History

From Poland to Hebron - Rabbi Immigrates to Israel in the 1730s

Rabbi Eliyahu Ben Shmuel of Lublin braved a storm at sea to live in the city of the founding fathers and mothers.

30.3.17, 17:00
(PHOTO: Wall mural in Hebron entitled "A Pious Community: 10th - 19th Century" by local artist Sarah Haya Dribben.)
 
The modern Jewish Community of Hebron started in 1968 when the pioneers, euphoric over Israel's dramatic victory during the Six Day War, returned to the cities taken from them during the Jordanian occupation. But moving to Hebron is something Jewish people have been doing for generations. In fact, Hebron could be considered the first Jewish city, when Abraham and Sarah immigrated back in Genesis chapter 13.
 
Despite wars, earthquakes, famines and persecution by non-Jewish authorities, Hebron continued to attracted spiritual seekers looking to connect to their Abrahamic faith. 
 
One such person was Rabbi Eliyahu Ben Shmuel of Lublin, (known in English as Rabbi Elijah ben Samuel of Lublin.)
 
Rabbi Eliyahu was born in Lublin, Poland, in approximatley the year 1655. His father, Rabbi Shmuel, was a descendant of Rabbi Moshe Halpern, the author of "Zichron Moshe," which was published in Lublin in the year 1637.
 
The Halpern family was considered a prominent family among the Jews of Poland. In the introduction to his book, Yad Eliyahu, Rabbi Eliyahu describes the Jewish community as being well-connected and Lublin as being a hub of activity. He recalls about how as a young boy he attended the meetings of the Council of Four Lands, which took place there.
 
At an early age, Rabbi Eliyahu moved to Brisk where he studied with prominent rabbis. At the time the status of the Jews in Poland was not good, due to the Cossacks rebellion, the attacks of Bogdan Chmielnicki, the war with Sweden and other disasters.
 
Rabbi Eliyahu left Poland, and he went to Moravia, today in the eastern section of the Czech Republic. It was there that a fire broke out destroying all of his possessions. 
 
"The finger of God touched me by sending a huge fire that burned all I had, in the middle of the night, on Shabbat eve," he wrote. "No pillow or any cover was left behind... And I wept that no books remained from the four hundred that I owned, even including my favorite small Torah scroll. It was burned with all the silver utensils, everything burned. And when I came back to my city I could not find the place of my home, since everything was burned. But a man came to me with the good news that three manuscripts had been saved."
 
As a result of the fire, Rabbi Eliyahu decided that the time had come to publish his books. Yad Eliyahu was published in 1712 in Amsterdam. It is a scholarly collection of responsia to issues brought up in the Shulchan Aruch, written in a clear and brief style. One such issue is the question of whether or not people can put themselves in mortal danger for the sake of saving a friend's life. Rabbi Eliyahu discusses various historical figures from the Talmud who risked their lives for others and the moral ramifications. Source: daat.ac.il.
 
(IMAGE: The title page of Yad Eliyahu. Source: Hebrew Books.)
 
In his old age, Rabbi Eliyahu decided to fulfill his life long dream and move to the Land of Israel. On the journey, his ship ran into a huge storm and was destroyed.
 
Miraculously, both Rabbi Eliyahu and his books were saved. He stayed in Constantinople, Turkey, before continuing to Israel where he made Hebron his home. He died there in 1735 and was buried in the ancient Jewish cemetery along with many other sages.
 
In his book "Shem HaGedolim" the CHIDA, Rabbi Chaim David Azulai, of a prominent Hebron family, wrote:
 
"I heard from the elders of the rabbis of Hebron about his great knowledge, and how he would go at midnight to read Tehillim with great weeping. Streams of water flowed from his eyes."
 
The CHIDA, who served as an emissary for Hebron, developed a list of important rabbinic leaders buried in the ancient cemetery. Rabbi Eliyahu of Lublin appears on that list. Although the graves were later destroyed during the Jordanian occupation of 1948 - 1967, the list is now displayed on a plaque at the cemetery and can be seen today. 
 
Special thanks to Rabbi Yosef Leichter, author of a biographical sketch of Rabbi Eliyahu Ben Shmuel of Lublin. For the full article read: The Arduous Journey from Lublin to the City of the Fathers.