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It is widely believed that Rabbeinu Yonah played a part in having the Rambam's works burned around 1232, and that after the 1242 burning of twenty-four wagonloads of Gemaras he felt that it was a Divine punishment for the first burning. He wrote Shaarei Teshuva to express his remorse.

However, according to Wikipedia, "Some believe this was only a myth created by the followers of the Rambam." What are the sources for and against this and the original claim?

  • There is a similar and somewhat more detailed claim about this in an English translation of Rav Yonah's commentary on Pirkei Avot. I don't have this book before me now. Unless someone else answers before me, I will see if I can scan an image of this in the next day or so. – DanF Dec 30 '15 at 13:48
  • I would dispute the claim quoted in Wikipedia that this was created by Rambam's followers. It may be a myth, nonetheless, but if created by Ramba"m followers, that seems suspect. If you view R. Yonah's commentary on Pirkei Avot, you would see how often he mentions and quotes Ramba"m. This alone, lends some support that he probably was remorseful. As for whether Sha'arei Teshuva was a direct expression of his remorse - needs a bit of research. But, IMO, it seems to correlate. – DanF Dec 30 '15 at 13:59
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This is a citiaion from "The Chosen Path" - a history of Medieval Jewry by Binyamin Sendler: R’ Yonah b. Avraham certainly saw it in this light. Following is an extract from the letter that his student R’ Hillel HaChasid (of Verona) wrote to R’ Yitzchok HaRofeh: Letter by R’ Hillel HaChasid

R’ Yonah of Barcelona (originally of Gerona) was the primary instigator of this controversy that brought about all the calamities that befell the Jews in France. At that time R’ Yonah’s heart melted within him, and he vowed to make a pilgrimage to the Rambam’s grave and remain there for seven days, begging forgiveness from the Rambam for slandering his works. He publicly confessed in these words: “I am embarrassed and I regret that I opened my mouth against our holy master R’ Moshe b. Maimon and his works. I say now for all to hear: Moshe is true and his Torah is true and we are all frauds . . .” All the places where the Rambam’s works were derided were then filled with awe and fear, and all who had contested him accepted the verdict of heaven. R’ Yonah set up his yeshiva in Barcelona and every time he taught he would cite the Rambam’s opinion and say, “Thus says R’ Moshe, and so it appears to me.” He never again argued with the Rambam’s conclusions. Nevertheless, he was punished for delaying the fulfillment of his vow for many years until he had almost forgotten it. He left Barcelona with the intention to take a boat to the Rambam’s grave in Eretz Yisroel, but he was detained in Toledo where the Jews begged him to stay for a year or two, so he opened his yeshiva there (and there he died). There is no authentic source that suggests that R’ Yonah wrote his Sha’arei Teshuva as a penance for the part he played in this controversy.

He adds in FOOTNOTE:

1 This is as reported by R’ Hillel HaChasid. He relates that “not only were the Rambam’s works burned, but the fire to burn them was taken from the flame burning before their altar in the great cathedral in Paris. . . Should you ask how it is known that the burning of the Talmud was divine retribution for the destruction of the Rambam’s works, I would answer you that there was less than forty days between the two burnings, and the Talmud was burnt in the same place as the Moreh was. The ashes of the Moreh were mixed with the ashes of the Talmud.” These details, however, are suspect; the two events did not occur in the same year, and it seems unlikely that the works confiscated in Provence were carted hundreds of miles to Paris to be burned. It is possible that R’ Hillel’s information was defective.

  • It is also suspect because of the characterization of R. Yonah as the primary instigator; more likely is that he was carrying out the will of his teacher, R. Shlomo Montpellier – הנער הזה Jan 5 '16 at 23:20
  • The story as recorded by R. Hillel is rejected by many historians, foremost among them Isaac Baer, see his תולדות היהודים בספרד הנוצרית pg 485, though Ta-Shema in his article on R. Yonah in the festschrift for Haim Beinhart defends it – הנער הזה Jan 5 '16 at 23:29
  • @Matt If you could provide link, pdfs, or screenshots of either yitchak Baer, or Ta-Shema on the topic it would be greatly appreciated. Thank you. – mevaqesh Jan 6 '16 at 0:34
  • @mevaqesh I'd be happy to upload it... but is that allowed? The same article is available on Cotar, here also – הנער הזה Jan 6 '16 at 0:59
  • Can you reformat this to make it clear where R. Hillel's words end and Binyamin Sendler's words start? The way it is formatted now makes it seem as if R. Hillel is the one who said that there is no authentic source, and that is incorrect. – Alex Jul 13 '18 at 16:35
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It is true that Rabbeinu Yonah saw the mass burning of the Talmud in 1242 as evidence that his support for the burning of the Rambam's works in 1233 was a mistake. He made a public confession in the synagogue in Montpellier (in Languedoc, but still in what Jews tend to call Provence) to that effect. There he announced intent to travel to the Rambam's grave to ask for his forgiveness, prostrating on the grave in front of a minyan for 7 days. His journey made it at least to Barcelona, where he was detained, and ended far short of the original goal in Toledo, where Rabbeinu Yonah wrote his commentary on the gemara.

But "Shaarei Teshuvah" is just the sole surviving section of a book called "Shaarei Tzedeq". It wasn't written as a project specifically about teshuvah, therefore the idea that it was written as a penance is far less compelling. The tradition that Shaarei Teshuvah was written as atonement for his role in instigating the Rambam's works also places the burning of the Talmud's a mere 40 days later, making the connection much more obvious and harder to reject. But that date is provable from church records to be more myth than history.

There is no indication when Shaarei Teshuvah was written, as the earliest extant edition of is from 1505, 242 years after Rabbeinu Yonah's passing (1263). With only 21 of his 63 or 83 years being after the burning of the Rambam, and we know that he spent much of that time writing and teaching halachah, we don't even know if the book was written after the journey.

  • Does he mention anywhere where he thought the Rambam's grave was? Was he travelling to Tiberias? – Double AA Jan 5 '16 at 20:57
  • Good question. I don't know. His path from Montpollier is weirdly in the opposite direction from both Israel and from any Mediterranean port. Tiberias makes as much or as little sense as Fustat. – Micha Berger Jan 5 '16 at 21:07
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    This answer would be much improved with the inclusion of sources/evidence. – msh210 Jan 5 '16 at 22:15

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