Polak, Jacob

Polak, Jacob a Jewish savant, one of the greatest Talmudic authorities in his time, was born about 1460, and died about 1530 at Prague, where under his lead a great Talmudic school had flourished. Polak was a pupil of Jacob Margoles of Nuremberg, from whom he learned a new method of Talmudic casuistry, known as the "Pilpul." In the times which were disastrous and troublesome to the Jews the study of the Talmud was left to itself, and, guided by no general scientific knowledge, it unavoidably degenerated into a method repulsive to the few who were really profound scholars, or whose minds were less distorted. The transition from the short explanation of words and things of the older commentators of the Talmud—through the discussions and disputations of the Tosaphoth (in the narrower sense) -to the exercises of wit of the Nurembergers (Blauser, from the German "bloss," by which the query was introduced) and Regensbergers (so called from the principal schools), and the pettifoggings of modern times, has not yet been specially investigated. There are many analogies in Christian jurisprudence and Mohammedan theology to this kind of casuistry and discussion ("Pilpull"), which devotes more attention to the mode of treatment than to the subject itself. For it is the nature of a practical science-and the Halacha must be regarded throughout as a theory of law-that over-theorizing causes it to degenerate from a practical aim to a mere play of intellect. During this unhappy time rules derived from idle speculation were enforced as rules of life belonging to the religious law, more strictly than at any former period; and subsequently the authors of the Tosaphoth and their successors, together with the great Spanish and Provengal legal authorities (particularly the authors of compendiums, judgments, etc.), were comprised under the expression "decernents" (Pesukinz, פסוקים). But it must be said in honor of Jacob Polak, though he introduced this "Pilpul method," he was very careful not to write down nor publish the decisions achieved by this method of hair-splitting, for fear that his successors might follow him implicitly. The only work of his we have is a decision entitled ביעקב ויקם עדות, published with the approbation of Simon benBezalel (Prague, 1594), and republished together with Lowe ben-Bezalel's הֶספֵּד עִל פּטַירִת חָכָם (Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1719). See Furst, Bibl. Jud. 3, 109 sq.; Wolf, Bibl. Hebr. 3, 1095; Graitz, Geschichte der Juden. 9, 63 sq.; Jost, Gesch. d. Judenth. 2. s. Sekten, 3, 240 sq.; Güdemann, in Frankel's Monatsschrift (Breslau, 1854), 13, 423 sq. (B. P.)

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