Aggadah

Aggadah

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Aggadah refers to the homiletic
Homiletics
Homiletics , in theology the application of the general principles of rhetoric to the specific department of public preaching. The one who practices or studies homiletics is called a homilist....

 and non-legalistic exegetical
Exegesis
Exegesis is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially a religious text. Traditionally the term was used primarily for exegesis of the Bible; however, in contemporary usage it has broadened to mean a critical explanation of any text, and the term "Biblical exegesis" is used...

 texts in the classical rabbinic literature
Rabbinic literature
Rabbinic literature, in its broadest sense, can mean the entire spectrum of rabbinic writings throughout Jewish history. However, the term often refers specifically to literature from the Talmudic era, as opposed to medieval and modern rabbinic writing, and thus corresponds with the Hebrew term...

 of Judaism
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

, particularly as recorded in the Talmud
Talmud
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

 and Midrash
Midrash
The Hebrew term Midrash is a homiletic method of biblical exegesis. The term also refers to the whole compilation of homiletic teachings on the Bible....

. In general, Aggadah is a compendium of rabbinic homilies that incorporates folklore, historical anecdotes, moral exhortations, and practical advice in various spheres, from business to medicine.

As part of the Jewish oral law


The Aggadah is part of Judaism
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

's Oral law
Oral Torah
The Oral Torah comprises the legal and interpretative traditions that, according to tradition, were transmitted orally from Mount Sinai, and were not written in the Torah...

 (תורה שבעל פה) — the traditions providing the authoritative interpretation of the Written Law. In this context, the widely held view in Rabbinic literature
Rabbinic literature
Rabbinic literature, in its broadest sense, can mean the entire spectrum of rabbinic writings throughout Jewish history. However, the term often refers specifically to literature from the Talmudic era, as opposed to medieval and modern rabbinic writing, and thus corresponds with the Hebrew term...

 is that the aggadah is in fact a medium for the transmission of fundamental teachings (Homiletic Sayings - מאמרים לימודיים) or for explanations of verses in the Tanakh
Tanakh
The Tanakh is a name used in Judaism for the canon of the Hebrew Bible. The Tanakh is also known as the Masoretic Text or the Miqra. The name is an acronym formed from the initial Hebrew letters of the Masoretic Text's three traditional subdivisions: The Torah , Nevi'im and Ketuvim —hence...

 (Exegetic
Exegesis
Exegesis is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially a religious text. Traditionally the term was used primarily for exegesis of the Bible; however, in contemporary usage it has broadened to mean a critical explanation of any text, and the term "Biblical exegesis" is used...

 Sayings - מאמרים ביאוריים). In Rabbinic thought, therefore, much of the Aggadah is understood as containing a hidden, allegorical dimension, in addition to its overt, literal sense. In general, where a literal interpretation contradicts rationality, the Rabbis seek an allegorical explanation: "We are told to use our common sense to decide whether an aggada is to be taken literally or not" (Carmell, 2005).

Literal-allegorical teachings


Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzatto
Moshe Chaim Luzzatto
Moshe Chaim Luzzatto , also known by the Hebrew acronym RaMCHaL , was a prominent Italian Jewish rabbi, kabbalist, and philosopher.-Padua:Born in Padua at night, he received classical Jewish and Italian educations, showing a...

, the Ramchal, discusses this two-tiered, literal-allegorical mode of transmission of the Aggadah in his well known Discourse on the Haggadot. He explains that the Oral Law, in fact, comprises two components: the legal component (חלק המצוות), discussing the mitzvot
Mitzvah
The primary meaning of the Hebrew word refers to precepts and commandments as commanded by God...

 and halakha; and "the secret" component (חלק הסודות), discussing the deeper teachings. The aggadah, along with the Kabbalah
Kabbalah
Kabbalah/Kabala is a discipline and school of thought concerned with the esoteric aspect of Rabbinic Judaism. It was systematized in 11th-13th century Hachmei Provence and Spain, and again after the Expulsion from Spain, in 16th century Ottoman Palestine...

