Anshel (Asher) of Cracow

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ANSHEL (Asher ) OF CRACOW (first half of 16th century), putative author of Mirkevet ha-Mishneh, an alphabetical concordance and glossary of the Bible, with references and Yiddish translations of the words. Two editions were published. The one published in Cracow, 1534, was the first book printed in Yiddish. The title page states that the work "was composed in two languages, the holy language and German, the language prevalent among us." The second, and better-known, edition was published under the title Sefer shel R. Anshel (Cracow, 1584). Some suggest a polemical background to its composition, pointing out that *Luther's German translation of the Bible was also published in 1534 and that the Jews were interested in publishing this concordance to counterbalance Luther's translation. A possible factor was the desire to facilitate the study of the Bible for uneducated Jews, particularly women and children. The identity of Anshel has given rise to many conjectures and theories. He has been erroneously identified with Asher Anshel b. Joseph Mordecai of Posen, who translated the festival prayer book into Yiddish, and with Asher of Cracow, grandfather of Meir b. Gedaliah of Lublin, author of the kabbalistic book Emek Berakhah. Steinschneider conjectured that he might possibly be Asher b. Ḥayyim Halicz, one of the brothers who printed the first edition. Some date the work earlier than the 16th century because the German words used by the author belong to an earlier period, some going back as far as the 14th and 15th centuries. The simple title of the second edition, Sefer shel R. Anshel ("R. Anshel's Book"), has led many scholars to suggest that the author must have been well known, either as a scholar or as a communal leader.


Zunz, Schr, 3 (1876), 85; J. Perles, Beitraege zur Geschichte der hebraeischen und aramaeischen Studien (1884), 33, 100, 117–9; J. Meisl, Geschichte der Juden in Polen und Russland, 1 (1921), 296; Waxman, Literature, 2 (1960), 637–8; Steinschneider, Handbuch, 14; Szlosberg, in: yivo Bleter, 13 (1938), 313–24; H.D. Friedberg, Toledot ha-Defus ha-Ivri be-Folanyah (19502), 1; Zinberg, Sifrut, 4 (1958), 30, 245. add. bibliography: C. Shmeruk, Sifrut Yiddish be-Polin (1981), 25–26, 75–76.

[Yehoshua Horowitz]