Meïr Leibush ben Jehiel Michel Weiser (b. Volochysk, Volhynia Mar. 7, 1809; d. Kiev Sept. 18, 1879), better known by the acronym Malbim (Hebrew: מלבי"ם), was a rabbi, Hebrew grammar master, and Bible commentator.
The name "Malbim" is derived from the Hebrew initials of his name, and became his nick-name by frequent usage.
Meïr-Leibush ben Jehiel-Michel Weiser (Russian: Меир-Лейбуш бен Йехиэл-Михл) was born at Volochysk, Volhynia and educated in Hebrew and the Talmud by his father and, after being orphaned as a child, by his stepfather, Rabbi Leib of Volochisk.
At the age of 13 he went to study in Warsaw. where he was known as the iluy from Volhynia. He showed talent from his early childhood, and his works indicate that he had a considerable knowledge of secular sciences and history. From 1838 to 1845 he served as rabbi of Wreschen, and in the latter year was called to the rabbinate of Kempen, where he remained until 1859; he was thereafter also known as der Kempener Magid.
In 1859 Malbim became chief rabbi of Bucharest, Romania. He did not get along with the upper class and educated Jews there, some of them Austrian citizens (called in Romanian "sudiţi"); led by the famous Dr. Iuliu Barasch; they wished to introduce changes in the spirit of modern European life into the life of the local Jewry, which were at great variance with the beliefs and practices of the traditional rabbinic Judaism. The Malbim defended the traditional style of Orthodox Judaism, which demanded strict adherence to Jewish law and tradition, and rejected almost all editing of the Siddur, giving up beards and other changes in the exterior appearance, and other similar changes in some observances.
The Malbim was a vocal opponent to the building of the big Choral Temple, with choir and organ, an imitation of the Great Synagogue of Leopoldstadt in Vienna, and which would soon become (1864) the main neo-orthodox synagogue in Romania. He also condemned the foundation (before his coming) of the first two elementary schools with general knowledge curriculum aimed at the Jewish children in Bucharest, projects which were encouraged during that period by Romanian officials, who agreed for a while to a better integration of the Jews into Romanian life.
The authoritarian style of the Malbim also caused a portion of the religious personnel (shochtim, dayanim) to become hostile to him. He threatened with excommunication those who did not comply with his decisions.
By their frequent complaints as well as intrigues and false accusations, his opponents almost succeeded having him sent to prison. Though he was soon liberated through the intervention of Sir Moses Montefiore, it was upon the condition that he leave Romania.
Malbim went to Constantinople and complained to the Turkish government, but obtained no satisfaction. After staying six months in Paris, he went to Lunshitz, in Russian Poland, as successor to his deceased father-in-law, Hayyim Auerbach (1866). Shortly afterwards he became rabbi at Kherson, and thence was called to the rabbinate of Mogilev, on the Dnieper (1870). There, too, his lack of subservience provoked the resentment of the richer Jews; these denounced him as a political criminal, and the governor of Moghilef ordered him to leave the town.
Malbim then went to Königsberg as chief rabbi of the Polish community, but there he fared no better than in Bucharest and Moghilef; he was continually harassed by the German Jews. When Malbim passed through Vilna in 1879 the community there would have appointed him rabbi in place of Isaac Elijah Landau, but the governor of Vilna opposed the election on the ground that he could not sanction the appointment of a rabbi who had been expelled from Moghilef as a political criminal. Thereafter he declined appointment as chief rabbi of the New York City. In September of the same year Malbim was on his way to Kremenchuk, to the rabbinate of which town he had been appointed, when he fell sick and died at Kiev.
Methodology and style
Malbim's fame and popularity rest upon his novel commentary to the Bible. His first published commentary was on Megillat Esther (1845), followed by his commentary on most of the Hebrew Tanach from then until 1876.
His commentary on the Bible is based most notably upon his proven principle that there are no true synonyms in the Tanach; apparent stylistic repetitions are not that, but rather each introduces a distinct idea.
- "Artzoth haChayim", commentary and novellae on the Shulchan Aruch (section Orah Hayim, Breslau, 1837);
- "Artzoth haShalom", collection of sermons (Krotoschin, 1839);
- "HaTorah vehaMitzva", analytical and innovative commentary on the Pentateuch and the midrash halakha (Warsaw, 1874–80), including the linguistic guide Ayelet ha-Shachar on differences between similar terms in Hebrew;
- "Mikra'ei Kodesh", commentary on the Prophets and Hagiographa (ib. 1874; this commentary is in parallel, on the words and on the sense; Malbim always endeavored to explain the different meanings of synonyms);
- "Mashal uMelitza", dramatic philippic, in verse, against hypocrisy (Paris, 1867).
- ^ The Malbim: Leadership and Challenge as Reflected in his Introduction to Vayikra and His Torah Commentary "Hatorah Vehamitzvah" Study Sheet on the Weekly Torah Portion (No. 124. Parashat Vayikra 5756, 1996), from the Office of the Campus Rabbi of Bar-Ilan University
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