Shtetl Routes. Vestiges of Jewish cultural heritage in cross-border tourism in borderland of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine

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Shtetl Routes. Vestiges of Jewish cultural heritage in cross-border tourism in borderland of Poland, Belarus and Ukraine

Beta version

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The jeshivot route

We invite you to join the route tracing jeshivot in Belarus, which were very important places for Jewish communities.

The jeshivot route
Jeshiva in Volozhyn, 2014, photo: Paweł Sańko

The route includes 5 townships in Belarus: Volozhin - Slonim - Mir - Navahrudak - Radun.

Volozhin

Jews have lived in Volozhin since the 16th century. In 1897 they constituted 55% of its inhabitants. On the eve of the Holocaust there were about 3000 Jews living there, which was over half of the population.

The yeshivah was established in 1803 by Rabbi Haim ben Itzhak who was the leading student of the great Rabbi Eliyahu Zalman of Vilna known as the Gaon of Vilna. In order to attract scholars to the institution, two wise rules were laid down: (1) only those should be admitted who had distinguished themselves in Talmudic study, and (2) the medieval custom of assigning yeshivah students to various households (different each day), in which they received free meals, should be abolished; the students had to be either self-supporting, or maintained by the institution. Thus, scholars both rich and poor, flocked to Volozhin from all parts of Russia and the rest of Europe. It became the leading Jewish seminary producing some of the finest rabbis for a continuous period of over 200 years.

Volozhin Yeshiva, also known as Etz Chaim Yeshiva, founded in 1803 by rabbi Chaim of Volozhin
Volozhin Yeshiva, also known as Etz Chaim Yeshiva, founded in 1803 by rabbi Chaim of Volozhin

Within ten years of its existence, the number of students had grown from 10 to 100. Ten years later the numbers increased to 200. It became such an important institution that when Napoleon invaded the area a special edict was issued “to safeguard the chief rabbi of Volozhin, his schools and educational institutions and to extend to him every assistance and protection.”

The yeshivah’s educational program was twofold:

1) to act as a barrier against the ever-spreading Hasidic movement, and

2) to impart a method of studying Talmud that was non-pilpul, as promoted by Rabbi Haim’s teacher the Gaon of Vilna.

Pilpul derives from the word pilpel meaning peppery or spicy and refers to a method in which the text of Talmud is logically dissected in every possible way in order to prove and disprove its core thesis through antithesis and synthesis. It becomes a pedagogic exercise that sharpens the mind of the intellectual combatants involved in it. Its consequence, however, is a hairsplitting and unnecessary argumentation. The Gaon of Vilna questioned pilpul by urging a return to the literal meaning of the text, the purpose of which was to give birth to halacha – religious practice. Rabbi Haim of Volozhin was convinced that the success of the Hasidic movement was a consequence of such over-intellectualization of Torah studies and the desire of common Jews to simply do God’s will as expressed through the mitzvot (commandments). In his book, Nefesh Hahaim (The Living Soul), he elevated Torah study to the highest level accorded in Judaism – to the level of the communion with God.

After Rabbi Haim’s death in 1821, the leadership of the institution was taken over by his son, Rabbi Isaac, who succeeded in obtaining official recognition of the yeshivah by the Russian ministry of education. Upon his death in 1849, the leadership was shared by Rabbi Naphtali Zevi Yehudah Berlin and Rabbi Yosef Baer Soloveichik

But the future of the yeshivah was never stable. On the one hand, it was attacked by the Russian establishment that tried to curb the intensity of Jewish learning by insisting on the inclusion of secular studies into the curriculum. And on the other hand, internal disputes broke out between Rabbi Berlin and Rabbi Soloveichik and between the pilpulists and the anti-pilpulists.

In 1892, the Russian authorities insisted that the yeshivah, as a private open educational institution, teach general secular studies for at least three hours a day. Rabbi Berlin refused to accept the order. The yeshivah was closed and all rabbis and students were expelled from Volozhin. However, three years later it reopened and stayed open until the First World War, the outbreak of which forced it to move to Minsk. The yeshivah resumed activities in Volozhin in 1921 but was much diminished in numbers and influence. At the outbreak of the Second World War, there were 64 students studying under the leadership of Rabbi Yaacov Shapira (d. 1936) and his son-in-law, Rabbi Hayim Wulkin, who perished in the Holocaust.

Many graduates of the Volozhin yeshivah have become notable Hebraists and public leaders, the most famous being H. N. Bialik – the Israeli national poet and M. J. Berdyczewski – the great writer.

