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Yair Chaim Bacharach

(1638 - 1702)

Rabbi Yair Chaim Bacharach was one of the greatest rabbinic figure of the seventeenth century but most of his life he had to endure suffering and disappointment.

His grandmother Chava was a granddaughter of the Maharal of Prague and famed for her unusual scholarship and piety. Her husband R. Samuel was appointed rabbi of Worms. On Good Friday in 1615, the community suffered a pogrom and R. Samuel was a casualty, passing away at the age of 40. Chava raised her children but never remarried, though the great Shelah HaKodesh, R. Isaiah Horowitz, sought her hand, and when she refused deemed himself to be unworthy of her.

Chava’s son, R. Samson, was also appointed rabbi of Worms where he served until his death in 1670. Chava lived in Worms till her grandson Yair Chaim’s thirteenth birthday at which time she undertook a pilgrimage to the Holy Land but died on the way. R. Yair Chaim esteemed her to such an extent that the title of his most famous work, Chavos Yair, is based on her name.

R. Yair Chaim served briefly as rabbi of Coblentz and returned to reside in Worms. Shortly before his death his father, R. Samson asked the community to appoint his son in his place. But the community failed to select him. R. Yair Chaim wrote many works and was recognized as one of the great halachic authorities of the time. One of his works, Mekor Chaim, a major commentary on the Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim was ready to be printed when the commentaries of Taz and Magen Avraham were printed. Sadly, R. Yair Chaim withdrew his own commentary.

Besides his halachic expertise he had complete mastery of all the sciences, music and had a deep interest in history. He also wrote poetry. He compiled a 46 volume encyclopedia on many topics.

In 1689, the Worms community was decimated by the French. Gradually, it was rebuilt. R. Yair Chaim had prematurely aged and was soon to lose his hearing. In 1699, he was finally appointed rabbi of Worms where his father and grandfather had served before him. He served for only three years until his death in 1702. The inscription on his tombstone begins with the words, “A great and dark horror befalls us from the hiding of the light of Rabbeinu...” One may detect a sense of regret that perhaps Worms had not properly treated the giant within their midst.

In 1982 R. Yair Chaim’s major work, Mekor Chaim, was finally published by Mechon Yerushalayim.

Sources: Orthodox Union