Chaim of Volozhin

Chaim of Volozhin (also known as Chaim ben Yitzchok of Volozhin or Chaim Ickovits; January 21, 1749 – June 14, 1821)[1][2] was a rabbi, Talmudist, and ethicist. Popularly known as "Reb Chaim Volozhiner" or simply as "Reb Chaim", he was born in Volozhin (a.k.a. Vałožyn or Valozhyn) when it was a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. He died there while it was under the control of the Russian Empire.

The title of his major work is Nefesh Ha-Chaim.

Student of the Vilna Gaon

Both Chaim and his elder brother Simcha (d. 1812) studied under Rabbi Aryeh Leib Gunzberg, the author of the Shaagas Aryeh, who was then rabbi of Volozhin, and afterward under Rabbi Raphael ha-Kohen, (the author of the Toras Yekusiel), later of Hamburg.[1]

Aged 25, Chaim was attracted by the fame of the Vilna Gaon, and he became one of his most prominent disciples. Submitting to his new teacher's method, he began his studies anew, taking up again Torah, Mishnah, Talmud, and even Hebrew grammar. His admiration for the gaon was boundless, and after his death Chaim virtually acknowledged no superior (see Heschel Levin's "Aliyyot Eliyahu", pp. 55–56, Vilna, 1889 OCLC 77975422).[1]

Establishing the Volozhin Yeshiva

Volozhin yeshiva
Photo of the Volozhin Yeshiva

It was with the view of applying the methods of the Vilna Gaon that Chaim founded the Volozhin yeshiva in 1803, a yeshiva that remained in operation for nearly 90 years until it was closed in 1892. The yeshiva became the "mother of all Lithuanian-style yeshivas". He began with ten pupils, young residents of Volozhin, whom Chaim maintained at his own expense. It is related that his wife sold her jewelry to contribute to their maintenance. The fame of the institution spread, and the number of its students increased, necessitating an appeal to which the Jews of Russia generously responded. Rabbi Chaim lived to see his yeshiva housed in its own building, and to preside over a hundred disciples ("Chut ha-Meshullash," responsum No. 5,[1] published by his great-grandson OCLC 13995133).

Chaim continued to teach the Vilna Gaon's study method of penetrating analysis of the Talmudic text, seeking to elicit the intent and meaning of the writing of the Rishonim. This approach was followed by all the great Lithuanian yeshivas, such as Slobodka yeshiva, Mir yeshiva, Ponevezh yeshiva, Kelm yeshiva, Kletsk yeshiva, and Telz yeshiva.


Chaim's major work is the Nefesh Ha-Chaim ("Living Soul"). Contrary to popular belief, it does not deal solely with complex understandings of the nature of God, but also with secrets of prayer and the importance of Torah, the purpose being "to implant the fear of God, Torah, and pure worship into the hearts of the upright who are seeking the ways of God". It presents a clear and orderly kabbalistic Weltanschauung that addresses many of the same issues as the Hasidic texts of the day. Norman Lamm described its structure:

The Nefesh ha-Hayyim consists of five parts, four of which are numbered and are called 'gates.' The fifth part, which appears between the third and fourth gates, is unnumbered. The first three gates, which are primarily metaphysical-mystical, number, respectively, twenty-two, eighteen, and fourteen chapters. The fourth gate, or final part, which is more popular and exoteric and extols the study of Torah, contains thirty-four chapters. The unnumbered part, containing eight chapters, is in the nature of a preface to gate 4 (and henceforth will be termed 'pre-4') and deals primarily with ethical material, such as the suppression of pride and other undesirable character traits, especially as it relates to the study of Torah and the performance of the commandments. ... The fact that it is unnumbered indicates that it was written after the rest of the book had been composed and was already in completed manuscript form. Evidence for this may also be found from the glosses and cross-references that are found throughout the book.[3]

In addition, Chaim wrote Ruach Chaim OCLC 30583186, a commentary on Pirkei Avoth.[1] Both titles also play on his name, "Chaim". Thus, for example, "The Spirit of Life" can also be translated as "Chaim's Spirit" or "Chaim's Soul".

