Page 128 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 28

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raries soon acknowledged Rabbi Isaac Elhanan’s superiority in
this phase of law. This is reflected in his responsa discussed below.
This early success in the interpretation of domestic law probably
prompted Rabbi Isaac Elhanan to devote his life to the ameliora-
tion of the plight of the
agunah
—the unfortunate woman whose
husband was missing and yet could not remarry because of insuffi-
cient evidence to establish his death. The great sage dedicated
himself to assisting these unfortunate wives whose number in*
creased through the numerous wars and persecutions in Russia.
Rabbi Isaac Elhanan displayed much lenience in his rabbinical
decisions pertaining to the problem. In one case he accepted a
photograph of a man who had been dragged from the Thames
River as sufficient evidence for identification, thereby permitting
the wife to remarry.
As the Rabbi of Kovno
Once established in a position, his congregation would not allow
him to resign, and when offered a better pulpit at Nishvez in 1846,
he had to depart in the dead of the night. Likewise, in 1851, he
had to leave stealthily to accept the post at Novohordok. In 1864
he became rabbi of Kovno and served there for thirty-two years
until his death. In Kovno he gained fame as the chief rabbi of
Russian Jewry. From every part of the world scholars turned
to him for advice. In Jewish homes, one could find his picture
hanging on the wall, evidencing the love every Jew in Russia
had for the great sage. Recognized in time as the greatest authority
in rabbinic law, all turned to his decisions. He often displayed
a liberal tendency but where the Sabbath or Kashrut and non-
Jewish influences were involved, he was most strict in his
decisions.
Rabbi Isaac Elhanan was an indefatigable worker, fighting for
every cause which he knew upheld the chain of tradition. Though
many ridiculed the “Kolel Perushim,” the new institution created
by Rabbi Israel Salanter for young married men to continue their
studies unhampered by marital economic and social burdens, it
was only Rabbi Isaac Elhanan who lent him his firm support.
When the Russian government closed the Yeshiva of Voloshin,
this new institute of young married scholars continued as the
staunch bearer of Torah learning.
Rabbi Isaac Elhanan unfailingly took active part in every ques-
tion affecting Jewry. After the Crimean War and Polish Revolt,
he attempted to prevent the expulsion of Jews from Russia. In
1881 and 1882 he personally participated in the Petersburg con-
ferences called by Baron Horace Gunzberg to discuss wholesale