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Gintsburg, Aryeh Leib ben Asher

(1695/96–1785), better known as Sha’agat Aryeh (or by his French name, Lion Asser; his surname also spelled Günzberg), Talmudic scholar. Born in Lithuania to a father who was the rabbi of Minsk, Gintsburg was teaching in that city’s yeshiva by 1733. Though he was well respected for his learning, Gintsburg’s severe criticisms of some decisions of his peers were not well received. His debate with Yeḥi’el Heilprin, the rabbi of Minsk and head of the yeshiva, on the role of pilpul (dialectical reasoning) in the teaching of Talmud—Gintsburg practiced it, but refused to mention it in his writings—probably resulted in his having to give up his position in Minsk in 1742.

Gintsburg seems to have officiated as rabbi of Volozhin between 1750 and 1755, but he had an uneasy relationship with communal leaders. There he put the final touches on his volume of responsa titled Sha’agat Aryeh (The Roar of the Lion; 1755). The work brought him lasting recognition and has been republished at least 40 times since; it is still considered to be an essential text of rabbinic learning. Sha’agat Aryeh rejected the use of pilpul he had once indulged in and insisted on a direct approach of the Talmudic text with no special attention given to the contributions of the sixteenth–eighteenth-century authors. He wanted to pursue the works of the ri’shonim (rabbinic scholars of earlier generations) and to establish the halalakhic decision as a necessary product of the commentary.

After 1755, Gintsburg spent some time in Frankfurt and Berlin but ultimately returned to Volozhin, where Ḥayim of Volozhin was his student. Gintsburg remained there under strained conditions until 1764 and then moved from city to city—including Vilna, where he met the Gaon and thereafter returned to Germany. In 1766, he was invited to serve in Metz, then one of the largest and most prosperous Jewish communities in Europe, known for the excellence of its rabbis. The French king authorized his appointment as rabbi, and his contract with the community guaranteed him 12 years of service.

Soon a bitter dispute arose when Gintsburg challenged the placement of the Akdamut prayer during the Torah reading service on Shavu‘ot. The community did not want to change its pattern, but Gintsburg refused to accept their decision, considering the congregation’s refusal to accept his ruling an infringement on his authority. Subsequently, he attended services in the main synagogue only to deliver the five yearly sermons stipulated in his contract. He regularly prayed instead in the chapel next to the community-supported yeshiva where he taught, even in his old age when he was blind. After a time, the community accepted this situation and renewed his contract.

Gintsburg was highly regarded by his contemporaries, who turned to him with halakhic questions. He published his novellae on the Talmudic tractates Rosh ha-Shanah, Ḥagigah, and Megilah (Ture even; 1781), along with a prayer for rain and a number of occasional prayers composed for French national celebrations. Although some of his writings were lost, Gevurat Ari, his novellae on Ta‘anit (1862) and on Yoma’ and Makot (1907), and a second volume of responsa, Sha’agat Aryeh ha-ḥadashot (1874), were published; all have often been reprinted.

According to his eulogy recorded in the Metz Memorbuch, Gintsburg was adept in Lurianic Kabbalah. His son, Asher ben Aryeh (Lion Asser), held different rabbinic positions in Germany and refused an offer to succeed Chief Rabbi Yosef David Sinzheim in the French Central Consistory in 1812. The celebrated French historian Marc Bloch was Gintsburg’s great-great-great-grandson.

Suggested Reading

Étienne Bloch, Marc Bloch, 1886–1944 (Limoges, Fr., 1997), pp. 25–26; Abraham Cahen, Le rabbinat de Metz pendant la période française, 1567–1871 (Paris, 1886), pp. 294–296; David Maggid, Toldot mishpeḥot Gintsburg (St. Petersburg, 1899), pp. 35–52; Nathan Netter, Vingt siècles d’histoire d’une communauté juive: Metz et son grand passé (Paris, 1938), pp. 121–133; Mordekhai Nadav, Pinsk: Sefer ‘edut ve-zikaron le-kehilat Pinsk-Karlin, vol. 1, pt. 1 Toldot kehilat Pinsk-Karlin, 1506–1880, pp. 181–182 (Tel Aviv, 1973); Simon Schwarzfuchs, “Tena’e ha-rabanut shel ha-Sha’agat Aryeh bi-K. K. Mets,” Moriyah 15.1–2 (1986): 81–90; Zosa Szajkowski, Franco-Judaica: An Analytical Bibliography of Books, Pamphlets, Decrees, Briefs and Other Printed Documents Pertaining to the Jews in France, 1500–1788 (New York, 1962), p. 136, nos. 1653–1658.