Abba Mari

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Abba Mari ben Moses ben Joseph, was a Provençal rabbi, born at Lunel, near Montpellier, towards the end of the 13th century. He is also known as Yarhi from his birthplace (Hebrew Yerah, i.e. moon, lune), and he further took the name Astruc, Don Astruc or En Astruc of Lunel.

The descendant of men learned in rabbinic lore, Abba Mari devoted himself to the study of theology and philosophy, and made himself acquainted with the writings of Moses Maimonides and Nachmanides as well as with the Talmud.

In Montpellier, where he lived from 1303 to 1306, he was much distressed by the prevalence of Aristotelian rationalism, which in his opinion, through the medium of the works of Maimonides, threatened the authority of the Old Testament, obedience to the law, and the belief in miracles and revelation. He therefore, in a series of letters (afterwards collected under the title Minhat Kenaot, i.e., "Jealousy Offering") called upon the famous rabbi Solomon ben Adret of Barcelona to come to the aid of orthodoxy. Ben Adret, with the approval of other prominent Spanish rabbis, sent a letter to the community at Montpellier proposing to forbid the study of philosophy to those who were less than twenty-five years of age, and, in spite of keen opposition from the liberal section, a decree in this sense was issued by Ben Adret in 1305. The result was a great schism among the Jews of Spain and southern France, and a new impulse was given to the study of philosophy by the unauthorized interference of the Spanish rabbis.

On the expulsion of the Jews from France by Philip IV in 1306, Abba Mari settled at Perpignan, where he published the letters connected with the controversy. His subsequent history is unknown. Beside the letters, he was the author of liturgical poetry and works on civil law.


Defender of Law and Tradition

(Graetz and others have, incorrectly, En Duran): Leader of the opposition to the rationalism of the Maimonists in the Montpellier controversy of 1303-1306; born at Lunel—hence his name, Yarḥi (from Yeraḥ = Moon = Lune). He was a descendant of Meshullam ben Jacob of Lunel, one of whose five sons was Joseph, the grandfather of Abba Mari, who, like his son Moses, the father of Abba Mari, was highly respected for both his rabbinical learning and his general erudition. Abba Mari moved to Montpellier, where, to his chagrin, he found the study of rabbinical lore greatly neglected by the young, who devoted all of their time and zeal to science and philosophy. The rationalistic method pursued by the new school of Maimonists (including Levi ben Abraham ben Chayyim of Villefranche, near the town of Perpignan, and Jacob Anatolio) especially provoked his indignation; for the sermons preached and the works published by them seemed to resolve the entire Scriptures into allegory and threatened to undermine the Jewish faith and the observance of the Law and tradition. He was not without some philosophical training. He mentions even with reverence the name of Maimonides, whose work he possessed and studied; but he was more inclined toward the mysticism of Nachmanides. Above all, he was a thorough believer in revelation and in a divine providence, and was a sincere, law-observing follower of rabbinical Judaism. He would not allow Aristotle, "the searcher after God among the heathen," to be ranked with Moses.

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