Maimonides’ Learned and Acerbic Provençal Critic

Best remembered today for his commentary on Moses Maimonides’ code of Jewish law, Rabbi Abraham ben David of Posquières (ca. 1125–1198)—known to posterity by the acronym Ra’avad—was one of the great talmudists of his day. Much of his extensive oeuvre appears to have been lost to the ravages of time, and several of his extant works remain little-studied, but he nonetheless left an enduring mark on the development of Jewish law. Tamar Marvin tells his story:

Ra’avad was both shaped by medieval Provençal Jewish culture and a major influence on its trajectory. What Jews have traditionally called “Provence” refers to the whole swathe of land between the Pyrenees and Italy, approximately the southern third of present-day France, which in the Middle Ages was distinguished linguistically [from the neighboring regions]. It sits at the crossroads of Europe and has its own unique culture infused with both Ashkenazi and Sephardi ideas. For example, in the 12th century, when Ra’avad lived, Jewish Provence was a hotbed of kabbalistic thought even as it was nurturing the beginnings of what would become a proud rationalist philosophical traditionall the while steeped in distinctive traditions of Torah scholarship made famous in the academies of Narbonne, Lunel, and Béziers.

Since the first publication of Ra’avad’s hasagot [critical glosses] to the Mishneh Torah in the 16th century, they have been a frequent accompaniment to Maimonides’ code and the source of Ra’avad’s reputation as a fiery traditionalist. Take for example the gloss on Hilkhot Talmud Torah 6:14: . . . “On my life and mind! There is no great analysis here.” In another gloss, he says of Maimonides: “This comes out of the mess he made of these things, confusing these and those and likening in his mind matters that are discrete and entirely distinct.” His independence of mind is notable, but so too is the respect he gave to his younger contemporary by anticipating the magnitude of his impact and deciding to comment on his work.

Though Rabbi Abraham himself wrote no kabbalistic works, he was clearly at the center of early centers of Kabbalah that bubbled up prominently in Provence, in interesting and creative ways, in the 12th century. Both of his sons, Rabbi David and especially Rabbi Isaac the Blind, were renowned Kabbalists whose thought and traditions were transmitted across the Pyrenees . . . in the following century.

Read more at Stories from Jewish History

More about: French Jewry, Halakhah, Jewish history, Moses Maimonides

Universities Are in Thrall to a Constituency That Sees Israel as an Affront to Its Identity

Commenting on the hearings of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce on Tuesday about anti-Semitism on college campuses, and the dismaying testimony of three university presidents, Jonah Goldberg writes:

If some retrograde poltroon called for lynching black people or, heck, if they simply used the wrong adjective to describe black people, the all-seeing panopticon would spot it and deploy whatever resources were required to deal with the problem. If the spark of intolerance flickered even for a moment and offended the transgendered, the Muslim, the neurodivergent, or whomever, the fire-suppression systems would rain down the retardant foams of justice and enlightenment. But calls for liquidating the Jews? Those reside outside the sensory spectrum of the system.

It’s ironic that the term colorblind is “problematic” for these institutions such that the monitoring systems will spot any hint of it, in or out of the classroom (or admissions!). But actual intolerance for Jews is lathered with a kind of stealth paint that renders the same systems Jew-blind.

I can understand the predicament. The receptors on the Islamophobia sensors have been set to 11 for so long, a constituency has built up around it. This constituency—which is multi-ethnic, non-denominational, and well entrenched among students, administrators, and faculty alike—sees Israel and the non-Israeli Jews who tolerate its existence as an affront to their worldview and Muslim “identity.” . . . Blaming the Jews for all manner of evils, including the shortcomings of the people who scapegoat Jews, is protected because, at minimum, it’s a “personal truth,” and for some just the plain truth. But taking offense at such things is evidence of a mulish inability to understand the “context.”

Shocking as all that is, Goldberg goes on to argue, the anti-Semitism is merely a “symptom” of the insidious ideology that has taken over much of the universities as well as an important segment of the hard left. And Jews make the easiest targets.

Read more at Dispatch

More about: Anti-Semitism, Israel on campus, University