Many of Chaim's responsa on halakic subjects were lost by fire in 1815.[1]


Chaim's brother, known as Zalman of Volozhin, is considered to have been among the greatest students of the Vilna Gaon. Zalman of Volozhin's biography, the hagiographical Toldos Adam, includes many anecdotes related to the author by Rabbi Chaim. Rabbi Chaim's son, Yitzchak, took over the leadership of the yeshiva upon his father's death in 1821. Yitzchak's daughter, Rivka, was married to Rabbi Eliezer Yitzchak Fried, her first cousin. (Eliezer Yitzchak's mother, Esther, was Yitzchak's sister.) Another of Yitzchak's daughters married Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin. Among Rabbi Chaim's descendants are the Soloveitchik family.[4]

Chaim's great-great-grandson, Shimon Peres, was a major political and military figure in Israel who served as both President and Prime Minister of Israel.[5]


  1. ^ a b c d e f  One or more of the preceding sentences incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainSolomon Schechter and Peter Wiernik (1901–1906). "Hayyim Ben Isaac of Volozhin (Hayyim Volozhiner)". In Singer, Isidore; et al. (eds.). The Jewish Encyclopedia. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.Jewish Encyclopedia Bibliography: Fuenn, Keneset Yisrael, pp. 347–349; idem, Kiryah Ne'emanah, pp. 156–158; Lewin, Aliyyot Eliyahu (ed. Stettin), p. 70; Schechter, Studies in Judaism, p. 85, Philadelphia, 1896; Jatzkan, Rabbenu Eliyah mi-Wilna, pp. 100–106, St. Petersburg, 1901; Ha-Shahar, vi. 96; Eliezer of Botoshan, Kin'at Soferim, p. 796; Ahiasaf, 5654, p. 260, and 5699, p. 81; Reines, Ozar ha-Sifrut, iii.; Ha-Kerem, 1887, pp. 179–181; David Tebele, Bet Dawid, Preface, Warsaw, 1854; Maginne Erez, Preface, Shklov, 1803; Zedner, Cat. Hebr. Books Brit. Mus. pp. 179, 555.S
  2. ^ Library of Congress Authorities: Volozhiner, Ḥayyim ben Isaac, 1749–1821
  3. ^ Lamm, Norman (1989). Torah Lishmah – Torah for Torah's Sake: In the Works of Rabbi Hayyim of Volozhin and His Contemporaries. Hoboken, N.J.: Ktav Publishing House, Inc. p. 61. ISBN 0881251178.
  4. ^ D. Eliach, Avi Ha'yeshivot, p.21 (1991)
  5. ^ Rabbi Chaim Volozhiner's grandson Rabbi Zvi Meltzer is the maternal grandfather of Shimon Peres.

External links

Chaim Dov Kantor

Rabbi Chaim Dov Kantor (1865-1944) (Hebrew: הרב חיים דוב קנטור‎) was born in Pinsk to his father R. Shlomo, the town cantor. The family was descended from Rabbi Chaim of Volozhin. At the age of four his father died, and Kantor’s mother traveled around with her four children until she settled in Jerusalem in 1871.

Chaim Dov studied at the Talmud Torah in the courtyard of the Hurva Synagogue in Jerusalem's Old City, and later at the renowned Etz Chaim Yeshiva. He married Esther Spektor (d. 1928 or 1931; a niece of Yitzchak Elchanan Spektor) and they were among the founders of the Shfeya settlement in 1887, adjacent to Zichron Yaakov, where he served as a rabbi. Following World War I Kantor became a leading figure in the Mizrachi Religious Zionist movement and was an active leader in Jewish life in Palestine. He was a shochet (ritual slaughterer) and mohel (circumciser). His main income was derived as the kosher supervisor of the Zichron Yaakov winery. At the end of his life he relocated to Jerusalem and is buried on the Mount of Olives.

Kantor appears as the character Reb Chaim Dov in Shmuel Yosef Agnon's fictionalized travelogue HaGalilah (in English as "To the Galilee"), published in his posthumous volume Pithei Devarim.


Chidush (Hebrew: חִדּוּשׁ; also transliterated as chiddush, hiddush or hidush), sometimes used in its plural form, chidushim (Hebrew: חִדּוּשׁים), is a novel interpretation or approach to something.

