Edited with introduction and notes by Rabbi Alter
(Mesirah Publications, Kerem beYavneh, 5761)
Reviewed by Martin D. Stern
As has been reportedly widely in the press, the sefer
Sherashei Kerem Rosh Nevolim
by ibn Shakran was found recently in the wine cellars of the
Vatican where its folios had been used as stoppers in some
ancient amphorae. We are truly indebted to Rabbi Brandwein
for his effort in making this important work available to
the Torah world.
The author obviously chose this name for his sefer as
an acrostic of his own. It is also a reference to his
birthplace, Gibraltar, which had been known, previous to the
Arab conquest, as Nebelberg, from the Visigothic word
meaning `foggy mountain,' because of the clouds that often
envelope its summit.
Until now this early Spanish Jewish grammarian and
commentator was only known from quotations of his comments
in the works of the Rishonim but now we can appreciate his
deep understanding of the Holy Scriptures in all its
It seems that his support of the idea that Hebrew words were
derived from four-letter roots from which one letter was
removed to give different nuances of meaning, drew the ire
of his contemporary Dunash Ibn Labrat, who wrote of him
"Ben Kaf keVen Kuf," perhaps the first reference to
the introduction of the colony of Barbary apes which still
live in his home town. Ibn Ezra was moved to defend our
author against this calumny in what is perhaps the best
known of his comments on Tehillim (81,17) "Umitsur
devash asbi'eko -- kemo hamefaresh hagodol Ibn Shakran
mei'ir Tsur, shemidevorov onu sevei'im devash."
Unfortunately, most of Ibn Shakran's comments had been lost
but we can now peruse what must be some of his most original
insights. To give the readers some idea of his approach, we
quote a few on the Megillah which I am sure will whet
their appetite for more.
Noach and the Megillah
Ibn Shakran notes in this seminal work that, throughout the
Torah, the name of Noach is spelled choseir, i.e.,
without a vov. Even the novi Yeshaya (54,9)
uses this form. Yet in the Megillah, we find it
spelled molei in three places.
He notes (Esther 9,17) that this must be a reference
to the beraissa brought in the Ovos deRabbi
Natlan (Schlechter Edition, 1, 1- 3, Van De'Stijl
Brothers' press, Weinheim, Baden, 5526), "HaBakbuk, kibel
haYayin meKerem umesoroh leNoach, veNoach liVenos Lot,
uVenos Lot le'Oved Edom haGitti, veOved Edom haGitti leNovol
haKarmeli, veNovol haKarmeli leBelshatsar, uVelshatsar
leAchashverosh, veAchashverosh osoh mishteh lechol sorov
ve'avodov! Noach hoyoh omer: `Al sheloshoh devorim ho'Olom
omeid, al haYayyin, ve'al haSheichor ve'al haSorof.' Hu
hoyoh omeir: `Im ein kerem ein yayin, ve'im ein yayin ein
shikrus!'" Since there is a mitzvah of livesumei
bePurya ad delo yoda, he opines that this is an
indication that one should be as molei yayin as Noach
He continues to note that this form is repeated
(Esther 9,18) and forms a scriptural support for the
saying of Rav Yeina Sabo in Maseches Shikurim.
(Falsher Edition 7,12, Tokayer Press, Martha's Vineyard,
Mass. 5716) that the mitzvoh must apply to both days of
Purim: "Meshum sefeika deyoma vadai machmirim
In his comment on "Ya'asu eitz govoha chamishim amoh"
(Esther 5,17), Ibn Shakran explains that this shows
that Haman must have been a ben Noach, since he must have
inherited this piece of timber from Noach who had used it as
one of the cross beams of the ark (Bereishis 6,15).
Since it also says (Esther 9,16) "veNoach
mei'oyeveihem," he points out that Haman's hatred of
Jews must also have come from Noach with the rest of his
The Mothers-in-law of Achashverosh
In a later part of his work Ibn Shakran brings the famous
machlokes as to whether Achashverosh had three or
He comments on the verse "Gam Vashti haMalkoh osesoh
mishteih noshim," (Esther 1,9), "Hakesiv
`mishteih,' im hei, vehakeri `mishtei' im yud." Later he
notes that both ladies are named in the Megillah, one
was called "Bo'aroh" (1,12) and the other
"Keshoch" (2,1). He notes that it is obvious that
these two must be the mothers of Vashti since they are
brought in connection with her downfall. He suggests that
one may have been the biological mother and the other a
In his note to the words "kom bachamoso"
(Esther 7,7), he writes "Al tikri `kom bachamoso'
elo 'beKom chamoso,' vezeh shemoh shel imah shel
Esther." He notes that she was also known as
"Shochochoh," (7,10) and these two names must refer to
Esther's mother since they appear in connection with the
affair of Haman being settled by Esther. Furthermore, he
notes in his comment to the latter: "Ve'ein zeh
hakchoshoh ledivrei haposuk, `Ein loh ov vo'eim' (2,7),
sheshemoh hoyesoh nishkachas. Yeish mefarshim sheyeish
le'Esther gam shtei imohos kemo Vashti, avol zeh to'us
gedoloh. Shemoh `Kom,' kemo shekosavti le'eil, vesheim
`Shochochoh' rak kinui be'almo."
There are many further insights brought by Ibn Shakran but
limited space precludes their inclusion here. The reader is
recommended to obtain a copy and intoxicate himself with its
wisdom, "halo heim kesuvim al sefer." We hope that
Rabbi Brandwein will merit to publish more works of this
great scholar to fulfill the comment of Ibn Janakh on
Tehillim (104,13) "Mashkeh horim mei'aliyosov
mipri ma'asecho tisba ho'orets -- eileh divrei Hamashkeh,
HaGaon Ibn Shakran min haTsur, shemeihem kol yoshvei
ho'oretz nisbo'im besheichor."
A freilach Purim!
We are truly indebted to Mr. Martin D. Stern for his
effort in making this important Purim Torah known to the Torah