Diskin, Moses Joshua Judah Leib

views updated


DISKIN, MOSES JOSHUA JUDAH LEIB (1817–1898), rabbi, halakhist, and leader of the old yishuv in Jerusalem. Diskin was born at Grodno, where he achieved fame as a child prodigy. From 1844 he was rabbi successively at Lomza, Mezhirech, Kovno, and Shklov, and from 1873 at Brest-Litovsk (Brisk), hence his title the "Brisker Rov." As a result of a case in which he was implicated by the authorities, and in consequence of which he was imprisoned for a short period, he leftx Russia for France, and in the summer of 1877 immigrated to Ereẓ Israel. He settled in Jerusalem where he served as rabbi until his death, enjoying the esteem of the whole community, among sections of which he was even more highly respected than Samuel *Salant, the rabbi of Jerusalem. He was one of the most prominent rabbis of his generation, who, in addition to a life of Torah study, was in the vanguard of Orthodox activism, leading the fight against all expressions of modernity and modern culture in Ereẓ Israel and advocating complete dissociation of the religious from the irreligious. He repeatedly excommunicated the modern schools in Jerusalem, stating of the ban that "no one has the power to annul it, since renowned rabbis of former days ordained it.… It is, moreover, a fence around the Torah, and not even an assembly of all the rabbis is in any way able or allowed to abrogate it" (written in 1896, responsa, pt. 1, 8a, nos. 29, 30). He ruled against the controversial decision of leading rabbis in 1889 permitting the cultivation of fields during that year, which was a sabbatical year. On other occasions, however, he was reluctant to decide an issue on his own, and suggested that prominent rabbis be consulted (responsa, pt. 1, no. 47, p. 43a; no. 52, p. 45a). He was opposed to the indiscriminate use of pilpul, regarding it solely as an instrument to arrive at halakhic decision (pt. 1, no. 52, p. 43d; pt. 3, no. 13). He himself subjected halakhot to critical examination, applying himself particularly to the problem of permitting the remarriage of agunot (women whose husbands are missing but whose deaths have not been established).

Diskin was active in establishing several communal institutions in Jerusalem. In 1880 he founded the orphanage which still bears his name, his purpose being to "save" children from a similar institution in which foreign languages were taught, established at that time in Jerusalem. He actively supported the foundation in 1887 of the Joint Sheḥitah Board of the Ashkenazim, Perushim (the non-ḥasidic Ashkenazim), and Ḥasidim, and together with R. Salant headed that body, which abolished the separate sheḥitah arrangements of these communities. He directed the Ohel Moshe (now called Tiferet Yerushalayim) yeshivah, where he also taught; gave his approval to the establishment of a separate community for immigrants from America; and, initially, supported the founders of *Petaḥ Tikvah, even serving as official agent for their company. He severed all connections with them, however, when it became clear to him that the town was assuming the character of the newer settlements. In all his public activities in Jerusalem, Diskin was supported by his second wife, Sarah (Sonia) Rattner, who was known as the "Brisker Rebbetzin." In some circles she was thought to dominate her husband to lead him to the adoption of extreme views; in the literature of the new settlers she was referred to disparagingly. After Diskin's death, the orphanage and later the yeshivah came under the directorship of his only son, Isaac Jeroham (born of his first wife), who, together with Rabbi *Sonnenfeld, was one of the ultra-Orthodox anti-Zionist leaders at the beginning of the national movement.

Among Moses Diskin's works are Torat Ohel Moshe (1902), novellae to Exodus and to the aggadah, including also some of the novellae of his father, Benjamin Diskin; Likkut Omarim (1922 and 1935), aggadic and halakhic novellae to Genesis and Exodus; and Responsa (1911), in three parts. Diskin's novellae were also published in the collection Mafteḥot ha-Torah mi-Ẓiyyon (1887–98). His novellae to the Babylonian Talmud – excerpted from his Torat Ohel Moshe – and responsa were republished in the Hosafot le-Talmud Bavli in two volumes (1964). Of the published eulogies on him, the following are noteworthy: B. Lempert, Zekher Zaddik li-Verakhah (1898) and J. Orenstein, Allon Bakhut (1899).


J. Orenstein, Torah mi-Ẓiyyon, 3 (1898), no. 4, 31a–34b; Lu'aḥ Aḥi'asaf, 6 (1899), 347; Sefer ha-Yovel shel Petaḥ Tikvah (1929), 46, 75, 138, 426; Y. Press, in: Minhah le-David (1935), 129, 135f.; D. Yellin, Ketavim Nivḥarim, 1 (1936), 230–3; J.A. Weiss, Bi-She'arayikh Yerushalayim (1949), 39–41, 88–90; I. Sheinberger, Ammud Esh (1954); B.Z. Jadler, Be-Tuv Yerushalayim (1967), 339–55.

[Yehoshua Horowitz]