Slonim

The Jewish presence in Slonim was first recorded in 1583 when a special tax – the "srebshzizna" – was declared, from which only merchants were exempt. Jews were known as merchants in wheat and timber as well and manufacturers of alcoholic beverages and crafts. Consequently, the situation of the Jewish community was such that a magnificent stone synagogue was built there in 1642. The Jewish population reached the number of 1,154 people in Slonim and its surroundings in 1766; 5,700 in 1847; 11,435 (78% of the total population) in 1897; 6,917 Jews (71.7%) in 1921; and 8,605 (52.95%) in 1931.

During the 19th century Jews engaged in wholesale trading in timber, furs, and hides, in transport and supplying the army, iron foundries, agricultural machinery, matches, tanneries, sawmills, and brick kilns. Jews also operated steam mills. The first textile factory in Slonim was founded in 1826 by a Jew, employing 35 workers, of whom 20 were Jewish. In the late 19th and early 20th century Jews engaged in the manufacture of woolen scarves, curtains, yeast, matches, agricultural machinery, and Jewish ritual articles.

Today the name Slonim is famous because of the Slonim hasidic dynasty that grew there. The founder of this dynasty was Rabbi Abraham Ben Isaac Mattathias Weinberg (1804–1883) who, after having lead the yeshivah in Slonim with a regular Lithuanian learning style, became influenced by two great hasidic teachers: Noah of Lachowicze (Lyakhovichi) and Moses of Kobrin. When Moses died, Abraham assumed the role of ẓaddik (Hasidic master) and became one of the leading rabbis of his time. His influence extended mainly throughout the northwestern part of the province of Polesie, Poland-Lithuania, between the cities of Slonim and Brest-Litovsk and between Kobrin and Baranovichi.

Synagogue in Slonim
Synagogue in Slonim

Abraham's writings include Ḥesed le-Avraham (1886) and Yesod ha-Avodah (1892). His works, which include principles of his ḥasidic teachings, attest to his great scholarship. He advocated the study of Torah for its own sake, prayer with devotion (devekut), love and fear of the Creator, humility and confidence. He saw asceticism and mourning as ways of repentance.

During Abraham's lifetime, his grandson Noah (d. 1927) emigrated to the Land of Israel and settled in Tiberias, thus establishing Slonim Ḥasidim – a special place in the history of Ḥasidism in Israel from the late 19th century.

Rabbi Samuel Weinberg (d. 1916) succeeded Abraham as rabbi and excelled in strengthening religious life and institutions as well as in collecting funds for the Jewish community in Israel. Under Samuel, the Slonim dynasty became famous beyond its own circles for its special ḥasidic melodies.

After Samuel's death, a split occurred among the Slonimer Ḥasidim. Samuel's eldest son, Issachar Aryeh (d. 1928), inherited his father's position in Slonim but the majority chose Samuel's younger son, Abraham (d. 1933), as their leader, and moved to Bialystok and later to Baranovichi. In 1918 Abraham II established a major yeshivah in Baranovichi called Torat Ḥesed, where Lithuanian-Jewish scholarship and Ḥasidism were combined. He made journeys to Palestine to visit his Hasidim living there (1929, 1933). His successor in Baranovichi was his son Solomon, who perished in the Holocaust in 1943 with many of his fellow Ḥasidim.

In 1942, the Slonim Ḥasidim in Jerusalem established Yeshivat Slonim Beit Avraham. In 1955, the Slonim Ḥasidim elected Abraham (III), the son of Noah (mentioned above), who had immigrated to Ereẓ Israel in his youth, as their leader (admor).

Today, there are two Slonimer Rebbes, both in Israel: one resides in Jerusalem (the Baranovichi branch) and the other in Bnei Brak (the Slonim branch). Colloquially, the Jerusalem side is called the "White" (Veissa) side and the Bnei Brak side is called the "Black" (Shvartza) side, a reference to their political leanings, white meaning more liberal and black meaning more conservative in Haredi parlance. The factions are distinguished by different Hebrew spellings, the Jerusalem sect being known as סלונים and the Bnei Brak sect being known as סלאנים. They are two distinct groups today and have many differences between them.

The previous Slonimer rebbe of Jerusalem Rabbi Sholom Noach Berezovsky (1911 – 2000) authored Netivot Shalom, a commentary on the Torah weekly portions that is extremely popular even outside of Hasidic circles.

