With the 13th century Hebrew literature may be said to have reached the limit of its development. Later writers to a large extent used over again the materials of their predecessors, while secular works tend to be influenced by the surrounding civilisation, or even are composed in the vernacular languages.
From the 14th century onward only the most notable names can be mentioned.
In Italy Immanuel ben Solomon, of Rome (d. about 1330), perhaps the friend and certainly the imitator of Dante, wrote his diwan, of which the last part, “Topheth ve-ʽEden,” is suggested by the Divina Commedia. In Spain Israel Israeli, of Toledo (d. 1326), was a translator and the author of an Arabic work on ritual and a commentary on Pirqē Abhōth.
About the same time Isaac Israeli wrote his Yesōdh ʽOlam and other astronomical works which were much studied. Asher ben Jehiel, a pupil of Me’īr of Rothenburg, was the author of the popular Talmudic compendium, generally quoted as Rabbenu Asher, on the lines of Alfasi, besides other halakhic works. He migrated from Germany and settled at Toledo, where he died in 1328. His son Jacob, of Toledo (d. 1340), was the author of the Tūr (or the four Ṭūrīm), a most important manual of Jewish law, serving as an abridgement of the Mishneh Tōrah brought up to date. His pupil David Abudrahim, of Seville (d. after 1340), wrote a commentary on the liturgy.
Both the 14th and 15th centuries in Spain were largely taken up with controversy, as by Isaac ibn Pulgar (about 1350), and Shem Ṭōbh ibn Shaprūṭ (about 1380), who translated St Matthew’s gospel into Hebrew.
In France Jedaiah Bedersi, i.e. of Béziers (d. about 1340), wrote poems (Beḥīnath ha-ʽōlam), commentaries on agada and a defence of Maimonides against Solomon Adreth. Levi ben Gershom (d. 1344), called Ralbag, the great commentator on the Bible and Talmud, in philosophy a follower of Aristotle and Averroes, known to Christians as Leo Hebraeus, wrote also many works on halakhah, mathematics and astronomy.
Joseph Kaspī, i.e. of Largentière (d. 1340), wrote a large number of treatises on grammar and philosophy (mystical), besides commentaries and piyyūṭim. In the first half of the 14th century lived the two translators Qalonymos ben David and Qalonymos ben Qalonymos, the latter of whom translated many works of Galen and Averroes, and various scientific treatises, besides writing original works, e.g. one against Kaspī, and an ethical work entitled Eben Bōḥan. At the end of the century Isaac ben Moses, called Profiat Duran (Efodi), is chiefly known as an anti-Christian controversialist (letter to Me’īr Alguadez), but also wrote on grammar (Maʽaseh Efod) and a commentary on the Mōreh. In philosophy he was an Aristotelian. About the same time in Spain controversy was very active.
Ḥasdai Crescas (d. 1410) wrote against Christianity and in his Or Adōnai against the Aristotelianism of the Maimonists. His pupil Joseph Albo in his ʽIqqarīm had the same two objects. On the side of the Maimonists was Simeon Duran (d. at Algiers 1444) in his Magen Abhōth and in his numerous commentaries. Shem Ṭōbh ibn Shem Ṭōbh, the kabbalist, was a strong anti-Maimonist, as was his son Joseph of Castile (d. 1480), a commentator with kabbalistic tendencies but versed in Aristotle, Averroes and Christian doctrine. Joseph’s son Shem Ṭōbh was, on the contrary, a follower of Maimonides and the Aristotelians. In other subjects, Saadyah ibn Danān, of Granada (d. at Oran after 1473), is chiefly important for his grammar and lexicon, in Arabic; Judah ibn Verga, of Seville (d. after 1480), was a mathematician and astronomer; Solomon ibn Verga, somewhat later, wrote Shebeṭ Yehūdah, of doubtful value historically; Abraham Zakkuth or Zakkuto, of Salamanca (d. after 1510), astronomer, wrote the Sepher Yuḥasīn, an historical work of importance. In Italy, Obadiah Bertinoro (d. about 1500) compiled his very useful commentary on the Mishnah, based on those of Rashi and Maimonides. His account of his travels and his letters are also of great interest. Isaac Abravanel (d. 1508) wrote commentaries (not of the first rank) on the Pentateuch and Prophets and on the Mōreh, philosophical treatises and apologetics, such as the Yeshūʽoth Meshīḥō, all of which had considerable influence.
