Isaac ben Samuel Ha-Levi

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ISAAC BEN SAMUEL HA-LEVI

ISAAC BEN SAMUEL HA-LEVI (1580–1646?), Polish talmudist and grammarian. Isaac was the elder brother and teacher of *David b. Samuel ha-Levi. He was born in Ludomir, and studied under Joshua *Falk at Lemberg. He served as rabbi of Chelm and in 1627 was appointed rosh yeshivah in Posen. He was one of the leading talmudic scholars and sages of his generation and was recognized as a halakhic authority, linguist, and grammarian. He had a sound knowledge of geometry and of German. He was kind and never adopted a didactic attitude toward his questioners, not even to his own students. Isaac is the author of She'elot u-Teshuvot ve-Ḥiddushei Mahari ha-Levi (Neuwied, 1736). These show him to have been considerate, balanced in judgment, and inclining toward leniency whenever possible. In his novellae he does not hesitate to attack the views of such outstanding authorities as Solomon *Luria, Samuel *Edels, *Judah Leib b. Bezalel and Levi *Ibn Ḥabib. He possessed a concise style and penetrated to the very heart of the problems under discussion. In his halakhic decisions he takes into consideration the rules of grammar, attaching great value to a knowledge of Hebrew and its grammar. He published Si'aḥ Yiẓḥak (Basle, 1627) on the rules of grammar and the conjugation of the verb. To it he appended Beit ha-Levi, discussing all compound and doubtful words in the Bible. In its introduction, Isaac complained of "the lack of attention paid to the knowledge of Hebrew. Its study is neglected and its origins are not investigated." He pointed out that the meanings of some words were not known because even scholars had no knowledge of the conjugation being used. Instead of devoting themselves to a thorough study of grammar, they disparaged it as being a mere routine task, requiring no intelligence. Even were this so, he writes, it is still a highly skilled accomplishment, essential for all scholarship, and a prerequisite for all sacred study, since, without it, no one can write or speak Hebrew correctly. The book carried an approbation by Yom Tov Lipman Heller, and was highly praised by Samuel David *Luzzatto. An abbreviated edition, Derekh Si'aḥ (Frankfurt, 1693), was published by J.L. Oppenheim. A poem of Isaac's, Shir Ge'ulim, commemorating the freeing of Lemberg Synagogue from the hands of the Jesuits, was published in 1609. He left an unpublished manuscript, Elleh Toledot Yiẓḥak, a supercommentary on Rashi. Many of his ideas and opinions are incorporated in his brother's Turei Zahav and one of his responsa in Bayit Ḥadash he-Ḥadash (Korzec, 1785), no. 78. In the 1646 edition of Turei Zahav he is referred to as being no longer alive.

bibliography:

Fuenn, Keneset, 628–9; H.N. Dembitzer, Kelilat Yofi, 1 (1888), 50; S. Buber, Anshei Shem (1895), 114–5; S.M. Chones, Toledot ha-Posekim (1910), 561; S.D. Luzzatto, Prolegomeni ad una grammatica ragionata della lingua ebraica (1836), 60; M. Steinschneider, Jewish Literature (1857), 240.

[Abram Juda Goldrat]