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(1194 – 1270)

Naḥmanides (Moses b. Naḥman, also known as Naḥamani and RaMBaN – an acronym of Rabbi Moses Ben Naḥman) was a Spanish rabbi and scholar and one of the leading authors of talmudic literature in the Middle Ages; philosopher, kabbalist, biblical exegete, poet, and physician. Naḥmanides was born in Gerona, Catalonia, and it was after his native town that he was also referred to as Rabbenu Moses Gerondi or Yerondi. His Spanish name was Bonastrug da Porta. Naḥmanides was a descendant of Isaac b. Reuben, a contemporary of Isaac b. Jacob *Alfasi. His mother was the sister of Abraham, father of Jonah b. Abraham Gerondi. His teachers included *Judah b. Yakar, a disciple of *Isaac b. Abraham of Dampierre, who established his yeshivah in Barcelona, and *Meir b. Isaac of Trinquetaille. From the first, he received the tradition of the tosafists of northern France, while from the second he learned the methods of study employed in the yeshivot of Provence. He maintained close contact with Meir b. Todros ha-Levi Abulafia of Toledo who replied to his queries, and even more so with his cousin, Jonah b. Abraham of Gerona. His colleagues also included Samuel b. Isaac *Sardi, to whom he sent the largest number of his responsa, as well as *Isaac b. Abraham of Narbonne. The responsa of Solomon b. Abraham *Adret (part 1, 120, 167) relate that Naḥmanides earned his livelihood as a physician. Even though there is no information available on Naḥmanides' yeshivah in Gerona, there is no doubt that it existed. His disciples included the leading halakhists of the following generation, such as Solomon b. Abraham Adret, *Aaron b. Joseph ha-Levi, David Bonafed, Jonah b. Joseph, Naḥmanides' cousin, and many others. There is reason to believe that after the death of Jonah b. Abraham Gerondi in 1264, Naḥmanides acted as chief rabbi of Catalonia until his emigration to Ereẓ Israel. The Spanish rabbis of subsequent generations regarded him as their great teacher and referred to him as ha-rav ha-ne'eman ("the trustworthy rabbi"). In his Nomologia, Immanuel *Aboab states that throughout Spain it was the custom to refer to him simply as "the rabbi" or "the teacher."

When the *Maimonidean controversy broke out in *Montpellier in 1232, Naḥmanides attempted to find a compromise between the opposing camps, although he agreed with *Solomon b. Abraham of Montpellier and his followers in condemning the detrimental use which had been made of the works of Maimonides by the "philosophizers" to whom the study of secular sciences was a principal object. On the one hand, in the letters which he sent to the community leaders of Aragon, Navarre, and Castile, he sought to prevent them from taking measures against the extremists of Montpellier, while on the other hand, in his famous letter "Before I raise my voice, I err," he requested the rabbis of France that they annul the ḥerem which they had proclaimed against the writings of Maimonides. He argued that these were not intended for French Jewry, which was faithful to Jewish tradition, but for the Jews of the south (Provence and Spain), among whom philosophic culture had struck roots, with the objective of bringing them back to the path of the faithful. In order to avert a schism between the opposed communities and camps, he proposed a detailed program which would suit the varying conditions prevailing in France and Spain and would regulate the study of the various sciences according to the age of the students and the locality. Naḥmanides' program failed because the extremists in both camps gained the upper hand and he was isolated.

He exercised extensive influence over Jewish public life in Catalonia; even King James I (1213–1276) consulted him and in 1232, on the strength of Naḥmanides' opinion, rejected the claims of the *Alconstantini family to the position of dayyan over all the Jews of the kingdom. In 1263 King James coerced him into a public disputation in Barcelona with the apostate Pablo *Christiani. The disputation, which was held in July in the presence of the king and the leaders of the *Dominicans and the *Franciscans, was a victory for Naḥmanides, the king even presenting him with 300 dinars in appreciation of the manner in which he had stated his arguments. (For further details see *Barcelona, Disputation of.) At the request of the bishop of Gerona, Naḥmanides summarized his views in a book, apparently the Sefer ha-Vikku'aḥ, which is still extant. The Dominicans, who had initiated the disputation, did not remain inactive, and in April 1265 they called Naḥmanides to trial for his supposed abuses against Christianity. Before the tribunal Naḥmanides stated that his words had been spoken during the disputation after the king had promised him freedom of speech, and that he had written his work at the request of the bishop. The king thereupon succeeded in extricating Naḥmanides from the complications of the trial, which was postponed for an indefinite period. Dissatisfied, the Dominicans sought the aid of Pope *Clement IV, who sent a letter to the king of Aragon requesting him to penalize Naḥmanides for writing the above work. Naḥmanides barely succeeded in escaping from Spain and during the same year emigrated to Ereẓ Israel.

