Ashkenazi, Ẓevi Hirsch ben Jacob

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ASHKENAZI, ẒEVI HIRSCH BEN JACOB (also known as the Ḥakham Zevi ; 1660–1718), rabbi and halakhist. Both his father, Jacob Sak, a renowned scholar, and his maternal grandfather, *Ephraim b. Jacob ha-Kohen, had escaped from Vilna to Moravia during the 1655 Cossack uprising. It was there that Ashkenazi studied under them as a youth. He wrote his first responsa in 1676, about the time he was sent to the yeshivah of Elijah Covo in Salonika to study the Sephardi scholars' method of study. During his stay in Salonika (1676–78?) and Belgrade (1679), he adopted Sephardi customs and manners and, despite his Ashkenazi origin, assumed the title "ḥakham," the Sephardi title for a rabbi, and also the name "Ashkenazi." In 1680 he returned to Ofen and continued his studies. After his wife and daughter were killed during the siege of Ofen by the Imperial army of Leopold i, Ashkenazi escaped to Sarajevo where he was appointed ḥakham of the Sephardi community. His parents were taken prisoner by a Brandenburg regiment after the fall of Ofen and ransomed by Jews in Berlin. It seems that only much later Ashkenazi received the news that his parents were alive. He arrived in Berlin via Venice and Prague in 1689. There he married the daughter of Meshullam Zalman Neumark-Mirels, the av bet din of the "Three Communities" of Altona, Hamburg, and Wandsbeck. He later moved to Altona where for 18 years he devoted himself to teaching in the Klaus, which was founded for him by leading members of the congregation. On the death of his father-in-law (1707), he was elected rabbi of Hamburg and Wandsbeck, although he shared the position at Altona with Moses Rothenburg. It was eventually a violent controversy on a halakhic question between them (the "chicken without a heart," see below), which compelled him to resign his position in all three communities in 1709. He continued to act as the head of the yeshivah in the Altona klaus until invited to serve as rabbi of the Ashkenazi community in Amsterdam in 1710. There, Ashkenazi's relations were initially excellent. His responsa, published in Amsterdam in 1712, were highly regarded by the rabbis of the Portuguese (Sephardi) community there, and he was on intimate terms with the Sephardi rabbi, Solomon *Ayllon. This relationship, however, deteriorated with the arrival in Amsterdam of Nehemiah *Ḥayon, the emissary of *Shabbetai Ẓevi, who sought the help of the local Portuguese community in circulating his writings. Having been asked by the Portuguese elders (who did not rely on Ayllon) to rule on the matter, Ashkenazi and Moses *Ḥagiz – who was then in Amsterdam as a rabbinical emissary from Jerusalem – decided against Ḥayon and his writings and later excommunicated him. In revenge for not having been consulted about Ḥayyon's writings, Ayllon managed to transform the issue into one of supremacy of the old Portuguese community over the newcomers' Ashkenazi community. A new commission under Ayllon was appointed and found Ḥayon's writings to be in accordance with traditional Kabbalah. Upon Ashkenazi's refusal to apologize to Ḥayon, a bitter controversy took place between the Portuguese and Ashkenazi. As a result of his opponents' incessant personal attacks, Ashkenazi finally resigned his position in Amsterdam in 1714. After a brief stay in London (at the invitation of the Sephardi community), and a short sojourn in Emden, he proceeded to Poland and settled in Opatow. From there he was invited once more to Hamburg to take part in a complicated lawsuit. In the beginning of 1718 he was appointed rabbi of Lemberg, but he died there after a few months.

Ashkenazi's chief work is his collection of responsa Ḥakham Ẓevi (Amsterdam, 1712). These responsa reflect his stormy life and his many wanderings. Questions were addressed to him from all parts of Europe – from London to Lublin and from Hamburg to "Candia in Italy" – dealing in particular with problems which arose from the condition of the Jews in various countries. They shed light on the communal organization, its privileges and regulations (e.g., no. 131).

Three responsa (74, 76, 77) deal with the celebrated problem of the chicken which was allegedly found to have no heart. His decision that such a bird was kasher created a sensation in the rabbinic world, and was vigorously opposed by such leading rabbis as Moses Rothenburg, Naphtali Katz of Frankfurt, David Oppenheim, and Jonathan Eybeschuetz, who vehemently attacked the decision. He was supported by his son, Jacob *Emden. In one of his responsa (no. 93) Ashkenazi deals with the question of whether a golem could be counted in a minyan ("religious quorum"), one such being having been fashioned by his grandfather, Elijah of Chelm. Ashkenazi decided that a golem cannot be counted in a minyan. When in 1705 David Nieto of London expressed views which were deemed by his community to be heretical and bordering upon the doctrine of Spinoza, the matter was brought before Ashkenazi, who accepted Nieto's explanations (no. 8). The mutual relations between Ashkenazim and Sephardim are dealt with in a number of responsa (14, 38, 99). For example, on the question of whether it is permissible for Ashkenazim to use a Sephardi scroll, written in accordance with the views of Maimonides for the public reading of the Torah, he concludes that Ashkenazi and Sephardi scrolls are equally valid since the subdivision into sections is the same in both cases. As to the question of whether the Zohar should be given priority and relied upon in halakhic rulings, he declares emphatically that "even if the Zohar were to contradict the halakhic authorities we could not discard the opinions of the halakhic authorities in favor of what is written in the esoteric law; for in the laws and their practical application we are not concerned with mystic lore. But in cases where halakhic authorities differ, it is proper to follow the decision of the Zohar" (no. 36). In 1692 he published his glosses to the Turei Zahav on the Ḥoshen Mishpat. Opposed to pilpul in the study of the Talmud, he demanded a systematic and fundamental analysis of the subject matter. His son, Jacob Emden, praised him for his qualities of "abstinence, meticulousness, true saintliness, and inner reverence." One of his other sons, Abraham Meshullam Zalman, was av bet din in Ostrog from 1745. His son, Ẓevi Hirsch, published his father's responsa and novellae under the title Divrei Meshullam (1783).


J. Emden, Torat ha-Kena'ot (Amsterdam, 1752), 33b; idem, Megillat Sefer (1897); Graetz-Rabbinowitz, 8 (1899), 370–6, 598–613, n. 6; C.N. Dembitzer, Kelilat Yofi, 1 (1888), 91–99; E. Duckesz, Ivah le-Moshav (1903), 11–17; S. Buber, Anshei Shem (1895), 187–92; S.M. Chones, Toledot ha-Posekim (1910), 557–9; Margolioth, in: Sinai, 29 (1951), 379–88; 31 (1952), 88–89; eg, 1 (1956), 405–7; D. Kaufmann, in: jjgl, 2 (1899), 123–47; idem, in: jhset, 3 (1899), 102–25; Kaufmann, Schriften, 2 (1910), 303; A. Predmesky, Life and Work of R. Ashkenazi (1946); H.J. Zimmels, Ashkenazim and Sephardim (1958), 68–70, 297–9; M.M. Biber, Mazkeret li-Gedolei Ostraha (Ostrog) (1907), 106–10; Waxman, Literature, 2 (1960), 188–9. add. bibliography: M. Goldish, in: Studia Rosenthaliana, 27:1–2 (1993), 5–12; B. Sherwin, in: Judaism, 44:3 (1995), 314–22; J.J. Schacter, in: Ashkenaz: The German Jewish Heritage (1988), 69–78.

[Yehoshua Horowitz]

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Ashkenazi, Ẓevi Hirsch ben Jacob

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