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Igra, Meshulam ben Shimshon

(1742–1801), rabbi and halakhist. Born into a distinguished rabbinic family from Buczacz (Galicia), by age nine Meshulam ben Shimshon Igra had already presented a complex halakhic discourse in the study hall of the famous community of Brody. By age 17 he was appointed rabbi of Tysmenitsa (now Ukr., Tysmenytsya). There he attracted as students such future rabbinical leaders as Mordekhai Banet of Nikolsburg, Ya‘akov of Lissa, and Mosheh Münz of Óbuda.

Even after gaining fame as one of the more prominent Torah scholars of his generation, Igra tended to shy away from public conflict. In 1789, he refused to come to the defense of his traditionalist colleague Raphael Cohen of Hamburg against attacks from the enlightened rabbi Saul Berlin. Likewise, Igra refrained from direct involvement in the famous halakhic controversy that broke out in 1794 around Aharon Chorin regarding the permissibility of eating sturgeon.

Igra’s decision in 1793 to leave Galicia to accept the rabbinate of Pressburg (Hun., Pozsony; now Bratislava) in western Hungary was later attributed by legend to his desire to avoid ongoing friction with the expanding Hasidic contingent in Tysmenitsa, though the lure of such a prestigious post hardly needed such justification. Indeed, only after having announced his departure did he write a single forthright attack against the new movement’s innovative practices, and during his eight-year tenure in Hungary he never again formally addressed the issue.

The fine reputation Igra achieved in his lifetime was enhanced after his death as a result of somewhat ironic circumstances. First, Igra is often identified less directly with his own specific achievements than with the fact that his immediate successor in the Pressburg rabbinate was the far more famous Mosheh Sofer (Ḥatam Sofer). In addition, the posthumous publication of his halakhic responsa and Talmudic novellae ensured that his original analyses would remain known and available to posterity. Yet Torah scholars familiar with his works commonly highlight the difficulty in uncovering his ideas from behind the facade of his extremely diffuse writing style. To date, the following volumes have appeared: She’elot u-teshuvot Ramah (1862); Igra Ramah (1873); She’elot u-teshuvot (1885); and untitled writings (1914).

Suggested Reading

Schewach Knöbil (Shevah Knebel), Geram ha-ma‘alot (Vienna, 1921); Yitsḥak Yosef Kohen, “Darke ha-ḥadirah shel ha-ḥasidut le-Hungaryah,” in Yehude Hungaryah, pp. 11–13 (Tel Aviv, 1980); Yitsḥak Yosef Kohen, Ḥakhme Hungaryah (Jerusalem, 1996/97), pp. 234–235.