A History of Rabbi Ishtori HaParhi

The first researcher into the land of Israel

From the Introduction of his book

Six centuries ago, long before any of our co-religionists thought to occupy themselves with the study of the land of Israel . A French Jew...set about dispelling the mists surrounding research on this topic. Torah commentators before him had toiled to clarify the borderlines and geography of the land of Israel the best way they could, yet they had never even set foot on the soil of the Holy Land. Thus their estimations did not always match with reality on the ground...even their effort set out only to understand Scriptural verse, not in order to know where these places might be. Only Rabbi lshtori HaParhi, the first of Eretz Israel researchers, concentrated his efforts upon the intimate study of the land of Israel.

Four travellers previous to Rabbi Ishtori's time, related matters concerning the land of Israel. They are: Rabbi Benjamin MiTudela Rabbi Petahya of Regensburg, Rabbi Shmuel ben Shimshon and Rabbi Yaakov, emissary of the Paris academy (yeshiva).

Yet these cannot be rightfully called "Eretz Israel researchers" since they stuck to the main roads on their journeys, and never took a footpath off the beaten track Thus their accounts ale almost identical and monotonous. What is more, they related only from what they heard of places which they did not see...without checking matters out for themselves. Not so Rabbi Ishtori HaParhi, who toured the length and breadth of the land of Israel.

He did this in order to know all the names of towns, villages and ruins, and compare them with names of towns of the land of Israel as found in Biblical and rabbinic text. This, researcher knew his, job; he was thoroughly devoted to it dedicating seven long years to the task of studying not only the land of Israel's geography and locations but also paid attention to its world of nature - plants and bees - and society - history' weights and measures...tempering all of this with his great scholarliness in Torah knowledge.

Rabbi Ishtori HaParhi was descended from a line of sages and rabbis of fame. His Father was Rabbi Moshe HaParhi, a distinguished Talmudical scholar. His grandfather was, Rabbi Nathan MiTronquila (of Trinquetailles near Arles, France), author of Shaar HiTefisa" on laws concerning money and finance. He is quoted extensively in the Meiri and Baal HaTeruma. His great grandfather was Rabbi Meir MiCarcasson (of Carcassonne, France), known for his work entitled "HaEzer"'. Other family members were: Rabbi Yaakov ben Machir Ibn Tibbon of Montpellier, author of ''Eker HaDehiot" and other works. He was also the teacher of Rabbi Ishtori HaParhi.

His place of birth was Florenzia (Spain), hence the family name HaParhi meaning "of the flower" (corresponding to and indicating the Spanish ( not Italian) town of their provenance "Florenzia"). His precise year of birth is not known, but it is assumed to be at the end of the third decade or at the beginning of the fourth decade of the first century of the sixth millennium.

His skills education and teachers.

A man of wondrous skill, Rabbi Ishtori possessed a fantastic memory, forgetting nothing that he had learnt. Yet he was not a sharp scholar or a master of 'pilpul'.

He first studied with his father, Rabbi Moshe' and when he was still a lad -was sent to France to study under the tutelage of his grandfather, Rabbi Nathan. His principal teacher, however7 was Rabbi Eliezer ben Rabbi Yosef of Chignon, who died as a martyr at the stake one year, on the second day of Rosh Hachana.

In 5062 he went to study in Montpellier from Rabbi Yaakov Ibn Tibbon; and then from Rabbenu Asher ben Yehiel' (Rosh) who at that time had arrived from Germany. Rabbi Ishtori filled himself with knowledge acquired from these scholars, and it is indeed wondrous to witness the depth of his erudite knowledge of the Mishna, Tosefta, Talmuds and Midrashim and of all contemporary works. In this work alone he quotes no less than seventh post Talmudical works. Apart from his scholarly knowledge of Torah, he had a broad and deep appreciation of sciences and languages. He spoke Arabic and Latin and was expert in the areas of astronomy and medicine, and well-read in the works Aristotle, AI-Fargani, Abu-Qarat, Batelmius, Galianus Ibn Sinna and others.

