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Bible Encyclopedias

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

Tobiah Ben Eliezer

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A Bulgarian.

Talmudist and poet of the eleventh century author of the "Leḳ aḥ Ṭ ob" or "Pesiḳ ta Zuṭ arta," a midrashic commentary on the Pentateuch and the Five Megillot. Zunz ("G. V." pp. 293 et seq. ) inferred from Tobiah's reference to his father as "the great" and from his mention of the massacre in Mayence in 1096, that he was a native of Mayence and a son of Eliezer b. Isaac ha-Gadol , who is thought by Conforte ("Ḳ ore ha-Dorot," p. 8b) to have been one of Rashi's teachers. But as in the course of his work Tobiah often attacks the Karaites and, besides, manifests a thorough knowledge of Mohammedan customs, Rapoport, in his biography of Ḳ alir, note 33 (in "Bikkure ha-' Ittim," 10:122-123), concluded that toward the end of his life Tobiah settled in Palestine. As to Tobiah's birthplace, it has been proved by Solomon Buber that he was a native of Castoria in Bulgaria, as is testified to by Tobiah's countryman Judah Leon Mosconi in his supercommentary on Ibn Ezra's commentary on the Pentateuch. According to him, the author of the commentary on the Pentateuch mentioned by Ibn Ezra in the preface to his own work was a certain Meï r of Castoria, a pupil of Tobiah b. Eliezer. On the other hand, in his commentary on Ecclesiastes, Tobiah mentions a R. Samson as his teacher and Buber supposes that he may be identical with the Samson quoted by Rashi in his commentary on Isaiah 58:14 and Amos 6:3 . It is also to be concluded from various dates given by Tobiah in the course of his work that he wrote it in 1097 and revised it in 1107 or 1108.

Tobiah himself entitled his work "Leḳ aḥ Ṭ ob" in allusion to his name Tobiah and it is so cited by the earlier rabbis, e.g. , Ibn Ezra ( l.c. ), Asheri in "Hilkot Tefillin," Zedekiah b. Abraham in "Shibbole ha-Leḳ eṭ " (§ 118), and many others. Since the middle of the sixteenth century, however, it has been most often referred to as "Pesiḳ ta Zuṭ arta" (= "the Lesser Pesiḳ ta") in distinction to the "Pesiḳ ta Rabbati" (= "the Greater Pesiḳ ta"). This second title was due to the fact that the editors of the part relating to Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy (Venice, 1546), found no title in the manuscript, but noted that every verse was headed (= "pisḳ a"), and took it for granted that it was entitled "Pesiḳ ta." Consequently the rimed title which, Zunz (l.c. ) thinks, was composed by the press-corrector Johanan Treves begins (="Pesḳ ta, be it small or great"). In the colophon the editors call it "Pesiḳ ta Zuṭ arta." It was owing to the latter title that the "Leḳ aḥ Ṭ ob" was confused with the Pesiḳ ta Rabbati by Gedaliah ibn Yaḥ ya ("Shalshelet ha-Ḳ abbalah," p. 24b, Amsterdam, 1697), by Heilprin ("Seder ha-Dorot," i.), by Azariah dei Rossi ("Me' or ' Enayim," ch. xix.), and by others. The "Leḳ aḥ Ṭ ob" is in reality half commentary and half haggadah, covering the whole Pentateuch and the Five Megillot. Every weekly lesson is introduced by a Biblical verse containing the word "ṭ ob." Moreover, in the text he very often says, "I, Tobiah b. Eliezer" or "Tobiah said." It is true that in the Jerusalem manuscript there occurs very often the expression "our teacher Tobiah b. Eliezer," from which it might be assumed that the "Leḳ aḥ Ṭ ob" was written by Tobiah's pupils but from a closer examination of the text, and to judge from the Florence manuscript, it is evident that the expression in question is merely a copyist's mistake.

The "Leḳ aḥ Ṭ ob."
As has been said above, the "Leḳ aḥ Ṭ ob" is both a simple commentary ("peshaṭ "), giving the grammatical meaning of the words, and very often a haggadic commentary also. But in many instances Tobiah declares that the standard interpretation is the simple one. Even in his haggadic interpretation, which he derives from the Talmud and from the pre-Talmudic and post-Talmudic literatures, Tobiah manifests his love of good style. He endeavors to arrange the various midrashim in perfect order and to edit them in few words and clear language. He therefore shortens the mid-rashic passages, and, instead of the Aramaic in which those passages were written, renders them into good Hebrew, omitting also the foreign words which occur in the midrashim. In the parts of the Pentateuch which deal with the commandments he inserts many halakot, apparently taken from various halakic collections, particularly from Aḥ ai Gaon's "She' eltot." The Talmudic passages which he cites in connection with the halakot he often interprets according to his own judgment and differently from Rashi.

