Location – Ramban apparently lived most of his life in Gerona.5 At the end of his life he immigrated to Israel and spent time in Akko6 and Yerushalayim.7
Most of Ramban's life overlapped with the reign of King James I of Aragon (1213–1276).8
Ramban played an important role in the second Maimonidean Controversy of the 1230s.9
Ramban mounted a spirited defense of Judaism in the Barcelona Disputation of 1263.10
Occupation – In addition to his various communal and teaching responsibilities, Ramban was also a practicing physician.11
Family – Ramban was a descendant of R. Yitzchak b. Reuven of Barcelona.12 His first cousin was R. Yonah b. Avraham Gerondi,13 and Ramban's son, R. Nachman, married R. Yonah's daughter.14
Teachers – Ramban studied under R. Yehuda b. Yakar15 and R. Natan b. Meir,16 both of whom were students of the famed Tosafist R. Yitzchak b. Avraham.17
Contemporaries – R. Meir HaLevi Abulafia (Ramah),18 R. Shemuel HaSardi,19 R. Shelomo of Montpelier,20 R. Yonah Gerondi.21
Students – R. Aharon HaLevi (Raah), Rashba, R. David Bonafed, R. Yitzchak Carcosa, Ramban's son R. Nachman.
Biblical commentaries – Ramban wrote commentaries on the Torah and on the book of Iyyov.22
Rabbinics – Ramban's prolific writing in this area can be divided into a few categories:
Talmudic novellae – Collections of expositions on most of the tractates in the first four sections of the Talmud Bavli, as well as Chullin and Niddah.23
Halakhic codes – Compendia of the laws of Nedarim, Bekhorot, Niddah, and Challah; Torat HaAdam (on the laws of mourning), Mishpat HaCherem (on the laws of excommunication).
Responses to the works of others – Milchamot Hashem,24 Sefer HaZekhut,25 Glosses on the Rambam's Sefer HaMitzvot,26 Hilkhot Lulav,27 Hasagot on Sefer HaTzava.28
Teshuvot – C. Chavel collected and published Ramban's responsa from manuscripts and citations in various medieval works.
Jewish thought – Sefer HaVikuach,29 Derashat Torat Hashem Temimah,30 Sefer HaGeulah, Shaar HaGemul,31 and possibly Iggeret HaMusar.32
Commonly misattributed to Ramban – Commentary to Shir HaShirim,33 Iggeret HaKodesh,34 Sefer HaEmunah veHaBitachon.35
Manuscripts – Over 35 complete manuscripts are extant,36 and a few dozen others contain individual chumashim or fragments of the commentary.37
Printings – Ramban's commentary was first printed in Rome c. 1470.38 A number of annotated editions have appeared in the last half-century,39 with C. Chavel's edition being the most well known and commonplace.40 Click for a table of some of the missing text in Chavel's edition.
Long and short commentaries – The existence of both long and short versions of Ramban's Torah commentary was noted already by R. David HaKochavi in his Sefer HaBattim (c. 1300). In addition to the well known longer Commentary on the Torah of Ramban, there are also over thirty extant manuscripts of an abridged version of the Commentary.41 This "Short Commentary" collects all of the Kabbalistic interpretations of Ramban found in the longer commentary.42
The writing process – It is unclear when Ramban began to author his commentary,43 but it is clear that he continued to update it until the very end of his life. This is indicated by explicit remarks of Ramban himself in his commentary44 and by lists containing some of these updates which Ramban sent from Israel to Spain.45 The various lists contain only a portion of these additions, and many more can be found by a comparative analysis of the various manuscripts and other textual witnesses of the commentary.46 All together, these total over 270 additions and changes. Click to view an interactive table and analysis of these updates.
Ramban's later updates47 – Ramban's additions and changes to his commentary from his later years in Israel reflect the influence of several factors, as can be seen in the interactive table. The two most prominent ones are:
Newly obtained first-hand knowledge of the geography of the land of Israel – This is reflected in many of Ramban's changes to his commentary.48
Expanded library of previously unavailable sources and texts:49
Northern French exegesis50 – R. Yosef Bekhor Shor,51 "Chakhmei HaZarefatim",52 Chizkuni.53
Exegesis from Islamic lands – R. Chananel's Torah Commentary,54 R. Nissim Gaon.55
Works from Israel and Byzantium and more – Targum Yerushalmi,56 Talmud Yerushalmi,57 Midrash Mishlei,58 Lekach Tov,59 Sifrei HaNisyonot,60 and Sefer HaLevanah.61
Other noteworthy features – Ramban's additions also contain most of his lengthy discussions on passages from Neviim.62
Very limited presence in the additions – the vast majority of both Ramban's Kabbalistic interpretations63 and his interpretations which are influenced by Radak are present already in the earlier layer of the commentary.
Broad scope – Ramban looks at Torah with a wide angle lens, viewing it as one integrated unit, each part of which bears on the others.64
This is reflected in many aspects of his commentary: its topical nature,65 internal consistency66 and tendency to self-reference, the inclusion of introductions,67 reasons for stories or mitzvot, and excursuses on theological and other issues.
This broad scope view impacts his methodology as well, as seen in Ramban's adherence to chronological ordering,68 sensitivity to literary patterns, structure, and style,69 discussion of the relationship between doubled narratives,70 recognition that Torah is "brief in one place but lengthy in another" and more.
Topical – Ramban comments on about a third of the verses in the Torah.71 His commentary is selective in what it addresses, and is not a verse by verse commentary.72 His discussions will often revolve around matters that relate to the story or unit as a whole and not just a word or phrase. At times, too, he uses the commentary as a platform to discuss philosophical or halakhic issues in addition to exegetical ones.
Multidisciplinary – Ramban's commentary combines analyses of Rabbinic interpretation (מדרש), literal interpretations (פשט), and Kabbalistic interpretations (סוד).73 This heterogeneous character was unique and may account for part of the commentary's popularity.74
Dialectic – Ramban regularly opens his analyses by surveying the exegesis of his predecessors. These alternative interpretations serve as foils for Ramban's own positions.75
Categories of questions –
Order and structure – Ramban will rarely posit achronology, preferring to say that "all of Torah is in order" except where Torah explicitly states otherwise.76
Reasons for Stories
מעשה אבות סימן לבנים
Love of Land of Israel
Earlier Sources – Rashi, Radak, Northern French exegetes