Ramban - Rabbi Moses ben (the son of) Nachman.
Also known as the Nachmanides, "the son of Nachman".
Spanish Jewish commentator on the Bible and Talmud, 1194 - 1270.

The Ramban was a Jewish sage and physician who was born in 1194 in Gerona, in Catalonia, Spain. He studied under Rabbi Yehudah ben Yakar, Rabbi Nassan ben Meir, and the Kabbalists Rabbi Ezra and Rabbi Ezriel. Though he himself was Sefaradi, he was strongly influenced by the Ashkenazic Tosafists, the post-Rashi academies of France.

Because their names sound the same, the Ramban is often confused with the Rambam. The two were both Spanish, but they were separated by at least a generation. Also, the Rambam was a philosopher and a halachist, a codifier of the law. The Ramban was both of these but he was also an exegite, writing commentaries on Pentateuch and the Talmud. And while the Rambam was essentially a rationalist, the Ramban expressed a fundamental mysticism in his writings. In fact, the Ramban became embroiled in the Maimonidean Controversy, in which French Rabbis burned the Rambam's book Moreh Nevuchim, "Guide to the Perplexed", and other works, because of their systematic and rationalistic approach to Judaism. While the Ramban generally agreed with the French position, he decried the divisive book burnings and defended the works of the Rambam against accusations of heresy.

The Ramban became chief Rabbi of Catalonia, and in 1263, he was enlisted by King James I of Aragon for a public debate against the apostate monk Pablo Christiani in Barcelona. The point under debate was primarily the question of whether the Messiah had already arrived. An excerpt from their arguments:
Christiani: Behold, Scripture states, "The scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor a lawgiver from the issue of his loins, until Shiloh arrives" (Genesis 49:10). The word "Shiloh" refers to the Messiah. The prophet Jacob is thus saying that Judah will always retain power until the Messiah will come from him. If so, since you have neither one tribe nor a ruler's staff today, the Messiah who is of his descendants and who has the rulership must have already come.

Ramban: The purport of the prophet Jacob is not to state that the kingdom of Judah will never be devoid of power at any time. Rather, he is saying that power will never be removed or depart from him completely. The intent thereof is that as long as kingship continues in Israel, it belongs to Judah. If their kingdom will be temporarily discontinued because of sin, the kingship will return to the tribe of Judah when it will ultimately be restored. The proof of my words is that for many years, before the Nazarite, Judah, not Israel had been divested of royalty. And for many years, monarchy ceased both in Israel and in Judah, because in the seventy years during which the Jews were exiled to Babylon, there was no royalty whatsoever in either Judah or Israel. During the era of the Second Temple, there was no king over Judah except for Zerubavel and his sons, who ruled only a short period of time. The people then remained without a king for 380 years ...... Thus, it can be clearly concluded that the prophet Jacob said only that kingship will not be removed completely.
You've got to admit, that's a pretty logical refutation. The Ramban turns Christiani's argument on its head, so that if Christiani was correct, than Jesus should have been born hundreds of years before he was.
Moreover (says the Ramban) the later prophet (Isaiah) said that, "they shall beat their swords into ploughshares... nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" (Isaiah 2:4). But since the days of Jesus up to the present the whole world has been full of violence and plunder, the Christians more than other peoples being shedders of blood and revelers likewise of indecencies
Pope Clement IV declared Christiani the winner of the debate, but the Ramban's arguments were strong. However, King James must not have liked being called a shedder of blood and a reveller in indecency, because even though at the debate the Ramban had been granted official immunity to refute Christiani, at the conclusion of the debate he was given 300 gold coins and then advised to flee for his life. So he left Spain for Palestine, arriving there in 1267 to find the Jewish presence in Jerusalem reduced to two people. He founded a synagogue and an academy- the Ramban's synogogue is currently the oldest synagogue in active use in Jerusalem. Then he settled in Acco (Acre), Palestine, where he died in 1270.

Some of the more famous works of the Ramban:
  • Sefer Havikuach, "The Book of the Dispute"- An account of the preceedings of his debate against Pablo Christiani. This work was deemed blasphemous by the Dominicans and burned. It also precipitated his exile from Spain.

