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Khelm, Shelomoh ben Mosheh

(1715/16–1781), rabbinical scholar. Born in Zamość, Poland, to wealthy parents from well-known families, Shelomoh ben Mosheh was regarded as a prodigy, and showed interest in secular knowledge in addition to his religious studies; he studied mathematics, logic, and a number of foreign languages. In 1742, before he had turned 25, he was elected to the position of rabbi of Chełm (Yid., Khelm or Khelem) and its nine satellite communities. From then on, he was known as Rabbi Shelomoh Khelm.

In 1750, Khelm published the first part of his Merkevet ha-mishneh, a treatise on MaimonidesMishneh Torah; with this work, he established his reputation as a scholar. In 1762, he published his Shulḥan ‘atse shitim, which dealt with the laws of the Sabbath and festivals. This text was part of a series titled ‘Asarah shulḥanot, which presented a summary of and commentary on Jewish religious laws applicable in the post-Temple period.

Khelm was a member of the Council of Four Lands, and was among those who decided in favor of Rabbi Yonatan Eybeschütz in the latter’s dispute with Rabbi Ya‘akov Emden. Additionally, in the matter of the so-called Divorce of Cleves, an issue that stirred up the entire Jewish world at the time, Khelm was among the large group of rabbis who recognized the validity of the divorce document (get), contrary to the opinion of the rabbis of Frankfurt am Main and their colleagues.

After 27 years as rabbi of Chełm, Shelomoh was invited to serve as town rabbi of Zamość, a position that he accepted in 1769. Two years later he left Zamość to become the rabbi of Lwów. In 1777, when he was about 60, Khelm decided to immigrate to the Land of Israel. He arrived in Turkey in 1779 and spent time in Constantinople and Izmir, where he established close relations with the local rabbis. Afterward he reached his destination and lived in Galilee towns.

Apparently Khelm intervened in disputes between Sephardic and Hasidic communities, and his favoring of the former enraged Hasidim. He was probably persecuted by the Ottoman authorities as well, and decided to leave the Land of Israel temporarily. In 1781, he went to Salonika, where he began to prepare the second part of Merkevet ha-mishneh for publication. While there, both he and his wife contracted the plague and died on the same day in 1781.

The second part of Merkevet ha-mishneh was published a few months after Khelm’s death, with the assistance of some of the rabbis of Salonika. Khelm had written copiously, and although some of his works were published during his lifetime and immediately after his death, most remained in manuscript and some have been lost. Among his other written works were additional parts of ‘Asarah shulḥanot: Avel ha-shitim, on the laws of mourning; Ḥug ha-arets, on the borders of the Land of Israel; Ne‘im zemirot, listing the laws of the Sabbath rituals in rhyme; and Lev Shelomoh, a collection of responsa.

Suggested Reading

Avraham Brik, Rabi Shelomoh Ḥelma ba‘al ‘Merkevet ha-mishneh’ (Jerusalem, 1985); Yoel Catane, “Rabi Shelomoh Ḥelma ve-sifro ‘Mirkevet ha-mishneh,’” Ha-Ma‘ayan 29.4 (1989): 47–56; Yoel Catane, “Introduction,” in Sefer Shulḥan tamid: ‘Al Shulḥan ‘arukh Oraḥ ḥayim, by Solomon ben Moses Chelm, vol. 1, pp. 18–34 (Jerusalem, 2000); Yonah Emanu’el, “Sefer Merkevet ha-mishneh ‘al ha-Rambam,” Ha-Ma‘ayan 41 (2000): 65–70.



Translated from Hebrew by Rami Hann