Rabbeinu Zerachya Halevi, or better known by the name of his famous work the “Baal Hamaor” was born in the year 4885 (1125) in the city of Gerona in the Catalonian Kingdom of Spain. His father was Rabbeinu Yitzchak Halevi and his family were descended of the great Shmuel Hanavi and through to Yitzhar the son of Levi (of the 12 Shevatim). Probably through his maternal lineage, he was also descended from the family of King David. He was a student of the great Reb Moshe Hadarshan and Reb Moshe be Yosef
At a young age, his family emigrated North to Provence in Southern France. They first settled in Narbonne before resettling in Lunel. He was a child prodigy and at the young age of 19 authored his famous Sefer Hamaor; a critique of the Sefer HaHalachos authored by the great sage the Rif. His work on Seder Nashim and Nezikin was termed Hamaor Hagadol and the work dealing with Zeraim and Moed was called Hamaor Hakatan. In the introduction to this work he apologises for critiquing a work by a luminary as great as the Rif yet defends his position by citing other scholars who had acted similarly. He also authored Piyyutim found in some North African Machzorim. He also wrote other works such as Sela Hamachlokes and Sefer Hatzavah. He was sharply criticized for his works on the Rif’s Sefer HaHalachos, with great luminaries such as the Raavad III and the Ramban writing commentaries to counter his arguments.
He was very humble and taught and spread Torah and proper conduct in his community for many years. It is said that his Neshama was from the same Shoresh (Root, Source) as Hevel, Bava ben Buta and the Amora Rav Sheshes. The Maharik wrote about him that he was of the ''mighty ones of the earth'' and the Meiri coins him ''the greatest of the early ones''. He returned his holy soul to His Maker in the year 4946 (1186).
Source: Artscroll: The Early Rishonim, 2006 and the Sefer שמות חכמים by Rabbi Avraham Meir Weiss, 5769 (2009), קונטרס מבוא השערים by Reb Mordechai Tzvi Foigel (1983), שם הגדולים להחיד"א.