ASHKENAZI, BAERMANN or BAER (Hebrew name, Issachar ben Naphtali ha-Kohen):
Polish commentator on Bible and Midrash; lived in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Though the foremost of all Midrash commentators, the only fact known about him is that he lived in Szczebrzescin. It is also certain that he died in this place (after 1608), and not, as is maintained by all scholars from Conforte to Zunz, in Hebron.
Ashkenazi is the author of the following works: (1) "Mar'eh Kohen" (Appearance of the Priest), Cracow, 1589; Amsterdam, 1673. This work is divided into two parts: the first on seventeen topics of Jewish theology, chiefly of a moral and exegetic character; and the second is an index to all Scripture passages outside the Pentateuch that are mentioned in the Zohar. (2) "Mattanot Kehunnah" (Priests' Gifts), Cracow, 1586; revised edition, Cracow, 1608; and in most editions of the Midrash Rabbah. This is a commentary on the Midrash Rabbah. Ashkenazi's epitaph refers to a lengthy commentary of his on the Bible, not elsewhere mentioned, and very probably lost.
Ashkenazi's great merit lies in the fact that he was the first and almost the sole commentator of the Midrash Rabbah (on the Pentateuch and the five Megillot) who combined extensive knowledge of the subject with sound critical judgment. He considered it of primary importance to render the Midrash text as correct as possible. The material upon which he applied his critical acumen consisted not alone of the texts that had been printed up to that time, but also of a number of manuscripts. Thus, he had three different manuscripts of the Jerusalem Talmud, one of which was provided with vowels. Ashkenazi also cites Midrashim on Isaiah, Job, and the minor prophets, of which nothing further is known, but which probably came from the Yalḳuṭ Makiri. Moreover, he availed himself of a text of the 'Aruk essentially differing from the usual one.
Next to the correctness of the text, Ashkenazi devoted his attention to the "peshaṭ," or simple explanations of the subject and the meaning of the words, without indulging in the prolix discussions then customary. As regards subject-matter, Ashkenazi's explanations were usually correct; but they were less happy in linguistic questions. He often went astray, especially when he tried to elucidate obscure passages in the Midrash by means of Arabic. In this he was frequently misled by some one who was believed to know Arabic.
Ashkenazi seems also to have occupied himself with medicine and physics; and possibly he possessed the book "Asaf," so that many of his statements from the (Medical Books) may have come from this source.
Ashkenazi was a brother of Isaac Cohen of Ostrog, author of "Ḳiẓẓur MizraḦi" and great-grandfather of Abraham b. Eliezer ha-Kohen.
- Brüll, in Oẓar ha-Sifrut, i. 18-20;
- Buber, ib. 87-90;
- Reifmann, ib. 2-18.