Bezalel ben Moses Ha-Kohen

views updated


BEZALEL BEN MOSES HA-KOHEN (1820–1878), Lithuanian rabbi and unofficial rabbi of Vilna. At the age of 11, Bezalel already knew by heart two of the six orders of the Talmud; at 13, he had covered the entire Talmud and amazed his listeners with his original halakhic discourses. A sermon which he delivered before the rabbis of Vilna at the age of 18 was subsequently published in his Reshit Bikkurim. His novellae were collected in a work Torat Yisrael which is no longer extant. In 1843 although only 23 years of age, Bezalel was chosen as one of the rabbis of Vilna in succession to Joseph Shiskes. He soon became the leading "moreh ẓedek" of Vilna, an office equivalent to that of rabbi of the city. Bezalel was well versed in secular subjects, particularly mathematics and engineering. Reshit Bikkurim, responsa and comments on the Sifra (1868), reveals his extensive scholarship and his firm attitude in halakhic questions. His glosses on the Talmud, Mareh Kohen, bearing the same title as his notes on Yoreh De'ah, were published in the Vilna edition of the Talmud (1884). His commentary on the Sefer ha-Mitzvot of Maimonides appeared in the Vilna edition of 1866. He also published a pamphlet entitled Hora'at Hetter, dealing with the permissibility of using etrogim from Corfu on Sukkot (1876). Many of Bezalel's responsa appear in the works of his contemporaries and a number of his writings are still in manuscript.


H.N. Maggid-Steinschneider, Ir Vilna, 1 (1900), 55–61; J.L. Maimon, Middei Ḥodesh be-Ḥodsho, 4 (1958), 12–16.

[Itzhak Alfassi]