Zirelson, Judah Leib

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ZIRELSON, JUDAH LEIB (1860–1941), chief rabbi of Bessarabia, communal leader, and author. Born in Kozelets, Ukraine, at the age of 18 he became rabbi of Priluki and in 1908 of Kishinev. When he received a call to Radom, his community opposed his leaving; the leaders of the Radom community submitted the issue to a bet din but lost the case. Widely learned and proficient in many languages, Zirelson became a leading Zionist and a regular contributor to Hebrew periodicals in Russia, such as Ha-Meliẓ, Ha-Ẓefirah, Ha-Zeman, Ha-Peles, and Ha-Modi'a. He dissociated himself from Zionism, however, as a result of a dispute in 1898 about the election of the Va'ad Rabbanim ("Committee of Rabbis"). In 1908 he presided over the Conference of Russian Rabbis which met in St. Petersburg to discuss the Jewish position in Russia. In 1911 he issued an appeal for signatories to the protest against the *blood libel raised during the Beilis case at Kiev. In 1912 he was one of the founders of Agudat Israel and was chairman of the two congresses held by that organization in Vienna (1923 and 1929). A communal leader of the loftiest stature, he was one of the personalities most active on behalf of Russian Jewry. When Bessarabia was incorporated in Romania (1920), he learned Romanian, became the leader of the extreme Orthodox Jewry of that country, and was elected a deputy to the Romanian parliament in 1922 and a senator in 1926. Besides being the chief rabbi, he was for certain periods also the head of the community and even mayor of Kishinev, in recognition of which many honors were conferred on him. In Kishinev he founded numerous institutions, among these its first Orthodox high school. He was shot and killed by the Germans in Kishinev (during World War ii).

He was the author of several important works: Aẓei Levanon (1922), responsa; Gevul Yehudah (1906, 19122), responsa; Hegyon Lev (1929), homilies and eulogies; Ma'arekhei Lev (1932), responsa and homilies; Derekh Selulah (1902), essays and poems; and Lev Yehudah, 1 (1935), 2 (1961), responsa and addresses. In his works he included many quotations in various languages, being in this respect almost unique in responsa literature.


M. Slipoi, Ha-Ga'on Rabbi Yehudah Leib Zirelson (1948); Elleh Ezkerah, 1 (1956), 164–76; lnyl, 7 (1968), 600–1.

[Itzhak Alfassi]