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Halevy (Rabinowitz), Isaac

HALEVY (Rabinowitz), ISAAC

HALEVY (Rabinowitz), ISAAC (1847–1914), Polish rabbinical scholar and historian. Halevy was born in Ivenets, now Belorussia. After studying at the Volozhin yeshivah, he settled in Vilna as a businessman, later turning to scholarship. Interested in Jewish education, he tried to find a way to reconcile the character of religious schools with the demands of the Russian government for reform. He lived in various cities, including Pressburg (Bratislava), Homburg, and Hamburg, in the last serving as Klausrabbiner. It was Halevy's idea of a world organization for Orthodox Jewry that led to the founding of *Agudat Israel in 1912. He took the initiative in founding the Juedisch-Literarisch Gesellschaft in Frankfurt, whose yearbook (jjlg) appeared from 1903 to 1933. Halevy's major work, Dorot ha-Rishonim (6 vols., 1897–1939; repr. 1967), is a grandly conceived history of the Oral Law, the talmudic-rabbinic tradition from biblical times to the geonim. Halevy brought a vast talmudic erudition, ingenuity, and originality to his work, but in extra-rabbinic studies he was self-taught; he knew neither Latin nor Greek and quoted classical sources from their translations into German. Halevy worked "back-ward." Commencing with the savoraic and geonic period, he proceeded to that of the amoraim and the tannaim, and then to that of the soferim and the "men of the Great *Synagogue." The last volume deals with the biblical period and is a sustained attack on the critical school and attempts, following D.Z. *Hoffmann, to prove the validity of the traditional view. The main purpose of the work was to demolish the historical theories advanced by such scholars as N. *Krochmal, S.J. *Rapoport, Z. *Frankel, H. *Graetz, and I.H. Weiss on the development of halakhah from earliest times. For Halevy, trained as he was in the old school, the Oral Law was revealed on Mount Sinai and was handed down unchanged; rabbinic controversies and the Palestinian-Babylonian differences in law and custom concern only the details of rabbinic enactments and extensions of the laws of the Torah. In his criticism of the historical school, which he accuses of tendentious misinterpretation, he writes with animosity and invective, and critics were not slow to point to the obvious shortcomings, both scholarly and literary, of Dorot ha-Rishonim. Nevertheless, it remains a major contribution to Jewish historical research.

[Yehoshua Horowitz]

O. Asher Reichel has now published the letters of Halevy, Igrot R. Yiẓḥak Aizik Halevi (Heb., 1972). The letters throw new light on Halevy. They reveal that he was not opposed to Haskalah or rabbis having secular knowledge and that he took an active part in halakhic questions of his time.


O. Asher Reichel, Isaac Halevy: Spokesman and Historian of Jewish Tradition (1969); M. Auerbach (ed.), Sefer ha-Zikkaron le-Y.I. Halevy (1964); H. Schwab, Chachme Ashkenaz (Eng., 1964), 62f.

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