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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. Baruch’s 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 Mendelssohn’s 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 soul.

Rabbi Baruch came to the United States in 1923 but was unable to find a suitable position and returned to Pinsk in 1926.

Sources: Orthodox Union