R. David Kimchi (Radak)

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Radak
Name
R. David Kimchi, Radak
ר' דוד קמחי, רד"ק
Datesc. 1160 – c. 1235
LocationNarbonne, Provence
WorksCommentaries on Bereshit, Nevi'im, Tehillim, Mishlei, and Divrei HaYamim, Sefer HaMikhlol and Sefer HaShorashim
Exegetical Characteristics
Influenced byR. Yosef Kimchi, R. Moshe Kimchi, Ibn Ezra, Rambam, Ibn Janach, Ibn Chiyyug
Impacted onRamban, Meiri

Background

Life

  • Name – Rabbi David Kimhi (רבי דוד קמחי) , acronym Radak (רד"ק)
  • Dates – c.1160 – c.1235
  • Location – Provence (Narbonne). Radak's family migrated from Spain to Provence in the wake of the Almohade invasion of the mid-12th century, and this Spanish legacy influenced his work substantially, as did the works of Rashi (and, to a lesser extent, those of others) composed in Northern Europe. As such, Radak's work features a relatively early fusion of Northern European and Spanish influences. Polemical components of his work reflect the influence of his Christian environment.
  • Education – Bible, rabbinics, philosophy, science, philology
  • Occupation – Teacher of rabbinic texts to youths
  • Family – Son of R. Joseph Kimhi, brother of R. Moses Kimhi
  • Teachers – His brother R. Moses Kimhi
  • Contemporaries – Most notably R. Samuel ibn Tibbon of Provence, purveyor of Maimonides' Arabic works
  • Time period
    • Translations of Maimonides' Arabic works began circulating during the early stages of Radak's exegetical career, and the Maimonidean component of his work (along with the writings of Samuel Ibn Tibbon and others) marks the beginning of the Maimonidean-Tibbonian philosophical-exegetical tradition that flourished in 13th-century Provence and beyond. Controversy over Maimonides' thought during Radak's time culminated in his efforts to defend the philosopher, as evidenced in Radak's exchange of letters with Judah Alfakhar in 1232.
  • World outlook – Maimonidean philosophy dominates Radak's thought, including, inter alia, his affirmations of creation de novo, the presence of a natural order and the limited role of miracles, and the necessity of resisting the draw of the material world in order to unite with the active intellect and achieve immortality.

Works

  • Biblical commentaries – Bereshit, Former Prophets, Latter Prophets, Psalms, Proverbs, Chronicles.1
  • Grammar – Sefer Mikhlol which contains two parts: Sefer MIkhlol, a work on Biblical grammar, and Sefer HaShorashim, a Biblical lexicon.2  These were written before Radak's Biblical commentaries and served as a foundation for them. They contain explanations to dozens of verses in Tanakh,3 but also provide the grammatical knowledge necessary to understand the text. For, according to Radak, attempting to study Tanakh without a grammatical base is almost futile.4
  • Jewish thought – letters in defense of Maimonides
  • Misattributed works – Et Sofer on Masorah (according to recently adduced evidence), as well as some collections of material from the Shorashim mistaken to be independent commentaries

Torah Commentary

Characteristics

  • Verse by verse / Topical – Radak says explicitly with regards to his commentaries on the Former Prophets, Yirmeyahu and Divrei HaYamim5 that he will comment only on those verses which need explanation. Despite these words, however, in practice, Radak comments on almost every verse.
  • Genre – The work is an explanatory commentary with partial emphasis on grammar and lexicography and periodic discussion of matters relating to philosophy, science, theology, and ethics.
  • Style – Radak's commentary is paraphrastic, often interweaving the Biblical text and commentary.
  • Language – Hebrew
  • Peshat and derash –  In his introduction to Yehoshua, Radak notes that he will deal with philology and grammar, turn to rabbinic interpretations when their authoritative explanations are necessary, and include "a few" homiletic midrashim "for lovers of derash". He implies, thus, that his emphasis will be on peshat6 while derashic interpretations will simply add occasional color to the commentary. While Radak's focus is definitely peshat, he nonetheless incorporates more midrashim into his commentary than does Rashi,7 often quoting them directly. More often than not, though, these are brought as a contrast to the simple sense of the verse.8
    • Argues
    • Agrees
    • Contrast

Methods

Introduction – Radak's exegesis synthesizes the methodologies of both the Spanish and French exegetical traditions, combining the Andalusian emphasis on philology, grammar and rationalism with the Northern French and Provencal focus on literary exegesis, realia and Rabbinic literature.