, falls under the latter. The rabbis of the Mishnaic era realized the danger of recording the deeper teachings in explicit, mishnah-like, medium. Rather, they would be conveyed in a "concealed mode" and via "paradoxes". (Due to their value, these teachings should not become accessible to those "of bad character" and due to their depth they should not be made available to those "not schooled in the ways of analysis".) This mode of the transmission was nevertheless based on consistent rules and principles such that those "equipped with the keys" would be able to unlock their meaning; to others they would appear as non-rational or fantastic.

Interpretation of the Aggadah


In line with the above, Shmuel ha-Nagid, in his "Introduction to the Talmud", states that "Aggadah comprises any comment occurring in the Talmud on any topic which is not a commandment
Mitzvah
The primary meaning of the Hebrew word refers to precepts and commandments as commanded by God...

 (i.e. which is not halachic
Halakha
Halakha — also transliterated Halocho , or Halacha — is the collective body of Jewish law, including biblical law and later talmudic and rabbinic law, as well as customs and traditions.Judaism classically draws no distinction in its laws between religious and ostensibly non-religious life; Jewish...

) and one should derive from it only that which is reasonable." As regards this, Maimonides
Maimonides
Moses ben-Maimon, called Maimonides and also known as Mūsā ibn Maymūn in Arabic, or Rambam , was a preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher and one of the greatest Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages...

, in his preface to the tenth chapter of Tractate
Mishnah
The Mishnah or Mishna is the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions called the "Oral Torah". It is also the first major work of Rabbinic Judaism. It was redacted c...

 Sanhedrin
Sanhedrin
The Sanhedrin was an assembly of twenty-three judges appointed in every city in the Biblical Land of Israel.The Great Sanhedrin was the supreme court of ancient Israel made of 71 members...

 (Perek Chelek), describes three possible approaches to the interpretation of the Aggadah.
  • The first approach is to accept the Aggadah as literally true, without admission of any hidden, allegorical explanation — even where a literal interpretation runs counter to common sense. Maimonides is dismissive of this approach.

  • The second approach is to assume that anything said by the Sages was intended literally, and to therefore reject, as impossible, non-rational or fantastic teachings (and to consequently consider the Sages as "simpletons and ignoramuses"). Maimonides does not entirely reject rationalist interpretation, but he opposes an exegetical
    Exegesis
    Exegesis is a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially a religious text. Traditionally the term was used primarily for exegesis of the Bible; however, in contemporary usage it has broadened to mean a critical explanation of any text, and the term "Biblical exegesis" is used...

     approach which denies the Aggadah a hidden rationality. "The sages presented their drashot in a style by which the mind of a fool will reject them because of his way of thinking; it is improper to assign any deficiency to the drash — one may rather suspect that the deficiency is a result of his intellectual shortcomings" (Commentary on the Mishnah: Introduction).

  • The third approach is to recognise that many Aggadot are intended to teach profound truths, and that the teachings thus operate on two levels: "overt" and "hidden". Thus any impossible assertion was, in fact, intended as a parable; further, where aggadot can be understood literally, they may be taken on this level. This is, in general, the view of the Rabbis. "It is proper … to carefully analyse [the aggadot] … when any of these seem far-fetched we must immerse ourselves in the various branches of knowledge until we understand the concepts." (Maimonides, op cit
    Op cit
    Op. cit. is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase opus citatum est, meaning "the work has been cited". It is used in an endnote or footnote to refer the reader to the name of the work, publication or book referenced in the footnote, while avoiding the need to restate the full title of the work in...

    ).


