Ephraim ben Isaac

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EPHRAIM BEN ISAAC (of Regensburg ; 1110–1175), tosafist, member of the bet din of Regensburg, and the greatest of the paytanim (liturgical poets) of Germany. Among his teachers were *Isaac b. Asher ha-Levi and *Isaac b. Mordecai of Regensburg. He was held in great esteem by his contemporaries, being referred to as "the great Rabbi Ephraim" and as "Ben Yakir" (an allusion to Jer. 31:20). His youth was spent in France, where he was among the first pupils of Jacob b. Meir *Tam (Rabbenu Tam). Ephraim was uncompromising in his pursuit of truth; his intransigence often brought him into conflict with other scholars, even with Jacob Tam himself. Once, after a particularly heated dispute with the rabbis of Speyer, Rabbenu Tam answered him sharply: "From the day I have known you, I have never heard you concede a point" (Sefer ha-Yashar, no. 64). Rabbenu Tam, however, appreciating Ephraim's selfless motives, bore him no ill will, even referring to him affectionately as "my brother Rabbi Ephraim" (ibid., n. 80).

When the rabbis of Speyer complained to Rabbenu Tam that Ephraim was overly lenient, a literary controversy arose, in which Ephraim's letters to Rabbenu Tam evidenced undeviating adherence to Jewish law and custom. Ephraim remained in Speyer for a short while after the dispute, then moved on to Worms, and finally to Regensburg. Ephraim is the author of Tosafot (cited in early works); a commentary on Avot; and halakhic decisions. He also apparently wrote Arba Panim ("Four Aspects"), a commentary to Seder Nezikin. Thirty-two of his piyyutim are extant. They reflect the severe hardships which the Jews of Germany suffered in the Regensburg massacre of 1137 and the Second Crusade (1146–47). Zunz regarded Ephraim's poems as superior to all other contemporary Hebrew poetry written in Germany. They are distinctive in form and content, and powerful in expression. Ephraim also employed the metric forms of Sephardi poetry and one of his seliḥot is in the Sephardi festival liturgy.


Zunz, Lit Poesie, 274–80; idem, Nachtrag zur Literaturgeschichte … (1867), 16–17; Davidson, Oẓar, 4 (1933), 369, index; Germ Jud, 1 (1934), 289–90; V. Aptowitzer, Mavo le-Sefer Ravyah (1938), 321–3; A.M. Habermann, in: ymḤsi, 4 (1938), 121–95; Urbach, Tosafot, 72–73, 170–7; Weinberg, in: Hadorom, 23 (1965/66), 31–53; Ta-Shema, in: ks, 42 (1966/67), 507–8.

[Abraham Meir Habermann]