Page 130 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 28

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e w i s h
o o k
n n u a l
cussing questions of civil law in the
Hoshen Mishpat
A in Yitz-
pertaining to family and domestic laws. His son Rabbi Hirsh
Rabinowitz, who succeeded him as rabbi of Kovno, carried out
his wishes.
An analysis of Rabbi Isaac Elhanan’s work reveals in particular
his sagacity. All his volumes bear his name (Yitzhak), and refer
to the wells of water dug by the ancient patriarchs as narrated in
Genesis: 21.30. His responsa were to rabbis all over the world.
Included in these volumes are problems submitted from America,
dealing with married women whose husbands had gone down with
a ship in mid-ocean. Supplying cadavers for medical schools is
also one of the intriguing problems he answered.
His responsa utilizing basic Talmudic sources are lengthy and
thorough. To facilitate the presentation, each responsum is divided
into sub-sections. Especially where life was endangered, or a child-
less woman needed guidance in her marriage, the rabbi’s liberality
was apparent, in contrast to his rigidity regarding the ritualistic
observances of the Sabbath, dietary laws or
His permis-
siveness was, however, always founded on firm roots.
His first volume
Be’er Yitzhak
(Well of Isaac, Koenigsberg
1858; reproduced 1954), includes legal responsa on laws of
sale, agency and acquisition of property which was
res nullius
. From these basic rules of Passover, Rabbi Isaac Elhanan
advanced casuistic learning to investigate cognate matters, such
as the mode of writing contracts, authenticity of signatures and
validity of testimony. Probing into civil law was naturally inter-
twined with ritualistic problems, e.g., mixture of foods and use
of legumes on Passover. Among the questions submitted for his
rabbinic inquiries were: May a non-Jew rebuild a Sukkah during
the holiday? Can one slaughter on the holiday an animal that is
unwell? Can one demand a share from synagogue funds if he re-
signed from that community? Rabbi Isaac Elhanan did not deal
specifically with pilpul and abstract discussion. He delved mainly
into the daily needs of the Jews of his community. Dietary laws,
mode of kashering vessels or of writing a Torah, the dignity of
levirate marriage, or compelling the civil courts to give a
these were some of the problems he probed.
His volume
Nahal Yitzhak
(Vilna, vol. I, 1872; II, 1884) fol-
lowed similar lines. Among the provocative questions were the
use of the synagogue as a residence, converting a mosque to a
synagogue, destroying printers’ proofs or galleys of the Bible,
limiting a
exclusively for use by women and not for new
proselytes. Questions of divorce for a psychotic girl are likewise