Historically referring to Torah topics, the term is widely used in rabbinic literature to describe a form of innovation that is made inside the system of the halakha, as distinguished from shinuy, an innovation outside tradition.

Eliezer Gordon

Eliezer Gordon (Hebrew: אליעזר גוֹרְדוֹן‎; 1841–1910) also known as Reb Laizer Telzer (לייזער טעלזער), served as the rabbi and rosh yeshiva of Telz, Lithuania.


In Jewish folklore, a golem ( GOH-ləm; Hebrew: גולם‎) is an animated anthropomorphic being that is magically created entirely from inanimate matter (usually clay or mud). The word was used to mean an amorphous, unformed material in Psalms and medieval writing.The most famous golem narrative involves Judah Loew ben Bezalel, the late-16th-century rabbi of Prague. Many tales are differing on how the golem was brought to life and afterward controlled. According to Moment Magazine, "the golem is a highly mutable metaphor with seemingly limitless symbolism. It can be a victim or villain, Jew or non-Jew, man or woman—or sometimes both. Over the centuries it has been used to connote war, community, isolation, hope, and despair."

Hasidic Judaism

Hasidism, sometimes Hasidic Judaism (Hebrew: חסידות‎, romanized: hasidut, [χaˈsidus]; originally, "piety"), is a Jewish religious group. It arose as a spiritual revival movement in the territory of contemporary Western Ukraine during the 18th century, and spread rapidly throughout Eastern Europe. Today, most affiliates reside in Israel and the United States.

Israel Ben Eliezer, the "Baal Shem Tov", is regarded as its founding father, and his disciples developed and disseminated it. Present-day Hasidism is a sub-group within Ultra-Orthodox ("Haredi") Judaism, and is noted for its religious conservatism and social seclusion. Its members adhere closely both to Orthodox Jewish practice – with the movement's own unique emphases – and the traditions of Eastern European Jews, so much so that many of the latter, including various special styles of dress and the use of the Yiddish language, are nowadays associated almost exclusively with Hasidism.

Hasidic thought draws heavily on Lurianic Kabbalah, and, to an extent, is a popularization of it. Teachings emphasize God's immanence in the universe, the need to cleave and be one with him at all times, the devotional aspect of religious practice, and the spiritual dimension of corporeality and mundane acts. Hasidim, the adherents of Hasidism, are organized in independent sects known as "courts" or dynasties, each headed by its own hereditary leader, a Rebbe. Reverence and submission to the Rebbe are key tenets, as he is considered a spiritual authority with whom the follower must bond to gain closeness to God. The various "courts" share basic convictions, but operate apart, and possess unique traits and customs. Affiliation is often retained in families for generations, and being Hasidic is as much a sociological factor – entailing, as it does, birth into a specific community and allegiance to a dynasty of Rebbes – as it is a purely religious one. There are several "courts" with many thousands of member households each, and hundreds of smaller ones. As of 2016, there were over 130,000 Hasidic households worldwide, about 5% of the global Jewish population.

Hemdat Yamim

Hemdat Yamim is a book dealing with Jewish customs and laws (particularly of Jewish holidays), including many musar exhortations. It is based on kabbalah in general, and the kabbalah of the Ari in particular.

The book was first published by Israel Yaakov Algazi in Izmir in about 1731. The question of the authorship and nature of the book - whether early or late, whether or not the author was a Sabbatean - were once in dispute, and as a result also the attitude towards customs recorded in the book.

History of the Jews in Bauska

The Bauska Jewish community existed in Bauska from the late 18th century until September 1941. During 19th century it was one of the main ethnic communities of the town and participated in its growth and development. Two pioneers of religious Zionism – Rabbi Mordechai Eliasberg and Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook - lived and worked here.

January 21

January 21 is the 21st day of the year in the Gregorian calendar. 344 days remain until the end of the year (345 in leap years).

