Aaron ha-Levi of Barcelona

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Who is Aaron ha-Levi of Barcelona?

Aaron ha-Levi of Barcelona was a Spanish Talmudist of the end of the thirteenth century; author of the first book of religious instruction among the Jews of the Middle Ages. Though his work the Sefer ha-Chinuch was well known, having been repeatedly commented on and republished in more than a dozen editions, it was reserved for Rosin to discover anything accurate concerning the personality of the author. The book itself is anonymous; and the statement by Gedaliah ibn Yaḥyah, that its author was the celebrated Talmudist Aaron ben Joseph ha-Levi, has been generally accepted. It is now, however, certain that the author was a Spanish instructor of youth, of modest position, one who had contented himself with but the faintest allusion to his own identity in symbolically applying to himself the verse Mal. ii. 5, at the end of the prefatory letter to the book; in an old Midrash this verse is referred to Aaron. He lays no claim to original research. The book was simply intended to impart to Jewish youth a knowledge of the Law, and to present in simple form the principles of Judaism to the unlearned layman. The writer seems to have had this lay-public always before him; and his work is in this respect different from that of his predecessors, Maimonides, Naḥmanides, and Moses of Coucy, from whose works he liberally draws. The Sefer ha-Chinuch is an enumeration of the six hundred and thirteen affirmative and negative precepts of the Mosaic Law, arranged in the order of the weekly lessons, with their ethical and halakic aspects, based upon rabbinical tradition of the Talmudic and post-Talmudic periods, for which latter feature he relies upon Alfasi, Maimonides, and Naḥmanides as main authorities. His chief and original merit is displayed in the ingenuity and religious fervor with which he dwells upon the ethical side of the Law, avoiding most admirably all abstruse philosophical and mystical theories, such as are only too abundant in his guides, Maimonides and Naḥmanides. The following are some specimens of his method. Upon the precept concerning the treading ox the Sefer ha-Chinuch remarks:

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on July 23, 2013

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