Israel Meir (HaKohen) Kagan (January 26, 1839 – September 15, 1933),
known popularly as the
Chofetz Chaim (Hebrew: חפץ חיים, Hafetz
Chaim), was an influential rabbi of the Musar movement, a
Halakhist, posek, and ethicist whose works continue to be widely
influential in Jewish life.
3 See also
6 External links
Kagan was born in Dzyatlava, Grodno Governorate,
Russian Empire (today
Belarus), on January 26, 1839, and died in Radun', Wilno Province in
Poland (now Belarus) on September 15, 1933. His surname, Poupko, is
not widely known. His home town, Dzyatlava, was once named
Zdzięcioł when it was part of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth
until the time of the partitions of Poland. When Kagan was ten years
old, his father died. His mother moved the family to
Vilnius in order
to continue her son's education. While in Vilnius, Kagan became a
Rabbi Jacob Barit. Kagan's mother later
remarried (Epstein) and moved to Radin. At 17, he married the daughter
of his stepfather, and settled in Radin.
He served as the town rabbi of Radin for a short period. He then
resigned from this position to establish the yeshiva in the city,
which eventually became world-famous. By all accounts he was a modest
and humble man. For a while he had a shop selling household
provisions, which his wife managed. However, the business was not
successful and he turned to teaching in order to support himself and
his family. From 1864 to 1869 he taught
Talmud in Minsk and
In 1869, he formed a
Yeshiva in Radin. The
Yeshiva was a success and
grew to prominence, later becoming known as "Yeshivas
Chofetz Chaim of
Radin". In addition to spreading Torah through his yeshiva, Kagan, who
became known as the Chofetz Chaim, was very active in Jewish causes.
He traveled extensively to encourage the keeping of the Mitzvot
amongst Jews. He became one of the most influential rabbis within
Orthodox Judaism during the late 19th and early 20th century, taking a
central leadership role in the
World Agudath Israel movement in
Although the anti-religious attitudes which pervaded
distressed him, Kagan initially refused to become personally involved
in the matter and refrained from publicly denouncing the movement.
When his views became known, he cautioned his students about joining
the Zionists and declared its political aims as being contrary to
the Torah. He nevertheless cherished the Holy Land and in
1925 it was announced that he would be leaving Warsaw with his
daughter and son-in-law to permanently settle in Petach Tikvah,
Palestine. Upon discovering his plans, prominent rabbis and
yeshiva deans persuaded him to remain in Radun and he died there
on September 15, 1933, aged 95.
Many other Jewish religious institutions throughout the world also
bear his name. One American yeshiva named in his honor is the Yeshivas
Rabbeinu Yisrael Meir HaKohen centered in
Queens, New York
Queens, New York founded by
his great nephew,
Rabbi Dovid Leibowitz, with several branches in the
United States, Canada, and Israel. The Chofetz Chaim's teachings have
inspired some English-speaking American Jews to establish the Chofetz
Chaim Heritage Foundation, dedicated to the dissemination of his
teachings to Jewish communities around the world. An Orthodox kibbutz
in Israel, Hafetz Haim, was named in his honor.
The house of the
Chofetz Chaim in Radin, was disassembled, moved to
Lithuania, and later transported to the USA. This fact became the
ground for a criminal case which is as of December 2012[update]
in court in Belarus.
During his lifetime he was venerated by Jews and non-Jews alike.
Orthodox Jews across the world viewed him as one of the 36 saints
and Polish farmers were said to have lured him into their fields
believing his feet would bring blessing to their crops.
His son-in-law was Mendel Zaks.
A photo of
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan in his old age
Chafetz Chayim (חָפֵץ חַיִּים "Seeker/Desirer [of] Life"),
his first book, (published in 1873), deals with the Biblical laws of
gossip and slander (known in
Hebrew as Lashon Hara, meaning "Evil
tongue"). View the online edition in
Sh'mirat HaLashon ("Guarding of the Tongue"), is a comprehensive
discussion of the philosophy behind the Jewish concepts of power of
speech and guarding one's speech. It also serves as an inspirational
work designed to motivate the reader to be vigilant in the ethical
usage of his speech and avoidance of others' unethical speech.
