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Meir Simhah Ha-Kohen of Dvinsk


MEIR SIMHAH HA-KOHEN OF DVINSK (1843–1926), talmudic scholar. His brilliance was such that he is said to have annotated the halakhic work of a distinguished rabbi when only 13 years old. At the age of 17 he went to Eishishok where he studied under R. Moses Danishevsky. Meir Simḥah married the daughter of Ẓevi Paltiel, a wealthy man from Bialystok who supported him while he continued his studies under the local rabbi, Yom Tov Lipman Halpern, the author of Oneg Yom Tov (1880). With the publication of his work, Or Same'aḥ on Maimonides (1902–26), Meir Simḥah became widely renowned as an outstanding talmudic scholar and commentator. His novellae Or Same'ah to Bava Kamma and Bava Meẓia were published in Jerusalem (1948), and his novellae to most of the tractates of the orders Nashim and Nezikin, together with some responsa and occasional notes, were printed in 1967 from a manuscript identified as his in the Jewish National and University Library. In these fundamental and classic works of rabbinic literature, he shed new light on the Talmud and codifiers, displaying vast erudition, great depth, and profound logic. On the advice of R. Jacob Ḥarif of Zagare and R. Joseph B. *Soloveichik of Brest-Litovsk, he was invited to become rabbi of Dvinsk, a position he occupied for 40 years. Meir Simḥah earned the high esteem of all communal circles, not only in Dvinsk, but far beyond its borders. In 1906 he declined the offer of a rabbinical position in Jerusalem, as a result of the entreaties of the community of Dvinsk who wrote to the leaders in Jerusalem that were he to leave, "not only would we, God forfend, be destroyed, but also the entire Diaspora. For he is the authority able to answer anyone who enquires concerning the word of the Lord. It is not for you, people of Jerusalem, to do such a thing." In 1911 he presided jointly with Isaac Jacob Rabinovitz, the rabbi of Ponevezh, over the Central Committee of Rabbis, the representative body of Russian Jewry in its relations with the government. During World War i most of the Dvinsk community fled, and only a few of the poorest inhabitants remained. Meir Simḥah stayed with them, declaring that as long as there were nine Jews in the city, he would be the tenth.

In his work on the Pentateuch, Meshekh Ḥokhmah (1927), he drew freely on his vast knowledge of the two Talmuds and of the halakhic and aggadic Midrashim, giving new and profound interpretations. The book, which contains original reflections, attained wide popularity. Zera Avraham (1929) by Abraham Luftvir consists of an exchange of correspondence between Luftvir and Menahem *Zemba, and also includes some fine specimens of Meir Simḥah's responsa to him.


Yahadut Lita, 3 (1967), 65f.; S.Y. Zevin, Ishim ve-Shitot (19663), 155–87.

[Mordechai Hacohen]

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