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Menahem ben Ḥelbo


MENAHEM BEN ḤELBO (11th century), one of the first commentators on the Bible in northern France. Little is known of his life. He was the uncle of Joseph *Kara, who transmitted Menahem's comments to *Rashi. Apparently he lived for some time in Provence, and it is his influence which accounts for the presence of Arabic words as well as some Provençal forms of French in Rashi. Menahem was also called "Kara," which shows that his principal occupation was biblical commentary. He also wrote comments on the piyyutim. Menahem collected his commentaries in book form which he called pitronim ("solutions"). They covered all the Prophets and the Hagiographa, but not the Pentateuch upon which, apparently, he did not attempt to comment. His books are no longer extant as they were apparently superseded by Rashi's commentaries. Fragments, however, were collected by S.A. Poznański from quotations, especially by Joseph Kara, and also from the works of commentators in Germany (published by Poznański in Festschrift N. Sokolow (1904), 389–439 with Menahem's commentary on the piyyutim, and also separately).

Menahem was the first commentator in France to interpret the Bible according to the simple meaning of the text, although he also gave homiletical interpretations. He often limited himself to explaining difficult words and phrases, relying extensively on the Targum (e.g., Isa. 1:8). He employed many French words and terms in his commentary and had little recourse to grammar. Zunz is of the opinion that Menahem did not commit his comments on the piyyutim to writing, but transmitted his explanations of *Kallir's piyyutim orally. There is now evidence that he also wrote commentaries to other piyyutim.


Abraham b. Azriel, Sefer Arugat ha-Bosem, ed. by E.E. Urbach, 4 (1963), 3–6.

[Avraham Grossman]

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