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Soloveichik, Joseph Baer, of Volozhin

SOLOVEICHIK, JOSEPH BAER, OF VOLOZHIN

SOLOVEICHIK, JOSEPH BAER, OF VOLOZHIN (1820–1892), talmudist and rosh yeshivah. Soloveichik was educated by his father, Isaac Ze'ev *Soloveichik of Kovno, and his great-uncle, Isaac, son of Ḥayyim of Volozhin. While in Volozhin, he married into a wealthy family, but was shortly thereafter forced by his father-in-law to divorce his wife when he failed to give the correct order of the recitation of some minor prayers on a festival. This so embittered him that he left Volozhin and subsequently studied under S. *Kluger in Brody and J.N. Orenstein in Lemberg. His reputation spread, and he was appointed successor to Gershon Menahem of Minsk at the yeshivah there. He finally returned to Volozhin in 1849 to serve as joint rosh yeshivah with Naphtali Ẓevi Judah *Berlin (the "Neẓiv"), the son-in-law of Isaac of Volozhin. With the passage of time, the two found it increasingly difficult to agree. It was impossible for them to work in harmony, particularly since both exercised considerable spiritual influence on the students. Their differences caused such a complete break between them that they could not act jointly in the administration of the school or in the planning of the curriculum. They were different in their temperaments and in their approach, to talmudic studies. Berlin was patient and temperate, modest and sober in his ways, preferring erudition to subtlety, while Soloveichik was a dynamic personality, sharp-witted, preferring acumen to erudition in talmudic studies and in wordly matters. Soloveichik respected no person in argument and deferred to no one. They presented their dispute before four outstanding scholars, who decided in favor of Berlin. Soloveichik left Volozhin and became rabbi of Slutsk. He later restored harmony in his relations with Berlin when his son, Ḥayyim, married Berlin's granddaughter. In Slutsk he found scope for his energies, both in Torah teaching and in communal organization. He deployed his abilities and his industry for the community's needs, devoting himself wholeheartedly to helping the poor and the needy. During the severe famine of 1866, he founded a society to help the poor, put himself at its head, and collected subscriptions from door to door. He was devoted to the needs of the community and was an outstanding humanitarian. Even when fighting those who wished to change or undermine Jewish religious life and values, he retained the love and respect of all. With his fiery spirit he could not continue in the rabbinate and in 1875 relinquished his position, settling in Warsaw where he lived privately and in great poverty, devoting himself to study and deeds of benevolence. In 1878, when invited to become rabbi of Brest-Litovsk, he agreed on condition that he would be obeyed in all communal matters and that aid for the poor would be under his direction. In 1890 he was associated with a group which bought land in Ereẓ Israel.

The following of his works have been published, all under the title Beit ha-Levi: Novellae on the Talmud, 102 responsa and sermons (2 vols., 1863–64), sermons on Genesis and Exodus (2 vols., 1884), and halakhic novellae (1891). He contributed to I. Lipkin's (Salanter) periodical Tevunah in 1861.

bibliography:

M. Berlin, Mi-Volozhin ad Yerushalayim (1939), 23f.; B. Epstein, Mekor Barukh (1954); S.K. Mirsky, (ed.), Mosedot Torah be-Eiropah (1956), 39–41; Yahadut Lita, 1 (1960), index; 2 (1967), 72f.

[Mordechai Hacohen]

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