R. David Kimhi (Radak), EJ 10:1001-1004.


KIMHI, DAVID (known as Radak from the acronym of Rabbi David Kimhi; Maistre Petit; 1160?–1235?), grammarian and exegete of Narbonne, Provence. The son of Joseph Kimhi and brother and pupil of Moses Kimhi, David was a teacher in his native town and was active in public causes. He is known to have participated in the judgment (between 1205 and 1218) of several contentious persons from Barcelona who dishonored the memory of Rashi. During the Maimonidean controversy of 1232, he undertook a journey to Toledo to gain the support of Judah Ibn Alfakhar for the Maimonideans. He was prevented from reaching his destination because of illness but his strong defense of Maimonides and the latter’s followers together with Ibn Alfakhar’s critique of Kimhi have been preserved in the correspondence between them (in Kovez Teshuvot ha-Rambam, Leipzig, 1859, pt. 3).


Kimhi’s first work was his philological treatise, the Mikhlol, written in two sections;the grammatical portion (Helek ha-Dikduk) which itself came to be known as the Mikhlol (Constantinople, 1532), and the lexicon (Helek ha-Inyan) known independently as the Sefer ha-Shorashim (before 1480). Kimhi’s purpose in composing the Mikhlol was to provide a middle ground between the lengthy and detailed treatises of Jonah Ibn Janah and Judah b. David Hayyuj and the extreme brevity and concision of Abraham Ibn Ezra and the elder Kimhis. His chief contribution in grammar lies in the arrangement of the material and the popularization of the innovations of his father and brother. These include the division of the vowels into five long and five short, the treatment of the nifal as the passive of the kal,the recognition of the dagesh lene, etc. Seeing himself only as a “gleaner after the reapers,” Kimhi nevertheless made some original contributions, including his distinguishing of the vav consecutive (vav ha-sherut) from the vav conjunctive and his concern for the continued development of the language through the recognition of the legitimacy of post-biblical forms. In point of fact, Kimhi was criticized for being highly unconventional as a grammarian by such figures as Joseph ibn Kaspi, Profiat Duran, David b. Solomon Ibn Yahya, and Abraham de Balmes. He found advocates, however, in the Magen David of Abraham b. Elisha b. Mattathias, the Mikhlol Yofiof Solomon ibn Melekh, and the writings of Elijah Levita, and it was due to the Mikhlol and the Shorashim that most of the works of his predecessors sank into oblivion.

In Jewish circles, the phrase “If there is no flour [ kemah, etymon of Kimhi], there is no Torah” (Avot 3-17) was applied to him, while his influence on the Christian Hebraists of the Renaissance was profound. Reuchlin’s Rudimenta Linguae Hebraicae and Lexicon Hebraicum (1506) and Santes Pagninus’ Institutiones (1520) and Thesaurus (1529) are basically reworkings of Kimhi, while Sebastian Muenster’s writings betray his influence heavily.


Much of the material in the Mikhlol was abridged in the Et Sofer (Lyck, 1864), a manual for copyists of the Bible, necessitated by widespread ignorance among scribes and the proliferation of biblical manuscript traditions in the 12th century. In it he treats in detail such problems as the keri and the ketiv and the accents. His interest in masorah was not limited to this treatise, for numerous observations in this area are recorded in the commentaries. Especially noteworthy is his theory that the keri and the ketiv developed out of a confusion of readings in the time of the men of the Great Synagogue who, according to him, established the text (“Introduction to Joshua”). His concern for the establishment of the correct text is attested to by his travels in pursuit of old manuscripts. Exegesis Kimhi began his exegetical activity with a commentary to the Book of Chronicles (in Rabbinic Bible, Venice, 1548) written in response to the request of a student of his father’s for an exegesis of that book in accordance with the plain sense or derekh ha-peshat in contrast to the homiletic commentaries which were then prevalent. This was followed by commentaries to Genesis (ed. by R.L. Kirchheim, 1842), all the prophetic books (Guadalajara, 1482), and Psalms (1477). In all of these, Kimhi endeavored to utilize the methodology of Ibn Ezra and the elder Kimhis, stressing scientific philological analysis and de-emphasizing homiletical digression. Unlike these predecessors, however, Kimhi relied heavily on rabbinic literature, distinguishing between perush or interpretation which conformed to his standards of peshat, and purely homiletical interpretations orderashot, many of which he included nonetheless for added interest. In his exegesis too, Kimhi strove for clarity and readibility in an attempt to depart from the compression and obscurity of his predecessors.

