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Rabbi Abraham Ben David

Rabbi Abraham Ben David

The Raavad (1125-1198)

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(Born about 4885 d. Chanukah 4959; 1125-1198)

Rabbi Abraham Ben David, popularly known by the abbreviation RABaD (after the initials of his name), was born in the south of France about twenty years before the celebrated Maimonides.

He was fortunate in that Posquieres, his birthplace, was not far from the city of Lunel. In Lunel at that time had assembled the cream of Talmudists, and the university there was the refuge of persecuted scholars from every country in the world. It is believed by many that Lunel had begun to function as a Torah center since the time of the destruction of the Second Temple. Into this sphere of profound learning came Abraham Ben David for his own education.

Rabbi Abraham did not return to Posquieres until he was forty, and by then, he had already served as a member in the Rabbinical court in both Lunel and Nimes. In addition to his scholarship, he was renowned for his wealth and widespread benevolence He largely supported the students in the academy of his community. And in between good deeds and education, he managed also to write a few important commentaries of his own.

Foremost among his writings are his notes (hasagoth) to the Mishne Torah of Maimonides. Rabbi Abraham was a very severe critic, but he was prompted chiefly by his fervent Orthodoxy. Rabbi Abraham feared that the Mishne Torah, which merely cites the last word on the Jewish law, might replace the actual studying of the various scholarly arguments which comprise the Talmud. People may be inclined to use the Mishne Torah as their bible, and henceforth ceases to discuss and weigh Jewish problems throughly. However, time proved that both these men contributed very much to the advancement of Jewish learning.

Rabbi Abraham's wealth and standing in the community proved to be a handicap, for the greedy governor of Posquieres found a way to take advantage of this. He had the Rabbi imprisoned, hoping to receive a large ransom for his release. For many years, Rabbi Abraham dwelt within the four walls of his ancient French prison. His mind remained active and fertile with spiritual matters, and he did not mind the imprisonment, nor did be take steps to be released. The greedy governor soon forgot all about Rabbi Abraham. But G‑d did not. Several years later, on the order of a high nobleman in the king's court, he was freed.

He wrote extensively until his death. He composed commentaries to the "Sifra" and to several Talmudic tomes. Later authors quoted him often, among them the noted Bezalel Ashkenazi, in his 'Shittah Mekubbetzeth' (Gathered Interpretations). His pupils numbered some of Israel's great. Among them, Abraham Ben Nathan, author of "Hamanhig' (The Guide), Meir Ben Isaac, author of "Sefer Haezer' (Book of Help) and others. He had two sons, David and Isaac, the latter later became known as "Isaac the Blind" and "Father of the Cabalah."

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