Malbim, Meir Loeb ben Jehiel Michael Weisser
MALBIM, MEIR LOEB BEN JEHIEL MICHAEL WEISSER
MALBIM, MEIR LOEB BEN JEHIEL MICHAEL WEISSER (1809–1879), rabbi, preacher, and biblical exegete. The name Malbim is an acronym formed from Meir Loeb ben Jehiel Michael. Born in Volochisk (Volhynia), Malbim was a child when his father died. He studied in his native town until the age of 13, with Moses Leib Horowitz, among others. He married at the age of 14, but after a short time divorced his wife. He went to Warsaw, where he became widely known as the "illui from Volhynia." From there he went to Leczyca, where he married the daughter of the local rabbi Ḥayyim Auerbach, who maintained him, and he was thus able to devote himself to literary work. In 1834 he traveled to Western Europe to obtain commendations from contemporary rabbis for his Arẓot ha-Ḥayyim (1837), visiting, among other places, Pressburg, Amsterdam, and Breslau. In 1839, on the recommendation of Solomon Zalman Tiktin of Breslau, he was appointed head of the rabbinic court of Wreschen (district of Posen). From there he went to Kempen in 1840, where he remained for 18 years, and was therefore sometimes referred to as "The Kempener." While in Kempen he was invited to the rabbinate of Satoraljaujhely in Hungary but refused the offer. He finally agreed to accept the call of the Bucharest community, and in the summer of 1858 he was officially inducted as chief rabbi of Romania.
In Bucharest, Malbim set new kashrut standards, imposed restrictions on the kosher butchers, constructed a new eruv, personally supervised the educational institutions in town and began to attract large crowds to his sermons. All of these activities, combined with his insistence that his congregants become more observant, resulted in friction between Malbim and the enlightened intellectuals in the Jewish community, who were actually wealthy, foreign nationals. When Malbim objected to the building of a new modern synagogue, the Choral Temple, because it would include an organ and choir like the Reform synagogues in Western Europe, his opponents complained to the authorities, claiming falsely that Malbim was preaching against Christianity. In 1860, he published the first volume of his commentary on the Pentateuch – on Leviticus. In the introduction he wrote a scathing attack against Reform Judaism. His son, Aaron, passed away in 1862. This personal tragedy had a severe effect on Malbim. At the same time, his rapidly deteriorating relations with the enlightened members of his community made his position precarious. Because of Malbim's uncompromising stand against Reform, disputes broke out between him and the communal leaders of the town, leading to his imprisonment. On Friday, March 18, 1864, Malbim was arrested and jailed. He was freed only on the intervention of Sir Moses *Montefiore and on condition that he leave Romania and not return. Upon release, he was placed in a boat sailing down the Danube River. He was put ashore at the Bulgarian border town of Ruschuk. M. Rosen has published various documents which disclose the false accusations and calumnies Malbim's Jewish-assimilationist enemies wrote against him to the Romanian government. They accused him of disloyalty and of impeding social assimilation between Jews and non-Jews by insisting on adherence to the dietary laws, and said, "this rabbi by his conduct and prohibitions wishes to impede our progress." As a result of this the prime minister of Romania issued a proclamation against the "ignorant and insolent" rabbi for his effrontery in "publishing libelous letters against those eating meat from any butcher shop and he has preached against the idea of progress and freedom." In consequence the minister refused to grant rights to the Jews of Bucharest, on the grounds that the rabbi of the community was "the sworn enemy of progress" (from the official newspaper Moniturul March 6, 1864). Determined to refute the false accusations made against him, Malbim went to Constantinople to lodge a complaint against the Romanian government, which was then under Turkish domination. Following the rejection of his appeal and his failure to obtain the help of the Alliance Israélite Universelle (in transmitting a memorandum written in 1864 in Paris in which Malbim, with the help of Adolphe Crémieux, addressed himself to the Romanian ruler, stressing his patriotism), he was compelled to leave Romania (1864). During his wanderings in the following years he suffered persecution and calumny. He served as rabbi intermittently in Leczyca, Kherson (1869–70), Lunshitz (1870–71), and Mogilev (1872–75), and wherever he went he was persecuted by the assimilationists, the maskilim, and the Ḥasidim. The maskilim accused him of being an extremist and a rebel against the enlightenment. He was invited to Mainz, and on his way stopped at Koenigsberg, where he remained for about four years (1875–79). In 1879 he received an invitation from Kremenchug, Poltava oblast, to serve as its rabbi, but died in Kiev on his way there.