In matters of ,Judaism in practice, Rabbi Ishtori tended to take the lenient view wherever possible in matters of rabbinic law, arguing that each and every generation has ~e authority, to allow what was previously forbidden under rabbinic law, and that one should not be overly concerned with the removal of such rabbinic injunctions in a pressing circumstance. Nonetheless, That did not prevent him from listing many rabbinical injunctions in chapter 5 which people are generally lenient with. His was gentle peaceful, character even in his opinion upon the Karaites in chapter five, he rebukes them firmly but without anger or ridicule. He had great regard for his teachers, especially Rabbi Moses ben Maimon (Maimonides), to the extent that concerning each law he first quotes Maimonides and only then other opinions. He took great care to report each law in the name of its enunciator. When his work was completed, he presented it to a Jerusalem, sage for editing.

He loved the land of our fathers, and rejoiced greatly on his arrival to any one city, reciting stories and and histories of the place in question He wished with all his heart and soul that Jewish settlement might spread throughout the land.

The cruel edict of King Philip of France saw the banishment of Rabbi lshtori from that country at the age of twenty five. This occurred on the Friday' 10th of Av 5066 (22nd July 1306). Along with other exiles he went to Perpignan and then on to Barcelona, where he spent seven years learning Torah. There he translated several works. Thereafter he decided to leave his family and home country and go to Israel. In 5073 he arrived at Cairo, where he stayed a while. Immediately following his arrival, the sages of that city got to know him -amongst them Rabbi Shmuel Hanagid' grandson of Maimonides - and they asked of him to stay with them. He did not grant their request, but immediately began to occupy himself with research on the land of Israel, especially regarding Jerusalem and the Holy Mount, in order to work out how far one could proceed on the mount in our present state of ritual uncleanliness. Yet when he saw the disputes that had broken out and the opposition against Maimonides voiced by his opponents (headed by Rabbi Shlomo Patit) he decided to leave Jerusalem. Less than year after his arrival he left for a smaller town -Bet-Shean - although he did periodically go to Jerusalem to mourn its ruins and consult the rabbis there on matters of Jewish Law.

Whether his interest in the land grew while he was in the Diaspora, or whether this began in Eretz Israel, when he saw that even its great sages knew nothing of its geographical reality, one cannot say. What is certain is that he did believe that the suffering of French Jewry signalled the coming of the Messiah. Consequently, he viewed it as a holy obligation to write a book; that contained the laws appertaining to the Holy Land. Out of his sheer love for the land' he very much broadened its borderlines. He did, however, make the distinction between land whose produce needed tithing, and land that was not sanctified by the second exiles, yet saw their sanctity and importance to be equal. He noted trees and plants, and weights and measures with those found in rabbinic texts; he also calculated Shemitta and Jubilee years and worked out the payment of bills (regulated by the seven year cycle3. He also recorded all the traditions, prayers and customs of the Jews of Eretz Israel. With bitterness he mourned the lowly state of the Jews in Diaspora Nevertheless, he stress the high level of living in Cities in the Diaspora which shared the same latitude or longitude as Eretz Israel and thus intended to comfort those who, for what ever reason, could not emigrate to Eretz Israel. He completed his work in 5082. He then went to Jerusalem in order to show it to Rabbi Baruch, a Jerusalem rabbi, since in his great humility, he did not trust himself and was afraid to publish it without an approbation from a Jerusalem sage he also presented the book to Rabbi Matityahu of Bet-Shean, for editing.

His method of writing this work

Usually, a biblical verse is quoted' followed by rabbinical text to be found in Sifrei, Mechilta7 Tosefta' Mishna or the Talmuds In case of unclear meaning, Maimonides might be quoted word for word, as well as Rabbenu Asher (?) and Rashi. In a case of diverse opinion, the different ones would be mentioned. In explaining Scriptural verses' apart from Nachmanides and Rashi, the translation of :Rabbi Saadia Gaon and commentary of Rabbi Yehuda Ibn Janach (in Arabic) are brought. Also the commentary of Rabbi lbn Ezra, Rabbi Y. Ben Balam, Rabbi David Kimhi and so forth. Let no Kabbalistic work is mentioned in terms or rulings; he tended to be lenient in matters of Jewish law in order to avail its easier observance, and was critical of those ascetics who separated themselves from the physical pleasures of this world. By contrast, he tried to be strict in matters of observance of commandments that relates to the land of Israel and to Jerusalem in particular . His style is periodically heavy, nor does ho pay attention to certain points of grammar. His attempts to write in poetical style are not very successful.

