Nathan ben Jehiel of Rome

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NATHAN BEN JEHIEL OF ROME (1035–c. 1110), Italian lexicographer, also called Ba'al he-Arukh ("the author of the Arukh") after the title of his lexicon. Few biographical details are known of him. Some state that he belonged to the De *Pomis or Delli Mansi family, but the view is widespread that he actually belonged to the famous *Anau (Anav) family. He was taught in his youth by his father, a paytan and the head of the yeshivah of Rome, and may as a young man have studied in Sicily under Maẓli'aḥ b. Elijah ibn *al-Bazak, a pupil of Hai Gaon. However, there is reason to believe that the scanty references to Maẓli'aḥ's name in Nathan's work are the addenda of an earlier copyist named Mevorakh, some of whose marginal notes, in which he also mentions that he was al-Bazak's pupil, were later incorporated in the text of the Arukh. Nathan also studied under Moses ha-Darshan of Narbonne, as well as, in the view of some scholars, under Moses Kalfo of Bari and Moses of Pavia. When his father died immediately after Nathan's return to Rome about 1070, he and his two brothers Daniel and Abraham succeeded him as the heads of the yeshivah of Rome. With them he wrote responsa to halakhic questions addressed to him by various scholars, among whom was a Solomon Yiẓḥaki, identified by some as Rashi. Noted for his charitable acts, Nathan built a magnificent synagogue and a ritual bathhouse for his community. It was while serving as head of the Rome yeshivah that he wrote his classic work (which he completed in 1101), the Arukh, a lexicon of the Talmud and the Midrashim, containing all the talmudic terms in need of explanation; in the course of time various additions were made to it (see below). At the end of the Arukh there is a poem written in particularly difficult language and therefore of somewhat obscure meaning; in it the poet, lamenting his bitter lot, tells of the death of four out of his five sons during his lifetime.

In the Arukh Nathan gives not only the meaning but also the etymology of the words of the Talmud, including some of Aramaic, Latin, Greek, Arabic, and Persian origin. Nathan quotes many geonic interpretations and an earlier lexicon by a Ẓemaḥ of uncertain identity, as well as the comments of earlier and contemporary rabbis–among them works otherwise unknown–and halakhic decisions, although apparently irrelevant to the object of the work. He describes Jewish customs, such as that of the Babylonian Jews, who in celebrating Purim burned Haman's effigy, singing around and leaping over a bonfire (s.v.shavvar). The Arukh is important for the study of the *MidrashYelammedenu. Of the other Midrashim he cites, particular note should be taken of the Midrash Hashkem of which only quotations have survived, and many of his citations from the Midrashim are not to be found in the extant editions. He also quotes the Palestine Targum to the Pentateuch. Words were still treated by Nathan as though they belonged to uniliteral or biliteral consonantal roots, even though the work of Judah ibn Ḥayyuj, showing that the Hebrew verb has a triliteral root, had already appeared.

The main importance of the Arukh lies in the extensive collection of explanations of words and subjects in the Talmud and in the profusion of the author's excellent readings, all drawn from the three chief Torah centers of that time: the teaching of the Babylonian geonim; the commentaries of Hananel b. *Ḥushi'el of Kairouan, which he uses extensively but in the main without acknowledgment; and the "Mainz commentaries" mentioned by him under different names ("scholars of Mainz," "pious ones of Mainz," "Mainz commentary," etc.). These explanations occur in the extant commentaries of Rabbenu Gershom without mentioning Nathan's name. Apart from these three sources he also had before him not a few of the early commentaries of Provence. Nathan frequently explains words and subjects according to the reading of Hananel b. Ḥushi'el without indicating that his explanation is based thereon. At times he goes beyond the explanation of the word and explains the whole theme. It has now been established that these explanations are also from Hananel, given by him in other contexts. In the printed editions of the Talmud, Rashi mentions him once (Shab. 13b). The whole passage, however, is missing in some manuscripts, and it is clear that Rashi made no use of the Arukh. The many anonymous parallels that exist between the two works have their source in the common use made by the two scholars of "the teaching of Mainz" and of the other common exegetical traditions.

The Arukh achieved exceptionally wide circulation. It was apparently first published in Rome in 1469–72?, an edition that is a better version than that found in later ones printed from a different manuscript. Because of the great importance attached to the work, many supplements to and emendations of it were written. Among them is the Agur of Samuel b. Jacob ibn *Jama (12th century), consisting of addenda to the Arukh derived from the language found in geonic writings, which was published by S. Buber in Jubelschrift…. H. Graetz (1887). Menahem de *Lonzano wrote addenda, emendations, and explanations to the Arukh under the title of Ha-Ma'arikh, published in his work Shetei Yadot (Venice, 1618). The physician and philologist Benjamin *Mussafia, in his Musaf he-Arukh, which was printed in the Arukh (Amsterdam, 1655), corrected the Greek and Latin words. Isaiah *Berlin (18th century) wrote Hafla'ah she-ba-Arakhin, addenda and notes to the Arukh up to the letter kaf in the Lemberg 1857 edition of the Arukh. A scholarly edition, based on seven manuscripts, was published by Alexander Kohut under the title of Arukh ha-Shalem or Aruch Completum (1878–92), to which a supplement and addenda were issued by S. Krauss in his Tosefot he-Arukh ha-Shalem (1937). A condensed version, entitled He-Arukh ha-Kaẓar, by an anonymous epitomist, was first published in Constantinople.


S.J.L. Rapoport, in: Bikkurei ha-Ittim (1830), 2nd pagination, 7–79; Kohut, Arukh, 1 (19262), introd.; Vogelstein-Rieger, 1 (1896), index; S. Krauss, Griechische und lateinische Lehnwoerter im Talmud, Midrasch und Targum (1898), introd. xxiv–xxxix; D.S. Blondheim, in: Festschrift fuer A. Freimann (1935), 24–30; idem, Notes on the Italian Words in the Arukh Completum (1933); S. Lieberman, in: ks, 14 (1937/38), 218–28; H.Z. Toibes, in: Scritti in Memoria de Sally Mayer (1956), Heb. pt. 126–41; H.J. Zimmels, in: Roth, Dark Ages, 182–4; Zunz-Albeck, Derashot, index; S. Abramson, Rav Nissim Ga'on (1965), index; S. Speier, in: Leshonenu, 31 (1967), 23–32, 189–98; 34 (1967/70), 172–9.

[Abraham David]