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Rapoport, Shelomoh Yehudah

(1790–1867), rabbi, Talmudist, maskil, and scholar of Wissenschaft des Judentums (Jewish studies). Shelomoh Yehudah Rapoport (known also by the acronym Shir) was born into a rabbinical family in Lwów. He received a traditional Jewish education and in 1810 married the daughter of Aryeh Leib ha-Kohen Heller, a famous Galician rabbinic scholar and author of Ketsot ha-ḥoshen (2 parts; 1788 and 1796).

Rapoport assisted his father-in-law in publishing another work, Avne milu’im (1815), adding his own marginal notes and indexes. Shortly after marrying, Rapoport became interested in secular and Haskalah literature and taught himself several languages. While continuing his Torah studies, he joined a young, pioneering circle of maskilim that was forming in Lwów. In 1814, he published Tekhunat ‘ir Pariz veha-i Elba (Description of Paris and the Island of Elba) anonymously and established a connection with the maskil thinker Naḥman Krochmal of Żółkiew. In 1816, Lwów’s rabbi, Ya‘akov Orenstein, placed a ban on Rapoport and a number of the latter’s colleagues due to their support of the Haskalah. At the same time, Rapoport was forced to begin earning his livelihood, which consisted of leasing the government kosher meat tax in Lwów.

In the 1820s, Rapoport began to publish his own poetry, as well as translations of poems and plays, in the periodical Bikure ha-‘itim. His most striking effort was She’erit Yehudah (1827), a Hebrew adaptation of Racine’s play Esther. In 1829, he established his reputation as a serious scholar by publishing, also in Bikure ha-‘itim, a series of critical biographies of leading Gaonic and rabbinic figures, including Sa‘adyah Ga’on, Hai Ga’on, Ḥanan’el ben Ḥushi’el, Natan ben Yeḥi’el, El‘azar ha-Kalir, and others (these articles were subsequently published separately under the title Yeri‘ot Shelomoh [1902]). The biographies reflected Rapoport’s comprehensive knowledge of rabbinic literature and his critical skills. Jewish scholars in Western and Central Europe showered his groundbreaking studies with both exuberant praise and stinging criticism.

For many years, Rapoport tried to find a position that would permit him to devote more time to research. In the mid-1820s, Yosef Perl tried to appoint him to a teaching position in the rabbinical seminary that he was attempting to establish, without success, in Tarnopol. In the early 1830s, Rapoport was forced to relinquish his position as leaseholder of the kosher meat tax in Lwów and looked for rabbinic posts in Italy, Hungary, and Bohemia. In 1837, Perl persuaded him to submit his candidacy for the rabbinate of Tarnopol. Rapoport received the appointment and assumed the position in the beginning of 1838. Rapoport thus became the first maskil to hold a formal rabbinic post in Galicia.

Some members of the local Galician elite fiercely opposed his appointment, including a number of local rabbinic judges, the wealthy, and even some moderate maskilim. Pamphlets accusing him of heresy were distributed; his seat in the synagogue was smeared with tar; and rumors circulated about flaws in his moral and religious conduct. After three years of such treatment, Rapoport competed for a rabbinical post in Prague, and moved to that city in the summer of 1840. He served there as a religious court judge (dayan) and a teacher for seven years, and in 1847 was appointed rabbi of the community. He held that position for 20 years, until his death in 1867.

Rapoport’s scholarly works from his years in Prague include ‘Erekh milin, a multivolume Talmudic encyclopedia (1852; expanded edition, 1914); an introduction to an 1860 edition of the medieval scholar Avraham bar Ḥiya’s Hegyon ha-nefesh; as well as many articles published in the Hebrew and German Jewish press. Rapoport served as the coeditor of the first seven volumes of the Hebrew Galician Haskalah annual Kerem ḥemed. His numerous letters, which were published in various periodicals and collections, serve as an important source for the history of both the Haskalah and Wissenchaft des Judentums in Eastern Europe. For its time, Rapoport’s publications set a new standard for the investigation of the history of rabbinic culture.

Rapoport viewed himself as a maskil who remained true to Jewish tradition. On the one hand, he was careful to conduct himself according to accepted rabbinic standards. On the other hand, he was active as a moderate maskil who exposed himself to the scholarly research of Wissenschaft des Judentums, and he believed that general knowledge and critical discussion of the past and of traditional sources had positive “national” value for Jews as a people. He viewed his appointment to the rabbinate as a realization of the modern yet moderate model of a traditional rabbi, a point of view that also accounts for his adamant opposition in the mid-1840s to resolutions passed by the conferences of German Reform rabbis and to the religious changes these gatherings fostered. Rapoport voiced his opposition to the first conference in Braunschweig in a pamphlet titled “Tokhaḥat megulah” (1845). He viewed traditional halakhah and the Hebrew language as essential for Jewish survival and considered major religious reforms as a goad to assimilation. Nonetheless, in his Divre shalom ve-emet (1861) Rapoport expressed support for Zacharias Frankel and the latter’s book Darkhe ha-Mishnah (1859). He defended Frankel against critics, including the neo-Orthodox Samson Raphael Hirsch. In his role as rabbi, Rapoport assumed responsibility for deciding Halakhah while at the same time focusing on education and preaching.

Suggested Reading

Isaac Barzilay, Shlomo Yehudah Rapoport (Shir), 1790–1867, and His Contemporaries (Ramat-Gan, Isr., 1969); Simon Bernfeld, Toldot Shir (Berlin, 1899); Haim Gertner, “Rabanut ve-dayanut be-Galitsyah be-maḥatsit ha-ri’shonah shel ha-me’ah ha-19: Tipologyah shel hanhagah mesoratit be-mashber” (Ph.D. diss., The Hebrew University, 2004), chap. 3; She’alti’el Ayzik Graber, ed., Igrot Shir, vols. 1–4 (Przemyśl, 1885–1886); Aharon ha-Kohen Poreis, “Toldot . . . Shelomoh Yehudah Leb Rapoport, ztz”l,” Ha-Shaḥar 1.11, pt. 2 (1869): 1–51; Feivel Hirsch Wettstein and Shelomoh Zalman Ḥayim Halbershtam, Le-Toldot Shir (Kraków, 1900).



Translated from Hebrew by David Strauss