It is a fact of history that students have frequently been at the center of radical movements, often under the influence of a teacher or mentor. This was the case of Rabbi Yonah of Geronah, who, following the lead of his teacher Rabbi Solomon of Montpellier, passionately called for a ban on the philosophical work of Maimonides, The Guide to the Perplexed. In fact, Rabbi Yonah is generally regarded as the instigator of the 1233 Inquisitional book burning of Maimonides’ work.
Just under a decade later, Rabbi Yonah was himself witness to a far more threatening book burning of 24 wagon loads of the Talmud. He was deeply troubled by the fear that his own actions nine years earlier may have paved the path that led to this second book burning. According to tradition, he declared his error in condemning Maimonides’ work and vowed to visit Maimonides’ grave in Tiberias to beg for forgiveness from the legendary sage.
In the 13th century, a journey to the holy land often took years. The first leg of his journey took Rabbi Yonah from Montpellier, France, to Barcelona, Spain, where he remained for three years before continuing on his way. He never made it to the Holy Land. When his travels took him to Toledo, the local community convinced him to assume a position as a Talmud instructor. It was meant to be a temporary situation, but on 8 MarCheshvan* 1263, he died suddenly from a rare disease.
Rabbi Yonah was a renowned scholar, and his death was mourned by all of Spanish Jewry. Rabbi Yonah is best known for his moral/ethical works: Iggeret Ha’teshuva, Sha’arey Teshuva, and Sefer Ha’yirah (Letter of Repentance, Gates of Repentance and Book of Awe).
One interesting additional fact about Rabbi Yonah is that his daughter married the son of his first cousin, Nachmanides, Rabbi Moses ben Nachmon.
*Some sources list 27 MarCheshvan as the yahrtzeit of Rabbi Yonah.
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