BERLIN, ISAIAH B. (JUDAH) LOEB (called also Isaiah Pick, after his father-in-law):

The most eminent critic among the German Talmudists of the eighteenth century; born in Eisenstadt, Hungary, about October, 1725; died, while rabbi of Breslau, May 13, 1799.

Berlin was the scion of a famous family of scholars which counted among its members Yom-Ṭob Lipman Heller and Meïr b. Jacob Schiff. The father of Berlin also was a high Talmudic authority, and by him the son was initiated into rabbinical studies, which he later continued in Halberstadt with R. Hirsch Bialeh (also called Hirsch Ḥarif), who exercised considerable influence on Berlin's later methods of teaching.

In 1750 Berlin occupied an honorable position in the community of Breslau; and it may therefore be assumed that he had settled there some time previously. About five years later he married Fromet (born 1736; died June 13, 1802), daughter of the rich and respected merchant, Wolf Loebel Pick. Until 1787 Berlin lived a comparatively private life, engaged in business with a Christian furrier; but in that year he became a member of the rabbinate, and on Nov. 17, 1793, was elected rabbi of Breslau, receiving eighteen votes out of a total of twenty-one. His election was preceded by a bitter contest between the few but rich liberals and the majority of the community. The former (as recorded in an official document) would have preferred to see Berlin appointed as a "rosh besen" ("rosh bet din," or head of the court), so that he would be unable to act so strictly as a rabbi in regard to ceremonials, and would have a smaller stipend from the Breslau community, while exercising less influence on the rural communities.

His Character.

Berlin, in his humility and unpretentiousness, looked upon the titles and rights withheld from him as of no account, though his salary was smaller than that of his predecessor, from the fact that he had to divide the income from city and country with the assistant rabbi and the rabbi of Sulz. Wolf Ginsberg, his pupil during many years, relates, as evidence of Berlin's ascetic mode of life, that the latter rested only during the nights of the Sabbath and on festivals, devoting all his other days and nights to study. His liberality is revealed in the fact that he wrote and printed one of his works, "She'elat Shalom" (Peaceful Greeting), for the sole purpose of offering help to the publisher, an indigent Talmudic scholar.

Berlin was greatly admired, even by persons who differed with him in religious views. Joel Brill, Aaron Wolfsohn, Judah Bensew, and many other Maskilim of Breslau often visited him to seek advice on scientific questions. As the Maskilim always carefully avoided wounding Berlin's religious feelings, he on his part met them half-way in many things. On the occasion of the Peace of Basel, for instance (May 17, 1795), he held a solemn service in the synagogue and exceptionally permitted the use of instrumental music, he himself delivering a discourse which was highly praised by the press ("Schlesische Zeitung," 1795, No. 59). Thus Berlin, by his learning and his character, conciliated the hostile elements of his congregation, and his death was mourned equally by all.

His Literary Activity.

In order fully to appreciate Berlin's literary activity it must be mentioned that he had the habit of annotating almost every book he read; mentioning the sources, or noting parallel passages and variant readings. Such glosses by Berlin have been published on the following books: the Bible (Pentateuch, Dyhernfurth, 1775; the other books, ib., 1807); the prayer-book, ed. Tiḳḳun Shelomoh (ib., 1806); Maimonides' Yad ha-Ḥazaḳah (ib., 1809); Alfasi (Presburg, 1836); the "Ḥinnuk," by Aaron ha-Levi of Barcelona (Vienna, 1827); Malachi b. Jacob's methodology, "Yad Malachi" (Berlin, 1825); Elijah b. Moses de Vidas' book of morals, "Reshit Ḥokmah" (Dyhernfurth, 1811). Although the terse yet clear notes contained in these volumes reveal the immense learning and critical insight of their author, yet Berlin's lasting place of honor among the pioneers of Talmudic criticism rests on the following works, which treat principally of the Talmud: (1) "'Omer ha-Shikḥah" (Forgotten Sheaf), Königsberg, 1860, containing a large number of Halakot on the Talmud not noted by the codifiers; (2) "Oẓar Balum" (Full Treasure), in the edition of Jacob ibn Ḥabib's "'En Ya'aḳob," published at Wilna in 1899, tracing all the Talmudic passages quoted without sources in the different commentaries on the haggadic elements of the Talmud; (3) "Haggahot ha-Shas" (Notes to the Talmud), textual corrections and notes on the origin of parallel passages (Dyhernfurth, 1800, and in nearly all the editions of the Talmud); (4) "Hafla'ah Sheba-'Arakin" (Detached Orders) (part i., Breslau, 1830; part ii., Vienna, 1859), containing, as the title indicates, explanations and glosses on the 'Aruk; (5) "Ḥiddushe ha-Shas," novellæ on the Talmud (Königsberg, 1860, and in several editions of the Talmud); (6) "Minè Targuma" (Dessert Dishes), Breslau, 1831, remarks on the Targum Onkelos (the word "Targuma" signifying both "Targum" and "dessert," equivalent to the Greek τράγημα) and on the Palestinian Targum; (7) "Kashiyot Meyushab" (Difficulties Answered), Königsberg, 1860, treating of the Talmudic passages which end with , and written by Berlin in fourteen days; (8) "Rishon leẒion" (The First for Zion; Dyhernfurth, 1793; Vienna, 1793, and several times reprinted, the title being a play on , "Zion," and , "index"), a collection of indexes and parallel passages in the Midrash; (9) "She'elat Shalom" (Greeting of Peace), Dyhernfurth, 1786, a commentary on Aḥa of Shubḥa's "She'iltot." Berlin's responsa collection and hiscommentary on the Tosefta deserve especial mention, though nothing is known of their fate.

Characteristics of Berlin's Works.

The first place among these works must be accorded to the remarks and explanations on the Talmud. Although they can not compare in acuteness and power of combination with the similar work of Elijah of Wilna, yet these two books of Berlin laid the foundation for a critical study of the text of the Talmud, in view both of the numerous textual corrections concerning the minutest details, and of the many parallel passages adduced either directly from the Talmud or from the old authors, in support of new readings.

Berlin, furthermore, was the first—at least among the Germans—who showed an interest in the history of post-Talmudic literature; and it was he, also, who opened the Kalir question (compare his letter to his brother-in-law, Joseph b. Menaḥem Steinhart, in the latter's "Zikron Yosef," No. 15). Although Berlin's historical remarks have been superseded by modern criticism, the immense material which he accumulated in all his works will always remain of inestimable service to the student.

  • Auerbach, Gesch. der Isr. Gemeinde Halberstadt, 1886, p. 71;
  • A. Berliner, Iesaja Berlin, Berlin, 1879;
  • reprint from Berliner's Magazin, vi.;
  • Brann, in Jubelschrift zum 70sten Geburtstage von Grätz, pp. 262-265;
  • Brüll's Jahrb. v. 225, 229;
  • Carmoly, Rev. Orientale, iii. 310;
  • Neubauer, Cat. Bodl. Hebr. MSS. 1016.
L. G.
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