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Epstein, Jehiel Michal ben Abraham Halevi


EPSTEIN, JEHIEL MICHAL BEN ABRAHAM HALEVI (d. 1706), German rabbi and author. Epstein is principally known for his Kiẓẓur Shelah (Fuerth, 1683, 1696) and for a siddur which he issued with a translation of the prayers, laws, and customs in Yiddish, entitled Derekh Yesharah (Frankfurt, 1697). These he wrote largely for the benefit of Jews living in isolated villages that were without the guidance of rabbis and teachers. Kiẓẓur Shelah, mainly an abbreviated version of Isaiah *Horowitz' Shenei Luḥot ha-Berit (Shelah), also contains glosses as well as new laws and customs which Epstein extracted from works appearing after the publication of Horowitz' book. In addition, the author deals with Jewish education, its organization and syllabus. Criticizing the prevailing system, he proposed that the pupils be first taught the Bible and the four sedarim of the Mishnah relevant to the times (an approach reminiscent of that of *Judah Loew b. Bezalel of Prague) and only subsequently the Talmud and the codes. He opposed the form of casuistry known as ḥillukim on the basis of its being largely forced. The proposed educational reform could, he maintained, only be achieved through cooperation between the ḥeder, the home, and the bet midrash. Kiẓẓur Shelah was translated into Yiddish by Wolf Gershels of Prague under the title of Eẓ Ḥayyim (Frankfurt, 1720), 39 editions of which have appeared. It is very doubtful whether he had any associations with the Shabbatean movement, although he was suspected of it because of the wording of a certain passage in his siddur. He was also the author of Derekh ha-Yashar la-Olam ha-Ba (Frankfurt, 1703), an ethical work written in Yiddish, which language, he contended, had become a religious and cultural necessity in Jewish life; since it had acquired a sacred character, the gulf between it and Hebrew, the holy tongue, was progressively diminishing. His works provide an insight into the contemporary life of the smaller Jewish communities of Germany.


M. Horovitz, Avnei Zikkaron (1901), 158; J. Freimann, in: jjlg, 15 (1923), 37; B. Wachstein, ibid., 16 (1924), 169–71; S. Noble, in: Yivo Bleter, 35 (1951), 121–38; H. Liberman, ibid., 36 (1952), 305–21; Zinberg, Sifrut, 4 (1958), 108–10, 257–9.

[Yehoshua Horowitz]

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