R. Yitzchak Arama (Akeidat Yitzchak)
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Background Life Name – Hebrew name – ר' יצחק בן משה עראמה 1 _ name – Dates – c. 1420-c.1494 Location – Spain, Naples 2 3 Education – He had a broad Jewish and general education. 4 Occupation – Headed a yeshivah in Zamora, and then served as rabbi for the communities of Tarragona and Fraga 5 in Aragon. 6 After failing to open a yeshivah in Tarragona, he focused his energies on pulpit instruction, winning renown for his derashot (sermons), which were designed to counter the Christian sermons that Jews of Aragon were forced to attend. He later became rabbi of Calatayud, where he was able to found a yeshivah, revise his derashot for publication, and author other works. 7 Participated in several public disputations with Christian scholars. 8 Family – R. Yitzchak had a son, R. Meir Arama, who fled with him to Naples, and who was an important scholar in his own right. 9 Teachers – Contemporaries – R. Yitzchak Abarbanel Students – Time period – – World outlook – Works 10 Biblical commentaries – Akeidat Yitchak on the Torah, commentary on the five Megillot, 11 Yad Avshalom (commentary to Mishlei). 12 13 Rabbinics – Talmudic novellae – Halakhic codes – Responses to the works of others – Responsa – Jewish thought – Chazut Kashah 14 Other works – R. Yitzchak authored poems and a commentary on Aristotle’s Ethics, which are now lost. Misattributed works – Characteristics Verse by verse / Topical – Genre – Structure – Language – Peshat and derash – Methods Themes Textual Issues Manuscripts – Printings – Originally published in Salonika, 1522, and reprinted many times since. Y. Hacker has identified a copy held by the National Library of Israel of the Venice 1547 edition that was proofread and corrected by its original owner against the author’s autograph manuscript (which is no longer extant). 15 16 Textual layers – Sources Significant Influences Earlier Sources – Teachers – Foils – Occasional Usage Possible Relationship Impact Later exegetes Abarbanel – Abarbanel incorporated into his own commentary large portions of the Akeidat Yitzchak's commentary without attribution. This aroused the ire of the Akeidat Yitzchak's son, R. Meir Arama. 17
1 Often referred to as the Ba’al HaAkeidah, in reference to his authorship of Akeidat Yitzchak. 2 See below, Occupation, for specific locales. 3 Where he settled after the expulsion from Spain in 1492. 4 Based on citations in his writings, it is clear he studied the gamut of Jewish philosophical literature (see Y. Kurzweil, “רבי יצחק עראמה הוגה שיטתי או מאסף לכל המחנות”, Chemda'at 6 (2009): 92-93), as well as much Greek and Arabic philosophy, including: Since he only cites works of Aristotle that had been translated into Hebrew, it appears that he did not know Greek or Latin. Similarly, since he only cites Arabic works that had been translated into Hebrew, it seems he did not know Arabic. Jewish philosophers R. Yitzchak Yisraeli, Rasag, R. Shelomo ibn Gevirol, R. Bahye ibn Pakudah, R. Avraham Bar Hiyya, R. Yitzchak ibn Latif, R. Yehudah Halevi, R. Avraham ibn Ezra, R. Avraham ibn Daud, Rambam, Ralbag, R. Nissim (Ran), R. Chasdai Crescas, R. Yosef Albo, and R. Avraham Bibago. Plato and Aristotle, and the Arab philosophers Ibn Sina (Avicenna), Al-Ghazali, and Ibn Rushd (Averroes). He occasionally cites Zohar (calling it “HaMidrash HaNe’elam”), and was familiar with a number of Kabbalistic thinkers, including Ramban and R. Yosef Gikatilla, but does not discuss Kabbalistic matters at any length. 5 He attempted to found a yeshivah in Tarragona, but adequate funds were not forthcoming from the local community, which was taxed heavily by the authorities. See Bettan, Sermons: 587. 6 It is possible that while serving in Tarragona he also ministered to Fraga, which was sixty miles away. See the introduction to Akeidat Yitzchak and I. Bettan, “The Sermons of Isaac Arama,” Hebrew Union College Annual Vol. 12/13, (1937-1938, hereafter: Bettan, Sermons): 589 note 11. 7 See introduction to Akeidat Yitzchak. 8 See S. Heller-Wilensky, רבי יצחק עראמה ומשנתו הפילוסופית (Jerusalem, 1956): 27. 9 R. Meir’s introduction to his commentary to Tehillim contains important biographical information about himself and his father. And see below, Contemporaries, regarding the letter R. Meir wrote accusing of plagiarizing Akeidat Yitzchak. R. Yitzchak Abarbanel 10 Much of the following description of R. Yitzchak Arama’s works is based on the description in Bettan, Sermons. 