Find more information about

at the Center for Jewish History:

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

Slonik, Binyamin Aharon ben Avraham

(ca. 1550–ca. 1619), Polish rabbi, probably born in Grodno or nearby Tykocin, possibly in the territory disputed by both communities, for he was called Binyamin Horodno (Grodno) on the title page of the 1606 Italian translation of his 1577 work Seyder mitsves noshim. Slonik (also Solnik) served as rabbi in Podhajce and Silesia, and claims to have been “in Russia in [his] youth” (Mas’at Binyamin, no. 62), probably referring to southeastern Poland, that is, Ruthenia, sometimes known as Red Russia (Ruś Czerwona). He lived in Kraków for a time before and after the death of Mosheh Isserles in 1572, but there is a question about whether he served there as a rabbi.

Slonik’s teachers included Shelomoh Luria (Maharshal), Mosheh Isserles, and Shelomoh ben Leibush of Lublin, whom he called “the second Maharshal.” Luria had great influence on Slonik; from him Slonik took lucid style, grammatical precision, and a scientific approach to Jewish law. Slonik also studied for a time in Grodno under Natan Note Spira.

Slonik was the author of Mas’at Binyamin (1633), containing 112 responsa and including questions and comments by his two sons, Avraham and Ya‘akov; the former of whom edited and published the work. The book includes several pages of the author’s novellae on the Shulan ’arukh, and makes mention of Slonik’s grandson Fayvl and two daughters who died during his lifetime. His Seyder mitsves noshim: Eyn scheyn frauen bikhlen, a popular Yiddish book printed three times and translated into Italian during the author’s lifetime, deals with the religious duties of women and offers moral teachings on family life. Slonik also wrote two books that have not been preserved: Sefer ha-‘evronot, on the Hebrew calendar, and Seder ḥalitsah, on levirate marriage.

Slonik received many questions for halakhic decision regarding ‘agunot (abandoned wives), whose husbands had perished on business trips or simply disappeared. In these matters Slonik accepted the lenient Sephardic teaching of Rabbi Eliyahu Mizraḥi rather than Ashkenazic stringencies. Some of Slonik’s decisions were trailblazing. He accepted the scientific observation that quick freezing preserves a body for long periods of time and applied this concept to validate testimony for identifying a victim long after the three-day period after death within which Jewish law ordinarily allowed one to visually identify a body. He rejected citations of sources unless he had seen them himself, as well as the use of (a methodology of Talmudic reasoning introduced by Shalom Shakhnah) in deciding questions of Jewish law.

Slonik decided some cases purely on the basis of logic, historical evidence, empirical observation, medical knowledge, or anatomical research. He also wrote a long discussion permitting blind and ignorant people to receive Torah honors in synagogue. He castigated cantors for insufficient preparation before reading from the Torah and for introducing theater songs and secular melodies into the liturgy, and he chided congregations for choosing cantors on the basis of their voice rather than their piety and learning. His decisions are often quoted by commentaries to the Shulḥan ‘arukh and are considered definitive.

Suggested Reading

Edward Fram, My Dear Daughter: Rabbi Benjamin Slonik and the Education of Jewish Women in Sixteenth-Century Poland (Cincinnati, 2007); Nisson Shulman, Authority and Community: Polish Jewry in the Sixteenth Century (Hoboken, N.J. and New York, 1986); Bernard Weinryb, The Jews of Poland: A Social and Economic History of the Jewish Community in Poland from 1100 to 1800 (Philadelphia, 1973).