She'iltot - Ha'amek She'elah, Rav Ahai of Shabha Gaon; Neziv, Vilna 1861 (50715)

שאילתות דרב אחאי גאון ע"ב העמק שאלה - First edition of commentary

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Listing Details

Lot Number: 50715
Title (English): She'iltot - Ha'amek She'elah, Part I-III
Title (Hebrew): שאילתות דרב אחאי גאון ע"ב העמק שאלה
Note: First edition of commentary
Author: Rav Ahai of Shabha Gaon; Neziv
City: Vilna
Publisher: Joseph Reuven Romm; Dvortz
Publication Date: 1861-67
Estimated Price: $300.00 USD - $600.00 USD
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Physical Description

First edition of commentary. Three parts in one volume, folio, 360:230 mm., light age and damp staining, wide margins. A good copy bound in contemporary  boards, rubbed and split.


Detail Description

First edition of commentary by R. Naphtali Zevi Judah Berlin (known as ha-Neziv from the initials of his name; 1817–1893), one of the leading rabbis of his generation, and head of the yeshivah at Volozhin for some 40 years. He was born at Mir and already in his early youth was famed as a great talmudic scholar. In 1831 he married the daughter of R. Isaac b. Hayyim Volozhiner who headed the large and important yeshivah in that town. When R. Isaac died in 1851 he was succeeded by his elder son-in-law Eliezer Isaac. When the latter died in 1854, Berlin succeeded him, transforming that institution of learning into a spiritual center for the whole of Russian Jewry. In his day, the yeshivah at Volozhin was attended by more than 400 students, among whom were many men of great talent and unusual intellectual caliber. He taught the whole of the Babylonian Talmud in the order of its arrangement, without omission and with a commentary of his own, in which he followed the system and method of R. Elijah b. Solomon the Gaon of Vilna. He avoided hairsplitting pilpul, being concerned only with determining the plain meaning of the text as well as establishing its accuracy by reference to parallel passages in the Jerusalem Talmud and in the halakhic Midrashim. Early in life he wrote a commentary on Sifrei (published 1959–61 in Jerusalem, in three volumes, under the title Emek ha-Neziv). He ascribed great importance to the study of geonic literature and the works of the early authorities who lived close to the time of the Talmud. This accounts for his special interest in the She'iltot of R. Aha of Shabha which he published with a commentary. It was the most comprehensive of its kind on this work, and was titled: Ha'amek She'elah (Vilna, 1861, 1864, 1867; second edition with addenda and corrigenda from Berlin's manuscripts, Jerusalem, 1948–53). Berlin also devoted considerable attention to the interpretation of the Scriptures, following again in the footsteps of the Vilna gaon. In the yeshivah he gave a daily lesson in the weekly portion of the Reading of the Law, an unusual innovation in the yeshivot of his day. His commentaries on the Torah, Ha'amek Davar, were published (Vilna, 1879–80; second edition with addenda from manuscripts, Jerusalem, 1938) as were those on the Song of Songs, Rinnah shel Torah (Warsaw, 1886). In his Bible commentaries, he sought to demonstrate the consonance of the interpretations of the Pentateuch as transmitted in talmudic sources with the plain meaning of the Written Law and the rules of Hebrew grammar and syntax. In the course of his long years as head of the yeshivah at Volozhin, R. Berlin dedicated his energies to that institution. He adamantly opposed any modernization of the yeshivah and the introduction of secular studies in its curriculum, as demanded by the maskilim in Russia, who were supported by the authorities. He feared that such innovation might detract from the purpose and mission of the yeshivah - the education of scholars of the traditional type. He regarded the study of the Torah and the production and maintenance of talmudic scholars as the very foundation of Jewish existence. He exhibited the greatest solicitude over any form of neglect of Torah study and professed a fatherly love for all his students, who in turn admired and revered him greatly, including those who later departed from his way of life and outlook.

R. Berlin was keenly interested in the general community and its needs. He wrote many detailed responsa to questions arriving from various communities throughout the world on matters of halakhah and on general public affairs. A small part of his responsa was collected in his Meshiv Davar (2 vols., Warsaw, 1892) which revealed his general breadth of outlook. He completely rejected the demand of certain religious circles to establish separatist orthodox communities, stressing that "such advice is as painful as a dagger in the body of the nation," for all Jews are commanded to form "one union" (Meshiv Davar, vol. 1 responsum 42). He joined the Hibbat Zion movement from its very inception, and at the Druzgeniki Conference (1887) was elected "counseling member" of its executive. In many letters he urged observant Jews to join the movement and to support the settlement of Jews in Erez Israel, even though some were nonobservant. At the same time, he stressed that "our contributions do not go to settle the land of the Philistines, but to restore the desolation of our Holy Land... so that the Torah and the precepts be observed among its inhabitants" (Meshiv Davar, vol. 2, responsum 50, on shemitta). With that end in view, he urged that a religious person be appointed supervisor of the settlers in the colonies in Erez Israel to ensure they conduct themselves in accordance with the Torah and the precepts. He also suggested that "secular" members of the Jewish settlements (referring to the Bilu'im in Gederah) be enabled to return to their countries abroad and that their place be taken by observant Jews from the old yishuv in Jerusalem. R. Berlin was opposed to the permission granted by other rabbinic authorities for fields to be worked during the sabbatical year by means of the legal fiction of "selling" the land to non-Jews.

