Ein Yaakov is a multivolume collection of stories, parables, and exegeses, culled from across the full expanse of the Talmud. Eclectic and packed with inspiration, Ein Yaakov contains much of the non-legalistic texts of the Talmud. It was especially treasured by laborers and others who lacked the schooling to learn the more difficult parts of the Talmud. Synagogues commonly hold Ein Yaakov classes between Minchah (afternoon services) and Maariv (evening prayer).

The work of compiling and editing Ein Yaakov was begun by the Spanish-born Rabbi Yaakov ibn Habib (d. 1516), and completed after his passing by his son, Rabbi Levi ibn Habib (d. 1541). It was first printed in Salonica and Venice, and, wildly popular throughout the centuries, it has been reprinted in multiple forms.

In addition to honoring the compiler, whose name was Yaakov, the title Ein Yaakov (which can be rendered “like Jacob” or “eye of Jacob”) is taken from Deuteronomy 33:28, “And Israel dwelled safely and alone like Jacob [blessed them], in a land of grain and wine; also, their heavens will drip dew.”

Since these printed works are created from manuscripts, although Ein Yaakov is essentially excerpted from the Talmud, the text often varies slightly from the standard printed form of the Talmud we have today.

Geared to be as accessible as possible, many prints of Ein Yaakov include Yiddish translation as well as commentaries that illuminate the simple meaning of the text and provide additional insight.

Who Studies Ein Yaakov?

Ein Yaakov was never the exclusive domain of the simpleton. On the contrary, even scholars who spend an entire day immersed in intensive Talmud study often refresh themselves with a dose of Ein Yaakov, in keeping with the teaching of the sages, “If you wish to know He who spoke and brought the world into being, learn aggadah, for through it you know Him and cleave to His ways.”

In Epistle 23 of Iggeret Hakodesh, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the founder of Chabad, lays forth a course of study for the Chassidic communities to follow. He begins:

Therefore, my beloved ones, my brethren and friends ... “Give glory unto the L‑rd your G‑d before it grows dark,” i.e. between Minchah and Maariv,by studying every weekday in groups of ten the inner essence of Torah, i.e. the aggadah contained in the work Ein Yaakov. For most of the secrets of the Torah are concealed in it, and it atones man’s sins, as explained in the writings of R. Isaac Luria, of blessed memory. As to the revealed [non-mystical] passages in [the aggadah], these are the ways of G‑d in which a person ought to walk, and [they enable him] to take counsel in his soul in heavenly matters [such as Torah and mitzvot] and in worldly matters, as is known to all the wise of heart.

Indeed, the sixth Chabad Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Schneersohn, of righteous memory, related that his father, Rabbi Shalom Dov Ber, told him that chassidim used to include a passage of Ein Yaakov, and at least one law (of two paragraphs) in Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, as part of their indispensable daily study sessions—in addition to Mishnayot, a page of Talmud, and Tanya.1

Looking to start an Ein Yaakov class? There are several editions with English translation as well as various commentaries, so take your pick, invite some friends, and sail off onto this most delightful region of the Talmudic seas.