Falk, Joshua ben Alexander Ha-Kohen

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FALK, JOSHUA BEN ALEXANDER HA-KOHEN (c. 1555–1614), Polish yeshivah head and halakhist commonly referred to as "Sma" from the initials of the title of his major work. Falk was born in Lublin and studied under Moses Isserles and Solomon Luria, but refused to serve as rabbi of the community. He devoted his life to teaching, receiving financial support from his father-in-law, Israel b. Joseph Edels, the communal leader of Lemberg, who also maintained the yeshivah conducted by Falk. The yeshivah attracted many pupils, some of whom later achieved fame as rabbis. Famed as a halakhic authority, Falk took an active part in the Council of the Four Lands and was one of the signatories in 1587 to the decree against purchasing rabbinical positions. In 1607 he presided over a session of the Council which passed a decree on the subject of interest, which the intensified financial activity among East European Jewry had rendered an urgent halakhic problem. Falk's resolute refusal to change his view on a get ("bill of divorce") which he had issued for a seriously ill man, and which Meir ben Gedaliah *Lublin and Mordecai *Jaffe had declared invalid, led to a vehement clash of opinions among contemporary rabbis, Falk being upheld by those assembled at Jaroslaw in 1611.

Falk's most celebrated work is Sefer Me'irat Einayim, a commentary on the Shulḥan Arukh, Ḥoshen Mishpat, published in all editions of the Sḥulhan Arukh. He was moved to write the commentary because of the large number of halakhists and exponents of the laws who, in his opinion, "have rent the Torah, which is our garment, into 12 pieces, and because of the many scholars who, content to base their halakhic decisions on the Sḥulhan Arukh alone without investigating the sources (especially *Jacob b. Asher's Tur together with Joseph *Caro's Beit Yosef and Moses Isserles' Darkhei Moshe), remained ignorant of the sources and rationale of the law and rendered incorrect halakhic decisions."

Sefer Me'irat Einayim is the fourth part of a more extensive commentary on the Tur and Shulhan Arukh, the first three parts entitled Perishah, Derishah, and Be'urim. The whole commentary is entitled Beit Yisrael (after Falk's father-in-law). Because Me'irat Einayim was based on the first three parts of his commentary, it was essential for the reader first to study the Tur and the other three parts of his commentary. Though Falk apparently intended to write a work on the whole Shulhan Arukh, he succeeded in covering only the Ḥoshen Mishpat. The Me'irat Einayim is an extensive exposition and elaboration upon that work, especially upon Moses Isserles' glosses, Falk often acting as the intermediary between Joseph Caro and Isserles where they disagreed. Falk's work contributed greatly in making the Shulhan Arukh an authoritative source of codified Jewish law. Falk also wrote Kunteres al ha-Ribbit (1692) on the laws of interest promulgated by the Council of the Four Lands in 1607. Several of his numerous responsa have been published in various collections (Ge'onei Batra'ei, Bayit Ḥadash, Masot Binyamin). He wrote novellae on 14 tractates of Isaac Alfasi (the Rif) and on the commentary to it by Nissim b. Reuben Gerondi (the Ran), expositions on the Kabbalah and philosophy, and several other works, all of which were destroyed in a fire in Lemberg.

[Shlomo Eidelberg]

His great grandson Ḥayyim (abraham) ben samuel feivush (phoebus; late 17th century), was also a rabbi. After the expulsion of the Jews from Vienna (1670), Hayyim wentto Jerusalem with his father, author of Leket Shemu'el and De-rush Shemu'el, and in his old age he settled in Hebron, where he died. He wrote a commentary to the Book of Psalms, under the title Ereẓ ha-Ḥayyim (Constantinople, 1750?). Ḥ.J.D. Azulai mentions Ḥayyim's commentary to nearly all of the Bible.


S. Buber, Anshei Shem (1895), 80–82 (no. 197), 129, 238; Rav Zair (H. Tchernowitz), in: Ha-Shilo'aḥ, 6 (1899), 233–40; idem, Toledot ha-Posekim, 2 (1947), 231ff.; 3 (1947), 112–20; Halpern, Pinkas, index 588, s.v.Yeshu'a b. Aleksander; H.H. Ben-Sasson, Hagutve-Hanhagah (1959), index, s.v.Yehoshu'a Falk.