moral and scientific advice to his son, a physician, in the practice of medicine, and offers guidance on how to treat one's wife, children, and books. Writing from Palestine to his oldest son, Naḥman, Naḥmanides advises him on the practice of ethical virtues, especially emphasizing humility so that "every man should seem in thine eyes as one greater than thyself" in some respect. He enjoins his younger son, Solomon, who held a position in the king's court, not to be ensnared by glamour, but to cling to Jewish practice and study and to purity of conduct.
The testament of Asher b. Jehiel addressed to his children is a long work divided into 155 sections and written in an epigrammatic style, stressing honesty and humility, and the giving of charity. His two sons *Judah and *Jacob b. Asher also left testaments. Judah's will, divided into three parts, relates episodes of his life, urges his son to study, enjoins the virtues of truthfulness and humility, and discusses financial matters. In the third section he outlines a scheme for distribution of charity, which constitutes valuable historical data; reckons his salary for 23 years as rabbi of Toledo and directs that as a return his library be dedicated to the use of students. He also incorporates a family agreement to observe the practice of tithe and charity. Suffused with profound piety, the testament of Jacob b. Asher urges love of God to the point of being ready to undergo martyrdom, enjoins against consulting fortunetellers, and advocates the diligent study of Talmud and the avoidance of casuistry. Sefer ha-Musar ("The Book of Morality"), by Joseph Kaspi, a short systematic work on proper behavior written in the form of a will, attempts to enjoin a combination of belief, piety, and ethical behavior based on rational principles. Kaspi discusses the fundamental principles of Judaism which every Jew must apprehend by means of proof and logical reasoning. He, therefore, sets a curriculum of study including Bible, Talmud, mathematics, ethics, law, physics, and logic, culminating with the study of philosophy and theology from the age of 20 on. The work concludes with a defense of the study of philosophy.
The testaments of the 14th and subsequent centuries were written by laymen rather than scholars. Thus *Eliezer b. Samuel ha-Levi (14th century) of Mainz urges his children to live in large Jewish communities so that their offspring may receive a proper Jewish education, warns against card playing and dances, and enjoins the giving of charity and the conduct of household affairs in an orderly manner. Another layman, Solomon Isaac of Provence, is much concerned with study and advises his son always to have a volume of Talmud open so that he might be moved to study.
After the 16th century, testaments are clearly influenced by kabbalistic thought. The most important wills written during the following centuries are by Abraham, Jacob, and Sheftel Horowitz, in the 17th century, and Moses Ḥasid, Alexander Sueskind, Joel b. Abraham Shemariah of Vilna, *Israel b. Eliezer the Ba'al Shem Tov, and *Elijah b. Solomon Zalman, the Gaon of Vilna, in the 18th century. Ethical will literature did not end with the 18th century, but continued to be written down to our own day and to be circulated within families (see Ethical *Wills).
The extensive literature which attempted to harmonize philosophy and religion led to interpretations of the Bible that were extreme, to allegorical explanations, and to commentaries which were basically homiletic. While the approaches of Levi b. Gershom and Isaac Abrabanel were systematic, the works of other scholars were either loosely organized or concentrated on limited themes. The 13th-century work Yikkavuha-Mayim, by Samuel ibn Tibbon of Provence, is a major example of this type of literature. Starting with the question of creation and committed to proving the truth of the Bible, Ibn Tibbon, with much ingenious philosophical explanation and a moderate use of allegory, discusses angels, Divine providence, and creation. Provence produced a school which interpreted the Bible allegorically, but unfortunately the works have been lost. There is, however, some knowledge of their exegetical explanation: Abraham and Sarah represent form and matter while Isaac and Rebekah stand for the active and passive intellect. The most important work of philosophical exegesis, Akedat Yiẓḥak by Isaac b. Moses *Arama (15th century) of Spain, is a compilation of the author's sermons and philosophical discourses. Arama's avowed purpose is not only to explain words, a method which characterized most commentaries, but to elicit the full philosophical teachings of the Bible. In this, he claims to follow the approach of Christian preachers. Through his method, resembling that of Isaac Abrabanel – to pose a series of questions and to answer them – he discusses the soul, the symbolic meaning of paradise and the four rivers (Gen. 2:8–15), justice in the state, the Sabbath, and family life. The stories of the Bible are interpreted allegorically and the author refers extensively to Jewish literature and to general works on ethics, science, and politics to elucidate his arguments. Akedat Yiẓḥak was widely influential and served as a source for generations of preachers (see *Bible, Exegesis).
Throughout the Middle Ages, particularly the later medieval period, rationalist philosophy was supplemented by a great body of mystical literature. Its origins, found in the Apocrypha, the Talmud, and the aggadah, center around the theophany (Ma'aseh Merkavah) in the first chapter of Ezekiel (see *Merkabah Mysticism). Initially regarded as secret doctrine, it was transmitted orally from one generation of initiates to the next. The first mystical books, pseudepigraphically assigned to early tannaim such as R. Ishmael and R. Akiva, appear in the middle of the geonic period: Alef-Bet de-Rabbi Akiva, the Heikhalot texts, the Ma'aseh Bereshit literature, and the Book of Enoch. The first systematic mystical work, Sefer *Yeẓirah, was written in Hebrew by an unknown author (probably in Palestine between the second and sixth centuries). The great development of mystical literature began in the 13th century in the south of France and the north of Spain. By then the influence of mystical doctrines known as *Kabbalah ("tradition") had become apparent in exegetical and philosophical literature. One of the most influential personalities in its formative period was *Isaac the Blind (12th–13th century), the son of Abraham b. David of Posquières. There are, however, indications of direct influences from both Babylonia and Palestine, especially on the circles of *Ḥasidei Ashkenaz. The kabbalistic works of Eleazar b. Judah of Worms express the group's teachings in this sphere. They are also reflected in Sefer Ḥasidim.
The literature of the "speculative Kabbalah" (Kabbalah iyyunit), which arose in Spain and Provence, is distinguished by originality of thought, aggadic style, and frequent pseudepigraphic ascriptions of the writings. In the nature of Midrashim, these works are written either in Hebrew or Aramaic or a combination of the two. The oldest kabbalistic text, the obscure Sefer ha-*Bahir, is attributed to a second-century tanna, but was probably edited in Provence in the 12th century. Other influential 12th-century works were the treatise Massekhet Azilut and the works of *Azriel of Gerona. Significant in the 13th century were the *Ma'arekhet ha-Elohut and the central figure of ecstatic kabbalism, Abraham b. Samuel *Abulafia, whose main works were written at the same time as the *Zohar.
The latter, the most distinguished work of speculative, indeed theosophical, Kabbalah, the Zohar is written in Aramaic and attributed to Simeon b. Yoḥai of the second century; it is now taken to have been written by the Spanish kabbalist *Moses de Leon (13th century). During the succeeding two centuries the Zohar gave rise to an extensive mystical literature including the works of Menahem b. Benjamin *Recanati of Italy, Moses b. Isaac *Botarel, Shem Tov b. Joseph *Ibn Shem Tov, and Judah b. Jacob *Ḥayyat of Spain.