Elijah Delmedigo, of Crete (d. 1497), a strong opponent of Kabbalah, was the author of the philosophical treatise Beḥīnath ha-dath, but most of his work (on Averroes) was in Latin.
Hebrew Literature by Arthur Ernest Cowley
Immanuel ben Solomon, of Rome = Immanuel ben Solomon ben Jekuthiel of Rome = Immanuel of Rome = Immanuel Romano = Manoello Giudeo: Hebrew poet and author of Hebrew verse, sacred and secular (some of the latter being highly erotic), which he collected within a rough narrative framework in Maḥbarot Immanuel (“The Compositions of Immanuel”), frequently published from 1491. He lived mainly in Rome, and is considered the founder of secular poetic writing in Hebrew.
He is the father of Joseph Israeli ben Isaac, who made an abridgement to Yesod Olam of which the Hebrew translation, Kitzur Yesod Olam is still extant (ib. No. 1319, 6).
He especially devoted himself to writing verse. He was stimulated in this work by his cousin Judah Romano, one of the foremost philosophers of his time. Immanuel, whose poetic gifts appeared at an early age, devoted himself to the study of rime, took lessons in versification, and read the works of the foremost Jewish and Christian poets. He mentions among his teachers Benjamin b. Joab and his cousin Daniel; he may also have been a pupil of Zerahiah b. Shealtiel Ḥen.
For his poems he used the name Manoello Giudeo (Immanuel the Jew).
He seems to have been president or secretary of the Roman community, preached on the Day of Atonement, and also delivered discourses on special occasions.
In response to a papal edict of 1321 which ordered the expulsion of Jews from Rome, he left Rome and travelled around Italy, possibly residing in Gubbio.
In 1325 he had the misfortune to lose his entire wealth, and was obliged to leave his home. All his friends deserted him, and, “bowed by poverty and the double burden of age.” He wandered through Italy, until he found refuge in 1328 at Fermo in the march of Ancona, at the house of a patron of the name of Daniel (?), who provided for his old age and enabled him to devote himself to poetry.
The studies of Immanuel comprised not only Biblical and Talmudical literature, but also mathematics, astronomy, medicine, and the philosophical works of Arabians and Christians. He was aided by an excellent memory, and was acquainted with Italian, Arabic, Latin, and perhaps some Greek.
Immanuel’s varied scientific activity corresponded with his wide scholarship, although he confined his activity exclusively to Jewish subjects. With the exception of an introductory poem his first work is lost; it dealt with the letter-symbolism popular at that time. A second work, “Eben Boḥan” (Touchstone), concerns Biblical hermeneutics, and deals with the different meanings of the verbs in different constructions, with the omission, addition, and interchange of letters, and with other linguistic questions. More important are his Biblical commentaries, which covered almost all the books of the Bible, and of which a part are lost. Following his Jewish and Christian contemporaries, he interpreted the Bible allegorically, symbolically, and mystically, endeavouring to find therein his own philosophic and religious views, though not disregarding the simple, literal meaning, which he placed above the symbolical. The sole value of his commentaries lies in the fact that his wide range of reading enabled him to make the works of the exegetes and philosophers accessible to his contemporaries and countrymen. The commentary on Proverbs is printed in the edition of the Hagiographa, Naples, 1487; the others are preserved in manuscripts at Parma and Munich. Abbé Perreau published the commentaries on the Megillot and the Psalms (i.-lxxv.); on the commentary to Job see Perreau’s article in “Mosé,” Corfu, 1884.
