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Epstein, Yeḥi’el Mikhl

(1830–1908), rabbi, scholar, and halakhic authority. Born in Bobruisk, Belorussia, Yeḥi’el Mikhl Epstein was successively the brother-in-law and then the father-in-law of Naftali Tsevi Yehudah Berlin, head of the Volozhin yeshiva. In 1862, Epstein was appointed rabbi of Novozybkov in Chernigov guberniia. From 1874, he served as rabbi of the Novogrudok community in northern Belorussia.

Epstein dealt with urgent questions facing the Jews of the Russian Empire, among them issues concerning conscription of Jewish soldiers and various dilemmas brought about by modernization. As an educator he faced pressures for changes in the Jewish educational system and even took a public stand on these issues in the collection Darkah shel Torah (1902).

During the last quarter of the nineteenth century, Epstein was recognized as one of the most important halakhic authorities in Eastern Europe. His most significant and well-known work was the multivolume ‘Arukh ha-shulḥan (1891, 1893, and 1903), dealing with matters found in all four parts of Yosef Karo’s authoritative code, Shulḥan ‘arukh. Epstein’s work addressed at length the laws included in the Shulḥan ‘arukh and the halakhic discussions that had taken place since its appearance. He wrote, “When there is a controversy between our later rabbis I cited their opinions, and if there was something I could decide upon, I did not refrain from writing [my decision], and the reader has the right to judge for himself.” Epstein also wrote a commentary on Ya‘akov Tam’s work Sefer ha-yashar called Or la-yesharim (1869), and a commentary on the Passover Haggadah called Lel shimurim (1889).

Epstein’s son Rabbi Barukh ha-Levi Epstein wrote a commentary on the Pentateuch, titled Torah temimah (1901–1902), and a comprehensive autobiography, Makor Barukh (1928).

Suggested Reading

Meir Bar-Ilan (Berlin), Mi-Volozhin ‘ad Yerushalayim (Tel Aviv, 1939), pp. 232–246; Simcha Fishbane, “‘Long Live the Tsar’: Rabbi Yechiel Mechel Halevi Epstein and the Russian Government,” World Congress of Jewish Studies 10.B2 (1990): 309–316; Simcha Fishbane, “A Response to the Challenge of the Modern Era as Reflected in the Writings of Rabbi Yechiel Mechel Epstein,” in Essays in the Social Scientific Study of Judaism and Jewish Society, vol. 2, pp. 96–112 (Hoboken, N.J., 1992); Simcha Fishbane, “The Boldness of a Halakhist: Rabbi Yechiel Mechel Epstein and Modernity,” in The Interaction of Scientific and Jewish Cultures in Modern Times, ed. Yakov Rabkin and Ira Robinson, pp. 67–86 (Lewiston, N.Y., 1995); Judah Leib Maimon, Sare ha-me’ah, vol. 6, pp. 82–118 (Jerusalem, 1961).



Translated from Hebrew by I. Michael Aronson