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.
* 1 Biography
* 2 Works
* 3 See also
* 4 References
* 5 Sources
* 6 External links
Kagan was born in
Grodno Governorate , Russian Empire
Belarus ), on January 26, 1839, and died in Radun\' , Wilno
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
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
Orthodox Judaism during the late 19th and early 20th century,
taking a central leadership role in the
World Agudath Israel movement
Eastern Europe .
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
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 founded by
his great nephew,
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
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 in court in
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.
A photo of
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan in his old age
* Chafetz Chayim (חָפֵץ חַיִּים "Seeker/Desirer Life"),
his first book, (published in 1873), deals with the Biblical laws of
gossip and slander (known in
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
Yosef Karo 's digested compilation of practical Jewish Law
Shulchan Aruch . It combines his own elucidations and differing
opinions with those of other
Aharonim (post-medieval authorities.)
* 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 1925.
* 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,
* ^ 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 leading Jews astray
in the colonies in Palestine and at home from the ways of the Torah;
Rabbi Kagan's stand was this: He denied "young scholarly-religious
students under his jurisdiction 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 used to study the Holy Books."
* ^ 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 by God.
* ^ 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
Soloveichik of Brisk at the birth of
Zionism from that of
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-
Zionism in Israel very
* ^ 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 time of
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
* ^ 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 works