Chaim Volozhin

Chaim Volozhin

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Chaim Volozhin was an Orthodox
Orthodox Judaism
Orthodox Judaism , is the approach to Judaism which adheres to the traditional interpretation and application of the laws and ethics of the Torah as legislated in the Talmudic texts by the Sanhedrin and subsequently developed and applied by the later authorities known as the Gaonim, Rishonim, and...

 rabbi
Rabbi
In Judaism, a rabbi is a teacher of Torah. This title derives from the Hebrew word רבי , meaning "My Master" , which is the way a student would address a master of Torah...

, Talmud
Talmud
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

ist, and ethicist. Popularly known as "Reb Chaim Volozhiner" or simply as "Reb Chaim", he was born in Volozhin (aka Vałožyn or Valozhyn) when it was a part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
The Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth was a dualistic state of Poland and Lithuania ruled by a common monarch. It was the largest and one of the most populous countries of 16th- and 17th‑century Europe with some and a multi-ethnic population of 11 million at its peak in the early 17th century...

. He died there while it was under the control of the Russian Empire
Russian Empire
The Russian Empire was a state that existed from 1721 until the Russian Revolution of 1917. It was the successor to the Tsardom of Russia and the predecessor of the Soviet Union...

. It is part of present-day Belarus
Belarus
Belarus , officially the Republic of Belarus, is a landlocked country in Eastern Europe, bordered clockwise by Russia to the northeast, Ukraine to the south, Poland to the west, and Lithuania and Latvia to the northwest. Its capital is Minsk; other major cities include Brest, Grodno , Gomel ,...

.

Student of the Vilna Gaon


Both he and his elder brother Simcha (d. 1812) studied under Rabbi Aryeh Leib Gunzberg
Aryeh Leib ben Asher Gunzberg
Aryeh Leib ben Asher Gunzberg , also known as the Shaagas Aryeh , was an Ashkenazi rabbi and author....

 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
Hamburg
-History:The first historic name for the city was, according to Claudius Ptolemy's reports, Treva.But the city takes its modern name, Hamburg, from the first permanent building on the site, a castle whose construction was ordered by the Emperor Charlemagne in AD 808...

.

Aged 25, he was attracted by the fame of the Vilna Gaon
Vilna Gaon
Elijah ben Shlomo Zalman Kramer, known as the Vilna Gaon or Elijah of Vilna and simply by his Hebrew acronym Gra or Elijah Ben Solomon, , was a Talmudist, halachist, kabbalist, and the foremost leader of non-hasidic Jewry of the past few centuries...

, 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
Torah
Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five books of the bible—Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five...

, Mishnah
Mishnah
The Mishnah or Mishna is the first major written redaction of the Jewish oral traditions called the "Oral Torah". It is also the first major work of Rabbinic Judaism. It was redacted c...

, Talmud
Talmud
The Talmud is a central text of mainstream Judaism. It takes the form of a record of rabbinic discussions pertaining to Jewish law, ethics, philosophy, customs and history....

, and even Hebrew grammar
Hebrew grammar
-History of studies in Hebrew grammar:The Masoretes in the 7th to 11th centuries laid the foundation for grammatical analysis of Hebrew. As early as the 9th century Judah ibn Kuraish discussed the relationship between Arabic and Hebrew...

. 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, Vilna: 1889 ).

Establishing the Volozhin Yeshiva


It was with the view of applying the methods of the Vilna Gaon that he founded the Volozhin yeshiva
Volozhin yeshiva
The Volozhin Yeshiva, also known as Etz Chaim Yeshiva, was a prestigious Lithuanian yeshiva located in the town of Volozhin, Russia, . It was founded by Rabbi Chaim Itzkovitz, a student of the famed Vilna Gaon, and trained several generations of scholars, rabbis, and leaders...

 in 1803, a yeshiva
Yeshiva
Yeshiva is a Jewish educational institution that focuses on the study of traditional religious texts, primarily the Talmud and Torah study. Study is usually done through daily shiurim and in study pairs called chavrutas...

 that remained in operation for nearly 100 years until it was closed in 1892. The yeshiva became the "mother of all Lithuanian
Lithuanian Jews
Lithuanian Jews or Litvaks are Jews with roots in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania:...

-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
Rishonim
"Rishon" redirects here. For the preon model in particle physics, see Harari Rishon Model. For the Israeli town, see Rishon LeZion.Rishonim were the leading Rabbis and Poskim who lived approximately during the 11th to 15th centuries, in the era before the writing of the Shulkhan Arukh and...

- the pre-1550 commentators. This approach was followed by all the great Lithuanian yeshivas, such as Slobodka yeshiva, Mir yeshiva
Mir yeshiva
Mir Yeshiva or Mirrer Yeshiva may refer to:* Mir yeshiva * Mir yeshiva * Mir yeshiva...

, Ponevezh yeshiva
Ponevezh yeshiva
Ponevezh Yeshiva, often pronounced Ponevitch Yeshiva, is a world renowned yeshiva located in Bnei Brak, Israel. Donated by Henry Krausher, it was originally established in the town of Panevėžys, Lithuania...

, Kelm yeshiva, Kletsk yeshiva, and Telz yeshiva.

Works


His major work is the Nefesh Ha-Chaim ("Spirit [of] Life") ). Contrary to popular belief, it does not deal solely with complex understandings of the nature of G-d, but also with secrets of prayer and the importance of Torah, the purpose being "to implant the fear of God, Torah
Torah
Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five books of the bible—Genesis , Exodus , Leviticus , Numbers and Deuteronomy Torah- A scroll containing the first five books of the BibleThe Torah , is name given by Jews to the first five...

, and pure worship into the hearts of the upright who are seeking the ways of God". It presents a clear and orderly kabbalistic weltanshaung that addresses many of the same issues as the Chassidic texts of the day. In addition he wrote Ruach Chaim , a commentary on Pirkei Avoth
Pirkei Avoth
Pirkei Avot , which translates to English as Chapters of the Fathers is a compilation of the ethical teachings and maxims of the Rabbis of the Mishnaic period. Because of its contents, it is also called Ethics of the Fathers. The teachings of Pirkei Avot appear in the Mishnaic tractate of Avot,...

. Both titles also play on his, "Chaim". Thus, for example, "The Spirit of Life" can also be translated as "Chaim's Spirit" or "Chaim's Soul".

Family


His son Isaac took over the leadership of the Yeshiva upon his father's death in 1821. Isaac's daughter was married to Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin
Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin
Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, , also known as Reb Hirsch Leib Berlin, and commonly known by the acronym Netziv, was an Orthodox rabbi, dean of the Volozhin Yeshiva and author of several works of rabbinic literature in Lithuania.- Family :Berlin was born in Mir, Russia in 1816 into a family of Jewish...

. His family has assumed the name of Fried, and some of his descendants, bearing that name, now reside in America. His great-great-grandson is the current President of Israel, Shimon Peres
Shimon Peres
GCMG is the ninth President of the State of Israel. Peres served twice as the eighth Prime Minister of Israel and once as Interim Prime Minister, and has been a member of 12 cabinets in a political career spanning over 66 years...

.

Sources


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

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