Published in 1876. View the online edition in
Mishna Berura ("Clarified teachings") is an important and widely used
commentary, consisting of six volumes, on the
Orach Chayim section of
Yosef Karo's digested compilation of practical Jewish Law, the
Shulchan Aruch. It combines his own elucidations and differing
opinions with those of other
Aharonim (post-medieval authorities.) [As
found in the book by
Rabbi Moses M. Yoshor "The Chafetz Chaim" on page
603 the 1st volume was published in 1884; 2nd volume in 1886; 3rd
volume in 1891; 4th volume in 1898; 5th volume in 1902; 6th volume in
Biur Halacha ("Explanation of the Law") is a commentary tangential to
the Mishna Berurah. It usually provides complex analysis of the legal
rulings of earlier Jewish halachic authorities.
Sha'ar HaTziyyun ("Gate of Distinction") serves primarily to document
sources for laws and customs quoted in the Mishnah Berurah, but
sometimes serves also to clarify ambiguous legal statements. The name
Sha'ar HaTziyyun derives from the phrase sh'arim m'tzuyanim
ba'halacha, translated as "gateways distinguished in (or marked in)
Jewish Law," referring to the Torah study and scholarship that would
distinguish Jewish homes.
Rabbi Kagan chose the title as a pun,
hinting at the distinction of the scholarship referenced in his work,
but primarily referring to (as he writes on his title page) the
function of Sha'ar HaTziyyun to document (mark) sources.
Ahavat Chesed - One volume, published in 1888. On the commandment of
lending money to the needy, the value of being kind to one another and
various ways to do so.
Machaneh Yisrael - One volume. On the minimum and manner of observing
the Jewish commandments for a soldier in the army.
Tiferes Adam - One volume. On the importance of a Jew having a beard
and peyos (sidelocks).
Geder Olam - One volume, published in 1890. On the importance of a
married Jewish woman covering her hair.
Nidchei Yisrael - Two volumes, published in 1893.
Shem Olam - One volume, published in 1893.
Chomas Hadas - 1 Volume, published in 1905. On the importance of a man
to study Torah, and encourage others to learn. as well as the need to
create groups in every city wherein a man could acquire Torah.
Likutei Halachos - 5 Volumes. The first volume was published in 1900;
2nd volume in 1903; 3rd volume in 1913; 4th volume in 1922. There is a
fifth volume called "Hashlamah" or "Completion" which was published in
Gibores Ari - 2 volumes, published in 1907.
Taharas Yisrael - 1 volume, published in 1910. On the importance of
women to purify themselves in the waters of a mikvah (ritual bath) in
accordance with accepted halachic practice.
Toras Kohanim - 1 volume, published in 1911.
Asifas Zikainim - 3 volumes, published in 1913.
Chovas Hashmirah - 1 volume, published in 1915.
Toras Habayis - 1 volume, published in 1923.
Zechor Limiriam - 1 volume, published in 1925.
Beis Yisrael - 1 volume, published in 1925.
Sefer Hamitzvos Hakotzer - 2 volumes on those biblical commandments
that are applicable during the exile, outside the land of Israel, and
when the temple is not in existence. Published in 1931.
Tzipita L'Yeshuah ("Have you yearned the redemption") is based on a
passage from Tractate Shabbat, which states that after one passes
away, he is asked by the heavenly court: "Have you yearned for the
redemption?" This work describes the importance of actively awaiting
Moshiach every day and doing everything in our power (learning Torah
and doing mitzvot) to bring the redemption. The Chofetz Chaim's
expectation of the immediate redemption was so strong that he would
always carry special garments to change into once the redemption
Rabbi Dov Katz (1996). Musar movement: Its history, leading
personalities and doctrines (new ed.). Feldheim Publishers.
^ "Israel Meir Ha-Kohen" Encyclopedia Judaica. Jerusalem: Keter, 1972.
^ Chofetz Chaim
^ Moses M. Yoshor, Israel Meir haKohen in Jewish Leaders, ed. Leo
Jung. p. 462.
^ Lester Samuel Eckman (1975). The history of the Musar movement,
1840-1945. Shengold Publishers. p. 100.
Rabbi Israel Meir Kagan
received protests from many rabbis concerning his silence and lack of
objection against the leaders of the Zionist movement as well as
against the mocking of religion. By nature
Rabbi Kagan was a man who
avoided quarrels, and in the dispute over the Zionist movement he
tried to avert further altercation. Nevertheless, "his heart was
broken upon hearing that the leaders of
Zionism [were] leading Jews
astray in the colonies in Palestine and at home from the ways of the
Rabbi Kagan's stand was this: He denied "young
scholarly-religious students under his jurisdiction [permission] to
follow in the footsteps of the irreligious Zionist leaders, especially
when one of the enlightened Zionists, reputed for always telling the
truth, after his visiting all the schools in Palestine, testified that
in the schools the critical method [was] used to study the Holy
^ Sacks, Jonathan (1992). Crisis and Covenant: Jewish Thought After
the Holocaust. Manchester University Press. p. 66.
