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Chaim Yitzchak Bloch Hacohen

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Chaim Yitzchak Bloch Hacohen

Chaim Yitzchak Hacohen Bloch
Born Chaim Yitzchak Bloch
September 14, 1865
Plunge, Lithuania
Died February 17, 1948
Jersey City, New Jersey
Resting place Riverside Cemetery, Saddle Brook, NJ
Occupation Rabbi, Scholar, Community Activist
Language Yiddish, Hebrew, Russian
Nationality Lithuanian, American
Ethnicity Jewish
Citizenship United States
Education Yeshivas Grubin (Kelm), Yeshivas Volozhin
Genres Talmudics, Jewish Thought, Jewish Law
Notable award(s) Honorary President of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis of the United States and Canada
Spouse(s) Gitte Sarah Meshulami
Children Abraham, Max, Leo, Benjamin, Sam, Elias, Ruth, Shaina Henna

Chaim Yitzchak Hacohen Bloch(1865-1948) was a prominent Lithuanian born rabbi. In 1922 he left Europe to the United States, where he became the Rabbi and Av Beit Din (head judge of religious court) of Jersey City, New Jersey. He remained there until his death in 1948.[1][2][3]

Youth

Bloch was born in Plunge, Lithuania, on September 14th 1865 to an illustrious rabbinic family with strong family roots traced back to the Shach and Shlah Hakadosh.[4][5] Until the age of 15, Bloch was taught Torah by his father, the Gaon Rav Hanoch Zundel Hacohen (who incidentally was also the shochet of the town).[6][7] After turning 15, Bloch left Plunge to go study Torah by Rav Simcha Zissel in Yeshivat Grobin.[8][9] Unique in its time, the Yeshivah at Grobin had a dual curriculum of Jewish and Secular studies.[10][11] Under the guidance of Rav Simcha Zissel, the young teenager grew very diligent in his Torah study and rose to an advanced level in Talmud.[12] The heavy emphasis on Mussar in the Yeshivah had a major impact on Bloch's personality for the rest of his life, and his refined character traits were recognized by many.[1][13][14]

Formative years

At the age of 18, young Chaim Bloch decided to leave Grobin and learn instead in the famed Volozhin Yeshiva under the illustrious Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik, the founder of the "Brisker Derech, and Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin-the "Netziv".[15] Rabbi Solovietchik had a deep love and admiration for his young disciple,[16][17] and Bloch studied under him for seven years. In 1890, at the age of 25, Bloch was granted semicha by his rebbe, Rabbi Chaim Solovietchik, as well as by the Telzer Rosh Yeshiva, Harav Eliezer Gordon.[18][19] While in Volozhin, Bloch devoted much of his time to a study of the Ritva's commentary on the Talmud. Bloch eventually developed a unique analytic approach to the Ritva's works, which he later employed in his super-commentary on the Ritva, the "Divrei Chibo".[20][21] As a yeshivah student, Bloch wrote for the Slutzk journal, Yagdil Torah, as well as Migdal Torah, another Talmudic based periodical.[22][23] Although Bloch spent most of his time in Volozhin immersed in the intellectually stimulating world of conceptual talmudic study, he also (like many students in Volozhin at this time[24] ) explored other areas of thought, most notably the Haskalah.[25] While in Volozhin, Bloch began writing for the Warsaw pro-Zionist pro Haskalah daily, Ha-Tzefirah,[26] and in 1887 at the age of 22, became editor of the column Wisdom of Israel.[22][27][28]

Rosh Yeshiva of Plunge Yeshiva

If Bloch had left his hometown of Plunge as a promising adolescent of 15, he now returned (1891) an accomplished talmudic scholar with rabbinic ordination from the most prestigious Yeshiva in Europe and a primary disciple of Rabbi Chaim Solovietchik; a true rising star on the European rabbinic scene.[29][30] In the year 1895, Bloch founded a Yeshiva in Plunge for elite high-school aged students.[31][32][33] He was the Rosh Yeshiva and primary talmudic instructor at the Yeshiva for four years.[34] Other rabbinical faculty members were Rabbi Shlomo Itzel, Rabbi Zelig, and Rabbi Ben-Zion Feldman.[35] During his tenure as Rosh Yeshiva, he oversaw the development of numerous budding torah scholars, including the future Ponevhzer Rav, Rav Yosef Kahaneman.[36][37] Bloch recognized Kahaneman's potential as a future leader of Jewry and showered him with special attention and praise.[38] Bloch taught the young Kahaneman at a pace appropriate for his abilities and age,[39] and is credited as being the rebbe who inspired Kahaneman to greatness in Torah learning.[20][40]

