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Jewish Commentators — Their Lives and Works

 

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Simon ben Ẓemaḥ Duran
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Hebrew Name(s): שמעון בן צמח דוראן
Other Names: RaShBaẒ (רשב׳׳צ), Simeon ben Zemah Duran, Simon ben Tzemah Duran, RaShBatz, TaShbetz, Rashbats
Period: Rishonim — 14th–15th Century
Location: Palma and Algiers
Dates: 1361–1444

Biography:
Simon b. Ẓemaḥ Duran was a pupil of Ephraim Vidal, and of Jonah de Maestre (Jonah Desmaestre of Sargossa). A student of philosophy, astronomy, mathematics and medicine, Simon b. Ẓemaḥ Duran became rabbi of Algiers after the death of Isaac b. Sheshet with whom he had worked to draft statutes for the Jewish community of Algiers. A condition under which he accepted this position was that no government approval was required. Internal Jewish matters, he insisted, where not the business or competence of secular authority.
 
He wrote commentaries for several tractates of the Mishnah and Talmud, the work of Alfasi, and the Passover Haggadah. His Responsa, of which he wrote over 800, indicate his familiarity with halakhic literature. The popularity and fame which Simon ben Ẓemaḥ's collection of Responsa attracted resulted in him being known as TaShBaTz (Teshuvot Shimon ben Tzemaḥ). Tashbatz's halakhic decisions were accepted as authoritive in North Africa. One such decision, in which he went against the ruling of Maimonides, was that it was lawful for a rabbi to accept a salary so that he was free to devote all his attention to communal affairs. Simon ben Ẓemaḥ's responsa enable us to appreciate the conditions and life of Spanish and North African Jewry during his time (c. mid 14th–15th Centuries)—a time of persecution, forced conversions (to Christianity), declining religiosity and religious observance and the Marrano* problem.
 
Simon b. Ẓemaḥ Duran wrote a Commentary on the Pentateuch, a philosophical work on Pirke Avot, a number of novellae, a commentary on Job and a number of poems. The poem Seder ha-Mishneh leha-Rambam is traditionally attributed to him. His commentary on Pirke Avot, Magen Avot, is a theologico-philosophical work in which Simon b. Ẓemaḥ Duran shows his great scholarship and secular learning. Written as an introduction to the Tractate Avot, Magen Avot deals with theology: the nature of God, the eternity of the Torah, the messiah and messianic expectation and the resurrection of the dead. He taught that Judaism has only three dogmas: the existence of God, the divine origin of the Torah, and Reward and Punishment.
 
* the Marranos were Jews who converted to Christianity (under duress) and continued to practice Judaism secretly. Some estimate that the number of Jews who converted to Christianity (i.e., were baptized) as a result of civil and political restrictions on freedoms for Jews and the later Inquisition and expulsion of Jews from Spain and its Territories (1492) approximated 50,000–100,000 of the estimated 165,000–400,000 Jews living in Spain at the time. Prior to this, in Simon ben Ẓemaḥ Duran's time many Jews were living double lives practicing their Jewish rites in secret while being outwardly Christian—a matter that was a deep concern to both Jewish authorities and Christians. The anti-Jewish uprising of Toledo in 1449 was directed against the many baptized Jews alternatively called, New Christians, Conversos or Marranos, the latter being a contemptuous term meaning "pigs" many of whom, freed on the civil constraints imposed on Jews became wealthy and powerful. However, the "problem" for the Jewish authorities was a moral one. Many considered that the Jews who were baptized were lacking in religious zeal and loyalty and were a threat to the faith of the community. Maimonides, however, recognized that many of these conversions were involuntary ruled that although one should allow oneself to become a martyr rather than abandon one's faith in times of persecution, "nevertheless, if he transgressed and did not choose the death of a martyr, even though he has annulled the positive precept of sanctifying the Name and transgressed the injunction not to desecrate the Name, since he transgressed under duress and could not escape, he is exempted from punishment." Consequently many rabbis accepted the ruling that Jews who became Christians but continued to accept and practice the precepts of Judaism, even if only privately, continued to be accepted and recognized as full Jews. The level of leniency imposed by individual rabbinical decisions was a matter on contention. Some suggesting that Marranos who were in a position to flee the country should do so and return to full and open Judaism; others maintained that those who did not flee should suffer restrictions (i.e., they could no longer be regarded as valid witnesses or even as Jews.) Others were more lenient in their judgments suggesting that when danger had passed the requirement for being considered a Jew with full rights was to not transgress the precepts of Judaism.

