The Jewish Eye
Rav Eliezer Ashkenazi - A Wandering Giant Among Giants
was a child I heard from our elders, who would effusively praise and
speak about the great qualities and exemplary character of (Rav Eliezer
Ashkenazi). He was a K'Mat a Yochid B'Doro and all the great Gaonim of
his generation would send halachic shailos to him." So said the Pnei
Yehoshua about Rav Eliezer Ashkenazi. To put things in perspective,
the great gaonim of his generation included Rav Yosef Karo, the Rema,
the Maharshal, with all of whom he had halachic correspondence, as well
as the Radvaz and the Shita Mikubetzes.
He was born in 1513
although it is not clear where. Some say Turkey while others say he
was born in Italy. He was a grandson from his mother's side, of the
great Italian Posek the Maharik. He studied under Rav Yosef Taitatzak
a refugee from the Spanish inquisition, who headed a legendary Yeshiva
in Salonica, which produced some of the generation's leading Poskim.
Eliezer was known to learn 18 hours straight giving little time to tend
to his physical needs. Rav Eliyahu DiVidash the author of the Reishis
Chochma and Talmid of Rav Moshe Kordevero at that time, testified that
Rav Eliezer did not sleep in a bed during the week, for forty years.
His talmidim included the Maharshdam, the Alshich HaKadosh, Rav Shlomo
Alkabetz (author of Licha Dodi and brother in law of Rav Moshe
Kordevero), and Rav Yitzchok Adribi.
Through Galus after Galus,
Rav Eliezer's life led him to all parts of Europe. After learning in
Salonica, he became Rov in Mitzrayim and held that position with great
honor accorded to him by the king, for 23 years from 1523-1561. He was
forced to flee after he was slandered to the king by a jealous
minister. The Chasam Sofer retold the details of this story and the
Shiniveh Rebbe told a fantastic tale of his escape from Mitzrayim
during Leil HaSeder.
He took a position as Rov in Cyprus after
arriving in total poverty. When war broke out between the Ottoman and
the Venitian Empires over Cyprus, he fled to Venice where his daughter
was then living. His life their continued its upheaval as he was
forced to leave after a Machlokes with Rav Shmuel Yehuda Katzenelbogen
over a Get. He then moved to another city in Italy. Finally in 1578
he headed towards Poland. He spent a number of years in Prague, where
left a major impact before becoming Rov of Pozen in Poland, which was
then a great metropolis of Torah. After Pozen he became Rov in Cracow
for the last two years of his life.
His sefer Maasei Hashem, is
one of the classic peirushim on Chumash. He focuses on the explaining
the historical stories that occur in the Torah. He brings the great
Rishonim including the Ramban and often argues with them. He completed
this sefer in Pozen after his years of turbulence and upheaval.
He was niftar on 22 Kislev 5346/1585. Yehi Zichro Boruch!
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