STRASHUN, MATHIAS (Mattityahu; 1819–1885), talmudic scholar, founder of the Strashun Library. Mathias, the son of Samuel *Strashun, was born in Vilna. His family was well-to-do and at the age of 13 he married the eldest daughter of the wealthy Joseph Elijah Eliasberg and was financially independent during his whole life. According to his own testimony (Ha-Maggid, 3 (1859), 158), in his youth he already began to make marginal notes on every book he read and acquired a profound mastery of every branch of Jewish scholarship. He knew Greek and Latin, as well as Russian, Polish, and German, and had an extensive knowledge of philosophy, history, and astronomy. When H.M. *Pineles and H.S. *Slonimski had a difference of opinion on an astronomical-calendrical point, they agreed to submit the dispute to Strashun for his final decision (ibid., 12 (1868), 149). He was approached to accept the position of rabbi of Berlin but refused. Besides his scholarly activities, he was a prominent communal leader, the head of the Ẓedakah Gedolah (which in effect was the official organization of the community of Vilna) of the ḥevra kaddisha, and was responsible for the collection of funds for Ereẓ Israel. He was one of the heads of the *Mekiẓe Nirdamim society. Independent, he adopted a firm attitude and showed considerable initiative. Strashun was held in esteem by the government authorities; he was appointed to the city council of Vilna and was a member of the Vilna branch of the Russian Imperial Bank in 1869, and was decorated by the government.
Only one work by Strashun has been published, the Mattat Yah (1892), a commentary on, and annotation to, the Midrash Rabbah, edited by his friend Shalom Pludermacher, who included it in a bibliographical list of Strashun's 316 periodical publications. It was in those publications, including Pirḥei Ẓafon, Kerem Ḥemed, Ha-Maggid, and Ha-Levanon, that, generally under the title Minḥah Belulah ba-Shemen, Strashun published his researches, but mostly not under his own name, using a wide variety of noms de plume, either initials, or such names as Ani Ve-Hu, Ve-Hu Ve-Hu, etc. They also appeared in the Israelitische Literaturblatt (1883) and his annotations to the Midrash were published in A. *Wuensche's German translation of the Midrash Rabbah. His selected writings appeared in Hebrew in 1969.
Strashun was a devoted bibliophile and book collector and his extensive library, bequeathed to the Vilna community, contained over 5,700 volumes, many personally annotated by him. The library was opened to the public in 1892, and in 1901 it was transferred to a house specially erected for the purpose in the courtyard of the synagogue. The first director of the library, Samuel Strashun, edited and published a catalog of the library in his Likkutei Shoshannim (1889). After his death, the library was headed by his son Isaac Strashun. The librarian Khaykel Lunski, who supervised the reading room, became one of the most popular figures in Vilna. Over the years, many books were added to the library, mainly from the contributions and estates of authors and rabbis of Vilna. From 1928 the University of Vilna sent a copy of every book published in Poland in Hebrew or Yiddish to the library. By the late 1930s, there were over 35,000 books in the library, the overwhelming majority of them dealing with Hebraica and Judaica. There were also 150 manuscripts and five incunabula. The library served the vast number of students, teachers, journalists, and authors of Vilna. Various scientific circles convened in the library building. Zalman *Shneour described it in his poem "Vilna." When the Nazis occupied the town in the summer of 1941, they destroyed some of the books and transferred others to Frankfurt. Several thousand books were found after World War II and distributed among the YIVO Library in New York and the National Library and other libraries in Ereẓ Israel.
D. Radner, in: Keneset ha-Gedolah, 1 (1890), 3rd pagination, 25f.; Ha-Asif, 2 (1886), 45–47; 3 (1887), 122; S. Pludermacher, "Zikkaron la-Ḥakham," in: M. Strashun, Mattat Yah (1892); K. Lunski, in: Y. Yeshurin (ed.), Vilne; A Zamlbukh … (1935), 273–87; J.L. Maimon, Middei Ḥodesh be-Ḥodsho, 6 (1960), 111ff.; Z. Haravy, Le-Ḥeker Mishpeḥot (1953), 47f.; idem, in: Aresheth, 3 (1961), 426–9; idem, in: S. Federbush (ed.), Ḥokhmat Yisrael be-Ma'arav Eiropah, 3 (1965), 345–55; S. Federbush, Ḥikrei Yahadut (1965), 319–24; M. Berger, in: Z. Scharfstein (ed.), Ha-Ḥinnukh ve-ha-Tarbut ha-Ivrit be-Eiropah Bein Shetei Milḥamot ha-Olam (1957), 511–9; Ḥ. Lunski,
Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.