Rabbi Ephraim Fishel Ashkenazi, of Brisk & Jerusalem [Maharshal son-in-law]

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Rabbi Ephraim Fishel Ashkenazi, of Brisk & Jerusalem [Maharshal son-in-law]

Hebrew: הגאון מורנו רבי אפרים פישל אשכנזי, אב"ד בריסק וירושלים (חתן המהרש״ל)
Death: circa 1595 (55-73)
Immediate Family:

Son of R' Moshe Yehuda HaCohen,Hy"d, Chief Rabbi of the Jews of Poland,A.B.D.Brisk and Yerushalaim and Mrs. Moshe HaCohen
Husband of Valentina Ashkenazi (Luria, dau. Maharshal)
Father of Rabbi Naftali Zvi Hirsch, Nassi Eretz Hakodesh and Rabbi Yaakov HaCohen

Occupation: Rabbi of Brisk, מוזכר בסמ"ע סימן סט ס"ק כ בשם וישל, נזכר בסמ"ע סימן ס"ט
Managed by: Yigal Burstein
Last Updated:

About Rabbi Ephraim Fishel Ashkenazi, of Brisk & Jerusalem [Maharshal son-in-law]


Son-in-law of the MaHarShal, Efraim Fishcel was chief of the rabbinical tribunal of Brisk or BREST-LITOVSK (in Polish, Brzesc; in Jewish writings, Brisk or Brisk de-Lita = “Brisk of Lithuania”): A fortified town in the government of Grodno, Russia, at the junction of the Mukhovetz river with the western Bug; capital of the district of the same name.

Brest was the largest and the most important of the first five Jewish settlements in Lithuania, dating from the second half of the fourteenth century, and continued in that leading position till the rise of Wilna in the seventeenth century. According to Bershadski, the well-known charter of Grand Duke Vitold, dated July 2, 1388, was originally granted to the Jews of Brest only, and was extended subsequently to the other Jewish communities of Lithuania and Volhynia. Brest-Litovsk soon became the center of trade and commerce, as well as of rabbinical learning, and the seat of the administration of the Jewish communities of Lithuania and Volhynia.

The fifteenth and sixteenth centuries must be regarded as the golden age in the history of the Jewish community of Brest. In the charter of Casimir Jagellon, granted Aug. 14, 1447, to all Jews in Lithuania and Poland, Brest is mentioned, among other important provincial towns, as controlling many territories.

From the records of the custom-house of Brest-Litovsk (published in “Archeograficheski Sbornik,” iii. 289-322, iv. 252-260) it is evident that the greatest part of the merchandise imported from Germany and Austria via Lublin, or exported from Slutzk via Lublin to Gnesen, in 1583 and the following years, belonged to the Jews of Brest. They imported, among other merchandise, wax, furs, leather, olives, hats and caps, paper, nails, iron, paint, locks, knives, mirrors, mohair-yarn, cinnamon, muscatel, neckties, and wire; from Hungary, linen; from Glogau, nuts, plums, lead, needles, pins, ribbons, wine, velvet, black silk, pepper, cards, bells, sugar, raisins; and from Moravia, cloth. The exports consisted of Moscow mittens, soap, furs, bridles and harness (both black and mounted in brass), copper belts, lumber, and grain.

In 1566 Brest Litovsk had 106 Jewish house-owners, out of a total of 852 (“Aktovaya Kniga Metriki Litovskoi: Perepisei,” No. 15A; “Russko-Yevreiski Archiv,” ii. No. 231). The houses were small, insignificant frame buildings, although they were inhabited by some families that consisted of fourteen persons (“Litovskie Yevrei,” p. 335). The only synagogue was also a frame building. In 1569 a brick synagogue and brick houses were built. Wealthy farmers of customs, like the brothers Enkovich, had more commodious residences on their estates out of town (“Litovskie Yevrei,” p. 404).

But Brest was the leading city, not as regards wealth alone, but also in learning and refinement; so that none of the rabbis or representatives of the other Lithuanian communities would render any decision of importance without the consent of the Brest community. According to tradition, the ascendency of Brest-Litovsk extended as far as the Baltic sea and the German frontier. Students came from Germany and Italy to the yeshibah of Brest. The government held the Jews of Brest in special favor.

Among the PROMINENT scholars of Brest in the sixteenth century who were not rabbis, the following may be mentioned; David Drucker, son-in-law of Saul Wahl; Phoebus, the teacher of Joel Särkes (“Bah”); Fishel of Brest, author of notes on the “Turim”; JOSEPH OF BREST, BROTHER OF MOSES IS-SERLES; Moses ben Hillel, grandfather of Hillel ben Naphtali, the author of “Bet Hillel”; and Samuel Heller.