Jewish mysticism

Academic study of Jewish mysticism, especially since Gershom Scholem's Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (1941), distinguishes between different forms of mysticism across different eras of Jewish history. Of these, Kabbalah, which emerged in 12th-century Europe, is the most well known, but not the only typologic form, or the earliest to emerge. Among previous forms were Merkabah mysticism (c. 100 BC – 1000 AD), and Ashkenazi Hasidim (early 13th century AD) around the time of Kabbalistic emergence.

Kabbalah means "received tradition", a term previously used in other Judaic contexts, but which the Medieval Kabbalists adopted for their own doctrine to express the belief that they were not innovating, but merely revealing the ancient hidden esoteric tradition of the Torah. This issue is crystallised until today by alternative views on the origin of the Zohar, the main text of Kabbalah. Traditional Kabbalists regard it as originating in Tannaic times, redacting the Oral Torah, so do not make a sharp distinction between Kabbalah and early Rabbinic Jewish mysticism. Academic scholars regard it as a synthesis from Medieval times, but assimilating and incorporating into itself earlier forms of Jewish mystical tradition, as well as other philosophical elements.

The theosophical aspect of Kabbalah itself developed through two historical forms: "Medieval/Classic/Zoharic Kabbalah" (c.1175 – 1492 – 1570), and Lurianic Kabbalah (1569 AD – today) which assimilated Medieval Kabbalah into its wider system and became the basis for modern Jewish Kabbalah. After Luria, two new mystical forms popularised Kabbalah in Judaism: antinomian-heretical Sabbatean movements (1666 – 18th century AD), and Hasidic Judaism (1734 AD – today). In contemporary Judaism, the only main forms of Jewish mysticism followed are esoteric Lurianic Kabbalah and its later commentaries, the variety of schools in Hasidic Judaism, and Neo-Hasidism (incorporating Neo-Kabbalah) in non-Orthodox Jewish denominations.

Two non-Jewish syncretic traditions also popularised Judaic Kabbalah through its incorporation as part of general Western esoteric culture from the Renaissance onwards: theological Christian Cabala (c. 15th – 18th century) which adapted Judaic Kabbalistic doctrine to Christian belief, and its diverging occultist offshoot Hermetic Qabalah (c. 15th century – today) which became a main element in esoteric and magical societies and teachings. As separate traditions of development outside Judaism, drawing from, syncretically adapting, and different in nature and aims from Judaic mysticism, they are not listed on this page.

Mattityahu Strashun

Mattityahu Strashun (Hebrew: מתתיהו שטראשון‎, also spelled Strassen; October 1, 1817 – December 13, 1885) was a Russian Talmudist, Midrashic scholar, book collector, communal leader, and philanthropist. He amassed a significant private collection of books and rare manuscripts which formed the basis for the Strashun Library of Vilnius, which operated from 1892 to 1941.


Misnagdim (מתנגדים, "Opponents"; Sephardi pronunciation: Mitnagdim; singular misnaged/mitnaged) were the current among the Jews of Eastern Europe which resisted the rise of Hasidism in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Misnagdim were particularly concentrated in Lithuania, where Vilnius served as the bastion of the movement, but anti-Hasidic activity was undertaken by the establishment in many locales. The most severe clashes between the factions took place in the latter third of the 18th century; the failure to contain Hasidism led the Misngadim to develop distinct religious philosophies and communal institutions, which were not merely a perpetuation of the old status quo but often innovative. The most notable results of these efforts, pioneered by Chaim of Volozhin and continued by his disciples, were the modern, independent yeshiva and the Musar movement. Since the late 19th century, tensions with the Hasidim largely subsided, and the heirs of Misnagdim adopted the epithet "Litvaks".

Nachum Kaplan

Reb Menachem Nachum ben Uzziel Kaplan (1811 in Baisogala – October 25, 1879) was a Lithuanian Talmudist, philanthropist, and Talmid Chacham who was known throughout Lithuania and Poland as Reb Nachum'ke of Horodna or Reb Nahum Grodner.Rabbi Kaplan was well-versed in the Talmud and the poskim as well as in kabbalah and Acharonim. Yet, because of his humility, he refused to render halachic decisions (except for one occasion when it was a matter of life and death) and preferred to hold the humble position of shammash (sexton) in the Synagogue Chevra Shas and to pass his life in poverty. But his untiring energy in behalf of the distressed of all classes and the implicit confidence reposed in him made him famous throughout Russian Jewry. He spent a great part of his time in going from house to house, collecting from residents of Grodno and from visitors money or articles of necessity and bestowing them wherever they were most needed. He exercised much influence also by his great piety and simplicity of life. He was a preacher of much force and was adored by the Jewish masses, to whom he spoke, usually on Shabbat afternoons, on plain moral truths in a language and manner suited to their feeling and understanding.

