Menahem Mendel of Shklov

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MENAHEM MENDEL OF SHKLOV

MENAHEM MENDEL OF SHKLOV (d. 1827), rebuilder of the Ashkenazi community of Jerusalem at the beginning of the 19th century; he was born in Shklov. His father was R. Baruch Bendet, who was a Maggid. Menahem Mendel was one of the outstanding pupils of R. *Elijah b. Solomon the Gaon of Vilna. He himself recounts: "I did not withdraw from his presence; I held onto him and did not leave him; I remained in his tent day and night; I went where he went, slept where he slept, and my hand never left his hand." After the death of his teacher in 1794 he worked with R. Elijah's sons on the arrangement and publication of his works. Through his initiative the following of Elijah's works were published in the course of nine years: R. Elijah's commentary on Proverbs; his annotation on Seder Olam Rabbah and Seder Olam Zuta; his interpretation of the Shulḥan Arukh, Oraḥ Ḥayyim; his commentary on Avot, and others.

In 1808 Menahem Mendel immigrated to Ereẓ Israel and settled in Safed where he established battei midrash for study and prayer and became the leader of the community of Ashkenazim-Perushim (followers of the Vilna Gaon), which then numbered around 150 persons. From Safed he maintained a correspondence with his friend R. *Israel of Shklov and entreated him to act on behalf of the economic consolidation of the community and even encouraged him to immigrate to Palestine. As a result of philosophical and traditional conflicts with the ḥasidic community of Safed, Menahem Mendel drew close to the Sephardi rabbis and their bet midrash.

When a plague broke out in Safed in 1812, he fled with others to Jerusalem. He probably reached the decision at that time to remain there permanently, but he set up his home in the city only in 1816. At the same time he rented the courtyard of the yeshivah of R. Ḥayyim ibn *Attar as a place for Torah study and prayer. This action should be seen as the renewal of the Ashkenazi community of Jerusalem, after a lapse of about 100 years. In his letters abroad he requested that *ḥalukkah funds be transferred to the new community. Here, too, however, he maintained friendly relations with the rishon le-Zion R. Solomon Moses Suzin who aided him in consolidating his community. Despite the numerous difficulties – resulting from the non-legalization of the residence of the Ashkenazim in the city – the Ashkenazim under Mendel's leadership continued to live in Jerusalem. After his death, his son Nathan Nata was appointed in his place. Mendel was a prolific author and wrote about ten books dealing mainly with the teachings of Kabbalah and mysticism.

bibliography:

Frumkin-Rivlin, 3 (1929), 138ff.; Yerushalayim, ed. by A.M. Luncz, 13 (1919), 223ff.

[Joshua Kaniel (Mershine)]

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