Apart from the major work (Caftor VaFerah), he did in the seven years of his travels, produce six other works, two of which are translations from other languages.

The first is a book on Medicine authored by Argenaud Blaise, a well-known doctor from Montpellier. This book comes in seven sections:

1 Names of medicines
2 Their use
3 their composition
4. What they cure
5. Their potency
6. The correct dosages
7. The temporal factor.

The second is Sefer HaCabusim (The book on laxatives). The author is Eliahu ben Yehuda. This was translated from the Latin .

The third is an article on the opinions of the Arab sage Ibn Sina Baheqanum concerning the inhabitants of the equator.

The fourth is Batei HaNefesh, mainly on ethic and moral, especially concerning certain prohibitions that people are lax with.

The fifth is Shoshanat HaMelech, detailing matters of science and philosophy.

The sixth is Shaar Hashmayim containing rulings on Jewish law and elucidations of and novella on Talmudic treatises.

Nothing is known of his fate, nor of his date of death' nor even with regard to any children who may have survived him; it seems that he did several years following his completion of his work It seems that he died prior to, 5118. He almost certainly did, following his completion of the work, continue to travel, and who knows if eventually he was not murdered on his travels .

For two centuries, nothing was known of either the work or its author. It was not until the book reached the hands, of Rabbi Cohen Sholal in Egypt that the book's worth became known and copies were distributed among the sages of the time in Eretz Israel, and Egypt. In the year 5206 or 5300, the book was reprinted in Venice by Meir ben Yaakov of Prenz (?). The title page reads thus

The book, entitled Caftor VaPerah, was found in the collection of the sage ...Rabbi Yitzhaq Cohen Sholal it contains many useful things upon the subject of the laws as kept in Eretz Israel and on other matters of law... Meir ... Venice ....

The work was, initially, printed in only a very small number, and all of the copies were snapped up immediately from the printing houses Following the printing, however, the author's name was as yet unknown as the printer had thought the name Isthori HaParhi to be an alias and therefore only printed the name Ishtori at the beginning of the book. Those who used his book referred to him only as the 'Rav", author of Caftor VaFerah. Rabbi Canfiorto, author of "Koreh HaDorot'' was the first to refer to the author by name. Many misjudged the author to be a Yitshaq Cohen. The work saw no further reprint for three hundred years, since the laws appertaining to Eretz Israel were viewed to be ',laws for the Messianic period'.

In 5611, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Chen Tov published it, and carried out a study comparing his text with the manuscript in the Bodleian Library in Oxford.


Ishtori carried the manuscript in his travel and it was corrected by R. Baruch of Jerusalem but it disapeared after his death. The first copy of the Caftor was found in 1515 by Isaac Kohen Sholal, Nagid of Egypt. The work was attributed to him until David Conforte ascribed it to Farhi. Caftor was first published in Venice in 1549, then re-edited in Berlin in 1849-52 by Hirsch Edelman. In 1897-98, Abraham Moise Luncz publihed a new edition in two volumes. A modern version was published in 1946 in Jerusalem.

Dr Amichay Schwartz has determined that Ishtori was born in Florensac France

As we know Ashtori himself identified his father's homeland saying: And the city of my father's seat was named Florentzia in the Land of Andelusia two hour and third hour from the holy city (Jerusalem)". That means that the sunrise in Jerusalem is happening 2.33 hours before the sunrise in Florentzia. If we are checking the medieval knowledge, we can see that this equals 35 degrees west of Jerusalem. I have found some manuscripts that have the same calculations and locating the provincial towns Montpellier and Narbonne exactly 2.33 hours from Jerusalem as can see here in this manuscript number 1077 in the National Library in Paris, p. 39r: (and we found that the sunrise will be earlier in Jerusalem from Narbonne 35 degrees that are 2 hours and third…
When I looked for a place close to Florentzia I found Florensac near Béziers. We know about Jewish residents there in medieval times as mentioned in Gustav Sage works. About the name Andalusia it is more complicated, but I think that it is symbolic term to the area of south France and not south Spain of today. Ashtori is calls Barcelona also Andelusia and Barcelona is not so far from south France. Because he was writing in Israel all the west in his opinion was called Andelusia just like in our days that you ask someone from where he is, he can say just "America" and not USA, although America could be Peru as well.