This Day in History – 1 Adar/February 20

Today is the second day of Rosh Chodesh Adar. According to Rabi Shimon, today is the beginning of the season referred to as kor.

In 5403/1643, the Tosfos Yom Tov, Harav Yom Tov Lipman Heller, was released after being imprisoned as a result of libel. His descendants celebrate this day as a Yom Tov.

In 5600/1840, in Syria, a priest vanished and the Jewish community was blamed, prompting the imprisonment of the city’s Rav, Harav Yaakov Entebi, the seven community elders and a number of young children. Only after Sir Moses Montefiore intervened on their behalf were they freed.


5423/1663, Harav Shabsi Hakohen, the Shach, zy”a

Harav Shabsi Hakohen was born in the year 5382/1622 in Amstibiva. His father, Harav Meir, was the city’s Rav. Until the age of 12 he learned Torah from his father; after that his father sent him to study in the yeshivah of Reb Yehoshua, the Maginei Shlomo. Subsequently, the latter established a yeshivah in Cracow, and his devoted talmid accompanied him. Later, he became a talmid of the famed Rebbe, Reb Heshel of Cracow, and of Harav Naftali Katz, the Semichas Chachamim. He resided in the home of the saintly Megaleh Amukos, who also taught him hidden aspects of Torah.

After a number of years in Cracow, where at a very young age he became famed as a phenomenal gaon and tzaddik, Rav Shabsi moved to Vilna, where there were many established yeshivos. He continued growing immensely in Torah. He married the daughter of Harav Binyomin Wolf Tauber, a noted nagid and talmid chacham, son-in-law of the Maharsha and a grandchild of the Rema. After his marriage he was supported by his father-in-law, which assured him the peace of mind to author his vast work, the Sifsei Kohen on Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh De’ah and Choshen Mishpat). His chibbur is crowned with haskamos of many Gedolim who were astounded by his vast knowledge. The Taz, who was much older, printed his sefer on Shulchan Aruch the same year as the Shach’s sefer appeared, and in various places he argues with him in psak halachah. The Shach later printed his answers to the Taz in Nekudos Hakesef.

During the infamous era of Tach V’tat (5408–9/ 1648–49), the Shach suffered greatly. [The murderous rampages went on for about 10 years.] At that time he had begun writing his chibbur on Choshen Mishpat. Evil Cossack gangs, led by the infamous Chmielnicki, burned down the entire city of Vilna; 25,000 Jews, including the Shach’s wife, perished, Hy”d. The remaining Jews, among them the Shach, fled, and he arrived in Lublin in Tammuz of the year 5415/ 1655. But peace did not last; on the following Sukkos, the Cossacks attacked that city, too. The Shach succeeded in evading them once again, and he fled to Deznitz, Czechoslovakia, where he served as Rav.

He recorded the many tzaros that the Yidden experienced during the period of Tach V’tat in Megaleh Aifa. Remarkably, a number of these sefarim were completed during the years that he was in constant flight.

His acclaimed sefer, the Sifsei Kohen, was accepted as dvar Hashem by all poskim after him. He also authored Tokfo Kohen, Gvuros Anashim and Nekudos Hakesef.

Eventually, he was asked to serve the esteemed kehillah of Halishi, Moravia. Unfortunately, he was not zocheh to arichus yamim; he was niftar at the age of 41 in Halishi on 1 Adar Rishon.

Yehi zichro baruch.


Feb. 20

In 1792, President George Washington signed an act creating the U.S. Post Office.

In 1905, the U.S. Supreme Court, in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, upheld, 7–2, compulsory vaccination laws intended to protect the public’s health. (The case involved a Swedish immigrant, Henning Jacobson, who refused to pay a $5 fine for refusing to be vaccinated against smallpox; the Court upheld the right of states to penalize individuals who rejected vaccinations, but did not say they could be forcibly vaccinated.)

In 1944, during World War II, U.S. strategic bombers began raiding German aircraft manufacturing centers in a series of attacks that became known as “Big Week.”

In 1962, astronaut John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth as he flew aboard Project Mercury’s Friendship 7 spacecraft.

In 1965, America’s Ranger 8 spacecraft crashed on the moon, as planned, after sending back thousands of pictures of the lunar surface.