BAḤUR (; plural , BAḤURIM):

"A youth," particularly a student of the Talmud among the Ashkenazic Jews; called also "yeshibah baḥur" (academy youth), and in Yiddish, "orem boḥer" (poor young man). In Biblical Hebrew the word signifies an adult but unmarried youth; in Neo-Hebrew also a young married man (Ruth R. iv. 10; "Baḥurah," the feminine, is also employed to designate a young married woman, Gen. R. lxxi. 9). From the end of the fourteenth century, however, "Baḥurim" has become the standard expression for students of the Talmud, who were generally youthful. In the responsa of MaHaRIL, No. 96, the word "Baḥur" seems to be a title of honor for married men also; and Rabbenu Tam, in "Sefer ha-Yashar," ed. Rosenthal, Num. xxvii., beginning, even applies to a certain great scholar the expression "Baḥur zaḳen." Compare also "Shibbale ha-Leḳet," pp. 55, 267.

The Itinerant Baḥur.

From the fourteenth century, descriptions of the life of the Baḥur are numerous, and they afford valuable information not only concerning the condition of Talmud-study in those days, but also of the social and intellectual life of the Jews at large. The persecutions after the Black Death (1348) decimated many flourishing Jewish communities; the pestilence itself, massacre, conversion to Christianity, and emigration made terrible inroads into their numbers. Under such circumstances those parents were few indeed who could provide their children with that careful religious education which had been customary among them; their own needs and the uncertainty of their position effectually preventing this. Moreover, the academies and study-houses for adult use, which had been, in happier days, a part of every Jewish community in Germany, were closed. It was under such conditions that the wandering life of the Baḥur came into existence: he journeyed from town to town; traversing various countries, and halting now and again to sit at the feet of some scholarly rabbi. This vagabond life entailed the utmost poverty, and many such students were exposed to assault and murderous attack by the way; nevertheless, they devotedly begged their way from the Rhine to Vienna, from North Germany to Italy.

But such a life was not of a nature to exert the best moral or scholarly influence over young men; and many found the chief attraction in its adventurousness. Even when a Baḥur settled permanently in a town, in order to prosecute his studies earnestly, his life became by no means enviable. In his relation to his teacher, who was usually the rabbi of the town, nothing was left to be desired: the rabbi was always considerate and tender toward his pupils, who, on their part, evinced the greatest reverence for their "master." His relations to the members of the community were not always so genial; as, for instance, when so mild a man as the Maharil excommunicated a member of the congregation for employing an insulting expression to a Baḥur. This rabbi, who had never before laid a ban upon any one, felt compelled to uphold the honor of the Baḥurim by such an extreme measure.

The Baḥurim were generally lodged in the Baḥurim-house, an institution usually found, at the beginning of the fifteenth century, in every city whose rabbi had, by his learning, proved an attraction to itinerant students. The cost of their maintenance was defrayed by voluntary contributions from every quarter, although it is not clear whether they received their meals in the Baḥurim-house or, as in later times, were sent for their daily food to the tables of the more affluent members of the community. Güdemann's endeavor to throw light upon this point ("Geschichte des Erziehungswesens," iii. 87) is hardly satisfactory. Frequently the rabbis lived with the Baḥurim, exerting thus a very beneficial influence upon them; and when they did not actually dwell together, the students were repeatedly invited to the rabbi's table on special occasions. On the last day of Passover, on the first of Pentecost, and on Purim, the Baḥurim and some members of the congregation were always invited to a little festive gathering at the rabbi's house. To these meals witty and sagacious questions from the field of their studies lent special zest; and on Ḥanukkah the Baḥurim were encouraged to launch all manner of riddles, rimes, and anecdotes. The special "Scholars' Feast" was, however, Lag Ba-'Omer (the 33d of the 'Omer), when trips into the country were made amid much rejoicing and merrymaking; for the students never permitted themselves to feel overcome by the earnestness of their Talmudic studies to a degree that would deprive them of all taste for the jovial and happy side of life. They were the custodians of Jewish wit, too few expressions of which have, unfortunately, been preserved, but that distinguished itself in ingenious and surprising applications of Bible verses and Talmudic passages to passing circumstances, and of which some specimens have been published by Brüll, from a manuscript, in his "Jahrbuch" (ix. 16-19). From these applications gradually developed those numerous parodies which arose in Neo-Hebrew literature. There were, of course, black sheep among these Baḥurim, who distinguished themselves by excesses in one way or another and occasioned much sorrow to the community; some, indeed, were even guilty of setting up shameful opposition to their teachers(Israel Bruna, Responsa, No. 203; Güdemann, l.c. p. 88).

The Kobez.

The Baḥurim circles of the fifteenth century contributed a peculiar form of literature, which received the name of "Ḳobeẓ" or "Liḳḳuṭim" (Collection). Their poverty precluded the possession of anything like an adequate supply of books for their studies; they would, therefore, remain until any hour of the night in their rabbi's library, copying into manuscript-books such portions of valuable manuscripts, lectures, and responsa as they needed, to which they added learned remarks, gathered from all sources, and much of their own thought as well. Not a few yielded to this opportunity for plagiarism, and published their "Collections" as original; indeed, it even sometimes happened that when a rabbi availed himself of the services of some promising scholar as amanuensis, the latter covertly made a second copy of the work and proclaimed it as his own.

