Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

23 Tammuz 5762 - July 3, 2002 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Tosefta Megilloh with the Commentary Toledos Yitzchok

by Rabbi Yitzchok Itsak Halevi of Lemgo

`All is dependent on mazel, even a sefer Torah in the ark,' goes the famous maxim from the Zohar. Interestingly, this applies even to the actual study of Torah.

The Oral Law has always been the main subject of study in yeshivos. This is an obvious necessity as it comprises the greater part of Torah [Gittin 60b, see Beer Sheva quoted in Gilyon Hashas]. The Oral Torah includes the teaching of the tanoim in the Mishnayos and Beraissos, and later expounded upon by the amoraim in Talmud Bavli and Talmud Yerushalmi. The lion's share of study in yeshivos is the Talmud Bavli with its commentaries, mishna and its commentaries and halachic works. There is an almost total neglect of the Tosefta, halachic midroshim and, to a lesser extent, the Talmud Yerushalmi. This lack of balance is compounded by the fact that the gemora and mishna were zoche to popular and easily accessible commentaries.

The 56th century (5500-5600, 1740-1840) witnessed tremendous progress in Jewish learning. In Vilna, the Gaon single- handedly influenced the nature of and the approach to learning until our day. The Talmud Yerushalmi was made accessible by two great commentaries, which have become the standard companions of anyone studying it.

Another, but less known, phenomenon during this period was the composition of two major commentaries on the Tosefta, the Chasdei Dovid by Rabbi David Pardo, the Italian- born gaon of Sarajewo, and the Toledos Yitzchok Meiras Einayim, the subject of this review.

The Chasdei Dovid was published in Leghorn (Zeroim, Moed, Noshim 5536 (1776), Nezikin 5550 (1790)) and Jerusalem (Kodshim 5650 (1890), Taharos 5730- 5737 (1970-1977)). Rabbi David Pardo was already a well-known personality during his own lifetime. His fame is assured by his wonderful commentaries on the Sifrei, on the Mishna and many other impressive seforim. He was an in-law of Rabbeinu HaChido, who quotes him often in his writings.

In contrast, the author of the other peirush, Rabbi Yitzchok Itzak Halevi of Lemgo, is an almost totally unknown personality. Until the last year of his life he did not function as a rabbi of a community and held no public position. He was totally and completely immersed in the four cubits of halacha, to the exclusion of all else. From the scant biographical details gleaned from a few comments made by pupils and contemporaries emerges a very impressive personality.

Rabbi Yitzchok was born in 5509 (1749) in Lemgo, a small town in northwestern Germany. When he was still very young, his family moved to Amsterdam. Apparently, he obtained his main education in the famed beis hamedrash Eitz Chaim.

The Social Background in Amsterdam

The Ashkenazi kehilla of Amsterdam was founded in 5396 (1636) by German Jews. The Sephardic kehilla was thirty- nine years older, having been founded in 5357 (1597) by refugees from Spain and Portugal.

In 1648-49 (5408-9) a number of refugees from Poland and Lithuania arrived, survivors of the Chmielnicki massacres. In 1655 (5415), several boatloads of Jews arrived from Vilna and elsewhere in Lithuania, fleeing a combined Russian and Cossack invasion. Some of these later returned to Lithuania. In 5431 (1671) the Ashkenazic community built a grand shul in Amsterdam. Two years later all the Ashkenazim united to form a single community.

R' Yitzchok's family arrived more than half a century later. As he excelled in his studies R' Yitzchok was elected as one of the full-time lomdim of the Beis Hamedrash, a coveted position which provided ample scope for development in Torah study. These lomdim were supported by the Kehilla and had to maintain a grueling schedule of learning and teaching as set out by the stipulations of the Beis Hamedrash.

In a sidebar, we reproduce the regulations for those learning in the Beis Hamedrash. The program was founded in 5515 (1745) and included three groups that were differentiated by the requirements they were expected to fulfill and the amount of financial support they received. The top group included five lomdim, who were expected to learn all day and much of the night and to give shiurim as well (see the sidebar). This group received four hundred gold coins yearly. The second group included four lomdim who received two hundred gold coins. A third group received a hundred gold coins a year.