Philosophical Interests

Kimhi read widely in philosophic and scientific literature and was strongly influenced by the rationalism of Ibn Ezra and Maimonides. He frequently alluded to philosophical matters as an aid to exegesis on the one hand and in an attempt to popularize such studies on the other. He was no original philosopher and his theories are adaptations of those of his predecessors. Thus his theory of prophecy parallels that of Maimonides in the discussion of the prerequisites for and the levels of prophecy, although Kimhi goes farther in recognizing the possibility of the prophethood of a gentile. He follows Maimonides too on the problem of providence in saying that individual providence is subject to intellectual attainment, although he expresses the somewhat independent view that animals may be subject to individual providence in the event that their actions benefit or harm a human being. Kimhi generally attempted to explain miracles naturalistically or to underplay them. There is considerable discussion of the classification of the commandments with reliance principally on pre-Maimonidean terminology and conceptions, but there is little actual analysis of the “reasons for the commandments” (ta’amei ha-mitzvot) since he did not write on the legal portions of the Pentateuch. Using the material in Maimonides’Guide of the Perplexed as a model, Kimhi wrote two very detailed “esoteric” (nistar) commentaries to Genesis 2-7–5-1 (see bibliography) and to the first chapter of Ezekiel (in the Rabbinical Bible, Warsaw, 1902).

Kimhi’s dissemination of philosophic material in the commentaries, intended to whet the appetite of the general reader, came under severe censure from a number of authorities, including Judah ibn Alfakhar, Jacob Emden, and David b. Solomon ibn Abi Zimra, despite the fact that, with the exception of the two philosophical commentaries, his rationalistic material was cited with considerable discretion. Ironically, Kimhi’s commentaries were considered deficient in their rationalism byImmanuel b. Solomon of Rome who himself was given to allegorical interpretation.


The commentaries contain a considerable amount of polemical material, much of it based on the Sefer ha-Berit of Joseph Kimhi. He attacks a number of christological interpretations by demonstrating Christian “corruption” of the text (Isa. 2-22; Ps. 22-17; 110-1, etc.) or the inapplicability (Isa. 7-14; Ezra 44-2) or irrationality (Ps. 87, end; 110, end, etc.) of the interpretation. He inveighs frequently against the allegorical mode of the Christian interpreters (Ps. 19-10; 119 passim, etc.). Certain basic questions in the Jewish- Christian controversy, chief among which is the identity of the “true Israel,” were frequently raised. Kimhi wards off the attempt of Christian theologians to claim the name of Israel or other biblical names of the Jewish people for the Church and lays great stress on the superior morality and religiosity of the Jews. He defends the taking of interest from a gentile “for in general they hate Israel” but discourages exacting it from a righteous gentile (Ps. 22-23). Although very much aware of Israel’s tribulations in exile, Kimhi believed in a special providence for the Jewish people which paralleled the special providence of the sage, in that Israel is a nation of sages “who meditated on My deeds and confessed My unity” (Isa. 43-7). Never explaining how this providence is manifested, he limited himself to frequent references to the future redemption in the messianic age. The polemic material in the Psalms commentary was collected and printed separately as Teshuvot la-Nozerim in the Altdorf (1644) edition of Lipmann Muehlhausen’s Sefer ha- Nizzah on. The so-called ” Vikku’ah ha-RaDaK,” printed in the Milhemet Hovah (Constantinople, 1710), has been shown to be falsely attributed to Kimhi.

Spurious Writings

Several other works have been wrongly ascribed to Kimhi, including a commentary to Ethics of the Fathers (Turin Siddur, 1525); the commentaries on part of the Guide and the creed of Maimonides; the commentary on Pittum ha-Ketoret (Kovez Devarim Nehmadim, 1902); the Perush Shehitah (H.B. Levy, Mikdash Me’at, Ms. 152, 4); a commentary on Ruth (published by J. Mercier, Paris, 1563). There are several medieval testimonies to commentaries on the remaining four books of the Pentateuch and on Proverbs but these, like the Job commentary in I. Schwartz’s Tikvat Enosh (1868), may have been culled from his philological writings.

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