NISSIM BEN JACOB BEN NISSIM IBN SHAHIN:
African Talmud exegete and moralist; lived during the first half of the eleventh century in Kairwan. He received his early instruction from his father, Jacob ben Nissim, president of the yeshibah of Kairwan. After Ḥushiel ben Elhanan's arrival in Kairwan, Nissim continued his studies under that teacher, and at Ḥushiel's death succeeded him in the presidency of the yeshibah. Much as he gained from these teachers he seems to have gained more by his literary intercourse on halakic questions with Hai ben Sherira, gaon of Sura (comp. Harkavy, "Teshubot ha-Ge'onim," p. 361; Abraham ibn Daud, "Sefer ha-Ḳabbalah," in Neubauer, "M. J. C." i. 73). Nissim acted as an intermediary between this gaon and Samuel ha-Nagid of Granada, sending the former's halakic correspondence to Samuel. He thus deserves credit for helping to transplant Talmudical knowledge from Babylonia to Spain. Nissim, being a poor man, received considerable support from Samuel ha-Nagid, whose son Joseph married Nissim's only daughter. The bride, according to Abraham ibn Daud (l.c.), was very learned and pious, but physically deformed. After the unfortunate death of her husband in Granada (1066), she fled to Lucena, where the Jewish congregation provided for her most generously.
Nissim was the author of the following works:His Writings.
- (1) "Kitab Miftaḥ Maghaliḳ al-Talmud" (in Hebrew, "Sefer Mafteaḥ Man'ule ha-Talmud" = "Key to the Locks of the Talmud," in two parts). In this work Nissim aimed to meet the difficulties in the study of the Talmud, which for his contemporaries consisted chiefly in the fact that they were not so well versed therein as the ancient teachers. For the latter it was sufficient to refer by a short sentence to some passage of the Talmud, or to indicate briefly the outlines of a demonstration instead of developing it fully, because the ancient teacher was supposed to have studied the passage referred to in its proper place, and to bear it in mind all the time. For his contemporaries, however, teachers and pupils alike, Nissim found it necessary to give in extenso all the passages to which reference was made in a Talmudical treatise. This kind of "key" Nissim intended to extend to the whole Talmud, although it seems that he carried out his scheme with a few Talmudical treatises only (David of Estella, "Ḳiryat Sefer," in Neubauer, l.c. ii. 230). The "key" to Berakot, Shabbat, and 'Erubin has been published, according to an Italian manuscript (probably the same which Azulai said he had seen; comp. "Shem ha-Gedolim," ii. 33a), by Goldenthal (Vienna, 1847).
Nissim did not confine himself to quoting references, but expounds them in their connection with the text; thus his work is at the same time a Talmudical commentary. He quotes from the Tosefta, Mekilta, Sifre, Sifra, from the old midrashim, and above all from the Palestinian Talmud, the explanations of which he sometimes prefers to those of the Babylonian Talmud. The second part of the "Mafteaḥ," divided by Nissim into fifty subdivisions, is intended to give a collection of halakot which in the Talmud are to be found in places where nobody would expect them. The enumeration of these fifty subdivisions is an important contribution to the methodology of the Talmud. The "Mafteaḥ" is written in a sort of mixed language, both Arabic and Hebrew being used as the character of the subject seemed to demand. It has been supposed that Nissim wrote this work about 1038 or 1040 (see "Orient, Lit." viii. 606).
- (2) "Megillat Setarim" (written in the same language as the "Mafteaḥ"), a collection of notes concerning halakic decisions, explanations, and midrashim, primarily a note-book for the author's private use, and published by his pupils probably not until after his death; hence the title, which means "Secret Scroll." Only a few fragments of it have been preserved. One has been published by A. Geiger in H. L. Heilberg's "Beiträge zur JüdischenLiteratur-Geschichte" (Hebrew part, pp. 16 et seq.); the last part of the published extract, however (pp. 17 et seq.), was taken from Abraham ibn Ezra's "Yesod Mora." Another, dealing with reward and punishment on earth and in the future world, is included in the "Sefer Ḥasidim" (ed. Wilna, Nos. 604-606; ed. Wistinetzki, Nos. 30-33). The responsum published by Harkavy in "Teshubot ha-Ge'onim" (p. 265, No. 539, Arabic; p. 339, No. 539, Hebrew) is probably a portion of the "Megillat Setarim."
- (3) A collection of comforting tales, written at the request of Nissim's father-in-law, Dunash, who had lost a son. This small book, consisting of about sixty tales, is based upon the Mishnah, Baraita, the two Talmudim, and the midrashic writings. Some tales seem to have been taken from older collections now lost. The first to ascribe this compilation to Nissim was Rapoport, who declared it to have been written originally in Arabic and translated into Hebrew. Of the same opinion were Zunz, Steinschneider, Jellinek, and others; but Nissim's authorship as well as the ancient composition of the book has been often contested, recently again by I. D. Margoliouth (in "J. Q. R." xiii. 158). Harkavy found an Arabic manuscript, the original of Nissim ben Jacob's compilation (partly published in the "Steinschneider Festschrift," Hebrew part, pp. 9-26). The Arabic title of this work probably was "Kitab Akhbar al-'Ulama wa-huwa Ta'lif Ḥasan fi al-Faraj"; in Hebrew, "Sefer Ma'asiyyot ha-Ḥakamim wehu Ḥibbur Yafeh meha-Yeshu'ah." The book is divided into thirty-four paragraphs. It seems that many of them are either wanting entirely in the Hebrew translation, or are shortened and changed. Zunz thought that the "Sefer Ma'asiyyot" was written about 1030; but, as the "Mafteaḥ" is quoted in it under the Arabic title given above, Harkavy is of the opinion that Nissim composed or wrote it about 1050, at the end of his life (see l.c. p. 22).There exist two anonymous Hebrew compilations of this little work: (a) "Ḥibbur Yafeh meha-Yeshu'ah" (Ferrara, 1557; Amsterdam, 1746 et seq., ed. Israel David Miller, Warsaw, 1886). Some parts of it are given also in the collective work. "'Oseh Fele" (pp. 128, 357 et seq., Leghorn, 1870), and in Jellinek ("B. H." v. 131). (b) "Ma'asiyyot sheba-Talmud" (Constantinople, 1519); or "Midrashot u-Ma'asiyyot sheba-Talmud" (Venice, 1544). A German translation entitled "R. Nissim's Legendenschatz," etc., has been published by A. Löwy (Vienna, 1882). It is remarkable with how much freedom Nissim treated his subject by choosing the form of dialogue (see Harkavy, l.c. p. 26).