  • Iggeret HaRamban, "The Letter of the Ramban"- The Ramban wrote this letter his eldest son Nachman, with the instruction to read it weekly. In it, he cites verses from all over the Bible to construct a short work of moral advice, instructing his son to remember the Torah, concentrate on prayer, revere God, etc.

  • The Ramban's commentary on the Biblical book of Job.

  • The Ramban's commentary on the Talmud.

  • Two books, Milchamot Hashem, "The Wars of God" and Sefer Hazechut, "The Book of Merit", both written in the defense of the Rif, Rabbi Yitzchak Alfasi. In the former book the Ramban attacks Rabbi Zerachyah HaLevi, who at the age of nineteen had written the Sefer HaMaor, the "Book of Illumination", criticizing the Sefer HaHalachot, "Book of Laws", of the Rif.

  • Torat Ha'adam, "The Teaching of Man"- a codification of the Jewish laws of death, burial and mourning.

  • The Ramban's commentary on the Pentateuch- This commentary takes a uniquely literary and character based approach to the Bible. Where the Bible has many cryptic passages, the Ramban fills in the gaps in the narrative by creating consistent characters out of mere names. Sometimes he even fills in dialogue, not to imply that his version of events actually transpired, but to construct a convincing set of motivations for the human beings that the Bible depicts, and occassionally even for God. He also finds connecting themes across entire books of the Torah, instead of merely fixating on individual words and verses like Rashi and others are prone to. The Ramban was one of the first exegites to rely almost entirely on his own insight, instead of conveying his understanding of traditions ostensibly recieved in an unbroken chain of oral transmission from Moses and thence from God. He also encorporated philosophical and Kabbalistic ideas into his explanations, which are very difficult to read, because the Ramban avoided the prohibition against teaching Kaballah to the uninitiated by expressing himself in esoteric symbols. And he occassionally regurgiated Aristotle in his commentary, primarily when discussing matters of physics. Though he often quoted the opinions of Rashi and Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra, the Ramban usually disagreed with these, and was particularly savage in his scorn for the untraditional Ibn Ezra. The Ramban's comments are usually very long, and tend to present a layered explanation of the text, first citing and refuting the opposing opinions, then presenting the Ramban's own theories for resolving the textual difficulties at hand, then citing the relevant Kabbalistic views.
The Ramban's two major students were the Ra'ah, Rabbi Aharon Halevi (in Gerona), and the Rashba, Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet (in Barcelona).

A fantastic legend about the Ramban's pervasive mysticism: The Ramban once had a student Rav Avner, who converted to Catholicism. One Yom Kippur, Rav Avner summoned the Ramban to his chamber, and as the Ramban watched, Avner slaughtered, roasted, and ate a pig. Avner then asked the Ramban how many serious transgressions he had just commited, where "serious" is a specific designation, referring to a deed which would cause the sinner's soul to be cut off from an afterlife. When the Ramban responded "four", Avner corrected him "five" and proceeded to Halachikly prove his point. The Ramban asked Avner, if his knowledge was so great, why he left Judaism. Avner responded by accusing the Ramban of being at fault, for having once made a claim so preposterous that Avner could not be reconciled it with the reasonable world. The Ramban had claimed that every event in history was alluded to in the Bibilical song "Ha'azinu", near the end of the book of Deuteronomy. When challenged now to defend this claim, and find an allusion to Avner's apostasy in that song, the Ramban cited verse 32:26, "I said, 'I will scatter them, I will obliterate their memory from mankind'", where the third letter of every word in the verse- Ama R ti, 'Af' A ihem ash B ita may'e N osh zich R am'- spells out R ABNR, that is, Rav Avner.

Avner must have been easily impressed, because he proceeded to leave Spain in self imposed exile, in keeping with the punishment predicted by the verse.

Geez, I guess I should cite this thing:

*Mrs. Levine's Pentateuch class*
*Mrs. Feinberg's Medieval Jewish History class*

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