ABUDARHAM, DAVID BEN JOSEPH BEN DAVID (or ABUDRAHIM):
By: Kaufmann Kohler
A commentator on the Synagogue liturgy, who lived at Seville, Spain, about 1340, and was a pupil of Jacob ben Asher. He belonged to the class of writers who, in an age of decline, felt the need of disseminating in popular form the knowledge stored up in various sources of rabbinical literature, and thus obtained a well-deserved fame. His book has no specific title beyond the name "Ḥibbur Perush ha-Berakot we-ha-Tefillot," probably because it was intended to serve as a running commentary to the liturgy. In the preface he states that he desired to afford the people, whom he found lacking in knowledge, the means of using the liturgy intelligently, and for this purpose he collected, from both the Babylonian and the Palestinian Talmuds, from the Geonim and all the commentators down to his own time, the material for the explanation of each portion of the prayer-book. In order to elucidate the meaning and origin of each observance connected with divine worship throughout the year, he made use of all the works concerning the rites he could obtain, some of which were very rare. In addition he gave a systematic exposition of the Jewish calendar; but at the same time, he lays no claim to any originality. He certainly succeeded, as no one did before him, in writing a commentary which is very valuable, if not altogether indispensable, to the student, and which deserves to be translated and condensed for the benefit of those who still use the ancient ritual.His Account of the Ritual.
Though he was a believer, like most of his contemporaries, in the mystical sense of words and numbers, he combined a fair grammatical knowledge (in spite of occasional errors, as, for instance, his derivation of minḥah from menaḥ yoma), good common-sense, and a comprehensive rabbinical erudition, and thus was better qualified than many of his predecessors to give a satisfactory explanation of almost every phrase of the prayer-book. The work started by Rashi and Meir of Rothenburg, and prosecuted especially in France, Spain, and Germany during the fourteenth century (see Zunz, "Ritus," pp. 22-30), found in Abudarham's profound spirituality and wise judgment a fitting conclusion and consummation. Three introductory chapters on the reading of the Shema' (Deut. vi. 4), the Daily Prayer, and the various Benedictions precede the commentary, which begins with the Night Prayer, and then follows the order of the prayer-book, chiefly of the Sephardic Minhag, from beginning to end: first the Daily Morning, Afternoon, and Evening Prayers: then the Sabbath, the New Moon, and the Passover Prayers (including the Passover Haggadah) and the Pentecost Prayer. Considerable space is given to the prayers of the fast-days in general, besides those of the national fast-days in commemoration of Jerusalem; then follow New-year's Day and Atonement Day and the Sukkot festival prayers. This section is followed by a chapter on the Hafṭarot, and then follow one on the calendar and a special discourse on the Teḳufot and the superstitious belief concerning it.
The last section treats, in nine chapters, of the various Benedictions, as for example before and after meals. The closing paragraph quite characteristically contains the rules regarding the cutting of nails, and ends by stating: "This book was completed in Seville in 5100 after the Creation of the World, by Abudarham." In the manner of an eclectic he frequently states, or suggests, many explanations for one fact; but a certain warmth of religious feeling pervades the whole book and makes it a harmonious unit, giving it an edifying, rather than a merely legal, character. That the work supplied a commonly felt need is shown by its nine editions. The first edition appeared in Lisbon in 1489; the second in Constantinople in 1513; the third and fourth in Venice in 1546 and 1566 respectively; the fifth in Amsterdam in 1726 (in this a portion of the calendar was omitted); the sixth and seventh in Prague in 1784 and 1817 respectively; the eighth in Lemberg in 1857; and the ninth in Warsaw in 1877. A manuscript exists in the Friedländer Library at St. Petersburg.
- Michael, Or ha-Ḥayyim, No. 729;
- Steinschneider, Cat. Bodl. col. 855;
- S. Wiener, Cat. Bibliotheca Friedlandiana, p. 1;
- De Rossi, Annales Heb. Typographici in saeculo xv. p. 67. See also Brüll's Jahrb. ii. 165, where attention is called to the passage on the teleology of the organs of the human body, taken literally from Shabbethai Donolo, Commentary on the Book Yeẓirah, ed. Prague, p. 11b.