Sinzheim, Joseph David ben Isaac

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SINZHEIM, JOSEPH DAVID BEN ISAAC (1745–1812), first chief rabbi of France. Born in Trier, he married the sister of the wealthy communal leader H. *Cerfberr, and headed the yeshivah founded by his brother-in-law in Bischheim (1786), later transferred to *Strasbourg (1792). The persecutions during the Reign of Terror under Robespierre compelled Sinzheim to escape (1793). On his return, he acted as rabbi of Strasbourg (together with his nephew Abraham *Auerbach). In 1806 he was appointed to the *Assembly of Jewish Notables convened by Napoleon in Paris. His erudition and sagacity impressed many of the delegates from Italy and the German provinces, who accepted him as the leading authority on halakhic problems. Sinzheim was therefore entrusted with formulating the replies to the 12 questions put to the assembly by the government to test if Jewish precepts allowed the Jews to live on equitable terms with their French neighbors. He succeeded in satisfying the emperor that the Jews would accept the authority of the state and fulfill their obligations as citizens without giving up the principles of their faith and their traditions. The sermons that Sinzheim delivered in the synagogue (in Judeo-German) in honor of Napoleon also evidenced his loyalty to the state. Sinzheim was appointed president of the Great French *Sanhedrin in 1807 and became chief rabbi of the Central French *Consistory on its establishment in 1808. He was also chief rabbi of the Strasbourg consistory, although represented in office by R. Jacob Meyer, formerly one of the delegates for Alsace (Lower Rhine) at the assembly. While Sinzheim adopted flexibility in drafting the replies of the assembly, he adamantly opposed any change in the fundamental principles of Jewish tradition and religion as he interpreted them. Sinzheim was buried in the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris, but his burial was not recorded, or the record was lost. In 1974 Mrs. Renée Neher-Bernheim located the grave.

[Moshe Catane]

He wrote the responsa Yad David (only one part published, Offenbach, 1799) on tractate Berakhot and the order Mo'ed, his avowed purpose being to complete the work of Ḥayyim *Benveniste's Keneset ha-Gedolah and Aaron *Alfandari's Yad Aharon by giving additional source references and comments scattered in other works. He claims to have added comments from no less than 300 works. Yad David also gives valuable autobiographical details. Sinzheim eschews the method of *pilpul, maintaining that his father had thus instructed him. At the beginning of the work there are comments by his nephew Abraham Auerbach, whom he also quotes frequently in the body of the book, and it also contains novellae by his brother-in-law Selig Auerbach. A booklet on the permissibility of the sale of the synagogue of Griessheim (Basle, 1804) includes a responsum of Sinzheim, written in Strasbourg, in which he permits the sale of synagogues and cemeteries, adding that this was a frequent occurrence in his days (p. 21). In 1810 he wrote an interesting responsum to a query by Jehiel Ḥayyim Viterbo of Ancona on the question whether Jewish girls are permitted to benefit from a government lottery to provide dowries for poor brides. The Jewish authorities were reluctant to accept it, but Sinzheim decided in favor. The responsum reflects the attitude he adopted at the Assembly of Notables. He pointed out that despite the talmudic prohibition against accepting gifts from idolaters, to accept this one was in the interest of good public relations; that in any case Christians are not regarded as idolaters; and that "at the present time it is our duty to pray for the welfare of the king and the royal family, as indeed we do every Sabbath."

[Yehoshua Horowitz]


Ben Ammi [= M. Liber], in: Univers Israelite, 63, pt. 1 (1907), 645–51; J. Katz, Exclusiveness and Tolerance (1961), index; A.N. Roth, in: Hagut Ivrit be-Eiropah (1969), 361–4; Dubnow, Divrei, vol. 8, pp. 73–79.