Heschel, Abraham Joshua ben Jacob

views updated


HESCHEL, ABRAHAM JOSHUA BEN JACOB (d. 1664), talmudic scholar of Lithuania and Poland. His father was rabbi of the community of Brest-Litovsk and head of its yeshivah, where Abraham Joshua became a teacher as a young man. In 1630 his father was appointed rabbi of Lublin and head of the yeshivah, where Abraham Joshua again assisted him. After his father's death in 1644, he succeeded him as head of the yeshivah. Some scholars claim that he also inherited the rabbinic position, others that he became rabbi of Lublin only in 1650 after the death of Naphtali Katz, who was his father's successor. In 1654, Abraham Joshua became rabbi and head of the yeshivah of Cracow, succeeding the famous Yom Tov Lipmann *Heller.

Heschel was a wealthy man, of outstanding piety, and his reputation as a teacher attracted numerous students. A number of them became famous in their own right, among them *Shabbetai b. Meir ha-Kohen, Aaron Samuel *Koidanover, Gershon *Ashkenazi, and Hillel of Brest Litovsk. His teaching methods were based on dialectics (pilpul). Heschel's renown as a legal authority spread far and questions were addressed to him from all parts of Europe. Although in many cases he was reluctant to give decisions, when he did, they were brief, logical, and to the point. During the Chmielnicki persecutions many cases of *agunot came before him, and Heschel exercised considerable leniency in dealing with them. In one such instance, involving a certain Jacob (grandfather of Jacob *Emden), who was missing after an attack on Vilna, witnesses gave evidence that he had been killed by the Cossacks, and Heschel decided that the wife could remarry; six months later Jacob returned, whereupon Heschel resolved that he would refrain in the future from giving decisions in such matters (see Megillat Sefer by Jacob Emden (1897), 7; and J.M. Zunz, Ir ha-Ẓedek (1874), 111). He was commissioned by the communities of Poland to solicit aid from the wealthy Jewish communities of Austria, Bohemia, and Moravia for the victims of the Chmielnicki massacres. Heschel was received everywhere with great respect, and his mission was crowned with success. He was supposedly even received by the emperor of Austria who accorded him great honor. Heschel died in Cracow.

His commentaries on the Sefer Mitzvot Gadol of *Moses of Coucy were published in its Kapost edition in 1807; they are short and logical, and reveal a fine command of the Hebrew language. Aaron Kelniker, a student of Heschel's in Lublin, published a work, Toledot Aharon (Lublin, 1682), containing some of his teacher's novellae on Bava Kamma, Bava Meẓia, and Bava Batra, compiled from lecture notes. Later editions were entitled Ḥiddushei Halakhot (Offenbach, 1723; etc.). In the preface, Kelniker briefly described the famous yeshivah of Lublin during his period of studies there under Heschel.

The Ḥanukkat ha-Torah of E.J. Ersohn (1900) contains 600 of Heschel's homilies on the Bible, gathered from different rabbinic sources of the 17th and early 18th centuries. Events connected with Heschel and his time are recorded by the author in the appendix, Kunteres Aharon, which, although containing some legends, also includes much material of historical value. Some of Heschel's responsa are to be found in works of his contemporaries. His novellae and a commentary on the Shulḥan Arukh are still in manuscript (see KunteresAharon, 103).


J.M. Zunz, Ir ha-Ẓedek (1874), 104–14; Kaufmann, in: mgwj, 39 (1895), 556; E.J. Ersohn, Ḥanukkat ha-Torah (1900); Halpern, Pinkas, 84, n. 1.

[Shlomo Eidelberg]