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Eger, Akiva ben Mosheh

(1761–1837), rabbi and halakhist. Born in Eisenstadt (Burgenland) and educated in Breslau, Akiva Eger was considered one of the nimblest halakhic minds of his generation, as well as a particularly humane individual. He was also known for his bitter opposition to the liberal elements within his own community and beyond.

Turning to the professional rabbinate after his family’s financial ruin precluded full-time study, Eger rose to prominence during his 1791–1815 tenure as rabbi of Märkisch-Friedland (now Mirosławiec, Pol.). In 1815, he became the chief rabbi of the East Prussian city of Posen (Poznań). This appointment had actually been delayed for two years by conflicts between the conservative and modernizing factions in the community. In 1836, Eger was offered, but declined, the prestigious position of rabbi of Vilna.

Eger’s involvement in the Orthodox battle with Reform was expressed on an intercommunal level in the controversy over the establishment of the Hamburg Reform Temple in 1818–1819. His opinion appears prominently in Eleh divre ha-berit, the protest volume published in 1819 by the Hamburg rabbinical court. Unlike his son-in-law Mosheh Sofer (Ḥatam Sofer), Eger, in upholding tradition against the perceived dangers of modernity, did not take a rejectionist attitude toward all new ideas. He expressed willingness to accept so sweeping a change as the political emancipation of Jews and demonstrated unprecedented understanding regarding the growing phenomenon of nonobservant Jews. He raised the idea, for example, that change in historical circumstances was a valid basis for suspending long-established criteria for declaring a person religiously untrustworthy.

Despite local controversies that were never fully resolved, upon Eger’s death, his son Shelomoh was appointed to inherit the Posen position. Akiva Eger’s legacy was preserved as well through his halakhic commentaries and Talmudic novellae, which have become part of the central canon of Orthodox rabbinical literature. These include Ḥiluka de-rabanan (1822); Hagahot (on the Mishnah; 1825–1830); Gilyon ha-Shas (Prague edition of the Talmud; 1830–1834); She’elot u-teshuvot (part 1, 1834; part 2, 1839); Tosafot (Altona edition of the Mishnah; 1841–1848); and Hagahot (Shulḥan ‘arukh; Berlin, 1862; Johannesburg, 1859 or 1869).

Suggested Reading

Judith Bleich, “Rabbi Akiva Eger and the Nascent Reform Movement,” Proceedings of the World Congress of Jewish Studies 9.B3 (1986): 1–8; Adam S. Ferziger, Exclusion and Hierarchy: Orthodoxy, Nonobservance, and the Emergence of Modern Jewish Identity (Philadelphia, 2005), pp. 77–83.