Elijah ben-Solomon Zalman

(the Vilna Gaon)
   Lithuanian scholar. The Jewish community of Vilna, Lithuania, was founded in the 16th century. From the early 17th century it was renowned as a centre of Jewish learning, and Elijah was the greatest of its sons. He was born in Selets, in the province of Grodno, and his father was a rabbi in Vilna. His prodigious intellect was apparent as a child: at the age of six he delivered a discourse on halachah in the synagogue, and began to study under a distinguished rabbi when he was seven. As well as the Torah, he acquired a knowledge of mathematics, astronomy, history, philosophy and anatomy, believing that secular learning was necessary for a true understanding of the Torah. He married at eighteen, and two years later went into self-imposed exile, emulating the exile of the Shechinah (the Holy Presence) in the Diaspora. Many legends are told of his wondrous deeds during his period of wandering through Europe for eight years. His reputation spread as a result of his travels and he was recognized as an authority by rabbis throughout Europe. After this he returned to Vilna, where he remained for the rest of his life. Declining to accept a rabbinical office, he lived humbly, subsisting on a weekly stipend granted him by the Jewish community. Elijah was acclaimed as a talmudic genius (gaon) by other scholars, and as a saint by the ordinary people. He was an ascetic; it is told that to stop himself falling asleep he studied in an unheated room with his feet in a basin of cold water. According to his sons he slept no more than four hours, taken in four periods of an hour each. At the age of forty he began to teach some disciples. Mystic longings among the oppressed Jews of eastern Europe made them receptive to the message of ISRAEL BENELIEZER BAAL SHEM TOV, whose revivalist movement of pious men (Chassidim) gave pride of place to religious exultation. This kind of popular enthusiasm was abhorrent to Elijah Gaon; it seemed to him to have dangerous echoes of the upheaval caused by the pseudomessiah SHABBETAI ZEVI, and to deny the virtue of scholarship. For Elijah, true religion was demonstrated in the harmony between heart and mind. When news of the chassidic innovations in worship and re-evaluation of the authority of the Talmud reached Elijah, he denounced its adherents as ‘set apart from the whole people of Israel’. Led by Elijah, Vilna became the centre of the Mitnagdim, the opposition to the chassidic movement, and in 1772 the Chassidim were excommunicated. When two chassidic leaders came to plead with him, he refused to receive them. Denunciations and counter-accusations grew virulent and factional squabbling divided even Vilna Jewry itself.
   Elijah Gaon longed to emigrate to the Holy Land. On one occasion he actually set out on the journey but for reasons that are not known, he had to turn back. He was the author of over seventy commentaries and works on every topic relative to Judaism.

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • ELIJAH BEN SOLOMON ZALMAN — (the Vilna Gaon or Elijah Gaon ; acronym Ha GRA = Ha Gaon Rabbi Eliyahu; 1720–1797), one of the greatest spiritual and intellectual leaders of Jewry in modern times. A man of iron will, Elijah combined the personal life of an intellectual hermit… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Elijah ben Solomon Zalman (Vilna Gaon) — (1720 97)    Lithuanian talmudist. After travelling throughout Poland and Germany he eventually settled in Vilna. He encouraged the translation of works on natural science, but was opposed to philosophy and the Haskalah. He also led the oppositon …   Dictionary of Jewish Biography

  • Elijah ben Solomon — born April 23, 1720, Sielec, Lith., Russian Empire died Oct. 9, 1797, Vilna Lithuanian scholar and Jewish leader. Born into a long line of scholars, he traveled in Poland and Germany before settling in Vilna, the cultural centre of eastern… …   Universalium

  • ISSACHAR BAER BEN SOLOMON ZALMAN — (Klazki; d. 1807), Lithuanian talmudist. The brother of elijah b. solomon Zalman the Gaon of Vilna, he was also known as Issachar Baer Ashers, in accordance with the custom then prevailing, since his father in law was Asher Ginsberg. Issachar… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • RAGOLER, ABRAHAM BEN SOLOMON — (18th century), Lithuanian rabbi and preacher, brother of elijah b. solomon Zalman Gaon of Vilna. Abraham was born in Vilna, but because of the controversy between Ḥasidim and Mitnaggedim he moved to Ragola and was thereafter called Abraham of… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • POSNER, SOLOMON ZALMAN BEN JOSEPH — (c. 1778–1863), rabbi and author. Posner studied under his father, the rabbi of Poznan (Posen), and under akiva eger , Solomon Zalman of Warsaw, and his own uncle, Zeeb Wolf Kalafri. He occupied himself mainly with commerce in the city of… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • AMELANDER (also Amlander), MENAHEM MANN BEN SOLOMON HA-LEVI — (1698–1767?), Hebrew grammarian, publisher, translator, and historian. He was born in Amsterdam, went to a yeshivah in Prague, and was a student of moses frankfurter , a dayyan and publisher in Amsterdam, whose Mikra ot Gedolot edition of the… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • ELIJAH PHINEHAS BEN MEIR — (c. 1742–1821), scholar, kabbalist, and maskil. Elijah was born in Vilna, but in his youth, after his father s death, he traveled extensively among the Jewish communities of Europe. In each city that he visited he furthered his Jewish learning,… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Israel ben Samuel Ashkenazi of Shklov — (d. 1839)    Palestinian talmudic scholar of Lithuanian origin. He was born in Shklov, and during his years in Lithuania was entrusted with the publication of the Vilna Gaon s Elijah ben Solomon Zalman commen taries. He later settled in Safed. In …   Dictionary of Jewish Biography

  • Manasseh ben Joseph of llye — (1767 1831)    Lithuanian talmudic scholar. He was born in Smorgon, and became a disciple of the Vilna Gaon, Elijah ben Solomon Zalman. He was versed in both rabbinic and secular studies. In his writings he challenged the Talmud as well as Rashi… …   Dictionary of Jewish Biography

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