The preceding details refer, of course, only to the early part of the fifteenth century. The invention of printing gradually relieved the scarcity of books; from the time of the Reformation the social life of the Jews became more stable and secure, though perhaps not much happier; and the itinerant life of the Baḥur gradually ceased. From the middle of the sixteenth century, Talmudic study centered in Poland and there attained a development till then unequaled. The Jews in Poland were moderately prosperous as late as the Cossack persecutions (1648); and the Baḥurim shared in the general happiness. In families having marriageable daughters, the poor but scholarly German Baḥur became a welcome "eligible." The annual fairs at Lemberg and Lublin, Jereslaw and Saslow were thronged by rabbis, with their most intellectually promising Baḥurim, and by fathers of female candidates for matrimony; and the greater the intellect on the one side, the greater the dower on the other. Nathan Hannover, an eyewitness of the Cossack persecutions, in his work "Yewen Meẓulah," 11a (ed. Venice), gives the following description of the position of the Baḥur in Poland in his time: "In every congregation there are Baḥurim, who receive weekly stipends to enable them to pursue their studies with the head of the yeshibah. Each Baḥur took charge of two boys (just as the Christian students did in Germany), to whom they would impart instruction, and for these lads also the congregation provided meals. Nevertheless many wealthy members of the congregation considered it an honor to have the Baḥur and his charges as guests at their table, although the congregation sufficiently provided for their support." The cruel persecutions of the Polish Jews in the second half of the seventeenth century resulted in the emigration of the leading Talmudists of Poland to Germany, and with them went their Baḥurim (see Auerbach," Gesch. der Israelitischen Gemeinde Halberstadt," p. 64, concerning Hirsch Bialeh). Poland still remained, however, the classic land for the study of the Talmud; and the Polish Baḥur of 1902 can, therefore, look back upon four centuries of history in that country.

The Modern Baḥur.

The ideal of a Polish Baḥur to-day is the same as of old; namely, to become a thorough Talmudist, and to this end he will sacrifice every comfort and advantage. As regards privations and sufferings, his life is similar to that of the German Baḥur of the fourteenth century. Such a one, probably already developed into an expert Talmudist in his native town, travels to some yeshibah, or to a place where he can prosecute his studies, with others like himself, without any teacher. In the former case he is restricted to the very limited maintenance afforded him by the yeshibah, the funds of which frequently barely suffice to furnish bread and water. Somewhat more favorable is the condition of a Baḥur who settles in a town where there is no yeshibah, and who finds there many pious Jews willing to give him a "day"; that is, a day's meals. This custom of feeding the Baḥurim by billeting them daily upon the members of the community originated in Poland (see Nathan Hannover, l.c. 11a, and compare also W. Buchner, "Zebed ha-Meliẓah," 1a, toward the end), and spread to Germany. Through the influence of Elijah Wilna the system was abolished in most Lithuanian yeshibot, and today it is to be found only in certain towns where a few Baḥurim dwell. Even in these places it is now considered a somewhat degrading mode of providing for the Baḥurim (compare Bernstein, in "Ha-Shaḥar," vi. 405, 406, who draws, however, too dark a picture). On the other hand, a man like Judah Löb Gordon can not withhold his admiration for the enthusiasm, frugality, and idealism of the yeshibah Baḥur; and in a truly poetical manner he compares the fate of the Baḥur with that of Israel in general (Judah Löb Gordon, "Shire Jehudah," iii. 86, 87).

In Germany, from the time of Mendelssohn, the yeshibot, with their Baḥurim, rapidly grew fewer, and within the last fifty years they have entirely disappeared. Now the word "Baḥur" denotes an awkward, helpless fellow who has not discarded the clumsy ways of the Ghetto. Börne calls Heine a Baḥur because he "cracks jokes in a genuinely Jewish manner"; while Varnhagen von Ense, in a letter to E. Gans, pays the same compliment to Börne in the words, "He is as genuine a Frankfort Baḥur, with all the faults of one—possibly with all the virtues of one—as there ever can be" (Karpeles, in the "Allg. Zeitung des Judenthums," lxv. 451, 452). Hungary contains to-day many yeshibot with their attendant Baḥurim, many of whom every year enter the regular rabbinical seminaries. The proverb runs there and in other lands, "You can make anything out of a Baḥur," thus indicating the fact that on leaving the yeshibah most Baḥurim enter any of the avenues of commerce or professional life. See Education, Pilpul, Talmud Torah, Yeshibah.

  • Abrahams, Jewish Life in the Middle Ages, index;
  • Berdyezewski, in Ha-Kerem, pp. 70-77;
  • Güdemann, Gesch. des Erziehungswesens, iii. 58-88;
  • idem, Quellenschriften zur Gesch. des Unterrichts, xxix. 94, 105;
  • Smolensky, Ha-Toëh be-Darke ha-Ḥayyim, pp. 20-39;
  • Horowitz, Derek 'Eẓ ha-Ḥayyim;
  • Liebermann (pseudonym, A. Freeman), Ha-Emet, i. 23-25;
  • Pascheles, Kronprätendent und Bocher, in his Sippurim, v. 294-382;
  • Löw, Lebensalter, pp. 123, 124.
G. L. G.
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