Avraham Gombiner

Abraham Abele Gombiner (Hebrew: אברהם אבלי הלוי גומבינר) (c. 1633 – c. 1683), known as the Magen Avraham, born in Gąbin (Gombin), Poland, was a rabbi, Talmudist and a leading religious authority in the Jewish community of Kalish, Poland during the seventeenth century. His full name is Avraham Avli ben Chaim HaLevi from the town of Gombin. There are texts that list his family name as Kalisch after the city of his residence.[1] After his parents were killed in the Chmielnicki massacres of 1648, he moved to live and study with his relative in Lithuania, Jacob Isaac Gombiner.

He is known to scholars of Judaism for his Magen Avraham commentary on the Orach Chayim section of Rabbi Joseph Karo's Shulchan Aruch, which he began writing in 1665 and finished in 1671. His brother Yehudah traveled in 1673 to Amsterdam to print the work but died on the journey. It was not published until 1692 after Rabbi Gombiner’s death. His son wrote in the preface to the work that his father was frequently sick and suffered pain and discomfort.


Debate over name of the book

The book was originally called Magen Avraham, but there was opposition to that title because it was one of the names of God. It was then called Ner Yisroel ("Lamp of Israel") (נר יפה של רבי אברהם הלוי). However, his son wanted to perpetuate his father's name in the title by linking it to the commentary of the Taz - Magen David, so he published his father's work under the title Magen Avraham.

Halakhah, minhag, custom

Rabbi Gombiner's innovative approach to commenting on the Shulchan Aruch was to incorporate the customs of his contemporary Poland. The work is terse and difficult and needed explanation by later commentators. His lasting effect on halakhah was the incorporation of the Kabbalistic customs of Safed, especially those found in Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz's Shnei Luhot Haberit.

He taught that customs should be respected. In the case of the blessing of "giving strength to the weary" he writes that one does not undo an old custom, and believed that opponents like Rabbi Yosef Karo likely repented of changing minhag at the end of his life. (46:6)

Dealing with the widespread practice of hiring gentiles to work for the community on the Sabbath, he wrote, "they allow themselves to hire a Gentile under contract to remove the garbage from the streets, and the Gentile does the work on the Sabbath." He assumed that a prior rabbi had approved the action "and we must conclude that a great rabbi handed down this ruling" for the sake of the community. (Magen Avraham 244:8.)

Whereas 16th-century rabbis noted the custom to celebrate the bar mitzvah with a party, Rabbi Gombiner codified it that a bar mitzvah should be as elaborate as a wedding. (Magen Abraham, Orah Hayyim, 225, 4).

Gombiner refers to the "drinking of tabak through a pipe by drawing the smoke into the mouth and discharging it," teaching that smokers should first make a blessing over smoking as a type of refreshment. No blessing is required if there is no "substance" in the benefit derived (Magen Avraham 210, 9). See Jewish law and history on smoking.

Rabbi Gombiner taught that aliyot should be given based on events in congregants' lives, such as marriage, birth and death, rather than always giving it to the scholars.

He also taught that "women are exempt from counting the Omer, since it is a positive time-bound commandment". Nonetheless, they have already made it obligatory upon themselves." (489,1)

He also held that women can count for a minyan for the reading of the Torah (55, 690) This controversial point is discussed in recent responsa (see Rabbi Yehuda Henkin (Bnei Banim II, Chap. 10) and Rabbi Mendel Shapiro).[2]. His opinion is one of the sources cited by Rabbi Shapiro and by other proponents of the halakhic legitimacy of the contemporary Partnership Minyan format.

While usually giving his imprimatur to local customs, in the case of the custom to donate firecrackers and fireworks to the synagogue in honour of Simchat Torah, Rabbi Gombiner believed it proof of the effect of allowing boorish commoners to celebrate a scholars' holiday.


The Magen Avraham was the subject of a commentary by Samuel Neta HaLevi of Kolin, entitled Mahatsit ha-shekel, and another by David Solomon Eibenschutz, entitled Lebushe Serad.

R. Yechiel Michel Epstein’s Aruch HaShulchan and R. Yisrael Meir Kagan’s Mishnah Berurah relied on Gombiner for their acceptance of Kabbalistic practices.

There is a major dispute in the 17-18th century as to how to figure Rabbinic hours of the day. One approach (that of Gombiner, in his Magen Avraham) reckons the day from dawn until nightfall. The other approach (that of the Vilna Gaon) reckons the day from sunrise to sunset. For rituals, which are prescribed in the morning, Magen Avraham's calculations will always be earlier than that of the Vilna Gaon. For rituals, which are prescribed in the afternoon or evening, Magen Avraham's calculations will always be later than that of the Vilna Gaon.


His most important work was his Magan Avraham - commentary on Shulhan Arukh- Orukh Hayyim. (not to be confused with works by the same title by Avraham Farisol and Avraham the magid of Trisk)

His work includes Zayit Ra'anan, a commentary on the popular Midrashic collection Yalkut Shimoni.

He also authored a commentary to the works of the Tosafists on the section of Nezikin in the Talmud, published by his grandson in the back of the work by R. Abraham's son-in-law Moshe Yekutiel Kaufman, Lehem Hapanim (1732).

Shemen Sason - commentary on the Torah.


  • Jacob, Katz The "Shabbes Goy": A Study in Halakhic Flexibility Jewish Publication Society, 1989
  • Chayyim Tchernowitz, Toldot Haposkim 3: 164-172.
  • J. Wrescher, Introduction to Shemen Sason (2000).

External links


  1. ^ Some accounts of his life confuse the town of Gombine, Russia with a similar named town in Prussia. The Russian town is the correct town.
  2. ^ Mendel Shapiro, "Qeri’at ha-Torah by Women: A Halakhic Analysis" (Edah 1:2, 2001) (pdf)

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