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Meisel, Eliyahu Ḥayim

(1821–1912), rabbi of Łódź. Born in Horodok in Vilna guberniia, Eliyahu Ḥayim Meisel attended the Volozhin yeshiva, where his fellow students included Yosef Ber Soloveichik of Brisk and Yitsḥak Elḥanan Spektor. Meisel received rabbinic ordination at the age of 13 from Yitsḥak of Volozhin.

At age 17, Meisel began his professional career as the rabbi of Horodok. He went on to serve in a series of Jewish communities, gaining renown both as a scholar and a public activist on behalf of the needy. Following his election in 1866 as rabbi of Łomża, the crowning achievement of his career came in 1873, when he was chosen to be the rabbi of Łódź. During his tenure that extended until 1912, the Jewish community of that city grew from about 10,000 to approximately 160,000 people, comprising more than a third of the industrial city’s population.

Although born and bred into Litvak culture, Meisel won the respect and affection of the Hasidic masses in a community dominated by a clique of prosperous, assimilated industrialists and merchants. In addition to overseeing the provision of basic religious needs, he worked energetically to convince many of his community’s wealthiest members to join in organizing a series of institutions to serve the growing numbers of impoverished Jews drawn to economic opportunities in Łódź. Two such establishments were the Poznański Hospital and the vocational Talmud Torah school for boys.

Fluent in Russian, Meisel was often a leading member of rabbinic delegations to the central tsarist authorities. The respect and honors he was accorded by government officials reinforced his status among Jews in Łódź and beyond. Although not a prolific author, Meisel contributed numerous letters of approbation to new works of rabbinic scholarship. He also lent his name and signature to many published declarations of rabbinic opinion on controversial issues of the time.

Stories about Meisel credited him with preventing pogroms in Łódź and protecting Jewish interests in the city and beyond. In contrast, among followers of the Bund and other Jewish socialist movements, hostile tales were told about Meisel’s actions during the Revolution of 1905, when he was alleged to have intervened on behalf of religiously observant Jews arrested during strikes and disorders, while hinting at how real radicals might be identified by their lack of ritual garments. Nevertheless, his achievements and personality continued to be honored and remembered by many for decades after his death.

Suggested Reading

Gershon Bacon, “Ha-Ḥevrah ha-masoratit bi-temurot ha-‘itim: Hebetim be-toldot ha-yahadut ha-ortodoksit be-Polin uve-Rusyah, 1850–1939,” Kiyum ve-shever: Yehude polin le-dorotehem, ed. Yisra’el Bartal and Israel Gutman, vol. 2, pp. 453–492 (Jerusalem, 2001); Y. B. Baylin, “Der groyser rov, der groyser mentsh,” in Undzer Lodzh / Nuestro Lodz, pp. 52–59 (Buenos Aires, 1955); Avraham Bik, “Der lodzher rov: R. Elye Khayim Mayzel, goen un klal-tuer,” in Lodzher yizker-bukh, pp. 65–69 (New York, 1943); Avraham Yehuda Berzezinsky, Rabi Eliyahu Ḥayim Meyzel, ha-rav be-Lodz´ (Tel Aviv, 1955/56); Joseph Friedenson, comp. and ed., Pinkes Lodzh: A yizker-bukh fun der shtot fun toyre u-gedule (New York, 2005), pp. 108–113; Pinkhes Minc, Lodzh in mayn zikorn (Buenos Aires, 1958), pp. 197–207; A teyl zikhroynes vegn lodzher rov (Łódź, 1926/27).