Pale of Settlement

The Pale of Settlement (Russian: Черта́ осе́длости, chertá osyédlosti, Yiddish: דער תּחום-המושבֿ‎, der tkhum-ha-moyshəv, Hebrew: תְּחוּם הַמּוֹשָב, tẖum hammosháv) was a western region of Imperial Russia with varying borders that existed from 1791 to 1917, in which permanent residency by Jews was allowed and beyond which Jewish residency, permanent or temporary, was mostly forbidden. Most Jews were still excluded from residency in a number of cities within the Pale as well. A limited number of Jews were allowed to live outside the area, including those with university education, the ennobled, members of the most affluent of the merchant guilds and particular artisans, some military personnel and some services associated with them, including their families, and sometimes the servants of these. The archaic English term pale is derived from the Latin word palus, a stake, extended to mean the area enclosed by a fence or boundary.The Pale of Settlement included all of Belarus, Lithuania and Moldova, much of Ukraine, parts of eastern Latvia, eastern Poland, and some parts of western Russia, roughly corresponding to the Kresy macroregion of Ukraine. It extended from the eastern pale, or demarcation line, to the Russian border with the Kingdom of Prussia (later the German Empire) and the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Furthermore, it composed about 20% of the territory of European Russia and largely corresponded to historical lands of the former Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth, Cossack Hetmanate, and the Ottoman Empire (with Crimean Khanate). Life in the Pale for many was economically bleak, most relied on small service or artisan work that could not support the number of inhabitants - immigration, especially in the late 19th century, resulted. Even so, Jewish culture, especially in Yiddish, developed in the shtetls (small villages), and intellectual culture developed in the yeshiva (religious schools), and were also carried abroad.

The Russian Empire in the period of the existence of the Pale was predominantly Orthodox Christian. The area included in the Pale—with its large Jewish, Uniate and Catholic populations—was acquired through a series of military conquests and diplomatic maneuvers, between 1654 and 1815. While the religious nature of the edicts creating the Pale is clear (conversion to Russian Orthodoxy, the state religion, released individuals from the strictures), historians argue that the motivations for its creation and maintenance were primarily economic and nationalistic in nature.

The end of the enforcement and formal demarcation of the Pale coincided with the beginning of World War I in 1914, and then ultimately, the fall of the Russian Empire in the February and October Revolutions of 1917.


Panentheism (meaning "all-in-God", from the Greek πᾶν pân, "all", ἐν en, "in" and Θεός Theós, "God") is the belief that the divine pervades and interpenetrates every part of the universe and also extends beyond space and time. The term was coined by the German philosopher Karl Krause in 1828 to distinguish the ideas of Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770–1831) and Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling (1775–1854) about the relation of God and the universe from the supposed pantheism of Baruch Spinoza. Unlike pantheism, which holds that the divine and the universe are identical, panentheism maintains an ontological distinction between the divine and the non-divine and the significance of both.

In panentheism, God is viewed as the soul of the universe, the universal spirit present everywhere, which at the same time "transcends" all things created.

While pantheism asserts that "all is God", panentheism claims that God is greater than the universe. Some versions of panentheism suggest that the universe is nothing more than the manifestation of God. In addition, some forms indicate that the universe is contained within God, like in the Kabbalah concept of tzimtzum. Also much Hindu thought is highly characterized by panentheism and pantheism. The basic tradition however, on which Krause's concept was built, seems to have been Neoplatonic philosophy and its successors in Western philosophy and Orthodox theology.