Immanuel was held in high regard by the contemporaneous Italian poets; two Italian sonnets referring to his death have been preserved, which place him as poet beside Dante. Immanuel in fact knew Dante’s works, and drew upon them; in his own Italian as well as in his Hebrew poems there are very clear traces of the “divine poet.” He also made an interchange of sonnets with Bosone da Gubbio on Dante’s death.
In his old age, during his so journ at his patron’s at Fermo, he collected his Hebrew poems, in the manner of Al-Ḥarizi’s “Makamat,” in a diwan that he entitled “Meḥabberot”.
Due to the strong admixture of the lascivious, frivolous, and erotic found in the poems Immanuel ben Solomon received a lot of critic and was shunned by many Jewish contemporaries. Joseph Caro even forbade the reading of his poems (Shulḥan ‘Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 307, 16). Immanuel Frances censures, his “wanton songs,” and warns all poets of love-songs against imitating them (“Meteḳ Sefatayim.” pp. 34, 38). Though Bisbidis, which received scholarly attention for its inventiveness and rich onomatopoeia, was well-received and included in poetic anthologies from this time.
Isaac Israeli = Isaac Israeli ben Joseph = Yitzhak ben Yosef = Isaac Israeli the Younger: Spanish-Jewish astronomer/astrologer who flourished at Toledo in the first half of the fourteenth century.
He was a pupil of Asher ben Yehiel, at whose request (in 1310) he wrote the astronomical work Yesod Olam, the finest contribution on the subject in Hebrew literature, which was first published at Berlin, in 1777, by Jacob Shklower, and more complete edition, with a preface by David Cassel, published by B. Goldberg and L. Rosenkranz (ib. 1848).
Israeli was also the author of two other astronomical works, Sha’ar ha-Shamayim and Sha’ar ha-Milu’im, both extant in manuscript (ib. No. 2046).
Jacob of Toledo = Jacob ben Asher = Yaakov ben Raash = Ba’al ha-Turim = Rabbeinu Asher: third son of Asher, and older than Judah, nephew of Rabbi Chaim; influential medieval rabbinic authority whose codification of Jewish law was considered standard until the publication in 1565 of the Shulḥan ʿarukh (“The Well-Laid Table”) by Joseph Karo.
Jacob emigrated with his father to Spain, where in 1317 he and his brother Judah were appointed by their father treasurers of the money which the family had to distribute as alms, his signature to his father’s testament coming before Judah’s (Schechter, l.c. p. 375). Besides his father, who was his principal teacher, Jacob quotes very often in the Ṭurim his elder brother Jehiel; once his brother Judah (Ṭur Oraḥ Ḥayyim, § 417), and once his uncle R. Ḥayyim (ib. § 49).
Jacob was very poor all his lifetime and suffered great privations (Ṭur Oraḥ Ḥayyim, § 242; comp. his epitaph in Luzzatto, “Abne Zikkaron,” No. 7). His business seems to have consisted in lending money (Ṭur, l.c. § 539). It is also known, contrary to the statement of Zacuto (“Yuḥasin,” ed. London, p. 223), that Jacob did not succeed his father in the rabbinate of Toledo (Zacuto), his brother Judah ben Asher filling that office (Schechter, l.c., Luzzatto, l.c. No. 5). Jacob’s testament (Schechter, l.c. 378 et seq.) betrays a lofty spirit. His brothers were also rabbis of different communities in Iberia.
Jacob ben Asher wandered in different countries, where he observed the varying religious customs which he quotes in his Ṭurim; but his epitaph (Luzzatto, l.c. No. 7) refutes the assertion of Azulai (“Shem ha-Gedolim,” i.) that he died and was buried in Chios. His pupil David Abudarham, writing in 1340, speaks of Jacob as already dead. According to the Sephardic Community of Chios, is said to have fallen ill and died with his ten companions on the island of Chios, in Greece, whilst travelling.