Mir

The records show that Jews first settled in Mir at the beginning of the 17th century and within a few years their numbers have rapidly increased mainly due to the two annual trade fairs that were held there and attracted traders from across Lithuania and Poland. In 1685, a dispute involving special taxes levied on Jews and trading restrictions imposed upon them came to the attention of the Royal Radziwill family, the owners of the town, who instructed the administrator of the town to respect the rights of the Jews and to refrain from dispensing justice or arbitrating in their internal affairs.

During the early decades of the 18th century, the Jewish population of Mir increased considerably. In 1815 Samuel Tiktinski (d. 1835), a merchant of considerable means and a talmudic scholar, gathered together some of the youth of Mir and began to teach them on a regular basis, defraying from his own pocket the expenses involved in their maintenance. His son Abraham (d. 1835) helped with the teaching and the administration, but with the increase in the number of students, in 1823 Samuel transferred to him the whole burden of administration. To this task he applied himself with selfless devotion. In addition to teaching, he took particular care to awake in others a spirit of concentration in prayer, serving himself as an example. He abolished the prevalent custom of students having meals with a different family each day, thus raising their status.

The fame of the yeshivah spread, and when Abraham could no longer finance it from his own means, he sought outside help. The supporters of the Volozhin Yeshivah accused Mir Yeshivah of encroaching upon its supporters. The case was put before Rabbi Abraham Abele of Vilna who decided in favor of Mir.

Both Samuel and Abraham died in 1835 and Rabbi Joseph David, the rabbi of Mir, was appointed head of the yeshivah. In 1850 Samuel's second son Ḥayyim Leib (1824–1899) was appointed principal of the yeshivah, and thus a new era began. In addition to his great scholarship, Ḥayyim Leib was distinguished by a gift for teaching with his own methods. He eschewed pilpul; he insisted that the student must devote himself solely to the texts and the commentaries if he wished to arrive at a true understanding of them. The yeshivah played a central role in the spiritual life of the community.

In 1878 and again in 1892 the yeshivah was burnt down in fires which swept through the town, and Ḥayyim Leib’s writings, which were still in manuscript form, were also destroyed. He worked untiringly to replace the buildings. He was able to gain the assistance of Clara de Hirsch and of the Rothschild family.

During the Holocaust the student body of the yeshivah was saved by escaping to Shanghai using visas issued by Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese consulate in Kaunas, Lithuania. He saved the lives of over 6000 Jews seeking refuge and became the only Japanese to be honoured as the Righteous Among the Nations. After the war (1947), the yeshivah was transferred to Brooklyn, New York (Mir Yeshivah Central Institute). Some of its scholars later joined the Mir Yeshivah in Jerusalem, which is considered one of the exemplary institutes for Torah learning in the world.

The Jewish community of Navahrudak, one of the oldest in Lithuania, is first mentioned in documents in 1529. In 1563, at the request of the townspeople, King Sigismund II Augustus ordered that the Jews were to move to one of the two streets away from the center, where space had been allocated to them for building houses. In 1576, King Stephan Báthory confirmed all the former rights of the Jews of Navahrudak and of the other Jews in Lithuania. According to a decision of the Council of the Province of Lithuania of 1623, Navahrudak Jews were subject to the jurisdiction of the Brest community. There were 893 poll tax payers in the community and surrounding villages attached to it in 1765. The Jewish inhabitants reached the number of 2,756 persons in 1847 and 5,105 in 1897 (63.5% of the total population).

Navahrudak became the home to two major rabbis of the second half of the 19th century: Yehiel Michael Epstein (1829–1908) rabbi and halakhic authority, and Yosef Yozel Horowitz (1847–1919) of the musar movement, also known as the Old Man of Navahrudak.

Epstein was born in Bobruisk, Belorussia. He studied in Volozhin under R. Isaac of Volozhin from 1842. At first unwilling to enter the rabbinate, he was persuaded to do so by the rabbi of his native town, R. Elijah Goldberg, who formally ordained him, and in 1862 he was appointed to his first rabbinate in Novosybkov where there were many Chabad Ḥasidim. During that period he visited R. Menahem Mendel of Lubavitch, author of ẓemaḥ ẓedek, from whom he also received ordination. Thus he bridged the gap between the two great movements of Mitnagdim and Hasidim.

