Willowski, Jacob David ben Ze'ev

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WILLOWSKI, JACOB DAVID BEN ZE'EV

WILLOWSKI, JACOB DAVID BEN ZE'EV (Heb. רידב״ז, Ridbaz ; 1845–1913), Lithuanian talmudist and rosh yeshivah in Ereẓ Israel. Willowski was born in Kobrin, Russia. In his youth his brilliant attainments were already recognized. In 1868 he was appointed rabbi at Izballin; in 1876 of Bobruisk; and in 1881 "moreh ẓedek and Maggid meisharim" (teacher and preacher) of Vilna, the title accorded to the spiritual leader of that community, since it had no official rabbi. He later successively served as rabbi of Polotsk, Vilkomir, and Slutsk. At Slutsk he founded a yeshivah which soon became famous throughout Russia. In 1903 he moved to the United States where he was appointed chief rabbi of a group of Orthodox congregations in Chicago. He was also designated the zekan ha-rabbanim ("elder rabbi") of America by the then newly organized *Union of Orthodox Rabbis. However, due to what he considered to be the neglect of religious life there, he left the United States in 1905 and immigrated to Ereẓ Israel. He settled in Safed where he founded a large yeshivah named Torat Ereẓ Israel, popularly known as "Yeshivat ha-Ridbaz." He took issue with R. Abraham Isaac *Kook, then rabbi of Jaffa, for his lenient ruling permitting farmers to work the land during the Sabbatical Year. When the Sabbatical Year came in 1910, Willowski urged them not to work the land, and established an international charity fund to sustain those who followed his decision. His published talmudic works and responsa gained him a worldwide reputation as a preeminent rabbinical scholar. He was particularly renowned for his two commentaries to the Jerusalem Talmud, one of which followed the method of *Rashi in explaining the meaning of the text, while the other, in the manner of the *tosafot, was a deeper and more critical exposition. These commentaries, together with the text of the Jerusalem Talmud, were published in 1898–1900.

He also wrote Migdal David (1874) and Ḥanah David (1876), both containing novellae and comments on the Babylonian and Jerusalem Talmuds; Responsa (1881); Nimmukei Ridbaz, a commentary to the Pentateuch (1904); Responsa Beit Ridbaz (1908); and annotations on R. Israel of Shklov's Pe'at ha-Shulḥan (1912).

bibliography:

A. Rothkoff, in ajhsq, 57, 4 (1967/68), 557–72; Yahadut Lita, 3 (1967), 46; O.Z. Rand (ed.), Toledot Anshei Shem (1950), 44.

[Aaron Rothkoff]