Jacob was one of the pillars of rabbinic learning. His name became known throughout the entire Jewish world.
Jacob was averse to all kinds of controversy; and he recorded the laws as they had been pronounced by preceding expounders (“poseḳim”). In many cases, he indicated merely that he was inclined to accept the opinion of a certain authority, without forcing his view upon the student. In many other cases, he refrained from expressing his own opinion, and left the decision to the officiating rabbi. He never speaks either favourably or unfavourably of secular sciences, ignoring them altogether.
He wrote the “Sefer ha-Remazim,” or “Ḳiẓẓur Pisḳe ha-Rosh” (Constantinople, 1575), an abridgment of his father’s compendium of the Talmud, in which he condensed his father’s decisions, omitting the casuistry; and The four Ṭurim, which remained the standard code for both Sephardim and Ashkenazim up to the appearance of the Shulḥan ‘Aruk.
Jacob on the one hand simplified Maimonides’ work by the omission of laws which could not be applied after the destruction of the Temple, thus reducing the whole code to four parts, and on the other he inserted an account of the customs which he had observed in various countries. Throughout the four parts of the Ṭurim, he speaks of the customs of different countries as an eye-witness; and very often he points out the differences between the Ashkenazic and the Sephardic practises.
Joseph Karo = Joseph Caro = Yosef Caro = Yosef Qaro = Joseph ben Ephraim Karo = HaMechaber Shulhan ‘Aruk = Maran : author of the last great codification of Jewish law, the Beit Yosef, and its popular analogue, the Shulchan Arukh. To this end he is often referred to as HaMechaber (Hebrew: הַמְחַבֵּר, “The Author“) and as Maran (Aramaic: מָרַן, “Our Master“).
David Abudrahim, of Seville = David Abudarham = Abudraham = Avudraham = David Joseph ben David Abudrahim: a rishon or leading rabbi and posek who lived at Seville and was known for his commentary on the Synagogue liturgy.
He lived at Asher ben Jehiel’s house and was a student of Jacob ben Asher (son of Asher ben Yechiel) to whom he was befriended. He is believed to be the ancestor of Solomon Abudarham (d. 1804), Chief Rabbi of the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar.
He belonged to the class of writers who, in an age of decline, felt the need of disseminating in popular form the knowledge stored up in various sources of rabbinical literature, and thus obtained a well-deserved fame.
His book has no specific title beyond the name “Ḥibbur Perush ha-Berakot we-ha-Tefillot,” probably because it was intended to serve as a running commentary to the liturgy.
He gave a systematic exposition of the Jewish calendar; but at the same time, he lays no claim to any originality.
Though he was a believer, like most of his contemporaries, in the mystical sense of words and numbers, he combined a fair grammatical knowledge (in spite of occasional errors, as, for instance, his derivation of minḥah from menaḥ yoma), good common-sense, and a comprehensive rabbinical erudition, and thus was better qualified than many of his predecessors to give a satisfactory explanation of almost every phrase of the prayer-book.
Isaac ibn Pulgar = Isaac ben Joseph = Isaac ben Joseph ibn Polkar = Isaac Polqar = the Man with the nose: French ritualist, philosopher, poet, and controversialist; flourished in the second half of the thirteenth century. He was the son-in-law of R. Jehiel ben Joseph of Paris, whose school he attended, and, like Isaac ben Joseph of Corbeil, R. Ḥayyim (brother of Asher ben Jehiel of Toledo), R. Perez, a pupil of the “Great Men of Evreux,” notably of the French tosafist Samuel of Évreux, whom he calls “the Prince” () of Evreux and who directed a rabbinical school at Château-Thierry.
Isaac’s conspicuous piety drew toward him many disciples, the best known of whom were the French tosafist Perez ben Elijah of Corbeil (Rabbeinu Perez), Baruch Ḥayyim ben Menahem of Niort, and his fellow citizen Joseph ben Abraham.
