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yertziet of rav Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin
Ivri Date: 28 Av, 5653
English Date: 10 August, 1893
Rabbi Naftali Zvi Yehuda Berlin (נפתלי צבי יהודה ברלין also known as Reb Hirsch Leib Berlin, 1817- 10 August 1893) was the Rosh yeshiva of the Volozhin yeshiva and author of several works of rabbinic literature in Lithuania. His name is commonly abbreviated by its consonants as Netziv (נציב, which can also mean "pillar").
Rabbi Berlin was born into a family of Jewish scholars renowned for its Talmudic scholarship. His father Jacob, while not a rabbi, was a Talmudic scholar; his mother was directly descended from Rabbi Meir Eisenstadt. Although initially a weak student, legend has it that Rabbi Berlin applied himself to his studies after overhearing his parents debating whether he should pursue a trade.
His first wife was the daughter of Rabbi Yitzchok of Volozhin, the son of Rabbi Chaim Volozhin. His second wife was his niece, a daughter of Rabbi Yechiel Michel Epstein, the author of the Aruch haShulchan. A son from his first marriage, Rabbi Chaim Berlin, became the rabbi of Moscow, a daughter married Rabbi Refael Shapiro, and his son from his second marriage was Rabbi Meir Berlin (later Bar-Ilan).
Rabbi Berlin led the yeshiva in Volozhin (in what is presently Belarus), then the largest institution of its kind, from 1854 to its closure in 1892. Despite the destruction (twice) of the town and the yeshiva building in large fires, its enrollment increased steadily under his leadership, and the yeshiva would produce a number of prominent rabbinic figures who led Eastern European Jewry until World War II. Amongst them was Rabbi Shimon Shkop.
In Volozhin, his leadership was contested by the popular Rabbi Joseph Dov (Yoshe Ber) Soloveitchik, whose style of Torah study differed substationally from Rabbi Berlin's. Rabbi J.D. Soloveitchik ultimately became rabbi of Slutsk, Warsaw and Brisk, where he founded the rabbinical dynasty that still carries his name.
In 1892, the Volozhin yeshiva shut down. There are several explanations and differing versions of events:
- Russian authorities (influenced by Haskalah elements) sought to introduce a limited program of secular studies into the yeshiva. As this would seriously undermine the aims of the institution, Rabbi Berlin saw no other solution than to let the government close the yeshiva. A variation on this version is that Rabbi Berlin may have been willing to accept the secular studies but not in the manner it was presented by the authorities, with one historical record describing government requirements such as: "All teachers of all subjects must have college diplomas ... no Judaic subjects may be taught between 9 AM and 3 PM ... no night classes are allowed ... total hours of study per day may not exceed ten."
- The yeshiva was closed due to its own internal upheaval. This internal strife was caused by Rabbi Berlin's attempt to install his son as Rosh Yeshiva. Recently available Russian governmental documents of the time clearly point to this conclusion, as described in the publications of Shaul Stampfer.
In any event, after the closure, Rabbi Berlin traveled to Vilna and other cities, trying to clear the yeshiva's debt.
In the last few months of Rabbi Berlin's life he suffered from diabetes and the consequences of a stroke. While he intended to travel to the Land of Israel, his medical condition made this impossible. He spent his last weeks in Warsaw, and is interred in a cemetery there.