The Rishonim (Essential Lectures in Jewish History)

Rashi (Woodcut, France 1539)
Rashi (Woodcut, France 1539)

This lecture serves as an introduction to the Rishonim, a body of Rabbinic scholars associated with the 9th through the 15th centuries of the common era. Part of the Essential Lectures in Jewish History series.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons.

18 thoughts on “The Rishonim (Essential Lectures in Jewish History)

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  1. The Rishonim really gave us a lot! Them being explainers, caudifiers, etc. was a huge addition.
    The Sefer Hachinuch is an incredible sefer, with so many insights into the mitzvos.
    The writing of Moreh Nevuchim caused machlokes because many people felt it was inappropriate to write about.
    Thank you for this clear, well-explained video!

    -Yocheved Homnick

  2. It’s amazing to think that the Rishonim were living in times not too different from our own – they were not living in Israel with the Bais HaMikdash, but rather in the Diaspora, having to deal with politics, antisemitism, working to support their families, etc. (parallels modern day issues) – and yet, they were able to produce such amazing works that are integral to our learning and understanding of the Torah.

  3. In spite of this being one of the most difficult periods of time in Jewish history, the period of the Rishonim was one of the greatest periods of Torah scholarship. The impact of the Rishonim was monumental and, together with those who created the Talmud, they played a pivotal role in the transmitting the Torah and shaping the law and practice of Diaspora Judaism. They made the texts accessible to medieval readers, adapting to the “yerida” of that generation. Additionally, the Sefer Hachinuch is a result of the Rishonim, and is a Sefer that is essential in today’s day and age. We are always taught that we should understand the reason behind why we perform a Mitzvah, making it all the more meaningful. Like Devorah had mentioned, it is amazing to see how they were able to equip future generations with the tools they would need to endure their generation’s forthcomings.

  4. This presentation was extremely educational and enlightening to me. These are commentaries that I have used in my learning ever since I can remember, and it was very interesting for me to learn their background and their place in history in greater detail. Learning Chumash would seem nearly impossible without the commentary of Rashi alongside it, and it is thus evident how crucial this time period of the rishonim was and still is to the Jewish people. These commentaries made many basic Jewish texts more accessible, so that different Jews from different educational backgrounds would be able to learn them. It is thus difficult to imagine where the Jews would be as a people without these great commentators. Learning the history definitely puts things into perspective and allows us to appreciate what we have taken for granted in our learning thus far.

  5. I really enjoyed listening to your explanation of the the 3 reshonim. Rashi, Rambam and Tosfous. In the beginning when you mentioned about yeridous hadarous it made me think about something what my high school teacher mentioned that the Rabbis and Rabbinim that are found in each generation are there in order to strengthen the yiddishkiet of the jewish nation in that particular times. On that note the generation of the reshonim are lucky to have three fundamental commentaries of the chumash and talmod. From all three groups I am most familiar with Rashi and Rambam. Specifically on the mifashshim in the chumash. I always found Rashi’s commentaries of the pasuk very true very practical. As far as Rambam he gave a lot as well with halcha and he taught the jewish people the way to life almost as if he wrote the secrets of life. We most not forget that Rambam was also a doctor and who was able to use torah and madda (science) together. Which makes it relative to students like us in Touro; whom learn two aspects such as jewish studies and career studies together. Im not so familiar with tosfous since I never really learnt gemara however from what I hear it is harder to understand than Rashi. In regards to the Sefer Ha Chinuch I do know that its a burgundy hard cover medium size sefer (at least the one that we have at home) My father enjoys learning and reading from it. He says it gives an interesting perspective to the parsha and applicable to our times .

  6. This was a very interesting video to watch. I liked hearing about rashi who i grew up learning about and his work that he did. Also, Maimonides and tosofot. They were all in additional to the work of Rashi. What i find amazing is that rashi dedicated his whole life in order to help others understand the Torah. What tosofot did was he added on to rashi. The rishonim took the texts and they made it easier for us to understand. The rishonim also were living during anti-semtisim etc…and they still dedicated their life to torah and helping us understand it better. – Sara chana zidell

  7. What I find fascinating, is the ability for the Rishonim to analyze and commentate on such a massive amount of material while interconnecting their thoughts to apply to many different areas of studies. The content of the Talmud would be terribly skewed and at times appear deceptively simple if not for their masterful input. They also provide us with the great opportunity to expound on their thoughts to create our own novel ideas and explanations, feeding the ongoing growth of Torah debates and discussions.

  8. Thank you for an interesting an informative lecture. We have so much to be thankful to the Rishonim for. Without them our understanding of the what the previous generations had said would either be entirely lost or very different. They were able to analyze and understand the ancient texts and complex subject and then explain them in a simple and coherent manner.

  9. I actually am astounded that all the early commentators were writing down what was widely known. The reason this commentary was written to explain the plain text, was because people were forgetting it. SO that means people in their times and earlier could learn without it. That is astonishing. Based on the amount of “help” we need today. And that doesn’t even include translations!

  10. Great lecture! We use the rishonim for our learning and it is amazing to see the history behind them. Learning about them will help in our learning.

  11. I find the era of the Rishonim to be fascinating. It’s especially interesting to me that even then, there was such multiplicity in hashkafa. We have Rashi with his yeshivish Torah only approach, and we have Rambam with his Torah Umadda. Obivously, I’m comparing apples and oranges here, but it’s still cool.

  12. Great lecture although I was surprised you didn’t mention the story of the four captives, and how they arguably started the foundation for the Rishonim period. Because the Rabbi’s were sold to large Jewish communities in Egypt, Tunisia, Spain and Italy, where they became chief Rabbis and set up flourishing Jewish centers of learning.

  13. Great lecture! I always knew that each Rishon had a different approach in learning, but it’s amazing to learn about each ones background and how they got to where they are.

  14. Thanks to the Rishonim we have a huge breadth of incite and knowledge into the vast sea of Torah, Halacha and Jewish thought. Thank you for presenting a clear comprehensive outline of their history.

  15. It’s true that they were incredible explainers, codifiers, and analyzers of the Torah (both Oral and Written), but it really extends further than that. They were the bearers of the tradition – the ones to ensure Judaism itself would be passed down to the next generation. Without them, even having the Oral tradition written down may not have been enough.

  16. It is very interesting to point out that in contemporary Yeshivas the Gionem aren’t being studied. The study of Talmud is mostly of Gmara and Reshonem. Even those who study law (Halacha) won’t study the Gionem’s works. They would only study those Gionem whose work is brought down by the Reshonem.

    It is also ineteresting to point out that although nowadays Maimonides’s Morah Nivochim is no longer considered an elicit book, (Hungarian) Chassidim still tend to avoid it. Studying jewish philosophy (Chakira or Machshava) was contempt by many Chassidic leaders throughout the generations.

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