ABRAHAM BEN NATHAN:
By: Louis Ginzberg
French author; born in the second half of the twelfth century, probably at Lunel, Languedoc. He received his education in that town, after which he is sometimes called ("RABN" = Rabbi Abraham ben Nathan—R. Eliezer ben Nathan has also the same designation—"ha-Yarḥi" = of Lunel, since the Hebrew yareaḥ is the equivalent of the French lune), perhaps under the guidance of RABaD III. (see Abraham ben David of Posquières). His regular rabbinical studies, however, were pursued at Dampierre, in northern France, at the academy of R. Isaac ben Samuel, called R. Isaac ha-Zaḳen. Abraham subsequently left his birthplace, and, after much traveling, finally settled in Toledo in 1204, where his learning quickly gained for him the favor of the rich and learned Joseph ibn Shushan and that of his sons, Solomon and Isaac. To these patrons he dedicated his work "Ha-Manhig" (The Guide), or as the author called it, "Manhig 'Olam," which he began in 1204 and completed some years later. In its present form the book consists of two distinct portions, the first of which comprises a collection of responsa, compiled from his numerous written and oral decisions, some of the former of which still bear the usual epistolary conclusion: "Shalom! A. B. N." (Greeting! Abraham ben Nathan). The second part contains extracts from the halakic works of Alfasi, Isaac ibn Giat, and Isaac ben Abba Mari, a relative of Abraham's.
The "Manhig" did not exert any important influence on halakic literature and is only occasionally mentioned by rabbis of the Middle Ages. However, it must be considered as of some importance in the history of Jewish literature, for it contains numerous literal quotations from the two Talmuds and most of the halakic and haggadic Midrashim, as well as from certain collections of the Haggadot which have been wholly lost; so that the "Manhig" contributes considerably to the textual criticism of all of those works. It gives interesting and instructive details concerning special synagogical usages, personally observed by the author in northern France, southwestern Germany, Burgundy, Champagne, Provence, England, and Spain, and for which there is no other source of information. Thus, he tells us that it was the custom in France for children to bring their Christian nurses to the courtyard of the synagogue on Purim, where their parents and relatives loaded them with gifts (p. 43a, ed. Berlin). He relates also that this custom was strongly objected to by many, because the Jewish poor were losers thereby, and Rashi is said especially to have denounced it.
Abraham is said also to have written a work entitled "Maḥaziḳ ha-Bedeḳ," upon the ritual for slaughtering animals for food, mention of which, however, is made by but one writer in 1467. Renan was mistaken in saying that this work is mentioned in "Ha-Manhig" (p. 1b; Renan, "Les Rabbins Français," p. 747), for the words sifri maḥaziḳ ha-bedeḳ refer, as may be seen from page 2b, line 6, to the "HaManhig," which was designed to counteract anyschism () in matters of ritual. Zacuto, in "Yuḥasin" (ed. Filipowski, p. 221), who is followed by Conforte, in his "Ḳore ha-Dorot" (ed. Berlin, 19b), ascribes, without giving his authority, a certain book entitled "Maḥaziḳ ha-Bedeḳ" to Abraham ben Nathan. But Reifmann's assertion that RABN was the author of a work entitled "Bet Zebul" (Habitation) is wholly unwarranted; for these two words, occurring in the introduction to "Ha-Man-hig" (p. 1, l. 6), refer to the "Ha-Manhig" itself, as is evident from the passage on page 2, line 6. RABN wrote also a commentary on the treatise "Kallah," which is extant in fragmentary form only; specimens of it were given in the Hebrew weekly "Ha-Maggid" (1865, pp. 149, 150, 157, 158).
During his long stay in Spain, Abraham learned Arabic sufficiently to translate into Hebrew a responsum by Saadia, which is to be found in the "Ha-Manhig" (ed. Berlin, p. 95). Quite recently also his responsa were published in Wertheimer's "Ginze Yerushalayim," 1896.
- Conforte, Ḳore ha-Dorot, pp. 19b, 20;
- Renan, Les Rabbins Français, pp. 521, 747;
- D. Cassel, in the Zunz-Jubelschrift, pp. 122-137;
- Gross, Gallia Judaica, p. 283;
- Reifmann, in Magazin f. d. Wissensch. d. Jud. v. 60-67.