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Kolin, Shemu’el ben Natan ha-Levi

(ca. 1720–1806), rabbi and posek (decisor; one who is recognized as having sufficient authority to rule on questions of Jewish law). Shemu’el Kolin’s name (sometimes rendered as Kelin, Keln, or Kell) is derived from his birthplace in Bohemia. His father, Natan ha-Levi, was a wealthy merchant and grandson of Natan Note ben Shelomoh Spira (1585–1633), the kabbalist and rabbi in Kraków and author of the classic Megaleh ‘amukot.

Kolin received his primary education from his father. He continued studying in Boskovice, Moravia, where Natan Adler ben Shim‘on ha-Kohen (1741–1800) served as rabbi. Soon after Kolin’s arrival in Boskovice, he married Elkele, a descendant of Menaḥem Mendel Krochmal (1600–1661), former chief rabbi of Moravia and author of the responsa collection Tsemaḥ tsedek. Kolin’s wife managed a wool business, thereby enabling him to devote himself entirely to study. In addition to intensive Torah study, he regularly recited the mystical midnight prayers (Tikun ḥatsot) and wore sackcloth to mourn the destruction of the Temple.

Although Kolin never held an official rabbinical appointment, he headed a yeshiva for more than 60 years. He also considered secular education to be important provided it deepened one’s understanding of the Torah. His commentaries and halakhic lectures attracted large audiences, and his students typically added the epithet “a pupil of the author of Maḥatsit ha-shekel” to their names. This, his masterwork, is also mentioned in some epitaphs of his descendants.

Kolin’s fame rested on his supercommentary to Magen Avraham (Shulḥan ‘arukh, Oraḥ ḥayim), written by Avraham Abele Gombiner (1635–1682). Gombiner’s commentary, written in a terse style that scholars often struggled to understand, was printed in virtually all editions of the Shulḥan ‘arukh and played a decisive role in determining religious practice. Kolin’s Maḥatsit ha-shekel (Half of the Shekel [the title contains an allusion to the author’s name: ha-Katan Shemu’el Kolin ha-Levi]; 1807–1808) reviewed all Talmudic and post-Talmudic references and allusions in Gombiner’s work and illuminated ambiguous passages. Only parts of Kolin’s other works were published: his commentary on the first section of Shulḥan ‘arukh, Yoreh de‘ah (1858–1860); his sermons (1906); and his commentary on the Talmudic tractates Bava’ batra’ and ‘Avodah zarah (1958). The Jewish Museum in Prague possesses manuscript glosses to BT Pesaḥim, ‘Avodah zarah, Sukah, and Ketubot.

Kolin died in Boskovice and is buried in the town’s Jewish cemetery. According to tradition, he requested that his epitaph list only his name and the title of his work Maḥatsit ha-shekel. This wish was at first not fulfilled. However, when his gravestone was repaired in 1985, the brief inscription was substituted.

Suggested Reading

Hugo Gold, ed., Die Juden und Judengemeinden Böhmens in Vergangenheit und Gegenwart (Brünn, and Prague, 1934), p. 290; Isidor Reich, “Der Lebenslauf des Machazith Haschekel” and “Das Beth Hamidrasch des Machazith Haschekel” in Die Geschichte der Chewra Kadischa zu Boskovice, pp. 41–48 (Boskovice, Czech., 1931); Abraham Stern, Melitse esh, ‘Al ḥodshe adar (Vranov, Slovakia, 1938), pp. 71a–72a.