Bach: Rabbi Joel Sirkes
His Life, Works and Times
(Expanded Edition)

ISBN 1-933143-04-05, 428 pages, $26.95
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By Elijah J. Schochet

Rabbi Joel Sirkes (1561-1640), better known by the acronym BACH, was one of the foremost Talmudic scholars and halakhists of Poland. He authored over 250 responsa as well as one of the premier commentaries upon the Arbah Turim of Rabbi Jacob ben Asher.

This volume addresses itself to two principal challenges:

  1. The portrayal of the life and personality of Rabbi Sirkes as well as that of the community of which he was a part. What was the nature of Jew-Gentile relationships during his time? What was the nature of communal organization and social and domestic life? What degree of economic stratification existed? What can we learn of religious institutions and functionaries? How did anti-social behavior manifest itself in the Jewish community?

  2. The analysis of Rabbi Joel Sirkes as a halakhic decisor. What is his approach in issuing legal rulings? In which areas does he manifest stringency, and in which is he noteworthy for his leniency?

Based on a careful analysis of Rabbi Sirkes’ responsa and commentaries, Rabbi Schochet provides a vivid portrayal of these and many other issues.

This is the only volume ever written devoted to a study of the life and works of Rabbi Joel Sirkes as mirrored against the conditions of his milieu.

"Rabbi Eli Schochet has has succeeded in this work to capture the spirit of the time of the Bach and the personality of this great figure. Anyone interested in the great tradition of Torah and rabbinic scholarship will find this book to be an invaluable aid to one's knowledge and outlook."

— Rabbi Berel Wein, noted author and rabbinic scholar

"The author made a careful study of Rabbi Joel’s responsa and also those of his contemporaries and describes in considerable detail the cultural life of Polish Jewry... One is impressed with the wealth of historical data the author was able to garner."

— Irving Agus, Professor of Jewish History, Yeshiva University

Inside the Book

Table of Contents

1. Introduction
2. Life
    - Family
    - Teachers
    - Pupils
3. Status
    - Geographic Status
    - Financial Status
    - Social Status
    - Judicial Status
    - Religio-Educational Status
4. Personality

5. Attitude Toward Sources
6. Library
7. Minor Works
- Meshib Nefesh
- Haggahot
8. Responsa
9. Bayit Hadash
    - Arba Turim
    - Beth Joseph
    - Bayit Hadash
    - Censorship
10. Literary Style
11. Influence

The World of Polish-Lithuanian Jewry as reflected in the writings of Joel Sirkes

12. Jew-Gentile Relations
    - Nature and Frequency of Contact
13. Safety and Security
    - Effect upon Halakhic Practice
14. Communal Organization
    - Right of Residence
    - The Law of the State
    - Leadership and the Law
    - Punitive Measures
15. Religious Life
    - Level of Religious Life
    - The Synagogue
    - Superstitions
16. Religious Functionaries
    - The Rabbinate
    - The Cantor
    - The Sexton
17. Social and Domestic Life
    - Life Cycle of the Jew
    - Marriage and the Family
    - Funeral PRactices and Laws of Mourning
18. The Jewish Home and Manner
    - The Home
    - Manner of Dress
    - Religious Feasts
19. Anti-Social Behavior
20. Economic Life
    - Business and Religious Law
    - Partnerships
    - Travels and Dangers
    - Bankruptcies
21. Life Outside the Established Community
22. Summary
23. Responsa Catalogue
24. Sources and Authorities Cited by Joel Sirkes
25. Sample Responsum of Joel Sirkes
26. Bibliography
27. Index

Appendix: Responsum of Surrender - Text and Translation
1. Text
2. Translation
3. Possible Solutions
4. Conscience of the Rabbis
5. Responsum Analysis
6. The Payoff


Chapter 2

About the Author

"Eli Schochet is one of the most intellectually honest — and consistently interesting — Jewish thinker/ writers in America today."

— Dennis Prager

Rabbi Elijah Judah Schochet (Google him), scion of a distinguished rabbinical family, was born in Chicago in 1934. His father, Rabbi Jacob Schochet, was a prominent educator and his grandfather, Rabbi Chaim Rubenstein, founded Hebrew Theological College, later known as the Skokie Yeshiva. Rabbi Schochet graduated from the University of California at Los Angeles in 1955 and went on to earn rabbinic ordination in 1960 and a doctorate in rabbinic literature in 1967. His published works include Taz: Rabbi David Halevi; Animal Life in Jewish Tradition: Attitudes and Relationships; Amalek: The Enemy Within; and The Hasidic Movement and the Gaon of Vilna. He served faithfully as the rabbi of Shomrei Torah Synagogue in West Hills, California for almost four decades until his retirement in 1999 and has taught rabbinics on a university level for over three decades. He is a noted speaker and scholar whose works have earned a place in Jewish libraries around the world.

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