ISBN 978-0-7190-4203-4. The saintly
Rabbi Israel Meir ha-Cohen
invoked the talmudic passage of the three oaths to remind his
followers that the Jewish fate was to remain in exile until redeemed
^ Ravitzky, Aviezer (1 September 1996). Messianism, Zionism, and
Jewish Religious Radicalism. University of Chicago Press. p. 176.
ISBN 978-0-226-70578-1. To be sure, this fierce opposition has
not yet abated. There is little to distinguish the approach of Rabbi
Hayyim Soloveichik of Brisk at the birth of
Zionism from that of Rabbi
Velvel Soloveichik after the establishment of the state. Just as the
criticism levelled against the Zionists by the Hafetz Hayim and Rabbi
Elhanan Wasserman is once more extensively cited today, buttressing
the attacks made by
Rabbi Schach and his circle. As
quipped, "When I am asked by the heavenly court why I did not identify
with the Zionist idea, I will unhesitatingly place the blame for this
on the Hafetz Hayim and the other leading scholars who preceded me,
and they will already know what answer to give."
^ Marek Čejka; Roman Kořan (16 October 2015). "The rabbi for
everyday: Israel Meir Ha-Kohen/Kagan". Rabbis of Our Time: Authorities
of Judaism in the Religious and Political Ferment of Modern Times.
Routledge. p. 83. ISBN 978-1-317-60544-7. The book is also a
vital component of the Judaic critique of Zionism, In this context the
Chaftez Chaim was also very critical not only towards the state
building attempts of Zionists, but also towards their efforts to
create a modern
Hebrew language. He sarcastically condemned the
activities of Zionist philologist Eliezer Ben-Yehuda. […] Even
through the Chaftez Chaim died 15 years before the establishment of
the State of Israel, he influenced later rabbinical anti-
Israel very significantly.
^ Heilman, Samuel C. (1992). "Who are the Haredim?". Defenders of the
Faith: Inside Ultra-Orthodox Jewry. University of California Press.
p. 29. ISBN 978-0-520-22112-3. Second was the objection to
the religiously unacceptable notion of a
Zionism that suggest the Jews
could become a "People like all other people." […] The Orthodox did
not want a "normal Jewish state," but one that was altogether
different. "It was not worthwhile," the Hafetz Hayim was quoted as
saying, "to become another Albania or even another Belgium after
ni9neteen centuries of suffering. A state must be established on Torah
Chofetz Chaim Will Leave for Palestine Nov. 1". The Wisconsin
Jewish Chronicle. Milwaukee, Wisconsin. 30 October 1925. p. 6.
Retrieved 25 November 2015 – via Newspapers.com.
^ Lester Samuel Eckman (1975). The history of the Musar movement,
1840-1945. Shengold Publishers. pp. 101–2. When his plans
became public, a committee of leading rabbis and deans of theological
seminaries requested him to postpone his journey, because the
seminaries needed his guidance in the critical time of their
Rabbi Kagan complied...
Chofetz Chaim Ill". The Kingston Daily Freeman. Kingston, New York.
7 May 1932. p. 5. Retrieved 25 November 2015 – via
^ Chofetz Chaim, 105 Is Dead in
Poland New York Times 16 September
^ William G. Braude (1988). "Longevity's Secret". The Journal of
Reform Judaism. 35. Central Conference of American Rabbis. p. 49.
He was sage, saint, and legend. Polish peasants used sundry ploys to
get him to walk across their fields, believing that the touch of his
feet would improve the soil.
Yoshor, Moses Meir (June 1986) . Chafetz Chaim, the life and
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan of Radin. rendered into English by
Charles Wengrov (1st Revised ed.). New York, NY: Mesorah publications.
"CHOFETZ CHAIM, 105, IS DEAD IN POLAND". The New York Times. 16
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Yisrael Meir Kagan.
Chofetz Chaim Heritage Foundation
Video lecture on the
Chofetz Chaim by Dr. Henry Abramson
Many of the Chafetz Chaim's works are available online in English at
The Ohr Olam Edition 'Mishnah Berurah' (new English translation)
Fox, Joseph (October 16, 1931). "
Chofetz Chaim - The Jewish Ghandi".
Canadian Jewish Chronicle. pp. 5, 16. (photo)
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