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Chajes, Tsevi Hirsh

(1805–1855), rabbi and scholar. Tsevi Hirsh Chajes was born in Brody into a wealthy and distinguished family. In 1829, he was appointed rabbi of the Żółkiew district and served in that capacity for more than 20 years. Chajes was active in a circle of Galician maskilic rabbis whose response to modernity in the first half of the nineteenth century was complex. He was the most prominent Galician rabbinic scholar who also engaged in historical research.

Chajes mastered several European languages, was well acquainted with the research and modern Jewish studies of Western Europe, and responded to new scholarship in a conscious and independent manner. He maintained close connections with a number of maskilim, especially with Naḥman Krochmal, and the circle of maskilim that arose around him in Żółkiew. He corresponded with many other scholars and maskilim inside and outside of Galicia, including Yitsḥak Ber Levinzon, Shelomoh Yehudah Rapoport, Yitsḥak Shemu’el Reggio, and (Isaac) Marcus Jost, though he frequently disputed their findings. Chajes was also a critic of the Hasidic movement. At the beginning of the 1850s, along with several other Galician rabbis, he supported plans for agricultural schools for Galician Jews.

Chajes’s complex approach is evident in his ideological and theological positions. He related favorably to emancipation but never gave up the particularistic national aspirations of the Jewish people. He fundamentally internalized the approach of scientific criticism, but only as long as it did not impair what he considered the authority of Divine revelation. Thus, he stood at the head of the struggle to anchor the authority of tradition with the help of new scholarly tools. He sharply opposed any reform of halakhah but supported changes in daily Jewish life and education, as long as they stemmed from a commitment to traditional halakhic decision making.

In the 1830s, Chajes sought a rabbinic position in a community in Central Europe—as did several of his colleagues who were maskilic rabbis—in the hope that these communities would prefer a rabbi who was also a maskil. He turned to Alt-Ofen (Óbuda), Pest, and Bonyhád in Hungary, and to Nikolsburg and Prague in Bohemia, but without success. In the mid 1840s, the Austrian authorities began enforcing a law that obligated district rabbis to acquire a formal general education. Chajes was the first Galician rabbi to apply for an official examination in accordance with the requirements of the new law. In the summer of 1846, he took external examinations at the University of Lwów and received an official permit from the authorities to serve in the rabbinate.

In those years, Chajes stood at the head of a group of Galician rabbis and maskilim who opposed the Reform rabbinical conferences in Germany. He tried to organize a public response against the gatherings and, among other things, published a polemical pamphlet called Minḥat kena’ot (1849). In 1852, he was elected rabbi of Kalisz and remained in that position for three years. In 1855, however, he became ill and returned to Galicia. He died shortly thereafter and was buried in Lwów.

Chajes’s literary oeuvre includes scholarly studies and studies of rabbinic thought, as well as responsa and annotations to the Talmud. Among his most important works are Torat ha-nevi’im (1836), on the eternality of the written and oral law; and ‘Ateret Tsevi (1841), a collection of articles that includes, among other things, studies on the history of the Targumim, the Midrashim, and the formulas of the blessings. It is also noted for articles in defense of Maimonides in which Chajes disputes the conclusions of Shemu’el David Luzzatto and other scholars; Darkhe hora’ah (1842), on the authority of the courts and the history and basis of halakhic decision making; Hagahot Ha-Maharats (annotations on the Babylonian Talmud, 1840–1849); Mevo ha-Talmud (1845), on the principles underlying rabbinic hermeneutics; and a collection of responsa (1849), including, among other things, detailed discussions regarding modern innovations and the rabbinic reformers in Germany and Hungary.

Chajes’s children Leib (Leon; 1825–1891), Ḥayim (Joachim; 1830–1886), Shelomoh (1835–1897), and Ze’ev (Volf; 1845–1901) were merchants and educated maskilim. His son Yitsḥak (1842–1901) was a merchant and rabbinic scholar, who in his later years served as rabbi of Brody.

Suggested Reading

Israel David Bet-Halevi, Rabi Tsevi Hirsh Ḥayot (Tel-Aviv, 1955/56); Ya‘akov Bodek, “Keter Torah,” Kokhve Yitsḥak 17 (1852): 93–94; 18 (1853): 53–59; 19 (1854): 49–53; 20 (1855): 60–63; Me’ir Hershkovitz, Maharats ḥayot: Toldot Rabi Tsevi Hirsh Ḥayot u-mishnato (Jerusalem, 1972); Eliezer Shweid, Toldot he-hagut ha-yehudit ba-‘et ha-ḥadashah (Jerusalem, 1978), pp. 273–277; Me’ir Vunder, “R. Tsevi Hirsh Ḥayes,” in Me’ore Galitsyah: Entsiklopedyah le-ḥakhme Galitsyah, vol. 2, cols. 1042–1048 (Jerusalem, 1982).



Translated from Hebrew by David Strauss