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5 Adar 5761 - February 28, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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A Book for Purim!
Sherashei Kerem Rosh Nevolim

by Mordechai ibn Shakran

Edited with introduction and notes by Rabbi Alter Brandwein

(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 brilliance.

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 (Bereishis 9,21).

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 bozeh."

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 junk.

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 four mothers-in-law.

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 surrogate mother.

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 world.


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