Several years ago, I was privileged to publish the Orchot Tzaddikim in a bi-lingual edition.1Seymour J. Cohen Orchot Tzaddikim, The Ways of the Righteous (Jerusalem: Feldheim, 1969). The fine reception afforded to the work encouraged me to continue my efforts in bringing Hebrew classics to the attention of the English-reading public.
Sefer Hayashar, the Book of Righteousness, was probably written in the 13th century. The title is a Biblical one. In Joshua 10:13 we read concerning the miracle of the sun standing still: “Is not this written in the Book of Yashar?” Again in Second Samuel, we have the lament of David for King Saul and Jonathan: “Behold, it is written in the Book of Yashar.” In the 11th century, there appeared a Sefer Hayashar which retold the Biblical account from creation to the time of the Judges.2Dictionary Catalog of the Jewish Collection The New York Public Library Reference Department (Boston: G. K. Hall & Co., 1960), Vol. 2, p. 1375—Jacob Ilive, Book of Jasher, Bristol 1829. A British Abbot claimed to have discovered the Biblical Sefer Hayashar in the Holy Land. It was published several times in England and the United States. Our Sefer Hayashar, a most popular ethical text in the Middle Ages, was first printed in Constantinople around 1520, in Venice in 1554, in Cracow in 1584, in Prague in 1588 and in Amsterdam in 1708.3C. D. Friedberg, Bet Eked Sefarim (Tel Aviv: M. A. Bar-Juda, 1951), Vol. 2, p. 451, No. 1116. Since these earlier editions, there have been almost fifty other editions.
A renewed interest in Sefer Hayashar was stimulated by the Mussar ethical teachers in the 19th century.4Dov Katz, T’nuat Ha-Mussar (Tel Aviv: Bitan Ha-Sefer, 1952), Vol. 1, p. 50. Among Hasidic circles, this work was used in home study groups. Sefer Hayashar was widely cited by other moral teachers. Thus a commentary on Tanna D’be Eliyahu contains numerous references to this work.5“Ramataim Zofim” Sefer Tanna D’be Eliyahu, (Jerusalem: Lewin-Epstein, 1970) reprint, pp. 18, 51, 69, 76, 93, 104, 209.
The earliest reference which we have to our work was the commendation given by Rabbi Judah ben Asher, (1270-1349) who advised his heirs: “Read regularly in the Duties of the Heart and in the Book of the Upright (Sefer Hayashar) and the Epistle on Repentance of Rabbenu Jonah and similar tracts.”6Hebrew Ethical Wills, Israel Abrahams, ed. (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America, 1948), Vol. 2, p. 174. Originally, no citation of authorship was given. The earliest references attributed the work to Rabbi Jacob ben Meir (c. 1100-1171) (Rabbenu Tam). Rabbenu Tam had composed a legal work with the same title. It should be pointed out that one of the most vexing problems of any student of Hebrew literature arises “from the multiplicity and variety of books bearing the same title, although entirely different in origin, worth and purpose.”7Henry Malter, “Shem Tob ben Joseph Palquera” (Jewish Quarterly Review, new series, 1935), p. 451. Gershom G. Scholem, Les Origines de la Kabbale (Paris: 1966), p. 120, speaks of an earlier mystic book with the same title. The Catalogue of Hebrew and Samaritan Manuscripts in the British Museum (London: 1865), Part 2, mentions a Karaite work with the same title. There was a medieval medical text with a similar sounding name called Sefer Hayosher. See Bibliography of Medieval Arabic and Jewish Medicine and Allied Sciences (London: Wellcome Institute of the History of Medicine, 1971). R. Y. Ebied cites a section of Oxford MS No. 180 and Paris MS No. 1122 of the Sefer Hayosher (Koroth, 1953, 1 (34), pp. 108-109). Abraham Ibn Ezra’s commentary uses the name Sefer Hayashar, Mikraot G’dolot, Genesis. (New York: Pardes 1951), 2a.
The earliest attribution to Rabbenu Tam is in the Zeror Hamor (Bundle of Myrrh), a 16th century commentary on the Pentateuch. When speaking of repentance, Abraham ben Jacob Saba (d.c. 1508) commends this work and notes that “some people say it was composed by Rabbenu Tam.”8Abraham ben Jacob Saba, Zeror Hamor (Venice: 1567), p. 153b.
Elijah de Vidas (16th c.) cited our work in his Reshit Hokhmah and speaks of Rabbenu Tam as the author. These early references were to the famed Rabbi Jacob ben Meir Tam of Ramerupt, a grandson of Rashi. In the Amsterdam edition, 1708, Rabbenu Tam, however, is identified as Rabbi Jacob Tam of Orleans (d. 1189).
