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Rabbi David Kimchi - RaDaK

Rabbi David Kimchi - RaDaK

(4920-4995; 1160-1235)

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The great grammarian and scholar Rabbi David Kimchi, was a member of a famous family which greatly enriched our Talmudic and Hebrew literature. It was said of this family, (Where there is no Kemach - flour [bread] there can be no learning [Torah]), "were it not for the Kimchis, there would be no Torah," a saying based on the similarity of the name Kimchi with the Hebrew word Kemach.

Rabbi David Kimchi's father, Rabbi Joseph Ben Isaac Kimchi, lived in Southern Spain. His writings were among the first to introduce the study of Hebrew grammar and culture into Christian Europe. Under the cruel persecution of the Almohades, Rabbi Joseph Kimchi migrated north to Narbonne in France.

The Almohades, a Moorish dynasty in Northern Africa and Southern Spain, came to power in the 12th and 13th centuries. In 1146 they undertook a fanatical fight to enforce the faith of Islam upon all the peoples under their rule. Being fanatical Mohammedans, they destroyed the synagogues and churches, forcing both Jews and Christians either to embrace Islam or to migrate. Maimonides and his family, were among the exiles who fled from Spain about the year 1150. In the year David was born (1160), persecution of the Jews by the Mohammedans increased very consider­ably. In that year the precious and, to the Moslems, sacred jewels which were kept in the Mohammedan sanctuary at Mecca, were stolen. The Jews were accused of the crime and suffered untold misery for it.

Under these circumstances, Rabbi Joseph Kimchi took his family and went to France. He took with him the great tradition of the Spanish Talmud study, Hebrew language, and Hebrew thought, which had given the Spanish Jewish community the "golden era" for so many years, and set up his new home in Narbonne.

When David was about ten years old his father died. David's older brother Rabbi Moses Kimchi, also a famous scholar, took over the supervision of the upbringing and education of his young brother David. David proved himself a very gifted boy and made great headway in all branches of Jewish knowledge. Soon he became known as one of the greatest scholars of his time by Jews and non-Jews alike. He was given the honorary title of Maestro Petit, which his father had already earned. For centuries, Rabbi David Kimchi's work in the field of Hebrew grammar was the basis of the study of Hebrew for all non-Jewish scholars.

While still young, Rabbi David Kimchi earned his living by teaching the Talmud much in the same way as his father did.

Rabbi David Kimchi first became famous by his Michlol ("Completeness"), which is like an encyclopedia of Hebrew grammar. This grammar had great influence over many Christian Hebraists such as Johann Reuchlin, the great humanitarian and champion of the Talmud in the middle ages.

Rabbi David Kimchi wrote a great deal in defense of Judaism against attacks by members of the Christian church. This material was later used extensively by Jewish scholars in disputations with Christians, forced upon them by the Church.

The RaDaK endeared himself to our people by his famous commentary under that name. (RaDaK consists of the initials of his name Rabbi David Kimchi). He wrote commentaries on the Prophets, Psalms, and Chronicles, and also on the Pentateuch, although of the last of these, only the section of Genesis is extant. The RaDaK's commentary enjoyed almost as great popularity as that of Rashi. Indeed it is close in nature and style to Rashi's commentaries, for his interpretations are also based on reasoning and grammatical rule, in contrast to the other great Spanish Bible commentator, Nachmanides, who included deeper cabbalistic meanings in his commentaries. The RaDaK's commentaries were greatly esteemed by both Jews and Christians; they were translated into Latin by Christian scholars, and greatly affected later Bible translations, even the most famous one-the King James version.

In addition to the Michlol, and his commentary, Rabbi David Kimchi wrote the "Teshuvoth Lanotzrim," (Refutation to the Christians), refuting all attacks by Christian theologians, and "Et Hasofer" (Pen of the Scribe), the latter dealing with the writing of Torah scrolls in accordance with the true traditions of the Massorah.

Toward the end of his life, Rabbi David Kimchi became involved in one of the most vehement struggles within orthodox Judaism concerning the work of Maimonides, the "Moreh Nevuchim." Rabbi David Kimchi was a devout admirer of the works of the saintly Rambam, including his philosophical writings. He even undertook a journey to Spain in an attempt to organize the great scholars in defense of Rambam's work. However, on his way he took sick in the small town of Avila, and had to return. Soon after, Rabbi David Kimchi died at the age of seventy-five.

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