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ASHKENAZI, JOSEPH B. ISAAC HA-LEVI:

Talmudist and rabbi; born in Germany about 1550; died at Frankfort-on-the-Main 1628. His first teacher was the Frankfort rabbi Eliezer Treves, after whose death (about 1567) he completed his Talmudic studies under Ḥayyim b. Bezalel, Jacob b. Ḥayyim of Worms, Joshua Moses b. Solomon Luria, and David Blum of Sulzberg.

From Bonn, where Ashkenazi held his first position as rabbi, he went to Metz (about 1595). Here the prohibition against the residence of Jews, which had been in force for two hundred years, had been removed, and a community of 120 persons had recently been formed. The subsequent growth of this community was in no slight degree due to the activity and devotion of Ashkenazi, its first rabbi. By 1618 it had increased threefold; and in that year, through the efforts of Ashkenazi, a synagogue was erected. He also bent his energies toward obtaining a Jewish cemetery, in connection with which he founded a "Ḧebra ḳaddisha" which was also a studycircle.

His Dispute with Meïr b. Gedaliah.

Ashkenazi is specially known through his dispute with one of the first rabbinical authorities of the time, Meïr b. Gedaliah of Lublin. Ashkenazi was a type of the rigorism characteristic of the German rabbis. On a certain occasion Ashkenazi gave the decision that geese whose entrails had not been examined after slaughter must be accounted "trefah" (forbidden), because such an examination, though unknown to the Talmud, was customary in Germany and Poland. This decision was disputed by the rabbi of Worms, Moses b. Gad Reuben, and was finally submitted to Meïr of Lublin. The Polish rabbis, holding themselves the superiors of their German colleagues, considered Ashkenazi's opinion extreme; and Meïr of Lublin insisted that he should avow his error openly. Though Ashkenazi was by nature mild and yielding, he could not prevail upon himself to act contrary to the custom of his teachers. The dispute now became general; and the scholars of Posen, Cracow, Brest-Litovsk—in short, all the Talmudists of Poland, Lithuania, and Russia—were drawn into the conflict.

Ashkenazi's Rare Magnanimity.

Since Ashkenazi abided by his opinion, in spite of the decision of so many prominent rabbis, and thus unintentionally created the wide-spread impression that the latter had yielded, Meïr sent a very abusive letter concerning Ashkenazi to the community at Worms. He denounced Ashkenazi as impertinent, presumptuous, and ignorant, and requested the Jews of Worms to remove him from his position, adding that he himself could have had him removed through the Council of Four Lands were it not beneath him to have dealings with such a man. Ashkenazi's answer (only recently published) shows his true magnanimity. He does not indulge in one word of personal reproach against the man who had so grievously insulted him, but contents himself with merely defending his own standpoint.

The dispute lasted from about 1610 to 1618, and ended with Meïr's death. A source of satisfaction to Ashkenazi was the decision of Isaiah Horowitz, author of the "Shelah" and a pupil of Meïr, who declared himself against his own teacher, and ordered the omission from the collection of Meïr's responsa of the passages insulting Ashkenazi. The Venice edition (1618), in which these passages areobliterated, affords a rare instance of Jewish censorship.

Is Banished.

Ashkenazi also had a dispute with his congregation, which ended seriously for him. He was as severe and uncompromising in his decisions of civil affairs as he was rigorous in the decision of ritual questions; and, since the community of Metz consisted of a few large families, he demanded that, to avoid partiality, outside judges should be called in in civil suits. The community resisted; and the breach finally brought about his dismissal (1627), Moses ha-Kohen of Prague becoming his successor. Ashkenazi considered the procedure against him illegal; and in a letter dated Dec. 14, 1627, and addressed to the governor of Metz, Prince de la Vallette, he asked the latter to sanction his plan regarding the judges. The prince did not act with impartiality, but referred the matter to the dayyanim Alexander Levi and Mordecai (Maharam) Zey, whose hostile attitude toward Ashkenazi was known. They decided that if Ashkenazi and his followers continued in their opposition, they should be banished from the city. On Jan. 24, 1628, the governor carried this decision into effect, and Ashkenazi went to Frankfort-on-the-Main, where he died the same year.

Bibliography:
  • Cahen, in Rev. Et. Juives, vii. 108-116, 204-216;
  • Carmoly, in Jost's Annalen, 1840, p. 62;
  • Kaufmann, in Rev. Et. Juives, xxii. 93-103.
D. L. G.
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