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Danzig, Avraham ben Yeḥi’el Mikhl


(1748–1820), halakhic authority and author. Born in Gdańsk (Danzig), Avraham Danzig studied in Prague with, among others, Rabbi Yeḥezkel Landau. Danzig married and moved to Vilna, where he worked in business and refused to earn a rabbinic salary. He remained steadfast in this refusal even after he was appointed dayan (rabbinic judge) in Vilna in 1794; only after his business failed, in 1812, did he agree to receive remuneration. It was during this period that he wrote most of his books.

Danzig’s earliest and most important text was Ḥaye adam, with the commentary Nishmat adam (1810; rev. and exp. 1825). This work was intended to serve as an abridged summary of all laws found in the Oraḥ ḥayim section of the Shulḥan ‘arukh. It was written for both Torah scholars and ordinary Jews, and is characterized by a simple and concise style, at times using Yiddish terms, with a rich variety of concrete examples taken from everyday life. In addition to halakhic rulings, it also includes ethical and even kabbalistic teachings. These qualities ensured a wide distribution of the work during Danzig’s lifetime. In later generations, the book was republished scores of times; it was translated; and commentaries were written on it. In many places in Lithuania, study groups, called Ḥevrot Ḥaye Adam, were established for the study of the book.

Ḥaye adam became the most popular and influential halakhic code for Lithuanian Jewry, until it was superseded by the Mishnah berurah of Yisra’el Me’ir ha-Kohen. Even then, its indirect influence continued, as the Mishnah berurah often relied on the Ḥaye adam for its rulings.

Danzig also wrote Ḥokhmat adam, with the commentary Binat adam (1815). This latter work deals with matters relating to the Yoreh de‘ah section of the Shulḥan ‘arukh—especially the laws of ritual slaughter, kosher food, vows, menstruation, lending at interest, charity, and mourning—along with a few matters relating to marriage and civil law.

In both Ḥaye adam and Ḥokhmat adam, Danzig usually presents only the final halakhic ruling on an issue, though at times he places a dispute before the reader and decides between the two opinions. He often relies on the commentators to the Shulḥan ‘arukh—including the Gaon of Vilna, whom Danzig admired and to whom he was related by marriage—but he does not hesitate to rule against them. Alongside his theoretical arguments justifying his rulings, he often offers explanations based on personal experience.

Danzig also published the book Sha‘are tsedek (1812), devoted to commandments relevant to the Land of Israel, and Zikhru Torat Mosheh, on the types of labor forbidden on the Sabbath. The latter was published together with his Mitsvat Mosheh on the 613 biblical precepts (1817)—both named after his son, Mosheh, who had died at a young age. Danzig also wrote a commentary to the Passover Haggadah, Toldot Avraham. All these books attained a lesser reputation than Ḥaye adam and Ḥokhmat adam.

Similarly to the Gaon of Vilna, Danzig permitted the study of sciences but opposed the study of philosophy. Notwithstanding, there are signs showing that he himself was familiar, though superficially, with the philosophical literature of his time.

Danzig wrote an ethical will, comprised of moral admonishment and guidelines for the proper service of God; and a text asking forgiveness from anyone whom he had harmed in any way over the course of his life. In accordance with his instructions, the will was published following his death under the title Bet Avraham (1821). This short work illuminates various aspects of the ethos of the Misnagdim—especially the importance of values such as fearing God and perfecting one’s character traits, eve