Page 127 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 28

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On the Occasion of the 75th Anniversary of His Death
id n ey
B. H
oen ig
f ive
years since the demise of Rabbi Isaac Elhanan
of Kovno on 21 Adar (March) 1896 have not dimmed the
memory of that great saint. Yeshiva University of New York City,
which expanded from the original Yeshiva Rabbi Isaac Elhanan
organized in 1897, perpetuates the traditions of Jewish learning
which were so finely exemplified by this gaon during his lifetime.
Isaac Elhanan was born in 1817 in the province of Grodno,
Russia. He received his earliest instruction from his father, Rabbi
Israel Issar. At the tender age of eight he was crowned with the
title of
Illu i,
being proficient in many tractates of the Talmud
and often engaging victoriously in casuistic battle with profound
and aged rabbinical scholars. In the year of his Bar Mitzvah the
young man was married, as was the custom of the day. He received
a dowry of three hundred rubles and permission to eat
board and lodging at the table of his in-laws, on condition that
he continue his studies. This he did, devoting twenty hours a day
to the acquisition of knowledge. His teachers were Rabbis Elijah
Shik and Benjamin Diskin who ordained him with
colleague was Rabbi Joshua Leib Diskin who later became rabbi
of Brisk.
For six years the young scholar ate
During that period his
parents died and his dowry was ruined through a speculator’s craf-
tiness. But his father-in-law piously declared: “One minute of his
study is far more precious than all the dowry.” Confronted with
abject poverty, he was compelled at the age of twenty to accept a
small rabbinical post at Zabelin for five gulden a week. At first
he experienced great opposition in this new position because he
did not yet possess the necessary rabbinical dignity. However, he
soon overcame this with his display of brilliance, and in later years
all were awed by this tall and inspiring rabbi with the great gray
From this pulpit Rabbi Isaac Elhanan advanced in 1839 to a
position in Baresa, where his fame grew. Though only twenty-two
he already proved that many rabbis erred in the preparation of
the formula of
g ittin ,
or divorce bills. His rabbinical decisions were
at first regarded as audacious. Some rabbis even attempted to
reject the
he personally prepared. However, his contempo­