Pollack, Jacob ben Joseph

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POLLACK, JACOB BEN JOSEPH (1460/70–after 1522), rabbi and first Polish halakhic authority. His name has given rise to the conjecture that he was born in Poland, but it appears that he was born in Bavaria. Pollack studied under Jacob Margolis in Regensburg, and was already known in his youth as a profound talmudist. He married Esther, the daughter of Moses and Rachel Fischel of Cracow, who acted as government tax farmers and were on intimate terms with the Polish royal court, upon whom they were able to exercise some influence. Pollack was appointed rabbi in Prague and was a member of the bet din together with Isaac Margolis, the son of his teacher. In 1492 an incident took place which roused a violent controversy. His wife's sister, Sara had been married while a minor to David Zehner of Buda, Hungary. Before she reached her majority she exercised her right of me'un (see *Child Marriage) to free herself from her husband and Pollack permitted her to remarry, in accordance with talmudic law, despite the fact that *Menahem of Merseburg had 50 years earlier enacted a takkanah abolishing me'un. This permission roused against him all the great contemporary scholars and he was laid under a ban. The only one to support him was Meir Pfefferkorn because Jacob Pollack's mother-in-law had used her influence to obtain the release from prison of his wife and children.

Pollack left Prague and went to Cracow where he opened the first yeshivah in Poland and transferred there the method of hillukim ("fine distinctions") that he had learnt from his teachers. At that time knowledge of the Talmud in Poland was generally at a low ebb, and the talmudists were not conversant with this method of study. He was given the sobriquet of avi ha-ḥillukim. In Cracow he was highly admired and immediately became one of the communal leaders. When in 1494 the king of Poland imprisoned the dignitaries of Cracow, Pollack and his father- and mother-in-law were among them. After his release he moved together with the whole of the Cracow community to Kazimierz, a suburb of the town. In 1503 he was appointed by King Alexander as rabbi of the whole of Poland, or Lesser Poland – the letter of appointment is not clear. But Pollack was to find no tranquility in this position either. The friction and quarrels between the two local communities of Polish and Bohemian Jews embittered his life. Under pressure from the king, separate rabbis were finally chosen for the two communities, R. Perez for the Bohemians and Asher Lemel, Pollack's brother-in-law, for the Polish. Pollack retained only the conduct of his yeshivah. In 1520 a dispute which broke out in Italy on a financial matter between Emanuel of Ferrara and Abraham Raphael of Bologna was brought before Abraham Mintz of Padua. One of the parties turned to Pollack and as a result Pollack excommunicated Mintz. Some two years later, Pollack became involved in a libel against Samuel, the court physician of Cracow, as a result of which he was compelled to flee. From this time all traces of him disappeared. However in the Birkat Avraham of Abraham b. Solomon Trebitsch-Ẓarefati of Constantinople, written in 1524, there is a commendation, without a date, which concludes with the words "I have signed here, says the 'quiet' and 'smooth' [the words are applied to Jacob in the Bible (Gen. 25:27) and are applied here to mean "innocent" and "free of sin"] Jacob b. Joseph Ashkenazi Pollack of Jerusalem." If the signature is indeed that of Jacob Pollack and was written in the same year as the commendation of Israel Dayana to the same work in 1532, then Pollack must have been in Constantinople that year on his way to Jerusalem. It is even possible that he settled in Ereẓ Israel before 1532, since he signs "of Jerusalem." The year of his death and his place of burial are not known. (Some think a tombstone found in Lublin with the inscription: "The Gaon Koppelman named Jacob ha-Levi…, the gaon Jacob b. Joseph died 23rd of Sivan 301" (1541) is his, however, it is doubtful whether Pollack was called Koppelman and nowhere is there mention of his being a levite.) No works by Pollack are known.


Halberstamm, in: Jeschurun (ed. by Kobak), 5 (1865), Heb. pt. 153; Bruell, Jahrbuecher, 7 (1885), 31–37; M. Balaban, in: mgwj, 57 (1913), 59–73, 196–210; idem, Historja ẓydow w Krakowie, 2 (1936), 105–18; J.L. Ritmann, Ma'aneh (1878), 20; Ḥ.N. Dembitzer, Kelilat Yofi, 1 (1888), introd. 2; Wetstein, in: Ha-Maggid, 5 (1896), nos. 17, 20–21; idem, in: Sefer ha-Yovel… N. Sokolow (1904), 278; idem, in: Ha-Eshkol, 6 (1909), 218–22; S.J. Fuenn, Kiryah Ne'emanah (19152), 56; M. Straschun, Mivḥar Ketavim (1968), 168.

[Shlomo Tal]

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