BERLIN, NOAH ḤAYYIM ẒEBI HIRSCH B. ABRAHAM MEïR:
By: Louis Ginzberg
German Talmudist and rabbi; born at Fürth 1737; died at Altona March 5, 1802. He was the son of a well-to-do and learned merchant at Fürth, who died Jan. 7, 1780, and whom Jacob Berlin regarded as a Talmudist of some merit. The boy, together with his brother Loeb Berlin, received his education from his father, and became dayyan in Fürth in 1765. He also was appointed rabbi of Marktbreit, Bavaria, and the surrounding villages; and in 1780 became rabbi at Mayence. When Raphael ha-Kohen, rabbi of the three communities of Altona, Hamburg, and Wandsbeck, resigned his position, Berlin received a call to be his successor (1799). Affairs in these communities were very unsettled at that time, and it required much skill and tact to reconcile the various elements struggling for leadership. Berlin satisfactorily solved the problem; and being far removed from the fanaticism of his predecessor, he even successfully avoided wounding the susceptibilities of the latter, who continued to reside privately in Altona (compare Berlin's letter to Ḥayyim of Volozhin in the responsa collection "Ḥuṭ ha-Meshullash," Wilna, 1880).
Berlin was the author of the following works: (1) "'Aẓe Arazim" (Cedar-Trees), Fürth, 1790, an ex haustive commentary on Joseph Caro's Shulḥan 'Aruk, Eben ha-'Ezer, which, however, covers only one-third of the work; (2) "'Aẓe Almuggim" (Almug-Trees), Sulzbach, 1779, a commentary on those precepts treated in the Shulḥan 'Aruk which are not of Biblical origin; namely, on the washing of the hands ("neṭilat yadayim"), Sabbath-limits ("'erubin"), and the marriages forbidden by the Soferim ("sheniyot la-'arayot"); (3) "Ma'yan ha-Ḥokmah" (Source of Wisdom) (Rödelheim, 1804, and reedited several times), the six hundred and thirteen injunctions and prohibitions in metric form, and exhaustive casuistic explanations on the individual precepts; (4) "Tiferet Ẓebi" (Glory of Ẓebi), the first part published at Warsaw, 1807, the second at Warsaw, 1818, the third at Josephov, 1867; (5) marginal glosses on the Talmud treatises Berakot, Shabbat (Fürth, 1829-32), and Shebu'ot (Wilna, 1895).
The chief characteristic of Berlin's work is that he pays more regard than any other German Talmudist to Yerushalmi; and he gives many happy explanations of it. Moreover, he possessed numerous works by Sephardic scholars which were unknown to the German and Polish Talmudists; and his teachings were strongly influenced by the Sephardim. Although Berlin, in accordance with the spirit of the times, was a great master of "pilpul," and could represent the pilpulistic method skilfully and intelligibly, he had clear reasoning powers. In his responsa, especially, he separated sophistry from true logic.
It is of interest to note that Berlin not only knew Azariah dei Rossi's works (he cites them unfavorably in '"Aẓe Almuggim," 193b), but had also read the New Testament, which was a very remarkable thing in the circles to which Berlin belonged. In a passage of "'Aẓe Almuggim" (191a) he speaks of Paul as "ḥakam eḥad meḥakmehem" (one of their [non-Jewish] sages), and he displays ingenuity in trying to identify him with a certain "Min," a neighbor of Gamaliel, spoken of by the Mishnah ('Er. vi. 1).
Many of Berlin's explanations of the piyyuṭim are found in Wolf Heidenheim's commentary on the Maḥzor.
- Fürst, Bibl. Judaica, p. 397;
- Nepi-Ghirondi, Toledot Gedole Yisrael, pp. 103, 104;
- Fuenn, Keneset Yisrael, p. 346;
- Eckstein, Nachträge zur Geschichte der Juden in Bamberg, 1899, p. 5;
- Arba' Kosot, a funeral sermon on Berlin, delivered by Abraham Isaac b. Joseph, Altona, 1802.
- Berlin's epitaph is to be found in Wittkower, Agudat Peraḥim, p. 293, Altona, 1880;
- Zunz (Monatstage, p. 12) should be corrected according to this.