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The Jewish Study Bible Contextualizes the Hebrew Bible with accompanying scholarly text on Jewish traditions and history.

The Sixteenth Century

The upheaval of the expulsion from Spain (1492) and its aftermath scattered much of Spanish Jewry across Turkey, Greece, Italy, and North Africa. Biblical exegesis was produced in great abundance in all of these countries as well as in centers in Central and Eastern Europe. In Italy, the most famous exegete of the 15th century was Obadiah Sforno (ca. 1475–1550). He produced commentaries on the Torah and Psalms, which are dedicated above all to elucidating the peshat. Sforno, a rabbi, was also a trained physician and a cultured individual, a fine product of the world of Renaissance humanism, whose values infuse his exegesis. His Torah commentary became one of the mainstays of the biblical commentary tradition.

In the Ottoman Empire, important centers of study arose in Salonika and Constantinople. Rabbi Isaac ben Joseph Karo, a Spanish Jew, survived the Spanish and Portuguese exiles, ending up in Constantinople. In 1518 he published his commentary on the Torah, Toledot Yitzḥak (The Story of Isaac), which proved to be one of the most popular and influential commentaries of the 16th century. The commentary is eclectic, incorporating comments in all four of the traditional modes of interpretation, and reveals the author's cultural sophistication. Its immense popularity is indicated by the fact that it went through four editions in fourteen years and is often quoted by later exegetes.

In Salonika, the yeshiva of Joseph Taitatzak flourished between 1525 and 1540, training many rabbis and scholars who produced vast quantities of biblical commentary, which far surpassed those produced in the Middle Ages in quantity if not in quality. For the book of Esther and other scrolls, for example, more commentaries were written in the 16th century than in all the centuries preceding. This surge in commentary production can be explained by the needs of the various communities for relevant biblical commentary; most arose out of sermons preached in public onthe Sabbaths and holidays which were later committed to writing. Many of the commentaries produced are characterized by their prolixity, tendentiousness, inconsistencies, and homiletical nature. Yet there is still much of value that can be gleaned from them, and they deserve more attention than they have received in the past. Of particular interest is Eliezer Ashkenazi (1513–1586), a student of Joseph Taitatzak's who was one of the leading scholars of his generation. Ashkenazi was a talmudist and rationalist who knew many languages and was scientifically trained. He advocated the unfettered search for truth in Scripture. His greatest work is Ma'asei 'Adonai (Acts of God), a four‐part commentary on the narrative portions of the Torah. In this work, he urges the student to search diligently for the truth without regard for the opinions of the Sages or previous exegetes, especially the latter, since they may have become corrupted over time. He develops a theory concerning the nature and purpose of the biblical stories, according to which the events narrated in the Torah actually occurred, but the stories which relate these events are parables. The plain sense of the text can be found in the parables and not in the events themselves. In his commentary, Ashkenazi grapples with important theological issues, such as divine providence and the influence of astrology over Jewish destiny.

Other contemporary exegetes worthy of mention are Moses Alshekh (d. 1593) and Solomon ben Moses ha‐Levi Alkabetz (ca. 1505–1584), both members of the Safed school of mystics. The exegetes of this period took a particular interest in the Kethuvim, especially the Five Scrolls, Psalms, and Job. Alshekh, a talmudist and kabbalist, had studied at Joseph Taitatzak's yeshiva in Salonika and later moved to Safed. Like many of his contemporaries, he preached on the Sabbaths and holidays on the weekly Torah readings and other biblical books and later edited his sermons for publication. He produced commentaries on almost the entire Bible. Solomon Alkabetz, another student of Taitatzak, and one of the more important members of the kabbalistic circle of Safed, produced compendious commentaries on the Minor Prophets, Song of Songs, Esther, Ruth, Psalms, and Job, incorporating the comments of many of his contemporaries and predecessors. His commentaries are characterized by their extreme reverence for the words of the Sages, which he considered to be authentic traditions reflecting the true meaning of the text, and not mere homiletical interpretations, which could be accepted or rejected at will.

Meanwhile, in Aleppo, Syria, Samuel ben Abraham Laniado (d. 1605) was composing an impressive body of commentary, covering most of the Bible (Torah, Prophets, Psalms, Lamentations). Laniado's commentaries are especially noteworthy for their sensitivity to literary nuance and structural patterns in the text, thus making them quite “modern” in their orientation.

In Eastern Europe at this time, talmudic studies were dominant and biblical studies were in a state of decline. The output of biblical commentary, while significant, was dwarfed by the production in other fields. Even so, much of the commentary literature of this period was written in homiletic style, with constant recourse to rabbinic sources, and often to philosophical and mystical sources as well. Particularly popular as sources were the commentaries of Isaac Arama and Isaac Karo. Peshat commentaries were relatively uncommon. Among the better known commentaries was the Gur Aryeh by Judah Loew ben Bezalel of Prague (Maharal; 1525–1609), a super‐commentary on Rashi, which combines concern with the peshat with reference to rabbinic sources as deep peshat, the true meaning of the text, which goes deeper than the literal. He also does not neglect mystical traditions. In general, however, Maharal and other exegetes of the period did not innovate methodologically and did not advance Bible study beyond the stage it was at by the end of the Middle Ages.

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