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Jewish Commentators — Their Lives and Works

 

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Yisrael Meir HaKohen Kagan
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Hebrew Name(s): ישראל מאיר הכהן; החפץ חיים
Other Names: Chafetz Chaim, Yisrael Meir Kagan Poupko, Chofetz Chaim, Yisrael Meir Cohen, Israel Meir Ha-Kohen Kagan, Haffetz Hayyim
Period: Acharonim — 19th–20th Century
Location: Lithuania
Dates: 1838–1933

Biography:
Rabbi Yisrael Meir HaKohen Kagan (The Chafetz Chaim) is considered one of the greatest sages during the mid 1800's and early 1900's. He was a halakhist, posek and ethicist and wrote several works which continue to be influential. One of them was the Mishnah Breruah, which is based on the Shulḥan Arukh's Oraḥ Ḥayyim. The first volume was printed in 1884. It took Kagan approximately 28 years to complete all six volumes.
 
The Chafetz Chaim taught Talmud in Minsk and Washilishok and, in 1869, established a yeshivah in Radin which became known as the Yeshivah of Chofetz Chaim of Radin. His son-in-law, Mendel Zaks, the last Rosh Yeshivah of Radin, later re-established the yeshivah in the United States.
 
Rabbi Yisrael Meir Kagan died in Wilno, Poland and was honored by orthodox Jews as one of "the thirty six saints because of whose piety The Lord has not destroyed the world."

Works:
Mishnah Berurah (Clear Teaching); Be'ur Halachah (Explanation of the Law); Sha'ar Ha-Zion (Gate of Distinction); Chafetz Chayim (Seeker/Desirer of Life); Sh'mirat HaLashon (Guarding [of] the Tongue); Ahavat Ḥesed; Machaneh Yisrael; Tiferet Adam; Geder Olam; Nidchei Yisrael; Shem Olam; Chomat Hadas; Likutei Halachot; Giboret Ari; Taharat Yisrael; Torat Kohanim; Asifat Zikainim; Chovat Hashmirah; Torat Habayis; Zechor Limiriam; Beit Yisrael; Sefer Hamitzvot Hakotzer; Tzipita L'Yeshuah (Have You Yearned the Redemption)

Comments:
Mishnah Berurah is a six-volume commentary on the Shulḥan Arukh,  Oraḥ Ḥayyim. It is usually printed with a reference section, Sha'ar Ha-Zion and additional glosses, Be'ur Halakhah. The typical print of the Mishnah Berurah includes in addition to the above, the commentaries on the Shulḥan Arukh, Beer Heiteiv by R. Yehuda Ashkenazi, Shaarei Teshuva by R. Mordechai Margolioth and Beer HaGolah by R. Moshe Rivkes.
Chafetz Chayim deals with the Biblical laws of gossip and slander.
Sh'mirat HaLashon is a comprehensive discussion of the philosophy behind the Jewish concepts of power of speech and guarding one's speech.
Biur Halachah is a commentary relating to the Mishnah Berurah. It usually provides complex analysis of the legal rulings of earlier Jewish legal decisors.
Sha'ar HaTziyyun documents sources for laws and customs quoted in the Mishnah Berurah, but sometimes serves also to clarify ambiguous legal statements.
Ahavat Ḥesed —on the commandment of lending money to the needy.
Machaneh Yisrael —on the minimum and manner of observing the Jewish commandments for a soldier in the army.
Tiferet Adam —on the importance of a Jew having a beard and peyot (sidelocks).
Geder Olam —on the importance of a married Jewish woman covering her hair.
Chomat Hadas —on the importance of the study of Torah, and encouraging others to learn, as well as the need to create groups in every city wherein a man could acquire Torah.
Taharat Yisrael —on the importance of women to purify themselves in the waters of a mikvah (ritual bath) in accordance with accepted halakhic practice.
Sefer Hamitzvot Hakotzer —on those biblical commandments that are applicable during the exile, outside the land of Israel, and when the temple is not in existence.
Tzipita L'Yeshuah is based on a passage from Tractate Shabbat, which states that after one passes away, he is asked by the heavenly court: "Have you yearned for the redemption?"

 

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