Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin
Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin
|Died||August 10, 1893 (aged 76)|
|Children||Chaim Berlin, Meir Bar-Ilan|
|Yahrtzeit||28 Av 5653|
|Buried||Jewish Cemetery, Warsaw|
Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (20 November 1816 in Mir, Russia – 10 August 1893 in Warsaw, Poland), also known as Reb Hirsch Leib Berlin, and commonly known by the acronym Netziv, was an Orthodox rabbi, Rosh yeshiva (dean) of the Volozhin Yeshiva and author of several works of rabbinic literature in Lithuania.
Berlin was born in Mir, today in Belarus, in 1816 into a family of Jewish scholars renowned for its Talmudic scholarship. His father Jacob, while not a rabbi, was a Talmudic scholar descendant of a German rabbinic family; his mother was directly descended from Rabbi Meir Eisenstadt. According to some sources such as his nephew the torah temima (reb baruch halaivy epstien), Berlin initially was a weak student. Legend has it that he applied himself to his studies after overhearing his parents debating whether he should pursue a trade.
His first wife was the daughter of Rabbi Yitzchok of Volozhin, the son of Rabbi Chaim Volozhin. His second wife was his niece, a daughter of Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein, the author of the Aruch haShulchan. A son from his first marriage, Chaim Berlin, became the rabbi of Moscow, a daughter married Rabbi Refael Shapiro, and his son from his second marriage was Rabbi Meir Berlin (later Bar-Ilan).
The Volozhin Yeshiva
Rabbi Eliezer Yitzchak Fried, the Rosh yeshiva of the Volozhin yeshiva (in what is presently Belarus) would ask his brother in law, the Netziv, to assist him in operating the yeshiva due to being forced to deal with pressures from the Russian Empire. After his brother in laws death, Berlin and Yosef Dov Soloveitchik were both considered for the position of Rosh yeshiva, managing the school together until a new leader was selected. Ultimately Berlin would be chosen as Rosh yeshiva, but he would later request, Soloveitchik's son, who had married Berlin's granddaughter, Chaim Soloveitchik to act as assistant Rosh yeshiva for the school.
Rabbi Berlin led the Volozhin yeshiva, then the largest institution of its kind, from 1854 to its closure in 1892. Despite the destruction (twice) of the town and the yeshiva building in large fires, its enrollment increased steadily under his leadership, and the yeshiva would produce a number of prominent rabbinic figures who led Eastern European Jewry until World War II. Amongst them was Rabbi Shimon Shkop.
In 1892, the Volozhin yeshiva shut down. Russian authorities (influenced by Haskalah elements) sought to introduce secular studies into the yeshiva. Berlin did initially accept some secular studies rather than shut down the Yeshiva completely. However, the requirements became more and more onerous with the government eventually stipulating that: "All teachers of all subjects must have college diplomas ... no Judaic subjects may be taught between 9 AM and 3 PM ... no night classes are allowed ... total hours of study per day may not exceed ten." Faced with these restrictions, Berlin chose to close the Yeshiva.
In the last few months of Berlin's life he suffered from diabetes and the consequences of a stroke. While he intended to travel to the Land of Israel, his medical condition made this impossible. Both of his sons, however, did settle in Jerusalem. He spent his last weeks in Warsaw, and died there on August 10, 1893.
Views and influence
Berlin had a traditionalist approach to Torah study that was at odds with the highly analytical style of lomdus ("learned intellectual analysis") that was pioneered by Soloveitchik known as the brisker method. Instead he viewed the Torah as something that should be read as poetry, carrying much unspoken meaning.
Politically, the Netziv favored Jewish settlement of the Land of Israel (Eretz Yisrael), then under the control of the Ottoman Empire, he was initially a member of the Chovevei Tzion movement. He would later distance himself from the movement.
- Ha'amek She'eila ("Delve into the Question", the title playing on a verse in the Book of Isaiah that hortatively reads, "Delve, question"), a commentary on the She'iltoth, a geonic work of halakha by Achai Gaon;
- Meishiv Davar ("Response [in] Kind"), a collection of his responsa.
- Ha'amek Davar ("Delve into the matter"), a Torah commentary, the title resonating off his previously published commentary on the She'iltoth (listed above). See Oral Torah#In rabbinic literature and commentary for context.
