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BEZALEL B. MOSES HA-KOHEN:

Talmudist; born at Wilna, Russia, Jan. 14, 1820, where he died April 13, 1878. He was a competent Talmudist at the age of eighteen, and felt himself qualified to criticize the "Mishkenot Ya'akob" of Jacob b. Aaron of Karlin, one of the chief Talmudists of the time, in a letter addressed to him. In 1840 Bezalel became ecclesiastical assistant in Wilna, and held the position until his death. Although the title was a subordinate one, Bezalel was in reality—at least from 1860 to 1878—the spiritual head of the large community at Wilna. Moreover, he not only cared for this community, but answered religious questions directed to him from far and near. Consequently many of Bezalel's answers to the questions, which were theoretical as well as practical in their bearing, are to be found in the responsa literature of the time. Equally numerous were Bezalel's contributions to the works of others, especially those printed in Wilna. His independent work, longer than the others, is "Reshit Bikkurim" (Firstlings), Wilna, 1869, responsa and treatises on Talmudic topics. The Romm edition of the Talmud contains marginal glosses on many of Bezalel's treatises.

Bezalel differed from his more narrow-minded colleagues in showing an inclination for secular sciences. He had, also, a fine historical and critical feeling for rabbinical literature, and some of his historical and critical notes possess considerable value. His wide reading in modern Talmudic literature is remarkable, even if conditions in Russia be taken into account, religious study there being limited almost entirely to the Talmud. Bezalel's extraordinary modesty and active goodness are still frequently praised.

Bibliography:
  • Fuenn, Keneset Yisrael, p. 190.
L. G.
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