Menahem de Lonzano (1550-1624?) mentions our work in his Shete Yadot.9Shete Yadot (Venice: 1618), p. 122. Moritz Steinschneider, Die Hebraischen Ubersetzungen Des Mittelalters und Die Juden Als Dolmetscher (Graz, 1956) (Reprint), p. 883 “Der vf. des Ethischen B. ha-Jaschar, vielleicht Serachja ha-Jewani.” He states that Sefer Hayashar is ascribed incorrectly to Rabbenu Tam. “This is not so. The truth is that Rabbenu Tam composed a work and called it Sefer Hayashar, but that is a Talmudic work which is no longer extant. I have heard that this Sefer Hayashar was published once in Constantinople and once in Venice, and was written by Zerahiah Ha-Yevani.”
Hardly anything is known about Zerahiah Ha-Yevani. The Jewish Encyclopedia describes him as being a “Byzantine ethical writer of the 13th or 14th centuries.”10Vol. XII, p. 661. See Meyer Waxman, A History of Jewish Literature (New York: Bloch Publishing Company, 1943), Vol. 2, p. 276. The Encyclopedia Judaica has a reference to him in the article describing our work, marked with an asterisk, which connotes items that are included in the Encyclopedia. However, there is no description of Zerahiah Ha-Yevani. To add to the mystery of Zerahiah’s identification, there were some who confused Zerahiah Ha-Yevani with Zerahiah Ha-Levi, the author of Ha-Maor, a super-commentary on the Talmud.11Hayyim Joseph David Azulai, Schem Hag’dolim (Vienna: 1864), ed. Yitzchak ben Jacob, Vol. 1, p. 22b (“The statement made in a printed edition … that some hold that the book was written by R. Zerahiah Ha-Levi, the author of Ha-Maor, cannot be maintained.”) On Schem Hag’dolim see Proceedings Rabbinical Assembly of America (New York: 1939) Theodore Friedman, Hayyim Joseph David Azulai, Preliminary Sketch, pp. 276-287. Meir Benayahu, R. Hayyim Yosef David Azulai (Jerusalem: Mossad Harav Kook 1959).
The difficulty of identification continued. Thus, in Schem Hag’dolim there are two conflicting references.12Ibid, p. 22b, p. 41, Part 2. In Part 1, Hayyim Azulai speaks of Zerahiah Ha-Yevani as being the author of our text. In Part 2, however, he clarifies that the Sefer Hayashar should be ascribed to R. Tam of Orleans. “Now, I have seen in the Seder ha-dorot that the author is R. Tam of Orleans, one of our masters, the Tosafist. If this is the tradition, we must accept it.”
In 1927, Jacob M. Toledano of Morocco reported that he had seen a manuscript of the Sefer Hayashar ascribed to Rabbi Jonah the Hasid.13Ha’zofeh Lehokmat Israel, Vol. 11, p. 239. He reported that the manuscript of Sefer Hayashar, written in Spain between 1390 and 1440, had recently come to his attention. The manuscript was ascribed to Rabbi Jonah the Hasid, of blessed memory. Toledano argued that “if we compare the language of Sefer Hayashar with the language of Rabbi Jonah in his Shaare Teshuvah and Sefer Hayirah, we will be able to judge immediately that all of these works came from one author.” He offers additional information in that “at the end of Sefer Hayashar, the author speaks against the philosophers ‘who interpreted the stories of the Bible in their own way.’ ” This was indirectly intended against Maimonides to whom Rabbi Jonah was opposed. Toledano thought that the gates mentioned in Shaare Teshuvah (Gates of Repentance) may have referred to our work. According to Toledano, the first part of Rabbi Jonah Gerondi’s work was the Sefer Hayashar and the second was the Shaare Teshuvah. A. T. Shrock accepts Toledano’s identification.14“The Authorship of the Ethical Treatise Entitled Sefer Hayashar”, Jewish Quarterly Review (New Series), Vol. LXI, No. 3, (January 1971), pp. 175-187, C. D. Friedberg, op. cit; Ibid., p. 451. “and in fact the author is R. Jonah Gerondi.” He mentions that some years ago while searching in the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary for manuscripts of Rabbi Jonah, his “attention was drawn by the late Professor Marx to a manuscript of the Sefer Hayashar.” The title read “Sefer Hayashar L’Rabbi Jonah He’Hasid.”15Ibid. p. 183. It was impossible for Shrock to determine the origins of this manuscript or whether it was identical with the one referred to by Toledano. After offering some other indirect evidence, Shrock finishes his case by saying: “Meanwhile, and until further evidence will be forthcoming, one is justified, in view of what has been written above, to declare that in all probability the author of the Sefer Hayashar was none other than R. Jonah b. Abraham of Gerona. If, in addition, it could be shown that the style is clearly that employed by the last-mentioned in his ethical works, and furthermore that its ideas are paralleled by those found in these books, then very little doubt should remain. It is the present writer’s intention to address himself to this task in the near future.”15a