- (4) "Siddur ha-Tefillah," quoted by old rabbinic authorities. Both Rapoport and Zunz have no doubt as regards Nissim's authorship of this "Siddur." Steinschneider, however, doubts its genuineness. There exists a confession of sin ("widdui"), ascribed to R. Nissim, which is recited according to the Sephardic ritual in the morning prayer on the Day of Atonement, and according to the German ritual on the lesser Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur Ḳaṭan). This confession is supposed by Rapoport to have been copied from Nissim's "Siddur"; but the fact that in the "Siddur" of R. Amram (ed. Warsaw, 1865, ii. 45a) it is ascribed to "Nissim Rosh Yeshibah of Babylon" gave reason for believing that another Nissim was its author (see Weiss, "Dor," iv. 267). Harkavy, in fact, in an old Arabic commentary on Jeremiah found a quotation from the widdui of Nissim Naharwani. This man is supposed to have been the blind Babylonian "rosh kallah" whom the exilarch David ben Zakkai tried in vain to appoint gaon. The quotation from the widdui which Harkavy found in the Arabic Jeremiah commentary occurs again with slight changes in the widdui of the German ritual ascribed to Nissim. Thus it seems that Nissim ben Jacob was not the author of the widdui, but Nisi Naharwani, who may be the same as Nissim Nahoraini, a widdui by whom was discovered by E. N. Adler (see "J. Q. R." xiii. 99; comp. Steinschneider, "Introduction to Arabic Literature," ib. xiii. 199).
- (5) Commentary on the Pentateuch, of which two quotations only have been preserved ("Pa'neaḥ Raza" on Beha'aloteka; Abraham ibn Ezra on Ex. xxxiv. 6). As these two quotations may have been taken equally well from the "Megillat Setarim," the existence of a commentary on the Pentateuch by Nissim thus appears very doubtful.
- (6) A "Sefer ha-Miẓwot" of Nissim Gaon cited by Berechiah ha-Naḳdan in his "Maẓref" (ch. v. beginning; see Benjacob, "Oẓar ha-Sefarim," p. 362, No. 2032).
- (7) "Hilkot Lulab," quoted in the "Sefer Ma'asiyyot" (see Harkavy in the "Steinschneider Festschrift," p. 24, No. 1), which seems to have been a polemic against the Karaites. This work and the preceding one are known only by these two quotations.
Nissim had a method of his own for the study of the Talmud, using very largely the Palestinian Talmud, which hitherto had been generally neglected. This was probably due to the teaching of Ḥushiel ben Elhanan. He followed the method of Saadia Gaon in defending the anthropomorphisms of the Haggadah against the attacks of the Karaites. While not denying the reality of the miracles recounted in the Haggadah, he by giving symbolic interpretations to them tried to justify them in the same way as the Karaites themselves did with the miraculous stories of the Bible.
Nissim had numerous pupils, some of whom came from Spain, and spread there his teaching and authority; so that he was honored with the title "gaon." There is, however, only one man of importance, the author Ibn al-Jasum, or, as Rapoport reads, Ibn al-Jasus, of whom it can be said with certainty that he was Nissim's pupil. Ibn al-Jasus wrote a work on prayers; but whether it was in Arabic, and whether, as has been suggested, it consisted of a commentary upon and of additions to his teacher's "Siddur," can not be ascertained (Rapoport, "Toledot R. Nissim," note 29; Steinschneider, "Cat. Bodl." col. 2069; idem, in "J. Q. R." x. 514, No. 411). It is an old error to believe that Alfasi was one of Nissim's pupils; the passage in Abraham ibn Daud's "Sefer ha-Ḳabbalah" (l.c.) which seems to say so is to be taken, according to Rapoport, as meaning that Alfasi used Nissim's works.
- Especially Rapoport, Toledot Rabbenu Nissim ben Jacob, in Bikkure ha-'Ittim, xii. 56 et seq.;
- Zunz, G. V. 2d ed., pp. 139 et seq.;
- idem, Ritus, p. 54;
- Steinschneider, Cat. Bodl. cols. 2066 et seq.;
- idem, Hebr. Uebers. pp. 932 et seq.;
- idem, Die Arabische Literatur der Juden, pp. 103 et seq.;
- Weiss, Dor, iv., Index;
- Michael, Or ha-Ḥayyim, No. 1136;
- Schorr, Nissim ben Jacob, etc., in Geiger's Wiss. Zeit. Jüd. Theol. v. 431.
- See also Jew. Encyc. vii. 416a, s.v. Kairwan.