Shabbethai ha-Kohen

Shabbatai ha-Kohen

Shabbatai ben Meir ha-Kohen (1621-1662) was a noted 17th Century talmudist and halakhist. He became known as Shakh, which is an abbreviation of his most important work, Siftei ha-kohen (literally Lips of the Priest), and his rulings were considered authoritative by later halakhists.

He was born in Vilna in 1621 and died at Holleschau on the 1st of Adar (Rishon), 1662. In 1633 he entered the yeshivah of R. Yehoshua Heschel b. Yosef at Tykotzin, studying later at Cracow and Lublin and becoming a pupil of R. Heschel b. Yaakov of Cracow (the "Rebbe Reb Heschel"). Returning to Vilna, he married the daughter of R. Shimon Wolf b. Isaac Benimus, and shortly after was appointed one of the assistants of R. Moshe Lima b. Isaac, author of Chelkat Mechokek. In 1646 he went to Cracow, and in the following year published his Sifte Kohen, or Shakh, commentary on Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De'ah, a work that was approved by eighteen of the greatest scholars of that generation. In 1648 the communities of Russian Poland were devastated by Chmielnicki, Shabbetai ha-Kohen being among the sufferers. About this time he published his Megillah Afah. After a short stay at Prague, where he had sought refuge from the Cossack uprising, he was called to the rabbinate of Dresin, and later to that of Holleschau, where he gained the intimate friendship of Magister Valentini Vidrich of Leipzig.

Shabbetai ha-Kohen was regarded by his contemporaries as more than usually learned. He frequently contested the decisions of his predecessors, and followed an entirely new path in the interpretation of the Talmudic law. He made light, too, of the decisions of his contemporaries, and thus drew on himself the enmity of some among them, including David b. Shmuel ha-Levi, author of Ture Zahav, and Aaron Shmuel Kaidanover, author of Birkhat ha-Zevach, who was the father-in-law of his brother Yonah Menachem Nachum ha-Kohen. Nevertheless, Sifsei/Siftei/Sifte Kohen, Shakh's commentary on the Shulchan Aruch, is considered by a majority of contemporary scholars as of the highest authority, and they applied his decisions to actual cases as the final word of the Law. In addition to his knowledge of the Talmudic law he was versed in the Kabbala, which he used in explaining various passages of the Bible. His mastery of Hebrew is evidenced by the selichot which he composed in commemoration of the Chmielnicki tragedies. As a logician he stood, perhaps, first among the Talmudic scholars of his age.

Shach's synagogue

Schah's (Old) synagogue is one of the most precious memorials of its kind in the Czech Republic. It was built after 1560, after the original synagogue had burnt down. In 1615 the synagogue was enlarged with its sidehall and the women's gallery being added. Between 1725 and 1737 the interior was designed in a unifying baroque decoration in a so called Polish style.

The synagogue is an isolated plain building. It is a one-floor building in the main hall and a four floor building in its southern part (the sidehall, the women's gallery and the school room). It has a rectangular ground plan. In the eastern side of the main hall there is a sanctuary-a case for tora (aron ha-kodesh) - built in the baroque altar style. In the centre of the hall there is an octagonal platform (almemor) with metal railing. Some parts of the walls and the vault are decorated with ornamental paintings with herbal and faunal motifs and Hebrew texts. The sidehall is separated from the main hall by two arcades. On the first floor there is the women's gallery, the halls of which are decorated with liturgical texts, and the second floor was used as a school. Both floors house the exhibition "The Jews in Moravia". The Old Synagogue is open to the public. In 1893 the Jews built a "New synagogue", but it was burnt down by the Nazis in 1941.

Information: Synagogue, Příční Str.; tel. (+42) 573 397 822, 603 796 411;,


"On the same day 1,500 people were killed in the city of Human in Russia on the Sabbath. The nobles [Cossacks] with whom the wicked mob had again made an alliance chased all the Jews from the city into the fields and vineyards where the villains surrounded them in a circle, stripped them to their skin and ordered them to lie on the ground. The villains spoke to the Jews with friendly and consoling words: 'Why do you want to be killed, strangled and slaughtered like an offering to your God Who poured out His anger upon you without mercy? Would it not be safer for you to worship our gods, our images and crosses and we would form one people which would unite together.' "But the holy and faithful people who so often allowed themselves to be murdered for the sake of the Lord, raised their voices together to the Almighty in Heaven and cried: 'Hear o Israel the Lord our God, the Holy One and the King of the Universe, we have been murdered for Thy sake so often already. O Lord God of Israel let us remain faithful to Thee.' Afterward they recited the confession of sins and said: 'We are guilty and thus recognize the Divine judgement.' Now the villains turned upon them and there was not one of them who did not fall victim."


  • Sifte Kohen (referred to above)
  • Selichot for the 20th of Sivan, in memory of those killed during the tragedy of 1648 (Amsterdam, 1651)
  • Sifte Kohen, on Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat (Amsterdam, 1667)
  • Ha-Aruch, a commentary on the Yoreh De'ah (Berlin, 1667)
  • Nekuddot ha-Kesef, criticism of the Ture Zahav of Divid b. Shmuel ha-Levi (Frankfort-on-the-Oder, 1677)
  • Tekafo Kohen, general laws concerning "teku," etc. (Frankfort-on-the-Oder, 1677)
  • Gevurat Anashim, on section 154 of the Shulchan Aruch Even Ha'ezer (Dessau, 1697)
  • Po'el Tzedek, an arrangement of the 613 commandments of Maimonides (Jessnitz, 1720)
  • a discourse upon the passage Kammah Ma'alot in the Haggadah (Presburg, 1840; abbreviation of Kerem Shlomo)


  • The quote in the quotes section is directly from

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