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Rav Yitzchak Elchonon: The Entire Talmud Print E-mail

Rav Yitzchak ElchananThe 21st of Adar is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Yitzchak Elchonon (ben Yisrael Isser) Spector, Rav of Kovno (1817-1896), lived in Kovno 1866-1896. His fater was the Rav of the Lithuanian town of Roush , located in the Grodno district. After he married (to Sara Raizel), he moved to Volkovisk where his father-in-law comfortably supported him. The rav in Volkovisk at that time

was Rav Binyamin Diskin. A great luminary in and of himself, he was also famous for his illustrious son, Rav Yoshua Leib Diskin, the rav of Brisk, who later moved to Eretz Yisrael. Rav Binyamin Diskin was so impressed with Yitzchak Elchonon that he set up a special chavrusa to study with him Choshen Mishpot two hours a day. In 1837, when he was 20 years old, he accepted the offer to become rav of the small village of Zebelen , and then became rav in Baraze in 1839. He became rav of Novardok in 1851 and rav of Kovno in 1864. He held the position in Kovno for 32 years. He authored Be’er Yitzchak and Eyn Yitzchak (both teshuvos) and Nachal Yitzchak on Choshen Mishpat.

All of Shulchan Aruch by Heart


The Rosh Yeshivah once heard an eyewitness account of the following incident, which offers us a glimpse into Rav Yitzchak Elchanan's mastery of the Talmud. The story was told to him by Rav Lechovitz, who had learned in the famed Kovna Kollel, in the same building where Rav Yitzchak Elchanan sat and learned.

Rav Yitzchak Elchanan was known throughout Europe and held in high esteem by misnagdim and chassidim alike. Once he was approached by representatives of the chassidic community in Luninetz, who asked him to recommend someone to be their new rav. Rav Yitzchak Elchanan suggested a chassidishe fellow from Tochov who learned in his beis midrash. This talmid chacham was particularly suited for a position in the rabbinate, as he had reviewed Yoreh Deah with all its attendant commentaries no less than eight times and knew it thoroughly. Yet, for some reason, the young man had never obtained semichah. To remedy that defect, Rav Yitzchak Elchanan sent him to be examined on the section of Yoreh Deah dealing with Issur V Heter, and told him that upon receiving this semichah, Rav Yitzchak Elchanan himself would examine him on Choshen Mishpat and give him semichah as a dayan.

In those days, the granting of semichah was taken very seriously. Typically, the examining rav would have the candidate sit with him for an extended period of time. When the rav was presented with a sh'eila, he would refer it to the candidate to see how he dealt with it. Between questions, the rav would subject the candidate to a very comprehensive examination.

After several days, the yungerman under consideration returned to Kovna with semichah in hand and approached Rav Yitzchak Elchanan to be examined in Choshen Mishpat. In Rav Yitzchak Elchanan's beis midrash, there was a daily Gemara shiur given between Minchah and Maariv, at which time the young men learned individually rather than with chavrusos so as not to disturb the shiur.. Taking advantage of this break, Rav Yitzchak Elchanan stepped out into the courtyard of the beis midrash with the young man and tested him as they strolled around. The examination methodically covered the entire Choshen Mishpat, with Rav Yitzchak Elchanan testing the yungerman on disagreements between the authorities throughout the entirety of the book. It was obvious from Rav Yitzchak Elchanan's familiarity with the various topics, and from the fact that he was able to cover the entire huge gamut of subjects of the book in such a short period of time, that the entire Choshen Mishpat was at his fingertips, in crisp, pure clarity.

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