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The Torah u-Madda Journal (12/2004)

Rabad \u2013 Disrupter of
Tradition? A Response to
Haym Soloveitchik\u2019s \u201cRabad
of Posquieres: A
Programmatic Essay\u201d

s one who had marveled at the attention showered on Rambam
two decades ago on the 800th anniversary of the completion of his
magnum opus, the Mishneh Torah, I had no illusions that Rabad

would be as fortunate. But, quite honestly, I had cherished a hope that the 800thanniversary of Rabad\u2019s passing1\u2014hisyahrze it\u2014would elicit some special excitement and interest. Indeed, I myself was involved in an effort to persuade the mayor of Vauverp, France\u2014modern-day Posquieres \u2014to fete their greatest son on this occasion. Alas, the celebratory gesture never came to pass.

Wherein lies the greatness of Rabad?

Rabbi Avraham ben David of Posquieres was much more than a great scholar of 12thcentury Provence (southern France). Rabad was one of those earlyr i s h o n i m whose work made a profound and ongoing impact on Halakhah and talmudic exegesis. Indeed, R. Menahem ha- Me\u2019iri called him \u201cthe greatest of the commentators,\u201d gedolei ha-mefarshim,


EPHRAIM A. BUCKWOLD serves as Rabbi at Congregation Simtat ha-Givah, Savion, Israel, and as Rosh Kollel at Bet Midrash Tiferet Israel, Savion. He published an annotated edition of Rabad\u2019s Ba\u2018alei ha-Nefesh (supplemented with an anthology of Rabad\u2019s scattered commentaries onmikvaot), presenting the several editions in which Rabad revised his work.

as well as \u201cthe greatest of the critics,\u201d gedolei ha-maggihim. Ramban and Rashba often refer to him as \u201cha-Rav.\u201d Even though most of his writings were lost,2 the imprint of this towering genius was preserved through those that survived,3 and through the citations and responses in the later


Before the spirit of the octo-centennial passes entirely, I would like to give a different presentation of the history of Halakhah, and Rabad\u2019s role in particular, from the powerful presentation penned by Professor Haym Soloveitchik in his \u201cRabad of Posquieres: A Programmatic Essay.\u201d4 This provocative essay does represent a significant contribution to mod- ern scholarship in that it documents the true breadth of Rabad\u2019s achieve- ment, as well as the nature of his subsequent influence. It demonstrates that Rabad\u2019s influence on the laterr i s h o n i m derived mainly from his commentaries and works of halakhah\u2014not the famedhassagot on the

Mishneh Torah.

However, there is a second major theme in the \u201cProgrammatic Essay.\u201d Rabad is presented there as a revolutionaryr ishon who \u201cdisrupt- ed\u201d and \u201cbasically dispensed with\u201d the Geonim who preceded him. \u201cThe works of Rabad,\u201d we are told, \u201cwill reveal to us the declaration of European independence from Geonic thought.\u201d \u201cNot that they5over- threw the past\u2014Heaven forbid; they simply rendered much of it irrele- vant. And it is not for the meek to discard 500 years of tutelage\u201d (pp. 11- 14, 37).6

A third major theme of the \u201cProgrammatic Essay\u201d (pp. 30-36) is Rabad\u2019s contribution to the development and evolution of Halakhah. We are told \u201chow he transformed his heritage.\u201d \u201cLaw . . . has an antipa- thy to radical change; thus the revolutionary jurist must disguise his innovations\u2014at times even from himself \u201d (p. 31).

We will attempt to show that these latter two contentions do not
stand up to close scrutiny.

Let us begin by examining thes ole evidence marshaled for Rabad\u2019s sup- posed indifference to the teachings and authority of his predecessors: the seemingly diminished Geonic presence in his work. As Soloveitchik puts it, \u201ctake away the Geonim from Rabad and the loss is barely noticeable.\u201d7

He observes a basic distinction between the works of Rabad and those who preceded him. Rabad is found \u201cto confront talmudic texts unaided . . . to penetrate into those areas where no commentarial tradi-

Ephraim A. Buckwold
tion was available,\u201d whereas his predecessors\u2019 writings \u201care a storehouse
of Geonic literature.\u201d

Apparently, Soloveitchik is attempting to present evidence that the absence of Geonica in Rabad\u2019s writings proves that heig nored Geonica.8 His essay, however, does not cite specific examples of omissions by Rabad of a known Geonic teaching relevant to Rabad\u2019s discussion. The only evidence presented is a superficial observation of his writings: \u201ctake away the Geonim from Rabad . . . the loss is barely noticeable.\u201d Accepting, for a moment, Soloveitchik\u2019s claim, we must realize that its significance will depend on the following premises being true:

Premise 1\u2014Rabad possessed Geonic knowledge\u2014but
ignored it\u2014in those areas where he does not mention Geonic
Premise 2\u2014When Rabad does not cite any source, he is not
relying on a Geonic source. Let us note parenthetically that many
rishonim\u2014perhaps most\u2014regularly state the opinions of their
predecessors without citing them as such, but rather as if the
opinion stated is their own.
If only one of these premises turns out to be unfounded, the argu-
ment founders.

Let us start with the first premise. To properly assess whether or not Geonic literature was ignored by Rabad, we have to know just what litera- ture they produced. This information is supplied by R. Menah. em ha- Me\u2019iri, in his monumental introduction toAv ot.9Me\u2019iri also places Rabad in historical context, and briefly characterizes his unique achievement.

To better appreciate Me\u2019iri\u2019s presentation, let us first take a glimpse at the literature the Geonim left behind. What does this literature have to offer on any given talmudic text? As can be seen from the great anthology of Geonica, Oz. ar ha-Geonim, Geonic texts come basically in two forms: commentary and responsa. The Geonic commentaries are few and generally very technical, addressing textual issues (nush. a\u2019ot) in the Talmud, and providing technical and literal explanations. The responsa, on the other hand, contain mainly halakhic decisions. An attempt to study a talmudic text with the aid of Oz. ar ha-Geonim alone will quickly reveal that this combined literary corpus lacks both elucida- tions of the talmudic discourse as well as interpretations and definitions of talmudic concepts.10

Me\u2019iri explains that the famedyeshivot of the Geonim had supplied
this knowledge. The explanations of talmudic discourse in theseyeshivot
The Torah u-Madda Journal

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