Regarding the thesis that Rabbi Jonah Gerondi was the author of our work, we must recall the observations of Isaiah Tishby16Ibid. p. 187.. Tishby discusses the use of the words “Hasid” and “Zaddik” in Aggadic literature. After discussing the use of these terms in Bahya’s Duties of the Heart, he points out that “Zaddik” and “Hasid” (“righteous” and “pious”) are used interchangeably in the first nine chapters of our work. The righteous ones and the pious ones are contrasted with the wicked. So much for the first nine chapters of our work; however, from Chapter 10 on, and particularly in Chapters 10, 11 and 18, the “Hasid” is considered less important than the “righteous.” Our text treats the deficient worship of God and speaks of the worship of the pious of former generations. This treatment of the pious differs sharply from the commentary of Rabbi Jonah Gerondi who uses the word “righteous” almost always as a generic name. Thus, in his commentary on the Ethics of the Fathers, when he discusses the quality of “Hasidut” (“piety”), his principal term is “righteous.” This terminological difference, Tishby asserts, is sufficient to negate J. M. Toledano’s thesis. Tishby adds that there are other reasons to dismiss Toledano’s argument.
In examining various manuscripts of the Sefer Hayashar, I studied one that is in the Oxford Library. Adolf Neubauer describes MS Oxford No. 2521.6 as follows: “Greek Rabbinical characters (No. 6 by another hand and in larger characters)”.17Isaiah Tishby, Mishnat Ha-Zohar (The Wisdom of the Zohar) texts from the Book of Splendor. (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1961), Vol. 2, p. 657, Note 12. Dr. Menahem Schmelzer, the librarian of The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, was kind enough to get me a photocopy of this manuscript. The manuscript bears the inscription: “Sefer Hayashar L’Haham ha-Yevani Rabbenu Zerahiah.” The photocopy of this manuscript was shown to experts in the manuscript department of the Jewish National and Hebrew University Library in Jerusalem. They described it as a 15th or 16th century manuscript in a Spanish hand and felt quite certain that it was not in a Greek hand as described by Neubauer.
As I have included in this edition two addenda on our work, I shall not go into any lengthy analysis of the work save for several observations on the background of the author. Aside from two references to Bahya Ibn Paquda, (where incidentally, he uses the Arabic pronounciation of “Baquda”), two citations from Judah Ha-Levi and a reference to Kalila v’Damna, a cycle of Indian fables, there are no direct leads which might help in the identification of the author. He used Aristotelian phraseology and was familiar with contemporaneous philosophical ethical writings. Some of these are traced in the notes to this edition.
There are some scholars who have suggested that our author was a Kabbalist who tried to hide his identity. “This practice”, Joseph Dan observed, “would be in line with that of other contemporary Kabbalists who, wanting to hide their mystical tendencies, couched their ideas in philosophical language.”18Adolf Neubauer, Catalogue of the Hebrew Manuscripts in the Bodleian Library (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1886-1906), Vol. 1, p. 906.
There is a Zohar passage, “When the Holy One loves a man, He sends him a gift, and what is it? A poor man, so that he may become meritorious through him.”19In an oral explanation given to me. This passage is related to the one in Sefer Hayashar,20Sefer Ha’Zohar with commentary by Reuben Margoliot (Jerusalem: Mosad Harav Kook, 4th ed., 1964), Vol. 1, p. 104a, f.n. 1, Vol. 2, p. 198a, f.n. 1. “As the wise man has said, ‘When the Holy One wishes to send a gift to His saintly ones, He prepares a poor man at his door.’ ” Tishby observed that “there is no doubt that the words of the wise man which are found in the Zohar are either from the Sefer Hayashar itself or its source.”20a
Another practice recorded in our text which may possibly link it with Kabbalistic customs was discussed by Gershom Scholem.21Chapter 13. Speaking of the custom of midnight lamentation, as well as the additional practice of singing hymns and songs at midnight, Scholem observes that “it was among the Kabbalists in Gerona, roughly in the year 1260 (if, as I presume, the text to which we owe our information originated in Spain in that year) that a rite combining these two themes first came into existence.” Scholem then cites22Tishby, op. cit., pp. 694-95. how “the Hasidim of the highest rank rise at midnight to sing hymns at every vigil; amid prayer and supplication they fling themselves to the ground, lie sobbing in the dust …”23Gershom G. Scholem, On the Kabbalah and its Symbolism (London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1965), p. 147.
