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Gesundheit, Ya‘akov

(1816–1878), chief rabbi of the Warsaw community, businessman, and Talmudic scholar. The son of a wealthy merchant, Ya‘akov Gesundheit grew up in the Warsaw suburb of Praga. He worked as a merchant and became one of the most outspoken opponents of Hasidism during the period in which the movement grew into the leading force among observant Jews in Warsaw.

At an early age, Gesundheit devoted himself to the study of religious texts, and became head of a yeshiva at only 16 years of age. His brother Yisra’el, likewise a scholar, served for a time as a member of the board of the Jewish community. At age 18, Gesundheit published his first work, Sifte Kohen. This was followed in 1842 by a commentary on the Ḥoshen mishpat section of the Shulḥan ‘arukh, published as Tif’eret Ya‘akov. Under the same title in 1858, he published a commentary on tractate Gitin of the Talmud. After the death of Dov Berush Meisels in 1870, Gesundheit was appointed chief judge of the rabbinical court of the Warsaw community by the primarily non-Hasidic dignitaries on the community’s board. Simultaneously, and with the approval of the state administration, he was installed as the community’s chief rabbi on 13 September 1870.

In contrast to his predecessor, Gesundheit kept his distance from the Polish independence movement. Representatives of the Hasidic community in Warsaw, who had put forward an opposing candidate for the position of chief rabbi, led an intensive campaign for his dismissal. Through an “unholy alliance” between Hasidic and Reform-oriented forces, the latter took control of community administration in 1871. Together, these two currents succeeded in removing Gesundheit from his post in 1873, his authority having been gradually whittled away. The position of chief rabbi of Warsaw was never filled again.

Suggested Reading

François Guesnet, Polnische Juden im 19. Jahrhundert (Cologne, 1998), pp. 275ff; Reshimat ha-sefarim mi-”Sifriyat Gesundhait” (Tel Aviv, 1938/39), pp. 4–8; Jacob Shatzky, Geshikhte fun yidn in Varshe, vols. 2 and 3 (New York, 1948–1953).



Translated from German by Deborah Cohen