- Rinah shel Torah, a commentary on the Song of Songs.
- Meromei Sadeh ("Heights [of the] Field", used as a reference to the tribe of Naphtali by Deborah in the Book of Judges), comments and insights on selected volumes of the Talmud.
- Dvar Ha'emek commentary on Nevi'im and Ketuvim.
- Imrei Shefer commentary on the Haggadah
- Birkat ha-Netziv, Commentary on the Mechilta
- Kidmas Ha'amek [She'eila], being the introduction to his commentary on the She'iltoth (listed above) and also entitled Darkah shel Torah by his son Rabbi Chaim Berlin. Translated into English by Rabbi Elchanan Greenman according to the latter title, as "The Path of Torah" (2007), it treats of the rabbinical history of Oral Law from Joshua until the early Middle Ages. Less well known is a similarly entitled but shorter introduction, Kidmas Ha'amek [Davar], contained in his Torah commentary and focusing more narrowly on the history of Scripture.
- Epstein, B. Mekor Baruch. Sections translated as: My Uncle the Netziv by Rabbi M. Dombey. Brooklyn, New York: Mesorah publications ltd. ISBN 0-89906-493-0
- Gil S. Perl (2012). The Pillar of Volozhin : Rabbi Naftali Ẓvi Yehuda Berlin and the world of nineteenth-century Lithuanian Torah scholarship. Brighton, Mass.: Academic Studies Press. ISBN 978-1-936235-70-4
- "Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda "HaNaziv" Berlin..." www.findagrave.com. Retrieved 2020-08-10.
- "R' Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin, The Netziv of Volozhin". geni_family_tree. Retrieved 2020-08-12.
- The year of Netziv's birth is often mistakenly listed as 1817. According to his son, Meir Bar-Ilan, he was born on the eve of Rosh Chodesh Kislev in the Jewish year of 5577 which is November 20, 1816. See Meir Bar Ilan, Rabban Shel Yisrael (New York: Histadrut ha-Mizrahi ba-Amerikah, 1943), p. 13.
- Gil S. Perl (2012). The Pillar of Volozhin : Rabbi Naftali Ẓvi Yehuda Berlin and the world of nineteenth-century Lithuanian Torah scholarship. Brighton, Mass.: Academic Studies Press. pp. 11–14. ISBN 978-1-936235-70-4.
- Frenkel, Isser (1967). Men of Distinction: Biographies of Great Rabbis. Sinai.
- Frankel, Jonathan. "Jews and Gender: The Challenge to Hierarchy". Oxford University Press.
- Berel Wein (September 1990). Triumph of Survival: The Story of the Jews in the Modern Era 1650-1990. Mesorah Publications. p. 130. ISBN 978-0-89906-498-7.
- Schloss, Chaim (2002). 2000 Years of Jewish History: From the Destruction of the Second Bais Hamikdash Until the Twentieth Century. Feldheim Publishers. ISBN 978-1-58330-214-9.
- Wolkenfeld, David. "Rabbi Hayyim Soloveitchik of Brisk". www.sefaria.org. Retrieved 2020-08-10.
- Cooper, Levi (August 28, 2014). "The tisch: The popular fur hat – now, not just among hassidim". The Jerusalem Post | JPost.com. Retrieved 2020-08-12.
- Schacter JJ (1990). "Haskalah, secular studies and the close of the Yeshiva in Volozhin in 1892" (PDF). The Torah U-Madda Journal. 2: 76–133. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2017-10-19. Retrieved 2012-12-04.
- Bar Ilan CD-ROM
- Wurzburger, Walter S. (2008). Covenantal Imperatives: Essays by Walter Wurzburger on Jewish Law, Thought and Community. Urim Publications. ISBN 978-965-524-000-9.
- Sacks, Johnathan (October 3, 2019). "The Torah as God's Song". Algemeiner.com. Retrieved 2020-08-12.
- "Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, known as the Netziv, Rosh Yeshiva of Volozhin (1816-1893) | Torah Jews". www.truetorahjews.org. Retrieved 2020-08-12.
- Grossman, Maxine (2011). The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-973004-9.