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Yitsḥak ben Shemu’el ha-Levi

(1580–ca. 1646), halakhist and grammarian. Yitsḥak ben Shemu’el ha-Levi was born in Ludmir and was a student of Yehoshu‘a Falk. Yitsḥak’s younger brother was David, author of Ture zahav on the Shulḥan ‘arukh and known as Taz. After a period of time in Lwów, Yitsḥak ben Shemu’el served as rabbi of Chełm for an unknown number of years and was appointed rector of the yeshiva in Poznań in 1627. His responsa were published in Neuwied in 1736, and some of his insights are recorded in his brother’s Ture zahav. In his legal decisions, he was considerate of his congregants’ needs and tried to be lenient in rulings connected with running a Jewish household. With respect to other scholars, including great legal authorities, he was not afraid to express dissenting opinions.

Yitsḥak ben Shemu’el’s intellectual range was unusual for his time and place. In addition to his studies of halakhah and his duties as a halakhic decisor (posek) and as rector of a yeshiva, he mastered German and studied geometry. He composed the celebratory liturgical poem in “Shir ge’ulim,” published in 1609, to mark the redemption of a synagogue in Lwów from Christian hands.

Yitsḥak was, most notably, a student of the Hebrew language and its grammar and an advocate of grammatical precision. His own writing was characterized by an exacting style conforming to the rules of grammar; he complained about his contemporaries’ neglect in this area and the haphazard and graceless style of their Hebrew compositions. He published Siaḥ Yitsḥak (1627), chiefly on the conjugation of verbs, with an additional section, Bet ha-Levi, on complex words in the Bible. Both his contemporary, the Talmudic scholar Yom Tov Lipmann Heller, and the nineteenth-century Italian scholar Shemu’el David Luzzatto praised the work. A shorter version of the book, titled Derekh Siaḥ, was published in Frankfurt in 1693.

Suggested Reading

Salomon Buber, Anshe shem (1895; rpt., Jerusalem, 1967/68), pp. 114–115; Ḥayyim Nathan Dembitzer, Kelilat yofi, vol. 1, pp. 50–51 (1888; rpt., Jerusalem, 1988/89).



Translated from Hebrew by Deborah Weissman