Margolis, Gavriel Zev

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MARGOLIS, GAVRIEL ZEV (1847–1935), rabbi of and leading figure in the rejectionist wing of American Orthodoxy. Born in Vilna, he studied with Rabbi Joshua of Vilna, the uncle of the Ḥafez Ḥayyim. He continued with Rabbi Jacob Beirat before entering the yeshivah of Volozhin. He was ordained in 1869 and then worked with Rav Eizele Charif to publish a commentary on the Jerusalem Talmud, titled Noam Yerushalmi. He went on to become head of the Rabbinical Court in Dobrova and after two years moved to Yahnovka. He then returned to Grodno where he was the leading halakhic authority, succeeding his father-in-law Rabbi Nahum Kaplan. He combined the life of a scholar and communal leader. He was one of the rare rabbis to embrace Ḥovevei Zion and was a delegate to the Second Zionist Congress in Basel. When secular leadership dominated the Zionist movement, Rabbi Margolis became alienated.

After the pogroms of 1903 he fiercely opposed the Jews who had embraced the revolutionary movement and received death threats. He wanted to declare them no longer members of the Jewish community; a harsh but more moderate proposal passed the gathering of rabbis in Cracow. Political conditions were such that he welcomed and accepted an offer from Boston and arrived in the United States in 1907. Four years later, he moved to New York as rabbi of Adath Israel, a Lower East Side congregation, a position he held for almost a quarter of a century. He arrived in the United States after having served for almost 40 years as a European rabbi and was not about to accommodate himself to the American situation too easily.

He opposed Orthodox participation in the Kehillah and would not cooperate with the Agudat Harabbonim regarding kashrut; he thus established a separate movement Kenneset Harabbonim and attracted some significant colleagues to the fledgling organization.

He initially supported riets and welcomed its creation. He was one of the speakers at its opening in 1915, but as it embraced secular learning and sought to become a college and not only a yeshivah, his support turned to opposition. Moshe Sherman said: "The major thrust of his efforts to transplant the European world of Jewish piety and observance to the United States proved to be difficult" – at least in his generation when Americanization was the primary interest of immigrants and especially of their children.

He published Shem Olam (1905); Torat Gavriel, 5 volumes (1910, 1925, 1926); Agudat Ezov (1924); Ginzei Margoliot Shir ha-Shirim ve-Rut (1921); and Ginzei Margoliot Kohelet ve-Eikhah (1925).


J. Hoffman, "The American Rabbinic Career of Rabbi Gavriel Zev Margolis" (M.A. Thesis, 1992); M.D. Sherman, Orthodox Judaism in America: A Biographical Dictionary and Sourcebook (1996).

[Michael Berenbaum (2nd ed.)]