Levi ben Gershom = Gersonides = Gerson = Magister Leo Hebraeus = Leo De Bagnols = Levi = RaLBaG: medieval French Jewish philosopher, Talmudic scholar, mathematician, physician and astronomer/astrologer, born at Bagnols in Languedoc, probably in 1288. As in the case of the other medieval Jewish philosophers little is known of his life. His family had been distinguished for piety and exegetical skill, but though he was known in the Jewish community by commentaries on certain books of the Bible, he never seems to have accepted any rabbinical post.
His most important treatise, that by which he has a place in the history of philosophy, is entitled Sefer Milhamot Ha-Shem, (“The Wars of the Lord”) entitled Milḥamoth ’Adonai (The Wars of God), and occupied twelve years in composition (1317–1329). A portion of it, containing an elaborate survey of astronomy as known to the Arabs, was translated into Latin in 1342 at the request of Pope Clement VI. The Milḥamoth is throughout modelled after the plan of the great work of Jewish philosophy, the Moreh Nebuhīm of Moses Maimonides, and may be regarded as an elaborate criticism from the more philosophical point of view (mainly Averroistic) of the syncretism of Aristotelianism and Jewish orthodoxy as presented in that work.
A careful analysis of the Milḥamoth is given in Rabbi Isidore Weil’s Philosophie religieuse de Lévi-Ben-Gerson (Paris, 1868). See also Munk, Mélanges de phil. juive et arabe; and Joel, Religionsphilosophie d. L. Ben-Gerson (1862). The Milḥamoth was published in 1560 at Riva di Trento, and has been published at Leipzig, 1866.
Influenced by the works of Aristotle and the 12th-century Islāmic philosopher Averroës, Levi wrote Sefer ha-hekkesh ha-yashar (1319; Latin Liber syllogismi recti; “Book of Proper Analogy”), criticizing several arguments of Aristotle; he also wrote commentaries on the works of both philosophers.
In 1321 Levi published Sefer ha-mispar (“Book of the Number”), dealing with arithmetical operations, including extraction of roots. In De sinibus, chordis et arcubus (1342; “On Sines, Chords, and Arcs”) he presented an original derivation of the sine theorem for plane triangles and tables of sines calculated to five decimal places.
On the request of Philip of Vitry, bishop of Meaux, he composed a book on geometry, preserved only in Latin translation, De numeris harmonicis (1343; “The Harmony of Numbers”), containing commentaries on the first five books of Euclid and original axioms.
Possibly the freedom of his opinions may have put obstacles in the way of his preferment. He is known to have been at Avignon and Orange during his life, and is believed to have died in 1344, though Zacuto asserts that he died at Perpignan in 1370. Part of his writings consist of commentaries on the portions of Aristotle then known, or rather of commentaries on the commentaries of Averroes. Some of these are printed in the early Latin editions of Aristotle’s works.
It is from the philosophers that Gersonides got the unbiblical view that people’s souls are composed of two parts: a material, or human, intellect; and an acquired, or agent, intellect. The material intellect is inherent in every person, and gives people the capacity to understand and learn. This material intellect is mortal, and dies with the body. However, he also posits that the soul also has an acquired intellect. This survives death, and can contain the accumulated knowledge that the person acquired during his lifetime. For Gersonides, Seymour Feldman points out, “Man is immortal insofar as he attains the intellectual perfection that is open to him. This means that man becomes immortal only if and to the extent that he acquires knowledge of what he can in principle know, e.g. mathematics and the natural sciences. This knowledge survives his bodily death and constitutes his immortality.”
Gersonides was the first to make a number of major mathematical and scientific advances, though since he wrote only in Hebrew and few of his writings were translated to other languages, his influence on non-Jewish thought was limited.
