The recent illness of the Baal Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Israel Meir HaCohen of Radin, 91 years old, whose condition in view of his advanced years has occasioned great anxiety, recalls his rise to fame and his wide influence on orthodox Jewry.
The Baal Chofetz Chaim, as he is popularly known to indicate his authorship of the great work on the Jewish ways of life by which he made his reputation, is honored by orthodox Jewry throughout the world as the supreme rabbinical authority of the present age.
He has described himself as “a simple jew, believing and following what the Torah says, and nothing more.” He has made his home in the small out-of-the-way town of Radin, not in any of the great centers, and has kept himself simple, meek and humble, and has refused all honors.
He has never held an official position as Rabbi, and has never taken any payment for his Rabbinical work. He used to travel over the country, visiting all the Jewish towns and villages, selling his books for whatever he was offered, in order to spread the knowledge of Judaism, but without disclosing his identity, and as if he were only an itinerant bookseller. All his life he has supported himself by selling things for his living. When he first settled in Radin he opened a herring shop, and afterwards a grocery shop, and all the Jews of the town became his customers. When he realized that the other shopkeepers were suffering as a result of that, he closed his shop, and again took to traveling the country with his books. The Jews of Radin then asked him to become their official Rabbi, but he refused to do that. He has since then repeatedly refused offers of important Rabbinical positions in big cities. When the Jews of Radin insisted that, living among them, he must be their Rabbi, he accepted the position on two conditionsâ€”the first, that he should not receive any salary from the community, and the second that his decisions in religious matters must be obeyed by all of them. Once a Radin Jew refused to obey his judgment, rendered according to Jewish law, and the Chofetz Chaim immediately sent back his contract as Rabbi to the community, and from that time has held no official post as Rabbi.
Of the Jewish organizations, the only one with which the Chofetz Chaim identified himself was the Agudath Israel, because of its strict adhesion to Jewish law, and he was a member of its Rabbinical Council. He was greatly attached, at the same time, to Palestine, and had several times contemplated settling there. He was a great