The next great flowering in kabbalistic speculation centered around Safed in the 16th century, and especially Moses b. Jacob *Cordovero, Isaac *Luria, and Ḥayyim b. Joseph *Vital. Luria's original and far-reaching conceptions, as presented by his disciples, reshaped kabbalistic thought and dominated it in subsequent centuries. Through Luria's essentially messianic doctrine, kabbalistic ideas acquired mass popularity.
The numerous kabbalistic works of the next two centuries, largely commentaries and compilations, though reflecting classical kabbalistic thinking and the Lurianic school, were original in thought. The most notable writers were Joseph Solomon *Delmedigo and Isaiah b. Abraham ha-Levi *Horowitz. The major work of the period, Isaiah Horowitz' Shenei Luhot ha-Berit, a combination of code and kabbalistic commentary on the Pentateuch, profoundly influenced religious life in Eastern Europe and introduced practices and prayers whose sole source and authority was the Kabbalah. Later kabbalistic writing is reflected in the Pitḥei Ḥokhmah of Moses Ḥayyim *Luzzatto and especially in the practices and writings of *Ḥasidism. (For a full description see *Kabbalah. See also *Anthropomorphism, *Allegory, *Emanation, *Eschatology, *Immortality of the Soul, *Shekhinah.)
The dispersion of the Jews, a scarcity of reliable documents, and the fact that medieval scholars did not have a historical sense made the writing of Jewish history and geography difficult. The works of the period are often inaccurate and frequently credulous in their reliability on sources. Together with responsa, however, they provide sources for modern Jewish historical studies. Among the historical works of the early Middle Ages was the anonymous Seder Olam Zuta, a history of the Babylonian exilarchs from Zerubbabel down to the eighth century which emphasizes the Davidic line but ignores the most glorious exilarch of the seventh century, *Bustanai b. Ḥaninai. *Josippon (tenth century), a widely read anonymous work, is a summary of Jewish history starting with Adam down to the destruction of the Temple. Relying primarily on Josephus, it also drew on non-Jewish sources and on Jewish legends. More factual contemporary accounts, emphasizing the history of the gaonate and the spiritual life of Babylonian Jewry, were provided by Saadiah Gaon (tenth century) and his contemporary *Nathan b. Isaac ha-Kohen who depict Babylonian life. An apparently authentic account of Jewry in southern Italy was provided by the family chronicle Ahima'az (1054; *Aḥimaaẓ b. Paltiel) which testifies to the judicial autonomy enjoyed by Italian Jews and to the close relationship existing between southern Italy and Palestine over the centuries. The chronicles of Jews in France and Germany centering around the Crusades afford authentic and moving accounts of Jewish life in those areas; they include the works of Solomon b. Simeon and *Eliezer b. Nathan, both of Mainz (about 1140), and that of Ephraim of Bonn (after 1196). Abraham ibn Daud's Sefer ha-Kabbalah ("Book of Tradition"), a work of broader scope, includes a history of the political parties in the second commonwealth, the talmudic tradition, the geonic period, and Jewish intellectual life in Spain. Ibn Daud based himself on known sources and sources unknown today with the avowed intent of showing the superiority of the *Rabbanites over the *Karaites.
The historical works of the later Middle Ages are both far more numerous and more detailed than those of the earlier period. They also attempted to place Jewish history in the context of general history and were superior in orderly arrangement and, sometimes, in critical treatment of the material. They too, however, mixed fact and fancy and were parochial or tendentious in their themes and outlook. The works of the period included a considerable number of chronicles of communities, families, or specific events. Much of the writing, centering about the lives of Jewish heroes or about persecutions, was not history for its own sake, but served as a background to halakhic or aggadic works designed to show the continuity of Jewish tradition or to provide a history of scholarship. Social and economic histories were noticeably lacking. Among the chronicles of tradition were those of Menahem b. Solomon *Meiri of Provence (1287), whose work takes the history of Jewish tradition up to his own time and is a source of information on scholarship in Provence and in the Franco-German area. A century later Isaac de Lattes of Provence wrote Sha'arei Ziyyon which takes Menahem Meiri's work as a source. The work of Joseph b. Ẓaddik on the Spanish Jewish community provides full data about Spanish scholars up to 1487. *Abraham b. Solomon of Torrutiel in his Book of Tradition (1510) not only deals with scholarly accomplishment from the 12th century onward, but also describes the period of the expulsion from Spain. His eyewitness account of the expulsion is especially valuable as is his invective against the upper classes of Spanish Jewry and his accounts of the events after his exile. Divrei Yosef (1673), by Joseph b. Isaac *Sambari of Egypt, discusses the Jews of the East. Emphasizing the history and life of Egyptian Jewry, the author also lists scholars in other Eastern cities and persecutions in the area. The book contains a wealth of data, including legends, not found in other sources.
Another type of historical literature dealt with the frequent persecutions of the period. Two major works were Shevet Yehudah, by Solomon *Ibn Verga, written on the basis of the notes of his relative Judah, supplemented by the notes of his son Joseph; and Emek ha-Bakha, by *Joseph ha-Kohen (16th century) of Italy. While Ibn Verga's account of the persecutions is unsystematic and inaccurate, his eyewitness account of the Spanish expulsion, particularly the events following it, is both detailed and moving. He is particularly informative on the religious debates which took place in Spain in connection with which he relates the story of the three rings which Lessing also was to employ in his drama, Nathan der Weise. The material in Emek ha-Bakha is much better arranged and goes up to 1575; it is particularly informative about contemporary Italian Jewish life. The book is also noteworthy because of its account of Joseph *Nasi and his attempt to rebuild Tiberias.
The major histories of tradition during the period, written in the vein of Ibn Daud, are combinations of chronologies and biographies which gained importance because they threw light on creative activities in different countries at successively later periods. The first such history, Sefer Yuḥasin (1505), by Abraham b. Samuel *Zacuto, begins with the men of the Great Synagogue and takes history down to the author's own time. The work contains frequent and detailed citations and such interesting additional material as the diary of *Isaac b. Samuel of Acre about the authenticity of the Zohar. To place his writing in perspective, Zacuto devotes the last of his five sections to universal history. Shalshelet ha-Kabbalah, by Gedaliah b. David ibn Yahya (16th century) of Italy and Turkey, is an encyclopedic mélange of the history of Jewish tradition. It is a series of essays on aspects of Jewish history and on subjects ranging from embryology to the history of persecution. Confusing fact and fancy, the work was nonetheless popular because it marshaled a host of legends about major Jewish historical personalities and because of its eclectic character, which afforded room for many historical oddities. Ẓemaḥ David, by David b. Solomon *Gans (16th century), on the other hand, is dry, factual, and well organized. Discussing both historical events and figures, he is particularly informative about Polish and German Jewish history and provides chronological tables and citations of sources which are still of value today. An equally systematic approach characterized David *Conforte's Kore ha-Dorot (17th century), which is a history of Jewish scholars and scholarship from the period of the Talmud to the author's own day and is especially informative about the tosafists and Eastern scholarship of the 16th and 17th centuries. Its value as a reference source is enhanced by the fact that the author made considerable use of responsa. The primary value of Seder ha-Dorot by Jehiel Heilprin (17th–18th century) is also as a technical reference source, particularly in the field of bibliography. The work is also exceptionally detailed in its treatment of talmudic figures. Thus in his discussion on Judah b. Ilai, he lists almost 3,000 statements attributed to him. As in other books of the period, a critical approach to history is lacking, and thus while Heilprin adds to a knowledge of Jewish tradition, particularly in rabbinics, he mixes fact and legend uncritically in the biographies which are the warp and woof of the work.
