Henkin, Joseph Elijah

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HENKIN, JOSEPH ELIJAH (1880–1973), rabbi. Henkin was born in Klimovichi, Belorussia, where his father Rabbi Eliezer Henkin was head of the yeshivah. Leaving his native town, he studied for six years at the yeshivah of Slutsk under Isser-Zalman *Meltzer, who together with Baruch Baer *Leibowitz and Jechiel Michael *Epstein ordained him. After serving as rabbi in Kavkazskaya and as head of the yeshivah in Sokolov, Henkin immigrated to the United States in 1922 and settled in New York City. In 1925 he was appointed director of Ezras Torah, an organization founded in 1915 by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis to provide assistance to rabbinical scholars in war-torn Europe. Under his direction, Ezras Torah expanded into a general charity distributing hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to thousands of needy persons, raising funds honorably, and disbursing funds fairly. Paid a modest salary, he insisted that when he aged and cut down his hours of work, his salary be reduced accordingly. His stature derived from his person and not from the positions he held. Henkin was one of the leading authorities on Jewish law and was continually called upon to decide points of Jewish law. He was particularly authoritative on divorce procedure and on laws of Sabbath as they relate to the new technology. His writings also include such issues as the Holocaust, Zionism, and Jewish communal life. Originally opposed to the State of Israel, once it was established he gave it support. His published responsa appear in Chaim Bloch's Even me-Kir Tiẓak (1953) and in his own Perushei Lev Ivra (c. 1925). His son louis henkin (1917– ) became professor of international law and diplomacy at Columbia University.


A. Shurin, Keshet Gibborim (1964), 77–82; O. Rand (ed.), Toledot Anshei Shem (1950), 38; Kitvei ha-Gaon Rabbi Yosef Eliyahu Henkin (1980).

[Aaron Lichtenstein /

Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]