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Jewish Commentators — Their Lives and Works


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Eliezer ben Joel Ha-Levi
Hebrew Name(s): אליעזר בן יואל הלבי; ראבי''ה
Other Names: Ra'avyah, Eliezer ben Yoel Ha-Levi, Eliezer ben Joel HaLevi
Period: Rishonim — 12th–13th Century
Location: Germany
Dates: c. 1160–1225

Eliezer ben Joel ha-Levi was born in Germany (Bonn?) His father, Joel ben Isaac ha-Levi was a teacher of Talmud, his grandfather (maternal, Eliezer b. Nathan) was a great Talmudist of the 12th Century. Eliezer ben Joel ha-Levi studied first under his father and later at yeshivahs in Metz, Mainz and Speyer where he was a student of Eliezer ben Samuel, Moses ben Solomon ha-Kohen (both pupils of Rabbeinu Tam,) and possibly Isaac ben Asher II.
Eliezer settled first at Bonn, and later Bingen (where he and his family barely escaped a massacre at New-Year, losing all his property, including his books and manuscripts.) In 1200 he succeeded his father as chief rabbi of Cologne, and also conducted, at the same time, a large yeshivah.  He participated in the Synod of Mayence (Mainz, 1220 or 1223), which sought the amelioration of the moral, religious, and social condition of the communities. Isaac ben Moses was among his pupils and frequently quotes his teacher in his Or Zarua.
Eliezer participated in a variety of literary activities. His comments on the Bible and his glosses indicate he was influenced by the German mysticism of his time. Like his colleague, Eleazar of Worms, he attached great importance to gematria; other glosses are grammatical and lexicographical. Only four of his liturgical poems have been preserved and express the sorrows of Israel.
Eliezer ben Joel ha-Levi devoted himself chiefly to the Talmud and the halakhah. He wrote tosafot to various Talmudic treatises. Later authorities quote his tosafot to Baba Kamma, Ketubot, Yebamot, and Nedarim. His major works, Abi ha-‘Ezr and Abi Asaf, dealing with ritualistic problems, acquired great authority in Germany. In these works Eliezer ben Joel ha-Levi followed the arrangement of the treatises of the Talmud. He first explained passages of the Talmud, with special reference to the halakhic Midrashim, Sifra and Sifre, and to the Jerusalem Talmud, and then laying, down the rules for religious observances, added his own or other responsa relating to the subject.
Eliezer’s works were influential during the Middle Ages, and were praised by his contemporaries. His responsa give information on authorities and works otherwise little or not at all known. His work also gives insights into his own personality and religious piety. He kept the Day of Atonement two days in succession, while, he was lenient toward others’ observance e.g., he allowed non-Jewish musicians at weddings on the Sabbath. However, he was inflexible in disputes relating to morals and enforced rigorously the decree of Rabbenu Gershom ben Judah (960–1028, The Light of the Exile) against polygamy.

Abi ha-‘Ezri; Abi Asaf; Responsa, Piyyutim

Abi ha-‘Ezri is preserved in manuscript in the Bodleian Library. A small fragment was published under the title Sefer Ra'avyah (Krakow, 1882.)
Abi Asaf —extracts are to be found in Or Zarua (Isaac ben Moses), in the responsa of Meir of Rothenberg, the halakhot of Asher ben Jehiel, and in Mordecai b. Hillel ha-Kohen's responsa in Haggahot Maimuniyyot.


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