Other noteworthy works dealing with literary history and bibliography of the period were those of Joseph Solomon *Delmedigo (17th century), Shabbetai b. Joseph *Bass (17th and 18th centuries), and Ḥayyim Joseph David *Azulai (18th century). In a letter in rhymed prose, Iggeret Aḥuz, Delmedigo reviewed medieval Jewish literary history, except for rabbinics. He discusses every field of literature and its principal figures. His style is epigrammatic and often mordantly witty, and he characterizes many of the personalities and books with a single phrase. Bass and Azulai did notable work in *bibliography; while Bass listed over 2,400 works in his Siftei Yeshenim, Azulai recorded 3,000 short biographies and bibliographical items. Almost all the historical works discussed above were also based on non-Jewish sources in an attempt to place Jewish history in historical perspective; they lacked, however, critical insight. The scholar who best combined general knowledge, a critical approach, and a historical sense with intensive Jewish knowledge was Azariah dei *Rossi (16th century) of Italy. In Me'or Einayim he used the short essay form to analyze critically some aspects of Jewish history, literature, and institutions. Dealing with the chronology of the Second Temple period, he disputes both the Talmud and his predecessors and arrives at a new chronology. In his analysis of the aggadah he questions the method of the rabbis in arriving at religious and ethical truths. Discussing science in the Talmud, he indicates errors in view and knowledge and lays down the principle that rabbinic authority applies only to the areas of law and tradition. It is the first work of critical history and initially engendered much controversy because it was considered radical in its views.
During the 16th century Jewish scholars were beginning to turn their attention also to general history, with illuminating side references to Jewish history. Thus while Seder Eliyahu Zuta (1523), by Elijah *Capsali of Crete, is essentially a work on the history of the Ottoman Empire, the author provides valuable data about the history of the Jews of Spain, Turkey, and Rhodes. Similarly, the history of the kings of France and the Ottoman Turks by Joseph ha-Kohen (16th century) contains much Jewish material, including an account of David Reuveni and Solomon Molcho (see *Historiography).
Current events, history, and legend fused in the literature of geography and travel of the 1,000-year period. A book which fired the Jewish imagination is the record of *Eldad ha-Dani who appeared in Kairouan in 890 with detailed accounts of independent Jewish kingdoms in East Africa, Arabia, Khazaria, and Persia, which he described as the *Ten Lost Tribes. Mingling fact and legend, he buttressed Jewish hopes and ego for many centuries. Equally bolstering was the correspondence between Hisdai ibn Shaprut (tenth century), a leader of Spanish Jewry, and *Joseph, king of the *Khazars, about the conversion of the latter's ancestor to Judaism. The king's answer, with a document from the Cairo Genizah, provides a fascinating picture of a bypath of Jewish history and Jewish proselytizing efforts.
The great Jewish travel book of the Middle Ages is *Benjamin of Tudela's account of his travels, depicting life in Southern Europe and in the East (1159–73). An eyewitness account of the life in many lands, which the author supplemented with data on Slavic lands, Persia, and India, he portrays a vital Jewish life in many communities and a record of such oddities of history as the black Jews of Malabar and the false messiah, David Alroy. The accounts of Benjamin's near contemporary *Pethahiah of Regensburg which record his travels in Slavic lands, Babylon, and Palestine between the years 1175 to 1185 are less detailed and more credulous. He confirms Benjamin's observations, adds data, and notes the presence of a great number of Karaites in the Crimea.
From the 13th century onward there is a considerable body of literature devoted to trips to Palestine and to a description of communities visited en route. While many are merely descriptions of religious sites and legends centering about holy people and places, others contain illuminating bits of information. Thus Elleh ha-Massa'ot by Jacob of Paris records the anomaly that he was sent to Palestine to raise money for a yeshivah in Paris. Meanwhile, he gives an account of Jewish life in Damascus and Baghdad. *Estori ha-Parḥi of Provence (14th century) has extensive topographical material on Palestine, and his contemporary, Isaac Ḥilo, provides an illuminating picture of Jewish life in Palestine. He notes that there are many scholars from France and Germany among the Jews of Haifa, that the Jews of Acre are quite rich, and that the Jews of Jaffa possess a fine library.
The varied character of Jewish life and the relatively rapid changes in it are mirrored in 15th- and 16th-century Jewish travel chronicles. Meshullam b. Menahem, an Italian, visiting Egypt in the 1480s, reports that the Cairo community has 850 Jewish families, several hundred Karaites, and 50 Samaritans, but he deprecates their way of life. Obadiah of Bertinoro, the commentator on the Mishnah, writing in the same decade, gives a detailed and affirmative description of these communities and also mentions that 50 former Marrano families settled in Cairo. On the other hand, while he is negative about the Jews of Sicily whom he describes as artisans, workers in the fields, and morally lax, he indicates that they are a tightly organized Jewish community enjoying great autonomy.
Of Jerusalem, he reports that there are but 70 families, all of them poor and ignorant, which is a completely different account from that of Ḥilo of 150 years earlier. Later works include Gelilot Ereẓ Yisrael (1624), by Gershon b. Eliezer of Prague, a book replete with bizarre legends and wonder stories; several books by the Karaite *Samuel b. David (1642) of the Crimea who gives a glowing account of Karaite life in the East; Benjamin Yerushalmi (1786); and the itinerary of Simḥah b. Joseph of Poland who reports that the Constantinople Jewish community would annually charter a boat for pilgrimage to Palestine for the High Holy Days. The most fascinating travel book of all is that of David Reuveni (16th century), who appeared in Italy in 1523 claiming to be the brother of King Joseph, ruler of a small Jewish kingdom in the Arabian desert, and sent to negotiate with the pope about waging war against the Muslims. Describing his travels to Alexandria and thence to Italy, much of the book is devoted to his reception by Jews and gentiles in Europe, to his extended negotiations with the pope and the king of Portugal, and to his contacts with the Marranos in Portugal. Reuveni made a considerable impression upon Jews and gentiles, but he was ultimately arrested by the authorities and the book ends in medias res (see *Travelers and Explorers).
Reuveni's work could also be classified in the memoir genre which began to appear in the 17th century. An early example of this kind, Shivḥei ha-Ari, composed by one of Luria's followers Solomon Shlumil of Dreznitz, is partly biographical, but primarily an account of the wonders performed by Isaac Luria. Sefer Hezyonot, by Luria's disciple, Ḥayyim Vital, is a similar mixture and centers about Vital himself, with some references to Luria.
