Ramban’s Commentary on the Torah
533 years old!
“Commentary on the Torah by Rabbeinu Moshe ben Nachman of Gerona, zt”l”
The Rambans commentary includes explanations based on pshat and kabbalah, and after Rashi, it is the most fundamental and comprehensive commentary on the Torah.
The first leaf opens with the Ramban’s preface which is encased in an ornate lattice border adorned with leaves and flowers, and depictions of angels and a lion.
A long colophon states: “My heart goes out to the printers of Israel…the workers of the press spread Torah and wisdom among Yisrael, for the land is filled with knowledge. Those who speak disrespectfully against this trade shall bear their sin… And all the sefarim that we printed are worthy of praise and glory. Yet this holy sefer surpasses them all in its beauty and great meticulousness, for sefarim that were copied from them in print by scholars of Messina and also by the scholars of Spain are precise… And the labor was completed…on Friday, the thirteenth day of the month of Tammuz, year 250 Ne”R [l’ragli dvarecha] (1490).
The famous Jewish printer Joseph Gunzenhauser of the city of Gunzenhausen, Bavaria (Germany) was one of the pioneers of the Jewish Italian press. He founded his printing press in 1487 and operated it for three years until his passing in 1490. The press continued functioning under the ownership of his son Azriel for another two years..Throughout its existence, their press in Naples produced only fifteen books.
The Ramban’s Letter To His Son From Jerusalem
The famous Iggeres HaRamban was printed at the end of the sefer.
In 1267, the Ramban fulfilled his lifelong dream of journeying to Eretz Yisrael and settling in Yerushalayim.
In a letter to his son Rabbi Nachman, he laments the desolate state of the devastated city, describing how Jews from Damascus and Aleppo still pilgrimage to the site in order to “see the Beis Hamikdash and weep upon it.”
Further in the letter, the Ramban writes that he purchased a house “with marble pillars and an attractive dome” to use as a shul. This edifice is extant until this very day, just south of the Churvah Shul in the Old City of Jerusalem, and the marble pillars and dome that the Ramban described are still visible.
The final leaves of the sefer contain the Ramban’s famous tefillah upon the ruins of Yerushalayim, beginning with the words “Omdos hayu ragleinu b’shaarei Yerushalayim.” In this prayer, he mourns the destruction of Yerushalayim and the Holy Temple and expresses his hope that Am Yisrael will soon merit seeing their Holy City rebuilt.
Ramban Al HaTorah
The Ramban’s commentary is one of the fundamental commentaries on the Torah. Rabbi Yosef Zundel of Salant, quoting his rebbi Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin, expressed: “One who learns Rashi in the Chumash without Ramban is as one who learns Gemara with Rashi without Tosfos.”
The Chasam Sofer writes that the Ramban’s commentary is “The foundation of belief and root of faith” (Shu”t Chasam Sofer Vol. 6 Ch. 61). In his will, he instructed his children to learn the Ramban’s commentary together with their own children.
The Ramban wove the foundations and principles of faith along with the wisdom of kabbalah into his commentary and imbued within it many profound secrets (Rabbi Chaim Vital’s preface to Eitz Chaim, citing the Arizal).
Naples, 1490. Joseph son of Jacob Ashkenazy Gunzenhauser Press.  leaves. Includes blank page at end of Sefer Bereishis [leaf 66]. Page size: 27 cm. Printed in a single column with three types of letters in Spanish-Italian type. The commentary appears in Rashi script, while titles and opening words are in block letters. Opening words are decorative, and page titles present the names of the respective parshah.
Owners’ signatures of the Foa family of Italy. Good condition; leaves 2-4 have a small tear on corner of right margin. Last pages with miniscule holes. Rare to find an incunable in such good condition. New leather binding with ornate spine.
The “Messina” mentioned in the colophon refers to a large port city on the island of Sicily at the edge of the Italian Boot, in close proximity to the famous city of Reggio Calabria which was home to an ancient Jewish community dating back to the times of the Ramban. Two years prior to the printing of this sefer, the famous Mishnaic commentator Rabbi Ovadia of Bartenura visited Messina and related that it encompassed 400 Jewish families. During that era, Messina was under Spanish rule, and with the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492, the Jews of Messina were banished as well.
Yakirson. Catalog of Hebrew Incunabula. Vol. 1 pp. 249-254 A K.
Offenberg, Hebrew Incunabula in Public Collections, Nieuwkoop 1990, no. 98.
Stefansky, Sifrei Yesod Incunabula #32.
Incunabula (plural of incunable) are books, pamphlets, or broadsides printed in Europe prior to the 16th century. The word derives from the Latin term ‘cradle’ or ‘swaddling cloth, ’ connoting the infancy of the printed word. While the incunable period actually stretches across a half-century, from 1455-1500, the first Hebrew presses opened only two decades later, and thus the period of Hebrew incunabula is limited to a mere thirty years, from 1469-1500.
The estimated number of Hebrew works printed during the incunable period is approximately two hundred. Incunabula are desirable collectibles, highly sought-after by antique Judaica collectors. The greatest libraries in the world vie for the number of incunabula in their treasured collections.
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