In this position he labored for twenty-six years on his extensive peirush on the Tosefta. The manuscript of his commentary, an autograph consisting of hundreds of oversized pages and covering thirty tractates of the Tosefta, survived many travels and is now deposited in the Rosenthaliana University Library in Amsterdam. (Recent press reports claimed that this collection was being closed, but a spokesman for the collection denied these claims.)

The conditions in the Ashkenazic Beis Hamedrash at that time were extremely conducive to produce a commentary that, without any exaggeration whatsoever, may be termed monumental. Most of the seforim available at that time were at the disposal of the lomdim, either in the library of the Beis Hamedrash or in the nearby, very well-stocked, library of the Sephardic community. The Lemgo Rabbi made use of all this wealth of Torah literature in his work.

The lomdim were also engaged in harbotzas Torah on the highest level. The Torah interaction between teachers and students and among the lomdim themselves, each of whom was a chosen formidable scholar in his own right, added an important dimension to this intellectual environment.

At the time, Amsterdam generally enjoyed a very preeminent economic and commercial status; this also contributed to the success of the lomdim. The busy port assured business and cultural links with all parts of the known world.

Many talmidei chachomim came to Amsterdam to print their seforim. There they successfully solicited funds from the wealthy communal leaders to print their seforim and availed themselves of the world renowned printing presses of Amsterdam. This often necessitated a prolonged stay in the city and led to an exchange of thoughts and ideas between them and the local talmidei chachomim.

In addition to all these advantages, the lomdim of the Beis Medrash were relieved of any financial worries. Understandably, in this favorable climate a work of the magnitude of the commentary Toledos Yitzchok Meiras Einayim on the entire Tosefta could be attempted and successfully concluded.

Publishing the Commentary

The extant manuscript, contained in three volumes, comprises 1,395 closely-written folio pages. None of this was published during the author's lifetime. The Rabbi from Lemgo died childless at the age of 52, a mere year after he became the Chief Rabbi of Groningen in Northeastern Holland, not far from Germany.

After his passing, an effort was made to publish the entire work. One of his talmidim, R. Avrohom Prins, an extraordinary personality and an influential lay leader of the Jewish community of Amsterdam, published a sample of the commentary Toledos Yitzchok on Tosefta Yoma, including it in his oft-published Likkutei Zvi in 5569 (1809). He hoped to obtain subscribers to support the subsequent printing of the entire commentary.

In his introduction, R. Avrohom refers to his rebbe in terms of great respect and effusive praise. Both he and Rabbi Yaakov Moshe, then Chief Rabbi of Amsterdam, point out the author's great chassidus and perishus, and his unusual hasmodoh beTorah, saying of him that he hardly slept fully all his life.

As far as we know, these efforts at publication bore no fruits.

One hundred and fifty years went by and nothing was heard or known, neither of the Rabbi from Lemgo nor of his commentary on the Tosefta. In 5725 (1965), Joseph Onderwyzer, son of the former Chief Rabbi of Amsterdam (known for his meticulous translation of the Chumash and Rashi into Dutch), published a book, named Mavoch (Labyrinth in English), in which he describes his efforts to locate the manuscript after learning by chance of its existence. He then alerted contemporary Tosefta scholars of his discovery and tried to mobilize support for its publication. Alas, to no avail.

In 5729 (1969), a portion of the commentary, that of Tosefta Horayos, was published by Rabbi Genechovski as part of his Otzar Haperushim on Horayos.

And yet again, nothing happened for several decades. It is therefore a joyful moment for all who love Torah and chochmoh to see that Machon Ofeq has undertaken the arduous task of publishing the Tosefta commentary, Toledos Yitzchok. At present, they have presented us with an outstanding volume containing the Tosefta Megilla according to the first print with variants from manuscripts and the Toledos Yitzchok commentary, edited by Rabbi Avraham Shoshana, with a scholarly introduction about the author's life and times and his commentary to the Tosefta, source notes, explanations and a very useful subject index.

The Commentary Itself

This leaves us just to say a few words about the nature of the peirush. Anyone who has learned a bit of Rabbi Yitzchok's commentary cannot help being impressed by his total command of both Talmudim, Tanaitic literature and Rishonim and Acharonim. His penetrating insights have amazed scholars. The author of Tosefta Kepshuta was moved to write that the author did not leave anything untouched, neither great nor small.

