Baal Chofetz Chaim Greatest Rabbinical Authority of Our Age Critically Ill at 91
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Baal Chofetz Chaim Greatest Rabbinical Authority of Our Age Critically Ill at 91

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There is great concern in Polish Jewry over a report from Radin, that the venerable Gaon, the Baal Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Israel Meir HaCohen of Radin, who is 91 years of age, is critically ill there and in view of his great age is not expected to recover.

The Baal Chofetz Chaim as he is popularly known to indicate his authorship of the great work on the Jewish way of life by which he made his reputation, is honoured 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 centres, and has kept himself simple, meek and humble, and has refused all honours.

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 realised that the other shopkeepers were suffering as a result of that, he closed his shop, and again took to travelling 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 conditions-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 organisations 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 peacemaker, and always endeavoured to make peace between Rabbis and other Jews, and he effected the reconciliation between the famous Hassidic Rabbis of Ger and Belz.

The persecution of the Jewish faith in Soviet Russia has been a great sources of sorrow to him, and he has repeatedly asked Jewish communities to recite special prayers of intercession in the synagogues on behalf of the Jews of Russia.

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