Note that Maimonides' approach is also widely held amongst the non-rationalistic, mystical
Kabbalah
Kabbalah/Kabala is a discipline and school of thought concerned with the esoteric aspect of Rabbinic Judaism. It was systematized in 11th-13th century Hachmei Provence and Spain, and again after the Expulsion from Spain, in 16th century Ottoman Palestine...

 streams of Judaism — thus, for example, Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz
Isaiah Horowitz
Isaiah Horowitz, , also known as the Shelah ha-Kadosh after the title of his best-known work, was a prominent Levite rabbi and mystic.-Biography:...

, the Shlah HaKodosh holds that "none of these sometimes mind-boggling 'stories' are devoid of profound meaning; if anyone is devoid of understanding, it is the reader" (Shnei Luchos HaBris, introduction).

In the Talmud and Midrash


The aggadah is today recorded in the Midrash
Midrash
The Hebrew term Midrash is a homiletic method of biblical exegesis. The term also refers to the whole compilation of homiletic teachings on the Bible....

 and the Talmud
Talmud
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

.

In the Midrash, the aggadic and halakhic material are compiled as two distinct collections: 1) The Aggadic Midrashim, generally, are explanatory aggada, deriving the "sermonic implications" from the biblical text; and 2) the Halakhic Midrashim
Midrash halakha
Midrash halakha was the ancient Judaic rabbinic method of Torah study that expounded upon the traditionally received 613 Mitzvot by identifying their sources in the Tanakh , and by interpreting these passages as proofs of the laws' authenticity. Midrash more generally also refers to the...

 derive the laws from the text. Many of the Torah commentaries, and the Targum
Targum
Taekwondo is a Korean martial art and the national sport of South Korea. In Korean, tae means "to strike or break with foot"; kwon means "to strike or break with fist"; and do means "way", "method", or "path"...

im, interpret the Torah text in the light of Aggadic statements, particularly those in the Midrash, and hence contain much material on Aggadah interpretation.

Throughout the Talmud, aggadic and halakhic material are interwoven – legal material comprises around 90%. (Tractate Avoth, which has no gemara
Gemara
The Gemara is the component of the Talmud comprising rabbinical analysis of and commentary on the Mishnah. After the Mishnah was published by Rabbi Judah the Prince The Gemara (also transliterated Gemora or, less commonly, Gemorra; from Aramaic גמרא gamar; literally, "[to] study" or "learning by...

, deals exclusively with non-halakhic material, though it is not regarded as aggadic in that it is focused, largely, on character development.) The Talmudic aggada, generally, convey the "deeper teachings" - though in concealed mode, as discussed. The aggadic material in the Babylonian Talmud is presented separately in Ein Yaakov
Ein Yaakov
Ein Yaakov is a compilation of all the Aggadic material in the Talmud together with commentaries. Its introduction contains an account of the history of Talmudic censorship and the term Gemara...

, a compilation of the Aggadah together with commentaries.

Well-known works interpreting the Aggadot in the Talmud include:
  • Chiddushei Aggados (Novellae on the Aggadot) by Samuel Edels "the Maharsha."
  • Chiddushei Aggados (Novellae on the Aggadot) by Judah Loew "the Maharal" (as well as many other works by Loew).
  • Yehoyada and MeKabtziel (names based on 2 Samuel
    Books of Samuel
    The Books of Samuel in the Jewish bible are part of the Former Prophets, , a theological history of the Israelites affirming and explaining the Torah under the guidance of the prophets.Samuel begins by telling how the prophet Samuel is chosen by...

     23:20) by Yosef Chaim
    Yosef Chaim
    Yosef Chaim is the name of:*Chacham Yosef Chaim of Baghdad , better known as the Ben Ish Chai *Yosef Chaim Brenner , a pioneer in Hebrew literature...

     "the Ben Ish Chai."
  • Beur Aggados (Clarification of the Aggadot) and Perush al Kamma Aggadot (Commentary on several Aggadot) by the Vilna Gaon
    Vilna Gaon
    Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman Kramer, known as the Vilna Gaon or Elijah of Vilna and simply by his Hebrew acronym Gra or Elijah Ben Solomon, , was a Talmudist, halachist, kabbalist, and the foremost leader of non-hasidic Jewry of the past few centuries...

