Sages and Scholars

From “Yahadut Lita” Vol. 3, Tel Aviv, 1967.  

Dat, Rabbi Zalman-Aharon bar Dov (1859-1916)

Born in Keidan, he studied in Ragole (Ariogala) and Eishyshok (Eišiškės). He was the rabbi in Pushelat (Pušalotas) for 16 years and thereafter in Smilg (Smilgiai) where he assisted his father–in–law, Rabbi Moshe-Yona. He did not want to earn his living through his Torah scholarship, so he opened a pharmacy in Smilg, in which his sons worked while he studied Torah. He dedicated his income over many years to the building of a synagogue and ritual bath in the town. He was very philanthropic and kind to all. He was an educated person and a member of Hibbat Tzion (Lovers of Zion).

He published articles in “Hamelitz” and other newspapers. His book “Toldot Aharon” includes new interpretations of religious law and talmudic legends. He died in Pushelat during the First World War.

Heller, Yechiel bar Aharon (1814-1863)

Born in Keidan, he served as rabbi in Vilkavishik (Vilkaviškis), Suvalk (Suvalki) and Plunge. His works include “Pillars of Light” (“Amudei Or“)– responsa and interpretations (Koenigsberg, 1856); “Elegy for David” (Kina l’David)about Rabbi David Luria (Koenigsberg, 1856); “Light for the Righteous(“Or Yesharim”) an interpretation of the Passover Haggadah (Koenigsberg, 1857); “Enveloped in Light(“Ote Or”) on the Song of Songs, with interpretations (Memel, 1861); “Two Chapters (“Shnei Prakim”) about the duties of Jews to the state, in Russian and German (1852). He also published articles about religious law in Rabbi Israel Salanter’s “Tvunah.” He died in Plunge.

Yoffe, Rabbi Yehuda-Leib bar Avraham-Ever (b. 1842)

Born in Keidan, he was trained as a teacher under Rabbi Yitzhak Elchanan Spector and Rabbi Alexander-Moshe Lapidot. He chose not to serve as a rabbi, and became a merchant in Lazdei (Lazdijai). He compiled the book “Even Lev” about issues in the Talmud. (Vilna, 1900).

Flensberg, Rabbi Chaim-Yermiyahu bar Avraham (1842-1914)

Born in Keidan, he served as rabbi in Shaki (Šakiai) (1889-1914). He wrote books of sermons and on various subjects. He also published articles in “HaLevanon” (1879-1880), “Hamaggid”, “Hamelitz” and other newspapers. (His most renowned was a series of 31 articles, titled “A Guide to the Perplexed of Today.” (“Mori Nevuchei HaZman HaChadash“)) His daughter was the rebbetzin Esther Rubinstein, wife of Rabbi Rubinstein of Vilna, who was known as the prodigy from Shaki.

Among his essays were “Divrei Yermiyahu,” homilies (Vilna 1898); “Divrei Yermiyahu,” second volume, about the Torah (Vilna, 1910-27); “B’zer Hanitzakhon” about the disagreement between rabbis Yehoshua ben Hanania and Savi Dvi-Atuna (Vilna 1883); “She’elot Chaim,” questions and answers, 2 volumes (Vilna 1898). “Otzar Chaim,” a commentary on the book “Or Adonai” by Rabbi Hasdai Krashkas, with interpretations, two volumes (Vilna, 1905-1909); “Merkavot Ami” on the Song of Songs, with commentary (Vilna 1910).

Kaidanover, Rabbi Aharon-Shmuel bar Israel (“Maharshak”) (1614-1676)

Born in Keidan[1], he studied in Brisk (Brest). Rabbi Yakov of Lublin and his son Rabbi Yehoshua Heschel were among his teachers. He served as rabbi in Biala and thereafter in Vilna. He fled Vilna during the pogroms of 1648. He escaped Vilna again during the war between Sweden and Poland in 1656 and settled in Kurow, near Lublin, however, he was again overcome by evil fate and forced to flee from there.

In the interim, the Cossacks brought him nightmarish devastation. Both his daughters were murdered and all his possessions were plundered. Eventually he found refuge in Moravia and then became the rabbi in Nikolsburg (Mikulov) in 1658, and afterwards in Glogau (Glogow, Silesia), Fürth and Frankfurt am Main. In his final years he became head of the rabbinical court for Krakow and its district.

His greatest work was “Birkat Hazevach” on the talmudic order “Kodashim” (Amsterdam, 1669), which was published by his son-in-law. His critical research served as a foundation for the Talmud edition published in Frankfurt an der Oder (1697-1699) and also the Berlin edition (Frankfurt an der Oder, 1715-22).

His other books, published posthumously, include “Birkat Shmuel,” sermons on the Torah (Frankfurt am Main, 1682-3); “Emunat Israel,” questions and answers (Frankfurt am Main, 1683); “Tiferet Shmuel,” new interpretations of Jewish law (Frankfurt am Main, 1696). In the introduction to the book “Brachat Hazevakh” he described the destruction of the community of Lublin.

