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Ragoler, Elijah ben Jacob

RAGOLER, ELIJAH BEN JACOB (1794–1850), Lithuanian talmudist. Ragoler was born in Sogindat in the Zamut region. His only teacher was his father Jacob, a distinguished scholar and wealthy merchant. In his youth Elijah acquired a comprehensive knowledge of the Talmud, the rishonim, and the posekim – which he regarded as the essential elements of study in contrast to the prevalent methods of pilpul and hairsplitting unconnected with the definitive halakhah. He was renowned throughout Lithuania for his encyclopedic talmudic knowledge, and his contemporaries said of him that he had gone over the whole of the Talmud more than 400 times. He devoted himself to considerable study of the Kabbalah, in which he also became renowned. Nevertheless, he refused throughout his life to have any dealings with mystic exercises, despite the many appeals for prayers, amulets, etc. made to him by scholars and the common people. In his youth he spent some months with *Isaac of Volozhiner for the purpose of learning Kabbalah from him in accordance with the traditions which Isaac had received from *Elijah of Vilna. When, however, he lost hope of this he returned home. At that time, his father and father-in-law failed in business and Elijah was compelled to accept a rabbinical post. He first served as rabbi of the small town of Schatt near Keidany. From 1821 to 1824 he was rabbi of Ragola (Eiragola) where he gained his main reputation and from which he derived his name. From 1824 to 1840 he was rabbi of Slobodka and from 1840 until his death rabbi of Kalisz in Poland.

In addition to his great reputation as a posek and scholar in halakhah and Kabbalah, Elijah was distinguished for his diligence and application, and for his shrewdness and sincerity. During his last years he suffered from ill health as well as from the opposition of a group of members of the Kalisz community to whom the Lithuanian ways of their rabbi were strange. Despite this he did not hesitate to take a decisive attitude in his leadership of the community, and sided with Akiva *Lehren of Amsterdam in his violent opposition to the Reform conference of Brunswick (1844), organized by A. *Geiger. Ragoler's letter to Lehren differs from the many other letters of contemporary Orthodox rabbis in its exceptionally moderate tone. In contrast to them, Elijah held that the weapon of excommunication, prohibition of marriage, etc., should not be followed because of the grave danger it held for the whole of the Jewish community. In his view a sharp and unequivocal dissociation from the path of reform, and a warning to the public against it were necessary, but not a "war of destruction."

Ragoler left many manuscripts in all spheres of Torah study. According to the members of his family their number exceeded 35. Of these only one has been published: Yad Eliyyahu (1900), pt. I, 120 responsa and a methodology of the Talmud in alphabetical order, pt. II, talmudic novellae. Among his pupils were many great Lithuanian talmudists, including Mordecai Eliasberg and Joshua Heshel *Lewin. Many of his novellae are to be found in the works of other scholars, particularly in those of his pupils, including the Ilana de-Ḥayyei (1860–65) of Gershon Tanḥum. The Keneset ha-Gedolah, pt. 4 (1892), of Isaak *Suwalski cites many of his sayings on prayer.

Ragoler's brother, SAMUEL KELMER, was also a renowned scholar who went to Ereẓ Israel in the closing years of his life. Samuel was the father of Aryeh Leib *Frumkin.


A.L. Frumkin, Toledot Eliyyahu (1900); Urbach (ed.), in: Koveẓ al Yad, 6 (16) pt. 2 (1966), 535–53.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.