5689/1929, Harav Mordechai Yosef Leiner of Radzin, zt”l
5700/1940, Harav Shaul Brach of Kashau, zt”l
5746/1986, Harav Yaakov Landau, zt”l, Rav of Bnei Brak
Harav Dovid Halevi, zt”l, the Turei Zahav
Harav Dovid Halevi, better known as the Taz (the initials of his main work, Turei Zahav), was born in Vladomir in the province of Volhynia. His family was famed for their profound scholarship. His father, Harav Shmuel Halevi, was his prime teacher in his early years, and his eldest brother, Harav Yitzchak, taught him as well.
The affection between the two brothers never diminished and they continued to correspond with each other in later years, after they were separated. A portion of this correspondence has been preserved. These letters are of great interest not only because they testify to the deep friendship and love that existed between the two brothers, but because they contain an exchange of scholarly opinions on many halachic topics.
In addition to being a talmid chacham, Reb Dovid’s father was well-to-do, so the young prodigy, who had shown unusual talent for learning, was fortunate enough to grow up in an atmosphere of both wealth and learning. His happy youth stood in marked contrast to his later years, when he suffered great hardships and poverty.
The reputation of the budding talmid chacham spread far and wide, and Harav Yoel Sirkis of Brest, the Bach (from the initials of his work Bayis Chadash), selected him as his son-in-law.
As was customary, Reb Dovid stayed in his father-in-law’s house for several years, during which he applied himself fully to learning Shas and Poskim.
Afterward Reb Dovid and his family moved to Cracow. From there he was called to be Rav of Politsha, near Rava. During this period he suffered poverty and was stricken by other misfortunes as well; several of his children died in infancy.
Later he went on to Posen, where he remained for several years. Afterward, he became Rav of the old community of Ostroha, in Volhynia. This was in the year 5401/1641, and at that point his poverty had given way to a life of comfort as he earned the recognition and respect due such a talmid chacham. Here Reb Dovid founded his own yeshivah, but he found time also to write sefarim.
The leaders of this great Jewish community, many of whom were talmidei chachamim in their own right, did everything in their power to help their great and beloved leader in his work. It was through their influence and active cooperation that Reb Dovid, by nature a shy and modest man, wrote his commentary on the first two sections of the Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim and Yoreh Deah.
Turei Zahav was the name given to his phenomenal work, better known as Taz. It soon won worldwide recognition and established Reb Dovid’s name among the Gedolim of his day.
In the same year that Reb Dovid published his work (5406/1646) another leading Gadol, Harav Shabsai Cohen of Vilna, published a similar commentary on Yoreh Deah entitled Sifsei Cohen. He soon became famous as the Shach. However, neither detracted from the fame of the other, and they became the best of associates, although they often had conflicting opinions in interpreting the decisions of the mechaber, Harav Yosef Caro.
Several years after their commentaries were first printed, they cooperated in the publication of an edition of Yoreh Deah in which the text of the mechaber was printed in the center of the page, flanked on one side by the commentary of the Taz and on the other by that of the Shach. This edition of Yoreh Deah was called Ashrei Ravrevi. It was later enlarged by the addition of other leading commentaries, but the form given to the Yoreh Deah by the two great commentators, Taz and Shach, became the standard for the many reprintings of this sefer.
The Taz’s period of teaching Torah and writing piskei halachah in Ostroha was tragically interrupted by the eruption of the Cossack revolt under the leadership of the brutal Chmielnicki. Officially, the Cossacks were revolting against Polish nobility, but they overlooked no opportunity to pillage Jewish communities that were in their paths and to massacre the Jews.
Reb Dovid was fortunate enough to flee from Ostroha before it was captured by Cossacks. He also succeeded in saving his priceless manuscripts. He was invited to become Rav of Lvov (Lemberg), where he continued his work of spreading Torah.
A cruel blow struck the aged Taz when, three years before his petirah, he lost his two older sons, Harav Mordechai and Harav Shlomo, who were murdered in a pogrom in Lemberg. Hashem yinkom damam.
Harav Dovid Halevi was niftar on 26 Shevat 5427/1667, at the age of 81. He was buried in Lvov.
The Taz wrote a commentary to Rashi on Chumash entitled Divrei Dovid, as well as other works. He also wrote many responsa which, though sometimes quoted by others who accessed the manuscripts, were never published.
The descendants of the Taz were the Russian rabbinical family Paltrowitch, which produced more than 30 Rabbanim over several generations.
Yehi zichro baruch.
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