- Category : Religion-Spiritual-Leader-Guru
- Type : PSP
- Profile : 1/4 - Investigating / Opportunist
- Definition : Split - Small (16)
- Incarnation Cross : RAX Unexpected 1
Talmudist, halachist, kabbalist, and the foremost leader of non-hasidic Jewry of the past few centuries. He is commonly referred to in Hebrew as ha-Gaon ha-Chasid mi-Vilna, "the saintly genius from Vilnius."
Born into a long line of scholars, Elijah traveled among the Jewish communities of Poland and Germanyin 1740–45 and then settled in Vilna, which was the cultural centre of eastern European Jewry. There he refused rabbinic office and lived as a recluse while devoting himself to study and prayer, but his reputation as a scholar had spread throughout the Jewish world by the time he was 30. As a mark of nearly universal reverence, the title gaon, borne by the heads of the Babylonian academies and virtually extinct for many centuries, was bestowed upon him by the people.
Elijah’s scholarship embraced mastery of every field of study in the Jewish literature up to his own time. His vast knowledge of the Talmud and Midrash and of biblical exegesis, as well as of mystical literature and lore, was combined with a deep interest in philosophy, grammar, mathematics and astronomy, and folk medicine.
Elijah’s most important contributions were his synoptic view of Jewish learning and his critical methods of study. In an age of narrow, puritanical piety, he broadened the conception of Torah learning to include the natural sciences, and asserted that a complete understanding of Jewish law and literature necessitated the study of mathematics, astronomy, geography, botany, and zoology. He encouraged translations of works on these subjects into Hebrew. Elijah also introduced the methods of textual criticism in the study of the Bible and the Talmud. He based his interpretations on the plain meaning of the text rather than on narrow sophistries. In general, his influence was felt in the direction of an increased emphasis on rationalism and synthesis.
Elijah led an implacable opposition to the pietistic mystical movement of Ḥasidism from 1772 until his death. He condemned Ḥasidism as a superstitious and antischolarly movement and ordered the excommunication of its adherents and the burning of their books. He became the leader of the Mitnaggedim (opponents of Hasidism) and was temporarily able to check the movement’s spread in Lithuania. He was also mildly opposed to the Haskala, or Jewish Enlightenment.
He died 9 October 1797.