Varda Books

 View book pages:
 Buy this book:

Rabad of Posquieres: A Twelfth-Century Talmudist

by Isadore Twersky

Bibliographic information

TitleRabad of Posquieres: A Twelfth-Century Talmudist
AuthorIsadore Twersky
PublisherVarda Books
Publication Date2001


Provence during the twelfth century was the scene of a remarkable renaissance in Jewish scholarship, and Rabbad of Posquieres – Rabbi Abraham ben David – was one of the most creative talmudic scholars of this period. Although celebrated for his criticism of Maimonedes’ Mishneh Torah, the nature and significance of his work have never before been clarified nor have his achievements been fully assessed. This biographical treatise captures his personality, chronicles his role in the intellectual history of the Jews in southern France during the twelfth century, and outlines his influence on subsequent generations. Rabad’s disciples and followers are discussed, as well as his reaction to the philosophic literature of Spanish Judaism and his relation to the emerging medieval Kabbalah. Characterization of his works, descriptions of his halakic methodology, and analysis of his literary sources focus attention on basic problems of medieval Jewish history.

About the Author 

Isadore Twersky ---

Isadore Twersky was Littauer Professor of Hebrew Literature and Jewish Philosophy at Harvard University.



Introduction to Revised Edition

  1. Life

1. Family and Teachers. 2. Provence in the Twelfth Century. 3. Teaching and Writing. 4. Personality. 5. Influence.

  1. Works

1. Early Writings. 2. Talmud Commentaries. 3. Codes. 4. Commentaries on Halakic Midrashim. 5. Mishnah Commentaries. 6. Sermons and Responsa. 7. Hassagot on Alfasi, Razah, and Maimonides.

  1. Works II: Criticism of the Mishneh Torah

1. Literature on the Mishneh Torah. 2. Corroborative or Explanatory Hassagot. 3. Critical Glosses and Animadversions. 4. Rabad’s Motives in Composing the Hassagot.

  1. Sources

1. Talmudic Sources. 2. Post-Talmudic Sources.

  1. Disciples and Followers

1. Disciples. 2. Contemporary Followers and Correspondents. 3. Descendants.

  1. Relation to Philosophy and Kabbalah

1. Attitude Toward Secular Learning. 2. Use of Philosophic Literature. 3. Rabad and Kabbalah.

List of Abbreviations

Note on References


Bibliographical Supplement




3. Rabad and Kabbalah

Later kabbalistic writers such as R. Isaac of Acre, R. Shem Tob b. Gaon, and R. Menahem Recanati insistently claimed Rabad as one of their own and placed him in the front ranks of their spiritual progenitors. They depicted him as a mystic who was worthy of receiving—and actually did receive—special revelation. Most of these reports emanate from the school of Nahmanides and Rashbah and there is no reason to question them. There are also older, more immediately reliable references in the writings of Rabad’s son R. Isaac the Blind, who was included by later mystics in the group of three or four founders who were guided by special acts of revelation. R. Isaac speaks of his father’s knowledge of mysticism; both he and his nephew R. Asher mention esoteric doctrines which they learned from Rabad. Although these early reports from the pen of his immediate descendants refer with ostensible pride to Rabad’s expert knowledge of secret teachings, they nowhere even allude to the acquisition of this knowledge through the medium of revelation. This seems to be a later accretion. In any event, while subsequent kabbalistic opinion is unanimous about Rabad’s role, the historian seeks to collect the empirical evidence that is forthcoming to  substantiate these reports.

To the historian’s despair, nothing from the pen of Rabad is devoted especially to mysticism. Joseph Solomon del Medigo allegedly possessed a book of “the kabbalah of Rabad,” but nothing whatsoever is known about such a work. The pseudepigraphic character of the commentary on Sefer Yezirah—already suspected by such a venerable kabbalist as R. Hayyim Vital—has been definitely established. It has even been dated around 1300 and Joseph b. Shalom Ashkenazi has been named as its author. The tract listed by de Rossi as Roshe Pirke Sodot is also of no help. This listing is known to be erroneous—one of the many misinterpretations which mar de Rossi’s catalogue. However, although the ending—“as the sages received from the great Rabbi, the light of Israel’s eyes, Rabad”—does not indicate Rabad’s authorship, it is nevertheless significant. If it does not provide us with a genuine work by Rabad, it can serve, together with other pseudepigraphic attributions, as an added indication of Rabad’s connection with Kabbalah in the eyes of subsequent generations.

Not only is there no extant kabbalistic treatise of Rabad but one even looks despairingly for kabbalistic motifs in his other writings. An allusion to his kabbalistic inclinations can perhaps be discerned in his parenthetical use of the phrase “crown of the king” (taga de-malka), and Razah’s caustic rebuttal of his opinion which contains the following gibe: “Now, kindly listen, even if you repeat all day long [by way of oath] crown of the king and Lord of Abraham, we shall not listen.” He concludes his Bacale ha-Nefesh by quoting and explaining the famous string of pietistic aphorisms attributed to R. Pinehas b. Yaďr. What is more, he produces in the course of his explanation a definition of hasid which adumbrates that usually associated with German hasidism. The Sefer Hasidim states: “The essence of hasiduth is to act in all things not on but within the line of strict justice, that is to say, not to insist in one’s own interest on the letter of the Torah.” Rabad says succinctly: “One who acts in all cases within the line of strict justice—that is, beyond the requirements of the law—is called hasid.” This is certainly noteworthy, but it is not distinctively kabbalistic or even esoteric. It appears that even the kabbalistic “allusions” mentioned by Shem Tob ibn Gaon are hard to verify. Neither his explication of aggadic passages nor his original homilies evoked kabbalistic comments from him. The extant commentaries on Baba Kamma and cAbodah Zarah have nothing along these lines; the same is true for the nonhalakic portions of the Sifra. Nothing is forthcoming even in those places in his animadversionary writings where one would expect the statements of other authors to have aroused him, or at least to have given him a pretext, to reveal his kabbalistic inclinations. Aside from the hassagah on Hilkot Yesode ha-Torah—and even this is a guarded, reticent reaction stimulated by Maimonides’ sweeping statement—I venture to state that one will search his numerous writings in vain for mystical doctrines and kabbalistic terminology. They are simply not there.

Consequently, in the absence of statements in Rabad’s own works which could be directly identified as kabbalistic, the fact of his actual acquaintance with the doctrines and symbolism of kabbalah rests upon a number of passages, quoted by others in the name of Rabad, which contain kabbalistic concepts and terms. These passages deal with mystical meditations during prayer (kawwanah) and, especially, with the doctrine of the ten sefirot or emanations, and establish beyond doubt that this doctrine—most distinctive of medieval kabbalah—was already used by Rabad. In these passages attributed to Rabad there is revealed an acquaintance with early Hekalot terminology—as in the technical use of yozer bereshit—and, incidentally, its fusion with contemporary philosophic vocabulary—as cilat ha-cilot. Both the teachings and the idiom in which they are expressed are axial in kabbalistic literature.

 Already viewed books:
Rabad of Posquieres: A Twelfth-Century TalmudistRabad of Posquieres: A Twelfth-Century Talmudist