Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

NOTE: you will be redirected
to the Web site for the

Rabinovich, Yitsḥak Ya‘akov

(1854–1919), yeshiva head and rabbinic scholar. Yitsḥak Ya‘akov Rabinovich (Reb Itsele Ponevezher) was born in Shereshevo, Belorussia, the son of a wealthy merchant. After receiving private instruction in Talmud, at the age of 14 he went to study with Yeruḥam Perlman—later a noted rabbi in Minsk—in nearby Selets, and a few years later studied in Brest-Litovsk with Ḥayim Soloveichik (who became the “Brisker rov”) under the tutelage of the latter’s father, Yosef Dov Soloveichik.

Over time both Rabinovich and Soloveichik developed a method of studying Talmud not through the time-honored method of pilpul (casuistry) but by logic, through a deep understanding of the text. When Rabinovich was appointed to teach at the Slobodka yeshiva in 1889, he had difficulty accepting the Musar ideology present there, and in 1894 left to become the rabbi in the Lithuanian town of Gorzd. In 1896 he found his permanent place as rabbi of Ponevezh (mod. Panevėžys), where in 1911 Miriam Gavronskii, daughter of the tea magnate Kalonymus Wissotzky, established a small yeshiva for promising scholars in memory of her husband. Rabinovich served as its head.

The Ponevezh yeshiva, called a kibuts, gave generous stipends to its few students and freed its director from the fund-raising that most rabbis in Rabinovich’s position were required to oversee. It is said that Rabinovich turned down the position of head of the ‘Ets Ḥayim yeshiva in Jerusalem in 1913 because he found fund-raising so distasteful.

Rabinovich was also active in public affairs. At the 1910 rabbinical congress in Saint Petersburg, he favored a resolution demanding that Russian rabbis know the language of the country. In 1912, he backed the newly organized Orthodox party Agudas Yisroel and was elected to its rabbinical council. He was very unusual among Lithuanian Torah scholars in his general support of the movements of the working classes. Indeed, at a meeting of Orthodox leaders (Masoret ve-Ḥerut) in 1917, Rabinovich unsuccessfully proposed a resolution endorsing redistribution of land to the peasants. Although his halakhic rulings enjoyed wide respect, he did not publish his responsa and novellae, but some have been preserved by his correspondents and students.

In 1915, in the face of the advancing Germans, Russian military policy forced many Lithuanian Jews into exile. Rabinovich and his students first went to nearby Latvia and later to Ukraine. He returned to Ponevezh early in 1919 but because the town was then under Bolshevik rule, he was unable to teach and died soon afterward of typhus.

Suggested Reading

Samuel Bialoblocki, “Rabi Itchele Ponivezher,” in Yahadut Lita, ed. Natan Goren, vol. 1, pp. 394–397 (Tel Aviv, 1959); Samuel Noah Gotlieb, Ohole shem: Toldotehem ve-yiḥusehem shel rabane u-gedole ha-dor (Pinsk, 1911/12), p. 367; Yitskhok Rivkind, “Der ponevezher ‘kibets,’” in Lite, ed. Mendl Sudarski, Uriyah Katsenelnbogn, and Yitsḥak Kisin, vol. 1, cols. 645–654 (New York, 1951).