There were, however, two autobiographies of distinction, one by Leone *Modena (16th–17th century) and the other by *Glueckel of Hameln (17th–18th century). Modena, who claimed 26 occupations, provides a fascinating account of his life, and, incidentally, of contemporary Italian Jewry. Writing in Hebrew, he indicates that he was instructed in Latin, in music, and in dancing. He wrote on many themes, served as rabbi, gambled unsuccessfully, engaged in polemics and in general, fit the picture of a Renaissance man. Glueckel's memoir is notable on several scores. It is one of the few works by a woman, was written in Yiddish, and presents a lively picture of the life of a well-to-do Jewish woman of the time and the community in which she lived. She tells of her childhood, the few years she studied in ḥeder, her marriage, her widowhood, the education of her children, business practices, study patterns, and religious observance among Jews. She avows a philosophy of faith in God's providence, displays a rich knowledge of Judaism garnered from reading and listening, and sets the study of Torah as primary. She relates that she sent her children to yeshivot and then gave them in marriage. Her book is a rich portrayal of contemporary German-Jewish life and values (see *Biographies and Autobiographies).
As the field of Jewish literature broadened it came to comprehend belletristic prose which included tales, fables, and didactic works in which the ethical content is combined with satire, humor, proverbs, and apothegms for the sake of entertainment and aesthetic pleasure. While much of it was based on Arabic models, since the basic tales and proverbs tended to be universal, on which national or cultural forms were superimposed, there were also Jewish models taken from the Bible, the Apocrypha, and the aggadah. The bulk of these works, until the middle of the 14th century, were written in Spain and thereafter in Provence and Italy.
The earliest book of fables, Sefer ha-Ma'asiyyot, by Nissim b. Jacob b. Nissim ibn *Shahin of Kairouan, written in Arabic, was based largely on aggadic legends. The most notable early work, however, was the Hebrew book, Sefer Sha'ashu'im, by the physician Joseph *Ibn Zabara (12th century). A mélange of folktales, epigrams, and short passages of philosophy and science, the story centers around Zabara's encounter with a stranger who proves to be a devil. In their travels, they debate with one another, tell stories, and compete with one another in the telling of proverbs and epigrams. Characterized by wit, humor, and satire, the style resembles that of the *maqāma; it is, however, not poetic in form.
Another major work, Ben ha-Melekh ve-ha-Nazir, by Abraham b. Samuel ha-Levi *Ibn Ḥasdai, is a Hebrew adaptation of an Arabic version (which has been lost) of an Indian tale based on the life of Buddha, whose theme is the vanity of the world and the value of the ascetic life. The Indian tale had already been adapted in many European languages. Ibn Ḥasdai's treatment of the material is original, and many of the parables and the content of the last 11 chapters, which reflect the moral and psychological teachings of 12th-century philosophy, appear in no other version. Written in rhymed prose, interspersed with poetry, abundantly ornamented by proverbs and poetry, the book is the story of a prince who through the instruction of a hermit is converted to an ascetic life.
Meshal ha-Kadmoni (1281), by Isaac ibn *Sahula, is another important work of the period. Based on aggadic stories but also including original tales, it is written in rhymed prose and embellished with puns and parodies based on biblical and aggadic expressions. The author indicates that his motive was to show Arabic-reading Jews that the Hebrew language was an equally suitable vehicle for entertainment. About the same time *Berechiah b. Natronai ha-Nakdan published his Mishlei Shu'alim ("Fox Fables"). Animal stories of this type were a familiar genre in medieval literature and much resemble Aesop's fables. The distinctive Hebraic character of Berechiah's version derives from the play of language. The animals converse in biblical Hebrew, interspersed with talmudic quotations, and readily resort to biblical puns and to parodies upon Jewish characters. A similar book which, however, was a direct translation from the Arabic, was the Iggeret Ba'alei Ḥayyim, by Kalonymus b. Kalonymus.
The major medieval work of satire and humor, Al-Ḥarizi's Taḥkemoni, was the precursor of a considerable body of literature of lesser worth, one of which is Sone Nashim ("Hater of Women," 1298) by Judah ibn Shabbetai of Spain. Its obvious theme is elaborated with parodies on the Bible, on the liturgy, and on the marriage contract. A rejoinder, much inferior in quality, was written almost a century later by Jedaiah b. Abraham Bedersi (ha-Penini) under the title of Ohev Nashim ("Lover of Women").
The parodying of familiar literary forms, notably the Bible and the Talmud, centered about Purim which was an occasion for merrymaking and wine drinking. Of the large volume of literature written in this vein, the most representative are Massekhet Purim by the 14th-century *Kalonymus b. Kalonymus which parodies the talmudic style, and the rather more witty Megillat Setarim, by Levi b. Gershom, which celebrates wine and merrymaking. Similar works were composed in subsequent centuries, most of them centering about Purim, but a few parodying the Passover Haggadah. Kalonymus b. Kalonymus was also the author of the satirical and didactic work Even Bohan in which he portrays the Jews of Provence and characterizes their formal religiosity as devoid of spirit. He attacks the doctors and holds the upper classes up for ridicule. Other parts of the book, however, are dedicated to the theme of the vanity of the world and are in the form of fine parables.
Mivḥar ha-Peninim, a book of proverbs culled from Arabic literature and intended to provide ethical instruction, attributed to Ibn Gabirol, is the precursor of a large body of ethical works, most of which were didactic, and of works in which ethical systems were formulated. What distinguished didactic from ethical works was essentially a form and a style which were light and popular rather than formal, since the intention of the author was to provide entertainment as well as instruction to his audience. Milḥemet ha-Ḥokhmah ve-ha-Osher, by Judah ibn Shabbetai, claims that both wisdom and wealth must be pursued. Its form is that of a dialogue between contending parties before a court and its style involves the use of puns and parody. Ha-Mevakkesh (1264), by Shem Tov b. Joseph ibn Falaquera, is a more serious work in which the author discusses various professions and crafts, reviews philosophy, ethical theory, and poetry and concludes with a discussion on religion, science, and philosophy. The book, he asserts, is designed to instruct people in proper conduct and is written in dialogue form, with the morals being brought home in short poems and proverbs. The conclusion is that a true understanding of religion depends upon a knowledge of science and philosophy.
Beḥinat Olam, written in the earlier part of the 14th century by Jedaiah Bedersi (ha-Penini), is altogether more solemn and is written in a poetic prose. Its themes are the pursuit of immortality and the cultivation of the soul toward that pursuit. Happiness, he asserts, resides in the observance of the Torah and in following the path of moderation in daily life.
From the 12th century onward, as a result of the confrontation of Judaism with Islam and Christianity, the literature of polemics and apologetics developed. Although having its roots in biblical and Hellenistic sources, this literature reached its zenith in the Middle Ages primarily in response to Christian attempts to proselytize Jews by force or persuasion, and to involve them in theological debates. The problem of confrontation was considerably less severe in Muslim countries where the central issues were usually biblical exegesis and articles of faith with which almost all medieval philosophers and theologians dealt, either in their major works or in separate treatises. In addition, within Judaism itself there was a tradition of polemical literature: between the Rabbanites and the Karaites, between philosophers and their critics, and between kabbalists and their opponents. Polemical efforts are, however, found as early as the ninth century in parts of David ibn Marwān *Al-Mukammis' larger works, in which he attacks both Christianity and Islam. He scores the former for undermining pure monotheism and the latter on the grounds that the style of the Koran does not prove divine origin. In the tenth century Saadiah Gaon took much the same line, questioning the validity of Christian and Muslim exegesis of the Bible and asserting the immutability of the Torah. Expressing his criticisms of the other faiths in the form of a debate with Christians and Muslims, Judah Halevi, in his Sefer ha-Kuzari (12th century), extensively elaborates the points of his Jewish polemical predecessors in accusing Christianity and Islam of retaining many elements of pagan idolatry. Maimonides, in his letter to the Jews of Yemen, defends Judaism and denies that there are biblical references presaging Muhammad.
