Rabbi Baruch HaLevi Epstein
(1860 - 1941)
In 1902, Rabbi Epstein published his Torah Temima
which became one of the most popular sefarim of the century. Baruchs
father, Rabbi Yechiel Michel, was the rabbi of Novorodak and author
of the classic Aruch HaShulchon
, and his uncle was the illustrious
Rabbi Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, Rosh Yeshiva of the famed Volozhin
Yeshiva. The family was of Sefardic
extraction, whose name was originally Benveniste. However, after the
Spanish Expulsion they were permitted to settle in the German city of
Epstein and apparently in gratitude adopted Epstein as their own name.
Possessed of a photographic memory, Baruch was a brilliant
student and though he received semicha from some of the greatest rabbis
of the time, declined to accept a rabbinical position. Instead he worked
as an accountant and banker in Pinsk.
The object of the Torah Temima is to show the
interrelationship between the Oral and Written Law.
His method is to quote comments and interpretations from the vast Rabbinical
literature on each Biblical verse and then to provide his own analysis
of how the interpretations were deduced. His comments are stimulating
and absorbing. An English translation of The Essential Torah Temima was recently published by Rabbi Shraga Silverstein.
During the first World War, Pinsk was in dire financial
straits and Rabbi Baruch was unable to concentrate on his Talmudical
studies. Instead, he wrote his memoirs, Mekor Baruch, in four
large volumes, containing over 2000 pages. They are a candid and fascinating
portrait of his family and the leading personalities of the previous
generation. Rabbi Baruch sees Mendelssohns fatal flaws in his denial of Jewish national identity in the diaspora.
For Mendelssohn the Jews were a religion but their nationality was that
of the country in which they lived. This concept had disastrous consequences.
Rabbi Baruch also wrote Tosefot Bracha on the
Pentateuch and Baruch She-amar on the prayers.
However, his magnum opus remains the Torah Temima, which was
published when his father was still alive. In his brief letter of blessing
Rabbi Yechiel Michel comments on how apt the title is for when the Torah
is Temima, meaning that the Oral and Written Law are shown to be an
organic entity, then in fact it is meshivat nefesh, it restores the
Rabbi Baruch came to the United States in 1923 but
was unable to find a suitable position and returned to Pinsk in 1926.