Spanish philologist of the tenth century. He was a native of Tortosa, and went, apparently at an early age, to Cordova, where he found a patron in Isaac, the father of the subsequent statesman Ḥasdai ibn Shaprut. At Isaac's death Menahem eulogized his protector's virtues in an inscription placed in the synagogue which had been built by Isaac at Cordova. He wrote also elegies on him, which were universally recited during the period of mourning. Menahem then returned to his native city, where he engaged in business.

Ḥasdai ibn Shaprut, however, recalled Menahem to Cordova and encouraged him to complete his life-work, a dictionary of the Hebrew language. In other ways also his new patron availed himself of his protégé's literary talents. Ḥasdai on his mother's death requested Menahem to compose a dirge; and when Ḥasdai addressed his questions to the king of the Chazars, Menahem was commissioned to write the letter, which has become an important historical document. Menahem, however, carried on his work amid great privations, as Ḥasdai did not prove a liberal patron.

Dispute with Dunash.

The dictionary had scarcely been completed when an opponent to its author arose in Dunash ben Labraṭ, who had come to Spain from Fez, and who wrote a criticism on the work, which he prefaced by a eulogistic dedication to Ḥasdai. The slanders of personal enemies likewise seem to have aroused Ḥasdai's anger against Menahem to such a pitch that the latter, at the command of the powerful statesman, suffered bodily violence, his house being destroyed. In a touching letter to Ḥasdai (a valuable source from which most of these statements have been taken) Menahem, who probably died shortly afterward, complained of the wrong done him. He seems to have made some impression on his patron. Menahem himself had not replied to Dunash, but his pupils defended their teacher, and in response to Dunash's criticism wrote a detailed refutation which was marked by polemical acumen and exact grammatical knowledge. Judah b. David Ḥayyuj, one of these three young scholars who so effectually defended their master, became the founder of scientific Hebrew grammar; another, Isaac ibn Gikatilla, was subsequently, as one of the most learned men of Lucena, the teacher of Abu al-Walid Merwan ibn Janaḥ. Thus the most flourishing period of Hebrew philology, whose chief representatives were Ḥayyuj and Ibn Janaḥ, began with Menahem ben Saruḳ.

Characteristics of His Dictionary.

The place to be assigned to the "Maḥberet," as Menahem entitled his dictionary, has been briefly discussed elsewhere (see Jew. Encyc. iv. 580, s.v. Dictionaries). This was the first complete lexical treatment of the Biblical vocabulary composed in Hebrew in which the view then prevailing, that there were both uniliteral and biliteral roots, was definitely systematized and worked out. This theory was set aside later by Menahem's own pupil, Ḥayyuj, who correctly assumed the triliteral character of Hebrew roots; but, because it was written in Hebrew, Menahem's dictionary remained for a long time the chief source of philological instruction for Jews who were unacquainted with Arabic, especially, therefore, for those in the Christian countries of Europe. Thus Rashi in the second half of the eleventh century refers to Menahem as a philological authority; Rashi's grandson, Jacob b. Meïr Tam, composed a work for the special purpose of vindicating Menahem against the attacks of Dunash; and (about 1140) Menahem b. Solomon composed in Italy a dictionary which was based for the most part on the "Maḥberet."

Regarding the grammatical importance of Menahem ben Saruḳ's work, it may be noted that, although he had no systematic knowledge of the forms of the language, and was unacquainted even with Saadia's grammatical works, yet he recognized throughout his lexicon that there are inviolable laws underlying the language, and that its forms and phenomena are subject to definite rules. This insight, which appears in the terminology he employs, bridges the apparent chasm between him and his pupil Ḥayyuj. As Menahem composed his work in Hebrew, he could not use the terminology of the Arabic grammarians; yet he tacitly adopted some of their terms, translating them into Hebrew, and explained some words, although without acknowledging it, on the analogy of kindred Arabic expressions. He avoids, however, any open comparison of the language of the Bible with that of the Koran, notwithstanding the precedent furnished him by Saadia and Ibn Ḳuraish, authors whom he quotes in his dictionary. He doubtless refrained from such comparison because of the narrow-minded religiousprejudice which then prevented the Spanish Jews from engaging in such linguistic comparisons.


Menahem ben Saruḳ's dictionary was edited by Filipowski (London, 1854), and addenda from the Bern manuscript of the "Maḥberet" were published by D. Kaufmann in "Z. D. M. G." xl. 367-409. The defense by Menahem's pupils was edited by S. G. Stern in "Liber Responsionum" (Vienna, 1870), where Menahem's letter to Ḥasdai ibn Shaprut (first edited by Luzzatto in "Bet ha-Oẓar") is reprinted (pp. xxiii.-xxxvii.).

  • S. Gross, Menahem b. Saruk, Berlin, 1872;
  • Bacher, in Winter and Wünsche, Jüdische Litteratur, ii. 145-149;
  • idem, Die Anfänge der Hebräischen Grammatik, pp. 70-95;
  • Dukes, Beiträge zur Gesch. der Aeltesten Auslegung und Spracherklärung des A. T. ii. 119 et seq.;
  • Grätz, Gesch. 1st ed., v. 372 et seq.;
  • Geiger, Das Judenthum und Seine Gesch. ii. 87 et seq.;
  • Jüdische Zeitschrift, ix. 65, x. 81;
  • Drachman, Die Stellung und Bedeutung des Jehudah Hajjug in der Gesch. der Hebräischen Grammatik, pp. 17-27, Breslau, 1885;
  • Weiss, Dor, iv. 228-234;
  • Steinschneider, Cat. Bodl. col. 1738.
T. W. B.
Images of pages