Title page of Keli yakar (Żółkiew: Aharon and Gershon Segal, 1763). An example of a title page that boasts the use of “Amsterdam” fonts, although it was printed in Żółkiew. (Gross Family Collection)

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Efrayim Shelomoh ben Aharon of Luntshits

(1550–1619), rabbi, preacher, exegete, and moralist. Efrayim Shelomoh ben Aharon of Luntshits (Pol., Łęczyca) was a student of Shelomoh Luria. As a young man, Efrayim developed a reputation as an outstanding preacher. He lived for a considerable time in Lwów, where he served as rosh yeshivah, but also preached frequently in other towns, including Jarosław and Lublin (at meetings of the Council of the Four Lands). In 1604 he was appointed chief rabbi of Prague, where he served until a year before his death.

Efrayim was thoroughly versed in Talmudic and midrashic literature, which were the primary sources of his sermonic art. The evidence of his direct references indicates that he immersed himself successively in the Torah commentaries of Baḥya ben Asher, Yitsḥak Arama, and Yitsḥak Abravanel (and, though he does not mention them, probably also those of some of his contemporaries, such as Eli‘ezer Ashkenazi), from all of whom he learned literary grace, artful interweaving of biblical and rabbinic allusions, and the integration of contemporary philosophical and scientific culture into his oral and written output. Philosophical themes play an important subordinate role in his work, revealing him to be a follower of Mosheh Isserles, Mordekhai Yafeh (Jaffe), and Avraham Horowitz of the sixteenth-century East European Maimonidean revival.

As a preacher and moralist, Efrayim was empathic but often forceful in criticizing his contemporaries. He condemned them for the petty enmity and divisiveness that undermined their social solidarity, and he was particularly critical of the rich for their self-centered actions and for their neglect of the needs of the poor. And he decried in general the preoccupation with this-worldly affairs at the expense of spiritual values and the eternal destiny of God’s human creatures. On the other hand, Efrayim expressed a positive valuation of the dignity of the human being—as created in God’s image and called to self-determination in freedom—that seems to reflect Renaissance humanism, though couched in traditional language.

Efrayim’s six major published works are somewhat varied in genre, but all combine sermonic, exegetical, and moralistic aspects. His ‘Ir giborim (1580) is a cycle of sermons arranged according to the weekly Torah portion; ‘Olelot Efrayim (1590) and Oraḥ le-ḥayim (1595) are collections of sermons dealing primarily with holidays and life-cycle celebrations. Keli yakar (1602) and Sifte da‘at (1610) are Torah commentaries drawing on sermonic material, while ‘Amude shesh (1618) is a moralistic work arranged according to the six virtues enumerated in verses 1:2 and 1:18 of the Mishnaic tractate Avot.

Efrayim’s famous critique of pilpul in ‘Amude shesh is offset by his frequent use of the device, which may be regarded as an exaggeration of the tosafistic method and a characteristic ingredient of the style of Polish Talmudic-based intellectual culture. Virtuoso and eclectic that Efrayim was, he drew on a range of intellectual resources (including Kabbalah) as enrichment for his primary medium, which was the sermon. His balance of rational, emotional, and mystical motifs appealed to the mainstream of later generations, who included his Keli yakar in the standard printed rabbinic Pentateuch (Mikra’ot gedolot).

Suggested Reading

Hillel Ben-Sasson, “‘Osher ve-‘oni be-mishnato shel ha-mokhiaḥ R. Efrayim ish Luntshits,” Tsiyon 19 (1954): 142–166; Jacob Elbaum, Petiḥut ve-histagrut: Ha-yetsirah ha-ruḥanit-ha-sifrutit be-Polin uve-artsot Ashkenaz be-shilhe ha-me’ah ha-shesh-‘esreh (Jerusalem, 1990); Leonard Levin, “Seeing with Both Eyes: The Intellectual Formation of Ephraim Luntshitz” (Ph.D. diss., Jewish Theological Seminary of America, New York, 2002).