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Epstein, Abraham


EPSTEIN, ABRAHAM (1841–1918), rabbinic scholar and historian. Epstein was born in Staro-Konstantinov, Russia, to a wealthy family. Epstein leased some land near Kozmin in 1865 and worked it himself for many years, trying to persuade some of the local Jewish poor to do the same. During that period he developed an interest in natural sciences and built a laboratory, where he carried out various experiments. After his father's death Epstein left his farm and took over the family business. In 1861 he traveled to Western Europe, where he met some of the leading figures in Jewish scholarship (S.J.L. *Rapoport, Z. *Frankel, and M. *Sachs) who greatly stimulated his interest in Jewish studies. Gradually, he liquidated his shares in the family business and devoted himself to research. In 1876 he settled in Vienna, where he pursued his studies and contributed articles to learned Hebrew periodicals. Among Epstein's Midrash and Targum studies are Kadmut ha-Tanḥuma (1886), on the antiquity and origin of Midrash Tanḥuma; and a critical edition of Eldad ha-Dani (1891) with a comprehensive introduction, notes, and appendices, including a note on *Beta Israel and their customs. On the Franco-German school he wrote "Der Gerschom Meor-ha-Golah zugeschriebene Talmud-Kommentar" (in Festschrift … Steinschneider (1896), 115–43), an article which aroused much interest and revolutionized the study of pre-Rashi Talmud commentaries; Schemaja, der Schueler und Sekretaer Raschis (1897); a critical edition of Ma'asei ha-Ge'onim (1901), a collection of responsa of the Franco-German school; and Das talmudische Lexikon Jechuse Tannaim we-Amoraim und Jehuda b. Kalonimos aus Speier (1895). Epstein's historical studies on the same period include Juedische Altertuemer in Worms und Speyer (1896) and Mishpahat Lurie (1901). In the controversy between Rapoport and I. *Weiss, Epstein defended the former in Divrei Bikkoret (1896). Epstein's works manifest his vast knowledge and painstaking research: he combined the best of Eastern scholarship with Western method and is recognized as an outstanding scholar in his fields. A collection of some of his writings appeared under the title Mi-Kadmoniyyot ha-Yehudim (1887), of which the second volume of Kitvei R. Avraham Epstein (1950–57), edited by A.M. Habermann, is an enlarged version. An autobiographical sketch was published in N. Sokolow, Sefer Zikkaron le-Sifrei Yisrael (1889, 162–6), and is reproduced in Kitvei R. Avraham Epstein (1, 1950, 14–19). Epstein willed his large and valuable library to the Vienna Jewish Theological Seminary.


V. Aptowitzer, in: azdj, 82 (1918), 246–7; S. Poznański, in: zhb, 21 (1918), 18–25 (includes bibliography); idem, in: Ost und West, 18 (1918), 207–12; S. Federbush (ed.), Ḥokhmat Yisrael be-Ma'arav Eiropah, 1 (1958), 40–46; Kressel, Leksikon, 1 (1965), 136–7.

[Zvi Avneri]

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