    .
  • Ayin Ayah Commentary on Ein Yaakov
    Ein Yaakov
    Ein Yaakov is a compilation of all the Aggadic material in the Talmud together with commentaries. Its introduction contains an account of the history of Talmudic censorship and the term Gemara...

     by Rav Kook

Development of the Aggadah

The Midrash
Midrash
The Hebrew term Midrash is a homiletic method of biblical exegesis. The term also refers to the whole compilation of homiletic teachings on the Bible....

im are mostly derived from, and based upon, the teachings of the Tannaim
Tannaim
The Tannaim were the Rabbinic sages whose views are recorded in the Mishnah, from approximately 70-200 CE. The period of the Tannaim, also referred to as the Mishnaic period, lasted about 130 years...

:



The Aggadah has been preserved in a series of different works, which, like all works of traditional literature, have come to their present form through previous collections and revisions. Their original forms existed long before they were reduced to writing.

The first traces of the midrashic exegesis are found in the Bible itself; while in the time of the Soferim the development of the Midrash Aggadah received a mighty impetus, and the foundations were laid for public services which were soon to offer the chief medium for the cultivation of Bible exegesis.

Much Aggadah, often mixed with foreign elements, is found in the Apocrypha
Apocrypha
The term apocrypha is used with various meanings, including "hidden", "esoteric", "spurious", "of questionable authenticity", ancient Chinese "revealed texts and objects" and "Christian texts that are not canonical"....

, the Pseudepigrapha, the works of Josephus
Josephus
Titus Flavius Josephus , also called Joseph ben Matityahu , was a 1st-century Romano-Jewish historian and hagiographer of priestly and royal ancestry who recorded Jewish history, with special emphasis on the 1st century AD and the First Jewish–Roman War, which resulted in the Destruction of...

 and Philo
Philo
Philo , known also as Philo of Alexandria , Philo Judaeus, Philo Judaeus of Alexandria, Yedidia, "Philon", and Philo the Jew, was a Hellenistic Jewish Biblical philosopher born in Alexandria....

, and the remaining Judæo-Hellenistic literature; but aggadic exegesis reached its highest development in the great epoch of the Mishnaic-Talmudic period, between 100 and 550 CE.

The Aggadah of the Amoraim (sages of the Talmud) is the continuation of that of the Tannaim (sages of the Mishna). The final edition of the Mishnah, which was of such signal importance for the Halakah, is of less significance for the Aggadah, which, in form as well as in content, shows the same characteristics in both periods.

Exegetic and homiletic Aggadah


It is important to emphasize the fundamental difference in plan between the midrashim forming a running commentary (מאמרים ביאוריים) to the Scripture text, and the homiletic midrashim (מאמרים לימודיים). When the scholars undertook to edit, revise, and collect into individual midrashim the immense array of haggadot, they followed the method employed in the collections and revisions of the halakhot and the halakhic discussions. The form which suggested itself was to arrange in textual sequence the exegetical interpretations of the Biblical text as taught in the schools, or the occasional interpretations introduced into public discourses, etc., and which were in any way connected with Scripture. Since the work of the editor was often merely that of compilation, the existing midrashim show in many passages the character of the sources from which they were taken. This was the genesis of the midrashim which are in the nature of running haggadic commentaries to single books of the Bible, as Bereshit Rabbah, Eikah Rabbati, the midrashim to the other Megillot, etc. See Midrash
Midrash
The Hebrew term Midrash is a homiletic method of biblical exegesis. The term also refers to the whole compilation of homiletic teachings on the Bible....

 for more details.

