||Popular ethical work by R. Jonah ben Abraham Gerondi. Sefer ha-Yirah addresses such subjects as penitence, morals, and correct conduct. It also has considerable halakhic content. The title page has an attractive frame and the text is set in a single column in Rabbinic letters. This edition is printed with the Iggeret ha-Teshuva of the Ramban.
R. Jonah ben Abraham Gerondi (c. 1200–1263) Spanish rabbi, author, and moralist. In his youth Gerondi studied in the French yeshivot under R. Moses ben Shneur and his brother R. Samuel of Evreux, and later under R. Solomon b. Abraham of Montpellier. When in 1232 the latter began his campaign against Maimonides' philosophical works, Jonah followed his teacher and became one of his most devoted assistants in the conflict, which ended, according to tradition, in the burning of these books by the Inquisition. A few years later, in the same square in which Maimonides’ books had been burnt, tractates of the Talmud were burnt and Jonah saw this as divine retribution. Tradition has it that he repented, proclaiming in the synagogues: “I undertake to prostrate myself at Maimonides' grave and to confess that I spoke and sinned against his books” (letter of Hillel of Verona). Modern research has come, however, to cast doubt upon the whole story. R. Gerondi was in contact with R. Isaac the Blind, son of R. Abraham ben David of PosquiIres, concerning Kabbalah. Nahmanides was his cousin and in-law. Jonah returned from France to his birthplace, Gerona, and began to preach publicly his torat ha-musar (doctrine of ethics and morality) - a subject which was near to his heart all his life. Later he left Gerona and settled in Barcelona, where pupils from Spain and elsewhere flocked to him. These included some of the outstanding rabbis of the next generation, such as Solomon b. Abraham Adret and Hillel b. Samuel of Verona. Years later, he left for Erez Israel, but on passing through Toledo, the Spanish community approached him and importuned him to stay in the city for a year or two. He consented to remain and established a large yeshivah there, and there he died.
R. Jonah was famous not only as a scholar, but as "father of the virtues" of piety, humility, and ascetism. He acquired enduring fame through his ethical books. In these books he protested forcefully against the many Spanish Jews who disregarded the mitzvot and against widespread sexual immorality. He proclaimed a "ban on concubines" and reacted sharply to the failure of society to keep the mitzvot governing the relations of man and his neighbor. Among the "ten gravest sins of the generation" which he specified, were: "disregarding the poor, slander, senseless hatred, confusion of the heart, and causing others to fear." Jonah condemned the actions of despots and tyrants, warning the large estate owners among the Jews of Spain against using force to evict small landowners from their plots. Not content with warnings, Jonah called for action and suggested that instead of strong community leaders who strike fear into the hearts of the public, "in every town volunteers should be ready to take action whenever a Jewish man or woman is in trouble" (ibid.). According to Jonah, communal activities should be incumbent on every Jew and not confined to communal leaders (ibid.). Even prayer in time of public or private sorrow and even the formulation of prayers are not matters for the pious or sages alone; it is the duty of every man to pray "every day, in accordance with his ability, on behalf of all the sick among the Holy People... and for the release of all prisoners...."
R. Jonah was doubtless familiar with the teachings of the Hasidei Ashkenaz, but his ethical doctrine differed fundamentally from theirs. It was not based upon mystical speculation but on the halakhah and the popular aggadah. His ethical works were widely read. His repeated emphasis on the practice of social justice and social ethics undoubtedly contributed to their popularity throughout the Jewish world and to the influence they exercised upon the socio-religious thinking of later generations.
A prolific writer, R. Jonah’s works include a commentary on Proverbs (1910); a commentary on Avot (Berlin-Altona, 1848); novellae to tractate Bava Batra: “Aliyyot de-Rabbenu Yonah” up to page 77b (1966), and to Sanhedrin (in: Sam Hayyim, Leghorn, 1803); commentary on Alfasi to Berakhot, and printed with it, the commentary was compiled by his pupils; laws of examining knife and lungs (at the end of the Teshuvot ha-Ge'onim, 1871); Iggeret Teshuvah (Constantinople, 1548); and Sha'arei Teshuvah (Fano, 1505; Constantinople, 1511).