Aryeh Leib HaCohen Heller

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Aryeh Leib Heller, Kahana (c. 1745 – 1812) (Hebrew: אריה לייב בן יוסף הכהן הלר‎‎) was a Rabbi, Talmudist, and Halachist in Galicia. He was known as "the Ketzos" based on his magnum opus, Ketzot Hachoshen, קצות החושן.


In circa 1745, Aryeh Leib was born to his father Yosef in the Galician town of Kalush (presently located in Ukraine). Aryeh Leib is a fifth-generation descendant of Rabbi Yom-Tov Lipmann Heller. His ancestry is shown in Yom Tov's biography linked above. (Fourth-generation attributions e.g. by Yehuda Har-Zohar Zauerberg, are incorrect; also some works mistake Solomon Judah Loeb Rapoport, Aryeh Leib's son-in-law DOB 1786, for his brother-in-law.) Aryeh Leib was the youngest of five brothers (with Chaim, Mordechai, Daniel, and Yehuda the Kuntras Ha'Sfeikos) and one sister, about whom nothing is currently known.

In his youth, after being recognized by his father as a prodigy, Aryeh Leib was sent to learn Torah from Rabbi Meshullam Igra of Tysmienica, Poland, an outstanding authority. From 1788 until 1812 Aryeh Leib was rabbi of Stryi, a position later to be held by Aryeh Leib's opponent in many halachic debates, Rabbi Yaakov Lorberbaum. He had four children: a daughter, Franziska Freide (1788-1842), who married Solomon (Shi'r) Rapoport in 1810, and 3 sons: Yosef (1769-1832), David (1771-1830), and Zwi Hirsch (1776-1834).

Known as "the Ketzos" (based on his greatest work, Ketzot HaChoshen, קצות החושן), Rabbi Heller was a prominent critic of the Hasidic movement (i.e., a misnaged- "[one who] opposes.") The Hasidic movement taught that closeness to God could be accomplished equally through intensive study of the Torah or through fervent song and dance. This unsettled many Torah authorities who feared that this philosophy may lead to the ultimate ignorance of the Torah by the masses. Regardless, he was held in high esteem by the Hasidic leaders in deference to his extraordinary Talmudic acumen.

Rabbi Heller's works became widely disseminated throughout Europe at a time when, due to technical and financial reasons, this kind of recognition was rare.


R. Aryeh Leib wrote three major works:

  1. Ketzot HaChoshen ("Ends of the Breastplate") is a halachic work which explains difficult passages in the Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat (which deals mainly with business and financial laws such as contracts, witnesses etc.) with novel ideas proposed by Rabbi Aryeh Leib. This remarkable work is considered a classic. Familiarity with this work is considered mandatory for any Torah scholar and it is a fixture in any Talmudic library. It is customarily studied in conjunction with R. Yaakov Lorberbaum's Netivot ha-Mishpat, which seeks to controvert R. Kahana's conclusions on many points. His brother R' Yehuda's book the Kuntras Ha'Sfeikos was often published in tandem.
  2. Avnei Milluim ("Filling Stones") is a halachic work which explains difficult passages in the Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer (which deals mainly with marital issues) with novel ideas proposed by him.
  3. Shev Shema'tata ("7 passages") is a work composed of seven sections, each with approximately 25 chapters, which explains intricate halachic topics including the validity of a single witness and the practical ramifications of a doubt. The reasoning process that Heller employs to analyse and resolve these very basic conflicts and contradictions in the Talmud is considered the basis for the analytical method used in modern times in Talmudic study. Testimony to the critical nature of this seminal work is the fact that it was one of the few texts chosen by the vaad hatzalah (the post WWII organization which saved Jews and helped them re-integrate into society) to be copied and disseminated. Although an early form of this work was initially presented by him when he was still a young man during his seven days of celebration after his wedding, it was actually one of his later publications and underwent significant editing by the author. His introduction to this celebrated work includes some profound Biblical exegesis.

Some of Rabbi Aryeh Leib HaCohen Heller's other works[edit]

  • Apiryon
  • Avnei Milu'im
  • Meshoveiv Nesivos

Family significance[edit]

As indicated by the HaCohen in his name, Rabbi Aryeh Leib Heller, Kahana was supposedly descended from the family of Aaron, the original high priest, and therefore was a member of the priestly class. Many cohanim today claim to be descendants of the Kahana family including the current Toldos Aharon Rebbe, but proof is difficult to establish without proper lineage data. Typically, the claim of lineage to Rabbi Heller, Kahana is a tradition passed on through the generations for prestige reasons.

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