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Rabinowitz-Te’omim, Eliyahu David ben Binyamin

(1842/43–1905), rabbi in Lithuania and Jerusalem. Eliyahu Rabinowitz-Te’omim was born in Pikeln (Lith., Pikeliai), in western Lithuania. His father, Binyamin Rabinowitz (1813–1869), served as a rabbi in several Lithuanian communities. Eliyahu had a twin brother, Tsevi Yehudah (rabbi of Ragula; d. 1887), and this is the source of the additional name Te’omim, or “twins.” Rabinowitz was the father-in-law of Avraham Yitsḥak Kook, the first chief rabbi of Palestine.

After his marriage in 1861, Rabinowitz lived in Ponevezh, attended the local bet midrash (house of study), and later studied Torah in Lipnishok. In 1875, he was appointed rabbi of Ponevezh, a post he held for about 18 years. During this time, his family lived in poverty, and there was constant tension between Rabinowitz and the lay leaders of the community. From 1893, he served as the rabbi of Mir, also teaching at the famous Mir yeshiva.

In 1901, Eliyahu was invited to serve alongside Shemu’el Salant, the elderly rabbi of Jerusalem’s Ashkenazic community. In Jerusalem, Rabinowitz worked at instituting reforms in matters of social welfare, education, and religious services. He always remained in Salant’s shadow, however, and never integrated fully into the complicated Jerusalem milieu; he died four years after arriving.

Toward the end of his life, Rabinowitz wrote his autobiography. Titled Seder Eliyahu (not published until 1984), it is an unusual work for an East European rabbi of that time, and it throws a rare light on the inner world of the rabbinate. Rabinowitz emerges as an innovator in halakhic decision making and shows himself sensitive to the social distress of the less fortunate in his community. He did not refrain from criticizing the character of the rabbinate of his time, and even confronted several leading figures of its Lithuanian leadership. His writings also include dozens of essays and collections of glosses—commentaries on the Bible, on portions of the Talmud, and on the prayers—along with responsa. A significant number of his works have been published in recent years.

Suggested Reading

Immaunel Etkes, Lita bi-Yerushalayim (Jerusalem, 1991), pp. 39–84.



Translated from Hebrew by I. Michael Aronson