In his last years, he came into conflict with the Russian authorities as a result of their instructions both for a reduction in the number of students at the yeshivah of Volozhin and the introduction of secular subjects, especially the study of Russian, in the curriculum. Very much against his will, he reduced the student roll somewhat and introduced the study of Russian. However, even after these steps, the number of students at the yeshivah remained double that permitted by the Government, with few students among them attending the lessons in Russian. As a result the yeshivah was closed down by government decree in 1892 and R. Berlin and his family were exiled. They moved first to Minsk and later to Warsaw. The closing down of the yeshivah seriously affected his health and he was unable to carry out his desire to settle in Erez Israel. He died in Warsaw about 18 months after his departure from Volozhin.

Both in content and in form, She'iltot is unique in Jewish literature. It is unlike midrashic literature since its halakhic elements exceed its aggadic. It is without parallel in the literature of the Codes, being arranged neither according to subject matter nor according to the sequence of the sections in which the Pentateuch is divided. Rav Ahai's method is to connect decisions of the Oral Law with the Written Law.

Each she'ilta is divided into four parts. The first serves as a general introduction to the subject, speaks of the value and significance of the particular commandments, and serves as a preparation for the question that is to be discussed. The second part is always introduced with the words: "but it is necessary that you learn," or in an abridged form: "but it is necessary," followed by the question. Then comes the third part, the homiletical part, which begins: "Praised be the L-rd, who has given us the Torah and the commandments through our teacher Moses to instruct the people of Israel," after which the preacher proceeds from subject to subject. The fourth part is introduced by the formula: "With respect to the question I have set before you...," and then answers the question propounded in the second part. Some assume that the lecture was called "she'ilta" because its most important part is the question and its solution. However, not all the she'iltot have come down in their complete form: in most of them the third part is missing. One she'ilta is to be found in the Talmud itself (Shab. 30a) and it appears that this pattern of public sermon is ancient.

Rav Ahai (Ahai) of Shabha Gaon (680–752), scholar of the Pumbedita yeshivah in the geonic period and author of She'iltot ("Questions"). He came from Shabha, which is adjacent to Basra. When a vacancy occurred in the geonate of Pumbedita a few years before the death of Aha, the exilarch Solomon b. Hasdai appointed Natronai Kahana b. Emunah of Baghdad, a pupil of Rav Ahai, as gaon (748). Incensed at this slight, Rav Ahai left Babylonia (c. 750) and settled in Palestine. His departure deeply affected his contemporaries and many followed him. By the next generation a considerable number of Babylonian Jews were settled in Palestine. In many places they even built separate synagogues following the Babylonian ritual. The She'iltot (always so called, and not by the more correct name She'elata), was the first book written after the close of the Talmud to be attributed to its author. Much of its subject matter is very old, even antedating the final redaction of the Talmud. There are statements in the She'iltot that do not appear in the Talmud or which are there in a different version. It also contains "reversed discussions" (i.e., where the statements of the disputants are reversed, contradictory, or different from those in the standard texts). Other portions belong to the period of the savoraim and of the first geonim. A number of decisions cited by the geonim as the tradition of "many generations" or which refer to "earliest authorities" are verbally reproduced in the She'iltot. Even the legal terminology is identical with that of the legal decisions of the savoraim as transmitted by the geonim. Nevertheless, apart from his quotation of the decisions of other authorities, it can be assumed that the halakhic decisions are his own.


Hebrew Description

דרב אחאי גאון ... עם ראשון לציון ושאילת שלום, מהגאון ... ישעיה ברלין זצלה"ה ... [ועם] באור רחב ... מכונה העמק שאלה ... [מאת] נפתלי צבי יהודה בא"א הרב מוה' יעקב ברלין נ"י מוולאזין. חלק א-ג.

לכל חלק שער מיוחד. בחלקים ב-ג השתמש בעל "העמק שאלה" בפירושו בכתבי-יד. כן השתמש בחלקים אלה בפירוש קדמון על השאילתות, מאת ר' יוסף ב"ר שאול, שמצא בכתב-יד. בספר מפוזרים חידושיהם של ר' חיים ברלין, בן המחבר, ושל ר' רפאל שפירא, חתן המחבר. ראינו טופס בו צורפו לחלק א שער חדש וכן 7 דפים נוספים. הדפוסת בשער החדש: ווילנא, בדפוס האלמנה והאחים ראם, תרל"ב. הסכמת ר' דוד לוריא, ביחאב ישן, כח טבת תרט"ז. - חלק א

חלק א: ספר בראשית שמות. תרכ"א, 1861. ז, קכג דף. דף ג: הקדמותיהם של ר' ישעיה ברלין ושל חתנו ר' יוסף ב"ר מיכל מאיי. דף קיב, ב: "איזה חידושים", מאת ר' מיכאל ירמיהו אייזענשטאדט. חלק ב: ספר ויקרא ... שנת ל'מ'ע'ן' ר'ב' א'ח'א'י' א'ד'ב'ר'ה' [תרכ"ד], 1864. ח [צ"ל: ו], צב דף. דף פח-פט: תשובה מאת ר' בצלאל הכהן, מ"ץ בווילנא. דף צב: חידושים, מאת ר' מיכאל ירמיהו אייזענשטאדט. חלק ג: ספר במדבר דברים... ווילנא, דפוס אברהם יצחק דווארזעץ, שנת ב'ו'א'ו' ו'נ'ע'מ'י'ק' ש'א'ל'ה' [תרכ"ז], 1867. ז, ב [צ"ל: א]-קכו דף. דף קיא,ב-קיד,א: "שאילתות פ' משפטים" מתוך כתב-יד פטרבורג.


Reference Description

CD-NLI 0120369; EJ