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Tsevi Elimelekh of Dinov

(1785–1841), Hasidic leader. A scholar and prolific author, Tsevi Elimelekh (Shapira or Spira) of Dinov (Dynów) was among the outstanding leaders of Galician and Hungarian Hasidism and was known for his staunch opposition to all modernizing trends. He is sometimes referred to as the Bene Yisakhar, after the title of one of his most important books. He was named after his mother’s uncle, Elimelekh of Lizhensk, and was the grandson of Shimshon ben Pesaḥ of Ostropolye. Tsevi Hirsh of Zhidachov, Naftali Horowitz of Ropshits, and Tsevi Elimelekh were seen as the successors to, respectively, Ya‘akov Yitsḥak Horowitz (the Seer of Lublin), Menaḥem Mendel of Rimanov, and Yisra’el of Kozhenits. Relations among the three heirs were marked by controversy.

Tsevi Elimelekh was a disciple of Ya‘akov Yitsḥak Horowitz; of Yisra’el Hapstein (Hofstein), the Magid of Kozhenits; and, especially, of Menaḥem Mendel of Rimanov. He served as rabbi, in succession, of the Galician communities of Strzyzów, Halicz, and Dynów, then of Munkács in Hungary (ca. 1825–ca. 1829), and then once again of Dynów. Regulations he issued for the community of Munkács (and others) have been frequently reprinted. A forceful figure who brooked no opposition, he left the Munkács community over the practice of force-feeding geese, an issue that divided Hungarian and Galician rabbis. He wrote a pamphlet on the subject, titled Takanot tomkhin de-oraita’, outlining his opposition to the practice. His grandson, Shelomoh Shapira (1832–1893), returned to Munkács, where he founded the Munkatsh Hasidic dynasty.

Tsevi Elimelekh was devoted to Kabbalah and to the idea that faith was above the intellect; he was radically opposed to philosophy and the Haskalah and, indeed, to all modernizing trends. His book Ma‘ayan ganim (1848) is a commentary on Or ha-ḥayim by Yosef Yavets (Jabez), which was written in the aftermath of the expulsion of the Jews from Spain in 1492 and blamed the devotees of philosophy for the expulsion. Tsevi Elimelekh draws parallels to his own day and ferociously attacks the Haskalah, especially the translation of scripture by Moses Mendelssohn.

Bene Yisakhar (1846–1850) is Tsevi Elimelekh’s best-known work, and it continues to be reprinted and cited at the beginning of the twenty-first century; it is the subject of numerous legends, many of which are collected in Zekhut Yisra’el by Yisra’el Berger (2001). Bene Yisakhar is an esoteric commentary on the Torah; one theme is Tsevi Elimelekh’s opposition to seeking reasons for the commandments; he felt they should be observed solely out of love of God. Scholars have drawn attention to discussion of the question of sinning for the sake of repentance in Bene Yisakhar and other works by Tsevi Elimelekh.

Tsevi Elimelekh wrote more than 30 other books, which have been reprinted frequently, often with material added by his descendants. Among these are Agra’ de-khalah (1868), Agra’ de-firka’ (1861), and Sur me-ra‘ ve-‘aseh tov (see the unbowdlerized Munkács edition of 1901), all of which include homilies informed by Kabbalah. He also wrote Hagahot Mahartsa on the Zohar and a number of works devoted to portions of the Talmud.

Suggested Reading

Yehoshu‘a Mondshine, “The Fluidity of Categories in Hasidism: Averah lishmah in the Teachings of R. Zevi Elimelekh of Dynow,” in Hasidism Reappraised, ed. Ada Rapoport-Albert, pp. 301–320 (London, 1996); Natan Ortner, Ha-R. Rav Tsevi Elimelekh mi-Dinov, 3rd ed., 2 vols. (Lod, Isr., 1988); Mendel Piekarz, Ha-Hanhagah ha-Ḥasidit (Jerusalem, 1999), pp. 336–362.



Translated from Hebrew by Jeffrey Green