Joseph Dan has pointed out that several ideas in Sefer Hayashar are related to the ethical concepts of the Ashkenazi Hasidic Movement. He finds a similarity between passages in the Sefer Ha-Hayyim, an anonymous Ashkenazi Hasidic treatise, and Sefer Hayashar.24Chapter 2, p. 54. (Incidentally, the citation in Scholem’s footnote, p. 147, Note 2, should read “Chapter 2”, rather than “Chapter 3.”)
It must be pointed out that there are variations in the arrangements of the chapters and even in the contents of both the manuscripts and the printed editions, as well as different identification of authorship. The Paris manuscript 719/10 is described in the following way:25Tishby, Mishnat Ha-Zohar, Vol. 2, p. 662, f.n. 12, disagrees with Scholem and claims that there is an earlier reference to the merging of the two practices of reciting lamentations and Psalms together at night. Tishby recalls the description of this practice in Shaare Shamayim written in 1246. “Our copy differs from the printed text even as far as divisions of the chapters. The manuscript presents an entirely different redaction frequently, as well as passages which are not found in the printed text.” A British Museum manuscript, Add. 27,17426Joseph Dan, The Esoteric Theology of Ashkenazi Hasidism (Hebrew) (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1968) p. 211, Note 4. Discussing the views of Rabbi Eleazar of Worms (c.1165-c.1230), on the teleological purpose for the creation of the world, Dan points out that Eleazar of Worms believed that “indeed the world was created with the evil impulse and it reigns therein, nonetheless the teleological (final) cause for the creation of man is the righteousness of God for this righteousness would have been deficient had He not brought righteous men into being (literally if He had not caused these righteous men to be drawn from a state of potentiality to that of actuality).” Dan adds “a similar concept is found in Sefer Ha-Hayyim, an anonymous Ashkenazi Hasidic treatise, and also in Sefer Hayashar, Chapter 1.” written in 1707, includes an additional chapter after what is the 18th and concluding chapter in this edition.
Some day, with God’s help, I hope to prepare a critical edition of this work. Such a study might indeed prove to be helpful, both in identifying the authorship of this work and in clarifying further its ethical and philosophical teachings.
In preparing this translation, I used the earlier German translation of Isaac Kauffmann. The Hebrew text which he included differs considerably from our printed text.
As I noted earlier, I have included two addenda of significant discussions of our work by earlier authors.
I am grateful to Professor Georges Vajda for his permission to include chapter 8 “The Love and the Fear of God in the Sefer Hayashar” from his L’Amour de Dieu dans la Theologie Juive du Moyen Age (1957). This selection as well as the article by Jacob Guttmann (Monatschrift, Volume 63) were translated by William Wolf.
Over the years, I have had the opportunity of discussing this project with a number of precious friends. They gave freely of themselves. I include among them: Ben Aronin, Professor Max Arzt, Professor Joseph Dan, Professor Seymour Feldman, Professor David Graubart, Professor Seymour Siegel and Rabbi David Wolf Silverman. Dr. J. Rosenwasser of the British Museum and Dr. Menahem Schmelzer of the Library of The Jewish Theological Seminary of America were most helpful in making available the vast resources of their libraries.
I express my appreciation to Mrs. Marian Schultz and Mrs. Judith Schwartz Sherwin who have typed this manuscript through several drafts and to Isaiah Berger and Elliot Lefkovitz who read the page proofs. These fine people to whom I will ever be thankful are, of course, innocent of any errors or shortcomings in the final text.
I express my thanks to Rabbi Yaakov Weinfeld who made it possible for me to use the vocalized Hebrew text of this work.
This bi-lingual edition was made possible largely through a most generous gift to The Anshe Emet Synagogue Publication Fund by the family of the late Samuel Joseph Feinberg. We express our gratitude to his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Reuben Feinberg, his uncle and aunt, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Crain and his uncles, Barney Goldberg and Louis Goldberg.
I record my most profound gratitude to all who sustained The Anshe Emet Publication Fund over the years. The rabbis of our Synagogue and many authors were aided in their literary activities by this Fund. I am delighted that the publication of this work is the first fruit of the Anshe Emet Centennial year. How worthy of our Congregation, which has always delighted in promoting the study of Torah in the fullest sense of the word!
May the Almighty sustain all who study this classic.
SEYMOUR J. COHEN