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Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin

From Academic Kids

Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (1817- 10 August 1893) was a rosh yeshiva (dean of a yeshiva) and author if several works of rabbinic literature in Lithuania. His name is commonly abbreviated by its consonants as Netziv (נציב), which can also mean "pillar".

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Biography

He was born into a family of Jewish scholarship. His father Jacob, while not being a rabbi, was a Talmudic scholar, and his mother was directly descended from Chaim Volozhin, the student of the Vilna Gaon who had founded the Volozhin yeshiva. Although initially a weak student, legend has it that he applied himself to his studies after overhearing his parents debating whether he should pursue a trade.

His first wife was the sister of Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein. His second wife would be his late wife's niece, a daughter of Rabbi Epstein. A son from his first marriage, Chaim Berlin, was to become the rabbi of Moscow, and his son from the second marriage was Rabbi Meir Berlin (later Bar-Ilan).

Rabbi Berlin led the yeshiva in Volozhin, then the largest and most influential in Lithuania, from 1854 to its closure in 1892. Despite the destruction (twice) of the town and the yeshiva building in large fires, its enrolment increased steadily under his leadership, and the yeshiva would produce a number of prominent rabbinic figures who lead Lithuanian and Eastern-European Jewry until the Second World War.

In Volozhin, his leadership was contested by the popular Rabbi Joseph Dov (Yoshe Ber) Soloveitchik, whose style of Torah study differed substationally from Berlin's. Nevertheless, a vote indicated that the students preferred Berlin to Soloveitchik. The latter became rabbi of Slutzk, Warsaw and Brisk, where he founded the rabbinical dynasty that still carries his name.

In 1892, the Russian authorities (being influenced by Haskalah elements) sought to introduce an extensive program of secular studies into the yeshiva. As this would undermine the aims of the institution completely, Rabbi Berlin saw no other solution than to let the government close the yeshiva. After the closure, he traveled to Vilna and other cities, trying to clear the yeshiva's debt.

The last few months of his life he suffered from diabetes and the consequences of a stroke. While he intended to travel to the Land of Israel, his medical condition made this impossible. He spent his last weeks in Warsaw, and is interred in a cemetery there.

Views and influence

In his approach to Torah study, his style was traditionalist and was at odds with the highly analytical style of lomdus that was poineered by Soloveitchik.

His political views were proto-Religious Zionist; he was a member of the Chovevei Tzion movement (which had been founded by his contemporary Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Kalisher).

Bibliography

  • Ha'emek She'eila ("The Depth of the Question"), a commentary on the She'iltoth, a geonic work of halakha by Achai Gaon;
  • Meishiv Davar ("Response in Kind"), a collection of his responsa;
  • Ha'emek Davar ("The Depth of the Word"), a Torah commentary;
  • A commentary on the Song of Songs.

Sources

  • Epstein, B.. Mekor Baruch. Sections translated as: My Uncle the Netziv by Rabbi M. Dombey. Brooklyn, New York: Mesorah publications ltd. ISBN 899064930.
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