Sarna, Ezekiel

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SARNA, EZEKIEL (1889–1969), rosh yeshivah in Israel. Born in Gorodok, Lithuania, Sarna was the son of Jacob Ḥayyim Sarna, the Maggid ("preacher") of Slonim and a close associate of Ḥayyim *Soloveitchik. At an early age Ezekiel was accepted in the famous yeshivah of Slobodka, Lithuania, where he became known as the illui ("child prodigy") of Gorodok. He was particularly influenced by the method of study and moral inspiration of the heads of the yeshivah – the Sabba of Slobodka, Nathan Ẓevi *Finkel, and Moses Mordecai *Epstein. When World War i broke out, the Slobodka yeshivah was transferred from Kovno to Kremenchug in the Ukraine. In this period Sarna studied under *Israel Meir ha-Kohen (Ḥafeẓ-Ḥayyim). His marriage to Epstein's daughter accorded Sarna, already distinguished by his talent and profound acumen, a special status. After the war the yeshivah returned to Slobodka, where Sarna was appointed a lecturer. Following the *Balfour Declaration, the third wave of aliyah got under way, and Epstein decided (1924) to transfer the Slobodka yeshivah to Ereẓ Israel. For this purpose he sent Sarna to choose a site. Sarna selected Hebron, where he immediately became one of the heads of the yeshivah and was mainly responsible for its development. About a year later Finkel and Epstein joined the yeshivah. On the death of his father-in-law in 1927, Sarna was appointed rosh yeshivah, a position he held until his death. The yeshivah attracted students from all parts of the world and, at the time of its destruction in the pogrom of 1929, had 265 students. Sarna reestablished the yeshivah in Jerusalem as the Hebron Yeshivah. Under Sarna's guidance it again flourished. His talmudic and musar discourses achieved a reputation in the yeshivah world, and Hebron Yeshivah developed into one of the largest and most important Torah centers in Israel, continuing the educational and musar methods of the great Lithuanian yeshivot. As a leader of the Va'ad ha-Yeshivot, Sarna was mainly preoccupied by his own and other yeshivot, but was also actively interested in national problems. He was a member of the Mo'eẓet Gedolei ha-Torah, the supreme religious institution of *Agudat Israel. He held independent views on political matters, both local and foreign, and on occasion addressed his opinions to the prime minister and members of the Israel government, attempting by virtue of his personality to influence the political, social, and religious life of the state. He was instrumental in obtaining exemption from military service for yeshivah students. Sarna had a unique style in halakhah and musar, and published a number of books, including commentaries on *Judah Halevi's Kuzari (1965), on the Orḥot Ḥayyim by *Asher b. Jehiel (1957, 1962), and on Mesillat Yesharim (1957, 1965) by Moses Ḥayyim *Luzzatto. He left many manuscripts on halakhah and Jewish thought. Despite an illness in his last years, he undertook the establishment of the new yeshivah center, Kiryat Ḥevron, in southern Jerusalem.

[Itzhak Goldshlag]