Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

NOTE: you will be redirected
to the Web site for the

Kahana, Yehudah

(ca. 1740–1819), rabbi and author. Born in Kalisz (in what was to become Galicia), Yehudah Kahana was the eldest of four sons of Yosef ha-Kohen, who traced his lineage to the seventeenth-century rabbi Yom Tov Lipmann Heller (hence, some members of the family were called Kahana-Heller). Kahana at first shunned the rabbinate, leasing a village inn near Kalisz. Unsuccessful as an innkeeper, he became a private tutor to advanced students of wealthy families in Lwów, where he befriended a fellow tutor, Yosef Te’omim, later the rabbi of Frankfurt an der Oder and the author of the Peri megadim.

While in Lwów, Kahana oversaw the publication of the first volume of Ketsot ha-ḥoshen (1788; vol. 2 appeared in 1796) of his younger brother, Aryeh Leib. He appended his own Kuntres ha-sefekot to the first volume of this classic commentary on the Ḥoshen mishpat portion of Shulḥan ‘arukh; numerous editions of the combined works of the brothers subsequently became part of the standard rabbinical repertoire. A second work, Terumat ha-keri, was first published posthumously in 1858, compiled from notes on the halakhic codes Tur and Shulḥan ‘arukh, Ḥoshen mishpat; many of his manuscripts were lost or destroyed over the years.

Kahana moved to Hungary and served successively in a number of rabbinical posts: as rabbinical judge in Munkács; as rabbi of Nagyszöllös and Ugocsa county by 1796; and finally, as rabbi of Máramarossziget (Sziget; Rom., Sighet) from 1802 until his death in 1819. At the time, there were few rabbis functioning in the northeastern parts of Hungary. When Kahana became the rabbi of Sziget, the second to serve in the post, the position had been vacant for nearly 30 years. As was the case with other rabbis in the region, he ministered to an entire county in which thousands of Jews lived scattered about the countryside. The popular religion of these village Jews was often tinged by peasant culture and bordered on the deviant. In addition, nests of Sabbatian and Frankist heretics had flourished in this area (Kahana was careful to marry off his seven sons and one daughter to families whose pedigrees were untainted by heresy; his choice of kohanim—members of the priestly class—led to the confusing state in which Kahanas often married other Kahanas).

Kahana’s presence as a distinguished halakhic authority served to bolster the trend toward a thickening of traditional communal institutions in the region. A measure of his status can be gauged by the high esteem in which Mosheh Schreiber of Pressburg (Ḥatam Sofer) held him. When a bitter dispute arose in 1816 over the competence of the Transylvanian chief rabbi, the latter was ordered by Ḥatam Sofer to appear before “his beloved friend, the famous great gaon, Rabbi Yehudah Kahana”—unusually lavish praise from one who was quite sparing in showering the honorific gaon on contemporaries. Kahana’s numerous descendants produced many prominent rabbinical and lay leaders and formed a veritable clan in Sziget and throughout Máramaros county, often clashing with the Teitelbaum (Satmar) dynasty.

Suggested Reading

Naftali Ben-Menahem, “Ba‘al Kuntres ha-sefekot u-veto be-Ungaryah,” in Mi-Sifrut Yisra’el be-Ungaryah, pp. 295–329 (Jerusalem, 1957/58); Yitsḥak Yosef Kohen, Ḥakhme Transilvanyah (Jerusalem, 1988/89), pp. 79–80.