Weil, Jacob ben Judah

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WEIL, JACOB BEN JUDAH (d. before 1456), German rabbi and halakhic authority in the first half of 15th century. The name Weil was derived from the town of that name in the Neckar district. Weil's main teacher was Jacob *Moellin (the Maharil), who ordained him and appointed him rabbi of Nuremberg. Moellin granted him permission to establish a yeshivah there, but he refrained out of respect for Zalman Katz, who had previously been appointed to this office (Responsa Weil, no. 151). It appears, however, that from 1422 he served in both offices. Weil also refers to Zalman Ronkel of Mainz as "my teacher" and states that he studied in his yeshivah (ibid.). After Nuremberg he was in *Augsburg, then in *Bamberg for a short period, and from 1444 he was rabbi of *Erfurt. Scholars from various communities, including Israel *Isserlein, addressed their halakhic problems to him. Weil became renowned through his volume of responsa (Venice, 1523, frequently republished) which contains 193 responsa. They were copied during his lifetime and some are found among the responsa collections of other rabbis. Particularly well known is his Hilkhot Sheḥitah u-Vedikah ("laws of slaughtering and examination"), which was accepted as halakhic practice by the Ashkenazim and has been republished more than 70 times. These laws were first published in his responsa (Venice, 1549), and various scholars, among them Solomon *Luria (the Maharshal), added glosses, explanations, and novellae. The section Bedikot (Venice, 1552) was first published separately, but from the Mantua, 1556, edition, it was published together with the laws of slaughtering and given the title Shehitot u-Vedikot.

Apart from their halakhic importance, Weil's responsa are a valuable source for the social and religious history of German Jewry. They reflect the various problems that occupied the Jews of Germany during his era and, in particular, throw light on the internal organization of the communities. Particularly noteworthy is his responsum in connection with the rabbinic office. In his view the claim of presumptive right (*ḥazakah) does not apply to the rabbinical office, and any scholar has the right to take up residence in a town where there is a rabbi whose authority has been accepted by the community and may act as rabbi in the same manner as the incumbent; "and we have also seen in our own generation several places where there are two rabbis, and we have never heard that one had a greater right than the other" (Responsum 151). In one responsum he complains about the decline in the honor of the rabbinate and attacks those rabbis "who declare their own importance [and] administer their office in a high-handed manner, treading upon the heads of ordinary Jews and imposing monetary fines upon them in order to promote their own honor." In answer to the query of a contemporary scholar who complained that certain litigants refused to accept him as dayyan over them, he points out that nowadays "the generations have degenerated, understanding has declined, the dayyanim have deteriorated, and there is not a single scholar in the world who is an acknowledged expert." He attests of himself that "during my whole life l have never acted as judge over any one against his will, and always refrain with all my might from acting as a judge" (no. 146).

His Hilkhot Shehitah u-Vedikah was intended primarily for shoḥatim, to enable them to revise the laws. For this reason the sources are not given, nor does the work contain halakhic novellae, but merely gives the ruling in the briefest terms. He stresses the final halakhic ruling but also gives the local customs. Also appended to his Responsa is Dinim ve-Halakhot, in 71 sections, on the laws of divorce, *ḥaliẓah, redemption of the firstborn, repentance, and the festivals, giving the halakhic ruling and relegating the sources to the end of his responsa. Two additional pamphlets appended to the responsa are: a collection of the novellae of the author of the Aguddah and the Nimukkim of *Menahem of Merseburg. Weil permitted the use of *pilpul merely as an aid to study, but in his practical halakhic rulings he relied only upon "clear proofs, clarified and complete, and elucidated from the plain meaning" (no. 164). Solomon Luria states that Weil was the chief of the *aḥaronim and that all his successors relied upon his rulings. The aḥaronim, especially Moses *Isserles, attached great importance to his rulings, accepting them as binding. Of the many commentaries on his Hilkhot Sheḥitah u-Vedikah, the Ohel Yisrael (Wandsbek, 1733) of Israel of Copenhagen should be noted. It contains additions by later authorities and also includes questions "that should be asked of those coming to receive ordination," so that they can show their familiarity with the subject.


Michael, Or, no. 1061; Graetz, Gesch, 8 (n.d. 4), 209f., 213, 264f.; M. Wiener, in: mgwj, 17 (1868), 390f.; A. Berliner, ibid., 18 (1869), 318; D. Kaufmann, ibid., 42 (1898), 424; S. Neufeld, ibid., 69 (1925), 285, 289f.; Guedemann, Gesch Erz, 3 (1888), index; Weiss, Dor, 5 (19044), 242–6; J. Freimann (ed.) Joseph b. Moses, Leket Yosher, 2 (1904), introd. 33f.; S.M. Chones, Toledot ha-Posekim (1910), 200, 569; Waxman, Literature, 2 (19602), 173; C. Tchernowitz, Toledot ha-Posekim, 2 (1947), 257, 261–4; Zinberg, Sifrut, 2 (1956), 128f.

[Yehoshua Horowitz]