This Day in History – 14 Sivan/June 12

In 5270/1510, Germany’s emperor rescinded an order to burn all the sefarim found in Cologne and Frankfort.

In 5348/1588, 24 Jews were burned at the stake al kiddush Hashem at an auto-da-fe. Hy”d.


5510/1750, Harav Uren of Pintchov, who was hanged al kiddush Hashem in Brodi, Hy”d

5581/1821, Harav Chaim of Volozhin, zt”l, founding Rosh Yeshivah of Yeshivas Volozhin and mechaber of Nefesh Hachaim

5662/1902, Harav Naftali Hertz of Yafo, zt”l

5568/1918, Harav Leib, zt”l, brother of the Vilna Gaon

5707/1947, Harav Shmuel Abba Twersky, the Makarov-Winnipeg Rebbe, zt”l

5745/1985, Harav Moshe Horowitz, zt”l, the Bostoner Rebbe, N.Y.

14 Sivan 5581/1821

Harav Chaim of Volozhin, zy”a

Harav Chaim of Volozhin (Belarus) was born on 8 Sivan 5509/1749, to Harav Yitzchak, a wealthy and pious Jew, and Rebbetzin Miriam, the daughter of Harav Yisrael Rappaport, Rav of Peisk. (According to another opinion, he was born on 7 Sivan of that year.)

The brilliance of the young Chaim was apparent from his earliest childhood. In his youth he studied under the Shaagas Aryeh, who was then Rav of Volozhin. Later, when the Shaagas Aryeh left the city, he learned under Harav Refael Hamburger, who later became Rav of Hamburg and wrote Veshav Hakohen and other sefarim. His diligence and erudition were striking; by the age of twenty-two he had completed the study of Shas with all its commentaries.

Rav Chaim eventually became a leading disciple of the Vilna Gaon, who greatly influenced his way of thinking and approach to Torah study.

In 5550/1790 he became Rav of Wilkomir, but refused to take a salary; instead he opened a factory that produced wool, thereby serving as Rav “shelo al menas lekabel pras.” Many merchants were displeased with the new Rav, especially those who dealt in wool, and eventually this drove him out of the city.

Once, during Shabbos davening, a vicious person inquired of him when the molad would be. The Rav replied that he did not know, adding that it could be checked in the luach. This reply “invoked” a storm, with some arrogant townspeople claiming, “What kind of Rav doesn’t know the time of the molad?” And so Rav Chaim returned to Volozhin where he served as a dayan, also without pay.

Eventually, in 5563/1803, due to declining Torah study amongst the youth and the growing influence of the maskilim, Rav Chaim founded Yeshivas Eitz Chaim in Volozhin. The yeshivah became the prototype and mother of all yeshivos in Eastern Europe that were established during the 19th and 20th centuries.

The day the cornerstone was laid for Yeshivas Volozhin, Rav Chaim fasted. He cried so profusely for the future of the yeshivah that, as his son Rav Yitzchak of Volozhin put it, “the hole for the even hapinah was ‘dug’ with Rav Chaim’s tears.”

Indeed, the yeshivah suffered much persecution due to its refusal to offer secular studies. The yeshivah was eventually closed down by the Russian authorities in 5652/1892, but by then dozens of yeshivos that followed Volozhin’s derech had sprouted.

Reb Chaim set high standards for admission to his yeshivah, insisting on extreme diligence. His talmidim numbered in the hundreds.

The yeshivah’s ultimate accomplishment was the defiance of the various enlightenment movements that were threatening kedushas Klal Yisrael. With Reb Chaim at the helm, Yeshivas Volozhin restored a measure of pure, Torah-minded guidance and leadership to Klal Yisrael.

Reb Chaim’s works are Nefesh Hachaim on hashkafah and Ruach Chaim on Pirkei Avos. His most important responsa are found in Chut Hameshulash and in Kedushas Yom Tov.

He was niftar on 14 Sivan 5581/1821 at the age of 72. His son Reb “Itzele” Volozhiner, replaced him as head of the yeshivah in Volozhin. Succeeding Reb Itzele, after his petirah, were his two sons-in-law, Harav Eliezer Isaac Fried and Harav Naftali Tzvi Yehuda Berlin, the Netziv.

Zechuso yagen aleinu.

June 12

In 1776, Virginia’s colonial legislature became the first to adopt a Bill of Rights.

In 1898, Philippine nationalists declared independence from Spain.

In 1920, the Republican national convention, meeting in Chicago, nominated Warren G. Harding for president on the 10th ballot; Calvin Coolidge was nominated for vice president.

In 1924, President Calvin Coolidge was nominated for a term of office in his own right at the Republican national convention in Cleveland. (Coolidge had become president in 1923 upon the sudden death of Warren G. Harding.)

In 1942, Anne Frank, a German-born Jewish girl living in Amsterdam, received a diary for her 13th birthday, less than a month before she and her family went into hiding from the Nazis.

In 1956, the Flag of the United States Army was officially adopted under an executive order signed by President Dwight D. Eisenhower.

In 1964, South African black nationalist Nelson Mandela was sentenced to life in prison along with seven other people, including Walter Sisulu, for committing sabotage against the apartheid regime. (All were eventually released, Mandela in 1990).

In 1974, President Nixon arrived in Cairo, Egypt, at the beginning of a Middle East tour.

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan, during a visit to the divided German city of Berlin, publicly challenged Soviet leader Mikhail S. Gorbachev to “tear down this wall.”

In 1994, Boeing’s new 777 jetliner went on its first test flight.