Sikili, Jacob ben Hananel

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SIKILI, JACOB BEN HANANEL (13th–14th centuries), rabbi and author. His surname indicates that the family originated in the island of Sicily. In his youth he traveled widely, seeking out every available book dealing with the homiletic interpretation of the Bible. He finally settled in Cordoba in Spain. There he began to write the midrashic anthology Talmud Torah, on the basis of the mass of material culled from the 234 books he acquired during his wanderings. At that time there was a movement among the Jews of Spain to emigrate to Ereẓ Israel. Sikili, too, thought it preferable "to be a beggar in the Land of Israel having no fixed home, than to live permanently in the lands of wicked gentiles, the habitations of Edom and Ishmael" (Minḥat Bikkurim, Parashat Pekudei). In order to fulfill this wish he joined his friend R. Hezekiah. On the 20th of Ḥeshvan of 1317, both took a solemn vow to go to Ereẓ Israel within not more than two years. They also took an oath that they would live jointly for seven years from the moment they left Cordova. At the end of two years, after they had sold all their possessions and bought provisions for the journey, Sikili was prevented from fulfilling his vow as a result of a report that Portuguese warships were sailing the seas on the instructions of the pope, "to plunder and rob any Jew or Mohammedan they met on the sea."

Within a few years troubles beset him. Four of his five children died, and he attributed his sufferings to the nonfulfillment of his vow. He turned to *Asher b. Jehiel, then rabbi of Toledo, for permission to travel alone without waiting for Hezekiah. Asher wrote giving him the necessary permission and he immediately acted upon it. He was in Damascus in 1324, where in that same year he completed the Talmud Torah on the Book of Numbers, and on Deuteronomy in 1337. In Damascus, Sikili was one of the most honored members of the community, being recognized as a halakhic authority and biblical exegete. On the pressing request of the community he agreed to expound the meaning of the weekly portion every Sabbath afternoon (Minḥah; Introduction to Torat ha-Minḥah, Vienna Ms. 138). He collected these sermons and published them under the title Torat ha-Minḥah. Sikili paid frequent visits to Ereẓ Israel, traversing it from end to end. The literary fruits of these visits were incorporated in his Sefer ha-Yaḥas in which he mentions "every town and village of Israel and the persons buried there."

The complete manuscript of Torat ha-Minḥah is extant, though scattered among various libraries. Extracts from it were published in Berakhah Meshulleshet by Abraham Bik (1890), and with the Talmud Torah is extensively quoted in the Torah Shelemah of M.M. Kasher (19382– ). There is a great similarity between it and the book of sermons of David b. Abraham ha-Nagid (Midrash R. David ha-Nagid, vol. 1, 1964, vol. 2, 1968). Similarly the whole of Sikili's Talmud Torah is extant in manuscript, but only extracts of it have been published (see bibl.). An excerpt only from the Sefer ha-Yaḥas, copied from an incomplete manuscript by Abraham Zacuto, is in Cambridge. Sikili mentions two other books which he wrote, Gullat ha-Koteret and Yayin ha-Meshummar.


S. Poznański, in: hḤy, 3 (1913), 1–22, 97f., idem, in: Festschrift S. Maybaum (1914), 191–208: S.A. Wertheimer,Oẓar Midrashim, Kitvei Yad (1913), 64–84 (= Battei Midrashot, 1 (19502), 139–61); J. Mann, The Bible as Preached and Read in the Synagogue, 1 (1960), 270–346; 2 (1966), 130–66 (Heb. pt.); E. Straus (Ashtor), Toledot ha-Yehudim be-Miẓrayim u-ve-Suryah, 2 (1951), 364–5; S.H. Kook, Iyyunim u-Meḥkarim, 2 (1963), 273–91; Hurwitz, in: Sinai, 59 (1966), 29–38; Kupfer, in: Koveẓ al Yad, 17 (1968), 101ff.

[Ephraim Kupfer]