Works:
Oheb Mishpat (Lover of Justice); Or ha-Ḥayyim (The Light of Life); Zohar ha-Raḳia; Ḥiddushe ha-Rashbaẓ; Yabin Shemu'ah; Ma'amar Aflḳomen; Magen Avot (The Shield of the Fathers); Eretz Hemdah; Liwyat Ḥen; Perush ha-Ketubbah weha-Geṭ; Minhagim; Perush Hilkot Berakot le-Harif; Perush Masseket 'Eduyyot; Perush 'al ha-Hosha'not; Perush Ḳeẓat Piyyuṭim; Ḳunṭras Teḥinnot u-Pizmonim.

Comments:
Oheb Mishpat is a commentary on the Book of Job with a theologico-philosophical introduction.
Or ha-Ḥayyim is a controversial treatise against Ḥasdai Crescas' Or Adonai.
Zohar ha-Raḳia is a commentary on Solomon ibn Gabirol's Azharot.
Ḥiddushe ha-Rashbaẓ is a collection of novellæ on and elucidations of Niddah, Rosh ha-Shanah, Ḳinnim.
Yabin Shemu'ah is precepts for sheḥiṭah and bediḳah
Ma'amar Ḥametz is precepts concerning ḥametz and matẓah
Aflḳomen is a commentary on the Pesaḥ Haggadah
Or ha-Ḥayyim is a controversial treatise against Ḥasdai Crescas' Or Adonai which defends Maimonides.
Zohar ha-Raḳia' is a commentary on Solomon ibn Gabirol's Azharot.
Ḥiddushe ha-Rashbaẓ is a collection of novellæ on and elucidations of Niddah, Rosh ha-Shanah, Ḳinnim.
Yabin Shemu'ah consists of:
1. Precepts for sheḥiṭah and bediḳah;
2. Ma'amar Ḥametz, precepts concerning ḥametz and matẓah;
3. Aflḳomen is a commentary on the Pesaḥ Haggadah;
4. Tif'eret Yisrael, on the computations of the new moon and
5. Perush a commentary on the Mishnah Zebaḥim, ch. v. (Ezehu Meḳoman), and the Baraita de Rabbi Yishma'el (from the Sifra).
Aflḳomen, Part 3 of Duran's work, Yabin Sheu'ah, appeared as Ma'amar Aflḳomen in the Haggadah.
Magen Avot is Simon ben Ẓemaḥ Duran's chief philosophical work in which he expounds his philosophical and theological ideas. It is divided into four parts, three dealing with the foundational dogmas of Judaism and the philosophical problems to which they give rise. The fourth recounts the succession of the bearers of tradition, a section often printed as a separate treatise.
Part One, Ḥeleḳ Eloah mi-Ma'al (The Portion of God) is focused on the existence of God and related matters. It is divided into five chapters dealing with the existence of God, God's unity and incorporealty, and God's eternity and attributes.
Part Two, Ḥelek Shosenu, (The Portion of our Oppressors) deals with the divine origin of the Torah and comprises four chapters: Prophecy: with a special focus on the prophesy of Moses, the divine origin of the Torah and its immutability. The fourth chapter of Part Two, which is primarily a polemic treatise against Christianity and Islam, is usually omitted from printed editions of the work and published separately under the title Kesheth u-Magen, (Bow and Shield.)
Part Three, Ḥelek Ya'akov (The Portion of Jacob) provides four chapters dealing with God's knowledge of things in the world, providence, reward and punishment, the problems of free will and injustice and the coming of Messiah and resurrection.
Part Four of the work, Ḥeleḳ Adonai 'Ammo, is a commentary on Avot and includes a literary-histroical introduction ton the sequence of tradition.
Eretz Hemdah is a poem on Palestine which is similar to Judah ha-Levi's Ode to Zion.
Liwyat Ḥen is a commentary on the Pentateuch.
Perush ha-Ketubbah weha-Geṭ is a work dealing with marriage contracts and divorce.
Minhagim treats ritual observances and is presumed to apply to the rites in Algiers.
Perush Hilkot Berakot le-Harif is a commentary on Alfasi's Berachot.
Perush Masseket 'Eduyyot is a commentary on Tractate Eduyyot (Testemonies).
Perush 'al ha-Hosha'not is published with the Hoshanot according to the Spanish rite. A short extract appeared in the Spanish prayer book of 1571.

 

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