Tag Archives: Orthodox Jews

Jew of the Week: Rav Chaim Kanievsky

Prince of Torah

Shmaryahu Yosef Chaim Kanievsky (1928-2022) was born in Pinsk (then Poland, now Belarus) and made aliyah with his family to Israel when he was six years old. He never left the Holy Land thereafter. His father was the great “Steipler Gaon”, Rabbi Yaakov Kanievsky, and his maternal uncle was the famed Chazon Ish. Following in their footsteps, Kanievsky became a rabbi, too, and was recognized as a sharp scholar at a young age. As a yeshiva student during Israel’s Independence War, he briefly served in the newly-formed IDF and defended Jaffa (though he did it spiritually, spending most of the time at his post learning Torah!) He then married the daughter of another great rabbi, Rav Elyashiv. Rabbi Kanievsky typically studied Torah for about 17 hours a day. He would wake up at midnight to pray Tikkun Chatzot (mourning for the destruction of the Temple and the exile of the Jewish people) and then learned for the rest of the day, starting with eight (double-sided) pages of the Talmud Bavli, followed by eight pages of the Talmud Yerushalmi, and then selections from a number of Jewish legal codes, the Tanakh, as well as Midrashic and Kabbalistic texts. What normally takes a typical rabbi a lifetime to study, Rav Kanievsky would complete every year! He was famous for his total mastery of all Torah texts, with photographic memory and an ability to mentally “scan” these texts for any word or phrase. He was often called the “Prince of Torah”. In addition to his studies, Rav Kanievsky wrote over a dozen popular books and commentaries. Hundreds of people would line up daily to ask questions and request blessings. His blessings were known to be fulfilled, often miraculously, and his legal rulings were followed closely by religious Jews, especially those in non-Hasidic Ashkenazi communities. He regularly responded to thousands of letters, too. Rav Kanievsky lived simply in a small apartment in Bnei Brak his whole life. After the passing of Rav Shteinman in 2017, he was widely-recognized as the supreme authority on Jewish law, and the top gadol hador. Sadly, the Prince of Torah passed away shortly after the conclusion of Purim last week. He had completed his yearly study cycle the previous day. Some 750,000 people came to his funeral, making it among the largest in Israel’s history.

Words of the Week

In a lottery, it is not the ticket that wins but the person.
Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky

Jew of the Week: Adele HaNeviah

First Lady of Hasidism

The Baal Shem Tov’s Synagogue in Medzibuzh

Adele bat Israel (c. 1720-1787) was born in Podolia (in what is today Ukraine), the eldest of two children of Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Hasidic Judaism. Adele (sometimes alternatively spelled “Odel”) grew up learning with her father, and was one of his greatest disciples. She served as his assistant and advisor. Adele went on to be a Hasidic teacher herself and a famed mystic in her own right. In fact, she was known to have divine inspiration, and was sometimes called Adele HaNeviah, “the Prophetess”. When the Baal Shem Tov sought to make aliyah to Israel, he only took with him his two children. They experienced many hardships along the way, including the capsizing of their ship, and being stranded on an island. Adele had been thrown off the ship into a stormy sea, and survived miraculously. The three ultimately returned to Europe. Before her twentieth birthday, Adele married a young Jewish scholar. Together, they made a living by running a shoe shop, and had three children: Her eldest son, Moshe Chaim Ephraim, went on to be a great Hasidic leader and wrote the famed text Degel Machaneh Ephraim. Second son Boruch was instrumental in getting the Hasidic movement going from its new “capital city” of Medzibuzh. Her youngest, daughter Faiga, was the mother of renowned Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. Adele was a key link in the chain of Hasidic tradition, and served as the “matriarch” of its first few generations. She has been called the “First Lady” of Hasidism.

The Surprising Story of Russia, Ukraine, and the Jews

Words of the Week

Anyone who has truly practiced a religion knows very well that it is that [which] stimulates the feelings of joy, inner peace, serenity, and enthusiasm that, for the faithful, stand as experimental proof of their beliefs.
 Emile Durkheim, “father of sociology”

Jew of the Week: Rabbi Panigel

The Rabbi Who Captured a Lion, and Saved Israeli Farmers

Raphael Meir ben Yehuda Panigel (1804-1893) was born in Bulgaria—then part of the Ottoman Empire—the only child of a wealthy and religious Sephardic Jewish family. When he was 3 years old, the family moved to Jerusalem. Despite being orphaned at 15, Panigel soon became a respected rabbi in the Holy City. At just 27 years old, the community appointed him as their official emissary to travel around the world to teach Torah and to collect funds in support of the old yishuv, the Jewish community that struggled to make a living in the Holy Land. In 1845, he was received by Pope Gregory XVI and inspired him to support and protect Jewish communities in Christian lands. Rabbi Panigel made several trips across North Africa, gaining a reputation as a holy miracle-worker. In one famous incident that happened in Tunis, a lion escaped from the city’s zoo and was terrorizing the locals. Incredibly, it was Rabbi Panigel that captured the lion. When he was asked how he did so, he replied that one who is righteous and fears God need not fear anything else. In 1880, Rabbi Panigel was appointed the Rishon LeZion, Sephardic chief rabbi of Israel, and in 1890, the Ottomans made him hakham bashi, chief authority representing the Jewish community. He composed a penetrating work called Lev Marpe with novel Torah and Talmudic insights. He was also instrumental in developing heter mechira, allowing Jewish farmers in Israel to continue working during the Sabbatical shemitah year (such as this year) in a kosher way. As the shemitah of 1889 approached, the struggling Jewish immigrants of the First Aliyah worried how they would survive if they had to let the land lie fallow, considering the country was then completely undeveloped. After consultations with other Torah luminaries, Rabbi Panigel found a way to work around the shemitah restrictions, allowing the faithful farmers to survive while also adhering to Torah law. Rabbi Panigel was the first to institute heter mechira, a practice which continues in Israel to this day. Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, the famous “father of Modern Hebrew”, wrote of how he was inspired by Rabbi Panigel and described him as being of “electrifying” holiness, like one of the Biblical Patriarchs.

What is Shemitah, the Sabbatical Year?

Words of the Week

The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.
– Albert Camus