  • I. Grammar and Philology – Unlike some exegetes who separate their grammatical and philological analyses from their content discussions,9 Radak combines the two, believing that  one informs the other.
    • Defining words – Radak will explain difficult words both by looking at their usage in Tanakh itself and by turning to Rabbinic Hebrew,10 Aramaic11 or Arabic.12 He will often note when a word is a hapax legomenon (occurring only once), and in such cases, might turn to the context to explain it.13  Radak will also explain more common words which might take several meanings so as to disambiguate.14  In many cases these explanations are either an abridged15 or more elaborate discussion of what he wrote in Sefer HaShorashim, but there are also definitions which were not discussed in the earlier work.
    • Grammar – Radak touches on dozens of grammatical issues, noting both exceptional phenomena and those that are fairly common:
      • Tenses – Radak notes that Tanakh at times employs the imperfect with the meaning of a perfect16 or the perfect with the meaning of an imperfect.17
      • Spelling –
      • Gender – Radak notes verses in which the gender of a noun does not appear to match its accompanying verb or adjective, sometimes noting that the specific noun actually can be either masculine or feminine and sometimes giving local explanations to the phenomenon.
      • Person – Radak remarks on verses in which there is switch from first to second person speech and the like,
      • Mikra Kaztar
      •  
  • II. Rationalism – 
    • Miracles – Radak believed in the immutability of nature, leading him to minimize the miraculous, but not to reject it.18
      • He, thus, asserts that, for the most part, Hashem performs miracles by utilizing rather than overturning nature,19 and that Hashem will only perform miracles when necessary.20
      • At times he will reinterpret verses which describe miraculous phenomenon as being simply metaphors.21
      • Many other miracles, he suggests, were preprogrammed into creation, and so do not really constitute a change in the natural order but rather a planned exception to it.22
      • He further asserts that since Hashem generally runs the world via nature, the righteous do not rely on miracles.23
    • Anthropomorphism – Radak, following Rambam and others, asserts that any anthropomorphic language in Tanakh is simply a figure of speech. Hashem does not have body parts or feelings such as regret, sadness or happiness. When Tanakh uses such terms, it is only so humans can understand.24 
    • Prophecy – Radak's understanding of prophecy is heavily influenced by Rambam.  Like Rambam, he believes that prophecy is transmitted through intermediaries such as angels,25 that to attain prophecy one must prefect one's self both morally and intellectually and be free from material concerns,26  and that there are distinct prophetic levels.27
    • Angels – Radak maintains that angels are not corporeal but that they can take on a human guise and appear so to humans, who imagine them to be real people.28 In a couple of instances, where angels actively engage in corporeal activities which cannot be easily imagined, he suggests that the story might have taken place in a prophetic vision.29
    • Bizarre prophetic actions – Radak maintains that several seemingly bizarre or unrealistic prophetic actions, such as Yeshayahu's walking naked, Hoshea's marrying a prostitute, Yechezkel's eating food cooked in dung or swallowing a scroll, all merely took place in prophetic visions to serve as analogies, and did not happen in reality.30
    • His exegesis of philosophically-charged material, especially on the opening chapters of Genesis and Ezekiel, bespeak an effort to apply a systematic Maimonidean approach, supplemented by his own exegetical and philosophical preferences.31
  • III. Literary Exegesis
    • "The way of the text" – Radak is very attuned to patterns in the Biblical text, often noting that a literary phenomenon or a certain formulation is simply "the way of the text"32 or "דרך הלשון"‎.33
    • Doubling in Tanakh – Radak often addresses repetition and doublings  in Tanakh, both within a story or verse and between parallel stories.
      • "כפל לחזק" – In contrast to the midrashic tendency to find significance in every repetition, Radak tends to explain away such doublings as being elements of Biblical style or the manner of people.  Thus, repetition might serve for emphasis34 or elaboration,35 to resume a narrative after a parenthetical break,36 or be an expression of emotion.37
      • כפל הענין במלים שונות – Radak notes that often Tanakh employs synonymous rather than identical language when repeating an idea (כפל הענין במלים שונות), and emphasizes that this is simply the way of the text and one need not to look into the significance of the choice.38   
      • "הכתוב שומר הטעמים ולא המלות" – Similarly, when analyzing parallel passages, such as the two accounts of the servant's story in Bereshit 24, Radak belittles the significance of changes in language,39 explaining that as long as the meaning is maintained, the choice of word is not important.40
      • Sensitivity to nuance – Despite the above reluctance to posit "omnisignificance", Radak is very attuned to the nuances of the text, and if an explanation for specific word choice or repetition accords with the context and reason, he might adopt it.
    • Metaphoric Language
    • Sensitivity to literary artistry – In prophetic and poetic passages, Radak often highlights plays on words (לשון נופל על לשון), noting that these are "דרך צחות השלון" (beautifying the text).41
  •  IV. Realia
    • Way of the world – Radak will often explain certain customs in light of the realia of either Biblical times,42 his own time,43 or the way of the world at large.44
    • Psychological insights – At times, Radak will provide the psychological motives behind a character's actions or people's behavior in general.45
    • Scientific knowledge – Radak might explain the narrative in light of his knowledge of the sciences, nature, or geography.46
  • Radak provides explanations for masoretic alternatives reflected by qere-ketiv disparities.
  • He displays considerable literary sensitivity of various kinds. He often attributes meaning to extraneous or otherwise distinctive biblical formulations, especially those found in the Pentateuch.
  • He seeks to harmonize apparent biblical discrepancies, refusing to allow for the canonization of error on the part the inspired biblical author/editor.
  • He recognizes parallelism as a rhetorical ("intensifying") feature of biblical poetry.
  • He proposes historical contexts for individual Psalms.
  • Crucially, his relatively expansive elucidations of the biblical text mark an important departure from the more concise and atomistic exegesis of his predecessors.

