The fourth of Kislev is the yahrzeit of Chacham Eliyahu Kubo (d. 1688) who was born in Salonika, Greece, then part of the Ottoman Empire. His father, Chacham Yehuda Kubo, was sent by the community to beseech Sultan Murat IV to lower the taxes on the local cloth dyers. The Sultan did not take kindly to his request and executed him. Chacham Eliyahu attended the yeshiva of Chacham Chaim Shabti, in Salonika, a posek who received shailos from all over the Balkans.
Over time, Rav Eliyahu was appointed rosh yeshiva and among his students was the Chacham Tzvi who had traveled from Moravia in order to absorb the Sephardic learning style. Beginning in 1659, Chacham Eliyahu faced the challenges posed by a visit from Shabsai Tzvi. His efforts at forestalling Shabbatean influence came to naught when after the death of Shabsai Tzvi Salonkia became a center of Shabbatean thought. A decade later 300 members of the community left Judaism and converted to Islam.
Throughout his tenure Salonika was wracked by famine and constant warfare between Turkey and Venice. His responsa were published posthumously by his grandchildren.
* * *
The fifth of Kislev is the yahrzeit of Rav Dovid Luria (RADAL) (1798-1855). A descendant of the Maharshal, he was born in Bychaŭ, today part of Belarus. His wealthy father hired private tutors for him. The breadth and depth of his Torah knowledge was readily apparent before his bar mitzvah and, as he had been born in the same year as the death of the Vilna Gaon, many saw him as the Gaon’s successor. He was engaged at age 12, and married the following year to a girl from Vilna, and spent the next six years in Vilna studying with the local rabbonim. During this time he prepared many of the teachings of the Vilna Gaon for publication.
He returned home and started a yeshiva which he did not lead; rather he used the fortune he had inherited from his father to support the yeshiva and other endeavors. He took a leadership role in freeing Jews who had been falsely accused in blood libels and he worked together with Moses Montefiore to improve the situation of European Jewry.
He studied foreign languages as well as the sciences. He was falsely accused of plotting against the Russian government, jailed and tried. In order that he not understand them, the judges began to speak amongst themselves in French. He was fluent in French so he walked to the far side of the room so as not to hear them. One of the judges berated him for his impertinence in walking away, and he explained to them that as they wanted to keep something secret from him it was only proper that he move away. They were so impressed that they declared him innocent of the charges.
He was considered by many to be the gadol hador. When the Volozhin Yeshiva appointed the Netziv and Bais HaLevi as roshei yeshiva he was asked to be the first to sign the declaration of appointment. When the Netziv later wrote his commentary on the She’iltos, the only haskama he sought was from the Radal. The Radal is probably best known for his commentary on Pirkei D’Rebbe Eliezer as well as his work showing that the Zohar was written by Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai.
* * *
The seventh of Kislev is the yahrzeit of Rav Sholom Elchonon Yaffee (1858-1923). A descendant of the Levush, he was born in a village near Ponovezh, attended Volozhin and received semicha from Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector and the Netziv, among others. Beginning in 1879 he served as rabbi in a number of Lithuanian communities. He then went on a visit to the United States where his parents were living and was offered a position in St. Louis.
He had a disagreement with Rav Zecharia Yosef Rosenfeld, who arrived in St. Louis around the same time, as to the proper Hebrew spelling of St. Louis and Mississippi when writing a get. Rav Rosenfeld held that the double letters in Mississippi must be written double in Hebrew as well, whereas Rav Yaffee held that since they don’t add anything to the pronunciation, single Hebrew letters are sufficient.
He was among the founders of the Agudas HaRabbonim as well as Ezras Torah. Although he and Rav Chaim Hirschensohn of Hoboken had strong disagreements about Religious Zionism – Rav Yoffee was opposed – Rav Chaim still referred to him as the “truest gaon in the United States.” They also disagreed about the halachic validity of converting women who were already married to Jewish men and not committed to Shabbos observance.
In later years he moved to New York where he was among the first to express his opinion as to the propriety of utilizing telegraph wires for an eruv. He served as a rosh yeshiva in RIETS as well as rav of Bais Medrash HaGadol.