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Slonik (Solnik), Benjamin Aaron ben Abraham

SLONIK (Solnik), BENJAMIN AARON BEN ABRAHAM (c. 1550–c. 1619), Polish rabbi. Slonik was probably born in Grodno. He studied there in his youth under Nathan Nata Spiro. He was rabbi in Silesia (Joseph Katz, She'erit Yosef (Cracow, 1590), no. 47) and Podhajce (Meir of Lublin, Responsa, no. 110). He claims to have been in "Russia" as a youth (Masat Binyamin, no. 62), probably referring to southeastern Poland, which included the Ukraine and the Podolia region. He lived in Cracow for a period of time before and after the death of Moses *Isserles (ibid., no. 80), but since no questions in his responsa were addressed to him from Cracow or its environs, it is not likely that he served there as rabbi.

"Benjamin Aaron, ḥarif of Tykocin," appears as one of 30 signatories of the 1590 decree of the *Council of the Lands which reenacted the prohibition against offering a bribe in order to acquire a rabbinic post (Harkavy, Perles). This probably refers to Grodno since Tykocin bordered it. The two communities disputed sovereignty over a large territory, and if Slonik was born in that area he could have been considered to have come from either community, which explains why his name does not appear in the records of Tykocin. Slonik studied under Solomon *Luria (Maharshal), Moses Isserles, and Solomon b. Leibesh of Lublin whom he calls the "second Maharshal." Luria had the greatest influence on his work. From him he learned lucidity, expositional skill, stylistic and grammatical precision, and a scientific approach to Jewish law. Isserles' influence is apparent in Slonik's use of the responsum as a vehicle for a thoroughgoing discussion of the legal background and principles which pertain to the question under discussion. Solomon b. Leibesh and Nathan Spiro were themselves influenced by Kabbalah, and inspired Slonik's interest in that subject, expressed in chance statements (no. 7, 99) and in his giving unusual weight to the opinion of the Zohar (no. 62).

His Works

Slonik was the author of the following works:

(1) Masat Binyamin (Cracow, 1633; often republished), containing 112 responsa, for the most part arranged chronologically, and several pages of the author's novellae on the Shulḥan Arukh:

(2) Seder Mitzvot Nashim, Eyn schoen Frauenbuechlein, a very popular Yiddish book printed three times during the author's lifetime and translated into Italian, dealing with the three principle duties of women, but also giving moral teachings on the conduct of women in every phase of family life (Cracow, 1577, 1585; Basle, 1602; and often reprinted; first translated into Italian by Jacob b. Elhanan Heilbronn in 1614, published in Padua, 1625);

(3) Sefer ha-Ebronot, a treatise on the leap year in the Hebrew calendar;

(4) Seder Ḥaliẓah, on release from the requirements of the levirate marriage. The latter two books are not extant.

In his response he included questions and comments by his two sons, Abraham and Jakel. He also mentioned his grandson Faivel (no. 95), and his two daughters, one of whom died during her father's lifetime. Abraham, who was rabbi of Brest-Litovsk, wrote several notes to his father's responsa, and edited them. He showed high regard for his relation by marriage, Moses b. Abraham of Przemysl, author of Sefer Matteh Moshe and Sefer Ho'il Moshe, who was a signatory, together with Slonik, on the 1603 proclamation of the Jaroslaw synod of the Council of Four Lands authorizing the printing of new books.

His Decisions

Slonik had an independent mind and, unafraid of controversy, frequently disagreed with his teachers and colleagues. He opposed the decisions of his colleagues in Podhajce even as a newcomer to the area (no. 21). He issued decisions on controversial questions which colleagues had hesitated to answer (no. 7). Some of his decisions are based on entirely novel principles. Thus, he uses the scientific observation that quick freezing preserves a body for long periods of time to validate testimony identifying a victim long after the three-day limit after death would ordinarily apply (no. 104). He accepted no source without having seen it himself (nos. 11, 26, 37, 47, 75, 76, 109). He disparaged the method and the judgment of R. Mordecai *Jaffe, accusing him of eclecticism (no. 32). His attitude in questions dealing with cases of deserted wives (agunot) is in opposition to the strict interpretation of Ashkenazi rabbis. Although an Ashkenazi himself, he accepted the more lenient ruling of the Sephardi rabbi Elijah Mizraḥi, in order to help these unfortunate women (nos. 105, 109), for times had become troubled and there were many Jews who lost their lives in the wars which raged along their trade routes through Walachia to Constantinople (nos. 29, 44, 45, 63, 65, 98, 105, 109).

He decided some cases purely on the basis of logic (nos. 72, 90, 109), historical evidence (nos. 38 and 57), empirical observation (nos. 69 and 108), medical knowledge, and anatomical research (no. 49). He rejected R. Shalom Shakna's method of pilpul in deciding Jewish law (no. 16). He permitted the calling of blind or illiterate men to the "reading" of the Torah, and pleaded for understanding and tolerance for the feelings of estranged Jews and sensitive women, so that they may be brought closer to Judaism (no. 62). His responsa include an analysis of the grammatical differences between the two versions of the Decalogue and he castigates cantors for improperly preparing the Torah reading, as well as for introducing into the synagogue service melodies borrowed from secular songs and the theater (no. 6). He dealt with community disputes, taxation, elections, sale of synagogues, divorce given under duress, murder, and manslaughter. Several of his decisions were aimed at resolving famous controversies of the day (nos. 22, 76, 77).

His decisions remained an authoritative source, not only for his contemporaries, but also for Polish and German rabbis for many years to come. They are often quoted and usually considered definitive by noted commentators to the Shulḥan Arukh, such as *Shabbetai b. Meir ha-Kohen and Abraham Abele *Gombiner.


J. Perles, in: MGWJ, 16 (1867), 223; J.M. Zunz, Ir ha-Ẓedek (1874), ix, 12; M. Steinschneider, in: HB, 19 (1879), 82–83; Ḥ.N. Dembitzer, Kelilat Yofi, 1 (1888), 21aff.; A. Harkavy, Ḥadashim gam Yeshanim, 2:3 (1899); B. Katz, Le-Korot ha-Yehudim be-Rusyah, Polin ve-Lita (1899), 33, 34, 56; S.B. Nissenbaum, Le-Korot ha-Yehudim be-Lublin (1900), 21; M. Brann, Geschichte der Juden in Schlesien, 5 (1909), 191–201; Halpern, Pinkas, 15, 27, 29, 453; I. Lewin, in: Hadorom, 22 (1965), 5–18; H.H. Ben-Sasson, Hagut ve-Hanhagah (1958), 140–1; N. Shulman, "The Responsa Masat Binyamin" (Diss. Yeshiva University, 1970).