boyan hasidim mount of olives 311.
(photo credit: Natalie Arviv)
Naturally we tend to best remember those hassidic masters who published books,
or left behind manuscripts that were brought to press by their descendants or
disciples. Of course, not all hassidic masters bequeathed written works of
significance, and many of them live on in hassidic lore.
Among those who
did leave writings, few could be said to have a panoramic oeuvre. One such
master was Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Shapira of Munkacs (1850-1913), who is often
overshadowed in collective memory by his firebrand son.
Rabbi Zvi Hirsch
was born in Strzyzow – then in Galicia and today in Poland – and moved in 1882
to the Hungarian town of Munkacs, when his father was invited to serve as the
town rabbi. In Munkacs, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch served at the head of the rabbinical
court. Upon his father’s death in 1893, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch was set to inherit his
father’s position. Alas, his unfamiliarity with the Hungarian language
meant he could not be appointed to the official position of rabbi of Munkacs.
That meant he could not draw a salary, nor could he preach in the main
Nevertheless, in practical terms, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch continued
at the helm of the community, serving as rabbi and hassidic master for 20 years.
His literary output is panoramic, offering significant works in three fields:
Halacha, Kabbala and hassidism.
In the same year that his father died,
Rabbi Zvi Hirsch published the first volume of what was to become a monumental
work in Jewish law: Darchei Teshuva (Wilno 1893). In this work, he endeavored to
compile the gamut of decisions from the responsa literature and catalogue them
according to the sections of Rabbi Yosef Karo’s Shulhan Aruch. This work became
an extremely useful compendium for matters of ritual law and was accepted beyond
For the next 20 years, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch published a
further four sections of Darchei Teshuva. When he died, the final two sections
were in preparation.
Just before his death, he published a collection of
84 responsa and talmudic analyses, under the title Responsa Zvi Tiferet (Munkacs
1912). Responsa are often considered the most valuable halachic output, since
they offer analyses of actual questions in real time, as opposed to halachic
works that are written in the comfort of an ivory tower. In the eyes of Rabbi
Zvi Hirsch, however, this work was merely musings on halachic matters of his
“sinful youth,” as he described it.
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In fact, Munkacs tradition has it
that only by happenstance were these writings discovered by one of his
disciples, who urged his teacher to allow their publication. Rabbi Zvi Hirsch’s
son would later say that many more writings existed, but he did not feel he had
the license from his father to publish them.
Rabbi Zvi Hirsch also
authored a commentary on the kabbalistic work Tikkunei Zohar, one of the
appendices to the Zohar, that offers 70 interpretations of the first word of the
Torah. His commentary, Be’er Lahai Roi (Munkacs 1903- 1909), is considered one
of the prime works on this kabbalistic treatise, which was first printed in
Mantua, Italy, in 1558. Here, too, Rabbi Zvi Hirsch did not complete the work,
printing two volumes and leaving a third in manuscript.
But some of the
credit for his literary output must be apportioned to his son and successor,
Rabbi Hayyim Elazar Shapiro (1871-1937). Upon the death of Rabbi Zvi Hirsch, his
son was left with a slew of his father’s manuscripts. Rabbi Hayyim Elazar
diligently set about publishing these works. Within a year, he had published his
father’s hassidic commentary to the Pessah Haggada, Tiferet Banim (Munkacs
1913), and before the onset of the Great War, he managed to publish a further
work – Darchei Emuna (Munkacs 1914), Rabbi Zvi Hirsch’s talks on Hanukka. The
son described his father’s deep connection to that festival, suggesting that his
father’s soulroot must be identical to that of Yehuda the Maccabee.
the war, once the Hungarian Munkacs had become Czechoslovakian Mukacevo, Rabbi
Hayyim Elazar set about completing the unfinished works of his father: the final
two sections of Darchei Teshuva on the laws of nidda (Bratislava 1921) and on
the laws of mikve (Mukacevo 1934), and the third volume of Be’er Lahai Roi
(Berehovo 1921). He also published his father’s hassidic talks on the weekly
Torah portions, Tiferet Banim (Bardejov 1921).
All in all, Rabbi Zvi
Hirsch bequeathed a wide range of literary works, spanning Jewish law, Jewish
mysticism and hassidic thought.
The writer is on the faculty of Pardes
Institute of Jewish Studies and is a rabbi in Tzur Hadassah.
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