The first polemical work as such, however, is Sefer ha-Berit by the 12th-century writer, Joseph *Kimḥi of Provence. Written in the form of a dialogue, the author presents a debate between a Jew and a Christian on such issues as the interpretations of biblical passages, original sin, the role of Jesus, and the traditional charges Christians had leveled against Jews, i.e., deicide and usury. Kimḥi's arguments were the same as those which had been commonly adduced by Jews, namely, that the doctrine of original sin contradicts the biblical view, that the Jews did not kill Jesus, and that Christian biblical exegesis is mistaken. In addition, Kimḥi asserts that the Jews had an elevated moral sense and a decent communal life.
The talmudic debate held in 1240 before the king in Paris is recorded in Vikku'aḥ by one of the disputants, Rabbi *Jehiel b. Joseph of Paris. The rabbi defends the Talmud against the charge that it contains anti-Christian statements by claiming that the passages in question refer to an earlier Jesus and not the Jesus of the New Testament. Jehiel further contends that irrational statements in the Talmud and Midrash belong to the aggadah, which need not be accepted. Kol Nidrei and the laws relating to gentiles are also explained.
Another important disputation records Naḥmanides' debate with Pablo *Christiani at Barcelona in 1263. The polemic deals primarily with such questions as to whether the Messiah has come, whether the Messiah is divine or human, and whether Judaism is a just and true religion. Naḥmanides, referring to the familiar biblical passages, asserts that "the suffering servant" implies the Jewish people; he attacks the doctrine of original sin and, in terms similar to those of Jehiel, describes the non-halakhic nature of the aggadah.
In the 14th century the increase of forced conversions and attacks on Judaism by apostates caused Solomon b. Abraham Adret to write a dialogue denouncing the dogmas of Islam and denying the divine origin of the Koran, while defending Jews from the charge of having eliminated references to Muhammad from the Bible. Vis-à-vis a Christian antagonist, Solomon repudiates the allegorical interpretations of the Bible, defends the immutability of the Torah, and explains certain talmudic passages.
More significant are Isaac Profiat Duran's two polemical works, the ironic letter Al Tehi ka-Avotekha ("Be not Like your Fathers"), and the lengthy Kelimmat ha-Goyim ("The Shame of the Gentiles"). The first is addressed to a Jew who, like Duran himself, was forcibly converted in 1391, and who reneged on an agreement with Duran to flee Spain and to abandon Christianity. Heavily satirical, the letter urges the friend not to be like his fathers who believed in the pure unity of God, but to accept the notion of corporal embodiment. In the same ironic manner of apparent advocacy, Duran attacks many Christian doctrines. He continues his criticism in a more detailed and systematic way in his second work where literary and historical methods rather than irony are employed to establish his views. Ḥasdai Crescas composed a no less powerful polemic, Bittul Ikkarei ha-Noẓerim ("Refutation of the Dogmas of Christianity"), which elicited Christian replies.
A major polemical work which evoked considerable controversy and many Christian retorts is the comprehensive Sefer ha-Niẓẓaḥon by Yom Tov Lippman *Muelhausen (15th century) of Prague. The book is both an attack on Christianity and a defense of Judaism and its dogmas. Lippman sharply refutes Christian interpretations of the Bible and the doctrines derived from them, and incidently provides many exegetical insights. His statement of Jewish dogmas is couched in philosophical terms. A contemporaneous work by Simeon b. Zemaḥ Duran, Keshet u-Magen, attacks both Islam and Christianity. In his criticism of Christianity, he makes the significant point that Paul's abrogation of the law was not intended for Jews, but only for gentiles in order to attract them to the new faith.
The debates of the 15th and the 16th centuries are more notable for their polemic nature than for any new insights. Thus contentiousness marked the debate, held at the invitation of the pope, at Tortosa, Spain, in which an apostate Jew argued with Joseph Albo, whose views are summarized in his Ikkarim, and with Don Vidal Benveniste, who headed a delegation of the leading Jewish scholars of Spain. Don Isaac Abrabanel dealt at length with Christian doctrines. In the latter part of the 16th century, Joseph *Nasi, Duke of Naxos, and his brother, David, who was the business agent of a cardinal of Crete, and Abraham ibn Migash, the physician of Sultan Suleiman, all wrote polemics against Christianity.
The 17th century saw the renewal of accusations against Jews by apostates and of proselytizing by Catholics and Protestants. These activities were condemned by Zalman Ẓevi Oppenhausen of Germany, Jacob of Venice, and Leone Modena. Public disputations were still being held as, for example, in Ferrara in 1617, which was recorded by an anonymous Jewish scholar in his book about the immutability of the Torah; and later in the century, Isaac Lupis participated in a debate in Marseilles. By the end of the century, however, the number of polemics against Christianity began to decrease. The only such production of note in the 18th century was Moses *Mendelssohn's famous letter to Johann Casper Lavater.
[Meyer Waxman and
Following the large-scale migration of Jews to German-speaking territories in the course of the late first millennium c.e. and adoption and adaptation of the local language (a process that had already characterized Jewish migrations in antiquity, e.g., in the development of Judeo-Persian, Judeo-Greek, and Judeo-Aramaic), there gradually developed a new Jewish language – Yiddish – distinct from its various components (Romance, Germanic, and Semitic at this stage) that became the vernacular of the Jewish communities and ultimately also a literary language that complemented Hebrew literature over the course of a millennium of Ashkenazi cultural history. By the 17th century that literature spanned essentially the same broad range of genres as did, for instance, English, French, and German literatures of the period. As was also the case with those literatures, in early Yiddish there were a great many translations from other languages.
The earliest textual evidence of the existence of Yiddish is found in Rashi's commentaries on the Bible and Talmud, which include some three dozen Yiddish glosses, indicating the relevance of the language for Rashi (who studied in yeshivot in the Rhineland) and his students. The glossing tradition developed over the course of several centuries from such sparse beginnings to include comprehensive glosses of most biblical books, entered interlinearly, marginally, as separate lists in order of the words' occurrence, and ultimately as separate alphabetically ordered works. Among the important works of early Yiddish lexicography are Anshel b. Eliakim ha-Levi Zion's Mirkeves Hamishno ("The Second/Double Chariot," Cracow, 1534), a Hebrew-Yiddish biblical concordance and the first printed book substantially in Yiddish. Moses Sertels b. Issachar Halevi published a two-volume set of glossaries of the entire Bible: Seyfer Lekaḥ Tov ("Good Doctrine," Prague, 1604) and Seyfer Beeyr Moushe ("The Well of Moses," Prague, 1605). Not all glossaries focused on religious texts: both Nathan Nata b. Moses Hannover's Sofo Bruro (Safah Berurah; "Pure Speech," Prague, 1660) and Elijah Bahur Levita (Elye Bokher)'s Shmous Dvorim (Shemot Devarim; "The Names of Things," Isny, 1542) are quadrilingual glossaries arranged thematically.