A prayer in the spirit of the Psalms, which Naḥmanides composed at sea while on his way to Ereẓ Israel, has been preserved. He arrived in *Acre during the summer of 1267 and on Elul 9 of that year he went to Jerusalem. In a letter to his son Naḥman, he described the ruined state of the city seven years after the invasion of the Tatar hordes. He found few Jews, "only two brothers, dyers who bought their dye from the governor and were joined by up to ten Jews in their home on Sabbaths for prayers." On his arrival in the town he organized the remnants of the Jewish community and erected a synagogue in a derelict house; it appears that he also founded a yeshivah. Reports of his activities circulated rapidly; many Jews streamed into Jerusalem. In 1268 Naḥmanides moved to Acre, where he became the spiritual leader of the Jewish community, in succession to *Jehiel b. Joseph of Paris. From this period a sermon which he delivered in the synagogue on Rosh Ha-Shanah in 1269 has been preserved. The site of his tomb has not been ascertained; some believe that he was buried at the foot of Mount Carmel; others that he was buried in Haifa, beside the tomb of Jehiel b. Joseph of Paris; while others say that he was interred in Acre. There is also a tradition that he was buried in Jerusalem, under the slope of the mountain near the village of Silwan, and another that his tomb is in Hebron.

Naḥmanides had three sons: Naḥman, to whom he sent the above-mentioned letter from Jerusalem; Solomon, who married the daughter of Jonah b. Abraham Gerondi; and Joseph, who was a favorite at the court of the king of Castile and owned an estate in *Valladolid. One of Naḥmanides' daughters married *Gershom b. Solomon, and their son was *Levi b. Gershom.


About 50 of Naḥmanides' works have been preserved, in addition to many works which are doubtfully attributed to him. The majority of his works are novellae on the Talmud and halakhah. He also wrote books and letters connected with his public activities, including the Sefer ha-Vikku'aḥ already mentioned. He devoted a special work to the nature of the belief in Redemption, the Sefer ha-Ge'ullah, written in about 1263. He was also a gifted paytan, writing a number of poems and prayers, including a prayer which he composed on his entry into Jerusalem. Four of his sermons have been preserved: Ha-Derashah la-Ḥatunnah, dating from his youth; Torat ha-Shem Temimah, which he apparently delivered after the disputation of Barcelona; one on the Book of Ecclesiastes, which he delivered before his departure for Ereẓ Israel; and the sermon mentioned above, delivered in Acre on Rosh Ha-Shanah. All his works bear the imprint of his original personality, a synthesis of the culture of Spain and the piety of Germany, a talmudic education together with the teachings of Kabbalah, as well as a broad knowledge of sciences and Christian theological works. An edition of his works has been published by Ch. D. Chavel (see bibliography).