In 1874 he was appointed rabbi of Navahrudak where he remained until his death. According to Epstein, the principal aim of the study of Torah is not dialectical and casuistic exercise, the "uprooting of mountains"; but arriving at a definite knowledge of the halakhah. He showed a marked tendency toward leniency in his rulings: "When any problem in connection with the prohibitions of the Torah comes before you, you must first presume it is permitted, and only after you have carefully studied the primary sources and can find no possibility of leniency are you obliged to rule that it is forbidden".

R. Epstein's fame rests upon his Arukh ha-Shulḥan (Setting the Table), which he explained was necessary in order to bring the Shulḥan Arukh up to date (The Set Table – the great Code of Jewish law compiled by Joseph Karo in 1563).

At the end of the 19th century, Navahrudak became one of the centers of the Musar movement after a yeshivah had been founded there in 1896 by Joseph Hurwitz, one of the most prominent disciples of Israel Salanter and a leader of the Musar movement.

The Musar Movement

The Musar movement, founded and developed by Israel Lipkin (Salanter) (1810–1883) became the third major movement of Orthodox Jewry in Eastern Europe after Mitnaggdim and Hasidism. One of its basic tenets was that neither intellectual Torah learning nor ecstatic religious practice necessitated the creation of a better human being. The goal of musar was to elevate ethics and behavior, primarily through the fear of God, to a supreme religious value. From the psychological point of view, it chiseled away the individual’s ego structure, that structure that demanded self-importance, respect, recognition, ownership, and replaced it with humility, fear of sin, camaraderie, self-improvement, devotion to God’s commandments. In this way, the Musar movement did not fall between Mitnaggdim and Hasidism but became a third, complementary direction.

The original target for the teachings of the Musar method were the leaders and the middle class of the Jewish communities but ingrained habits and behaviors proved too difficult to overcome. That is why the work base shifted to the younger generation in the yeshivot.

Formally, the Musar movement was based on the study of ethical literature but also included spiritual exercises, confessions and verse chanting. In the "minimalistic" musar yeshivot, students devoted at least half an hour daily to studying one of the texts in unison, intoning them in the same plaintive melody. Unity was demanded only within the melody used, each student being allowed to read the book of his own choice. Devout musar students often gathered in small groups for a period of time to chant a particular musar saying and achieve the proper musar mood. Larger groups would create a musar berzhe, in which they would act collectively and enter into the same mood through a more protracted way. In these yeshivot, the student's mind was molded through such activity by means of emotive comradeship with fellow students and the influence of the mashgi'aḥ (spiritual director). In this highly charged emotional life, intellectual Talmud study became encapsulated by the atmosphere created by musar.

Rabbi Salanter is said to have had an extraordinary intellect. It once happened that a cynic tried to expose him as someone who did not possess any particularly distinguished Torah knowledge. The custom was for the lecturer to post a long list of his topics and sources before delivering the class so others could prepare. A day before the lecture, they would post this list of perhaps 8-10 sources from Talmud, the works of Maimonides and Rashi.

The cynic secretly took down the source list that Rabbi Salanter had posted and replaced it with a completely different one. Moreover, the sources on the list were completely unconnected; one had nothing to do with the other.

When Rabbi Salanter walked into the lecture hall five minutes before the appointed time, he saw the replaced list and understood what had happened. Nevertheless, he delivered his lecture on those very sources in the most coherent and moving way. He found the underlying threads among topics, which on the surface were completely disparate. It took rare genius to do it.

The crisis in the yeshivot, which was brought about by secularizing influences, such as the Bund, general socialist revolutionary trends, Zionism, and Haskalah, was counteracted to a large extent by the influence of the Musar movement. Israel Salanter's original aim was also largely achieved, though indirectly, as the "muserniks" who entered the life of the upper circles of the shtetl were now imbued with the new, proud and rigoristic spirit engendered by musar and the collective sense of identity.

And then came Rabbi Yosef Yozel Horowitz (1847–1919) – the Old Man of Navahrudak. He was an extraordinary character: until the age of 27 he worked in his father-in-law’s business. While travelling to Memel, he met Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, who was the rabbi there at that time. After attending a number of Salanter's classes and meeting with him, he decided to close his business, leave Shvekesna, and to study Torah and musar full-time in the Kovno yeshivah. After his wife had died in childbirth, he left his children with relatives and secluded himself in a walled-in room for a year and a half. Eventually he was forced out by the authorities. His rabbis at the yeshivah persuaded him to remarry, hoping that it would put an end to his isolationist tendencies. He agreed, but on the condition that he would be allowed to stay secluded for the whole week, coming back home only for Sabbaths and festivals.

