Elijah ben Solomon


Elijah ben Solomon
born April 23, 1720, Sielec, Lith., Russian Empire
died Oct. 9, 1797, Vilna

Lithuanian scholar and Jewish leader.

Born into a long line of scholars, he traveled in Poland and Germany before settling in Vilna, the cultural centre of eastern European Jewry. He refused rabbinic office and lived as a recluse while devoting himself to study and prayer, but he nevertheless became famous and revered in the Jewish community. His scholarly interests included biblical exegesis, Talmudic studies, folk medicine, grammar, and philosophy. A vehement opponent of Hasidism, he denounced its claims to miracles, visions, and spiritual ecstasy, calling instead for the intellectual love of God.

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▪ Lithuanian-Jewish scholar
in full  Elijah Ben Solomon Zalman , also called by the acronym  Ha-gra, from Ha-gaon Rabbi Eliya-hu , also called  Elijah Gaon 
born April 23, 1720, Sielec, Lithuania, Russian Empire
died Oct. 9, 1797, Vilna [now Vilnius, Lithuania]
 the gaon (“excellency”) of Vilna, and the outstanding authority in Jewish religious and cultural life in 18th-century Lithuania.

      Born into a long line of scholars, Elijah traveled among the Jewish communities of Poland and Germany in 1740–45 and then settled in Vilna (Vilnius), which was the cultural centre of eastern European Jewry. There he refused rabbinic office and lived as a recluse while devoting himself to study and prayer, but his reputation as a scholar had spread throughout the Jewish world by the time he was 30. As a mark of nearly universal reverence, the title gaon, borne by the heads of the Babylonian academies and virtually extinct for many centuries, was bestowed upon him by the people.

      Elijah's scholarship embraced mastery of every field of study in the Jewish literature up to his own time. His vast knowledge of the Talmud and Midrash and of biblical exegesis, as well as of mystical literature and lore, was combined with a deep interest in philosophy, grammar, mathematics and astronomy, and folk medicine.

      Elijah's most important contributions were his synoptic view of Jewish learning and his critical methods of study. In an age of narrow, puritanical piety, he broadened the conception of Torah learning to include the natural sciences, and asserted that a complete understanding of Jewish law and literature necessitated the study of mathematics, astronomy, geography, botany, and zoology. He encouraged translations of works on these subjects into Hebrew. Elijah also introduced the methods of textual criticism in the study of the Bible and the Talmud. He based his interpretations on the plain meaning of the text rather than on narrow sophistries. In general, his influence was felt in the direction of an increased emphasis on rationalism and synthesis.

      Elijah led an implacable opposition to the pietistic mystical movement of Ḥasidism from 1772 until his death. He condemned Ḥasidism as a superstitious and antischolarly movement and ordered the excommunication of its adherents and the burning of their books. He became the leader of the Mitnaggedim (Mitnagged) (opponents of Hasidism) and was temporarily able to check the movement's spread in Lithuania. He was also mildly opposed to the Haskala, or Jewish Enlightenment.

      At about age 40 Elijah began teaching a chosen circle of devoted pupils who were already experienced scholars. Among them was Ḥayyim ben Issac, who went on to found the great yeshiva (Talmudic academy) at Volozhin (now Valozhyn, Belarus), which trained several generations of scholars, rabbis, and leaders. Elijah's writings were published posthumously and include commentaries and numerous annotations on the Bible, Talmud, Midrash, and other works.

Additional Reading
The best accounts available in English are found in Solomon Schechter, Studies in Judaism, First Series (1896, reissued 1945); and Louis Ginzberg, Students, Scholars, and Saints (1928, reprinted 1985).

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Universalium. 2010.

Look at other dictionaries:

  • Elijah ben Solomon — (23 abr. 1720, Sielec, Lituania, Imperio ruso–9 oct. 1797, Vilna). Erudito lituano y líder judío. Descendiente de un largo linaje de eruditos, viajó por Polonia y Alemania antes de establecerse en Vilna, el centro cultural de los judíos de Europa …   Enciclopedia Universal

  • Elijah ben Solomon — n. Gaon of Vilna (1720 1797), one of the prominent Jewish spiritual leaders and scholar during the 18th century, one of the opposers to Hasidism …   English contemporary dictionary

  • ELIJAH BEN SOLOMON ZALMAN — (the Vilna Gaon or Elijah Gaon ; acronym Ha GRA = Ha Gaon Rabbi Eliyahu; 1720–1797), one of the greatest spiritual and intellectual leaders of Jewry in modern times. A man of iron will, Elijah combined the personal life of an intellectual hermit… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • ELIJAH BEN SOLOMON HA-KOHEN — ELIJAH BEN SOLOMON HA KOHEN, Palestinian gaon from 1062 to 1083. His father Solomon was gaon from about 1020 to 1025 and was succeeded by solomon b. judah , who held that office until 1051. Elijah and his elder brother Joseph, who were very young …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • ELIJAH BEN SOLOMON ABRAHAM HA-KOHEN OF SMYRNA — (d. 1729), one of the outstanding preachers of his time. Born in Smyrna, Elijah spent most of his life there as a preacher, dayyan, and rabbi. Elijah came from a family of rabbis and writers; his grandfather, R. Michael ha Kohen, wrote exegetical …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • Elijah ben Solomon Abraham ha-Kohen — (d. 1729) was dayyan of Smyrna, almoner and preacher. Works Elijah produced over 30 works, of which the principal, according to Wunderbar ( Orient, Lit. p. 579), are as follows: * Midrash Eliyahu, eleven funeral sermons and a commentary on the… …   Wikipedia

  • Elijah ben-Solomon Zalman — (the Vilna Gaon) (1720–97)    Lithuanian scholar. The Jewish community of Vilna, Lithuania, was founded in the 16th century. From the early 17th century it was renowned as a centre of Jewish learning, and Elijah was the greatest of its sons. He… …   Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament

  • Elijah ben Solomon Zalman (Vilna Gaon) — (1720 97)    Lithuanian talmudist. After travelling throughout Poland and Germany he eventually settled in Vilna. He encouraged the translation of works on natural science, but was opposed to philosophy and the Haskalah. He also led the oppositon …   Dictionary of Jewish Biography

  • ELIJAH BEN BARUCH (ben Solomon ben Abraham) THE ELDER — (d. before 1712), Karaite author. Elijah lived at first in Constantinople but is included by Simḥah Isaac Luẓki among the Karaite writers of the Crimea. Elijah subsequently visited Ereẓ Israel, and is therefore referred to as Yerushalmi. While in …   Encyclopedia of Judaism

  • ELIJAH BEN RAPHAEL SOLOMON HA-LEVI — (end of 18th and beginning of 19th century), Italian rabbi, author, kabbalist, and liturgical poet. Elijah was both a pupil and a colleague of isaac lampronti together with whom he studied under judah briel in Mantua. He was at first rabbi of… …   Encyclopedia of Judaism


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