GENERAL: A. Yeruham, Ohel Raḥel (1942); Y. Unna, R. Moses ben Naḥman (Heb., 1954); Hurwitz, in: Hadorom, 24 (1967), 39–48; I. Ta-Shma, in: KS, 43 (1968), 569–74; H. Chone, Nachmanides (Ger., 1930); F. Rosenthal, in: J. Guttmann (ed.), Moses Maimonides (vol. 1, 1908). IN THE KABBALAH: G. Scholem, in: KS, 6 (1930), 385–419; 21 (1044/45), 179–86; idem, Ursprung und Anfaenge der Kabbala (1962); idem, Ha-Kabbalah be-Geronah, I. Ben Shlomo (ed., 1964); Ch.D. Chavel, Kitvei ha-Ramban (1963); E. Gottlieb, in: J. ben Sheshet, Meshiv Devarim Nekhohim, G. Vajda (ed., 1968), 18–20; idem, in: KS, 40 (1964/65), 1–9; idem, in: Tarbiz, 39 (1970), 87–89; M.Z. Eisenstadt, in: Talpiot 4 (1950), 606–21; T. Preschel, in: Sinai 57 (1961), 161–2; idem, in: Talpiot 8 (1961), 44–53; D. Chavel, Rabbenu Moses ben Naḥman (1967); Y. Hasida, in: Sinai 61 (1967); 240–8; D. Margalit, in: Korot, 4 (1967); K. Cahana, in: Ha-Meayyan 9 (1969), 25–48; S. Abramson, in: Sinai 66 (1970), 185–94; idem, ibid., 68 (1971), 105–37; 235–69; E. Kupfer, in: Tarbiz 40 (1971), 64–83; J. Perles, in: MGWJ 7 (1858), 81–97; 117–36; Z. Frankel, ibid., 17 (1868), 449–58; A. Marmorstein, ibid., 71 (1927), 39–48; L.M. Epstein, in: Students' Annual 1 (1914), 95–123; M. Grajwer, Die kabbalistischen Lehren des Moses Nachmanides in seinem Kommentare zum Pentateuch (1933). ADD. BIBLIOGRAPHY: I. Twersky (ed.), Rabbi Moses Nachmanides (Ramban): Explorations on his Religious and Literary Virtuosity (1983), 107–28; M. Idel, "Some Concepts of Time and History in Kabbalah," in: E. Carlebach, Y. Efron, D. Myers (eds.), Jewish History and Jewish Memory, Essays in Honor of Yosef Haim Yerushalmi (1998), 153–88; idem, "The Jubilee in Jewish Mysticism," in: E.I. Rambaldi (ed), Millenarismi nelle cultura contemporanea – Con un'appendice su yovelabraico e giubileo cristiono (2000), 209–32; idem, Messianic Mystics (1998); idem, "Kabbalah, Halakhah u-Manhigut Ruḥanit," in: Tarbiz, 64 (1995), 535–80; D. Novak, The Theology of Naḥmanides Systematically Presented (1992); idem, "Naḥmanides Commentary on the Torah," The Solomon Goldman Lectures, 5 (1990), 87–104; E. Gottlieb, Ha-Kabbalah be-Khitvei Rabbenu Baḥya ben Asher (1970); M. Meira, Ha-Ramban be-Ḥug Gerona (1980); H. Pedaya, Ha-Mareh ve-ha-Dibbur: Iyyun be-Teva ha-Ḥavayah ha-Datit ba-Mistorin ha-Yehudi (2002); idem, Ha-Ramban: Hitalut Zeman Maḥzori ve-Tekst Kadosh (2003); idem, Ha-Shem ve-ha-Mikdash be-Mishnat Rabbi Yizhak Sagi Nahor: Iyyun Mashveh be-Khitvei Rishonei ha-Mekubbalim (2001); I. Ta-Shma, Ha-Niglah she-ba-Nistar: Le-Ḥeker Shekiʿei ha-Halakhah be-Sefer ha-Zohar (1995); D. Abrams, "Orality in the Kabbalistic School of Naḥmanides: Preserving and Interpreting Esoteric Traditions and Texts," in: Jewish Studies Quarterly, 2 (1995), 85–102; R. Chazan, Barcelona and Beyond (1992); J. Dan, "Naḥmanides and the Development of the Concept of Evil in the Kabbalah," in: Moses Ben Naḥman i el seu temps (1994), 159–82; idem, "The Vicissitudes of Kabbalah in Catalonia," in: M. Lazar (ed.), The Jews of Spain and the Expulsion of 1492 (1997), 25–40; E. Kanarfogel, "On the Assessment of R. Moses Ben Naḥman and His Literary Oeuvre," in: Jewish Book Annual, 51 (1993), 158–72; Y.T. Langerman, "Acceptance and Devaluation; Naḥmanides Attitude to Science," in: Journal of Jewish Thought and Philosophy, 1 (1992), 223–45; M. Saperstein, "Jewish Typological Exegesis after Naḥmanides," in: Jewish Studies Quarterly, 1 (1993–1994), 158–70; B. Septimus, Hispano Jewish Culture in Transition (1982); E. Wolfson, "By Way of Truth – Aspects of Naḥmanides Kabbalistic Hermeneutic," in: AJS Review, 14 (1989), 103–78; M. Halberthal, "Ha-Minhag ve-ha-Historiyah shel ha-Halakhah be-Torato shel ha-Ramban," in: Zion, 67 (1992), 25–26; idem, "Mavet, Ḥok u-Ge'ulah be-Mishnat ha-Ramban," in: Tarbiz, 71 (1992) 133–62; idem, "Torat ha-Nistar: Revadeha shel Sharsheret ha-Ḥavayah be-Torat ha-Ramban," in: Kabbalah, 7 (2002); A. Funkenstein, "Parshanuto ha-Tipologit shel ha-Ramban," in: Zion, 45a (1980), 35–59; S. Pines, "Divrei ha-Ramban al Adam ha-Rishon be-Gan Eden," in: Galut Aḥar Galut: Meḥkarim be-Toledot Am Yisrael ha-Mugashim le-Prof. Ḥayyim Beinart (1988), 159–64.

Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.

Photo: Chesdovi, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.