While glossaries aid readers with "difficult" words, the earliest biblical translations into Yiddish (15th-century manuscripts) were so very literal as to be comprehensible only when read alongside the Hebrew original. The first printed Yiddish translations of the Pentateuch and haftarot appeared in 1544: one by Michael Adam (Constance), the other by Paulus Aemilius (Augsburg), both slavishly literal. The next stage arrived in Judah Leib *Bresch's adaptation of those translations into a somewhat more idiomatic style, with an abridged version of Rashi's commentary (Cremona, 1560). Other books of the Bible followed in the ensuing decades, but they were all soon replaced by the Tsenerene (Hanau, 1622), probably the most read Yiddish book of all time and one of the most influential books in the history of Yiddish literature and indeed Ashkenazi culture. For four centuries it has been the Bible for Hebrew-less readers, male and female, and immediately became so popular that the Ashkenazi book market rejected the more idiomatic translations published in the ensuing decades (e.g., by Jekuthiel b. Isaac Blitz (Amsterdam, 1676–9) and Joseph b. Alexander Witzenhausen (Amsterdam, 1679)). Little is known of the book's author/translator, Jacob b. Isaac Ashkenazi of Janov. Probably written in the late 16th century, the earliest extant edition of 1622 was not the first edition; there have since been 210 further editions. The book is less a translation than a paraphrase with extensive incorporated commentary drawn from the learned Jewish tradition and rendered accessible to the broadest possible readership.
An innovative development in the literary treatment of biblical narrative was poetic adaptation with an admixture of midrashic material. Already in the earliest collection of Yiddish texts, the Cambridge Genizah codex of 1382 (from Cairo), half of the texts are related to this genre, especially the "Avrohom Ovinu" ("Abraham the Patriarch") and "Yousef Hatsadik" ("Joseph the Righteous"). The most famous examples of the genre are the Mlokhim-bukh ("The Book of Kings," Augsburg, 1543) and the *Shmuel-bukh ("The Book of Samuel," Augsburg, 1544), whose authors demonstrate an intimate knowledge of both Jewish sacred and German heroic traditions; they share a four-line stanzaic form of two rhyming couplets (aabb). While the Mlokhim-bukh (2,262 stanzas) is the longest poem in early Yiddish, the Shmuel-bukh (1,792 stanzas), most likely composed in the late 15th century by Moushe Esrim Vearba, is one of the great narrative masterpieces of the tradition; it was sung to a melody that became famous and was used for many other Yiddish poems of the period.
The liturgy itself remained firmly in the linguistic realm of the sacred languages, Hebrew and Aramaic, and thus the Yiddish translations of the prayer book (complete by the 15th century) were not used in place of the standard prayers, but simply functioned to make them accessible to those who knewlittle Hebrew. Joseph b. Yakar's translation of the complete prayer book was the first to be printed (Ichenhausen, 1544). A number of important functions with respect to the liturgy were, however, fulfilled by Yiddish. Several texts from the Passover Haggadah, the hymn "Addir Hu/Almekhtiger Got" ("Almighty God"), "Ehad Mi Yode'a" ("Who Knows One"), and "Ḥad Gadya" ("Song of the Kid"), all appeared in bilingual versions by the 15th century, and "Ḥad Gadya" may well have originally been composed in Yiddish and then translated into Aramaic. Significantly, this incorporation of Yiddish into the Passover liturgy takes place in a domestic, not a synagogal, ritual, where Hebrew retained its exclusive dominance. The most important realm of Yiddish in prayer was in tkhines (teḥinnot) and slikhes (seliḥot). Tkhines are generally rhymed piyyutim originating in the weekly fasts; the Yiddish form appeared early and came to dominate the genre. Slikhes are nonobligatory prayers for the forgiveness of sin, recited on all fast days and during the Days of Penitence. There were early collections of these prayers by both men and women; among the most famous composers were Toube Pan (17th-century Prague) and Sarah *Bas-Tovim (18th century).
Like liturgical texts, traditional legal textuals (halakhah) remained staunchly Hebrew-Aramaic. In rabbinical responses to legal issues posed by individual and community queries, however, Yiddish appears with some frequency, generally in the form of quoted testimony, which provides significant evidence of idiomatic speech at a time when literary texts mask such usage. Coterritorial civil jurisdiction often also leaves traces of Yiddish, especially in the genre designated Urfehdebrief or "Oath of Peace," sometimes required of released convicts to ensure that they not take action against their accuser or judge; some few such oaths required of Jews are bilingual, including a Yiddish text.
Among the most important and influential genres in early Ashkenaz were those designed to teach proper daily conduct according to locally defined usage (minhagim, books of custom) and proper morals (muser). The earliest extant Yiddish examples of custumals (ms. from 1503; printed book Venice, 1593), provided instructions for all aspects of conducting a proper Jewish life, e.g., how to kasher pots, how to conduct a circumcision, how to pray in the absence of a minyan. Manuals specifically for women, such as the Seyder Noshim (ms. 1504) and the rhymed Mitsvous Hanoshim ("Women's Laws," Venice, 1552), were quite popular. The earliest Yiddish example of muser, the Seyfer Midous ("The Book of Virtues," Isny, 1542), an adaptation of the anonymous Hebrew moralistic work, Orḥot Ẓadikim ("The Ways of the Righteous"), is dedicated to a woman, Morado of Ginzburg, identified as a doctor of medicine. Its discussions of vices and virtues are quite dense, abstract, and include little in the way of illustrative narratives, parables, and legends that later came to characterize this popular genre, as in the originally Yiddish composition Der Brant Shpigl ("The Burning Mirror," Cracow, 1602) by Moses Henochs Altshuler of Prague, who provided practical instruction in ritual hygiene, sexual matters, and rearing children. Rebecca *Tiktiner'sMeynekes Rivko ("Nursemaid of Rebecca," Prague 1609) provided detailed instruction specifically for women. The very popular Seyfer Lev Tov ("Book of the Good Heart," Prague, 1620) by *Isaac b. Eliakim of Posen, almost immediately replaced the Brant Shpigl. Ẓevi-Hirsh Koydenover's Seyfer Kav Hayosher ("Book of the Correct Measure," Frankfurt am Main, 1705–6) offers rare insight into the spiritual crisis following the collapse of the messianic movement of Shaptse Tsvi/*Shabbetai Ẓevi, here expressed through a drive toward reinstitution of traditional practices now imbued with Lurianic Kabbalah. The Seyfer Simkhas Hanefesh ("Joy of the Soul," 2 vols., Frankfurt am Main, 1707; Fürth, 1727) provided the community with an abridged codification of Jewish law along with an annotated catalogue of the vices and virtues observed in Jewish communities; this is a prime example of the later form of the genre with its inclusion of poems and songs, including musical notation. Isaac Wetzlar's Libs Briv ("Love Letters," ms. 1749) combined the muser genre with a devotion to anti-elitist economic and educational reform that incidentally insists on equal education for girls.
