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Chaim Volozhin

Chaim Volozhin

Rabbi Chaim Ben Yitzchok (Chaim Ickovits) or Chaim Volozhin (חיים מוולוז'ין also Chaim Volozhiner or Chaim of Volozhin) (January 21, 1749 - June 14, 1821) was an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, Talmudist, and ethicist. Popularly known as Reb Chaim Volozhiner, or simply Reb Chaim, he was born in Volozhin when it was a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and died there while it was under the control of the Russian Empire. Presently it is located in Belarus.

Student of the Vilna Gaon

Both he 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. At the age of twenty-five he was attracted by the fame of the Vilna Gaon, and he became one of the 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 R. Chaim virtually acknowledged no superior (see Heschel Levin's "Aliyyot Eliyahu," pp. 55-56, Wilna, 1889 ).

Establishing the Volozhin Yeshiva

It was with the view of applying the methods of the Vilna Gaon that he founded the Volozhin yeshiva in 1803, a yeshiva that remained in operation for nearly 100 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. Chaim lived to see his yeshiva housed in its own building, and to preside over a hundred disciples ("Chut ha-Meshullash," responsum No. 5, published by his great-grandson ).

He 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 - the pre-1550 commentators. 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.

Works

His major work is known as the Nefesh HaChayim ("Spirit [of] the Life") , a work that--unlike popular belief--does not deal solely with complex understandings of the nature of G-d, but also secrets to prayer and the importance of Torah, the purpose of which is "to implant the fear of God, Torah, and pure worship into the hearts of the upright who are seeking the ways of God." In addition he wrote Ruach Chaim , a commentary on Pirkei Avoth.

Family

His son Isaac took over the leadership of the Yeshiva uppon his father's death in 1821. Isaac's daughter was married to Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin. His family which is related to the Rapoport family, has assumed the name of Fried, and some of his descendants, bearing that name, now reside in America. His grandson was the President of Israel, Shimon Peres.

Jewish Encyclopedia Bibliography

  • 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

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