Rabbeinu Yona (c.1180-1263)
Yahrzeit: Shabbos Kodesh, 8 MarCheshvan 5023/ 20th October 1263.
Rabbeinu Yona Hachasid was born in the town of Gerona, Spain in the late 12th century. His father, Reb Avraham of Gerona was also a distinguished scholar. This is evident form the tombstone of Rabbeinu Yona where it is inscribed “Rabbeinu Yona the son of the honourable sage Reb Avraham of Georna”. He was closely related to the Ramban. Firstly, they were first cousins, as the mother of the Ramban was a sister of Reb Avraham of Gerona. Additionally, Rabbeinu Yona’s daughter married Rabbeinu Shlomo the son of the Ramban. He had another cousin by the name of Reb Yona ben Reb Yosef who was a Talmid of Ramban and his opinions are quoted by the Ran and the Beis Yosef.
He emigrated from his native Spain to study Torah I France under the tutelage of the Baalei Hatosfot; specifically, the brothers Reb Moshe and Reb Shmuel sons of Reb Shneur of Evreux. He later studied under Rabbeinu Shlomo Min Hahar of Montpellier.
He later returned to Gerona, Spain. His own Talmidim include Reb Aharon Halevi (Re”ah), the Rashb”a (see entry #3) and Reb Shmuel ben Ely amongst others.
Still later he relocated to Toledo where he succeeded Rabbeinu Meir Halevi (Remah). It is not clear if this was as Rabbi or Rosh Yeshiva. What is clear is that he did open a Yeshiva there. It is reported that he also lived for a period in Barcelona and opened a Yeshiva there.
Rabbeinu Yona lived in the times where there was great controversy over some of the writings of the great Rambam. Rabbeinu Yona’s Rebbi, Rabbeinu Shlomo min Hahar, was of the Rabbis who opposed Rambam and this was also the original view of his student Rabbeinu Yona.
However, this changed after the Talmud was burned in central Paris in1242(1244). 9 years prior, the works of the Rambam were burned in the very same square2 in Paris after they had been slandered by one of those opposing Rambam. Rabbeinu Yona saw this as a sign of Heavenly displeasure over the criticism of Rambam and any slight to his honour that had been caused by the controversy.
Rabbeinu Yona publicly asked forgiveness of Rambam in Paris, Montpellier and in Barcelona and pledged to personally go and ask forgiveness at his grave in the Holy Land. From this moment on, he would always quote Rambam’s opinions when giving a Torah lecture and would conclude that the Rambam’s opinion was the correct one.
He left behind a rich legacy of Torah literature. His most famous work is arguably Shaarei Teshuva – The gates of Repentance. He also wrote Chiddushim on the Talmud and there is a commentary to the Rif’s Sefer HaHalachos attributed to his disciples based upon his teaching. Of the latter, only the commentary to Tractate Berachot has been published. Ascribed to him are also commentaries to Mishle, Masechet Avot and a treatise on the laws of Yom Kippur and Chanuka.
There is another work; Shaarei Tzedek, an ethical work, containing chapters on all desirable character traits and attributes as well as chapter son Torah study and fear of Heaven. It is thought that Shaarei Teshuva was originally a part of this work1. Finally, a work titled Megillas Sesarim is attributed to him by Ran and Rashba though is no longer extant.
He passed away whilst temporarily settled in Toledo en-route to Eretz Yisrael.
It is said that the daughter of Rabbeinu Yona gave birth to a son after his death. Her father in law, the great Ramban insisted that the baby be named after his illustrious grandfather, Yona, and so they did.
Reb Avraham Meir Weiss. (2012). Shemos Chachamim. Bene Brak.
The Rishonim (2006). Mesorah Publications Ltd, Brooklyn.
Shem Hagedolim. Harav HaChida Zt”l.