Rabbi of Palongen

After serving for four years as the Rosh Yeshivah of the Plunge Yeshiva, Bloch was appointed the communal rabbi and Av Beis Din (head of Jewish court) of nearby Palongen, a seaside town on the shore of the Baltic.[18][41][42] Bloch was also the officially appointed government Rabbi.[43][44] A year into his position as Rabbi, Bloch heard that his prized disciple Yosef Kahanemen had not gotten into the Telz Yeshiva. Bloch invited his student to Palongen to study with him, and after a year of assisting the budding scholar in his talmudics, Kahanemen applied to Telz and was accepted.[45][46]

Rabbi of Bausk

Following the departure of Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook to head the Chief Rabbinate of Israel in 1904, the Jewish community of Bausk decided to elect Rabbi Bloch as his successor.[47][48] Bausk, a town in the Duchy of Courland, which (although at present times governed by Latvia) was under Russian control had Russian residence laws on the books which precluded Lithuanian Jews from residing within Courland. Bloch, a Lithuanian, succeeded in receiving rights of residence by filling the then vacant position of government district rabbi. To receive this position, Bloch completed the equivalent of a six year secondary school education.[31][49][50]

Later years and activism

In the aftermath of the carnage that World War I wreaked upon Europe, Bloch decided (1922) to move to Jersey City, New Jersey. Upon his arrival, he was appointed rabbi and created a thriving Jewish community. In 1932, Bloch was elected president of the Union of Orthodox Rabbis (Agudas Harabonim), which was at the time the foremost grouping of American rabbis. Although Rabbi Bloch left Europe, the plight of the European Jews was constantly on his mind. Due to this instinctive empathy for his fellow Jews, during World War II Bloch became one of the leaders of the Vaad HaHatzola, the famous organization that worked to save the Jews of Europe. Not content with his work at the Vaad Hahatzola, Bloch joined other forms of activism. In 1943, Bloch joined hundreds of other prominent rabbis from across the United States on the historic march on Washington. The rabbis’ march, which was organized by the Bergson Group together with the Vaad ha-Hatzala (the Orthodox rescue committee), was the only rally for rescue of Europe's Jews that was held in the nation's capitol during the Holocaust. The march was an important part of the campaign to alert the American public about the mass murder of the Jews and the need for rescue.[51]

Scholarly works

Bloch was not only a beloved pulpit rabbi, but also a scholar of great erudition. Below is a list of Seforim (books) on Talmud, Halachah, and Ethics that Rabbi Bloch compiled.

  • Divrei Chiba on Chidushei Haritvah Meseches Moed Katan (1935) [52]
  • Divrei Chiba on Chidushei Haritvah Meseches Meggilah (1937) [53]
  • Divrei Chiba on Chidushei Haritvah Meseches Makkos (1939) [54]
  • Divrei Chiba on Halachah(1941) [55]
  • Kovetz Klalim (1934)- A Treatise on Stare Decisis in Jewish Law[56]
  • Ha-Moach Ve-Ha-Lev (1935) - An ethical-philosophical work [56]
  • Likutei Harayiv (1904) (Anonymous)[57]
  • Hamavhin (1928) (Anonymous)[57]

Continuation of legacy

Bloch's legacy was passed on to his children. His son Rabbi Abraham P. Bloch was ordained at the Rabbi Issac Elchanan Theological Seminary and consequently became the Rabbi of Temple Petach Tikvah in Crown Heights. He also authored numerous scholarly books such as "Day by Day in Jewish History", "Midrashic Comments on the Torah", and " A book of Jewish Ethical Concepts."[58] Rabbi Abraham Bloch also continued in the tradition of his father by blending his pulpit duties with communal activism.

References

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