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Bacharach, Jair Ḥayyim ben Moses Samson

BACHARACH, JAIR ḤAYYIM BEN MOSES SAMSON (1638–1702), German talmudic scholar, with an extensive knowledge in the general sciences. Bacharach was the son of R. Moses Samson b. Abraham Samuel *Bacharach. Born in Leipnik, where his father officiated as rabbi, Bacharach, in his childhood, accompanied his father to Prague where the latter functioned as preacher, and then to Worms, where his father assumed the position of rabbi of the community. In 1653 Bacharach married Sarlan, the daughter of R. Sussmann Brilin of Fulda. He spent six years at the house of R. Sussmann, acquiring a profound knowledge of the Talmud and its commentaries, with special emphasis on Alfasi and Asher b. Jehiel. Deeply immersed in kabbalistic studies, he, like his father, became very much interested in the Shabbatean movement. He accumulated an impressive library of writings connected with Shabbetai Ẓevi's messianic pretensions. Moreover, a group of 13 talmudic scholars obligated themselves to meet daily under his leadership for purposes of study and self-sanctification in preparation of the impending redemption. Even decades later, after he recognized Shabbetai Ẓevi as a pseudo-Messiah, he always referred to him as "Rabbenu Shabbatai Ẓevi." His stepbrother, Tobias b. Moses *Cohn, in his Ma'aseh Tuviyyah, wrote apparently alluding to him: "Even many of the sages of the land and the great renowned rabbis, whom I would not want to mention publicly, accepted him as master and king over them."

In 1666, Jair was appointed rabbi and rosh bet din ("head of rabbinic court") at Coblenz. This was a position that carried prestige and comfort with it. Suddenly, in 1669, he was compelled to leave his office. This must have been the result of partisan intrigue. His character is shown by the fact that he did not record the names of the offenders. The same year he again settled at Worms. When his father died in 1670, Bacharach temporarily functioned in his place as rabbi of Worms. However, he was disappointed in his hope of assuming the rabbinate of Worms, the pretext being that it was against the rule to appoint a resident of the city as rabbi. His resentment at being passed over in favor of R. Aaron Teomim, whom he deemed far inferior in scholarship, appears to have found a measure of satisfaction in his work Matteh Aharon, left in manuscript, in which he severely criticized the scholarly methods of the elected rabbi who had just published a commentary on the Passover Haggadah under the same title. After the latter had suffered a violent death, Bacharach placed parentheses around the sharper expressions, solemnly instructing any future publisher to soften the more offending passages. The work was finally published by Jellinek in Bikkurim (1865), 4–26; and again in Ha-Misderonah (1887), 348–64.

In 1689 when Worms was occupied by the French armies of Louis XIV, Bacharach fled to Metz with his family. In March 1690 he left for Frankfurt by himself in an unsuccessful attempt to collect some debts, and at this time his family was in such dire straits that his wife, with his consent, sold his extensive library for 250 Reichsthaler. During the next few years he was often forced to change his domicile, residing in various cities in the Rhineland. At Frankfurt in 1699 he published his monumental collection of 238 responsa under the name Ḥavvat Yair. The title comes from Numbers 32:41, and means "The Tent-Villages of Jair," implying that his decisions were but modest expressions of his opinions in contrast to former respondents whose works were like fortified towns. In the German pronunciation the title becomes "Ḥaves Yoir," meaning also "the Jair of Ḥavvah," and thus constituting a tribute to his erudite grandmother, Ḥavvah or Eva, the granddaughter of *Judah Loew b. Bezalel and the female founder of the Bacharach house. This epoch-making work, which has gone through many editions, demonstrates not only Bacharach's exhaustive knowledge of all branches of traditional rabbinic learning, but also the whole extent of his knowledge of the general sciences, such as mathematics, astronomy, and music, and shows also his opposition to the distorted type of pilpul current in his day. It contains some writings of his father and his grandfather.

Other printed works of Bacharach include Ḥut ha-Shani ("Scarlet Thread," 1679) containing responsa of his father and grandfather, as well as 17 refutations of R. Samuel ben David's Naḥalat Shivah (1677) and notes on Alfasi published in the Vilna edition. Altogether he is said to have left 46 volumes of manuscripts (some of these being excerpts or collections of the works of others). The more important of these are Eẓ Ḥayyim, a compendium on the Jewish religion; glosses to Maimonides' Guide; a commentary on the Shulḥan Arukh; chronological tables and genealogical lists.

In 1699, the reestablished Jewish community of Worms finally chose Bacharach, now deaf, old, and sick, as their rabbi. He had been granted his dearest wish: the satisfaction of being elected by this historic congregation to succeed his father and grandfather. He lived three more years. Bacharach's method was one of strict logic. He manifested his independence visà-vis his father, citing the precedent of Maimonides. Thus, he says in one passage, vindicating his right to disagree with earlier authorities: "The spirit of God has made me, as it has made them" (Responsum no. 155). He was strict with respect to the obligatory nature of established religious custom. While he was a believer in the Kabbalah and busied himself with gematria, he warned against giving oneself over to the study of Kabbalah or philosophy – placing great value on simple faith.


D. Kaufmann, R. Jair Chajjim Bacharach (Ger., 1894); idem, in: JQR 3 (1891), 292–313, 485–536 (earlier English outline of previous work); Marx, in: Essays… J.H. Hertz (1942), 307–11; S. Freehof, Responsa Literature (1955), 84–87; idem, Treasury of Responsa (1963), 171–5.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.