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Gedaliah ibn Yahya ben Joseph (גדליה אבן יחייא בן יוסף), born in Imola, Italy, 1515 or 1526, was a Talmudist and Biblical chronologist. He studied in the Yeshiva at Ferrara under Jacob Finzi and Abraham and Israel Rovigo. Gedaliah is known for his Biblical Chronology ‘Shalshelet HaKabbalah’ (Chain of Tradition), on which he laboured for more than forty years, starting in 1549 and concluding close to his death in 1587. The book is an invaluable work allowing us access to ancestral account of almost 500 years ago.
The book contents are as follows:
- history and genealogy of the Jews until the time of Moses Norzi (1587),
- account of the heavenly bodies, creation, the soul, and magic,
- history of the peoples among which the Jews have dwelt, and a description of the unhappy fate of the author’s co-religionists up to his time.
Gedaliah died in 1587 either in Alexandria, Egypt, or in Alessandria, a town northwest of Genoa, Italy.
Translations of sections from pages 87 and 88
Page 87 (Hebrew pages are written in Hebrew letters. 87 is letters P and Z: פז)
Top of page: Rabbi Saadia HaGaon/Rabbi Hoshiel/Rabbeinu Chananel.
From second paragraph on the page:
In this generation, there were Rav Hushiel and his son Rabbeinu Hananel, Rabbi Moshe and his son Rabbeinu Hanoch, Rav Shmarya son of Rav Elchanan, and Rav Yoseph son of Rav Yizchak ibn Shtanas who elucidated all the Gmarot (Gemmorahs), in Arabic, for the King of Ishmael, whose name was Alchachas, and Rabbi Shmuel Bar Yeshyahu HaCohen from Fez, all of them were great sages who were scattered in the Spanish Exile. And in the days of Rabbi Sharira Gaon, who was mentioned above, in the year 4756 from Creation [around year 996 B.C.] there lived a sagacious, courageous, and wealthy man from the aristocracy of Judah, possibly a descendent of the dynasty of King David. The man was very much loved by the king of Portugal and the king granted him three places. They were named Unhos and Frielas Aldeias dos Negros. The Jew’s name was Rabbi Don Yahya ibn Yaish, and the king appointed him as master of his house and governor of all his property. Only the throne of King Atoriko was above him, and according to what I saw in Kroniki Antrick I [probably King Afonso Henriques, the first Portuguese King, or maybe his father], there was a King Gitty in Spain in the days of Costantino who held the faith of the Jews. Saint Salistro the Pope of Rome and Antriki was the son of his son from Antriko I. From that minister [Rabbi Don Yahya ibn Yaish] the descendants and their generations began to be called the Yahya family. In his days there was a book of genealogy from his virtuous family which was descended from Yishai [King David]. The book was later lost
due to the many decrees and wanderings and exiles that occurred in those regions. [Rabbi Don Yahya Ben Yaish] was extremely good to all the Jews and he died at a ripe old age in the year 4800 from Creation. He was mourned by the entire Jewish People because due to his death, many institutes of Talmudic study were closed down due to the decrees that were renewed by the kings of Ishmael, and the Dinner of the Year that was held in those regions for the two institutes of Talmudic study was stopped because the master took on for himself the position of raising all the funds, to collect them and to send them each year. Our God remembered him for good, and this minister Don Yahya left a son Don Yehuda who succeed him. Don Yehuda sat on his father’s chair, but the king lowered his position from that of his father’s and the king did not take kindly to him and granted him only a small salary. The minister Don Yehuda Ben Yahia left two sons. The older son was named Great Don Yosef ibn Yahya and he was the third generation of this family of ours, though he didn’t want to inherit the rulership because his heart was dedicated to learning of Torah, Talmudic study and he didn’t want to come into the king’s palace and he taught many students and wrote compositions, including an elucidation of the Gemara [Talmudic text], which due to our sins have disappeared from us with the passing of time and the severity of our exiles. He built from his own funds the Great Kneset [Assembly] in Lisbon. He had a son named Dan Shlomo who followed him and the name of the second son was Don Yahya and he sat on his father’s throne and was a great statesman and was loved by all the Jews and ministers, and he made his home in “Ezer HaTzur” [maybe a phrase meaning “solid, strong”] which was almost lost due to troubles caused by the Ishmaelites; and know, my son, that this minister Don Yahya I, who saw the king’s love for him, saw fit to have a likeness of the king’s head in his signature stamp (seal). The king was “Kushi” [i.e. a black man, negro]. To avoid a creating a complete image of the king, Yahya put a white veil on his eyes and tied it with a bow behind the nape of his neck. Inasmuch as his sons took on the last name ibn Yahya, after their father, they also continued to use the same Negro head image in their signature stamp and family shield (crest) and thus we do today, although it was transmitted to me that the design of our family’s shield in times preceding this minister was in the form of a lion in half the body and with his two hands perfectly open, and a Lulav (a palm tree frond) in his right hand, and the lower half of his body is like half an eagle from the side of its legs, and both legs are open and its tail is wide, as though they bloom in the middle, and I, in my youth, thought that our predecessors had an inheritance of this image to symbolise their family’s relation to the Tribe of Yehuda, which is likened to a lion. And the eagle as a symbol that the entire family is light like an eagle in its affinity and aptitude for Torah and good deeds, and so may it be the will of God blessed be he, that I shall be counted as one of them in all things that are holy, amen. Below the picture there is an identification of the leadership of the Talmudic academies followed by the name of the Rabbinate, and the chain of transmission of the Oral Law (Tora SheBeAlpe) is descended to them. And whereas I have not found in the RABaD’s [abbreviation for Rabbeinu Avraham Ben David; also known as Rabbi Abraham ibn Daud] book “Seder HaKabbala” (The Chronology of Transmission) nor in the works of any later writer a complete list of the sages who transmitted the Torah from generation to generation, I set out to fulfil my promise to you to write in a book the names of the sages of the generations going as far as I can, with God’s help:
ספר שלשלת הקבלה
תאור הדורות מן האדם הראשון עד גדולי זמנו של המחבר. כמו כן, דרשות על הגלגולים, יצירת האדם ומחלקות האומות ומלכיהם.
חיברו גדליה בן יוסף, אבן יחייא (1515-1587).
שניי ספרים: מהדורת שנת 1962 ושנת 1587 עם דיוקן דמיוני של המחבר (© גיל דקל).
נדפס לראשונה בשנת 1587, ויניציאה, דפוס גארה. מהדורה נוכחית הוצאה לאור על ידי גיל דקל, אוגוסט 2021.
Sefer Shalshelet HaKabbala
By Gedalya Ben Yosef Ibn Yahya (Gedaliah ibn Yahya ben Joseph), 1587.
© Gil Dekel. 19 August 2021. Last update 13 Sep 2021.