The publication of this peirush will enable many to familiarize themselves with the meaning of the Tosefta. It will hence be another stop in the realization of the prophetic ideal that "the earth shall be full of knowledge of Hashem as the water covers the sea bed."

* * *

Even a cursory glance at the peirush will reveal that we are dealing with a very special commentary. The author is alert to the fine nuances of language employed by the Tosefta and addresses them in his explanations.

However, it is not just a commentary of the Tosefta in a narrow sense of the word. The peirush is a rich repository of explanations of the related sections in the Bavli, the Yerushalmi and the ideas of Rishonim on those sections and their relationship with each other and the Tosefta. In this context the author brings his vast erudition to bear. He makes use of most of the known rabbinic literature extant at his time and displays himself as the master of the most recondite references.

Already at the immediate beginning, Rabbi Yitzchok finds it necessary to explain the reason of the Rambam and SMaG for omitting the law of cities which have been walled only after being settled.

A few pages on, the author discusses the different opinions between Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korcha and R. Yose berabbi Yehuda regarding walled cities, illuminating a passage of the Yerushalmi as he goes along. In this context it might have been useful had the editors directed us to the interesting insight of Tzofnath Panei'ach [Megilloh 1:4] on this topic.

In short, the author deals with inferences in Rambam, commentaries on the Rambam, the Shulchan Oruch and its interpretations, other Rishonim who discuss the topic, but above all, he sheds light on many obscure passages of the Yerushalmi.

It is evident that the author experienced unusual siyata deShmaya whilst writing this great commentary. It is heartening to note that this extraordinary assistance did not leave the author even now. This may be seen from the fact that it was left to Machon Ofeq to publish his work.

The Machon is already well-known in the olam Hatorah for its masterly renditions of other great works. It has introduced to us some very great, previously almost unknown, luminaries. Once again the Institute has not disappointed.

The edition contains the actual text of the Tosefta, making the commentary far easier to use. Throughout the masechta the commentary is accompanied by incisive, erudite and superb notes which open for the lamdan a whole world of cognate literature.

Another feature which makes the explanations of the author far more accessible is the fact that every section is preceded by a lucid caption, which succinctly gives the essence of the point under discussion. The elaborate index completes this work into a serious reference work on Talmud Yerushalmi, Rambam, Shulchan Oruch and Rishonim.

All the sections of the work, Tosefta commentary and "apparatus criticus," have been printed in a pleasant type which is easy on the eye. The olam Hatorah is certainly very much enriched by this publication. May Machon Ofeq continue this momentous undertaking and publish this great commentary until its completion for the glory of Torah and its learners.

Obligations Of Those Studying In The Beis Hamedrash Who Receive A Yearly Stipend Of Four Hundred Gold Coins

We have a copy of the regulations that bound the lomdim, including HaRav Yitzchok Lemgo. We reproduce here a translation of those regulations.


During the summer semester, which lasts from Rosh Chodesh Iyar until Rosh Chodesh Marcheshvon, immediately upon the termination of prayers in the beis haknesses, two of us are obliged to come to the beis hamedrash and learn until nine o'clock (when the other three arrive to learn). The two can then go home but they must return at ten o'clock, except on a day when they were awake during the night; then they are exempt from coming until ten o'clock.


From ten o'clock until twelve, we are obliged to conduct a shiur on the works of the early poskim, together with all those who learn in the beis hamedrash. If the gaon, the Av Beis Din and Rosh Mesivta is not in the beis hamedrash (meaning that we should wait for him until half past ten and no later), one of the lomdim should deliver the shiur. A different person should deliver the shiur each day, repeating the cycle [once everyone has taken a turn]. Whoever does not deliver the shiur when it is his turn to do so, shall pay a fine of one gold coin. The lecturer must study the material on his own before he speaks in public.


From twelve o'clock until one, we must conduct a shiur together on the works of the later poskim. Every week a different person shall deliver the shiur, rotating the task. Following the learning, the lecturer shall say the Ribbon from [the prayer for] the mention of the soul of the departed Rabbi Avrohom ben Shimon Falk z'l, in accordance with his testament, followed by Kaddish Derabonon. Then they may go home until three o'clock.


