Pethahiah of Regensburg

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PETHAHIAH OF REGENSBURG (12th century), traveler; son of Jacob ha-Lavan and brother of *Isaac b. Jacob ha-Lavan of Prague, both tosafists. His permanent home appears to have been in Regensburg (Ratisbon), although he was also connected with Prague. About 1175 he set out on his travels, making his way through Poland and Russia to Crimea, from there to Tartary, Khazaria, Armenia, Kurdistan, Babylonia, Syria, and Ereẓ Israel. During his journey he made notes of his experiences. However, the contents of his book of travels were not written by Pethahiah but by others according to the stories they heard directly from him. The writer does not speak in the first person but relates the events in the name of the traveler. Apparently the book was written by several people, one of whom was *Judah b. Samuel he-Hasid of Regensburg. The writers did not record the whole of Pethahiah's narrative, but a summary of what he related or those parts which they considered the most important.

The book says nothing on Pethahiah's journey to Crimea and little on Crimea and Tartary. The major part of the narrative is devoted to his travels in Babylonia, Syria, and Ereẓ Israel. Some scholars consider that his destination was Babylonia, and that he was seeking a refuge there for his persecuted brethren in Europe. There is however no basis for this. The narrative indicates that Pethahiah was a wealthy man whose principal objective was to make a pilgrimage to Palestine and to pray at the tombs of the righteous. In a letter of recommendation which he requested of the gaon of Babylonia, the latter wrote that "in every place where he comes, they should guide him and point out the site of the tombs of the scholars and the righteous." However, besides the holy tombs in Babylonia, he found a large and alert Jewish settlement with a flourishing spiritual life, a firmly established *exilarch, and a respected gaon who could implement his instructions by force. This autonomous power, and the methods of study at the great yeshivah there, left a tremendous impression on the German traveler, and he related all of this in detail. When he told of the Babylonian gaon, he emphasized, in addition to his erudition, his political power and princely deportment.

In contrast to Babylonia, he found only a poor and oppressed community in Ereẓ Israel. The crusaders who had conquered the country in 1099 had annihilated the Jewish settlements in Jerusalem, Hebron, and other places, and the remnants had fled to Syria and Egypt. The traveler did not therefore dwell on at length or the writer did not note down the details of the Jewish population in Palestine. Of the country's settlements, principally mentioned are Tiberias, Acre, Jerusalem, and Hebron. In Jerusalem he found only one Jew, Abraham the Dyer, whose services were needed by the crusaders. Pethahiah's main descriptions of Palestine concern the holy places and the reports and traditions about them. He does not tell anything of his return journey, and it appears that he traveled by sea, passing through Greece.

The story of Pethahiah's travels was published for the first time in Prague in 1595 under the title Sibbuv ("Circuit") and has been published in its original form 24 times. It has also been translated into Judeo-German, Latin, French, German, English, and Russian. The best editions are the first, and that of L. Gruenhut (1905, with German translation), which is based on manuscripts and on the first edition.


E.N. Adler, Jewish Travellers (1930), 64–91 (includes excerpts from the Sibbuv); A. Yaari, Mas'ot Ereẓ Yisrael (1946), 48–55, 762–3.

[Avraham Yaari]