YITSḤAK-AYZIK BEN-YAAKOV (ISAAC BENJACOB) (January 10, 1801-July 2, 1863)
He was born in Ramgola (Ramygola), Lithuania, and grew up and studied in Vilna where his parents settled. He was educated in the traditional fashion, but not with stringent Orthodoxy, and as a result he early on acquainted himself with the ways of the Jewish Enlightenment and thoroughly learned German. A fervent bibliophile, he early began to collect old religious texts and manuscripts. For a number of years, he worked as a bookseller in Riga, and later he lived for several years in Leipzig where he had a publishing house that brought into print rare manuscripts. He returned to Vilna, and there with Avraham Lebenzon he published (1849-1853) the Tanakh with a German translation and with Mendelssohn’s Biur (Hebrew commentary). His Mikraei kodesh (Holy convocations) served for followers of the Jewish Establishment through the latter half of the nineteenth century as a self-study means for learning the German language. He was also the author of a number of poetical and half-literary works concerning Hebrew. His chef d’oeuvre was Otsar hasefarim (Treasury of books), a bibliographic lexicon comprised of 17,000 religious texts and handwritten manuscripts in Hebrew, Yiddish, Arabic, Ladino, and Judeo-Persian, published or written in the Jewish alphabet. During his lifetime, he was able (in 1853) only to publish a portion of his bibliographic work—Shem hagedolim (The name of the great ones). It was his son, Yaakov Ben-Yaakov, who in 1880 in Vilna published Otsar hasefarim which served several generations of Jewish researchers in literature as the surest bibliographic source. Aside from his writing and publishing activities, he was active as well in social work in the Vilna community; principally, he was interested in problems facing modern Jewish schools. His Judeo-German memorandum of 1856 concerning the rabbinical institute of Vilna retains considerable cultural historical value—it was published in Fun noentn over (From the recent past) 1 (Vilna, 1937). His son left in manuscript form a full, expanded, and improved edition of his father’s bibliography.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 1; Shaol Ginzburg, in Tsukunft (October 1932); Dr. Y. Shatski, in Algemayne entsiklopedye (General encyclopedia), vol. 5 (New York, 1944); M. Shur, in Yivo-bleter 8 (Vilna, 1935).