Modern Aggadah compilations


The Ein Yaakov
Ein Yaakov
Ein Yaakov is a compilation of all the Aggadic material in the Talmud together with commentaries. Its introduction contains an account of the history of Talmudic censorship and the term Gemara...

is a compilation of the aggadic material in the Babylonian Talmud
Talmud
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

 together with commentary. It was compiled by Jacob ibn Habib
Jacob ibn Habib
Jacob ben Solomon ibn Habib was a rabbi and talmudist born at Zamora, Spain. In his youth Ibn Ḥabib studied the Talmud under R...

 and (after his death) by his son Rabbi Levi ibn Habib, and was first published in Saloniki (Greece) in 1515. It was intended as a text of aggadah, that could be studied with "the same degree of seriousness as the Talmud itself". Popular
Popular
Popular may in various ways refer to:*an adjective referring to any people or population*Social status, the quality of being well-liked or well-known*Popularity, the quality of being well-liked...

ized anthologies
Anthology
An anthology is a collection of literary works chosen by the compiler. It may be a collection of poems, short stories, plays, songs, or excerpts...

 did not appear until more recently - these often incorporate "aggadot" from outside of classical Rabbinic literature
Rabbinic literature
Rabbinic literature, in its broadest sense, can mean the entire spectrum of rabbinic writings throughout Jewish history. However, the term often refers specifically to literature from the Talmudic era, as opposed to medieval and modern rabbinic writing, and thus corresponds with the Hebrew term...

. The major works include:
  • Sefer Ha-Aggadah (The Book of Legends) is a classic compilation of aggadah from the Mishnah
    Mishnah
    The Mishnah or Mishna is the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions called the "Oral Torah". It is also the first major work of Rabbinic Judaism. It was redacted c...

    , the two Talmuds and the Midrash
    Midrash
    The Hebrew term Midrash is a homiletic method of biblical exegesis. The term also refers to the whole compilation of homiletic teachings on the Bible....

     literature. It was edited by Hayim Nahman Bialik and Yehoshua Hana Ravnitzky. Bialik and Ravnitky worked for three years to compile a comprehensive and representative overview of aggadah. When they found the same aggadah in multiple versions, from multiple sources, they usually selected the later form, the one found in the Babylonian Talmud. However, they also presented some aggadot sequentially, giving the early form from the Jerusalem Talmud
    Jerusalem Talmud
    The Jerusalem Talmud, talmud meaning "instruction", "learning", , is a collection of Rabbinic notes on the 2nd-century Mishnah which was compiled in the Land of Israel during the 4th-5th century. The voluminous text is also known as the Palestinian Talmud or Talmud de-Eretz Yisrael...

    , and later versions from the Babylonian Talmud, and from a classic midrash compilation. In each case each every aggadah is given with its original source. In their original edition, they translated the Aramaic
    Aramaic language
    Aramaic is a group of languages belonging to the Afroasiatic language phylum. The name of the language is based on the name of Aram, an ancient region in central Syria. Within this family, Aramaic belongs to the Semitic family, and more specifically, is a part of the Northwest Semitic subfamily,...

     aggadot into modern Hebrew
    Hebrew language
    Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

    . Sefer Ha-Aggadah was first published in 1908-11 in Odessa
    Odessa
    Odessa or Odesa is the administrative center of the Odessa Oblast located in southern Ukraine. The city is a major seaport located on the northwest shore of the Black Sea and the fourth largest city in Ukraine with a population of 1,029,000 .The predecessor of Odessa, a small Tatar settlement,...

    , Russia, then reprinted numerous times in Israel
    Israel
    The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

    . In 1992 it was translated into English as The Book of Legends, by William G. Braude.

  • Legends of the Jews, by Rabbi Louis Ginzberg
    Louis Ginzberg
    Rabbi Louis Ginzberg was a Talmudist and leading figure in the Conservative Movement of Judaism of the twentieth century. He was born on November 28, 1873, in Kovno, Lithuania; he died on November 11, 1953, in New York City.-Biographical background:...

