About Abū ʿAmr Yosef ben Me’ir ibn Migash, Rosh Yeshiva al-Lucena
Joseph ha-Levi ben Me’ir ibn Migash (1077– 1141), the successor to Isaac al-Fāsī (the Rif) as head of the yeshiva in Lucena, the center of talmudic learning in al-Andalus, was born in Seville. At the age of twelve or so he went to Lucena to study with al-Fāsī. He continued under his tutelage for fourteen years, becoming his prime student and succeeding him upon his death in 1103. He continued as head of the yeshiva for thirty-eight years. There is evidence that during this time he traveled to other cities in Spain. He also refers to a visit to Fez.
Directly and through his numerous students, Ibn Migash was a crucial link in establishing al-Fāsī’s halakhic legacy as the legal norm in Sepharad. Only a tiny handful of his students can be identified by name, among them the subsequent false messiah Moses Darʿī. Another, and the most important of them, was Maimon ha-Dayyan, the father and teacher of Moses Maimonides. As heir to many of Ibn Migash’s teachings as transmitted by his father, Maimonides considered Ibn Migash unequaled for the depth of his talmudic learning. In his commentary on the Mishna, Maimonides mentions Ibn Migash explicitly as a primary source. He refers to him also in his responsa, and incorporated at least one section of Ibn Migash’s talmudic commentary into his own commentary on the Talmud. Most important for the history of halakha, Ibn Migash’s rulings had a decisive effect on Maimonides’s law code, the Mishne Torah.
Al-Fāsīwas an immigrant to al-Andalus, and his rulings sometimes conflicted with local practices. Ibn Migash generally followed al-Fāsī’s rulings, and since Ibn Migash’s authority as a halakhist was generally acknowledged, many indigenous traditions succumbed to al-Fāsī’s rulings during his tenure. In a responsum, Ibn Migash formulated the three attributes that a halakhic decisor (Heb. poseq) should, ideally, possess. In addition to mastery of the Talmud and of gaonic rulings, he mentioned mastery of a tradition of talmudic interpretation and halakhic ruling, which could only be acquired by extended study with an authoritative talmudic master. Although there is no doubt that Ibn Migash understood al-Fāsī to be the only one of his contemporaries who satisfied these qualifications, he sometimes ruled against him. Ibn Migash seems to have continually mulled over his interpretations and rulings, sometimes for years, and then occasionally reversed himself. His influence in Sepharad was so profound that in one case in which he changed his mind years later, his original ruling had become so entrenched that he had difficulty persuading colleagues to accept his new position.
Ibn Migash is the earliest Sephardi rabbinic scholar from whom a significant body of talmudic commentary has come down to us. This includes commentaries to two talmudic tractates, Bava Batra and Shavuʿot. But it can be shown, through references and citations, that he wrote commentaries on another seven tractates which did not survive. It is not unlikely that he wrote commentaries on all three of the orders of Moʿed, Nashim, and Neziqin, an extensive part of the Babylonian Talmud. Migash combined two goals in his commentaries: explication of the text and the derivation of legal rulings from it.
Another work by Migash, now lost except for citations, appears to have been a talmudic commentary of a different type. It was identified by Israel Ta-Shma as a commentary on selected difficult passages from throughout the Talmud. Also not surviving is a volume of responsa known from an inventory in the Cairo Geniza. The inventory, to which S. D. Goitein called attention, lists books belonging to a dayyan (judge) in a small town in Lower Egypt. Written only nine years after Ibn Migash’s death, it includes a bound volume of his responsa. In addition to these works, there is also evidence of a brief composition on the letters of the Hebrew alphabet that interpreted their shapes and sequence along pseudo-Aristotelian cosmological-philosophical lines.
Ibn Migash, who lived at the height of the Andalusian Golden Age, is described by his younger contemporary Abraham Ibn Daʾud as being exclusively concerned with rabbinic studies. This is largely borne out by his oeuvre. However, there are indications that he was not indifferent to the larger cultural world around him. One is the aforementioned work on the alphabet. More significant is his lifelong friendship with Judah ha-Levi, who wrote a number of poems dedicated to him and commemorating occasions in his life. One of these was written to Ibn Migash in celebration of his marriage. The secular nature of the poem, a muwashshaḥ (strophic poem) with clearly erotic allusions, implies that it was composed before Ibn Migash succeeded al-Fāsī as head of the yeshiva. This would mean that Ha-Levi’s friendship with Ibn Migash began in their student days, and strongly suggests that Ha-Levi studied under al-Fāsī along with Ibn Migash. Another figure, well known from the Geniza, the Cairene merchant Khalfūn (Ḥalfon) ben Nethanel, who spent close to two years in Spain, became very close to Ibn Migash. In one instance, Judah ha-Levi asked Khalfūn to intercede with Ibn Migash for a favor, because he felt that he would more likely be successful. Judah ha-Levi served as a secretary for Ibn Migash, composing his correspondence in rhetorical form. An important example is a letter written for him by Ha-Levi that Ibn Migash sent to the rabbis of Narbonne in the early twelfth century, thereby beginning a correspondence with them. Narbonne, in Provence, was heir to the Ashkenazi rabbinic traditions of Franco-Germany. Ibn Migash’s initiative is the earliest documentation of such contact, and thus he can be credited with opening the door to the ultimate cross-fertilization of these two traditions.
Cohen, Gerson D. The Book of Tradition (Sefer ha-Qabbala) by Abraham ibn Da’ud (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1967), pp. 85–87.
Goitein, S. D. A Mediterranean Society, vols. 1, 2, and 5 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1967–88), Index, s.v. Joseph Ibn Migash.
Ta-Shma, Israel M. Studies in Medieval Rabbinic Literature, vol. 2, Spain (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute. 2004), pp. 15–69 [Hebrew].
Gil, Moshe, and Ezra Fleischer. Yehuda ha-Levi and His Circle: 55 Geniza Documents, Jerusalem: World Union of Jewish Studies, 2001), pp. 122–124, and references in Index, s.v. Yosef ibn Migash [Hebrew].
Citation Samuel Morell. " Ibn Migash, Joseph ha-Levi ben Me’ir." Encyclopedia of Jews in the Islamic World. Executive Editor Norman A. Stillman. Brill Online , 2012. Reference. Jim Harlow. 19 July 2012 <http://referenceworks.brillonline.com/entries/encyclopedia-of-jews-in-the-islamic-world/ibn-migash-joseph-ha-levi-ben-meir-COM_0010870>