Urbach, Ephraim Elimelech

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URBACH, EPHRAIM ELIMELECH (1912–1991), Israeli researcher in talmudic and rabbinic literature. Urbach, who studied in the Breslau Rabbinical Seminary and at the universities of Breslau and Rome, served as lecturer at the Breslau Rabbinical Seminary from 1935 to 1938. After immigrating to Ereẓ Israel in 1938, he subsequently served as a teacher and headmaster of grammar schools in Jerusalem. During the years 1950–53, he was an inspector and head of a department in the Ministry of Education and Culture. From 1953 he taught aggadah and subsequently rabbinical literature at the Hebrew University and in 1958 became professor of Talmud. During the years 1956–60, he served as head of the Institute for Jewish Studies and in 1960/61 he was prorector. In 1962 he was elected chairman of the section of Jewish affairs of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities and from 1980 to 1986 was president of the Academy.

Urbach's studies cover practically every branch of research in the Talmud and in rabbinic literature. His most important work is the Ba'alei ha-Tosafot (1956 and later editions), for which he was awarded the Israel Prize. This deals with the history of the *tosafists and their creations and, at the same time, illuminates both their Jewish and gentile historical, social, and ideological background, and analyzes their methods of study, their methodological theories, and their contribution to the development of the halakhah. In this large work that touches on all the problems connected with its field, Urbach shed light on one of the most neglected sections of Jewish history in general and rabbinical literature in particular. He also published the Arugat ha-Bosem (vols. 1–4, 1939–63) of *Abraham b. Azriel, with notes and a comprehensive introduction. Urbach's interest also turned to the religious and theological principles of rabbinic Judaism. He contributed several important articles in this field to various festschriften and periodicals. He has incorporated his researches in this field in an important book, Ḥazal: Pirkei Emunot ve-De'ot ("The Rabbis: Doctrines and Beliefs"; 1969) in which he outlines the views of the rabbis on the important theological issues such as creation, providence, and the nature of man. In this work Urbach synthesizes the voluminous literature on these subjects and presents the views of the talmudic authorities. In addition he published numerous articles (in Hebrew, English, French, and German) discussing, among other topics, the history of the halakhah, the ideological world of the rabbis, the aggadic Midrashim, and medieval polemical literature. Great importance is attached to those studies in which he proved the close connection between the aggadah and Christian-Jewish polemic. From 1970 Urbach was the editor of Tarbiz, and president of *Mekiẓe Nirdamim. In 1966 Urbach was a founder of the Tenu'ah le-Yahadut shel Torah ("Movement for Torah Judaism"), one of whose aims was to bring about basic and progressive changes in the politics and values of religious Jewry in Israel.

[Moshe David Herr]