One of the most remarkable of early Yiddish genres is the secular epic or romance. These adventure tales crisscrossed language and cultural boundaries so often in the course of the European Middle Ages that their precise origins are obscure. Even so, their obviously Christian character and orientation render them a curiosity in the early Yiddish canon. Already in the Genizah codex of 1382, however, the fragmentary Dukus Horant ("Duke Horant"), based on German material (although no German text on the subject is extant), narrates a typically adventurous bridal quest of a king. The *Vidvilt or Kenig Artis Houf ("Vidvilt" / "King Arthur's Court," 15th–16th century) is an adaptation of a 13th-century Middle High German Arthurian romance (Wigalois) concerning Sir Gawain and his son Vidvilt. The centerpieces of the genre, however, are the typically medieval Bovo d'Antona (1507; printed Isny, 1541), composed by Elijah Levita (Elye Bokher) on the basis of a Tuscan romance, and the renaissance Pariz un Viene (Verona, 1594), adapted probably by one of Levita's students from another Italian romance. While Levita's rather conventional romance was perennially popular in countless further adaptations (as the *Bove-bukh) over the course of several centuries, the consummately Italianate, humanistic Pariz un Viene, a Yiddish counterpart of its contemporaries, Ariosto's Orlando furioso or Shakespeare's tragedies, apparently enjoyed little popularity. The quasisecular nature of this genre as it developed in northern Italy was also reflected in some aspects of the corpus of early Yiddish lyric and fable (see below).
Insofar as narrative prose per se existed in early Ashkenaz, it was initially at least a Hebrew genre, and thus Yiddish examples were most often translations, e.g., the 15th-century Ben Ha-Melekh ve-ha-Nazir ("The Prince and Monk"), a reflex of the Buddha legend that had descended through a long line of adaptations from its Pahlavi original; the popular quasihistorical work, Yousifen (Jossipon, tr. Michael Adam, Zurich, 1546); or the Hebrew masterpiece of renaissance sensibility, the Shevet Yehudah ("Sceptre of Judah," Heb. 1554 (?), Yidd. tr. Cracow, 1591). It is not clear whether Yuspa Shamash's Ma'asei Nisim ("Miracle Tales") was written in Yiddish or in fact translated from a Hebrew original by his grandson Eliezer Liberman, who published it (Amsterdam, 1696). Despite the preponderance of translation in this genre, there are genuine masterpieces among the original Yiddish compositions as well. The Maase Briyo ve Zimro ("Tale of Briyo and Zimro," ms. 1585) is a tale of international intrigue, averted cultural extinction, the hero's journey to the Other World, and star-crossed young lovers. The centerpiece of the genre, the *Maase-bukh ("Mayse-Book / Book of Tales," Basel, 1602), compiled and adapted from the Talmud, Midrash, and various folktale sources in the late 16th century, includes 255 tales, designed to be a vernacular aggadah that would teach the common people ethical principles by means of pious tales (in pointed opposition to other allegedly immoral collections then in circulation, such as the *Ki-bukh; on which see below), as well as entertain. This book's popularity and profound and pervasive influence on later Yiddish literature was surpassed only by the Tsenerene. The magnificently anomalous book written by Glikl bas Leyb Pinkerle (*Glueckel of Hameln; untitled, composed 1691–1719; publ. 1898) is difficult to classify, since it combines attributes of the ethical instruction of muser, the pragmatic detail of minhogim, and the pious exempla of mayse collections, along with aspects of autobiography. Glikl provides unsurpassed insight into the mind, passions, spirituality, and daily cares of an intelligent and capable Jewish businesswoman of the period.
In addition to narrative texts, other Yiddish prose works abounded, e.g., instructional manuals in accounting and mathematics, geographical description, hygienic manuals, and the prolific genre of practical medicine (with an inevitable admixture of magical charms and potions). Perhaps most remarkably, in 1686–7, Yiddish added its own contribution to the century that witnessed the invention of European journalism: the Dinstagishe/Fraytagishe Kurantn, which appeared twice weekly in Amsterdam, reporting on political events from all over Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, especially concerning the religious wars of Catholics and Protestants, Turkish incursions into the Balkans, weather catastrophes, and new inventions.
The origins of Jewish drama are obscure, but clearly connected with *Purimshpil (Purim plays) as performed in private houses during that holiday. There are a few examples of early Purim poems, and Gumprekht of Szczebrzeszyn (resident in Venice) narrates the Esther story in suggestively dramatic form and provides the first usage of the word purimshpil (ms. 1555). In 1598, a satirical Yiddish poem indicates that a (none xtant) play called Shpil fun Toyb Yeklayn… ("Play about Deaf Jake") was performed at Tannhausen. An anonymous Yiddish adaptation of a German Jonah play survives from c. 1600, the function of which in Jewish culture is not clear. The earliest complete Purim play extant is an "Akhashveyresh-shpil" from 1697, which was, as were the other earliest extant examples, a bawdy poetic burlesque based on the biblical Esther story, in which the character of Mordecai was conceived as a clownish buffoon whose humor was often quite vulgar. Within a few decades, however, Purim plays had changed radically from folksy chamber plays to elaborate costumed and quite serious Baroque musical dramas with orchestral accompaniment that in one case at least is styled "like an opera." While branching out to include other subjects, such as Joseph and his brothers and David and Goliath, Yiddish drama was restricted to Purim plays until the advent of maskilic drama at the end of the 18th century.
An important genre of early Yiddish literature was the fable or moral tale, which appeared in a variety of forms. The earliest is a lion fable in the Genizah codex of 1382, where the aged tyrant is not healed by the other animals (as often is the tradition), but is the object of their vengeance. Anshel Levi's Midrash le-Pirkey Ovous ("Midrash on Pirkei Avot," ms. 1579), a recurringly popular subject of Yiddish translation and commentary in the period, also includes a humorous fable of a conceited king whose singing reminds one of the braying of an ass. *Berechiah ha-Nakdan'sMishlei Shu'alim ("Fox Fables," 12th century) was translated into Yiddish by Jacob Kopelman (Freiburg, 1583). Fables are also integral features of the infamous Alfa-beta de Ben Sira ("Alphabet of Ben Sira," 16th-century ms.). The most important collection is the Kibukh ("Book of Cows," Verona, 1595), which was castigated for its occasionally risqué morality in the prefaces of the Maase-bukh and Moses Wallich's Seyfer Mesholim ("Book of Fables," Frankfurt am Main, 1697, a barely adapted reprint of the Ki-bukh), both of which claimed to replace it with tales of moral rectitude.
While early Yiddish literature does not present a well-defined genre of lyric poetry, there are a number of culturally interesting examples of various lyric types. The earliest extant Yiddish poetic text is a blessing in couplet form found in the Worms Mahzor (1272). As already noted, there are important Passover hymns and the rhymed penitential prayers; one might also note the Torah songs, some composed by women. There are also reflective philosophical poems such as "Das Mentsh Geglikhn" ("The Ages of Human Life Compared," 1554) or Isaac Wallich's memento mori poem "Vayl Ikh Itsundert an Mir Farshtey" ("For I Now Understand About Myself," c. 1700). Balancing such serious poems, whether religious or (quasi-) philosophical, however, there are also poems of playful philosophical disputation, e.g., Zalmen Soyfer's "Makhloukes Yain ve Hamayim" ("Debate between Wine and Water," 1516); biting Venetian satire, such as Elye Bokher's "Ha Mavdil Lid" ("Ha-Mavdil Song," 1514); "Eyn Sheyn Nay Lid fun Dray Vayber" ("A Fine New Song of Three Wives," c. 1650) in which three married women spend their evenings drinking in pubs, with only a belated and half-hearted moralistic conclusion; "Pumay" (ca. 1600), a drinking song of yeshivah students; and perhaps most surprisingly, a brief and hauntingly lyrical 14th-century love song written on the fly-leaf of a Rashi manuscript, "Vu Zol Ikh Hin?" ("Whither Shall I Go?").
