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Heller, Ḥayim

(1879–1960), rabbi and biblical scholar. Born in Białystok, Ḥayim Heller earned a doctorate from the University of Würzburg in Germany and was appointed rabbi of Łomża in 1912, a position that he resigned from within months. In 1914, he was elected rabbi of Suwałki, but World War I broke out before he could accept the position, and he moved to Gomel.

At the end of the war, Heller returned to Warsaw, where in 1920 he was invited to head the Judaic studies program of the Taḥkemoni rabbinical seminary, which had been established by Mizraḥi. Because of the impossibly high standards that Heller set for accepting students, he did not find candidates he considered worthy of admission, and the offer of his appointment was rescinded. In 1922 he established the Bet ha-Midrash ha-‘Elyon in Berlin, a yeshiva that stressed a scientific approach to the Bible and rabbinic literature. The majority of the students were graduates of yeshivas in Lithuania and Poland.

In 1929, Heller was appointed as a lecturer in biblical studies at the Rabbi Isaac Elchanan Theological Seminary at Yeshiva University in New York, and during the 1930s he lived intermittently in Palestine and in Europe. In 1937, he returned to the United States, where he lived first in Chicago and later settled in New York, returning to lecture at Yeshiva University and other institutions. His research, mainly on the text of the Bible and its translations, was geared toward the defense of the traditional Masoretic text and against biblical criticism.

Suggested Reading

Jacob Israel Dienstag, ‘En ha-mitsvot (New York, 1969); Mordekhai Ḥalamish, “Bet ha-midrash Taḥkemoni,” in Entsiklopedyah shel galuyot, vol. 1, Varshah, ed. Yitsḥak Grinboim, cols. 351–356 (Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, 1953); Getzel Kressel, Leksikon ha-sifrut ha-‘ivrit, vol. 1, cols. 618–619 (Jerusalem and Merḥavyah, Israel, 1965); Yizḥak Raphael, ed., Entsiklopedyah shel ha-tsiyonut ha-datit, vol. 6, cols. 362–368 (Jerusalem, 2001); Hillel Seidman, “Rabi Ḥayim Heler,” in Ḥokhmat Yisra’el be-Ma‘arav Eropah, ed. Simon Federbusch, vol. 2, pp. 96–103 (Jerusalem, 1963).



Translated from Hebrew by Carrie Friedman-Cohen