He is also credited to have invented the Jacob’s staff, an instrument to measure the angular distance between celestial objects. Gersonides is the only astronomer before modern times to have estimated correctly stellar distances. Whereas all other astronomers put the stars on a rotating sphere just beyond the outer planets, Gersonides estimated the distance to the stars to be ten billion times greater, of the order of 100 light-years (in modern units).
Levi’s work has often been criticized because of his bold expression and the unconventionality of his thought, which continued to exercise wide influence into the 19th century.
Joseph Kaspī = Joseph of Largentière = Joseph ben Abba Meir ben Joseph ben Jacob Caspi = Yosef ibn Caspi = Abba Mari ben Joseph ibn = Don Bonafous de Largentera = En Bonafoux de L’Argentière: Provençal prolific philosopher, exegete, and grammarian, who maintained a somewhat unsystematic philosophical position that seems to have been influenced by Averroës.
He expressed the opinion that knowledge of the future, including that possessed by God himself, is probabilistic in nature. The prescience of the Prophets is the same. Caspi’s interest in this problem may well have had some connection with the debate about future contingencies in which Christian Scholastics were engaged at that time.
His family hailed from Largentière, from whence his Hebrew surname “Caspi” (made of silver) derived. His Provençal name was Don Bonafous de Largentera, or in French En Bonafoux de L’Argentière. He travelled much, visiting Arles, Tarascon, Aragon, Catalonia, Majorca (where he must have foregathered with the Bulgarian scholar and Talmudist Judah Leon ben Moses Mosconi), and Egypt, where, as he says in his Tzava’ah (ethical will), he hoped to be instructed by the members of Maimonides‘ family.
Caspi’s works were diversely estimated. Ibn Tzartzah, Moses ben Joshua of Narbonne, and Efodi (Profiat Duran or Honoratus de Bonafide) speak in praise of them. The kabbalist Johanan Aleman of Yohanan Alemanno recommends Caspi’s commentaries on account of their mystic character. On the other hand, the Portuguese Jewish statesman and philosopher Isaac Abrabanel and the Rabbinical authority Simon Duran emphatically declare him to be antireligious because, among other things, in his commentary on the Moreh he admitted the eternity of the universe (i. 9, 70; ii. 26).
Ḥasdai Crescas = Hasdai ben Abraham Crescas: Catalan-Spanish-Jewish philosopher and a renowned halakhist (teacher of Jewish law). Along with Maimonides (“Rambam”), Gersonides (“Ralbag”), and Joseph Albo, he is known as one of the major practitioners of the rationalist approach to Jewish philosophy.
Grandson of the Talmudist Hasdai ben Judah Crescas, and a disciple of the Talmudist and philosopher Nissim ben Reuben, R. Nissim Gerondi in Barcelona, known as the RaN. His friend (and probably fellow pupil) Isaac b. Sheshet calls him the “Spanish worthy.”
Elijah Delmedigo of Crete = Elijah Delmedigo or Elias ben Moise del Medigo = Helias Hebreus Cretensis = Elijah Mi-Qandia: Cretan (Venetian Republic) Jewish philosopher who saw himself as a follower of Maimonides, But, according to other scholars, Delmedigo was clearly a strong follower of Averroës‘ doctrines, even the more radical ones: unity of intellect, eternity of the world, autonomy of reason from the boundaries of revealed religion.
He taught in several Italian centres of learning; translated some of the commentaries of Averroës and wrote a Latin commentary on Aristotle’s Physics, at the instigation of the Italian Platonist philosopher Pico di Mirandola. In the sphere of religion, Delmedigo represents the tendency to depart from the scholastic attitude in which religion and philosophy were identified. His most important work was devoted to this end; it was entitled Behinath ha-Dath (Investigation of Religion) in which he criticized the Kabbala (esoteric Jewish mysticism).
He is the great-grandfather of the scientist and philosopher Joseph Solomon Delmedigo (Yashar Mi-Qandia), who was a staunch defender of the Kabbalah and wrote many books on science and philosophy, and bore a considerable part in initiating the critical movement in Judaism.