Eger (Eiger), Akiva ("The Younger") ben Moses Guens

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EGER (Eiger), AKIVA ("The Younger") BEN MOSES GUENS

EGER (Eiger ), AKIVA ("The Younger ") BEN MOSES GUENS (1761–1837), German rabbi. Born in Eisenstadt, Eger went to Breslau at an early age to study under his uncle, Benjamin Wolf Eger, and Ḥayyim Jonah Teomim-Fraenkel. In 1780, he went to live with his father-in-law in Lissa, where for about ten years he engaged in study, free from financial stress. Impoverished as a result of the losses suffered in the fire of 1791, he accepted a position as rabbi in Maerkisch-Friedland, where he established a yeshivah. As his reputation grew, his decisions were sought in many matters. The thought of reaping material benefit from the Torah was repugnant to him, and on several occasions he thought of leaving the rabbinate and devoting himself to teaching. In 1807 he led a deputation of Jewish leaders who negotiated with the French authorities on Jewish rights in the newly established duchy of Warsaw. In 1814 he was prevailed upon to accept the position of rabbi in Posen, which was offered to him over the objections of the *maskilim and the followers of the Reform movement, who, fearing his great influence, sought the intervention of the secular authorities, on the grounds that he had no command of the German language and was opposed to all innovations. They were eventually obliged to accept Eger's appointment, but they attempted to minimize his influence by the insertion of certain restrictive clauses in his letter of appointment. Eger, as unofficial chief rabbi of the Posen district, labored on behalf of his own and other Jewish communities. He established a large yeshivah, whose students included Ẓevi Hirsch *Kalischer, Jacob *Levy (author of the dictionaries of the Talmud), and Julius *Fuerst. He waged a constant struggle against the Reform movement. The maskilim opposed him and drew attention to what they considered bizarre and unreal questions discussed in his responsa. Eger was not blind, however, to the spiritual and educational needs of his time. He made certain concessions to meet official demands for a more modern curriculum in Jewish schools, and he encouraged Solomon Plessner's pioneer efforts to propagate traditional Judaism using German instead of Yiddish, which was until then the medium of instruction. He received a royal message of thanks from Frederick William iii for his services during the cholera epidemic of 1831, during which he framed a number of helpful takkanot and cared for many of the sick. A number of welfare institutions established by him were in existence until World War ii. He was the father-in-law of Moses *Sofer and the ancestor of many prominent scholars, scientists, and writers. His son Solomon *Eger was elected rabbi of Posen on his father's death. Many popular legends surrounded Akiva's person. His exemplary humanity and beneficence earned him universal admiration, even among his adversaries. A story typifying his sensitivity to others tells of a Jew who asked Akiva before Passover if he could use milk for the Seder rituals. When asked why, the Jew answered that he did not have enough money to buy wine. Akiva promptly gave him 20 rubles for purchasing wine. When rebuked by his wife for giving too much, Akiva answered that he deduced from the question that the Jew also did not have enough money to buy meat for the holiday. His modesty was proverbial, and he was sternly opposed to the titles of honor common in rabbinical circles. Of his works, the following were published in his lifetime: Ḥilluka de-Rabbanan (1822); Haggahot to the Mishnah (1825–30); Gilyon ha-Shas, notes to the Prague edition of the Babylonian Talmud (1830–34), and later to the Vilna edition; responsa, together with decisions, etc. (1834). After his death there appeared responsa, part 2 (1839); Ḥiddushei R. Akiva Eger (1858); Tosafot (1841–48 in the Altona edition of the Mishnah); Haggahot, glosses to the Shulḥan Arukh (1859); responsa (1889); Kitvei R. Akiva Eger (letters; 1929). In addition many of his letters and responsa were printed in talmudic journals and in numerous other works. Much of his work has remained in manuscript and some has been lost (e.g., his glosses to the Palestinian Talmud).


L. Wreschner, R. Akiba Eger (Ger., 1906); idem, in: jjlg, 2 (1904), 27–84; 3 (1905), 1–78; S. Blum, Gedolei Yisrael (1938); A. Ovadyah (Gottesdiener), Ketavim Nivḥarim, 2 (1944), 77–115; idem, in: Sinai, 1 (1937), 511–50; Posner, in: Koveẓ … Unna (1940), 147–57; S. Sofer, Iggerot Soferim (1928, pref. 1929), 1–95 (1st pagination); Leiman, in: L. Jung (ed.), Jewish Leaders (1953), 99–113. add. bibliography: J.S. Sinasohn, Gaon of Posen: A Portrait of Rabbi Akiva Guens-Eger (1990).

[Akiva Posner]