Sirkes, Joel

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SIRKES, JOEL (known as BaḤ , an abbreviation of Bayit Ḥadash; 1561–1640), one of the greatest talmudic scholars of Poland. Sirkes was born in Lublin and was rabbi in a number of communities, including Belz, Brest-Litovsk, and Cracow, where he was appointed av bet din and head of the yeshivah in 1619. Many of his students became leading rabbis in Poland, the most famous being his son-in-law, *David b. Samuel ha-Levi (the TaZ). Sirkes' chief work was the Bayit Ḥadash (Cracow, 1631–39), a critical and comprehensive commentary on the Arba'ah Turim of *Jacob b. Asher, in which he traced each law to its talmudic source and followed its subsequent development through successive generations of interpretation. He viewed with alarm the constriction of the law through codification and the growing dependence of his contemporaries on the Shulḥan Arukh. His major authorities were the Talmud, the geonim, the tosafists, *Alfasi, *Asher b. Jehiel, and Maimonides.

Sirkes, a scholar of independent judgment, rendered many controversial decisions. He allowed the acceptance of emoluments and special privileges by rabbis in return for their services. He extended the permission to sell leavened food to a non-Jew before Passover to include the sale of the room in which such food was found. Sirkes performed a marriage on the Sabbath when an orphan's future was at stake. He permitted the reading of secular, non-Hebrew books on the Sabbath and liberalized certain laws to allow for the greater enjoyment of the festivals. He saw no valid reason for the prohibition against listening to a woman's voice in song and permitted church melodies in the synagogue if they were universal in appeal. He was, however, very strict in issues of *issur ve-hetter. Though opposed to philosophy and an adherent of Kabbalah, he rejected kabbalistic practices that were contrary to the halakhah.

Sirkes' literary legacy includes two volumes of responsa published posthumously, She'elot u-Teshuvot Bayit Ḥadash (Frankfurt, 1697) and She'elot u-Teshuvot Bayit Ḥadash ha-Ḥadashot (Koretz, 1785). In the She'elot u-Teshuvot ha-Ge'onim Batri (Turka, 1760) there are 22 responsa either by Sirkes himself or dealing with responsa which he had written.


E.J. Schochet, Bach, Rabbi Joel Sirkes. His Life, Works and Times (1971); Mirsky, in: Horeb, 6 (1942), 41–75; Kossover, in: Bitzaron, 14 (1946), 23–31.

[Max Jonah Routtenberg]