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Babad, Yosef

(1801–1874), Galician rabbinical scholar. Yosef Babad was born in Tarnopol to a family of rabbinical scholars; from his earliest years he devoted his life to the study of the Torah. As an adult, he was introduced to Hasidism and regarded Naftali of Roptshits (Ropczyce) as his spiritual mentor. Of his four marriages, two were to women from Hasidic dynasties: after his first wife died at an early age, he married the sister of Ḥayim Halberstam of Sandz (Nowy Sacz); his third marriage was to the daughter of Rabbi David Hager of Zabludove (Zabludów). Almost nothing is known about his fourth marriage.

After serving as rabbi in the town of Husakow, Babad was chosen to be the town rabbi of Radoszyn, but was forced to reconsider and subsequently moved on to Zbaraż. Following a dispute involving maskilim (adherents of the Haskalah), he was deported by the authorities and moved first to Śniatyn in 1842, then to Horodenka in 1851, and finally to Tarnopol in 1857, where his grandfather, Yehoshu‘a Heshel Babad, had served as town rabbi.

Yosef Babad was known as a generally silent individual who addressed public issues only rarely and spent most of his day seated, wrapped in his prayer shawl, totally absorbed in the Torah. Nevertheless, he maintained good relations with his contemporaries in the rabbinic world. According to Babad’s own testimony, he had written interpretations of the Torah and the Shulḥan ‘arukh, but the manuscripts had been stolen from him. As a result, he was persuaded to publish his now famous work, Minḥat ḥinukh (1869), which established his reputation in the rabbinic literary world. The text, initially published anonymously, is structured as a commentary on Sefer ha-ḥinukh, attributed to Aharon ha-Levi of Barcelona, explaining the 613 precepts of the Torah in order.

In his introduction to Minḥat ḥinukh, Babad states that his intention is primarily to clarify points that the author of Sefer ha-ḥinukh had left unclear and to amend whatever needed revision; but in effect, his interpretations extend into numerous deliberations on new issues. He poses difficult questions, not always resolved, about the rulings of medieval authorities; and is particularly fond of clarifying who the parties to a precept are, asking which of them is actually bound by that precept, and to whom. In this context, he extensively addresses not only the obligations of women, minors, and the like, but also such uncommon human categories as hermaphrodite, androgyne, slave, and half-slave–half-freeman—which often helps him uncover the fundamental aspects of a given commandment. With the acute questions it poses and with its clear, lucid explanations, Minḥat ḥinukh became one of the most widely accepted textbooks in the yeshiva world.

Suggested Reading

Eliyahu Amsel, Toldot ha-Minḥat ḥinukh (New York, 1996); Kuntres Toldot Yosef: Toldotav u-firke ḥayav shel Yosef Babad . . . meḥaber sefer Minḥat ḥinukh (Kiryat Viznits, Bene Berak, Israel, 1998).



Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann