Assaf (Osofsky) Simḥa

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ASSAF (Osofsky ), SIMḤA (1889–1953), rabbinic scholar and Jewish historian. Assaf studied at the yeshivah in Telz and was ordained in 1910. He then served as rabbi in Luban and Minsk. From 1914 to 1919 he taught Talmud at the "modern" Odessa yeshivah founded by Chaim Tchernowitz and from 1915 to 1919 served as its director. When the yeshivah was closed by the government in 1919, he spent two years studying in France and Germany and at the end of 1921 went to Jerusalem as an instructor in Talmud at the Mizrachi Teachers' Seminary. When the first classes opened at the Hebrew University in 1925, Assaf was appointed lecturer on the geonic period and its literature; from 1929 he also taught rabbinic literature, becoming full professor in 1936. For many years he served the Hebrew University as a member of the executive board, as chairman of the Institute of Jewish Studies, as dean of the faculty of humanities, and from 1948 to 1950 as rector. From 1931 to 1943 he was a member of the Asefat ha-Nivḥarim and of the Va'ad Le'ummi, as well as chairman of its educational committee. After the establishment of the State of Israel, Assaf was appointed a member of the Supreme Court, although he was not a trained lawyer. Special retroactive legislation had to be passed in order to legalize his position. There was no sign of lack of legal training in his decisions, and his contribution was one of the greatest importance in introducing the concepts of rabbinic law into the legal system of the new state. He was active in many public and academic institutions. Assaf published articles and studies – almost all in Hebrew – on the literature of the geonim, the history of Jewish law, medieval Jewish culture, and the history of the Jewish community in Palestine. Some of them were collected in his Be-Oholei Ya'akov ("In the Tents of Jacob," 1943) and in Mekorot u-Meḥkarim ("Sources and Studies," 1946). In addition, in the same period, Assaf wrote important volumes based on source material, Ha-Onshin Aḥarei Ḥatimat ha-Talmud ("Penalties after the Redaction of the Talmud," 1922) and Battei ha-Din ve-Sidreihem Aḥarei Ḥatimat ha-Talmud ("Religious Courts and Their Procedures…," 1924). A comprehensive four-volume work, Mekorot le-Toledot ha-Ḥinnukh be-Yisrael ("Sources for the History of Jewish Education," 1925–43), is a remarkable anthology of sources relating to education which is at the same time a significant contribution to Jewish social history. Of outstanding importance are his critical editions of manuscripts and responsa of the geonic period (particularly from the Genizah) and the early codifiers. In collaboration with Israel Davidson and Issachar Joel, Assaf edited the Seder R. Sa'adyah Ga'on (1941) and, together with L.A. Mayer, he edited vol. 2 of the Sefer ha-Yishuv (Mi-Ymei Kibbush Ereẓ Yisrael al Yedei ha-Aravim ad Masei ha-Ẓelav "From the Arab Conquest to the Crusades," 1944), to which he wrote a comprehensive introduction. In his works Assaf combined a vast and expert knowledge of Jewish literature with a keen appreciation of the vital movements and characteristic features of the periods with which he dealt. This, added to his engaging personality, made him a popular and inspiring teacher. In 1955 Assaf 's disciple, Mordecai Margalioth, edited a volume comprising lectures delivered by Assaf on the geonic period at the Hebrew University over a period of 27 years under the title Tekufat ha-Ge'onim ve-Sifrutah.


Klausner, in: Sefer Assaf (1953), 7–11 (first pagination); Raphael, ibid., 12–34 (first pagination); B. Dinur, Benei Dori (1965), 104–11; Margalioth, in: ks, 29 (1953/54), 257.

[Moshe Nahum Zobel]