Woman at the tombstone of Yehoshu‘a Falk (ca. 1555–1614), rabbi and author of Sefer me’irat ‘enayim, a commentary on a portion of the Shulḥan ‘arukh, Lwów, ca. 1920s. (YIVO)

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Yehoshu‘a ben Aleksander ha-Kohen

(1555–1614), rabbinical scholar and halakhic authority. Yehoshu‘a ben Aleksander ha-Kohen, also known as Sema‘ (an acronym of the title of his Sefer me’irat ‘enayim, which is a commentary to the Ḥoshen mishpat portion of the Shulḥan ‘arukh) and by the name Falk, was born in Kraków, where he studied under his cousin, Mosheh Isserles. Subsequently, he moved to Lublin to study under Shelomoh Luria. For a while, he served as a rabbi in Ludmir. He married Beila, a learned daughter of Yisra’el Edels, one of the leaders of the Jewish community in Lwów. (Beila Falk introduced two new rules regarding the lighting of candles on holidays; several prominent rabbis, including Yeḥezkel Segal-Landau, Ḥayim Yosef David Azulay, and the Ḥatam Sofer, endorsed her opinion as halakhah. After being widowed, she immigrated to Jerusalem.)

While living at the home of his wealthy father-in-law, Falk served as the head of a yeshiva for 25 years. Among his students were rabbis Avraham Rappoport, Yehoshu‘a ben Yosef, Yesha‘yahu ben Avraham Horowitz, Yisakhar Ber Eilenburg, and Pinḥas Horovitz.

Falk attended the meetings of the Council of Four Lands, and in 1587 he signed its regulation forbidding the purchasing of rabbinical offices. He chaired a conference in Lublin in 1607 that endorsed his rulings on interest taking, which were later published as a special pamphlet in 1692. He was involved in a stormy controversy following a divorce he had jointly issued in Vienna in 1611 with Rabbi Manoaḥ Hendel. Falk’s works became fundamental texts in Jewish legal decision making; in them, he argued against rulings based merely on legal digests (summary versions, like the Shulḥan ‘arukh) and urged consultation of primary halakhic sources.

Falk’s major work, Bet Yisra’el, was a commentary on Ya‘akov ben Asher’s Arba‘ah turim. It is divided into four distinct sections:

1. Perishah: explanations of the rulings in the Arba‘ah turim by citing the author’s legal sources.

2. Derishah: Evidence, support, and proofs for Falk’s own interpretations. He also takes on other commentators on the Arba‘ah turim, chiefly Yosef Karo and Mosheh Isserles, whenever their interpretations disagree with his own.

3. Be’urim: Explanations and innovative rulings based on responsa literature published after the appearance of commentaries by Karo and Isserles.

These three parts served as the foundation for the final section:

4. Sefer me’irat ‘enayim: An interpretation of the Ḥoshen mishpat section of the Shulḥan ‘arukh, including corrections and explanations as well as attempts to reconcile the views of Karo and Isserles and criticism of the views of Rabbi Mordekhai Yafeh (Jaffe).

This last section of the book was published separately in Prague in 1616; subsequently, it was included in most printed editions of the Shulḥan ‘arukh. Other sections appeared in print intermittently over the next 150 years.

Many other works by Falk were lost in fires in Lwów during his lifetime and after his death, including innovative rulings on 14 tractates of the Mishnah; Halakhot ketanot, commentaries on the works of a number of earlier legalists; interpretations of various kabbalistic books; sermons; a commentary on the Torah and a supercommentary on Rashi; and a collection of hundreds of responsa, of which only 120 survived. Some of those responsa were published in collections of other scholars. In recent years, remnants of his responsa and correspondence have been published.

Suggested Reading

Samuel Ashkenazi, “Yehoshu‘a Falk (bar Aleksander) Kats,” in Entsiklopedyah le-toldot gedole Yisra’el, ed. Mordechai Margolioth, vol. 3, pp. 710–713 (Tel Aviv 1946); Salomon Buber, Anshe Shem, pp. 80–82 (Kraków, 1895); Salomon Gotesman, “Rebenu Yehoshu‘a Falk (Valk) bar Aleksander ha-Kohen—ba‘al ha-Sema‘,” Yeshurun 2 (1997); 110–116, 3 (1998): 93–95.



Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann