Yehuda Leib Leib Vilner

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About Yehuda Leib Leib Vilner

Biography from Chaim Freedman's book

"Eliyahu's Branches, the Descendants of the Vilna Gaon and His family" (Avotaynu 1997):

Few details of Yehudah Leib's life are recorded, nor have any books written by him been located. His only written legacy consists of the introductions to his father's writings, signed in most cases jointly by Yehudah Leib and his brother Avraham. There is one introduction which is signed solely by Yehudah Leib and therefore can probably be considered as the only written example of his scholarship. This appears as the introduction to "Mikhtav Eliyahu", the Gaon's commentary on Shir Hashirim and Habakuk, published in Prague in 1811. The reason that Yehudah Leib alone signed the introduction is that his brother Avraham had already died in 1808. If other relevant books published between 1808 and 1816 could be located, perhaps additional writings of Yehudah Leib might be discovered. The actual content of this introduction is not particularly unique, as it repeats material used in other introductions to the Gaon's works.

The chronological order of the Gaon's children is discussed in the introduction to this book. The fact that Yehudah Leib was older than his better known brother Avraham can be seen from the fact that in all cases his signature appears first. The terminology used in referring to the two brothers provides some clues as to the differences in their character.

The Gaon's commentary on the Order Zeraim was published under the name "Shnot Eliyahu" by his son-in-law Moshe of Pinsk in 1799 in Lemberg. The title page refers to the Gaon's sons as follows:

"His honour the outstanding Rabbi, the righteous and modest teacher Leibush and his brother the outstanding, astute, expert, perfect scholar, our teacher Avraham."

Moshe of Pinsk refers to his brothers-in-law as:

"My two honourable brothers-in-law who are as refined as gold, the outstanding Rabbi, the perfect scholar, righteous in his ways and impeccable in his actions, our teacher Rabbi Arye Leibush and his brother the great Rabbi, outstanding, astute,expert, the perfect scholar, our teacher Avraham."

The subtle differences in terminology indicate that whilst Avraham may have been the greater scholar, Yehudah Leib was recognised for qualities of modesty and saintliness.

According to Rabbi Fishman-Maimon ("Sefer Hagra"):

"I heard what was told by the elderly scholars of Vilna that the reason why the voice of Reb Yehudah Leib was not heard and his name not known so much, was that he settled in Poland, that state where Khassidism started to spread amongst the masses even during his lifetime, and he chose to be silent and not get involved in the controversy".

"The Gaon preferred the Oral Law rather than the Written Law, such that his son Yehudah Leib used to read the Torah but he had the Gemarah read to him and then he would relate what he recalled from his father. He quoted his father's preference that hearing was more important than seeing, based on the Tractate Nezikim (damages) where it is stated that the punishment of he who causes damage to another's sense of hearing is greater than that due for damage to the sense of sight. The ear hears what has been conveyed by oral tradition handed down from the former generations, from person to person."

Another reason why Yehudah Leib moved from Vilna to Serhei was due to his marriage to a daughter of the Rabbi of that town, Avraham ben Yekhezkel.

The order and date of birth of some of Yehudah Leib's children has not ben documented.

Several of the Gaon's manuscripts remained in the possession of Yehudah Leib, such as his commentary on "Shir Hashirim" which the Gaon actually completed whilst staying with his son in Serhei. The introduction to this book describes the enthusiasm of the Gaon on this occasion:

"He was so ecstatic that he called his Mekhutan the Gaon the Rabbi of Serhei and his older son our teacher Rabbi Leib, and ordered them to seal his room and close the windows. Many candles were lit even though it was daytime and when he finished he lifted up his eyes to praise Heaven."

The Gaon's disciple Menakhem Mendel of Shklov who published the Gaon's commentary on Masekhet Avot writes in his introduction:

"I desire to announce publicly that these notes came into my hands from his elder son, the great Rabbi, renowned in Torah and Fear of Heaven, scholarly and wise, his honour our teacher the Rabbi Yehudah Leib, may his light shine on. They were copied from the pages of the Shas of his father our master the Gaon."

Due to his illness Yehudah Leib travelled to Koenigsberg to consult the doctors, but died on the way, near the Prussian border, and was buried in Neustadt, on the Sabbath of 25th Shevat 5676 (1816). The tombstone reads:

"May his glory rest, a man of YEHUDAH,

Night and Day he toiled in Torah and commentaries,

Trumpets raise and proclaim: YEHUDAH,

Expert in Bible, Mishnah, Gemarah, and Agadah,

Son of the great Gaon and Khassid, our teacher ELIYAHU of blessed and righteous memory, from Vilna.

He passed away on the 25th of Shevat 5576 (= 1816)

May his soul be bound up in the bond of everlasting life

Notes by Malka Mysels:

Judah Leib, son of Vila Gaon, was born in Vilna about 1740 and died in Neustadt Sherwint in 1816. He lived in Seirijai where his father was the chief rabbi. He, together with his younger brother, Abraham Ragoler, published some of his father's works.

He was the progenitor of a large family. Members of the Wilner family in Warsaw descend from him as well as an English branch which includes Sir Hermann Gollancz (1852-1930), the first English rabbi to receive a knighthood ( in 1923 ).

Judah Leib's daughter Gitel, married Isaac Danzig.

Another daughter, Hinde, married Joseph Cohen. They were the progenitors of a Kossowsky family whose descendants included Elke, wife of Gedaliah Bublick (1875-1948), noted Hebrew journalist and writer, an Orthodox Zionist leader, and one of the founders of the American Jewish Congress, and editor -in-chief of the New York Jewish Daily News from 1915. Descendants include some noted American rabbis.

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Yehuda Leib Leib Vilner's Timeline

1764
1764
Vilnius, Lithuania
1765
1765
Age 1
1785
1785
Age 21
Serhei, Lithuania
1786
1786
Age 22
Serhai, Lithuania
1787
1787
Age 23
Vilna, Lithuania
1789
1789
Age 25
1791
1791
Age 27
Lithuania
1791
Age 27
Serhei, Lithuania
1791
Age 27
1816
1816
Age 52