HASSAGOT (Heb. הַשָּׂגוֹת), name given to rabbinic works wholly devoted to the criticism, usually negative, of earlier books. Hassagot literature is a part of a much wider literary genre, including *tosafot on the one hand, and on the other, supplements in the style of the Sefer ha-Hashlamah of *Meshullam b. Moses . They appeared initially in the time of *Saadiah Gaon , when rabbinical "books" in the modern sense were first written, the first book of hassagot apparently being one by Mevasser against Saadiah. Hassagot literature reached its peak in the 12th century, especially in Provence, the best known author of such works undoubtedly being *Abraham b David of Posquières (ba'al ha-hassagot). From the 14th century onward this class of literature began to decline, taking more and more the form of *haggahot , limited in content and generally relegated to the margins of the books.
Only a small number of hassagot works were thus termed by their authors. The first such is Jonah *Ibn Janaḥ 's work against the grammatical works of Judah *Ḥayyuj . It was translated from the original Arabic into Hebrew by Judah ibn *Tibbon , and given the title Sefer ha-Hassagah, thus giving the word hassagah its present meaning. *Zerahiah ha-Levi , a friend of Ibn Tibbon, also uses this term with the same meaning in the introduction to his Sefer ha-Ma'or. Some hassagot works (such as the above-mentioned book of Mevasser) confine themselves to exposing the errors of the text under review, but most offer alternative views and opinions, and sometimes as in the case of Abraham b. David, even defend, explain, and supplement the text in question. Hassagot literature embraces a wide range of subjects, including halakhah, theology, and grammar. Likewise, writers of hassagot differ in their aims, from Mevasser who attacked, apparently on a personal background, the whole of Saadiah's literary work, classifying his hassagot according to chapter headings, through *Dunash b. Labrat who wrote hassagot on the works of his teacher Saadiah with pure academic interest on linguistic and biblical subjects alone, to Naḥmanides, who was prolific as a writer of hassagot (on the Sefer ha-Mitzvot of Maimonides, the Sefer ha-Ma'or of Zerahiah ha-Levi, and on the hassagot of Abraham b. David on *Alfasi ). The hassagot of Naḥmanides were all written with the sole purpose of defending his predecessors, Alfasi and the author of the *Halakhot Gedolot , against the criticisms which had been leveled against them.
Some hassagot were written in order to justify local customs, such as those of Zerahiah on Alfasi, and some in order to undermine a scholar's authority, such as those of Meir *Abulafia on Maimonides. Most writers of hassagot confine themselves to important and prominent personalities, such as those mentioned above. Of the critics of Alfasi, mention should be made of his pupils, Ephraim and Joseph *Ibn Migash , whose books are not extant. Particularly noteworthy are the scholars of *Lunel , whose hassagot of Maimonides were written for their own instruction and were sent by them to Maimonides in order to elicit replies from him.
The hassagot have a style of their own. They are brief, pungent, and provocative. Their sometimes astonishing brusqueness is merely external and, in practice, was not taken amiss. The brevity of style was designed to strike a chord of decisiveness.
Jonah ibn Janaḥ, Sefer ha-Rikmah, ed. by M. Wilensky, 1 (19642), 19 n. 7; M. Zucker (ed. and tr.), Hassagotal Rav Sa'adyah Ga'on (introd.); I. Twersky, Rabad of Posquières (1962), 128–98; B.Z. Benedikt, in: Sefer Zikkaron… B. de Vries (1969), 160–7.
[Israel Moses Ta-Shma]
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.