In 1893/1894, Horwitz began to visit Rabbi Simcha Zissel Ziv in Kelm. Rabbi Simcha Zissel persuaded Horwitz to make an effort to counteract the influences of the Haskala (Enlightenment) Movement. He left his seclusion and founded a network of yeshivot in 20 Polish and Russian towns, among them Shavli, Dvinsk, Minsk, Warsaw, Berditchev, Novardok, Odessa, Lida and Zetl. The Yeshiva in Berdichev had two hundred students.

He then created something new – a Yeshiva Gedolah (Great Yeshivah) in Navahrudak, where the alumni of the many yeshivas he had established came to study. More than 300 students were enrolled in this yeshiva. There he developed what became known as the "maximalist" trend of musar yeshivot, the so-called "Novogrudok style." It applied a deeper psychological approach. This included not only many hours devoted to the study of the musar texts, employing if possible a more plaintive melody, with less lightness, but the student would also be taught to discipline himself by a series of peules af … ("actions to …"). Such actions were calculated to subdue his natural instincts of vanity, economic calculation, or love of material goods. A student, for example, might be ordered to go to a drug store and ask for something inappropriate, such as nails, to mingle with well-dressed people in rags, or to enter a train without a coin in his purse. By the Novogrudok method, a man not only trained himself to subdue his animal and social nature, but also to check if he did so with complete emotional depth.

Ḥayyim Grade, in his great novel The Yeshiva, described it in the following way: "When you ask the Novogrudoker, 'How do you do?' the meaning is 'How is Jewishness with you? How have you advanced in spirituality?’”

When World War I broke out, Horwitz decided to move the yeshiva away from the border to Homel and then in 1917 he moved it again to Kiev where he founded four more Great Yeshivahs. During the festival of Succot in 1919, the Russians instigated a series of pogroms in Kiev which killed hundreds of Jews. Many of the Jews in the area sought shelter in Horwitz’s home, believing that they would be spared on the account of his merit. On Simchat Torah (Joy of the Torah – the last day of the festival), the situation worsened, but Horwitz instructed his students to conduct the dancing as usual. The rioters fired at the windows of his house. Everyone dropped to the floor – except Horwitz, who remained standing at the head of the table, Kiddush (ceremonial) cup in his hand.

After Succot, a typhoid epidemic broke out in Kiev, taking the lives of thousands of its residents. Horwitz’s home soon became filled with the sick to whom he personally attended. Two months later he contracted the disease, and never recovered from it. He died on December 9, 1919. The Jews of Kiev and its suburbs streamed to his funeral.

Forty-three years later, his students transferred his coffin to Israel, and in the summer of 1963 he was reinterred in the Har HaMenuchot cemetery in Jerusalem.

The Navahrudak-style yeshivas that were established across Europe were all called "Yeshivas Beis Yosef" in honour of Horwitz. With the exception of Gateshead Talmudical College in England, which is officially called "Yeshivas Beis Yosef" of Gateshead, all Navahrudak yeshivas in Europe were wiped out during the Holocaust.

Radun

Radun became important in the 16th century because it was situated on the main road between Cracow and Vilna. Jews were still forbidden to live there in 1538. In 1765 there were 581 poll tax-paying Jews in Radun and its district; in the town itself there were 283 Jews in 1847; 896 (53.3 percent of the total population) in 1897; and 671 (53.5 percent) in 1925.

The center of Radun spiritual life was the yeshivah founded in 1869 by Rabbi Israel Meir ha-Kohen (1838–1933) (the Ḥafez Ḥayyim – the title of his first work) who became one of the most famous personalities in modern Judaism. His personality, his piety, his humility of conduct, his integrity of thought and action, together with his books, exercised a tremendous influence on religious leaders, and fascinated the masses, to whom he became the admired master and leader. Hundreds of sayings full of practical wisdom are attributed to him, and hundreds of stories both factual and legendary, all rich in morals, are reported about his life.

Yeshiva at 29 Sowiecka street in Radun
Yeshiva at 29 Sowiecka street in Radun

He refused to make the rabbinate his calling, and after his marriage in Radun he subsisted on a small grocery store which his wife managed and for which he did the bookkeeping. He also did his own "bookkeeping," maintaining a daily record of his own deeds to assure himself no wrong had been perpetrated by him nor any time wasted. He spent his time either studying Torah or disseminating its knowledge among others, particularly the more simple folk, whom he always encouraged in matters of learning, observance, and faith. The Ḥafeẓ Ḥayyim did not intend to establish a yeshivah. So many students, however, flocked to him that by 1869 his home had become known as "the Radun yeshivah" or as "the Ḥafeẓ Ḥayyim yeshivah." Forty-five years later, the yeshivah moved to a big, separate building and R. Naphtali Trup was appointed its head. For many years it was the Ḥafeẓ Ḥayyim's responsibility to provide for the students, a task in which he was later assisted by his three sons-in-law, leaving him more time for writing, publishing, and distributing his books.

