Radbaz (Rabbi David Ben Zimra)

Talmud scholar, Kabbalist and longtime chief rabbi of Egypt.

David Ben Solomon Ibn Zimra, also known as the Radbaz, was a Sephardic Talmud scholar, Kabbalist and longtime chief rabbi of Egypt.

Born in Spain about 1479, he died in Safed (Tzfat), in the land of Israel, in 1589.

At age 13, the Radbaz moved to Safed with his family, following their expulsion from Spain. Later settling in Cairo, he was a member of that city’s beit din, or rabbinic court, becoming Egypt’s chief rabbi in 1517, a position he held for 40 years.

Isaac Luria, considered the father of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism), studied at the Radbaz’s Cairo yeshiva.

The Radbaz was believed to be prominent in both the social and political life of Egypt, thanks to his wealth and intelligence. During his rabbinate he introduced many reforms in the everyday life of Egyptian Jews, ending the community’s use of Seleucidan-era counting as a way of measuring the years.

At age 90, the Radbaz resigned the chief rabbinate, gave away most of his money to the poor, including poor scholars, and moved to Safed, where he became an active member of Joseph Caro’s beit din. He died at 110.

The Radbaz’ works include:”Kelale ha-Gemara” (Rules of the Gemara), a methodology of the Talmud; ,”Or Ḳadmon” (Pristine Light), a Kabbalistic work; “Magen David” (Shield of David), a mystical explanation of the Hebrew alphabet; liturgy for Yom Kippur; and a commentary on the Shulcḥan Aruch. According to Rabbi Louis Jacobs’ The Jewish Religion, he is best known for his collection of responsa.

Adapted from The Jewish Encyclopedia.

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