Malbim's fame and his immense popularity rest upon his commentary on the Bible, which was widely esteemed. His first published commentary was on the Book of Esther (1845), followed by one on Isaiah (1849). In 1860 his commentary Ha-Torah ve-ha-Mitzvah on the Sifra was published in Bucharest. His commentary on the Song of Songs, Shirei ha-Nefesh, was published first in Krotoszyn and then in Bucharest in 1860. The remaining commentaries to the books of the Bible were completed and issued during the years 1867–76. His commentary encompasses all of the books of the Bible except Lamentations and Ecclesiastes. Malbim's commentary on the Bible was motivated by his opposition to the Reform movement, which in his view could potentially undermine the very foundation of Judaism. He began with Leviticus and the Sifra because the Reformers attacked the very idea of sacrifice and the halakhic Midrash on Leviticus as lacking any peshat. He wished to combat these Reform ideas in particular and in general to strengthen the position of Orthodox Judaism in the spheres of exegesis, knowledge of Hebrew, and the exposition of the Bible according to its plain meaning, and thereby counteract and weaken the Reformers in precisely those three spheres in which they had made appreciable achievements. In his long introduction to the commentary Ha-Torah ve-ha-Mitzvah (1860) on the Book of Leviticus and the Sifra, Malbim refers to the Reform Synod at Brunswick in 1844, calling it a gathering of "rabbis and preachers as well as readers who butcher their communities." Because of these Reformers' negative approach, Malbim decided that "it was time to act for the Lord, and to fortify the wall around the Law, Written and Oral … so that violators could not assail and desecrate it." From that time he began to compose commentaries on the Bible with the aim of proving "that the Oral Law is the law given from heaven, and that all its words are necessary and implicit in the plain meaning of the verse and in the profundity of the language, and that the interpretation is only the plain meaning based upon accurate, linguistic rules."
His commentary to the Bible is based upon three fixed principles: In the text of the Torah and the figurative language of the prophets there are no repetitions of mere synonyms; consequently every word in a sentence is essential to the meaning in accord with the rules of the language despite the fact that they seem to be mere synonymous repetitions. Every statement conveys a sublime thought: all the metaphors are of importance and replete with wisdom for they are the words of the living God (introduction to Isaiah). In Malbim's opinion the sages had "important principles and fixed rules for the grammatical forms and the foundations of the language and of logic," according to which they understood all the words of the revelation transmitted at Sinai. He arranged these rules and principles in a special work, Ayyelet ha-Shaḥar, which he prefaced to his commentary on the Sifra. In it he noted 613 paragraphs (248 on linguistic usage and 365 in explanation of the verbs and synonyms) that are the foundations of tradition and the Oral Law. He stresses the superiority of the literal interpretation and complains that the commentators after David Kimḥi – except for Isaac Abrabanel – were exponents of homiletical exegesis "and no one exerted himself to breathe life into the verses by the literal method" (end of his introduction to Joshua). In his commentary on the Pentateuch, Malbim treated the narrative portions differently from the legal sections. His peshat commentary to the narrative portion is accompanied by questions which are the opening gambit to his exegesis. The commentary on the legal sections focuses more on the halakhic Midrash, explaining its connection to the straightforward meaning of the biblical text. Overall, his Pentateuchal commentary is accompanied by Torah Or, essays on the aggadah combined with Kabbalah and philosophy;Remazim, hints of broader issues on the Tabernacle sections in Exodus; and Ner Mitzvah, which answers questions by other commentaries on the Midrash. While his commentary on the Pentateuch is meant more for scholars, the commentary on the rest of the Bible is aimed at a broader audience.
It should be noted that at the end of his commentary to Daniel, Malbim devotes himself to the calculation of the date of the redemption, which was to have been in the period 1913–1928: "We are writing these words in 1868 and according to our calculation the time of the redemption will be removed a further 60 years… for the rise of a scion of the house of David, the building of the Temple, and all the promises of the prophets will be fulfilled at the same time, and their luster will shine forth from the year 1913 to the year 1928, when the Temple will already have been established."
The following of his talmudic works are noteworthy: Arẓot ha-Ḥayyim, contains novellae and expositions on Shulḥan Arukh, Oraḥ Ḥayyim (Part 1, on chapters 1–24, 1837; Part 2, on chapters 25–31, 1861), with the novellae of his son-inlaw Elijah Joel Heilprin. The work, in three parts, comprises novellae on the responsa of Moses Isserles with source references and a pilpulistic exposition of the Shulḥan Arukh. Malbim provides a synthesis of halakhah and natural science on the one hand, as well as halakhah and Kabbalah on the other hand. Yalkut Shelomo (1938; 19662) was a collection of his novellae on the tractates of the Talmud, published (19662) after editing by Solomon Drillich, who also prepared and arranged a new edition of Ha-Torah ve-ha-Mitzvah, on the Pentateuch, with the title Sefer ha-Torah ve-ha-Mitzvah ve-ha-Ḥinnukh, in three parts (1967). Alim li-Terufah (1904) is a small work consisting of an exposition of the fourth chapter of Hilkhot De'ot in Maimonides' Mishneh Torah. Arẓot ha-Shalom (1838) contains nine sermons which reveal the profundity of his homiletical ideas. Characteristic of this work is the fact that the sermons are based upon biblical verses only and do not rely upon rabbinic dicta. Each sermon encompasses a specific subject and is preceded by a poetic introduction. This method was regarded by some as an innovation in sermonic literature. His oral sermons were distinguished by verbal precision and strict logic. His Ereẓ Ḥemdah (Warsaw 1882) contains sermons on the Pentateuch and expositions of aggadot. His works on language, poetry, and logic include: Ya'ir Or (1892), on synonymous nouns and verbs, containing 662 synonymous nouns; selections from his commentaries on synonyms found in the Likkutei Shoshannim (1875), and Ha-Karmel (1900) and arranged by J. Greenbaum; Yesodei Ḥokhmat ha-Higgayon (1900), a textbook on logic in 20 chapters comprising a survey on the principles of logic; Mashal u-Meliẓah, first published by Jehiel Brill (1867) – an allegorical play in four acts that was a visionary poem on the vice of hypocrisy. His autobiography was published in serial form in Ha-Levanon (vol. 2, 1865). Throughout his works Malbim quotes ideas from both Jewish and non-Jewish philosophers, including Aristotle and Kant. However, it is very difficult to know if his knowledge of their works was firsthand or secondhand from other sources.