When he was 35, he published his first book – Ḥafeẓ Ḥayyim (Desirer of Life) anonymously in Vilna (1873). It deals with the subject of Lashon Hara (wicked speech). In it he provides copious sources from the Torah, Talmud and Rishonim (early commentators) about the severity of Jewish law on tale-mongering and gossip. Lashon hara, meaning wicked speech (or loosely – gossip, slander and prohibitions of defamation), is sometimes translated as prohibitions of slander, but in essence it is concerned with the prohibitions of saying evil/bad/unpleasant things about a person, that are true.

Throughout his life, he laid great emphasis on the careful observance of these laws, so generally neglected in spite of the fact that their transgression involves the violation of numerous Torah prohibitions. In 1879, he published another book on the same subject and a third one in 1925. He even composed a special prayer to be recited every morning, asking for protection from the sins of slander and gossip. According to a popular legend, whenever anyone would gossip in his presence, the Ḥafeẓ Ḥayyim would fall asleep so as not to listen.

He was not only concerned with ethics or moral behavior (muser) but also with the minutiae of religious observance. Thus his best-known and most widely studied work is his six-volume Mishnah Berurah (1894–1907), a comprehensive commentary on Shulḥan Arukh, Oraḥ Ḥayyim which has been accepted as an indispensable reference book on practical everyday halakhic matters. One hundred years later it is still studied and referred to widely. As early as 1923, the Ḥafeẓ Ḥayyim expressed interest in immigrating to Israel. In 1925, he began to make concrete plans to leave Radun. Rabbi Moshe Blum came to his aid by finding financial assistance. In the end, the Ḥafeẓ Ḥayyim did not depart, first because of the pressure applied by the leading yeshivah heads, especially Rabbi Hayyim Ozer Grodsensky, and second, because his wife's health prevented her from traveling. In a letter dated 3 Tevet 5686 (1926), the Ḥafeẓ Ḥayyim endeavored to discover the benefactor who anonymously provided the financial assistance so he could return the money.

The Ḥafeẓ Ḥayyim did not publish his books for academic purposes, but rather created them wherever he saw a need to strengthen some aspect of Jewish life, sometimes intervening in person to reinforce his teaching. Among the 21 books which he published, one should particularly mention Ahavat Ḥesed (Loving Loving-kindness, 1888) on various types of charity; Maḥaneh Yisrael (The Camp of Israel, 1881), a code of practical laws for Jewish soldiers (in which he also endeavored to ensure that when stationed near Jewish communities kosher food was provided for them as well as urging young men to marry early to avoid the draft); Niddeḥei Yisrael (1894) to encourage Jews who had emigrated to the West to maintain their religious loyalties; and a variety of books on the observance of the dietary laws, laws of family purity, and the obligation of Torah study; and Likutei Halakhot (1900–25), a comprehensive digest of the sacrificial laws found in the Mishnah of Seder Kodashim. Since he hoped for and believed in the imminent coming of the Messiah, he emphasized the study of the laws of sacrifices and worship in the Temple and other related subjects.

In general, the Ḥafeẓ Ḥayyim adopted a stringent halakhic approach to contemporary problems to better maintain and regulate the boundaries between halakhic Judaism and the surrounding secular Jewish society. In addition, the many books that he wrote were in direct response to the educational challenges of his day.

The Ḥafeẓ Ḥayyim was also very wary of the rise of Communism after World War I.

Throughout his life, the Ḥafeẓ Ḥayyim traveled extensively to muster support for many Jewish causes. He was one of the founders of the Agudat Israel and was one of its spiritual leaders. He was chosen to open the First World Convention of Agudat Israel (1912).

The Ḥafeẓ Ḥayyim's help enable the many European yeshivot to survive the critical financial problems of the interwar period. Under his aegis, the Va'ad ha-Yeshivot (committee on behalf of yeshivot) was organized and it successfully raised the necessary funds for these schools. After his death, his name was perpetuated by many yeshivot and religious institutions throughout the world which were called Ḥafeẓ Ḥayyim.

written by Michael Kagan

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