R. Chananel b. Chushiel

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R. Chananel
R. Chananel b. Chushiel
רבנו חננאל בן חושיאל, ר"ח
Datesc. 965 – 1055
WorksCommentaries on Talmud and Talmud
Exegetical Characteristics
Influenced byHis father R. Chushiel, R. Hai Gaon, R. Saadia Gaon
Impacted onR. Nissim b. Yaakov, Rif, Rambam



  • Name – Ḥananel (or "Chananel"); some historians believe that his given name was Elhanan, but at some point later in his life he became referred to by the name Ḥananel.1
    • Hebrew name – חננאל בן חושיאל (or, possibly, אלחנן בן חושיאל) 
  • Dates – c. 970-10572
  • Location – Kairouan (or "Qayrawan"), in modern-day Tunisia. Most historians believe that R. Hananel was born in Italy, likely Bari, and emigrated to Kairouan as an adult.3
  • Occupation – Rabbinical judge and head of the local house of study4
  • Family – R. Ḥananel's father, R. Ḥushiel b. Elhanan, was an Italian who became the rabbinic leader of Kairouan. A tradition states that R. Ḥananel had nine daughters but no sons.5
  • Education – Some have thought that R. Ḥananel studied in the Geonic Yeshivot of Babylonia, but this is likely not the case.6
  • Teachers – Throughout his commentary, R. Ḥananel constantly refers to "his teachers," who remain unnamed. It is likely that R. Ḥananel learned most of his Torah from his father, R. Ḥushiel b. Elhanan, who was the rabbinic leader of Kairouan.7
  • Contemporaries – R. Hai Gaon,8 R. Nissim b. Yaakov, Shmuel haNagid
  • Students – R. Nissim b. Yaakov
  • Time period – R. Ḥananel is considered to be among the transitional figures between the era of the "Geonim" and the "Rishonim."9 
  • World outlook – R. Ḥananel refers to his act of writing down his explanations of the Gemara as מלאכת שמים, heavenly work.10 


  • Biblical commentaries – Many of the Spanish commentators on the bible quote citations from R. Hananel's commentary on the Torah, though the complete work is lost.11
  • Rabbinics –  
    • Talmudic novellae – R. Hananel wrote a running commentary on the more commonly studied sections of Talmud Bavli: orders Mo'ed, Nashim (with the probable exceptions of Nedarim, Nazir, and most of Sotah), and Nezikin, as well as the tractates of Berachot, Hulin, and Niddah.12
    • Halakhic codes – Citations from halakhic works attributed to R. Hananel indicate that he wrote some smaller monographs on select halakhic topics.13
    • Responsa – Several responsa of R. Hananel are mentioned by medieval commentators, although a collection has not survived.14
  • Misattributed works – Commentary on Horayot, Zevahim; Sefer Miktzo'ot15

Torah Commentary

Textual Issues

  • Providence - The original commentary of R. Hananel to any biblical book is not extant, and even fragments of this work have been identified definitively. However, several dozen citations from his commentary appear in rabbinic works from Medieval Spain.16
  • Publications - Citations from R. Hananel's commentary have been collected (mostly from R. Bachayei's commentary) and published by Avraham Berliner in 1875,17 along with a few pages from R. Hananel's commentary to the book of Yechezkel (as well as his commentary to Makkot). In 1972, an updated edition with additional material was published by Mossad Harav Kook and edited by R. Charles Chavel,18 and this edition (together with newly discovered citations from a manuscript)19 was included in the Torat Chaim edition of the Torah published by Mosad Harav Kook.20 
  • Authenticity - Some have questioned whether or not R. Hananel did indeed write a commentary to the Torah. Instead, they suggested that perhaps sometime in the eleventh or twelfth century, a compendium was made from commentaries of the Geonim (particularly, R. Saadia, R. Shmuel b. Hofni, and R. Aaron Sarjado), which was erroneously attributed to R. Hananel.21


  • Structure, Style, and Scope – Because the original Torah commentary of R. Hananel is unavailable, the original language, structure and style of the work cannot be ascertained. However, some quotations appear to be fairly lengthy and appear as essays on broad topics are sometimes only tangentially related to the biblical verse.22
  • Meaningful symbols – Seemingly extraneous details in the Torah are explained by R. Hananel as having a religious meaning, message, or symbolism.23 This is especially true for lists of items that appear outwardly to have no religious meaning, such as the enumeration of animals sent by Yaakov to Esav, or descriptions of the Temple vessels.24 
  • Peshat and derash – In some cases, R. Hananel offers a creative reading of a biblical phrase which appear to be motivated by a desire to align the "peshat" reading with the interpretation of Midrash; his commentary to Shemot 21:24, for example, emphasizes the textual clues that the rule of עין תחת עין, "an eye for an eye" must be interpreted as monetary compensation.25  
  • Creativity - Several comments from R. Hananel's commentary demonstrate significant creativity, often deviating from traditional readings of the biblical verse (such as those of the Targums).26


  • Tradition – as in R. Saadia's many works, R. Hananel's commentary emphasizes the importance, authenticity, and authority of the rabbinic tradition.27
    • A striking example of this tendency is R. Hananel's position that the Jewish calendar was always determined according to the set calculation used in modern times and was never dependent upon witness testimony regarding the new moon.28 


Significant Influences

  • Earlier Sources – The Talmudic commentary of R. Hananel relies heavily on both the commentaries and responsa of the Babylonian Geonim,29 on oral traditions that he heard from his teachers,30 and on the Talmud Yerushalmi.31 R. Hananel's Torah commentary appears to be largely based upon the Torah commentaries of R. Saadia Gaon and R. Shmuel b. Hofni Gaon.32 

Occasional Usage

  • R. Hananel sometimes draws on rabbinic sources outside of the Talmud and Mishnah, such as the Tosefta and Midrash Halakha.33


Later exegetes

  • Spanish commentators from the medieval era, such as Ramban34 and R. Bachyei,35 often quote Rabbeinu Hananel. In the introduction to his work, Rabbeinu Bachyei calls attention to this fact, and refers to Rabbeinu Hananel as הפטיש החזק, the mighty hammer.
  • Medieval aids to Talmud study and halakhic analysis - particularly, the "Sefer ha-Arukh" by R. Natan of Rome and the "Ohr Zarua" by R. Yitzhak of Vienna - quote extensively from Rabbeinu Hananel.
  • R. Yitzhak Alfasi ("Rif") rarely quotes Rabbeinu Hananel by name, but in the vast majority of instances, anonymous quotations in his work can be attributed to Rabbeinu Hananel.36 
  • Rambam's halakhic decisions are often based upon R. Hananel's interpretations37 or editions of the Gemara.38