||Kabbalistic work on the letters of the Hebrew alphabet by R. David ben Solomon ibn Abi Zimra (Radbaz). Radbaz wrote Magen David at an early age. There are introductions from R. Jonathon ben Isaac Aaron, who brought the book to press, and from the renowned R. Moses Hagiz, who was the editor. The text is organized alphabetically, in a single column, but for the first introduction which is in two columns, in rabbinic type, excepting headers and initial words, which are in square letters. Based on the fonts it appears that the first four leaves only were printed by Anshel and the remainder of the work at the Foa press. A variant edition also has the first leaves with the Foa fonts and a title page that name the printer as Foa.
R. David ben Solomon Ibn Abi Zimra (Radbaz, 1479–1573), talmudic scholar, halakhic authority, and kabbalist. Abi Zimra was born in Spain into a wealthy family, but by the age of 13 was in Safed (possibly going via Fez). The most eminent of his teachers was R. Joseph Saragossi of Sicily who left Spain in 1492 and eventually settled in Safed. R. Abi Zimra moved to Jerusalem but shortly before 1513 emigrated to Egypt, apparently due to bad economic conditions in Palestine. There he stayed for 40 years, first in Alexandria, then in Cairo where he joined the bet din of the nagid, R. Isaac Sholal. After the conquest of Egypt by the Turks (1517) and the decline of the office of the nagid, Radbaz became the official head of Egyptian Jewry. He was not only dayyan but also head of a yeshivah, trustee of the hekdesh, and administrator of charity collections. He held all of these offices in an honorary capacity, as he was financially independent. Apart from his inherited wealth Radbaz was apparently successful in business and as a moneylender to non-Jews. His library, containing rare manuscripts, was famous. His was an open house; R. Isaac Akrish lived there for many years and was the tutor of his children and grandchildren. Radbaz exercised a great influence upon his contemporaries which can be seen from his success in settling a quarrel between the Mustarabs (the indigenous Jewish community) and the Maghrabis (the community with origins in other parts of North Africa), and in issuing many ordinances beneficial to Egyptian Jewry. The most famous of them are: the abolition of the dating of legal documents according to the Seleucid era (minyan shetarot), and its replacement by dating according to the era of Creation; formation of a hevra kaddisha (burial society; previously the dead had to be buried secretly to avoid attacks from the non-Jews); and the prohibition of the employment of non-Jews as dancers and musicians at Jewish weddings. He also tried to reintroduce into the public liturgy the recital of the Amidah by both the congregation and the reader (from the time of Maimonides this had been said by the reader only).
His reputation extended beyond the boundaries of Egypt and legal and religious questions were sent to him from many communities. Radbaz often engaged in disputations with Muslim and Karaite scholars, and his initially lenient attitude to the Karaites became more stringent. Shortly before 1553 he decided to return to Palestine. He settled first in Jerusalem where he was dissatisfied with the local governor as well as with some of the Jews, and moved to Safed, where he remained until his death. Although Radbaz praised Jewish scholars who were versed in natural sciences and spoke with warm appreciation of the contribution of Jewish philosophers in promoting Jewish belief, he discouraged his students from studying philosophy. In Radbaz’s view, the aggadah, which he regarded as equal in holiness to other parts of the Oral Law, can bear two meanings, one literal (nigleh) and one esoteric (nistar). He strongly criticized the Bible commentary of R. Abraham ibn Ezra and R. David Kimhi who referred to a certain aggadah as irrational.
His methods were scientific. He examined texts critically, comparing the different versions and tracing them back to their original sources, investigating their authenticity, and emending them only when necessary and no other solution could be found. Abi Zimra composed a treatise on the methodology of the Talmud (Kelalei ha-Gemara, printed in Me-Harerei Nemerim, Venice, 1599; separately Zolkiew, 1749), and some of his responsa are devoted to methodological principles. Although he was a kabbalist, he introduced Kabbalah in decisions only when not in contradiction with the Talmud, or where no definite decision is laid down in the Talmud. When Kabbalah conflicted with the Talmud preference was to be given to the latter. In his kabbalistic system gematriot and the doctrine of metempsychosis played important roles, the latter being reflected even in his legal decisions (e.g., on halizah). He was one of the most open defenders of the doctrine of cosmic cycles in creation (Shemittot).
Radbaz’s most important work is his collection of responsa (Teshuvot ha-Radbaz, 1882) in seven parts. Other of his responsa appear in the works of his contemporaries. Various individual responsa have been published from manuscript. Radbaz’s novellae are quoted by his pupil R. Bezalel Ashkenazi in his Shitah Mekubbezet and he himself refers to his novellae to tractate Shabbat (Magen David, Introd.). His other works Yekar Tiferet (Smyrna, 1757), a commentary on those portions of Maimonides' Mishneh Torah on which there is no Maggid Mishneh commentary, i.e., on the sections Hafla'ah, Zera'im, Kedushah, and Shofetim, were published in the Romm (Vilna) editions of the Mishneh Torah, and on Sheluhin ve-Shuttafin, and Avadim by S.B. Werner (Jerusalem, 1945); Mezudat David (written 1556, Zolkiew, 1862), an explanation of the traditional 613 commandments, both rational and kabbalistic; Migdal David (written 1560, Lemberg, 1883), a kabbalistic commentary on the Song of Songs; and Keter Malkhut, a piyyut for the Day of Atonement, which has been frequently published and is included in the Heidenheim Mahzor. His other works are still in manuscript.
|| שחיבר הגאון ... דוד ן' אבי זמרא זלה"ה ... ואמרתי לברך על החדש ולהוציא תעלומה לאורה (יוחנן בכהר"ר אהרן יצחק ז"ל מק"ק העלישויא) ...
בראש הספר הקדמת מביא הספר אל בית הדפוס, ר' יוחנן ב"ר אהרן יצחק ז"ל מק"ק העלישויא. דף [4-3]: "אמר המגיה" המני"ח (ר' משה חגיז): "הסכמתי ... להתייצב על הגהת הס' ... ובכל מקום ששלט' בו ידי עשיתי לו סמניות משני חצאי לבנה אורה באצבע היד כותבת או הרשמתי התיב' ההיא או השתי תיבות ההן באותיו' מרובעות". פירוש האותיות בדרך הקבלה. על נסיבות הדפסת הספר ועל חלקו של ר' משה חאגיז בהבאתו לדפוס, עיין: מ' בניהו, ספרים שחיברם ר' משה חאג'יז וספרים שהוציאם לאור, עלי ספר, ב, תשל"ו, עמ' 160-154. לפי צורת האותיות, גוף הספר (נב דף) נדפס בדפוס נתנאל פואה, ורק 4 הדפים הראשונים נדפסו אצל אשר אנשיל. ראינו טופס בו גם 4 הדפים הראשונים נדפסו על ידי פואה. בשער הספר: "בדפוס נתנאל פואה", עם דגל-המדפיס שלו. בטופס שנדפס כולו בדפוס פואה נוסף בסוף דף אחד בלתי-ממוספר, ובו "לוח הטעות" ו"התנצלות" של יוחנן מהלישויא. הוא אומר כאן, בין השאר, ששלח העתק אחד מכתב היד של הספר אל ר' דוד אופנהיים. ועיין בניהו, שם.