    , is an original synthesis of a vast amount of aggadah from the Mishnah, the two Talmuds and Midrash. Ginzberg had an encyclopedic knowledge of all rabbinic literature, and his masterwork included a massive array of aggadot. However he did not create an anthology which showed these aggadot distinctly. Rather, he paraphrased them and rewrote them into one continuous narrative that covered five volumes, followed by two volumes of footnotes that give specific sources.

  • Mimekor Yisrael, by Micha Josef Berdyczewski
    Micha Josef Berdyczewski
    Micha Josef Berdyczewski , or Mikhah Yosef Bin-Gorion was a Ukrainian-born writer of Hebrew, a journalist, and a scholar...

    . Berdichevsky was interested in compiling the folklore and legends of the Jewish people, from the earliest times up until the dawn of the modern era. His collection included a large array of aggadot, although they were limited to those he considered within the domain of folklore.

  • The collected works of Dov Noy. In 1954, Noy established the Israel Folktale Archives and Ethnological Museum at the University of Haifa
    University of Haifa
    The University of Haifa is a university in Haifa, Israel.The University of Haifa was founded in 1963 by Haifa mayor Abba Hushi, to operate under the academic auspices of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem....

    , an archive containing over 23,000 folktales collected from all the various ethnic communities
    Jewish ethnic divisions
    Jewish ethnic divisions refers to a number of distinct communities within the world's ethnically Jewish population. Although considered one single self-identifying ethnicity, there are distinct ethnic divisions among Jews, most of which are primarily the result of geographic branching from an...

     who live in Israel
    Israel
    The State of Israel is a parliamentary republic located in the Middle East, along the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea...

    .

See also


  • Aggadic Midrashim (category)
  • Midrash
    Midrash
    The Hebrew term Midrash is a homiletic method of biblical exegesis. The term also refers to the whole compilation of homiletic teachings on the Bible....

  • Moses in rabbinic literature
    Moses in rabbinic literature
    Allusions in rabbinic literature to the Biblical character Moses, who led the people of Israel out of Egypt and through their wanderings in the wilderness, contain various expansions, elaborations and inferences beyond what is presented in the text of the Bible itself.- Overview :Of all Biblical...

  • Rabbinic literature
    Rabbinic literature
    Rabbinic literature, in its broadest sense, can mean the entire spectrum of rabbinic writings throughout Jewish history. However, the term often refers specifically to literature from the Talmudic era, as opposed to medieval and modern rabbinic writing, and thus corresponds with the Hebrew term...


External links


Discussion

Source Material
  • Introduction to Perek Chelek (Hebrew
    Hebrew language
    Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

    ), Maimonides
    Maimonides
    Moses ben-Maimon, called Maimonides and also known as Mūsā ibn Maymūn in Arabic, or Rambam , was a preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher and one of the greatest Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages...

  • Discussion on Aggadah in the Introduction to the Commentary on the Mishna (Hebrew
    Hebrew language
    Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

    ), Maimonides
    Maimonides
    Moses ben-Maimon, called Maimonides and also known as Mūsā ibn Maymūn in Arabic, or Rambam , was a preeminent medieval Jewish philosopher and one of the greatest Torah scholars and physicians of the Middle Ages...

  • Discourse on the Haggadot (Hebrew
    Hebrew language
    Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

    ), Moshe Chaim Luzzatto
    Moshe Chaim Luzzatto
    Moshe Chaim Luzzatto , also known by the Hebrew acronym RaMCHaL , was a prominent Italian Jewish rabbi, kabbalist, and philosopher.-Padua:Born in Padua at night, he received classical Jewish and Italian educations, showing a...

  • Discourse on the Sayings of the Rabbis (Hebrew
    Hebrew language
    Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

    ), Avraham son of Rambam
    Avraham son of Rambam
    Abraham ben Moses ben Maimon was the son of Maimonides who succeeded his father as Nagid of the Egyptian Jewish community....

    -- translation


Textual resources