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The Rishonim

Biographical sketches of the prominent early sages and leaders

By Rabbi Hersh Goldwurm

Biographical sketches of 300 prominent 10th-15th-century Rabbinic sages and leaders such as Rashi, Rambam, R' Gershom Meor HaGolah. Traces the beginnings of Jewish communities in each part of the continents.



The Rishonim

Rishonim (Hebrew: ראשונים; sing. ראשון, Rishon) "the former ones," were the leading Rabbis and Poskim who lived approximately during the 11th to 15th centuries, in the era before the writing of the Shulkhan Arukh and following the Geonim. Rabbinic scholars subsequent to the Shulkhan Arukh are known as " Acharonim — the latter ones".

The distinction between Rishonim and Geonim is meaningful historically; in Halakha (Jewish Law) the distinction is less important. According to a widely held view in Orthodox Judaism, Acharonim generally cannot dispute the rulings of rabbis of previous eras unless they find support of other rabbis in previous eras. On the other hand, this view is not formally a part of halakhah itself, and according to some rabbis is a violation of the halakhic system. In the The Principles of Jewish Law Orthodox rabbi Menachem Elon writes that such a view:

inherently violates the precept of Hilkheta Ke-Vatra'ei, that is, the law is according to the later scholars. This rule dates from the Geonic period. It laid down that until the time of Rabbis Abbaye and Rava (4th century) the Halakha was to be decided according to the views of the earlier scholars, but from that time onward, the halakhic opinions of post-talmudic scholars would prevail over the contrary opinions of a previous generation. See Piskei Ha'Rosh, Bava Metzia 3:10, 4:21, Shabbat 23:1

Some Rishonim
  • Abba Mari, (Minhat Kenaot), 13th century Provençal rabbi.
  • Don Isaac Abravanel, (Abarbanel), 15th century philosopher and Torah commentator
  • Jacob Berab, 15th-16th century proponent of Semicha (Ordination)
  • Israel Bruna, (Mahari Bruna), 15th century German Rabbi and Posek
  • Levi Ibn Chaviv, 15th-16th century, Spanish born, Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem

  • Abraham ibn Daud, (Sefer HaKabbalah), 12th century Spanish philosopher
  • Abraham ibn Ezra, (Even Ezra), 12th century Spanish-North African Biblical commentator
  • David ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra, (Radbaz), 15-16th century commentator and halakist, chief rabbi of Egypt
  • David Abudraham, said to be a student of the Baal Ha-Turim (but this is doubtful)
  • Samuel ben Jacob Jam'a, 12th century North African rabbi and scholar
  • Asher ben Jehiel, (Rosh), 13th century German-Spanish Talmudist
  • David Kimhi, (RaDaK) 12th century French biblical commentator, philosopher, and grammarian
  • Yaakov ben Moshe Levi Moelin, (Maharil), 14th century codifier of German minhag
  • Obadiah ben Abraham of Bertinoro, (Bartenura), 15th century commentator on the Mishnah
  • Bahya ibn Paquda, (Hovot ha-Levavot), 11th century Spanish philosopher and moralist
  • Hasdai Crescas, (Or Hashem), 14th century Talmudist and philosopher
  • Dunash ben Labrat, 10th century grammarian and poet
  • Rabbenu Gershom, 11th century German Talmudist and legalist
  • Gersonides, Levi ben Gershom, (Ralbag), 14th century French Talmudist and philosopher
  • Eliezer ben Nathan, 12th century poet and pietist
  • Hillel ben Eliakim, (Rabbeinu Hillel), 12th century Talmudist and disciple of Rashi
  • Ibn Tibbon, a family of 12th and 13th century Spanish and French scholars, tranlators, and leaders
  • Isaac Alfasi, (the Rif), 12th century North African and Spanish Talmudist and Halakhist; author of "Sefer Ha-halachoth".
  • Jacob ben Asher, (Baal ha-Turim ; Arbaah Turim), 14th century German-Spanish Halakhist
  • Joseph Albo, (Sefer Ikkarim), 15th century Spain
  • Joseph ibn Migash 12th century Spanish Talmudist and rosh yeshiva; teacher of Maimon, father of Maimonides
  • Meir Abulafia, (Yad Ramah), 13th century Spanish Talmudist
  • Maimonides, Moshe Ben Maimon, (Rambam), 13th century Spanish-North African Talmudist, philosopher, and law codifier
  • Mordecai ben Hillel, (The Mordechai), 13th century German Halakhist
  • Nahmanides, Moshe ben Nahman, (Ramban), 13th century Spanish and Holy Land mystic and Talmudist
  • Nissim Ben Jacob (Rav Nissim Gaon), 10th century Tunisian Talmudist
  • Nissim of Gerona, (RaN), 14th century Halakhist and Talmudist
  • Rashi, (Solomon ben Yitzchak), 11th century Talmudist, the primary commentator of Talmud
  • Elazar Rokeach, (Sefer HaRokeach), 12th century German rabbinic scholar
  • Samuel ben Judah ibn Tibbon, 12th-13th century French Maimonidean philosopher and translator
  • Tosafists, (Tosafot), 11th, 12th and 13th century Talmudic scholars in France and Germany
  • Yehuda Halevi, (Kuzari), 12th century Spanish philosopher and poet devoted to Zion
  • Menachem Meiri, (Meiri), 13th century Talmudist
  • Yom Tov Asevilli, (Ritva), 13th century Talmudist
  • Yitzhak Saggi Nehor, (Isaac the Blind), 12th-13th century Provencal Kabbalist
  • Solomon ben Aderet, (Rashba), 13th century Talmudist
  • Aharon HaLevi, (Ra'ah), 13th century Talmudist
  • Zerachiah ha-Levi of Girona, (Baal Ha-Maor) 12th century Talmudist
  • Meshullam ben Jacob, (Rabbeinu Meshullam Hagodol), 12th century Talmudist

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