Chaim Elazar Spira
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|Chaim Elazar Spira|
Rabbi Spira meets President Edvard Beneš, 1936.
|Full name||Chaim Elazar Spira|
|Main work||Minchas Elozor|
|Born||December 17, 1868
|Buried||Mukachevo, Czechoslovakia, May 12, 1937|
|Predecessor||Tzvi Hirsch Spira|
|Successor||Baruch Yehoshua Yerachmiel Rabinovich|
|Father||Tzvi Hirsch Spira of Munkacz|
|Mother||Esther, daughter of Rabbi Chanina Horowitz of Ulanów|
|Wife||Rochel Perl, daughter of Yakov Moshe Safrin of Komarno[disambiguation needed]|
|Children||Frime Chaye Rifka Spira|
Spira was born in Strzyżów, Kingdom of Galicia and Lodomeria, Austria-Hungary, now part of Poland, where his grandfather, Shlomo Spira served as Rabbi. Chaim Elazar's father, Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Spira was a scion of the illustrious Spira family which had held rabbinical positions in Munkács dating back to the founder of the Munkács hasidic dynasty, Rabbi Tzvi Elimelech Spira who served as Chief Rabbi between the years 1828 and 1832. Rabbi Chaim Elazar assumed the position as Chief Justice of the Rabbinical Court in Munkács in the year 1903, where he served alongside his father until Rabbi Tzvi Hersh's passing in 1913. Rabbi Chaim Elazar then succeeded his father as Chief Rabbi of Munkács and the surrounding communities.
From a very young age Rabbi Chaim Elazar proved to have a prodigious mind. At the young age of eleven he began writing his first book on Jewish Law. Over the course of his life, Rabbi Chaim Elazar wrote and published over twenty books on the Jewish Law, Torah, Hasidism, and religious philosophy and customs. His most notable work which made him world famous was the scholarly work Minchas Elazar which contains six volumes. He was a great opponent of both political Zionism and the Agudat Yisrael
Rabbi Chaim Elazar led his community with unsurpassed dignity and drew worldwide respect and honor for Munkács. His keen understanding and vast knowledge in Jewish as well as worldly matters drew thousands of people to his home where they sought his advice and blessings. Under his leadership, the Munkács Jewish community grew by leaps and bounds and at the time of his death in 1937 over half of the town's inhabitants were Jewish.
Journey to Jerusalem
In 1930, Spira visited Palestine for a thirteen-day period. The purpose of the trip was to visit the elderly kaballist and sage Rabbi Shlomo Eliezer Elfandri and visit with his followers in Palestine. He was escorted by a respected group of Rabbis and community leaders. During the visit, Spira met with Elfandri for long hours behind closed doors over the span of a week. During Spira's time in Jerusalem, the elderly Rabbi Elfandri died at the age of 120. Many believe that Spira had discussed with Elfandri ways to hasten the Redemption through the coming of the Messiah. Details of the trip were recorded in a book written by a disciple of Spira's, Rabbi Moshe Goldstein who was one of those accompanying the Rebbe on his trip. The book was reprinted several times in Hebrew and Yiddish and was translated to English in 2009 by Artscroll Publications.
Wedding of daughter in 1933
One of the most memorable events in Munkács was the wedding of Rabbi Chaim Elazar's only daughter Frima to Baruch Rabinovich which took place on March 15, 1933. Over 20,000 guests attended the wedding, coming from all over Europe and even from the U.S.. According to the daily newspaper Rudý večerník, "The wedding lasted for seven days". Hungary, Poland, and Czechoslovakia opened their borders and no visa was necessary for people who wished to attend the wedding. Special triumph arches were erected throughout the city in celebration of the joyous event. International filming companies came to Munkács from all over Europe and America to document the historic event.
Rabbi Chaim Elazar championed the causes of his needy brethren in Munkács and established a vast network of charitable institutions to ease their burden. He established elementary schools under the name "Machzike Torah" where children were taught under his constant guidance. His yeshiva (rabbinical college), "Darkei Tshuva" in Munkács attracted hundreds of students from all corners of Eastern Europe who flocked to Munkács to study under his wing, many of them growing to become the next generation's rabbis, community leaders, etc.
He was respected not only by the international Jewish community, but as well by the gentile world. He was visited by world leaders such as Czechoslovakian President Edvard Beneš as well as Tomáš Masaryk, Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands and many others who sought his sagely advice and blessings. He was known as a "wonder rabbi" and "miracle worker".
As the one of the most extreme rabbis in post World War I Europe he was estranged from almost every other major Hasidic rabbi whom he considered apikorsim (Yiddish for apostate) and denigrated anyone who asked for relief of any kind (such as tax breaks) as relying on man instead of God. He particularly hated Belzer Chasidim, of whom there were many in Munkacs, and sued, in Civil Court, the president of the Belzer synagogue in Munkacs. After two days the judge threw the case out of court.
His attempt at organizing other Jewish towns into an organization (under his leadership) was a dismal failure as he was widely looked upon as an extremist. Even the Satmer rabbi (Rabbi Joel Titlebaum), who quoted widely from other prewar rabbinic authorities, never quoted his writings.
Upon his death in 1937, after fighting a grave illness, he was succeeded as Chief Rabbi by his son-in-law Rabbi Baruch Yehoshua Yerachmiel Rabinowicz who was husband to Rabbi Spira's only daughter Frima. Rabbi Baruch served as chief rabbi until the Nazi occupation of Munkács in 1944. Rabbi Spira left an everlasting impression on Munkács and the entire world for generations to come.
Thousands of followers visit his gravesite in the Munkács Jewish Cemetery throughout the year, where they come to pray and bequest salvation, especially on the anniversary of his death in the month of May.
- Goldstein, Moshe. Journey to Jerusalem. ArtScroll. ISBN 1-4226-0887-5.
- Aviezer Ravitzky, "Munkacs and Jerusalem: Ultra-Orthodox Opposition to Zionism and Agudaism," Zionism and Religion, eds. Shmuel Almog, Jehuda Reinharz, and Anita Shapira (Hanover and London, 1998), 67-89.