11 Akeidat Yitzchak is based on the derashot R. Yitzchak gave over many years, and thus its 105 she’arim (“portals” or “sections”) are each a separate derashah designed for a particular Shabbat. Some she’arim, though, contain more than one derashah, as follows: There are two other derashot, not included in the she’arim: Introduction to the She’arim, and Conclusion of the She’arim. The total number of derashot is thus 117. Sha’ar 25 has two loosely connected derashot. Sha’ar 44 is three different derashot connected by a common theme. Sha’ar 16 contains seven distinct derashot on Jewish holidays, although they are connected by an initial text. Sha’ar 105 has two derashot about the end of Moshe’s life. R. Yitzchak refers in his introduction to two parts of his work: derishah, and perishah, which seem to describe the two sections within each derashah (see, however, Kurzweil, רבי יצחק: 91, who prefers to see a tripartite division within each derashah). The derishah is a philosophical investigation that illumines certain biblical and rabbinic texts chosen by the author. The perishah is a peshat-oriented exegesis of a larger portion of the parashah, the broader setting of the main text discussed in the derishah. Opening with numerous questions on the verses under discussion, the perishah goes on to resolve these difficulties, only to reveal that the main thought of the derishah holds a solution for many of the questions presented at the outset of the perishah. The philosophical approach in Akeidat Yitzchak is heavily influenced by the anti-Aristotelian trend started by R. Chasdai Crescas (see below regarding the work Chazut Kashah). Although Maimonidean philosophy is often the target of criticism in Akeidat Yitzchak, the Ba’al HaAkeidah shows utmost respect to Rambam. Other medieval rationalists that he frequently attacks include R. Moshe of Narbonne and Ralbag. Following is a list of selected philosophical topics discussed in Akeidat Yitzchak, with the relevant sha’ar numbers in parentheses: Nature of God (1,4,21,38,54,56,87) Essence of the soul (6) Free will (3, 22, 36,93, 103) Immortality (64) Miracles (13, 15) Prophecy (19,25,29,35) Function of ritual law (60) Relation of philosophy to theology (27) Concept of sin (40, 86) Efficacy of prayer (58) Repentance (100) The meaning of spirituality (71,92,101) Interdependence of material and spiritual (85,91) Constitution of society and its mandates (8,12,43) Place of ethics in religion (39,62) Role of Israel in the world (31,66,84,88) Demonstrating a literary flair, the Ba'al HaAkedah sometimes includes allegorical stories in his derashot. Bettan (37, note 103) states regarding these stories “that in sheer beauty of diction and power of imagination they rise to a high literary plane.” 12 Riva di Trento, 1561. His commentary on Esther was originally published in Constantinople 1518, and should not be confused with the commentary on Esther published in all editions of Akeidat Yitzchak since Venice 1573, which is actually the work of his son, R. Meir Arama. 13 Constantinople c. 1565. Named in memory of his son-in-law, Shelomo, with the addition of the word “av” indicating R. Yitzchak’s close relationship with him. Bettan (8, note 25) opines that this “is the most important of his commentaries. The Book of Proverbs…seems to offer a most suitable field for the exercise of his peculiar powers and predilections.” Nevertheless, it has not achieved anything close the renown and influence of Akeidat Yitzchak. 14 ”Grievous Vision”, Sabionetta, 1552. A new edition is available at the following link: http://www.dnoam.022.co.il/BRPortal/br/P102.jsp?arc=551801. The first of R. Yitzchak’s works, though not the first to be published. The work discusses the relation of philosophy and religion, and aims to temper attitudes that overvalued philosophy. Bettan, Sermons: 6, note 10, states regarding this work: “In a poem written on the occasion of the completion of his work, he boldly asserts that the severe trials plaguing his generation spring from the impious exaltation of philosophy over theology, and that in the book he sends forth he smites his opponents out of his great zeal for the Lord of Hosts. – חזות קשה, p. 48.” Bettan also views Chazut Kashah as essentially a summary of the theological views underlying his derashot in Akeidat Yitzchak. 15 See note above, Contemporaries. 16 Hacker thus considers this copy invaluable to establishing the correct text of the work. He also notes that the errors in the Venice 1547 edition (which subsequently were copied to all later editions) originated with the first edition. Such errors include omissions, erroneous copying, and incorrect completion of abbreviations, which can sometimes make the sentences unintelligible. 17 See R. Meir Arama's letter describing the plagiarism.