Pinchas Polonsky

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Pinchas Polonsky

Pinchas Polonsky (Russian: Полонский Петр (Пинхас) Ефимович, born 1958) is a Russian-Israeli Jewish-religious philosopher, researcher, and educator active among the Russian-speaking Jewish community. He has written several original books as well as a number of translations of important works on Judaism.

During his underground activities in Moscow (1977–1987), he taught Judaism and was one of the founders of Machanaim. Today he lives in Israel, is an activist in the process of the modernization of Judentums, teaches in a Ariel University, is a researcher on the topics of the late Rav Kook. Polonsky is the author of the commentar on Torah under the title "Biblical Dynamics". Polonsky is the head of the Russian department of Brit Olam im Noahide World Center in Jerusalem.[1] He is also a prolific writer who is often cited and published and whose articles are published in the press.


Born 1958 in Moscow into a family of secular Assimilated Jews family.[2] Attended a special math school No. 7 with a special focus on math and physics. Upon graduating in 1975 a decision to leave the Soviet Union and move to Israel took shape. He began to study Hebrew in a clandestine group, and then subsequently - Torah and Judaism, eventually becoming more and more observant.

Between 1975 and 1980 studied mathematics at the Moscow State Pedagogical Institute.

Starting in 1979 Polonsky becomes one of the founders of the clandestine network for the study of Torah in Moscow.[2] He was involved in clandestine Samizdat publishing (through photocopying) of guides for observing Judaism and maintaining a Jewish lifestyle—a series of books on Jewish holiday observance and Torah commentaries.

After applying for immigration to Israel, Polonsky became a refusenik for 7 years and finally repatriated to Israel in 1987 at the onset of Perestroika. In Israel Pinchas Polonsky has been living in Beit El since 1991.[2]

Education and academic work[edit]

In 1987 was one of the initiators in the founding of the Israeli branch of Machanaim and until 2012 remained a faculty member as the Editor in Chief.

In 1989–1990 attended Yeshiva "The Harry Fischel Institue for Talmudic Research" in Jerusalem.

In 1994–1997 attended yeshiva Beit Morasha, Jerusalem, majoring in the Jewish philosophy.

In 1995–1999 attended the Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, faculty of Jewish studies, received an MA in Talmudic Studies.

In 2002 Polonsky obtained a PhD in Sociology of Religion. His thesis was: "Sociological Concepts in R. Kook's Teachings".

In the period of 1991–2012—taught at the Bar-Ilan University.

2012 to the present time—a Senior Fellow and Assistant Professor in the Ariel University, Samaria.[3]

Chief of the Russian Department at Brit Olam (a yeshiva for Bnei Noah), headed by R. Uri Sherki.[4]

Series of prayer books with commentaries[edit]

This initiative launched by Pinchas Polonsky began with an underground edition of the Pesach Haggadah with commentaries in the 1980s in Moscow. The Haggadah was published using photocopying equipment and distributed in hundreds of copies across Moscow and other major cities of the former Soviet Union. This Hagadah was meant to instruct in leading an exciting and spiritual Seder.[5]

In Israel Polonsky together with Machanaim published: a Siddur (prayer book) with a Russian translation and commentaries titled "Vrata Molitvy"[6] (Gates of Prayer, not to confuse with the Reform "Gates of Prayer, the New Union Prayer Book"). Until this day it remains the most widely used prayer book in Russian, transliterated edition is also available); Machzor "Gates of Repentance" for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; Passover Haggadah with commentaries; a book titled "Obligations of the Living", on the laws of mourning, as well as a series of books about Jewish holiday customs and observance.[7]

Research of r. Kook's legacy[edit]

In 1991 Polonsky partnered with Rav Kook's Home Residence Museum in Jerusalem and prepared for publishing a compilation of r. Kook's works titled "Tolerance in the Teaching of r. Kook".

In the course of his research of r. Kook's philosophy and body of work, he wrote and published a study (monograph) titled "Rav Abraham Isaac Kook. Life and Teaching". In 2009 the main chapters of the book were translated and published in English,[8] and in 2013 - in Hebrew.[9] It became the first book on Jewish religious thought translated from Russian to Hebrew. The book was approved by several outstanding rabbinical authorities on the subject of r. Kook's philosophy and was recommended by them to be included in the Religious Zionism academic curriculum.

Torah commentaries "The Biblical Dynamics"[edit]

A series of books presenting a new commentary to the Torah, based on the Kabbalistic concepts of r. I.L. Ashkenazi (Manitou) and on the new findings of r. Uri Sherki, which included the author's own original concepts and interpretations.

By 2014 six volumes were published: commentaries to the two first books from the Bible of Moses - Genesis and Exodus.[10] A full commentary on the Torah is expected to appear soon. An English translation is planned.

Other works[edit]

In 2009 Polonsky - among others - became one of the founders of an Academic wiki-encyclopedia on Jewish and Israeli topics. The goal of the project is the publication of a complementary (to Wikipedia and other sources), quality, academically viable information on Judaism, Jews and Israel on the Russian Internet.[11]

Polonsky is the initiator and Coordinator for the project "Preserving the Memory", whose purpose is to preserve the memory of the Jewish-Zionist underground movement in the USSR. He is also the founder of the "Fight Against Intellectual Antisemitism" project.[12]

Religious views and philosophy[edit]

Pinchas Polonsky attributes himself to the radically modernist wing of religious Zionism, whose essence is orthodox modernization of Judaism, in other words - active modernization with strict adherence to an orthodox Jewish approach.[13] In this he sees himself as a follower of r. Kook and a partner to r. Uri Sherki.

Polonsky supports integration of universal ideas into religion creating a healthy symbiosis. He views modernization of religion as an absolute religious necessity or a prerequisite.[14] Believes in religious importance of science, art, democracy, and other universal secular values; a proponent of the initiative to introduce "a day of science" in Israeli high-school curricula: to demonstrate productive synergy which can be achieved by combining science and religion.

Active in promoting ideas and concepts of Bnei Noah.

Advocates access to and prayer at the Temple Mount for the Jews.

Author of the concept of "Three Stages of the Arrival of the Messiah" (as opposed to the two-stage approach, widely accepted by religious Zionism today).

Introduced the concept of religious anti-fundamentalism, in other words - an opposition to religious fundamentalism based on the concepts of "continuing and organic Revelation".

Published works[edit]