Rabbinic literature

Rabbinic literature, in its broadest sense, can mean the entire spectrum of rabbinic writings throughout Jewish history. However, the term often refers specifically to literature from the Talmudic era, as opposed to medieval and modern rabbinic writing, and thus corresponds with the Hebrew term Sifrut Hazal (Hebrew: ספרות חז"ל‎ "Literature [of our] sages," where Hazal normally refers only to the sages of the Talmudic era). This more specific sense of "Rabbinic literature"—referring to the Talmudim, Midrash (Hebrew: מדרש‎), and related writings, but hardly ever to later texts—is how the term is generally intended when used in contemporary academic writing. On the other hand, the terms meforshim and parshanim (commentaries/commentators) almost always refer to later, post-Talmudic writers of rabbinic glosses on Biblical and Talmudic texts.

This article discusses rabbinic literature in both senses. It begins with the classic rabbinic literature of the Talmudic era (Sifrut Hazal), and then adds a broad survey of rabbinic writing from later periods.

Vilna Gaon

Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, (Hebrew: ר' אליהו בן שלמה זלמן‎ Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman) known as the Vilna Gaon (Yiddish: דער װילנער גאון‎, Polish: Gaon z Wilna, Lithuanian: Vilniaus Gaonas) or Elijah of Vilna, or by his Hebrew acronym HaGra ("HaGaon Rabbenu Eliyahu") or Elijah Ben Solomon (Sialiec, April 23, 1720 – Vilnius October 9, 1797), was a Talmudist, halakhist, kabbalist, and the foremost leader of misnagdic (non-hasidic) Jewry of the past few centuries. He is commonly referred to in Hebrew as ha-Gaon he-Chasid mi-Vilna, "the pious genius from Vilnius".Through his annotations and emendations of Talmudic and other texts he became one of the most familiar and influential names in rabbinic study since the Middle Ages, counted by many among the sages known as the Acharonim, and ranked by some with the even more revered Rishonim of the Middle Ages. Large groups of people, including many yeshivas, uphold the set of Jewish customs and rites (minhag), the "minhag ha-Gra", which is named for him, and which is also considered by many to be the prevailing Ashkenazi minhag in Jerusalem.

Born in Sielec in the Brest Litovsk Voivodeship (today Sialiec, Belarus), the Gaon displayed extraordinary talent while still a child. By the time he was twenty years old, rabbis were submitting their most difficult halakhic problems to him for legal rulings. He was a prolific author, writing such works as glosses on the Babylonian Talmud and Shulchan Aruch known as Bi'urei ha-Gra ("Elaborations by the Gra"), a running commentary on the Mishnah, Shenoth Eliyahu ("The Years of Elijah"), and insights on the Pentateuch entitled Adereth Eliyahu ("The Cloak of Elijah"), published by his son. Various Kabbalistic works have commentaries in his name, and he wrote commentaries on the Proverbs and other books of the Tanakh later on in his life. None of his manuscripts were published in his lifetime.

When Hasidic Judaism became influential in his native town, the Vilna Gaon joined the "opposers" or Misnagdim, rabbis and heads of the Polish communities, to curb Hasidic influence. In 1777, one of the first excommunications against the nascent Hasidic movement was launched in Vilna.

He encouraged his students to study natural sciences, and even translated geometry books to Yiddish and Hebrew.

Yechezkel Feivel

Rabbi Yechezkel Feivel (1755–1833) was the Maggid in Vilnius in the early 19th century and the author of several books, including Toldos Adam, a hagiography of Rabbi Zalman of Vilna, the famed brother of Chaim of Volozhin and student of the Vilna Gaon. Feivel was the Maggid of Vilna from 1811 until his death.

Yeshivat Makor Chaim

Yeshivat Makor Chaim was established in 1985 under the visionary leadership of Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz (Even Israel). Today, the Makor Chaim Educational Institution operates a high school located in the Gush Etzion area, south of Jerusalem.It has been recognized by the Ministry of Education as an Experimental School and a Teacher Training Institution as well. The senior Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Dov Singer is ably assisted by Rabbi David Rabinowitz. In addition to the high school which serves close to 300 students annually, Makor Chaim also operates the "Beit Midrash L'Hitchadshut" (the Renewal Outreach Center), a nationwide outreach study andprayer program for personal spiritual development as well as several training and development programs for educators, administrators and others committed to focusing on the student rather than on subject material.



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