Time is a concept that many of us grasp easily enough, but sometimes, the scope of the centuries can escape us. One can forget that the present is built upon the events and struggles of a thousand lifetimes. That’s why we cherish the opportunity to go on Jewish trips, as it allows us to sift through the strata of history and rediscover the works and contributions of our ancestors. For example, there was once a period of great learning, a time of myriad seekers of answers, with different lives and works. This was the time of the Rishonim.
The Time of the First Ones
The Rishonim is a collective term for the Jewish scholars who lived in the 11th to the 15th centuries. They were part of the fourth “period” of Jewish scholars, preceding the Geonic period (Babylonian Talmudic times) and succeeded by the Acharonim (roughly the 16th century to the 19th-20th). The time of the Rishonim was characterized by many things — namely its categorization of Talmudic thought, citation of other scholarly works, and other factors that made the Rishonim scholars the biggest influences of modern Talmudic and Biblical study. This renown was why they were called “The First Ones.” Dr. Henry Abramson described the various Rishonim of this period as commentators, counters, and codifiers, providing different kinds of categorization of the knowledge of the past. From Rashi to Maimonides, from the Shulchan Aruch to the Sefer ha-Chinuch, this period had a myriad of different scholars with various contributions to divine studies and practical thought.
Throughout the Ages
Our Jewish cruises through Europe may visit the physical destinations of Jewish heritage, but our journeys always take time to delve into the rich history of the places that we visit. Many of the Rishonim lived in Iberia, the site of several of our river expeditions, and we are glad that our travels allow us to learn more about their lives, along with the works that they left behind. These works, despite being made in the past, allow us to solve practical and spiritual problems in the present.