Characteristics and Sources.
Throughout the whole commentary Tobiah shows his thorough knowledge of Hebrew grammar and his acquaintance with the works of the earlier grammarians. Incidentally it may be remarked that he seems to have held the opinion that the Hebrew roots are not necessarily triliteral. In certain places he interprets a Biblical word as though it were a mishnaic or Talmudic one. He considers there is not a letter too many or too few in the whole Pentateuch and he bases many of his haggadic interpretations on the "ḳ eri" and "ketib." One of the main features of his commentary is the allegorical interpretation of all the Biblical passages which speak of God as a corporeal being. He likewise considers that the expressions in R. Ishmael's "Hekalot" must be taken figuratively (see "Leḳ aḥ Ṭ ob" on Deuteronomy 4:12 ). In many places he refutes assertions of the Karaites, though he does not expressly name their authors. Like many other Biblical commentators, he translates certain words into the language of the country ("la' az") in which he is living, namely, Greek.

Tobiah seldom mentions the sources for his commentary but they are found to be as follows: Targum of Onḳ elos Baraita of R. Ishmael Baraita of R. Eliezer ben Jose ha-Gelili Sifra Sifre Mekilta Seder ' Olam "Sefer Yeẓ irah" both Talmudim Genesis Rabbah a midrash on the blessing of Jacob (Jellinek, "B. H." 3:73 et seq. ) Leviticus Rabbah midrash on the Five Megillot Tanḥ uma Yelammedenu Pirḳ e de-Rabbi Eli' ezer Baraita di-Meleket ha-Mishkan Agadat Mashiaḥ "Hekalot" of R. Ishmael "Sefer ha-Yashar" Midrash Abkir Midrash Hashkem and many other midrashim. It seems that he utilized the "She' eltot" of R. Aḥ ai, the "Halakot Gedolot," and the "Yosippon." He quotes also Eleazar ha-Ḳ alir, Saadia, Hai Gaon, Shabbethai Donnolo, Ben Asher, Ben Naphtali, and his teacher R. Samson, while he cites passages from Menahem b. Saruḳ and Moses ha-Darshan without mentioning their names. Tobiah is in turn quoted by those of Rashi's pupils who redacted the "Liḳ ḳ uṭ e ha-Pardes," and by the following: Menahem b. Solomon in his "Sekel Ṭ ob" Jacob Tam in his "Sefer ha-Yashar" RaSHBaM in his commentary on the Pentateuch Ibn Ezra (see above) Tobiah b. Moses the Karaite in his "Yehi Me' orot" Isaac b. Abba Mari in his "Sefer ha-' Iṭ ṭ ur" Isaac b. Moses in his "Or Zarua' " Zedekiah b. Abraham (see above) Judah b. Eliezer in his "Minḥ at Yehudah" Eliezer b. Nathan in his piyyuṭ "Lel Shimmurim" and numerous later Biblical commentators, halakists, and casuists. It will thus be seen that the "Leḳ aḥ Ṭ ob" was considered as an authority by the German, French, and Italian, but not by the earlier Spanish, scholars. Of the latter Ibn Ezra alone mentions it, disparagingly. But later Spanish authorities who, after the expulsion, settled in the East considered the "Leḳ aḥ Ṭ ob" as the chief source for their works.

As has been said above, only that part of Tobiah's work covering Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy was edited in Venice, 1546. The same part was afterward reedited with a Latin translation under the title "Pesiḳ ta" by Ugolino in his "Thesaurus Antiquitatum Sacrarum" (xv.-xvi.) and was subsequently republished by Aaron Moses Padua under the title "Midrash Leḳ aḥ Ṭ ob" (Wilna, 1880), with a short commentary or "bi' ur." Four years later the part comprising Genesis and Exodus was published, also under the title "Midrash Leḳ aḥ Ṭ ob," by Solomon Buber (Wilna, 1884), who added a long introduction and copious notes. The part covering the Five Megillot is not yet printed but extracts were published by Jellinek in 1855. The commentary on Lamentations was edited by Nacht ("Tobiah b. Eliezer's Commentar zu Threni," Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1895), and that on Ruth by Bamberger (Mayence, 1887).

Tobiah is known as a Hebrew poet through four poems of his which are still extant. One is an introduction to his commentary on Genesis, another is an epilogue to the same, both being acrostics on "Tobiah bar Eliezer Ḥ azaḳ " a third is a short acrostic on "Tobiah," forming an epilogue to Leviticus and the remaining one is a "seliḥ ah" beginning "Ehyeh asher Ehyeh," the verses being arranged in alphabetical order, and signed "Tobiah b. Eliezer Ḥ azaḳ ." The last-cited poem has been published by Buber at the end of his introduction to the "Leḳ aḥ Ṭ ob."

Bibliography : Azulai, Shem ha-Gedolim , i. Brü ll's Jahrb. 5:132 et seq. Midr. Leḳ aḥ Ṭ ob , ed. Buber, Introduction Ha-Maggid , xxxix., Nos. 36-37 Steinschneider, Cat. Bodl. Colossians 2674 Winter and Wü nsche, Jü dische Literatur , 2:270 et seq. Zunz, G. V. pp. 293 et seq. Kaufmann, Eine Unbekannte Messianische Bewegung Unter den Juden , in Jahrbuch fü r Jü dische Geschichte und Literatur , 1:148 et seq. , Berlin, 1898.S. M. Sel.

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Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Tobiah Ben Eliezer'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/tje/t/tobiah-ben-eliezer.html. 1901.

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Thursday, October 17th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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