Beyond the strictly lyrical genre, Yiddish poetry, like other European literatures of the period, also included historical narrative in poetic form, often with a specified melody, indicating that the compositions were commonly sung. These songs often commemorated recent events that affected the Jewish community, such as Elḥonon Hellen's Megilas Vinẓ ("The Vints Scroll"), on the *Fettmilch insurrection in Frankfurt am Main in 1614–16 (Amsterdam, 1648); the anonymous adaptation from German of a lament on the death of Emperor Ferdinand iv (?Prague, 1654); Joseph b. Eliezer Lipman Ashkenazi's Kino al Gezeyrous ha Kehilous de'k''k Ukraine ("Lament on the Destruction of the Ukrainian Communities," Prague, 1648), on the *Chmielnicki massacres; Jacob Tousk's (Taussig) Eyn Sheyn Nay Lid fun Meshiekh ("A Fine New Song about the Messiah," Amsterdam, 1666), the fervent expression of a pious believer's joy at Shabbetai Ẓevi's supposed fulfillment of messianic prophecy.
The cliché that Yiddish was no more than a "kitchen-language" and its literature in the early period no more than a primitive and embarrassing crutch for "pious women and ignorant men" (i.e., those who knew no Hebrew) has been so widespread over the course of the last half millennium that it has taken on mythic status, but like many myths, it lacks compelling evidence. While there is no doubt that much of early Yiddish devotional literature of the muser genre had a primarily female audience, a significant number of muser books directly addressed men. The obvious address of women is also the case, with some other qualifications, for the devotional prayers of the tkhines and slikhes types, and for the Yiddish Pirkey Ovous, and even that greatest bestseller of all time in early Yiddish, the Tsenerene, although its preface actually identifies men before women as its audience. But there were many genres of early Yiddish texts that were clearly not for women or unlettered men: biblical glosses and glossaries and biblical translations so literal that they are incomprehensible except when read in conjunction with the Hebrew text can only have been for the reader of the Hebrew text. The glosses in Rashi's texts indicate not only the existence of Yiddish at that early period, but also that it was one of the languages of Rashi's students, if not in fact one of the languages of his own teaching. Likewise not for women were the books that provide detailed practical information for traveling merchants on how to follow the commandments while on the road (e.g., Moses Cohen's Derekh Moushe, "The Path of Moses," Amsterdam, 1699), manuals detailing the method of Talmud study (ms. 1733), introductions to accounting (Arye Levi's Seyfer Yedios Hakhezhbn, "The Book of Computations," Amsterdam, 1699). Nor in fact are most of the other extant types of early Yiddish literature as outlined above inherently for women – in what sense is a poem about the Chmielnicki massacres, the Ḥad Gadya, or the Amsterdam newspaper, for instance, "women's" literature? One must also keep in mind that the audience of "pious women and ignorant men" identified in the prefaces of many early Yiddish texts in fact constituted the vast majority of the Ashkenazi population, only a tiny minority of which knew more Hebrew than was required for prayer (and of course even that Hebrew-literate minority also knew Yiddish). The functional audience for early Yiddish literature thus comprised the entirety of Yiddish-speaking Jewry, female and non-Hebrew-literate male, but also including in particular the most literate members of the culture, i.e., the educated men who, with few exceptions, wrote, edited, published, distributed, sold, and indeed also bought and read early Yiddish books.
[Jerold C. Frakes (2nd ed.)]
The beginning of Ladino literature may be traced to the 13th century with the translation of the Bible into Ladino. These translations, however, were in Latin script and it is only after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain that Ladino translations of the Bible were written in Hebrew script and the language acquired a distinctly Jewish character (see *Bible, Translations, Ladino). Another major literary activity in religious Ladino literature was the translation of exegetical and ethical works, moral handbooks, and prayer books. A number of original works were also produced such as *Almosnino's popular Il Regimiento de la Vida (Salonika, 1564), an ethical treatise which included a long dissertation on dreams. Most of Almosnino's works, however, were in Hebrew, although his compilation of data on Constantinople in Ladino, which Jacob *Cansino of Oran later published in Spanish under the title Extremos y Grandezas de Constantinopla, is a major work in Spanish Jewish literature and a significant historical source.
By the end of the 17th century poetry, mystical writings, biblical exegesis, history, and ethics were written in Ladino. *Me-Am Lo'ez, the monumental ethical-religious work of Ladino literature, is an elaborate encyclopedic commentary on the entire Bible which in 1730 was initiated by Jacob *Culi who wrote the commentary on Genesis and a portion of Exodus. It is assumed that the subsequent commentaries are in part based on his manuscripts. The work, written in a popular style, was intended to make the Bible and Jewish learning readily understandable to the layman who no longer was able to use the Hebrew texts. Among original works of religious poetry in Ladino are Proverbios morales by Shem Tov (*Santob) de Carrion (14th century) and the Poema de Yosef, probably composed at the beginning of the 15th century, which is an adaptation of the story of Joseph and his brethren from the Midrash and Sefer ha-Yashar. The poem's strophic and metric form, influenced by the Hebrew piyyut, is also reminiscent of the cuaderna via literary structure which was developing at the time. Written also in Spanish in Arabic characters, the poem became an integral part of Spanish literature. The popular Ladino poem on the same subject, Coplas de Yosef ha-Ẓaddik, by Abraham de Toledo (1732), is known in two distinct versions: one written in Constantinople (1732) and the other in Belgrade (1861) which is based on the lost Salonika version (1755). The poem, consisting of 400 quatrains, was also sung on Purim. The copla genre which flourished in Ladino in the 19th century was mainly the poetic expression of minor works written for Purim (Coplas de Purim).
A distinctly secular mode of expression in Ladino literature is the romancero which formed part of the oral tradition of Jews in Spain. The Ladino romancero is largely a continuation and an adaptation of the Spanish romancero of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. The original romancero, a traditional Spanish ballad widely popular in the 14th and 15th centuries, was often sung. There are also many original romances and songs in Ladino or later composition. The different types of romanceros found in Spanish literature (historical, tragic, humorous, amorous, satirical) were also found in Ladino, to which have been added three specifically Jewish types: wedding songs, religious hymns, and laments.
Other secular literature in Ladino are adaptations and translations of plays and novels, mainly from French literature. This led to the writing of original plays and novels, most of which, however, are of an inferior quality. There is a rich Ladino folk literature but most of it has neither been collected nor studied.
Waxman, Literature: see bibliographies at end of each volume; Winter and Wuensche, Die juedische Literatur (1906); see also bibliographies for each relevant entry in the encyclopaedia. add. bibliography: yiddish literature: J.C. Frakes (ed.), Early Yiddish Texts, 1100–1750 (2004); J. Baumgarten, Introduction to Old Yiddish Literature (2005).