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Yehoshu‘a Heshel of Kraków

(1578–1648), halakhist and rabbi. Born in Vilna, Yehoshu‘a Heshel of Kraków served as rabbi in Grodno, Tiktin, Przemyśl, and Lwów between 1634 and 1639. In 1640, he replaced Natan Shapira for 12 months as head of the yeshiva in Kraków; he then served in this role in an honorary capacity. Among his outstanding students were Shabetai ben Me’ir ha-Kohen, Gershon Ulif Ashkenazi, and Menaḥem Mendel Auerbach.

Heshel gained authority as a distinguished scholar of halakhah, and this is reflected in his being called on by rabbis in Poland and other parts of Europe to address halakhic problems. His collected responsa, published in two parts (1715, 1860) as Pene Yehoshu‘a, constitutes his magnum opus. (His grandson Ya‘akov Yehoshu‘a Falk [1680–1756] wrote a work of the same name, adding the subtitle Ape zutre.) A second book, Megine Shelomoh, on eight tractates of the Talmud, defends Rashi against objections raised by the Tosafists.

An issue that was very much on the agenda of Polish Jewry in his day—the place of the Shulḥan ‘arukh in Jewish religious life, and the authority of contemporary rabbis to innovate within Jewish law—elicited a response from Heshel. He sought to demonstrate that the details of halakhah are dynamic and fluid, not meant to be codified in such a way as to block further creative innovation—and he insisted on the authority of contemporary judges to carry out such innovation.

Heshel’s response to a question raised by Simḥah (Simone) Luzzatto of Venice shows that he was attentive as well to new developments in Mediterranean lands—in this case, a new type of bill of exchange called cambio. Yehoshu‘a Heshel supported Luzzatto’s view that in this new type of financial instrument, there was no issue of taking interest (Pene Yehoshu‘a, pt. 1, nos. 27, 28).

Suggested Reading

Binyamin Arbel, “Yehudim, tsemiḥat ha-kapitalizm ve-kambio,Tsiyon 69.2 (2004): 157–202; Menachem Elon, Ha-Mishpat ha-‘ivri: Toldotav, mekorotav, ‘ekronotav, vol. 2, pp. 1087–1277 (Jerusalem, 1978).



Translated from Hebrew by Deborah Weissman