He died in Chmielnik (Poland) to which he had come in order to participate in the Council of the Four Lands.

Kaplan, Rabbi Avraham-Eliyahu bar Avraham-Eliyahu (1890-1924)

He was born in Keidan a few months after the death of his father. His mother was the granddaughter of Rabbi Shimon Troib. He grew up in the house of his grandfather, who was Rabbi of Keidan. He studied in the Telz (Telšiai) yeshiva for four years, after which he studied in the Kelm Talmud Torah.

From there he moved to the Slobodka yeshiva, where he studied for eight years. There he became very close to the spiritual head of the yeshiva, Rabbi Noteh-Zvi Finkel (“the grandfather”) who influenced him greatly.

At the same time he acquired a vast knowledge of Hebrew literature in general and of secular subjects. His Hebrew literary style was exceptional. He wrote on philosophical issues and also wrote poetry. He was musically gifted and composed music to accompany his poems.

During the First World War, he remained in Telz and confined himself to moral issues in religious law. After the war he became active in communal affairs. He participated in the Jewish communities council and in meetings of the national board of Lithuanian Jews. He was one of the founders of the religious youth movement “Young Israel,” and served as its spiritual leader.

In mid-1919 he accepted an invitation from the rabbinic college in Berlin, founded by Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer, to teach Talmud. He introduced the “Lithuanian study method” there. He also published comprehensive answers to Jewish legal questions in the monthly periodical “Yeshurun,” and philosophical works, with the aiming to reveal the “light” of Judaism.

He is most famous for his article “Beikvot Hayirah” in which he began a new commentary on the Babylonian Talmud, including everything necessary to understand the Talmud’s foundation from both a scholarly and a scientific point of view. He began with an introduction, a valuable work of research in itself, published in “Yeshurun.” But after beginning his great work, he died suddenly at age 34. He left behind a rich literary heritage in Jewish law and thought.

Rabinowitz, Meir-Michael bar Sholem (1830-1902)

Born in Keidan, he studied in Kovno in the Nevyozer kloyz study house under Rabbi Israel Salanter. He declined invitations to take rabbinic positions in large congregations and remained the rabbi in the small town of Shat (Šeta), for 20 years. After the fire in Shat he acceded to requests from some important people of Vilna and took a position as teacher of Jewish law there, on condition that he would not be required to render religious judgements. He lectured to advanced Torah students and held that post for 20 years.

He was a most ethical person, who refrained from issuing blanket judgments. If he declared a chicken nonkosher he would compensate the owner. He wrote novel interpretations of Jewish law, some of which were published after his death. Some of his manuscripts were published by his son (Vilna, 1903, and Jerusalem, 1931). He died in Vilna.

Rabinowitz, Moshe bar Mordechai (1863-1925)

Born in Keidan, he was head of yeshiva in Keidan, rabbi in Raguva for 23 years and in Posvol (Pasvalys) for 13 years. He left behind responsa on all sections of the “Shulchan Aruch” and new commentaries on both the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds. He died in Posvol.

Remigolsky, Rabbi Binyamin-Eliyahu (1871-1930)

Born in Keidan, he was educated in the yeshivas of Eishyshok, Volozhin and Slobodka. By 19 he was an expert on the entire Talmud. He was certified as a rabbi by Rabbi Yitzhak-Elchanan Spector. At first he engaged in trade, but later, under Rabbi Yitzhak-Elchanan’s influence, he accepted the position of rabbi in Pilten (Piltene, Latvia), in Windau (Ventspils, Latvia) and thereafter in Trastina (Trstena, Slovakia), Stavisk (Stawiski, Poland), Graiva (Grajewo, Poland) and Smiatich (Siemiatycze, Poland), where he established a yeshiva. An eminent scholar, he left 62 manuscripts. His book “Hadarat Binyamin” included novel interpretations of Jewish laws and sermons concerning “dedications and conclusions,” for various talmudic tractates (Warsaw 1930).

Under the influence of Naftaly Zvi Yehuda Berlin, he joined Chovevei Tzion (Lovers of Zion) and was a member of the central committee of “Mizrachi” in Poland. He died in Smiatich.

Rappoport, Rabbi Shmuel bar Nissan (1842-1938)

Born in Keidan, he studied in Kovno and Telz (Telšiai). He was certified as a rabbi by Rabbi Yitzhak-Elchanan Spector and Rabbi Alexander-Moshe Lapidot. He served as rabbi in Ragole (Ariogala) from 1876 to 1880. Thereafter he was involved in commerce, but continued to devote time to Torah study. He was the rabbi in Springfield (USA) from 1900 and did much for the improvement of the community. He passed away in Jerusalem.


[1] Other sources give his birthplace as Koidanov, (currently Dzerzhynsk) Belarus.

 

 

Translated by Bella Golubchik.