A number of Malbim's works were translated into English. His commentary to Esther appears in two different editions: Tournabout: The Malbim on Megillas Esther (Southfield, Michigan, 1990), and The Malbim Esther (Southfield, Michigan, 1998). Malbim on Mishley is an abridged version published in Jerusalem (1982). The Malbim Haggadah appearedin 1993. E. Parkoff published Fine Lines: A Study of the Torah's Outlook on Human Suffering Based on Malbim's Commentary on Iyov (1994).
After his death, the Bucharest Jewish community built a Bet Midrash honoring Malbim. It became the center for Orthodox Jewish life in Bucharest until 1980 when it was destroyed by the Communist regime of Nikolai Ceacescu.
C.H. Brawermann, in: Keneset Yisrael, 3 (1888), 207–12; J. Meisl, in: Jeschurun, 12 (1925), 112–26; J. Mark, Gedolim fun unzer Tsayt (1927), 147–52; idem, Bi-Meḥiẓatam shel Gedolei ha-Dor (1957), 129–33; A. Guenzler, in: Oẓar ha-Ḥayyim, 6 (1930), 35–37; A.A. Hartstein, ibid., 150f.; H.H. Tscharnotschepki, ibid., 10 (1934), 21–23, 38f.; S.D. Posener, Eshed ha-Nahar (1932), 130–42; S.J. Glicksberg, Ha-Derashah be-Yisrael (1940), 402–7; E. Herbert, in: Journal of Jewish Bibliography, 2 (1940), 112–5; D. Druck, Di Meforshim fun der Torah, 3 (1941), 164–80; M.D. Haklai, in: Talpioth, 4 (1949/50), 364–70; A. Schischa, ibid., 6 (1953), 498–505; H.R. Rabinowitz, Deyokna'ot shel Darshanim (1967), 336–8; M. Rosen, in: Hagut Ivrit be-Eiropah (1969), 376–410; J.J. Cohen, in: ks, 44 (1969), 152f. add. bibliography: M. Margaliot, "Megamot ve-Kavei Yesodha-Me'afyenim et ha-Sifrut ha-Ivrit ha-Haredit-Mitnagdit be-Eiropa be-Me'ah ha-18 ve-ha-19" (dissertation, 1993); Z.S. Schechter, "Mishnato shel ha-Malbim" (dissertation, 1983); idem., in: Iyyun u-Mehkar be-Hakhsharat Morim, 6 (1999), 259–76; E. Tuito, in: Deot, 48 (1980), 193–98; N. Mazuz, in: Mikhlol, 22 (2001), 19–28; N.H. Rosenbloom, in: huca, 57 (1986), 39–86; idem., Ha-Malbim – Parshanut Filosofiyah Mada u-Mistorin be-Khitvei ha-Rav Me'ir Leibush Malbim (1986); Y. Geller, in: Sinai, 79 (1976), 82–93; idem., in: paajr, 52 (1985), 1–41; idem, Ha-Malbim Ma'avako ba-Haskalah u-ve-Reformah be-Bukharest (1858–1864) (2000); idem, in: Asufot, 14 (2002), 357–75; idem, in: Studia et Acta Historiae Iudaeorum Romaniae, 7 (2002) 176–82; Z. Tabori, in: Or ha-Mizraḥ, 19 (1970), 83–88; T. Horvitz, in: Sha'anan, 8 (2002), 73–80; D.M. Rosen, in: Hagut Ivrit be-Eiropa (1969), 376–410; A. Frisch, in: Mahanayim, 4 (1992), 370–79; E.Z. Melamed, in: Sedeh Ilan: Sefer Zikaron le-Aryeh Ilan (1968), 71–82; M.M. Yasher, Ha-Gaon Malbim – Ḥayav Mishnato Ma'avakav u-Mifalav (1976); S. Faber, in: Jewish Book Annual, 36 (1978–79), 79–87.
David Derovan (2nd ed.)]