Friday, August 30, 2019

Rabbi Shmuel Salant

On the 29th of Av, 1909, corresponding to August 16th, Rabbi Shmuel Salant, Jerusalem’s long-time Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi, passed away.

Rabbi Shmuel was born in 1816 in Bialystok, then part of Czarist Russia. His formal Jewish education took place in Vilna, Salant and the famed Yeshiva of Volozhin. When he married the eldest daughter of Rabbi Yosef Zundel of Salant (1781-1866), he began using his father-in-law’s last name. Rav Zundel was the inspiration for several famed students including Rabbi Israel Lipkin (Salanter) (no relation to Rabbi Shmuel Salant), recognized as the founder of the 19th century mussar movement. Rabbi Yisrael referred to Rabbi Zundel as the “light of the whole world.”

Due to suffering from damaged lungs, Rabbi Shmuel was advised to seek out a warmer climate. So in 1840, Rabbi Shmuel, his wife, and their son Binyomin Beinish, journeyed across Europe, destined for Jerusalem. While in Constantinople, Rabbi Shmuel happened upon Sir Moses Montefiore, who was on his way to Damascus to defend Jews who were falsely accused in the Damascus Blood Libel. Rav Shmuel’s friendship with Sir Moses would become helpful in building up western Jerusalem.

Upon his arrival in Jerusalem in 1841, Rav Shmuel was immediately appointed rabbi of the Ashkenazi community. In 1848, Rav Shmuel was dispatched to the Eastern European Jewish communities to raise funds for the Yishuv (Jewish settlement in Palestine). Rav Shmuel would regularly bring back contributions and distribute them to both the Ashkenazi community he represented and to the Sephardic community as well. Despite access to communal funds, Rav Shmuel was renowned for living in very austere conditions. Rabbi Salant brought aboard another sage who had moved to Jerusalem, Rabbi Meir Auerbach, to serve with him in the Jerusalem Chief Rabbinate and to take over while he was abroad collecting. Rabbi Salant preferred to defer to Rabbi Auerbach in formal rabbinic duties, but tragically, Rabbi Auerbach died in 1878, at the relatively young age of 63. Subsequently, Rabbi Salant assumed the sole helm of Jerusalem’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbinate until his death in 1909.

In 1860, Rav Shmuel succeeded in founding the Rabbi Meir Ba’al Ha’nes Salant charity to provide for all of the Yishuv’s impoverished members. Rabbi Salant also helped found the Etz Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem and the Bikur Cholim Hospital, two of the most important Yishuv institutions. He also encouraged Jews to move into newly established communities outside of Jerusalem’s Old City, where most of Jerusalem’s Jews were living at that time. This campaign was also done out of necessity, as Jerusalem’s population grew from 5,000 to 30,000 during his tenure as Chief Rabbi.

Rabbi Salant’s eyesight began failing him in 1888, which resulted in total blindness a few years later. In 1900, Rabbi Eliyahu David Rabinowitz – Teomim, known by the acronym, Aderet, was appointed as Rabbi Salant’s assistant and heir apparent. Unfortunately, the Aderet pre-deceased his mentor in 1905. (The Aderet was the father–in-law of future Chief Rabbi of Palestine, Rabbi Avraham Y. Hakohen Kook.)

Rav Shmuel Salant’s name is still pronounced with reverence throughout Jerusalem. May his memory be for a blessing.

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