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By Immanuel Etkes, Jeffrey Green

A mythical determine in his personal lifetime, Rabbi Eliahu ben Shlomo Zalman (1720-1797) used to be often called the "Gaon of Vilna." He was once the stated grasp of Talmudic experiences within the bright highbrow middle of Vilna, respected all through japanese Europe for his studying and his skill to traverse conveniently doubtless antagonistic domain names of idea and job. After his loss of life, the parable that have been woven round him grew to become much more strong and used to be expressed in quite a few public pictures. The formation of those photographs was once prompted as a lot by means of the wishes and needs of these who clung to and trusted them as via the particular determine of the Gaon. during this penetrating learn, Immanuel Etkes sheds gentle on features of the Vilna Gaon's "real" personality and strains a number of public photos of him as they've got constructed and unfold from the early 19th century till the present.

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By Immanuel Etkes, Jeffrey Green

A mythical determine in his personal lifetime, Rabbi Eliahu ben Shlomo Zalman (1720-1797) used to be often called the "Gaon of Vilna." He was once the stated grasp of Talmudic experiences within the bright highbrow middle of Vilna, respected all through japanese Europe for his studying and his skill to traverse conveniently doubtless antagonistic domain names of idea and job. After his loss of life, the parable that have been woven round him grew to become much more strong and used to be expressed in quite a few public pictures. The formation of those photographs was once prompted as a lot by means of the wishes and needs of these who clung to and trusted them as via the particular determine of the Gaon. during this penetrating learn, Immanuel Etkes sheds gentle on features of the Vilna Gaon's "real" personality and strains a number of public photos of him as they've got constructed and unfold from the early 19th century till the present.

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Extra resources for The Gaon of Vilna: The Man and His Image

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And he illuminated our eyes by his holy writings on revealed and hidden things. ” 63 Thus, had the Gaon not appeared, the generation would have been forsaken in darkness. Another of his disciples, Rabbi Menashe of Ilia, describes the Gaon’s mission as being messianic in character: As it appears, the length of our exile shows that we must be near to the footsteps of our messiah, and we must clear the way before him, the way ha-gaon he-hasid 33 of truth; . . 64 Whereas Rabbi H . ayyim emphasized the Gaon’s contribution in revealing the secrets of the Torah, Rabbi Menashe, a rationalistic scholar influenced by Haskalah, describes the Gaon as someone who had paved the way for the advent of the messiah by rehabilitating the path of plain meaning and truth in the study of Torah.

32 This is the essence of what Rabbi Israel heard from his colleague Rabbi Menahem Mendel about the ceremony that the Gaon held when he finished his interpretation of the Song of Songs. I use the word ceremony because from the testimony presented here it appears that the Gaon did indeed initiate an event of exceptional character. The invitation of his son’s father-in-law and his son to join him and his disciple, and the instruction he gave to close the windows and light candles in full daylight, and of course the words he said to those present—all of this indicates his intention to make the conclusion of his commentary on the Song of Songs into an event of ceremonial character.

Why were his disciples drawn to him, and why did he receive such extensive recognition and authority among his contemporaries? Furthermore, what is the meaning of his sons’ and disciples’ efforts to erect a monument to him in the introductions they wrote to his works? Finally, how is it that, of all the great Torah scholars who lived and were active during the eighteenth century, such a powerful myth should have grown ha-gaon he-hasid 35 up around the Vilna Gaon? The latter question is especially important because this man neither served as rabbi of an important community nor left a body of Halakhic rulings.

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