With the beginning of the seventeenth century Brest lost some of its importance as the center of wealthy farmers of taxes and other government leases. There were eminent rabbis, Talmudists, and other scholars, such as MOSES, GRANDSON OF RABBI HESHEL; Elijah Lipschütz, father-in-law of Rabbi Abraham ha-Darshan; Abraham ben Benjamin Ze’eb Brisker; Elijah ben Samuel of Lublin, author of “Yad Elijahu”; Jacob ben Joel, author of “She’erit Ya’akob”; Zebi-Hirsch ben Eliezer Levi, mentioned in the “Teshubot Bah.” The leaders of the Lithuanian Jews seemed to be more occupied with religious laws and with the preservation of the inner life of their community than with general politics.

In 1638 lease of the city hall place was granted by the municipal government of Brest to Nachman Shlomovich (ib. p. 312). In 1641 the municipal government leased the cellar under the city hall to Simon Shlomich for three years at an annual rental of thirty florins (ib. p. 395).

Of the forty-two Jewish Lithuanian councils held from 1623 to 1761, nineteen met at Brest or at one of the cities in its district.

That the Jews were still protected by the king is evident from the privileges granted them by Sigismund III. (March 9, 1615), under which they were exempt from quartering the Polish nobility and retainers at their houses (ib. v. 141); by John Casimir (Feb. 17, 1649), confirming privileges granted by King Vladislaw IV. (Feb. 15, 1633, and Dec. 31, 1646); and by Sigismund III. (Oct. 10, 1592) (ib. p. 144). By an order issued June 23, 1655, King John Casimir forbade his subjects to build roadside inns or mills or to sell liquors, on the ground that the interests of the Brest leaseholders of the king were injured by such practises; and he warned them that all such establishments would be confiscated (ib. p. 153). By an order dated July 30, 1661, the same king relieved the Jews of Brest from all military duties; giving as his reason that the city of Brest and the Jews of that place were ruined by the invasion of the Moscovites (ib. p. 161). By a second edict (Aug. 8, 1661) he proclaimed that the Jews of Brest were released from all obligations for four years. He also released them from paying rent for the monopoly of the sale of liquors (ib. p. 162). In the same edict the king notified the Voyevoda of Polotzk that, on account of the losses inflicted on them by the invasion of “the enemy” (the Moscovites), the Jews of Brest were not able to pay their creditors, and that the king gave the Jews an “iron” or irrevocable charter freeing them from the payment of their debts for three years (ib. p. 163).

During the uprising of the Cossacks under CHMIELNICKI, 2,000 Jews were killed in Brest-Litovsk in 1649; the others escaped to Great Poland and Danzig (Kostomarov, “Bogdan Chmielnitzky,” i. 341; Hanover, “Yaven Mezulah”). From a report of Gregory Kunakov, a courier of the czar, it appears that in this year Brest was utterly destroyed by the Cossacks and Tatars, that the Poles and Jews with their wives and children were all slain, and that all the palaces and stone walls were destroyed, the wooden buidings burned, and the city razed to the ground (“Regesty,” No. 847).

On Aug. 21, 1669, the priest of the Russian church made a complaint against the Jews of Brest for reconverting to Judaism a baptized Jewess of the name of Judith, whose baptismal name was Anastasia, a daughter of Shemuel, at one time leaseholder of taxes (ib. v. 44). From a case between the kahal of Brest and some Russian priests of the city (Dec. 30, 1669) it appears that the latter caused much damage to the Jews of Brest, and that during the religious processions riots took place in which Jewish property was stolen and Jews were murdered or wounded by priests as well as by others (ib. p. 41).

About הגאון מורנו רבי אפרים פישל אשכנזי, אב"ד בריסק וירושלים (חתן המהרש״ל) (עברית)

אב״ד בריסק וירושלים

נפטר בערך שנת שנ״ו)תח״י

( ממיוחסי הכהונה, היעב״ץ כתב שהי׳ למשפחתו בתב יחוס עד אהרן הכהן, המהריט״ץ כתב עליו שהי׳ לו בישיבתו יותר ממאתים תלמידי חכמים גדולים ומפורסמים, עלה לירושלים והי׳ שם הרב הראשון לעדת האשכנזים בימי הרדב״ז ור׳ בצלאל אשכנזי בעל שיטה

מקובצת מתורתו מובא בספר מדרש שמואל על פרקי אבות, ובספר מלאכת שלמה על המשנה