Themes

  • Reasons for stories – Radak will often explore the didactic and theological messages relayed by Biblical narratives, questioning what can be learned by the inclusion of both specific details and entire stories.47  Thus, Radak will often note how certain details are included to teach the reader proper behavior,48 give insights into a person's character,49 help one understand Hashem's ways,50 or to relay historical messages.51
  • Prophetic Autonomy

Textual Issues

  • Manuscripts – five extant manuscripts of commentary on Genesis; varying numbers of manuscripts of other works
  • Printings – first printings in 15th and 16th centuries, chiefly in early Rabbinic Bibles; current best editions chiefly in Bar-Ilan's Mikra'ot Gedolot Haketer
  • Textual layers – several works reflect stages of revision by the author

Sources

Significant Influences

  • Earlier Sources – chiefly Talmud and Midrash, Rashi, R. Abraham Ibn Ezra, R. Jonah Ibn Janah, R. Joseph Kimhi, Maimonides
  • Teachers – R. Moses Kimhi

Impact

Later exegetes

Radak's Shorashim became the standard biblical lexicon for centuries; and his commentaries on the Prophets and Writings likewise became standard, heavily influencing commentators such as Abarbanel and forming the basis of others such as Metzudat David.

Supercommentaries

Editions of various commentaries are available with limited annotation, and a more expansive supercommentary is available on Chronicles.

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