The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

The Medieval Hebrew Bible between Ashkenaz and Sefarad: Jacob ben Asher‘s Masoretic Torah Commentary

Maria Seidel

When Asher ben Jehiel fled from the Regnum Teutonicum at the beginning of the 14th century, he was accompanied by several members of his family. Amongst the emigrants was his son Jacob (ca. 1270–1343), better known as the Baal ha-Turim. That the family brought with them their own cultural values and traditions can be seen from many historical sources, but it’s also mirrored in the Baal ha-Turim’s Torah commentary which partly deals with Masoretic notes and palaeographic peculiarities of the Biblical text. This commentary has not received a lot of scholarly attention and older works are divided on the question of whether Jacob wrote it in his native country or after his move to the Iberian Peninsula.

The goal of my paper, which is based on the earliest medieval manuscripts of the work, is to show which different sources Jacob used and which Masoretic and scribal traditions he was referencing while writing his commentary. I will present some selected interpretations of his and compare these readings both to the works of his Ashkenazic predecessors, who started the genre of the Masoretic commentary, as well as to Biblical codices and Sifre Tora of Jacob’s time. It will be shown that he heavily borrowed from Ashkenazic predecessors and that some of his commentaries discuss specific Ashkenazic scribal traditions that have no parallel in Sephardic codices. However, I will also demonstrate that the work includes interpretations on Masoretic numerical notes that seem to belong to a very specific Masoretic tradition which is only found in a few manuscripts that are of Sephardic origin. It is therefore very likely that the commentary was written on the Iberian Peninsula, while still referencing many Ashkenazic traditions.