At three o'clock they must return to the beis hamedrash and can learn whatever they desire by themselves, or with the bochurim who are there, until five o'clock. From five o'clock until minchah time, they must conduct a gemora shiur together. The lecturer shall be chosen by drawing lots. If the person upon whom the lot falls does not deliver the shiur, he shall pay a fine of one gold coin. Following minchah, they can learn whatever they desire until some time before ma'ariv . . .

Obligations of Those Learning . . . for . . . Two Hundred Gold Coins a Year


During the summer semester . . . we must come to the beis hamedrash at nine o'clock and conduct a shiur in mishnayos together until ten o'clock. In the winter, lasting from Rosh Chodesh Marcheshvon until Rosh Chodesh Iyar, [we must arrive] at half past nine and also conduct a shiur in mishnayos until ten o'clock. Each week, someone else will take a turn to deliver the shiur, repeating the cycle. Following the learning, the lecturer shall say the Ribbon from [the prayer for] the mention of the soul of the departed Rabbi Avrohom ben Shimon Falk z'l. in accordance with his testament.


From ten o'clock until twelve, we are obliged to conduct a shiur on the works of the early poskim, together with all those who learn in the beis hamedrash . . . [conditions as above, para.two]


During the summer semester, we must be in the beis hamedrash from five o'clock until minchah time, conducting a gemora shiur together. The lecturer shall be chosen by lots . . . In the winter, we must come immediately following ma'ariv, and learn as above.


On yom shishi, erev Shabbos kodesh, we must come to the beis hamedrash at half past nine and conduct a shiur in mishnayos until ten o'clock. Both summer and winter shall be the same in this respect. From ten until twelve, we can learn whatever we desire in the beis hamedrash. If however, bochurim who learn Torah come during this time, we are obliged to listen to their learning properly.


Whoever does not keep to these times and arrives at the beis hamedrash late or leaves early, during either summer or winter, shall pay a fine of one shilling. If he arrives late or leaves early by a whole hour, he shall pay a two shilling fine. If he doesn't come at all one day, he shall pay a fine of a gold coin, unless he was prevented from coming by some clear and obvious circumstance, on the condition that he informs that week's mashgiach of his circumstances on the same day. On Purim and erev Yom Tov, they are completely exempt from attending the beis hamedrash.


We are obliged to remain awake learning in the beis hamedrash during the summer on motzei Shabbosos from ten p.m. until four a.m., and in the winter from eight p.m. until one a.m., except for days when Tachanun is not said, namely on Chanukah and Purim and during Chol Hamoed, [when] they are exempt for that whole week. On other days when Tachanun is not said, they are exempt on that night but they must make up for the missed night by learning on a different night during the preceding or the following week, in addition to any night on which they are anyway obliged [to come to the beis hamedrash]. If a fast day falls on yom rishon, they do not need to come on motzei Shabbos kodesh and should learn instead on a different night, as above.


Anyone who is unable to remain awake on motzei Shabbos kodesh must appoint one of those who learn in the beis hamedrash, whose time for remaining awake is on leil chamishi, [to come] in his place. In return, he must be awake in place of his friend on leil chamishi. Someone who does not come on motzei Shabbos kodesh and does not appoint someone to take his place, shall pay a fine of one gold coin. Similarly, if he doesn't come on leil chamishi instead of the person who took his place on motzei Shabbos kodesh, even if the one who took his place is also in the beis hamedrash [anyway, that leil chamishi,] he shall pay a fine of one gold coin. All this applies unless there is some clear and obvious reason compelling him to stay away, as above.


We have also obliged ourselves to refrain from belittling each other with quarrelsome and scornful talk and particularly, to refrain from mocking any of our brethren, either in the beis hamedrash or outside it. If anyone has a complaint of such behavior on the part of someone else, he shall present his complaint to the weekly mashgiach and if it is found that someone disgraced his friend unjustly, he will be punished as the leaders of the beis hamedrash see fit. We have also taken upon ourselves to refrain from presenting any complaint of derisive behavior to anyone other than the weekly mashgiach, not even to the other leaders of the beis hamedrash, except for when the leaders are conducting a meeting.

If one of the supporters of the chevra is chas vesholom absent, whether with regard to the learning for thirty days or going to the beis hakevoros, we are obliged to act in the way set out in the regulations of the beis hamedrash . . .


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